The New PC Conundrum

My old 1GHz Pentium III was quickly becoming obsolete. I started running into problems where it wouldn't run the software I wanted very quickly. My old graphics card was chugging to keep up with the 3D graphics rendering that makes new games unbelievably realistic. So it was time for an upgrade.

Like most gamers, I headed over to Alienware's website to price out my dream PC. Turns out that it would cost somewhere north of four grand. Dell and Gateway weren't exactly accommodating either, with cutting edge desktop PCs pricing out well over $3K.

Folks, these PCs are obsolete within three years of purchase. I'm not willing to spend over $4,000 for something I won't be able to enjoy by early 2007. So I started looking at the second tier of PCs.

I ended up solving the problem by going to Best Buy, finding a PC that had the basic components I wanted, and then ordering add-ons to customize it. The base PC is an HP with the following specs:

  • 3.0 GHz Pentium IV with hyperthreading
  • 512 MB PC3200 DDR RAM
  • 200 GB hard drive
  • DVD+R/CD-RW combo drive
  • Additional CD-R drive
  • Card reader, plenty of USB ports, firewire port, etc., etc.

This PC is a notch or two down from the 3.4 GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition with all the bells and whistles, but it also costs only $999 after $50 rebate. I bought it and added another 512 MB of RAM ($129) and a mid-level graphics card - an eVGA GeForce 5700 Ultra ($199). The only other part I needed was a cable extender to get power to the graphics card. Thankfully I happened to have one lying around in my apartment. I hung onto my Sony 18" flat panel display, so there was no need to go out and buy another monitor. So there you have it - A performance PC for under $1,500. No, it's not an Alienware Area 51, but I could buy three of these for a tricked-out one of those.

What's really cool about this is that the machine absolutely screams in comparison to my old Pentium III. I installed Unreal Tournament 2004 and pushed the graphics detail settings up to almost the max. The 3D environment is just insanely realistic. Let's put it this way...As my game character was charging over a hillcrest with rocket launcher in hand, the sun coming over the rise produced a corona effect that effectively blinded me. The only thing that saved me from certain gory death was my spotting of a shadow of another character in the corner of the screen, running to hide behind a rock and ambush me. (A well-placed grenade took care of that problem.)

Lesson learned: One doesn't always need the most cutting-edge technology. Economize by picking your components carefully (a version or two behind the latest and greatest) and doing the customization yourself.