There is a common misconception that you have to take out a second mortgage on your house if you want to get a computer that will run all of the latest and greatest games. I don't know who started the rumor that you need to spend $3000 to get a gaming computer. The truth is, if you are smart about it, you can easily afford to get a high-end gaming computer. Here are a few simple rules to follow to put a gaming computer within reach.
Rule 1. Never buy the newest technology.
I know we all want to be the guy or girl with the newest toy, but you will never be able to keep up with technology. That top-of-the-line graphics card that came out today will be old news in just a couple of months and a new one will be released that is "so much better". Guess what happens to the price of the new graphics card you just broke the bank on? It dropped by about 50%. If you would have just been patient you could have purchased it for a fraction of the cost.
Rule 2. You only have to keep up with the software.
Rule 2 closely correlates to Rule 1. It usually takes software companies two years, give or take, to develop a new game. During this time there are new technology breakthroughs. If they went back and re-engineered the game every time a new processor or a new graphics card came out, the game would never be released. Another important factor is that they want the game to be available to the largest number of consumers. For this reason they do their best to make sure the game can be played on a wide variety of systems. Check out the system requirements for some of the more popular games. A 1.8GHz processor and a Direct X 9 compatible graphics card will run just about everything out there. Granted you might have to turn some of the settings down but it will run it.
Once you reach a certain point the added performance of the new technology is noticeable. For example, the Athlon 64 chip has been out for more than a year, yet there are very few applications that require a 64 bit processor. If you check out benchmarks on the new PCI Express graphics cards you will see that they are running games at 300+ frames per second. When you watch a movie it runs at roughly 60 frames per second. A game will still run relatively smoothly at 20 frames per second. Basically anything over 60 frames per second likely will not be perceived while playing the game. You will only see the difference in your benchmark programs.
Rule 3. Build Your Own Computer
This is important for two reasons. First, you can be assured of better quality components when you pick everything out on your own. When you buy an off-the-shelf system, chances are you are getting a big name CPU and everything else is most likely generic. Do you know what motherboard, power supply, or type of RAM you are getting? This of course, is my personal opinion, I'm not saying every manufacturer builds sub standard machines, but from experience I've had greater longevity from the computers I've built myself. I've also noticed that you will often get little system memory, unless you pay a great deal more for it. You will often get 256MB of RAM with these base system. Windows XP will run, but likely with problems, on 256MB of RAM. It seems to be the most stable with 512MB or more. Other areas they cut costs is by using integrated graphics chips. This saves them having to put in a graphics card, but you will pay the price for it when you try to play a game.
The second reason to build your own computer is that you can cut your costs by stealing parts from your old computer. You can save hundreds of dollars by reusing the drives, case, monitor, keyboard and mouse. Plus, you don't have to worry about calling a technician to install RAM or a new graphics card because you'll already know how to do it.
How Much Can You Build A Computer For?
I just checked out some pricing and you can build a very nice midrange gaming computer for around $600-$700 using an AMD Athlon 64 3000+. If you can steal a DVD drive from your old computer and maybe the case, you can bring the cost down even more. You can build a high-end machine for under $1000. The internet is full of useful websites about how to build computers. Look around and you'll find all the information you need. There are several books published about the topic as well. If you follow these simple rules and do a little research you can enjoy all of the best computer games even if you are on a shoestring budget.
Nathan Holsing is the editor of Gaming-Computers.net, a website that provides information on building computers, hardware buying guides, and product reviews.