Summer is quickly approaching, and although outdoor activities are the requisite fare at this time of the year, late-night gaming sessions can make for a nice break. Bargain hunters usually shop at the sub-$1,000 level, and our Value Gaming PC Buyer's Guide makes a perfect match. True to its name, the Value Guide takes both system performance and price into consideration, going in search of AMD and Intel computers for gamers on a budget. It delivers the desktop and gaming performance you want, but at a price that certainly won't break the bank. The overall scenario is bit different from the other buyer's guides on Sharky Extreme, as we limit the budget to $1,000 in cold, hard cash while the goal remains the same: to assemble a pair of kick-ass systems that will play today's hottest games and still have enough power in reserve for tomorrow.
To do this, we pay special attention to the price-performance ratio of each component, making sure to match the hardware according and pricing from an overall system performance standpoint. While not as fast or flashy as the Extreme or High-End Gaming Systems, our Value configuration may actually be the best deal of them all. If you're the type of gamer who counts your pennies before buying any new system, then get ready for a buyer's guide right up your alley. We also offer recommendations for both Intel and AMD system configurations, as well as providing a secondary ATI or NVIDIA graphics option. After all, we're here to deliver value-packed gaming systems, not promote one platform over the other.
Finding the best system components for a value gaming system is more difficult than simply picking the top hardware money can buy, and it entails some concession on the part of the buyer. The $1,000 budget can be eaten up pretty quick, and slapping down the cash for a 27" wide-screen LCD or Core 2 Extreme QX9650 would take care of it in one shot. When compiling our Value Gaming PC Buyer's Guide, we try to find that happy medium between spending a fortune on a new PC and being "penny wise/pound stupid", and being stuck with obsolete or low-end hardware. Our value gaming PCs will still allow high-end gameplay, and have the CPU and 3D video power necessary to really push the framerates, while keeping a close eye on overall quality and features. Rest assured we don't scour the bargain bins for out-of-date hardware, and instead stick to a current, name brand component mix that offers the best overall value.
In this edition of the guide, we went looking to upgrade both the processor and graphics components, as these are not only the most active market segments, but are also the greatest contributors to overall gaming speed. The video card was an easy change, and the newest member of our value team is a real no-brainer. The processor was a bit more difficult, as our budget requires us to stay in the $150-$190 range, and most of the new blood sits above $200. We did what we could in these two areas, and were even able to upgrade a few other components, all while maintaining the supporting hardware list. These two gaming systems still offer excellent performance for the money, and will not only provide excellent gaming speed, but also can handle standard home entertainment and office use.
As with all of our buyer's guides, we have made every attempt to confirm that the selected hardware is available at one or more of the largest and most popular (with Sharky readers) online retailers. Although not all of the prices stated in the guide will exactly match that of a specific online dealer, you can bet on finding a significant percentage of our component list in their catalogues and at similar price levels. The availability factor did not limit our choices, but we do sleep easier with the knowledge that interested buyers can find the same hardware selection at most of the large online vendors.
Current Cost: $94
Consecutive Guides: 3
Price Change: +$4
The system case provides the foundation of any new configuration, and it is one of the most important components in the overall design. This is true no matter the budget, and this piece of hardware should be given equal weight whether you're spending $1,000 or $5,000. Although we do have more budgetary freedom with our High-end and Extreme Buyer's Guides, even an entry-level gaming computer deserves a quality case with a nice mix of features and real estate. When it comes to value system enclosures, there is still a need to balance retail price against case options, aesthetics and potential upgrade space, and this month is certainly no different, as we're looking to stretch our budget as far as possible.
We moved to the RAIDMAX Smilodon ATX-612WBP in 2007, and although there have been some excellent challengers at a similar price tag, we still really like the entire sub-$100 package. It remains ones of the top models in this price range, and the RAIDMAX Smilodon provides a lot of value for the money. The case more than fills our basic requirements of a low-cost, high value enclosure with built-in power supply with 24-pin/SATA/PCIe compatibility, as well as offering a brand name with good aesthetics. The $94 price tag represents a $4 increase, and is near the top-end of entry-level case prices, but we don't recommend scrimping on case costs any more than that.
The RAIDMAX Smilodon ATX-612WBP is a fully-featured system case. One of its best features is a pull-down motherboard tray, which allows easy access to the system internals - without even removing the PCIe/PCI cards. The case ships with 4 fans (3 x 80mm 1 x 120mm) and has six fan mounts. Other features include front-mounted USB and audio ports, a Side PCIe/AGP/PCI fan cooler, a removable hard drive rack, a slide-out toolbox, and "Clicklock" technology for smooth 3.5" and 5.25" peripheral installation. The Smilodon can handle both mATX and ATX motherboards and includes 4x5.25", 2x3.5" (external), and 4x3.5" (internal) expansion bays. The unit features a front bay door, fan and case LED lighting, and very nice external aesthetics.
The RAIDMAX Smilodon is offered in both bare and bundled PSU configurations, and since the price discrepancy is around $10-$15 in return for a 500W PSU, we obviously chose this option. The power supply is well equipped for a value system, and in addition to the ample 500W rating, it features 20/24-pin main power, and connectors for 4-pin 12V CPU, 6-pin PCI Express, and SATA power. For those that do want the flexibility of a separate PSU, simply buy the bare bones model.
There are a few alternatives, and if the Cooler Master 690 (above-left) can be found on sale, it's an excellent value, offering superb cooling and expansive real estate. We also like the new Three Hundred case (above-right) from Antec. It's a low-cost mid tower with a lot of features and real estate for its class. It's based on the same design as the popular Nine Hundred and Twelve Hundred gamer cases, but in a smaller footprint and price tag. The $75 (Three Hundred) and $85 (CM 690) retail prices are certainly right, but it does not include a default power supply, which would push the overall price to $100 or higher for a comparable setup.