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Sometimes, you just have to keep things real. Last year, our Dream Machine was a paean to excess, a chrome-plated $17,000 wünder-rig. While we’re still quite fond of that machine, this year we decided to take a different tack and see if we could build a more reasonably priced, but still lust-worthy Dream Machine. Well, actually, we built three of them. While the combined cost of these three machines is about half the price of last year’s rig, we packed a lot of awesome into our relatively tight budgets. The lesson is simple: Dream Machine isn’t about spending a ludicrous amount of cash on a PC, it’s about getting the best rig you can for the money you spend. I think you’ll agree that these three machines pack a ton of power and are all great values.
Without further ado, we give you this year’s crop of Dream Machines.
The number-one complaint console weenies have about PC gaming is the cost. We’re here to tell you that you can build an entry-level gaming rig that still kicks ass for less than $700. So, while we advocate saving your ducats when the economy is in the toilet, you needn’t suffer a slow PC.
Our goal with the Recession Special was to build a machine designed for one thing and one thing only—gaming. There’s no terabyte hard drive or fancy quad-core CPU in here, just a honking videocard and enough memory and CPU to support the GPU. That’s it. What we built is a machine that shreds at most games, from World of Warcraft to Team Fortress 2.
So, there you go. Take your severance, put together our $700 wonder, and subscribe to WoW. After all, where else can you get hundreds of hours of entertainment for $15 a month?
A good low-cost alternative to the high-flying 790FX chipset, boards such as MSI’s DKA790GX use ATI’s integrated graphics chipset. We just switched the onboard GPU off and still got access to the advanced chipset special sauce that ATI and AMD have developed for the Phenom II. And made before DDR3, it’ll run well on regular DDR2.
Scoffed at initially, AMD’s tri-core procs will still whip the snot out of any dual-core. Even better, the 45nm Phenom II overclocks like hell. We took our 2.8GHz Phenom II X3 720 to 3.6GHz without breaking a sweat.
This is actually a stock AVC heatsink that AMD includes with its retail processor in box. For what it’s worth, we were able to get our 2.8GHz proc up to 3.7GHz with stability, so there’s something to be said for stock heatsinks.
Yeah, DDR3 is cheaper today but it still ain’t as cheap as DDR2, which you’re practically paid to use. OK, not really, but it’s wickedly affordable. We paired our 64-bit OS with 4GB of Kingston HyperX DDR2/800.
Dayum, it feels good to be a gamer. Especially when you can get an HIS Radeon HD 4870 for such a good price. Just a couple years ago, a hunred and fiddy bucks would get you a pathetic single-slot graphics card that didn’t even need power. And now we have a $700 PC with a truly stupendous card.
One of the tricks to getting a sub-$700 machine to work with a good GPU is to find a low-cost power supply that will actually give you two six-pin graphic connectors. The Rosewill RP550V2-S-SL did that for us and it’s quiet, to boot. It helps that our graphics card is actually pretty lean on power consumption despite its dual six-pin connectors.
Take Samsung’s burnalicious SH-S223 and add LightScribe capabilities and you have one the best burners available for next to nothing. Really. At $25 each, we were tempted to put three in the box just because we could.
Antec’s 900 may be dated but it’s no less effective. You get awesome air flow and a sharp design that doesn’t belie the low budget of the machine. Even better, the case’s vintage status means many stores will have it marked down to a very reasonable price. When you consider that you’re getting a case that revolutionized the category, it’s yet another plus.
The SSD in our Stimulus machine costs almost as much as this whole PC, so an HDD was clearly called for. Western Digital’s 500GB Caviar Black features a 32MB buffer, 7,200rpm, and dual processors for high performance at a pretty low price. Sure, we could have gained a few hundred more megabytes by going with a slower drive, but we opted for as much drive performance as we could get on a budget.
With that OS X-ass-stomping Windows 7 just around corner, it would be pretty hard to load Windows Vista on our Dream Machines. Instead, we went with the Release Candidate version of Win 7 Ultimate in 64-bit flavor. Stuff that in your hat and eat it, Justin Long.
|CPU||AMD Phenom II X3 720||$139||amd.com|
|RAM||Kingston HyperX 4GB||$55||kingston.com|
|Videocard||HIS Radeon 4870 512MB||$153||hisdigital.com|
|Hard Drive||Western Digital Caviar 500 Black||$69
|Windows 7 Ultimate RC1||$0||microsoft.com|