After pricing out $1000 and $1500 gaming systems, we wanted to go a bit on the high-end and see how we would configure a $2000 gaming PC. $2000 may be more than a lot of you are willing to spend on a new home-built PC, but there are plenty of people out there who spend more than $2000 on custom-designed boutique systems from OEM builders. And for those fat-walleted gamers, this article will show that you can get a whole lot more if you build it yourself (though putting the pieces together is another matter). Just as with the $1500 PC, this build leans heavily on the CPU and GPU side to optimize the rig for high-res gaming, though it'll perform more than admirably with video encoding and other productivity tasks. And as always, we write this with a disclaimer that your own personal configurations and preferences may differ from ours, which does not make them any less valid. In fact, we encourage you to use our guide as a template so you can create your own spreadsheet to swap out the parts we chose with what may suit your needs and budget. Leave your feedback in the comments section to get the conversation started!
All prices found on newegg.com, as of April 15th, and do not include mail-in rebates (unless indicated), tax, or shipping.
Of course, we started filling out our Excel sheet by choosing the most important part of any gaming PC: the videocard. In this case, we knew that with a $2000 budget, we could afford more than one videocard, and go the SLI or Crossfire route. Last year's Dream Machine, for example, was outfitted with dual ATI 4870X2's in a Crossfire configuration. The fastest single-slot card available now is Nvidia's GTX 295, but with the cheapest 295 priced at $520, we really didn't want to use half our budget on videocards. So we opted for dual GTX 285s in SLI mode.
The GTX 285 is an updated version of the already speedy GTX 280, and represents the fastest single-GPU graphics card for sale today. Two 285's absolutely stomp the GTX 295 (and dual 4870X2s, for that matter) in performance. BFG is also offering a $30 rebate on their 285s priced at $330, so our decision was simple. Of course, if you wanted to save some cash (and power), a lone GTX 295 will run most games at 1900x1200 with all settings maxed out at 30+ frames per second (yes, even Crysis).
For a $2000 gaming PC, it's once again a no brainer to go with Intel's Core i7. Nehalem is pretty much the only choice for a top of the line processor, since AMD's Phenom II has been relegated to compete at the mid-range level. The only real decision in this category was which Core i7 SKU to use. We have no qualms going with the 2.66GHz 920 part, even if it represents the "budget" end of the Core i7 lineup. The 920 performs tremendously well compared to even the best Core 2 CPUs, and smashes Phenom in most of our benchmarks. It's also very easy to overclock, so you can stretch your investment a long way. One thing to note: the Core i7 920 has gone up in price since we last recommended it in our $1500 Gaming PC guide, from $280 to $289. Just another example of Keynesian economics at work. When demand is high, prices go up!
Since our configuration uses Nvidia SLI, we needed a compatible X58 motherboard. The Asus P6t fits the bill, with both Crossfire and SLI (up to 2 PCI-E cards) support. Earlier X58 boards only supported Crossfire, but most newer (and more pricier) models -- including Intel's own motherboards -- work with the Nvidia multi-GPU standard. The P6T has 3 Dimm slots that with recognize up to 12GB of DDR3 memory, onboard RealTek surround sound audio, and your typical suite of USB, Firewire, and network ports. Asus also sells a Deluxe version of the P6T (reviewed here) for $40 more that is the same as the P6T but offers 3-way SLI support, overclocking tools, as well as better quality on-board sound. Since we don't plan on using 3-way SLI, the vanilla P6T will suit us just fine.
Our dual-GTX 285 setup is going to be very power hungry, so we had to make sure that we chose a power supply that not only could handle the energy demands, but also sported enough PCI-E power connectors to funnel power to our GPUs. A good reference is Nvidia's SLIZone website, which lists approved power supplies for different Nvidia videocard configurations. Luckily, our current go-to PSU, the Corsair HX1000, has been deemed worthy for this setup. Your power supply options greatly diminish if you're going the Tri-SLI route or try to shove two dual-GPU cards in one system. For ATI fans, AMD has set up a similar PSU certification website to list all approved power supplies. And yes, the Corsair HX1000 will work with all the newest ATI cards too.
No surprises here. With RAM prices continuing to stumble, we see no reason why you shouldn't buy 6GB of memory for you next gaming PC. 6GB runs on three dimms in tri-channel mode on X58 motherboards, and OCZ's DDR3 series delivers exactly what you need for gaming at a great price. These sticks run with 7-7-7-20 memory timings, and should be stable at the stock voltage settings. You can go with other brands as well: Corsair, Crucial, and Patriot all make reliable DIMMs and are competitively priced. Of course, you'll need a 64-bit OS to make use of all this memory. We get to that on the next page.
In the issue we just shipped, editor Nathan Edwards sang the praises of Silverstone's Fortress FT01-B mid-tower case. But this new king of mid-towers retails for $220, more than twice the cost of the previous favorite NZXT Tempest. So back to the $100 NZXT it is. Once again, from our review: "We experienced no difficulties whatsoever installing a modern-day system into this no-nonsense chassis. There was plenty of room to manage cables around our huge 8800 GTX card, and the case’s eight hard drive bays come with screwless rails preinstalled—you pop them off, attach them to a drive, and slide the whole deal into place. The two 12cm front-panel fans take care of the cooling efforts." But if you have an extra $120 to spend, you can't go wrong with the Silverstone Fortress -- and look for our official review in the June issue.
Yes, we're aware that some users of the Barracuda line have suffered drive failures due to firmware issues. We're also aware that Western Digital has a 2TB drive for sale, which we've evaluated. But the Seagate 7200.11 1.5TB is still our favorite "capacity" hard drive. None of the 7200.11s we have in the office have failed, and Seagate has fixed all the firmware bugs (which were related to the controller board) on new shipments of this model. As we state in our review, the 1.5TB is just as fast as the speediest terabyte drives, and edges out comparable models from Western Digital and Samsung. We actually considered using a Velociraptor 10,000rpm drive, but with a max capacity of 300GB, we couldn't justify the relatively high price. Keep in mind that when we reviewed the 7200.11, it MSRPed for $180. It sells now for $120. Done deal.
The Samsung SH-223 is a minor upgrade from its predecessor, the SH-203, but it’s our new favorite. The burner has 22x DVD +/-R and though a majority of the specifications mirrored that of the older model, the SH-223 is seconds speedier. In fact, in our April issue's DVD rip challenge, the SH-S223 outperformed its nearest competitor by over 2 minutes when ripping a 7.18GB disc (after applying the newest firmware). And don't worry if you can't find it listed on Samsung's website -- this drive is still very much alive and in production. Since its last appearance in our $1500 gaming PC price guide, the S223F has gone up in price by $3.
We actually included the price of an OS in this pricing guide, since our build left us with more than $100 to spend. If you're still wary of running 64-bit Windows, man up and have some faith. 64-bit Vista may have been a mess when it first launched, the Microsoft has hotfixed and patched the vast majority of compatibility problems with its soon-to-be-suceded OS. Trust us: 64-bit Vista stable, and it'll let you use all 6 GB of memory you bought for this rig.
We knew going into our build that $2000 could get us a lot, and we were right about that. $660 spent just on GPUs may be a bit exorbitant, but you're going to get a whole lot of performance for that investment. Plus, the rebates available for several of our chosen components make the total price even more attractive. Compared to our $1500 build, we spent a higher percentage of our budget on GPU (34% compared to 27%), and the addition of the OS and CPU Cooler helped balance out the rest of the funds. The motherboard we chose was a bit pricier than the one in the $1500 PC as well, even though they're both solid X58 boards. And that's the point of a $2000 system: you can afford to splurge a little on premium parts to reach claim that extra bit of performance. Are those extra frames per second worth the $500 difference? Probably not for most people. But since this is Maximum PC, we want to give you the option anyway.