Believe it or not, it's extremely possible to build a kick-ass system without worrying about the price of admission too much. High-end gaming rigs, bought wholesale from a store or online, will easily run you around $2,000. But a custom-built rig will give you great performance at a more palatable price. For under a thousand dollars you can build an awesome system that will run everything from Call of Duty to Far Cry 2 at full settings on a giant HD monitor. My own system is one such a system; for a little over eight hundred dollars, I bought and built an entire system that runs even Crysis at an acceptable 30 fps, and absolutely slaughters games like CoD 4, Bioshock, Civilizations V, Fallout 3... The list goes on and on. Even the system intensive Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, on a 1920 X 1080 HD monitor, on all the highest graphics settings, runs like at dream at an easy 40 fps. Your comparable desktop rig at Best Buy, with a price tag of $900, barely trips along at 8.
So, what's the secret to getting such a beautiful rig up and running? Well, it's actually very simple. The first rule: Know what you're looking for. Don't waste money on fancy or unnecessary overpriced components. If you want to play videogames, you don't need a hard drive that moves at 15 lightyears per second. You probably don't need a high-quality sound card - the integrated sound that comes with most motherboards should be good enough. If you're really strapped for cash, you probably don't even need a wireless network card - ten or fifteen bucks will get you an ethernet cable that you can string between your computer and your modem. However, certain things are essential for a good gaming rig. First of all, your motherboard. It doesn't need to be anything fancy, but you should probably make sure that it has integrated sound and networking capabilities. Make sure that the size of the motherboard fits the size of the case. Make sure it will support whatever hardware you plan to add - your RAM, your processor, etc. Other than that, get whatever is going to cost you the least! The next item you need to worry about is your processor, or CPU. The CPU, as the brain of your computer, seriously affects the performance you'll see. Today's games run best on dual- or quad-core CPU's; stay away from single cores, as this type of processor will be totally outmoded soon enough. Clock speed is also important, but don't get too hooked on it. A processor that runs at 3.0 GHZ, when it comes down to it, is not going to yield that much better performance than one that runs at 2.8 GHZ. Intel CPU's tend to provide more power, but are generally more expensive, whereas AMD's are slightly less high-end and a LOT more affordable. If you're a beginning computer builder, you really should not even consider buying a CPU from anyone either than these two extremely reputable companies. The next component you have to worry about is the graphics card. Your graphics card has the greatest appreciable affect on the way your games run, so if there's a place to spend big, this is it. I would recommend buying two or three levels below the current hot card. For example, back when the Nvidia GT 9800 card was new and expensive, I bought a 9700 for around a third of the price of the card that was only slightly superior. I recommend buying from Nvidia or from ATI; most motherboards support one or both of these brands. Much like AMD and Intel, they are both fantastic companies and you will probably be satisfied with whatever you buy from them. The final component that you should worry about is your RAM. At the time of this post, I would recommend DDR2, a type of RAM that is widely supported on motherboards and will remain current technology for a while yet to come. Two gigabytes of RAM will do, three is enough, four is ideal. RAM is pretty generic and cheap to manufacture. I've never experienced problems with RAM, and you shouldn't worry much about which type you buy. Just buy from a brand that has decent customer reviews on a site like TigerDirect or NewEgg.
Speaking of which, you're probably wondering where to go to purchase all this. Well, I would strongly suggest two sites: NewEgg and TigerDirect. Both provide comprehensive info on anything you might care to know about computers: reviews of products, customer ratings, information on components you can buy, tutorials on building or installing, even combo deals on things like motherboards and processor. I've found NewEgg's prices to be a bit cheaper, but I would still recommend that you cross-check all the prices on any components you want to buy. Both sites will ship your components to you within a few days, and you'll often get free (or very cheap) shipping.
So go out and pick out your parts, and good hunting! One of my next posts will be a rundown of my machine, how I put it together, specs on it, benchmarks and stress tests - things like that. I'll give you costs and then a short instructional tutorial and you'll be well on your way to owning your very own kick-ass gaming rig!