Originally Published: Thursday, 21 September 2000 Author: Brian Richardson
Published to: enhance_articles_hardware/Hardware Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Brian's Average Gaming System

So you can't afford my dream gaming system. Hey ... even *I* can't afford it. So see what Brian would build for the budget impaired.

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Nickels & Dimes

Yes, my dream machine has a high price tag ... over $6,000 if I include tax & shipping. But that isn't what I play with today. My current gaming computer isn't half the machine my dream computer is, and I still manage to clean up at LAN parties. Take it from me, it is possible to make a good game machine for very little money.

Motherboard & CPU

In the bargain realm, the Intel vs. AMD decision is a bit tougher. But don't try to go cheap on the motherboard. If you buy a Celeron system, make sure it can be upgraded to take a Pentium III ... same for the AMD Duron/Athlon. The CPU can be upgraded in six months when today's 900-1,100 MHz processors take a price drop.

AMD is still my choice for the low-end game system. The Duron processor is a strong performer versus the Celeron, and the Socket A allows a simple upgrade to any speed of Athlon processor. And as an added bonus, the Duron 700 MHz ($92) is cheaper than the Celeron 700 MHz ($168). The MSI 6330 motherboard ($127) is still my pick for Socket A processors (VIA KT-133 chipset, UDMA/66, AGP 4X).

The Golden Orb ($16) is the uber-cool CPU fan. This is the kind of fan a boy wants to take home to mother. Buy it cause it's cool ... you need no other reason.

Memory

Don't worry ... 128MB is fine for a gaming system. One stick of 128MB PC-133 SDRAM will get you started, leaving two slots on the motherboard for future expansion. Half of this memory will be used by the AGP aperture as a space for storing texture bitmaps, which increases gaming performance (be sure to change the AGP setting in BIOS to 64MB).

Video

The best bargain "kick-ass" video chipset just hit the market ... the NVIDIA GeForce2 MX. It's a good consumer version of the GeForce DDR chipsets that power many a rabid gamer's system. Many of these video cards come equipped with television outputs (perfect if you have a wide screen TV in the den). My personal choice is the VisionTek ($108, 32MB Geforce2 MX), but one vendor's card is pretty close to the others in performance. Many of the "features" that set different brands apart are only supported in Windows 95/98. It's easy to find this card for a low price.

The latest NVIDIA Detonator drivers for Xfree 4.0 support this card under LINUX. If you're struggling to rub two nickels together, you can still get a good TNT2 based AGP card for about $50 online. These cards aren't as good as the GeForce2 MX, but they will do better than 30 fps in today's games (I still use one at home).

Nearly any vanilla-brand 17" monitor looks good in 1024X768 resolution, which is a good resolution for better-than-arcade gaming. KDS makes a good bargain monitor ($142), but most any beige tube will do. Just make sure to get a monitor that does .27 dot pitch or smaller (larger dot pitch is not better). Monitors are expensive to ship, so check your local computer stores.

Case & Power Supply

Cheap systems don't need to live in cheap cases. That $30 ATX case has one fatal flaw ... the power supply. This Duron/GeForce2MX configuration works great on the average 250 watt power supply, but any system upgrade can cause the computer to brown-out. Brown-outs equal system lockups ... system lockups equal your geek butt getting smoked by some pimple-faced dweeb named "F3arMyR0ck3t". This is not good.

What you're looking for is a 300 Watt ATX power supply that provides at least 150 Watts for the 5 volt & 3.3 volt outputs. Many suppliers sell cases with "Athlon power supplies", which AMD has approved for use with the Athlon. I have run the AMD Athlon very well on a 250 watt power supply, but it's not a system I think I could safely upgrade.

My opinion: stick with Inwin or Enlight cases. They're solid and easy to work with (some lower-end cases are a big pain to tinker in). One good choice is the Inwin S500 ($88 with 300 watt "Athlon" Power Supply). You can spend less on a case if you need to work within a budget, but I consider the case to be an investment that can be carried across several upgrades.

Note: stay away from those translucent "iWannaBeaMac" cases ... they don't always use the best power supplies, and they look pretty odd without the matching translucent peripherals. If you want a colored case, paint it.

Storage

So I went nuts on my dream system, spending several hundred dollars on the hard drive. Not a problem ... you can build a good gaming system using a 20 GB hard drive (space for games, maps and a dual-boot configuration). The best names in consumer hard drives are Maxtor & Western Digital. The Maxtor 20 GB 7,200 RPM hard drive supports UDMA/66 and is not very expensive ($105). A three year manufacturer's warranty is the norm today, so you can expect to heep this drive running for a long time.

CD-ROM ... anything over 32X is just fine. I have a Delta 44X CD-ROM ($26) at home, but there are dozens of capable brands in the same price range.

Sound

Honestly ... you might not need a sound card. Most VIA KT-133 & Intel i815 motherboards come with an on-board sound codec that has driver support under LINUX. You might spend a few hours getting the drivers to work, but the sound will be just fine for gameplay. I have not had good luck with a standard distribution recognizing on-board sound on the MSI motherboard (even on Mandrake), so it will take some work.

If you don't want to fiddle with the drivers, you can use a LINUX-friendly SoundBlaster card like the Ensoniq 1370 ($18). This PCI sound card is recognized & configured by many distros on install (Mandrake 7.1 & Caldera 2.4). Don't bother spending major bucks on speakers if you don't get a great sound card. A good pair of Koss over-the-ear headphones from WalMart will work just fine. But for those who need bass, try some vanilla-brand "powered computer speakers with sub-woofer" ($35) from your local computer store.

Network

Stick with a brand-name network interface. My choice is the Intel PRO/100 ($35). Intel makes a good network card, and this one is well supported under LINUX. This is the same adapter that sits in my dream computer ... it's not that expensive to get a good network card.

Did I Forget Anything?

Keyboard and mouse ... spend $16 total for you generic PS/2 input devices. Surge protector ... drop $30 on a 1000+ Joule surge protector with an insurance policy and a good reputation (APC, Belkin, etc.). If you plug this game system into some cheap "surge strip" you bought at the checkout asile of K-Mart I will personally frag your sorry pixel-mapped ass so hard John Carmack will come over to your house and uninstall your copy of Quake III Arena.

Time To Checkout

$127 - Motherboard: MSI 6330 $92 - CPU: AMD Duron 700MHz $16 - Golden Orb CPU Cooling Fan $108 - Memory: 128MB PC133 SDRAM $108 - Video: 32MB GeForce2 MX $142 - Display: KDS 17" with .27 dot pitch $88 - Case: Inwin S500 with 300 watt "Athlon" Power Supply $105 - Hard Drive: Maxtor 20.4GB (7200 RPM, UDMA/66) $26 - CD-ROM: Delta 44X EIDE $18 - Sound Card: Creative Ensoniq ES1370 PCI $30 - Speakers: Powered Speakers with SubWoofer $35 - Network: Intel PRO/100 $16 - PS/2 Keyboard & Mouse $30 - Surge Protector: APC or Belkin $941 - Total

Don't forget tax & shipping ... that puts this total somewhere around $1,000. Now the true penny-pincher can shave dollars off of this system in many places. A smaller or slower hard drive can be used ... a cheaper case can be used ... speakers can be replaced with inexpensive headphones. But keep a strong system backbone ... the motherboard, video card & CPU.

I'm sure you web-savvy bargain hunters can beat these prices with some dedicated surfing and a few hours on "http://www.pricewatch.com". Even if you stick with this shopping list, a good gaming system can be had for a low price. Another bonus: this system can be upgraded to make a super gaming system with just a few small changes. Save those nickels and you'll be ready to frag.

Brian Richardson will still kick ass at the latest gaming party with his AGP 2X motherboard, 5400 RPM hard drive & 750 MHz processor. Better hardware might not mean you won't suck at Quake .. but your enemies will look better.





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