Bang For the Buck (B4TB)

Bang for the Buck (B4TB)

The specifications listed here will be for gaming systems. If you just want a basic system for everyday web browsing, email, YouTube videos, etc. then the budget system is probably a good place to start, but the graphics card can be safely downgraded a notch or two.

I often get asked to look over a set of components that someone is considering for their new gaming rig or am asked to come up a set for the best gaming rig within a certain budget. Occasionally - when I'm very lucky - that limit is really, really large. Unfortunately, that type of budget is almost never for my own system. Still, I find it fun to spec out and build all types of systems. The system specs herein will be just the main box; the monitor(s), keyboard, mouse, speakers, etc. are not included here. The operating system will be.

Show Me What You Got, Big Boy

One big caveat/disclaimer before we get into the specifics. Except where noted, I haven't actually built the systems given in the specifications. I fully believe I could, and if someone wants to kindly send me the parts so I can test that theory, I will. If you discover something that just doesn't work, I'd love to hear about it. (Email me, but be sure to fix the email address by removing the SPAM part.) By request, I've written a breakdown of the heat I'm currently packing. That is, the gaming system I'm using today. If you're interested in what I've chosen for myself, I invite you to check out my current rig page.

Component Recommendations

The systems will be put together using prices from PC Part Picker. I used to use Newegg exclusively for doing up these estimates just to keep things simple as they were "close enough" in terms of price, but PC Parts Picker takes out the legwork of looking at a dozens of online sites. I don't work for or receive anything from any of the retailers. (I did once get a mouse pad and a hat from Newegg for a review I left on the site.) I'll happily ignore emails stating you could get this from <insert some other e-tailer here> for $5 less. That said, I'm also going to bypass all "combo" deals and rebates as those are usually for a limited time, but the time is not specified. I may mention I saw one, but I won't include it in the price. Now, on with the show.

  • Gaming on a budget — Gaming on what I consider the lowest end system worth calling a "gaming rig." Sure you could play that four-year-old game on something less, but this is the minimal system needed to play the games that are currently new and hot. The price of this rig will fluctuate a bit, but generally be under $1000 including operating system. I usually shoot for $800 - $900, and I often miss - being a bit higher than that. Yes, I know there are sites out there advertising gaming systems for $650 or $700 that will "run everything on ultra high settings." That's bull. My system is at the high end of the mainstream gamer level (see the next paragraph), and I can't run everything on ultra high settings.
  • Mainstream gaming — This is the system I probably have right now .. or would have if I was buying a system today. It should run the current lineup of PC games on at least medium to high (or ultra) settings. My target price range is a bit wider here at $1,400 - $1,800. I try to fall in the middle at $1600, but won't balk as spending an extra $100 that gives back more than $100-worth of performance. Most people will want to start with this one and upgrade/downgrade components as desired.
  • Enthusiast Gaming (or Price is not a consideration) — The system I would buy if I was filthy rich. While this one will be expensive, I won't go out of the way to include components that increase the price without a good reason. For example, if the CPU next to the top end can be had for $400 less, I'm there. Why? Because it's regularly found that the "one-off" CPU can be overclocked to the same speed as the higher-priced one or beyond. Doubling the cost of the graphics cards used to get an extra 10% more performance doesn't make sense to me, either. I don't mind spending (other people's) money if I feel it was well-spent. I just don't want to feel I wasted it. Expect systems in this range to break the $3,000 price level. Twice that isn't out of the question, but it would have to be one heck of a system.