$1500 Gaming PC Buyer's Guide -- November 2009

norman

It's that time again! This month, we've priced out an amazing $1500 gaming PC. If you recall from our Dream Machine feature , the $1500 "Budget Surplus" of mid-2009 was powered by a Core i7-920 and Radeon 4870 X2. Today--a few months later--we're able to make a few adjustments to upgrade to a Radeon 5870-based machine. The introduction of Intel's Lynnfield processor and the final retail release of Windows 7 also forced us to reevaluate our spending priorities, but we're very pleased with the outcome. As gamers, this is a system we'd be proud to build ourselves--it will play any game released in the foreseeable future.

Read on for our parts picks, and let us know what you think!

*All prices are as of November 13th and do not include rebates, sales, clearance, or whatever else makes computer parts really cheap these days.

CPU

Core i7-860

$290, www.intel.com

Let's start off with the CPU. We've said this many times before: Intel's Lynnfield is Nehalem for the masses. Sure, the Bloomfield-based Core i7-920 is almost exactly the same price as this Core i7-860 we've picked, but going the Bloomfield route means you'll still have to buy a pricey X58 motherboard. The i7-860, based on Lynnfield, actually runs at a higher clock speed than the i7-920 (2.8GHz to 2.66GHz), and its performance tops the 920 in many gaming benchmarks. The absence of tri-channel DDR3 and dual X16 PCI-E2.0 support is almost a non-issue--the 860 makes up for that by being more easily overclockable to the 3+GHz range. The only reason to go with a Bloomfield system is the upgrade path, but Intel has vowed to keep up support for both 1366 and 1156 socket processors.

Motherboard

Asus P7P55D Deluxe

$220, www.asus.com

Our $1000 PC used an Asus P7P55D motherboard, but this time around, we have enough cash for the Deluxe version. We definitely sympathize with PC builders when it comes to confusing branding schemes--Asus has no fewer than six different versions of the P7P55D motherboards (LE, stock, PRO, EVO, Deluxe, and Premium). The Deluxe version comes with four 1.5V DIMM slots, two gigabit ethernet controllers, two PCI-E X16 slots, and is incredibly stable for overclocking. In fact, this board is specifically designed for overclocking. Asus has bundled a "TurboV Remote" with the system to use for manual overclocking (an easy 20% boost), and there are even three switches to let you override BIOS limits on RAM, memory controller, and CPU voltage.

CPU Cooler

Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus

$30, www.coolermaster.com

Even without a $1500 budget, it would be foolish not to pick up an aftermarket CPU cooler, especially if you're planning on overclocking. The decision is made even easier with Cooler Master's recently released Hyper 212 Plus cooler, which isn't just the best air cooler we've tested, but also one of the cheapest. The previous champ, the Thermalright Ultra 120E, sold for $70, and this cooler is less than half the price of that. The skyscraper design isn't particularly innovative, but we can't argue with the performance numbers. A stock cooler heats up to 61 C on a full load, while the Hyper 212 Plus keeps its cool at 43 C.

Memory


Corsair XMS3 4GB DDR3/1600

$92, www.corsair.com

Well, it had to end sometime. The era of ridiculously cheap memory may be over. In the summer, you could buy 6GB of DDR3 memory for under $80. Today, you'll be lucky if you find 4GB for under $100. Of course, you're not going to want to skimp out on RAM quality for overclocking, so we're recommending a pair of rock-solid DIMMs from Corsair. Other performance memory makers will also suffice (Patriot, Crucial, OCZ, etc), but you'll want to stick with name brands for reliability and a decent warranty.

Videocard

HIS H587F1GDG Radeon HD 5870

$400, www.hisdigital.com

Things get really interesting with our videocard pick. ATI's Radeon HD 5870 is the new GPU champ, and it doesn't look like Nvidia will have a rival released to market anytime soon. We toyed with the idea of going with a lower-clocked 5850, but decided to make some cuts in other categories to go all-out on the GPU. Even at $400 (which is $20 higher than the launch price, due to high demand), its much more reasonable pricing than flagship videocard launches in the past. Unfortunately, the card is in a bit of short supply, so you'll have to hunt around to find it in stock. There also really isn't much difference between the 5870s released from HIS and other makers, so you'll be fine with one from Sapphire or PowerColor. Just make sure to read the fine print in the warranty before you buy!

Optical Drive

Samsung SH-S223

$31, www.samsungodd.com

This is starting to get a little embarrassing. Samsung's SH-S223 DVD burner hasn't faced a challenger worthy of its blazing read and write speeds, so it remains our pick for best optical drive for yet another month. Its price has gone up a little since the summer, but $30 for a fast and reliable (and did we mention fast?) 22x drive is well worth the money. Unless you're willing to dish out the bucks for Blu-Ray (and deal with HDCP hassles), you'll be fine with a DVD burner.

Hard Drive


Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB

$100, www.westerndigital.com

We decided to go for a 1TB drive (instead of the 1.5TB Seagate in the Budget Surplus) this go-around to save money for other components. But while we sacrificed a bit of capacity, we definitely didn't want to skimp on speed. The Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB is as affordable as it is functional. As a WD Black drive (as opposed to Western Digital's Green lineup), its emphasis is on performance over power conservation. And that promise is delivered--it's one of the faster 3-platter terabyte drives we've tested , delivering truly impressive random-access speeds. Sure, you can buy a two-platter terabyte drive these days, but the price premium makes that jump difficult to stomach. With modest specifications and an abundance of storage room for the average computer user, the WD Digital Caviar Black 1TB is totally worth a Benjamin. And if you have the dough, an awesome 2TB Caviar Black drive is also available.

Power Supply


Corsair 850TX

$140 ($120 after rebate), www.corsair.com

The Corsair 850TX is the same power supply we chose for our $1500 Dream Machine, and it'll the do the trick for this build. It's $15 cheaper than when we last priced out a system (with $20 rebate), and you'll need the wattage to keep your system stable through overclocking on a hot summer day. There's enough juice to power the efficient Lynnfield processor and 5870, with enough left over to add a second video card if you want to upgrade to Crossfire in the future.

Case

Antec 900 Two

$120 ($95 after rebate), www.antec.com

We've long recommended the Antec 900 as the go-to mid-tower case (the NZXT tempest was just a 900 clone, after all). But it's time to finally put the original to bed and move up to the 900 Two. This successor shares many of the great features of the 900 that make it easy to build in, but its emphasis is on usability. Cut-outs and tie-downs on the motherboard tray help with cabling, and the chassis fans' speed knobs are mounted directly onto the front bezel. These modest improvements make it a more viable case than the 900, and we're glad that its price (after rebate) still squeaks in under the $100 mark.

Operating System

Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit Edition

$105, www.microsoft.com

You know our position on Windows 7: it kicks ass . So much so that we've recommended it as a primary OS since Microsoft released the public Release Candidate. But since we can't get away with recommending the RC version anymore, the OEM version is the way to go for your new PC, since it's the cheapest way to get a full copy. If you're truly a penny pincher, you can also just buy an upgrade copy of Windows 7 and run it as a fresh install ( Check out how with this guide ). We're also recommending the 64-bit edition, so you can utilize all 4GB of memory . Since our last price guide, the OEM version of Home Premium has dropped by 3 dollars. That's 300 pennies saved!

Price Breakdown

So how does it all break down? First, let's look at the specs for the last $1500 machine we built this past summer:

Part:

Model:

Price:

Motherboard
Gigabyte GA-EX58 $189
CPU Intel Core i7-920 $280
Memory Patreot 6GB Viper DDR3 $79
Cooler
Thermalright Ultra 120E-1366 $70
Video Card
Diamond Radeon HD 4870 X2
$389
Optical Drive
Samsung SH-S223 $25
Power Supply
Corsair 850TX $135
Case Thermaltake Element S
$120
Hard Drive
Seagate 1.5TB 7200.11 Barracuda
$130
OS Windows 7 RC $0

Below is the $1500 we've spec'd out today. The biggest difference lies in our decision to go with a Lynnfield processor instead of a lower-clocked Bloomfield, even though we actually spent more money on the processor/motherboard of this new machine. The video cards are similarly priced, but performance is far from comparable--the Radeon 5780 absolutely stomps the 4870 X2 of last year, and its a single-GPU card, to boot. Of course, we had to spend a small amount of the budget on operating system, but that's $105 well spent. $1500 is a magic price point for enthusiasts building a new system, and we're amazed at what you can get for the price.

Part:

Model:

Price:

(Price after rebate)

Newegg Link

Motherboard
Asus P7P55D Delue
$220 Link
CPU Intel Core i7-860 (Lynnfield) $290 Link
Memory Corsair XMS3 4GB DDR3/1600
$92 Link
Cooler
Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus
$30
Link
Video Card
HIS H587F1GDG Radeon 5870
$400 Link
Optical Drive
Samsung SH-S223A $30 Link
Power Supply
Corsair 850TX $140 $120 Link
Case Antec 900 Two $120 $95 Link
Hard Drive
WD Caviar Black 1TB $100 Link
OS Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit $105 Link

Total: $1527 ($1482 after rebates)

Agree with our choices? Have a better configuration for a $1500 gaming PC? Post your thoughts in the comments below!

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