Buying a new computer

My wife’s office/game machine is beginning to fail, but we are torn between the budget concern and the need for a good gaming machine. Whatever we buy needs to last 4-5 years. The missus is seriously thinking about building her own, but that may take more time than we have.

So what is the current sweet spot for the 1500/2000 dollar range? What should we be looking for?

We usually buy from Dell, but are finding their machines underpowered if you use a lot of USB devices. In fact, my wife just installed a new power supply in her computer two weeks ago and it made a dramatic difference in performance.

If the failing motherboard hasn’t damaged any other devices, we could reuse her graphics card.

Any tips?


You can build a great rig for $1500 or less even including a video card. I have used Newegg and MWave for building machines and run across few problems. MWave will pretest your mb, cpu, and memory together before they send it for a small fee, which seems to be a useful feature.

– Xaroc

BTW, pm me or hop on IRC, I have a few components you might be interested in.

I doubt that reusing her graphics card makes sense in the long term unless you recently replaced it.

You can definitely create a good system that should last a while for $1500. I don’t think it is even possible to create a system that will last for 4 or 5 years regardless of how much you spend. If you have $2000 I would spend $1000 on a new rig and put the other $1000 in a CD for two years.

Correction - she can build a great rig. She has all the geek genes in the family; I’m just your run-of-the-mill nerd.

When my wife returns from work, I’ll get the info I need from her and then go poke you with more questions.


Is four years now considered an unreasonable life span for a desktop?


I don’t think four years is unreasonable at all. Only caveat would be budgeting for a video card upgrade after a couple years if you’re big into gaming.

I’m typing this message on my P4 2.53GHz which is over three years old – I initially had a Geforce(something) in it, but bumped up to an ATI 9800 a while back. Other’n that, been running nice 'n steady since I first put it together.

No, it’s not super-leet cutting edge; it runs WoW and Half-Life2 just fine, though.

If you want to play games on it it is. You mentioned gaming so I gave you the gaming answer. Here’s my example: In 2002 I bought an Athlon XP 2200+ with 512MB and paid about $600. I kept my video card up to date and by last fall I had a Radeon 9600XT. (That adds probably $200 to the cost.) So figure $750. That computer lasted three years. I was only able to play HL2 on this machine at 800x600 with details turned way down. I could only play Gothic II at 800x600 as well. I suppose if I had upgraded my graphics card yet again this situation would have been better but that’s only assuming I had purchased a 6800 or x800 for $300-$400.

Once your machine hits 3 years you simply aren’t going to be able to play the latest games at good detail. Of course if you are willing to forego the latest games or play them at low detail then you’ll be fine for 4 or 5 years.

I just built a system recently with the following specs:

AMD 64 3500
Asus SLI Nforce 4 mobo
Geforce 6800GT PCi express
1 gig ram
sb audigy 2
DVD burner
western digital 10k 74 gig drive.

I don’t think the final price was two grand. Not sure if that system would last 5 years, but it seems like a pretty solid system.

I built something similar, but with an x800 xl and an a64 3500+, minus the audigy and with a non-sli nforce board. It was like $1006 with shipping from monarchpc.com1. No raptor drive either, but the thing is speeeeeedy.

I’d build a reasonable socket 939 for 1k or so and then save the rest for a mid-life upgrade (cpu/video). that should let you do 4 years easily.

The graphics card should not be your only concern. I am gaming on a 3-3.5 year old box. It has 1 Gig speedy ram, but its an AMD [2000-2200?]. I waited to upgrade to a nice video card until HL2 (my only upgrade besides a PSU for the new vid card), and graphics are great.

But, whenever there are lots of AI guys running around in HL2, especially when you have all those sidekicks and enemies running around you, the game slows WAY down. Sometimes I let them (or assist them) get naded just so I can get moving again.
I would think (and hope) that the trend of more complex AI will only grow.

As for the lifetime of a gaming box, I think 4 years is stretching it. If you spend $1000-1500, then your hardware is starting to drop off support lists. If you spend $10000, then you are so spoiled that the computer would seem like crap by then.

Since you already have peripherals, especially the monitor, you could probably get away with spending $1000 and using it for 3 years. Of course, $1500 would be better, but your return/outlay starts dropping from there.

I know this will be answered by some enthusiast that has more money to spend than me.

And another thing…

On building the computer, if you get enjoyment out of doing it, great! If you are actually scared but want to save money, try a system builder. Lots of them build and test for free or a nominal fee, like $75.

If you want to pick everything you want, from anywhere, try this company:
KC Computers
I emailed them with parts I wanted, including a server case I wanted from newegg, and KC (kevin?) got right back and said that they can use basically any part I want, will build it, test it, AND warranty it. He even charged me the same for the case as newegg.

If you don’t even know what you want, there are lots of template “configurators” that give you choices for each component. These are also tested and warranteed.
Example: Monarch Computers

Wow! Thanks so much for that link, Cannon. I’m totally doing my next machine through them.

KC Computers has phenomenal reseller ratings, but their prices are seriously out of whack. A 74GB WD Raptor, an A64 3000+ and 1GB of “generic” PC3200 RAM costs $50, $50, and $40 bucks more than on Newegg. Monarch is much more competitive.

Plenty of good ideas in this thread. I’d suggest as a template:

-Case w/ 2 120mm fans, 1 front intake, 1 rear output.
-Decent Power supply. Antec makes nice ones, and their 480W Neo Power w/ modular cables is sweet.
-AMD 64 3500+ or better
-Nforce4 Socket 939 PCIe motherboard. Skip SLI. Asus, MSI, among others make decent boards.
-1GB of Corsair, Crucial DDR400 (PC3200) Memory
-DVD burner
-Ideally a WD Raptor 74GB hard drive for the OS and a big 200GB drive (Maxtor’s are fairly quiet w/ fluid dynamic bearings) for data.
-Best vid card in your budget. Nvidia 6800 and up or ATI X800 and up.

You can put together a system as I listed, with a 6800GT for about $1650.

If you’re interested in this sort of thing, I’ve built two mini-PCs that run every PC game on the market, and they haven’t cost much:

(rough prices from NewEgg)
Case - Biostar 200TB - $240
CPU - Intel Pentium 3.0Ghz - $180
RAM - 1GB Kingston HyperX DDR 3200 - $200
Hard Drive - 120GB SATA (Seagate) - $90
DVD/ CD ROM Drive - $25
Internal card reader - $15
OS - Windows XP - $110
Vid card - NVIDIA 6600GT - $200

If you shop around enough, you can probably get all these parts (or possibly even better ones) to build your machine for under $1000. I’ve found they can run just about any PC game out today, including DOOM 3, Half-Life 2 and World of Warcraft, usually with most of the details turned up. I have one hooked up to a 50" DLP, and I bring the other back and forth to work for testing as well as doubling as a LAN party machine.

Granted, they’re not meant to be overclocked like crazy, and there really isn’t room to add on anything beyond the video card, but they were both extremely easy to set up, and I’ve been really happy with them.

What difference does socket number mean? I’ve never understood that. What makes a Socket 939 (which mono also suggested on my mobo thread) better than, say, an Athlon Socket 754? Do they just get some sockets wrong?

“I’m not supposed to know a power socket from a computer terminal.”


A socket number = the pins sticking out of the CPU, and the appropriate configuration of sockets (holes) to jam them in. :)

Each pin has different functions, so as technologies change, they increase, change, rearrange the pins/sockets as needed.

In this case, 939 is the new stuff and 754 will be phased out over the next few years. 754 sockets are great, but if you’re buying a new machine, and want to get the max life w/ future upgrade potential, best to get the most current standard.

Yeah, the 939 sockets give you twice the memory bus width as 754. Twice the memory bandwidth. Consequently you need to use two DDR DIMMs.

This looks reasonable. I’ll point it out to my wife.

Her only real concern is that it be able to play Dragon Age when it comes out. It’s not like we play a lot of power hungry games. She’s a NWN addict and I have my strategy games. And I hardly ever review anything that really pushes the limits of my machine. She’ll need even less power than that.

Thanks everyone. I’ll compile all the info from here and other places and pass the word.


Not to hijack, but what is the machine doing that leads you to that conclusion? Curious, since I may be needing a new box as well


Not to hijack, but what is the machine doing that leads you to that conclusion? Curious, since I may be needing a new box as well[/quote]

There was an error message on boot (can’t recall specifics) that points to a motherboard issue. She was running the computer underpowered for a while (she had no idea how weak Dell’s power supplies were) with a lot of USB stuff plugged in and started noticing small errors here and there. Nothing with the graphics, but other devices started failing.

The new power supply made a big difference in performance, but it looks like the MB is beginning to have issues.

Looks like we will be getting a new graphics card, though. She spent most of last night shopping on line. She wants to get her father’s engineer opinion before making a decision, but we are well on the way to spending money.


I have a second generation Dell XPS. It has a 450 watt power supply in it, and it is built into the base of the frame, so you have terrific room in the case for cables and what not. I have all my USB slots occupied (9 total with the one firewire port), an NVIDIA 6800 Ultra, Two SATA Raid drives, and 3 DVD/RW. I experience no power problems and no performance problems. But an XPS isn’t cheap, but you can customize it and add parts later.

You should also think about getting a powered hub for all your USB devices.

The PC before this one, I built myself from scratch. It worked just fine, but I didn’t really think I saved all that much money. It really depends on how many spare parts you have lying around that you can reuse in a new box.