How to Build a Monster PC in 2011 (Without Spending Millions)

While investing in a long-term, moderately powerful computer makes the most sense financially, every diehard PC gamer needs to splurge on a monster gaming rig at least once in their life — ideally, during that sweet spot after they’ve gotten a steady job and can afford it, but before they have a wife who will scream at them to no end for “wasting so much money on toys.”

So for you, the unwed PC gamer who has decided to make the leap and buy a monster rig, as well the married gamer with balls of steel, we put together the following system for approximately $1500. It may not have all the pretty bells and whistles of more ridiculously-priced systems, but in terms of raw gaming power, it’s tough to beat.

Case
Antec Three Hundred Illusion
$60

Antec’s Three Hundred Illusion is a humble mid tower at a reasonable price. Built with a steel frame, it offers terrific cooling potential with a bottom-mounted power supply, a 140mm top fan and three 120 mm fans (two intake, one exhaust).

Motherboard
Gigabyte Z68XP-UD3
$150

If the endorsement from Tom’s Hardware isn’t enough, this reasonably-priced motherboard offers everything we need to complete our rig: 4×240pin memory slots, two PCI Express 2.0 slots, four SATA 6Gb/s, and multi-display support with CrossFireX and SLI.

Power supply
Seasonic SS-850HT
$120

This 850 W Seasonic model will provide enough power for an SLI/CrossFireX setup, and an efficiency rating of over 85% is hard to argue with.

CPU
Intel Core i7-2600K
$315

This is where we pull out all the stops: the i7 is a significant step up from the i5 due to Hyper Threading technology, and Sandy Bridge delivers exceptional per-core performance. Throw in some decent overclocking potential, and it’s hard not to fall in love with this processor.

Cooling
Xigmatek Gaia SD1283
$27

It’s quiet, and it provides decent cooling for an excellent price.

Memory
8GB G.Skill Ripjaws X DDR3-1600 CAS 8
$70

G.Skill provides this cheap, reliable RAM with 8-8-8-24 timing. The fact that this kit consists of two sticks of 4GB means you have room to expand to 16GB in the future with the four slot motherboard we selected.

Hard drive
SSD:
OCZ Vertex Series 30 GB SSD
$65

An SSD is essential for booting up at lightning-fast speeds. 30 GB is big enough for your OS and allows you to save money that you can spend on other gaming-performance components.

Storage:
Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB 7200
$80

Western Digital provides this quiet, fast hard drive with enough storage to survive many a Steam sale, for a fair price.

Optical Drive
LG WH12LS30 12x BD-R
$80

While you can definitely get away with a $20 optical drive, it’s hard to call a system a monster without a fast Blu-ray burner.

Video card

Here’s where we’ll leave the most room for customization, providing high- and mid-priced Nvidia and AMD cards to suit your tastes and budget.

Nvidia:
2x GeForce GTX 580 1.5 GB in SLI
$445 ($890)

2x GeForce GTX 460 1 GB in SLI
$160 ($320)

If you’re willing to spend nearly $1000 on video cards alone, two GTX 580s in SLI will blow you away. For about a third of the price, you can pick up two GTX 460s, which can rival a single 580 in power for $125 less. If you’re not a fan of SLI, you can get by with just one GTX 580.

AMD:
2x Radeon HD 6970 2 GB in CrossFireX
$340 ($680)

2x Radeon HD 6850 1 GB in CrossFireX
$150 ($300)

At 75% the cost of dual GTX 580s, two HD 6970s in CrossFireX will pack less of a punch, but are a step down in price from “astronomical” to “stratospheric.” Descend another step and we arrive at twin HD 6850s.

Total Cost

Without video cards: $967
With 2x Radeon HD 6850 1 GB: $1267
With 2x GeForce GTX 460 1 GB: $1287
With 2x Radeon HD 6970 2 GB: $1647
With 2x GeForce GTX 580 1.5 GB: $1859

Not a powerful enough rig for you? Tell us your specs and cost in the comments below!

Note: All prices were derived from NewEgg. Monitor and peripherals were not included in this build due to the variety in permutations based on personal taste: multi-monitor setups, wired or wireless peripherals, headphones or speakers, etc.

Join the Conversation   

* required field

By submitting a comment here you grant GameFront a perpetual license to reproduce your words and name/web site in attribution. Inappropriate or irrelevant comments will be removed at an admin's discretion.

11 Comments on How to Build a Monster PC in 2011 (Without Spending Millions)

Steve

On September 23, 2011 at 3:37 am

I still see splurging for bells and whistles there, CJ. You’ve made a few choices there I consider luxury items for a gaming PC (I’m guessing gaming is the primary usage here?). Certainly not an optimial build if aiming for ‘best bang for you buck.’

For example, HT on the 2600k will practically net you nothing in games (if Photoshop/3DSMax is your primary, then all bets are off). And by the time games start utilizing more than 4 threads, the 2600k will be seen as obsolete hardware. The extra 2MB of cache of the 2600k (compared to its 2500k sibling) gives you a .5% increase in framerate. Consider the cheaper 2500k, as the money saved is better spent in a more powerful GPU.

OCZ Vertex is two generations old and pretty weak for a SSD these days. Plus, have you seen how much space Windows 7 Pro/Ultimate SP1 eats? Let’s just say, you’ll have about enough space for two more games after Windows gets its share. And then you have to worry about user profile space eating into that (unless you’re proficient at NTFS junctions). Pricewise per GB it isn’t all that great either. That comes out to ~$2/GB. I’ve seen deals closer to $1/GB out there these days, albeit you’re paying near or over $100 for one… 3rd generation Sandforce is the way to go right now. Intel 2nd/3rd gen if reliability is priority one.

SSD prices are slowly getting there. Nonetheless, SSDs are still a luxury. Can’t argue with OS load time benefits. It is nice to be able to reboot in 10-15 seconds instead of a minute. But it does nothing for gaming unless the game itself is sitting on the SSD.

A Blu-ray burner is a luxury, period. I know it’s nitpicking over $40 savings, but it’s cheaper per GB to buy a fat hard drive. Heck, even the external slim HDs are cheap. All a Blu-ray burner nets you is the ability to burn Blu-Ray movies. Convenience? That’s debatable. Convenience to me is streaming media right off a media center box. Don’t need to spend $70 to burn DVDs or lesser obviously.

If going for max OC, Tom also found the Asus P8Z68-V Pro a better choice than the Gigabyte Z68X-UD3. The Asus is a bit more expensive at around $190. Definitely worth the stretch if you’re trying to get or go past 4.5Ghz.

The Seasonic PSU is a solid choice in the $100-$150 range, but you could cut corners there as long as you know your power reqs. Basically, your video card choice determines this. That money could be better spent elsewhere, but ultimately having overkill on a PSU is never a bad thing. I’ve been impressed with the sub-$100 Antec HCG-750 series of late. There are just too many good choices for PSUs to list here. But there are ALOT of bad choices out there as well. So yeah, my advice is to concentrate your research HERE. It’s stupid as hell to shell out $1000 on PC components that later get fried because you skimped on a PSU.

A matter of personal preference, but I don’t like that case. It’s cheap and plasticy (and I can’t stand plastic). I’m plugging the Fractal Design Core 3000 case here. It’s basically the same price, and oh-so-sexy. If I couldn’t come up with the cash for a Silverstone Fortress series, I’d settle for pretty much anything Fractal Design makes right now. They’re kind of the new kid on the block.

SLI/XFire has its pros and cons. I could spend all day talking about the pros and cons of multi-GPU and even multi-monitor setups. Video cards are so subjective to the LCD panel it is driving. It gets even more complicated when you start driving multiple LCD panels. IMO, you can never spend too much on a single GPU, although you definitely risk buyers remorse if some new series launches months later that does the same job for considerably less.

Not a bad build there, CJ. However, definitely not what I’d consider “optimal.”

emertinsp

On September 23, 2011 at 4:28 am

Good guide, a couple of suggestions however.

1. If someone that is not completely computer literate sees this guide, it may be hard for him/her to find the parts by description alone. Links to each part would be nice.

2. There are better cases than that one, for not that much more. Coolermaster HAF 912/922? Yes please.

3. Seasonic is great, but expensive. There are well known and just as reliable manufacturers that cost less. Antec TruePower News and quite some Corsair PSUs come to mind.

4. Overkill CPU. As stated, Hyperthreading does nothing for the gamer, and only comes to use on heavily multithreaded apps… which a standard user/gamer will not use. 2500k is the gamers CPU.

5. DDR3-1333 is enough for Sandy bridge CPUs. Could save $15 there.

6. If not going for a current gen, minimum 120GB SSD, it’s not worth it. And those go for $225+… I’d stick with a single 1TB drive.

7. Multi GPU? Unreliable. You will not get 2x performance, you’re throwing an extra variable in the mix (SLI/XFire) and throwing costs up the roof. Won’t help unless you have massive multi monitors… for the cost, I’d pick a single monster card over multiGPU any day, 580GTX or 6970. I’m still doing great with a single old 460GTX on a 1920×1080 display!

Luther

On September 23, 2011 at 7:37 am

I have to completely agree with Steve on this one.

Luther

On September 23, 2011 at 7:40 am

O yeah I got my p8p67 Pro Motherboard for around $156 which is amazing thanks to newegg deals, if you are buying computer parts or building a new system you might as well sign up for neweggs news letters so you can check out the weekly deals.

Heru

On September 23, 2011 at 8:06 am

Not bad, but for gaming shelling out the dough for Intel/Nvidia bragging rights is stupid when AMD CPU’s and video cards get you a hell of a nice gaming rig for a ton less cash.

Steve

On September 23, 2011 at 9:03 am

@Heru

AMD video cards? Sure. AMD cpus? Hell no. Not unless you’re being an ultra cheap bastard.

$200 isn’t asking for much with a 2500k. And NOTHING, I mean NOTHING, AMD has in their arsenal right now comes close to the 2500k in performance (even more silly when OC’ing is the topic). If one can’t come up with the $200, then the only thing AMD has in their current CPU line that even comes close to competing with the equivalenty priced Intel is in the sub-$100 price range. And that, my friend, implies you’re scrounging for every last penny.

And don’t tell me you’re one of those religous AMD Bulldozer ‘is the messiah’ fanatics.

Sanity is about building the best bang for your buck PC, not building something based on brand loyalty. As far as CPUs go, Intel is and has been kicking AMD’s butt there since the Core 2 series was released. If Bulldozer lives up to the hype (which I have serious doubts), then this article will need to be revisited.

CJ Miozzi

On September 23, 2011 at 10:43 am

@Steve: Thanks for the in-depth, expert reply!

While it is difficult to find games that currently benefit from hyper-threading (Benchmarks showed that HT with Oblivion raised the min. framerate by 11 FPS) it seems games are evolving to reach that point — a couple years ago, the benefits of a quad core over a dual core were dubious for the same reasons.

But you are right; we don’t know how long it’ll be before we, gamers, really see the benefits of HT, and by then, there could be better hardware available.

@emertinsp: Good idea; I’ll add the links to the parts. I normally do, but wasn’t sure if it was helpful. Good to know that it is; thanks!

josh

On September 23, 2011 at 12:46 pm

Your poor SSD is going to run out of space after installing windows 7 Utlimate which is what I hope your running for a gaming rig, now do some updates and a service pack and now your poor SSD is just running the OS and nothing more. So where are you suppose to run the games from?? So your going to build a gaming rig and run the games off a 7200 RPM drive?

Spend the money and get yourself a nice PCI-E SSD drive.

Jones

On September 23, 2011 at 11:57 pm

@ CJ Miozzi, the 2500k released in January of this year, not a couple of years ago. 2700k hasn’t been released yet, either.

Cody

On September 24, 2011 at 10:26 pm

“At 75% the cost of dual GTX 580s, two HD 6970s in CrossFireX will pack less of a punch” Actually, in most cases the 6970s in 2way xfire scaled higher than the Gtx 580.

Logan9773

On September 28, 2011 at 5:34 pm

Thanks guys. Interesting article.