Welcome to my first ever system building guide. I'm a gamer, an enthusiast, a web coder and a lot of other things in between. My computer is therefore somewhere between my hobby, the tool of my trade and part of my daily life, so it's got to be pretty good. Every couple of years, like a lot of PC enthusiasts, the time comes for me to upgrade to newer technologies by building a new system. There's no point in me or most people interested in gaming buying something mid-range, not if they want to get the most from the current and next games or if they want it to last long before needing moderate upgrading. I'm not a fan of upgrading either, is not at all cost effective, and a lot of the time you have to compromise in order to upgrade. For example my current system has an AGP Radeon 9700 Pro graphics card. I could upgrade to a GeForce 6800 Ultra, but then I could never go any further and besides I'd still have the same weak CPU. So then I'd need to upgrade that and then add to the memory, the list goes on. At the end of it you'd have been better off building a whole new system and selling the old one complete.
I like to get the most from my games the first time round. I rarely replay games so want to get the full range of eye (and ear) candy the first time round, with at little fuss as possible. The game developers create interactive masterpieces and want to show us their vision, so I want to see it and enjoy it as much as I can. I don't want to spend the first hour of owning a game, tweaking my graphics and system settings so I can play it at a reasonable frame rate. And I hate having to turn off effects in the games, I feel like I'm missing something - because I am.
I also don't believe in buying the absolute top end parts that are available, so this is not one of those 'money is no object' guides. It'd be nice if I had that kind of cash, but most of us don't. The best value high end kit sits just below the highest end models, offering 90% of the performance of the top models but at only about 60-75% of the price, so that's what I aiming for. That said I will offer higher premium choices for those who wish to spend a little extra to get something better, but these aren't what I consider the ultra top end products.
People who know me and people who visit this site often ask me what to buy, or to pretty much build their systems for them, well this guide should help you choose for yourselves, and stop me from repeating myself so much. Each persons needs are different, and so the choices you make based upon my advice are up to you. If you disagree with any of my choices, then make your own, if you have any questions, ask away in the forums.
A note on the prices and sources
I just have to state at this point that I am not endorsing any of the shops I list below; I am merely using multiple sources as examples of a good low price of each item, which are easily obtainable to myself (or any UK reader). They are by no means the exhaustively lowest prices; I have only compared a few prices in case. Please do shop around and use your preferred e-tailers. All the prices are current as of August 2005, and I don't expect them to stay at this price for long, as with all PC components, the prices drop pretty steadily as newer technologies appear.
What does the future hold?
In these sections I will try to tell you what I know of the future developments. Of course I don't know much more than is publicly available, but I can make a few general assumptions and make some educated guesses. The idea of these sections is to help you to decide if there's anything you need to consider before making your purchase, and in some cases you may even want to hold off on buying to wait to see the outcome of these future developments.
There is one general future development that needs to be gotten out of the way at this early stage, and that's Windows Vista (also known as Windows codename 'Longhorn'). Each new version of windows brings new hardware requirements, and WinVi will too. It will require a DirectX9 compatible graphics card to get the most out of the interface for starters. It will also bring with it the next generation of DirectX, most likely to be called DirectX 10 (but I have heard the name change 3 times already). No doubt WinVi will also have higher system requirements than WinXP, but from my experience of the WinVi Beta, it seems to have more of a technology requirements than, faster CPU's and masses more memory. Everything will of course need new drivers. Windows Vista won't be finished until about a year from now, so there's plenty of time for things to change, and it's too far away to put of buying a new system if you need one soon.
For now though we're still using Windows XP, which I personally think is a great operating system and a huge improvement over its predecessors. Now, I get asked three questions at this point:
- Home or Pro edition? To be honest, Home edition is just fine for the home user, that's what it's designed for. The Pro edition's extras are largely for use inside a corporate network.
- Retail or OEM? OEM means Original Equipment Manufacturer, which is completely misleading in the computer industry, so ignore what it literally means. It's basically a version that's stripped of its fancy retail packaging, and is for the use of someone building a system and buying the hardware to do so. That means that since we are buying hardware to build a system, that it's completely legitimate for us to buy an OEM version.
- 32 Bit or 64 Bit edition? - seeing as the most modern CPU's are 64 bit. Personally I'd steer clear of this issue for now and get the regular 32 bit version. The 64 bit versions of Windows, requires 64 bit drivers for your hardware, which are less mature and harder to find than the 32 bit versions. There will also be compatibility issues with some applications, particularly those that integrate into the explorer shell (i.e. applications that run from the system tray, or place themselves into the explorer's right click menu). So I'd wait for Longhorn before getting on the 64 bit bus.
You should be able to pick up a copy of WindowsXP Home for about £50, so factor that into your final costing.