DIY-ing a mid-range gaming PC

About a year ago, I led myself to believe that I’d find the time to play Fallout 3 on this new gaming PC that I’d build. Here are the parts that I’d picked, with my dear friend Eddie’s help, circa December 2008:

CPU/Mobo    Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 + Gigabyte GA-EP45-UD3P        474
Memory      Corsair PC2-6400 DDR2-800 (2x2GB)                     128
Chassis     3R System K400                                         59
PSU         Vantec 500N ION2+500W                                  75
Graphics    Gainward 4850 512MB                                   244
Storage     WD Caviar Black 640GB                                 138

The damage tallied up to $1118, excluding an optical drive, monitor, keyboard, mouse and speakers. I didn’t purchase it in the end, and I didn’t find the time to play much of anything, so it turned out to be a good decision. Now, a year later, I’ve gotten into the mood to compile an updated list, mostly driven by the release of new cheaper, better and faster (CBF) parts. So here we go again:

CPU/Mobo    AMD Phenom II X2 550 BE + Gigabyte GA-MA785GM-UD2H    309
Memory      Team Xtreem Dark PC2-8500 (2x2GB)                     155
Chassis     Gigabyte GZ-X2 w/420W PSU                             109
PSU         Ditto                                                   -
Graphics    ?                                                       -
Storage     WD Caviar Black 1TB                                   155

The cost for the base (CPU, Mobo, Memory, Chassis and PSU) system has dropped significantly, and I’m undecided on whether I actually need new Graphics/Storage parts. Anyway if I do purchase this system sometime soon, Fallout 3 will play really well. Or I might just wait a year for something even more CBF.


Tips for rusty system builders

As promised.

Your mileage may vary, I give no warranties. For tips that give the colour order of wires, always view the motherboard in the correct orientation; i.e. when facing you, the CPU portion is on the top.

  1. Let the pros handle the difficult parts. I’ve always struggled with the mounting of the heatsink; most of the guys at Sim Lim Square take 15 seconds to mount the CPU, apply the thermal paste and mount the heatsink. Plus the fact that he actually curled up the CPU fan wire nicely so it looks neater.
  2. Mount the replacement rear panel before mounting the motherboard. In my case, the panel is mounted from the inside, so if you’ve done applying the screws to the motherboard, happy unscrewing.
  3. The power cable for floppy drives is plugged in reverse order to hard drives. The red wire is on the outside, whereas for hard drives, the read wire is on the inside. How do you know if the power is on the wrong way? When the drive read/write light is always on.
  4. Purchase a casing with front-mounted USB port wires that come in a bundle. Otherwise you’ll spend time cussing when plugging in four wires per connector, each of which is insy-weensy. For my case, the wires come unbundled, and from left to right: red yellow green black. Repeat as required.
  5. The mainboard manual is your best friend. Read it like the Bible, especially the “system panel connectors” part. This tells you how to fix up the hard drive/power LEDs, reset/power switches. If your Bible is too thin, consider another manufacturer.
  6. System connectors come in two or three pin bundles. The coloured bundle is always on the left; e.g. orange white or red white.
  7. Purchase DDR/DDR2 memory modules in pairs. So you get dual channel (fast) as opposed to single channel (slower). Get ones that are the same size (e.g. 512MB). Most modern motherboards have 4 slots for memory, and they look like (red) (black) (red) (black). If you have 2x 512MB, fix ’em in slots of the same color; e.g. black black or red red.


New computer

I went to Sim Lim Square/Laser last night with the intention of purchasing some parts for a destroyed computer. Basically the power supply fried everything except the memory, sound card, floppy(!) drive and the cd burner. I think the graphics card, a beautiful Radeon 8600 was fried too, but I couldn’t confirm cos I had no AGP slot for testing. I had purchased a new power supply and a 200GB harddrive in the hope that the system was undamaged, but to no avail.

So off to shopping:

  1. CPU: A recent Intel Dual Core processor, something like the E4300, which my in-the-know friend, has advised to be “fastttttt”. This should cost something like (SGD) $250.
  2. Mainboard: Asus/Gigabyte/MSI LGA 775 (compatible with the CPU, of course). About $110.
  3. Memory: 1x 512MB Kingston KVR (DDR400). $80 max.

The total is estimated to be $440, which is decent since we’re reusing some parts. I was looking for a DDR system — as opposed to DDR2 — since I already had some memory to begin. I was also looking for a mainboard with a AGP slot although I know that’s becoming really rare nowadays.

When I finally arrived at the shop it was 8pm+. Shops at Sim Lim close soon after that. So I was in a big rush, having delayed my attempts to troubleshoot the entire system for 3(!) months.

In the end I was convinced to purchase:

  1. CPU: AMD Athlon(tm) 64 X2 Dual Core Processor 3600+
  2. Mainboard: nVidia GeForce 6150 rev. A2.
  3. Memory: 2x 512MB Kingston KVR (DDR2 533).

The total price was $342 $372, so in the end I had a slower system for a significantly lower price. Yeah OK so it’s a different processor/mainboard altogether, no graphics card and faster memory, that’s all. Hehe

I considered getting some decent, mid-ranged graphics card as well, but for now, the built-in graphics will do. Oh! And it has VGA/DVI connectors! Nice.

Currently blogging using the system so as to test for stability. After all, you have to eat your own dog food. And its great, the noise level is almost zero, can you believe it?!? This is compared to my own Opteron 144, which is like, thrice as loud.