My Dream (and by dream I mean the one my wife will let me have) Computer


I don’t know how some people do it. I’ve wanted a decent desktop for years now, but between student loans, rent, and a bazillion other demands on my checking account, I’ve never even been able even to pretend to save enough cash for a reasonable gaming PC. When I caught my first whiff of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (coming out this November) however, I informed my wife that I had eleven months to get together a decent gaming rig or I would die. Apparently my life is only worth about 1,000 bucks to her unfortunately, because that’s the limit she put on my build. So, if I had the money today (which I don’t) here’s the system I’d be spending my time with this weekend:

CPU: Intel Core i5 2500K
Price: $239.98

With a $1000 limit, the skimping begins early. Of course I would rather the Core i7 2600K, but an extra hundred dollars just wasn’t in the cards. Intel’s i7 line is loads faster than the i5, not because of the measly .1 MHz difference between them, but because the Core i7 supports Hyper-Threading where the Core i5 does not. I thought about going for a lower-end processor that I would feel better about ebaying off for an i7 when I could, but this is the call I made. With Bulldozer and Ivy Bridge on the horizon, which will require different motherboards than what I’ve got here, I thought it better to pick something that would last me a couple of years until I was ready for a more significant upgrade.

Motherboard: ASRock P67 Extreme4 B3
Price: $169.98

The second biggest factor (price came first) I considered when selecting this build was upgradeability. I wanted to make sure that my $1000 system could be upgraded easily without throwing out old parts. I wanted the P67 chipset so I could overclock my K series processor, four RAM slots so I could add additional memory without throwing out smaller sticks, SLI compatibility so I could add a second video card later, SATA 6.0Gbps for the obvious access speed increase, and USB 3.0, just so I could have it (I’m sure I’ll want it at some point.)

Memory: 4GB G.Skill DDR3-1333M
Price: $38.87

Of course I wanted more RAM, but 4GB is enough to get me started. Since I’ve got 4 slots on the board, this purchase will remain useful even after buying a beefier, dual-channel kit.

Hard Drive: Seagate ST3160316AS 160GB SATA 6.0Gb/s
Price: $39.98

Don’t laugh; I’m aware that this drive is incredibly tiny. However, my laptop has a 500GB hard drive of which I only use about 90GB. That’s with Starcraft II, World of Warcraft, Civilization IV + Expansions, Civilization V, The Witcher, Drakkensang, and Mass Effect I and II installed! I don’t store movies on my hard drive; I’ve got a perfectly good external drive hooked up to my Blu-Ray player for that. 160GB is enough for now, plus it’s cheap enough that I won’t feel bad chucking it when I can afford to upgrade to an SSD primary and 1TB storage.

Case: aKia T6023
Price: $25.87

This is probably my least favorite aspect of the ensemble. The case is not great in the cooling department, has no side panel ventilation, and looks like it only cost $25. The upshot of this, however, is that it only costs $25! This will probably be the first part of the system I upgrade, even though it takes the most work.

Case: Mushkin Volta 500W
Price: $49.98

As I looked for places to cut, I kept coming back to the power supply. However, I refused to fall into the pit that finds its way onto every “mistakes system builders make” guide. I didn’t want to skimp on the power supply! This PSU is modular, which was important to me given the crappy case and lowish number of components, and it’s SLI ready which will probably be the second upgrade I make to the system, depending on the frame rates I can manage on a single card.

Video Card: Asus ENGTX460 NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460
Price: $168.98

Since the point of all this is to play Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on high (if not highest) settings, the video card was pretty important. The GTX 460 is one of the fastest GPUs available and is one of the best bang-for-your-buck cards available right now (the Radeon HD 6850 is a little better, but I’m an NVIDIA fan-boy). It runs DirectX 11 which is important to me since I’ve been loving on Civ V lately, and it’s RAM clock and bandwidth are both good, which will keep frame rates up on TES. Eventually I hope to pick up a second card and two more monitors so I can rock 3D Vision Surround as well.

Monitor: Acer G215HAbd-1
Price: $149.98

You may have been wondering why I have to skimp so much on my system; $1000 is a pretty high ceiling for a gaming rig. The reason is that I’m not moving from one desktop to another, I’m moving from a laptop to a desktop. I don’t have an old monitor that I can use with my new system, so the display has to come out of my budget. I wanted a reasonable screen size (24” was out of the running from the get-go), a fast response time, and a decent brightness since married guys with kids don’t get to play in the dark very often.

Keyboard: iMicro Keyboard
Price: $6.98

I’ve already got a mouse (playing Starcraft II on a trackpad wasn’t so much fun), but I’ve never owned a keyboard. There are some cooler looking keyboards, but when you’re on a budget, a seven-dollar keyboard looks pretty good.

OS: Windows 7 Home Premium
Price: $99.94

The Elder Scrolls V is coming out for Windows, not Linux, not Mac—Windows. So that’s what I needed. Yup. Gaming aside, Windows 7 is terrific for its compatibility with everything, hardware and software, its ease of use, its good looks, and the fact that I’ve been using it since I was twelve. Linux may be free, but $99 is a good price for all the benefits Windows offers.

Final Thoughts

I had to make a lot of concessions with this build—storage space, RAM, and screen size all had to take a back seat if I was to get the processing power and gaming graphics I wanted. The only part I won’t have to start from scratch on is a DVD drive, I’ve already got an external one that I never use. All my scrimping got me a system that will handle my gaming requirements, leave plenty of room for economical upgrading, and cross the bridge from laptop to desktop, making future builds much easier. The final bill? $991.54, which leaves me enough to buy my wife some flowers so we’ll both be happy!

A question: Should I have gone for a $130 video card like this HD 5750 and chosen a better case? Or was my temporary sacrifice worth it? Tell me what you think in the comments below!

If you think I’m silly to build a gaming PC when I could just pick up an Xbox 360, check out my article, “Kinect may Impress but Real Gamers Need a PC!

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