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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

How To Build the Best $1500 Gaming PC, Step-by-Step

Hardcore PC enthusiasts have long known that building your own PC is the only way you can get exactly the computer you want--at least, unless you spend a boatload of money on a custom boutique-built machine. However, it's a process rife with pitfalls for the uninitiated. While you can save a ton of money, ordering a single wrong part or breaking a delicate component during the assembly can eat your savings. With that in mind, we show you exactly what you need to know to build a no-compromises $1500 quad-core-equipped gaming PC, capable of running every game available today at native resolution on a 24-inch monitor. Oh, we even managed to squeeze in a solid-state drive for instant app load times and fast boot up. So, what are you waiting for? Building a PC is easy, fun, and only takes an hour or two. All you need is a screwdriver!

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How To Build an Awesome $1500 PC
Master PC builder Will Smith shows you how to turn $1500 worth of parts into a killer PC!
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Ready to build your first PC? We've got the complete parts list below, plus a few recommendations if you'd rather build a slightly less expensive machine.

The Parts
Over the years, we've found that choosing the proper parts is much more difficult than actually assembling the PC. That's more true than ever now, with three different types of CPU sockets, videocards that draw more power than an entire PC did 5 years ago, and hard drives based on both flash memory and spinning disks out there. Lucky for you, we've done the legwork, built the machine, and even tested it out to make sure this particular configuration is up to snuff. You aren't going to find a better all-around gaming PC for $1500 anywhere else. We priced comparably equipped PCs from Alienware and Velocity Micro--Dell and HP limit your videocard and SSD choices with the motherboard and CPU we chose--and saved between $300 and $500 respectively.

Part Vendor Product Price
Case Cooler Master Storm Sniper $130
Motherboard Asus P7P55D-E $167
CPU Intel Core i5 75 0 $200
Videocard Sapphire Radeon HD 5870 $400
Memory Patriot 2x 2GB DDR3 (PGS34G1333ELK) $113
Solid-State Drive Intel X25-M 80GB $225
Hard Drive Seagate 7200.12 1TB $90
Power Supply Corsair CMPSU-650HX (650W) $133
Optical Drive Samsung SH-S223 $31
Operating System Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit $99

Total $1,588*
*Prices current as of April 13th, 2010

If you want to save some ducats, there are some easy places to trim though. First, drop the SSD. At $230 for 80GB of storage, it's a luxury, not a necessity. Second, if you're using a monitor that's 22-inches or smaller, and you're not planning on upgrading, the Radeon 5870 we recommend is overkill. Instead, try a Radeon 5770 or a Radeon 5850. They're not capable of driving a 1920x1200 panel in all games, but they'll be fine for lower resolutions. Once you've trimmed down the GPU, you can scrimp on the power supply and case as well. Pick up a $30 special offer from your local screwdriver shop--but be prepared for some rough edges--and downgrade the PSU to a 450W model. And, just like that, you've saved almost $500 and have built a PC that's perfect for you.

Making the Most of Your SSD
Unfortunately, in order to survive using a small SSD as your system drive, you'll need to set up your drive structure to accommodate that. You'll really want to keep any big, space hogging folders and files off of the C: drive. The best way to do that is to create a couple of partitions on your 1TB hard drive, which we'll mount in specific places.

First, let's create a partition for your games. To do that, press the Windows key, then type 'Disk Management' and press enter to launch Windows's Disk Management utility. Follow the wizard's instructions to create two partitions on your 1TB drive--you'll use one for games and one for large files--like video, music, and photos--so size them appropriately. We're going to mount the games partition inside your Program Files (x86) directory on your C: drive, so it's easily accessed by your games. First, create a folder called games inside C:/Program Files (x86)/, then right click on your Games partition in Disk Management and click Change Drive Letter and Paths. Remove the existing drive letter, you won't need it, and select Add. Browse to the Games folder that you just created, and select OK. Now, to access that hard drive, you'll go to C:/Program Files (x86)/Games/, and anything you install there will be on the hard drive. Make sure you install Steam in your Games folder as well, since all games you install from Steam must be in a subfolder of the Steam folder.

Next, you'll want to remap your media and document folders to the second partition of the 1TB drive. You could get creative with symlinks and moving profiles, but we've found that the easiest way to get the same effect by telling Windows to look elsewhere for four key folders--Music, Photos, Documents, and Video. You'll have to move them one at a time, simply right click the folder, select Properties, then go to the Location tab. Click the Move button, and navigate to a folder on the new partition where you want to save the files. Windows will copy the existing contents over, and you'll be ready to go.

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