AlienBEware: Why You SHOULD build Your Own Gaming PC

AlienBEware

For the past 10 years I’ve been living in a laptop-gaming fantasy land where games never run quite right and low frames-per-second are enough to give you migraine. So I decided a few weeks back to break the mold and build me a new gaming PC, an almighty Herculean flagship for the wrath of Directx 11 titles on the way, and of course for next year’s Rage and Doom 4.

But how much would it cost? And what was I going to put into it?

Back when I was building PCs it was much more of a pricey hobby. Intel Pentium III processors were all the rage, and if you had over 128mb of ram you were considered a little eccentric and on the fringes of the overclocking community. Times have changed though, and thanks to major competition we can build a high-end gaming PC with a fraction of the budget of 10 years ago.

Below is a chart showing how much I will be paying for my new dream rig, and how much it costs with a reputable PC builder. As you can see the savings speak volumes. But more on that later.

Currency My PC Alienware’s Price Money I Saved
Sterling: 1,534.79 3,029.01 1,494.21
Euro: 1,875.00 3,693.28 1,818.28
Dollars (US): 2,368.23 4,666.50 2,298.27

System Specs:

Full tower case: £116.99

I watched more case unboxing videos than I care to remember. There’s a lot of great choice out there when it comes to a PC enclosure. But at the end of the day I settled with the Coolermaster HAF 932. It has ample space, more than enough to accommodate the hardware I’ll be putting into it – with lots more room for anything that might happen a few years down the line. Plus it has 2 x 230mm fans and looks like something Darth Vader would use.

Coolermaster Haf 932

Power Supply: £118.99

If my CompTIA instructor taught me nothing else (and he didn’t) it was never to skimp on a power supply. This is important even more so in the last few years as graphics card power requirements are through the roof. ATI recommend a minimum of 650 Watts when powering their 5970 card. I went with a Cooler Master Silent Pro 850 Watt. If I choose to add another card sometime down the line this power supply (which comes with a 5 year warranty) will comfortably handle a dual-gpu setup.

Silent Pro 850w

Processor: £234.99

Right off the bat we’re going quad core. The price of Intel’s i7 processors are dropping significantly in 5 days time so now even the i7 950 is not out of reach for the cost-conscious gamer.

Everyone seems to be overclocking these chips with ease. It’s not something I plan on doing anytime soon but it’s nice to know that perhaps in a few years when it needs a bit of a kick, I can go into the bios and start fiddling with voltages and what-not. But with a stock speed of 3.06ghz this thing should be fine for the time being.

i7 950

Motherboard: £149.99

For the motherboard I’ll be buying the much lauded Asus P6X58D-E. This board is future-proof in supporting USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gb/s. It also can hold up the 24 GB of ram. I’m not sure if I’ll ever use that much ram, but I wouldn’t rule it out. It handles both SLI and Crossfire configurations with all the usual features you would expect from a premium ASUS board.

Asus P6X58D-E

GPU: £469.99

We’re not skimping on the processor or motherboard and the graphics card will be no different. For this rig I’ll be fitting a Sapphire Radeon HD 5970. I didn’t make this decision lightly, it’s still a pretty expensive card but nearly all the benchmarks I’ve seen put this dual graphics processing monster King of the DX11 range. It simply creams through any game out there. With 2gb of GDDR5 memory this card is likely to be a strong contender for the next few years. Let’s hope the price drops before I buy the card (which will be my last purchase).

Finally I can play games at 1080p resolution!

Sapphire HD5970

RAM: £169.99

For system memory (Ram) Corsair’s Dominator memory modules are top of most enthusiast’s list. These ultra-low latency DIMMs will find themselves right at home inside the case. I was going to go with 12gb of system memory, but after close examination of benchmarks and reading what the experts say I don’t think I can justify forking out the cash for 12gb. Even recently released games don’t recommend anything over 4gb.

Corsair Dominator

HDD: £47.99 x 2

My hard-drive setup will consist of 2 x 500gb Western Digital Caviar Black SATA 6Gb/s 64MB, in a RAID 0 configuration. I’ve never set up RAID before but the idea always intrigued me – the power of 2 hard drives working as one. I’m assuming it’s easier to setup than it was 10 years ago. It will be interesting to see just how much faster RAID 0 (or striped set) will perform.

WD Caviar

Monitor: £126.89

For the monitor I’ll be going with a 21.5 inch BenQ LED. I’m not too fussy about the screen as long as it supports a 1980x1080p resolution, which this monitor does comfortably. I’ve never used an LED monitor before so I’m looking forward to seeing how far technology has come in 10 years.

Benq LED

Keyboard/Mouse: £33.99 / £16.99

Keyboard and mouse will be Microsoft’s Sidewinder range (x4 and x3 respectively). I already bought the mouse and I can assure you it’s the most comfortable thing I’ve ever wrapped my right hand around.

So far I’ve purchased the case, power supply and mouse. It will be about 6-8 weeks before I have the rest of the hardware, but you can get an idea of what you’ll need to spend to build a high-end rig. For my money this pc has a good 3-4 years on the top of the gaming world before it will start to show its age with the very latest games.

Below is a list of the components – where I’m buying them an the cost (and no, I’m not getting any money from the companies I’m linking to ). :P

  • Sapphire Radeon HD5970 GPU £469.99
  • Coolermaster Silent Pro M 850 Watt Power Supply £118.99
  • Coolermaster Haf 932 Case £116.99
  • Asus P6X58D-E £149.99
  • Intel Core i7 950 £234.99
  • 6 GB of Corsair Dominator Ram @ 1600Mhz £169.99
  • 2 x 500gb Western Digital Caviar SATA 6Gb/s 64MB Cache £47.99 x 2
  • 21.5 inch BenQ LED 126.89
  • X3 Gaming Mouse £16.99
  • Microsoft Sidewinder X4 Keyboard £33.99
  • Building the Dream Machine with Alienware:

    I know Dell has taken over Alienware but that’s the first name that pops into my head when I think of high-end gaming PCs. So with that in mind I went over to Alienware’s UK website to build a PC with the exact same (almost) specifications to the one I’m building to see what the cost benefit is in building it myself.

    Alienware Area 51

    This Alienware Area-51 differs only in a 200mhz faster processor. I’m not sure what kind of motherboard, power supply or ram they have in that machine, but I can’t imagine it’s any better than what I have chosen for my PC (Asus, Coolermaster, Corsair etc).

    I’m aghast to the nth degree at the exorbitant pricing of Alienware’s flagship gaming PC with the build I specified. It boggles the mind thinking how this could actually be justified. I sincerely hope this is an eye-opener for anyone thinking of going for a pre-built gaming PC. Building one yourself is a piece of cake, and you’ll save a whole lot of cash in the process and likely end up with something more powerful and ultimately more personal than a mass-production assembly line could ever conjure up.

    Update: 27/10/2010:

    Since the PC is now built, I figured I’d follow this post up with some performance benchmarks and updates on the changes made (notably the price).

    Read about it in my new article:
    AlienBEware Episode V: The Wallet Strikes Back

    Related links:
    Amazon.com Chimes in with i7 950 Price Drop
    Intel i7 Massive Price Cuts
    To Nvidia Or Not To Nvidia?