Best Bang for the buck: How much should you spend on a new system?

nerrawg

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What is the best bang for the buck - How much should spend on that new system and how often should you upgrade?

I have been thinking for a while on what is the best system building strategy with regards to getting the best "play-ability" in games for the least amount of money over a long period of time. Here is a comparison I did between Toms system builds throughout the years, and I came to the conclusion that spending about $500-750 every tick or tock in Intel's or AMD's strategy time plans (every 1-2 years) on new mobo, CPU and GPUs give the best bang for the buck, but I am curious to hear your opinions on this matter.

Comparison of value over time:

Lets assume that your system requirements (or wants) is to always be able to play the newest games out there, preferably at the max details, but not necessarily:
If you buy a good case, cooler and PSU, you probably won't have to replace them often to increase performance - so lets look solely at what you do need to replace often if you want to increase performance: CPU, MOBO, RAM and GFX

In March 2007 you could have bought:

Value - $331
CPU AMD Athlon X2 3800+ AM2 $82
Motherboard MSI K9N4 Ultra-F $59
RAM Wintec AMPO PC2-6400 1 GB $70
Graphics XFX GeForce 7600 GT $120

=Playable at max settings most games 2007 (1024x768)

Mid range - $805
CPU Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 $230
Motherboard MSI P965 Platinum $135
RAM Patriot eXtreme Performance PDC22G6400LLK $160
Graphics EVGA GeForce 8800GTS PN: 320-P2-N811-AR $280

= Playable all games 2007 (1600x1200)

Enthusiast - $2655
CPU Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800 $970
Motherboard Asus Striker Extreme $330
RAM Crucial Ballistix DDR2 1000 PC2-8000 $235
Graphics 2x GeForce 8800GTX 768 MB ($560) $1120

= Playable all games 2007 (2560x1600)

In March 2008 you could have bought:

Value - $563
CPU AMD Quad Core Phenom 9500 $190.00
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-S2H $100.00
RAM Wintec Ampo DDR2 PC2-6400 - 2 GB $43.00
Graphics HIS Radeon 3870 ICEQ Turbo $230.00


Mid range - $1333
CPU Intel Core 2 Quad Q6700 $540
Motherboard Asus P5N-T Deluxe $250
RAM Crucial Ballistix DDR2 800 PC2-6400 - 4 GB $128
Graphics EVGA GeForce 8800GTX, 768 MB $415

Enthusiast - $2320
CPU Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650 $1060
Motherboard Asus Striker II Formula $320
RAM Crucial Ballistix DDR2 800 PC2-6400 - 4 GB $100
Graphics 2x Gigabyte GeForce 8800GTX - GV-NX88X768H-RH $840

In March 2009 you could buy:

Value - $420
Intel core 2 duo E7400: $120
Gigabyte EP45-DS3: $100
2 x ATI Radeon 4830 : $150
G Skill 2x2GB PC8500 DDR2: $50

Mid range - $685
AMD Phenom II 940: $215
ATI Radeon 4890 1 GB $230
Gigabyte 790 UD4H: $140
G Skill DDR3 1600Mhz 4GB: $100

Enthusiast - $1756
Core i7 920: $280
2 x Nvidia GTX 295 $500
MSI X58 Eclipse SLI Intel X58 $310
CORSAIR DOMINATOR 6GB DDR3 1600Mhz $166

Evaluation

We are looking at things from a budget perspective here, so this is the most important consideration in this evaluation- Namely: What is the best bang for the buck?

Now you will be of course thinking to yourself that value is a relative term - and yes, you are correct. However there is an easy way we can simplify it - basically good value is getting a system that does what you need it to do at the cheapest price. If it excels doing this, then best value will of course be a determination of whether or not the extra performance scales linearly with the price premium. The X to Y graph of performance to price in computing generally looks like this:
3495379476_40d987f03c.jpg


The sweet spot for gamers is what we are trying to find here. Now consider that most gamers will be using 1600 or 1900 res nowdays - but 1200 and 1400 res were common in 2007 - The goals there change over time - but playability is the main priority.

So simply put - the objective in 2007 was 30 fps in games at high settings and 1400 res.
In 2008 it was 30 fps in games at high settings and 1600 res.
In 2009 it is 30 fps in games at high settings and 1900 res.

So this comparison will evaluate what was the sweet spot to achieve this - was it to build the cheapest system that just meets the specs each year - or have an uber system that lasts 3 years, i.e. "futureproof"?

Now lets look if you bought the cheapest of these systems and (important!) overclocked each of them,
I think you will be surprised:

Buying only value systems each year:

2007 bargain system plays all 2007 games, 2008 system bargain plays all 2008 games, 2009 bargain system plays all 2009 games.
So you have to buy 1 bargain system each year: $331 + $563 + $420 = $1314
So in three years you spent a total of $1314

Buying the Enthusiast option to "Future Proof" yourself long term?

If however you had bought the most expensive system in 2007 it would cost you $2655, hehe and guess what .... It gets trashed like a pikey up against the overclocked bargain 2009 system. lol lol lol - so you would have wasted a lot of money there, in fact it only beats the bargain 2008 system so you lose 2655- 331-563= $1761 - ouch!

Buying the mid range system to "Future Proof" your self short term?

What if you bought the medium range systems? Well the 2007 medium system gets trounced on by the 2008 bargain system, so that doesn't give you much value. The 2009 bargain system also beats the 2008 medium range system.

Ram and motherboards

Remember though that these cost analyses are just to gain perspective - they are not actually completely realistic as in several stages you could skip upgrading RAM or Motherboards - CPU and GPU upgrades are the most important, however don't by a MOBO or RAM thinking that it will last be upgradable to the best CPU/GPU for the next 2-3 years, here is why:

Look at the 2007 mid and enthusiast range MOBOs:
They were excellent for their time but are now CPU outdated due to the new socket 1366 i7 - so CPU outdated in 2 years. They are also GPU outdated as now the PCI x16 pathways are much better and offer much better scaling than in these old motherboards - so outdated compared to the new SLI/CF motherboards

Look at the 2008 mid and enthusiast range MOBOs:
These again are pretty much gonna be outdated soon because there is no option to upgrade to the new core i7 or i5. So after only a year they are no longer even close to the new enthusiast-mid range i7 CPU performance .

Look at the 2008 value MOBO:
Wow, amazingly this could be upgraded in 2009, with a small F7 BIOS download, to a AM2+ 940 phenom II or AM3 720 BE and a newer graphics card solution, for example - a 4870 1GB or 2x 4830/4850 - then you have a system that is as good as the 2009 builds, for only $250-350! I would of course not bank on this always happening, as the 2007 value system would not have upgraded so well in 2009. Added bonus is of course that you can sell the old parts on EBay - especially when they are not that outdated.

And this shows exactly why you shouldn't bet on your MOBO too much - it may provide you with a decent upgrade platform for 1, 2 or even 3 years - but only only time travellers will know for sure.

The RAM here has also been very transferable - but as it is so cheap and offers so little performance gains any way it is not so important.

How much should you spend on systems and how often should you upgrade?

So in the end your guess is as good as mine - will the 2010 bargain system trounce the 2009 medium range option? I don't know actually because the CPU prices aren't as divergent as in the previous years.

I just did this comparison to make a point that you actually save crap loads of money if you can be assed to upgrade your system every time a new generation of component comes out that really increases performance and at the same time don't spend much more than 500 bucks on CPUs, MOBOs, GFX and RAM on a yearly basis.

"Future Proofing" Is it a bunch of BS?

Then there is that other question: "Future Proofing" your system, or "Is this system future proof?" - personally I think it is one of the stupidest ideas I've ever heard. How do you future proof in a industry with the highest rate of innovation and development turnover known to man!? Well I think the answer to that is of course you can try by wasting a lot of money - but even then you may not succeed. If you really hate me for saying this I am sorry...

I just think that looking at a system as "future proof" is misleading, it should be instead called something like "potentially upgradable" or "legacy components".

The things that I think might come close to what i think is intended behind the false statement "future proof" are the components with long potential life span like a PSU, PC case, good quality air or water cooling (vapo even if you got the cash) - these are legacy components because they can work with newer generations of other components like Mobos, CPU's and GPU's.

Hard drives (maybe RAM sometimes) are also somewhat more long lasting in their relevance and can be legacy components. Mobos are then possible to consider as "potentially upgradable" because they can sometimes be upgraded with newer CPUs and GPUs. But no entire pc build is ever future proof because of the immense innovation in computing, and this goes especially for GPUs. (My opinion)

What do you guys think about this strategy/ideology? lol - ideology sounds wrong but eh
 




I think your ideology is absolutely right .


But theres the other side too . People need a car to get around .. but some buy Ford Focuses and some buy Ferrari's . There are pro's and con's of buying a Ferrari , but if you were giving away those two cars I know which one every body would choose
 
I like the subject and approach.
I think your price on the 2xGTX295 is a bit off, it shound be $1000, they are $500 or so each.

Looking at the results, I think a good strategy is to buy a mid-range system with a near high end vga card, and plan on keeping it for two or three years, with an upgrade to a near high end card part way through. The highest end cpu's seem to get obsoleted very quickly. Current good cpu's seem to be able to drive any vga card very well. The vga card is the key to good gaming, and their performance is still getting better. It probably pays to upgrade them more frequently.

 

daidalas

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hmmm....interesting article i really like alot of your ideas.

seems like a midlevel system every time the die size shrinks makes alot of sense in the long run.

future proof is definitely bull, if you mean beyond 3 months :lol:
 


A big plus 1 for that post!

Ok, here's an example build of what geofelt is talking about. Lifespan on this build is about 2-3 years, then save the case and psu maybe, and ebay everything else. Start out fresh with new technology and gizmo's.

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811129042 $59.95 Free Shipping*
Antec Three Hundred Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case - Retail

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817341022 $69.99 ($44.99 after $25.00 Mail-In Rebate)
OCZ Fatal1ty OCZ550FTY 550W ATX12V / EPS12V SLI Ready CrossFire Ready Modular Active PFC Power Supply - Retail
Free 4GB flash drive with purchase, ends 4/30

http://www.ewiz.com/detail.php?name=MB-43-UD3L $65.49 after rebate
GIGABYTE GA-EP43-UD3L Core 2 Quad/ Intel P43/ DDR2/ A&GbE/ ATX Motherboard

http://www.ewiz.com/detail.php?name=E7400 $106.75
Intel Core 2 Duo E7400 2.8GHz 1066MHz 3M LGA775 CPU, OEM

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16835207004 $39.99($29.99 after $10.00 Mail-In Rebate) Free Shipping*
Sunbeam CR-CCTF 120 mm Core-Contact Freezer CPU Cooler W/TX-2 - Retail

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814150361 $169.99 Free Shipping*
XFX GX260XADJF GeForce GTX 260 Core Edition Core 216 896MB 448-bit GDDR3 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready SLI Supported Video Card - Retail
Free Call of Duty: World at War w/ purchase, limited offer

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820231219 $42.99
G.SKILL HK 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory - Retail

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822136319 $74.99 Free Shipping*
Western Digital Caviar Black WD6401AALS 640GB 7200 RPM 32MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Hard Drive - OEM

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16827136152 $24.99 Free Shipping*
LG Black 22X (CAV) DVD+R 8X DVD+RW 16X DVD+R DL 22X (CAV) DVD-R 6X DVD-RW 12X DVD-RAM 16X DVD-ROM 48X CD-R 32X CD-RW 48X CD-ROM 2MB Cache SATA 22X DVD±R DVD Burner - OEM

Total: $664.72 | $619.72 w/rebates *not including shipping

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16832116488 $99.99 Free Shipping*
Microsoft Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 64-bit for System Builders - OEM

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16824236050 $169.99 ($149.99 after $20.00 Mail-In Rebate) Free Shipping*
ASUS VW224U Black 22" 2ms(GTG) Widescreen LCD Monitor w/ HDCP Support 300 cd/m2 1000:1 (ASCR 5000:1) Built in Speakers - Retail
 

xthekidx

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I think you are absolutely right that futureproofing is garbage. Potentially upgradable is as good as you can get I think.

I think spending about $700 every 1-1.5 years is probably the best approach to get the best value.
 

CHRISTLUBAS

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Depends where you live(i live in the Philippines and you would hardly find many people here with Quad core Units they still stick to dual core unlike me though who bought a Phenom 9650 so it depends cause some even stick to Pentium 4/3 in here and mean it Pentium 3!!!!!!!) so it depends
 

The Lady Slayer

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I built my first PC in May 2006 for a total of AU$1500 (AMD 3700+, xFx 7900GT) and it has only recently died on me. It was becoming more and more obvious that the CPU was the bottleneck, as I was still able to play recent games (CoD4, GRAW2) on low settings up until about a month ago.

I agree with geofelt and Why_Me when they say to aim for a midrange system. This is a theory that works for me because I just can't justify an annual upgrading process; at least not while I'm still studying ;)

I'm planning to build a completely new box within the next month or so for about AU$1000 (E7400, xFx 4850), and I think I'm being realistic thinking that I can get about 3-4 years out of it before starting from scratch again.
 
I usually buy what was hot 6 - 9 months ago .

Its much cheaper than the top end price you'd pay for the latest releases , and only 6 months ago I was dreaming about being able to afford it .....LOL

And if I had bought it 6 months ago , Id still have it now anyway
 

bonanzaguy

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I'd take the Ford Focus because insurance on a Ferrari would be high as hell. :)

Nice post though, OP. I agree. I think the main thing to consider though is that this would be good for those who are looking for that best value etc, but for those that have to have the best of the best, they're still going to pay 2 grand for those parts even if it would be better to buy cheaper more often.
 

xthekidx

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A complete rebuild. You might reuse the Case, and possibly the PSU if its high quality. In 5 years the i7 will be in the same spot that Intel's Pentium 4 is right now. Its not going to be worth keeping anything in the system if you want it to be current.
 

robertomad

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Thank you xthekidx. Yes you're right. That is what I have currenlty, p4 2.8 and I'm planning to build a new rig but still can't decide between 920 or 965. Or wait for 950 or 975. As you maybe notice I have a lot of forum question about this. I had an eye for 940 before but then I read alot and realized that it's really not worth the money. So now my choice is 920 and 965. Though I must say that I'm not OCing the new rig probably but until 5+ years time I will.
 

robertomad

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What Graphics would you recommend that has s-video in it. Because currently my pc is connected to my LCD TV and because this is the longest cable I can find at the moment. I was to VGA would be ideal to loose the grainy pixel bit.
 

I7-920 will probably last longer than we think, particularly if you OC to 965 speeds which is easy and safe.
Plan on a vga card upgrade part way through.
 

nerrawg

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Thanks for the reply,
my idea was really more to find a case, PSU and cooler that you really like. If you like the 300 and the PSU then thats great, but I think you can justify spending more money on those parts if you wanted too and still get a good deal because they will last. Otherwise I would be thinking along the same lines for the CPU, RAM, MOBO and GPU, although if you are buying now there are soon to be better deals out there, as I am sure know these things change very fast.
Cheers for the suggestion mate
 

nerrawg

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Cheers for the reply,
Agree about there being another side to this of course, This comparison was more for those people who want to save money on their gaming pc's so that maybe some day they can save enough to buy a Ferrari - :D , well something along those lines. It wasn't meant for those that get a stiff one just looking at their BFG GTX 285 or the cpu temp readout on their vapochillLS. Not that I don't like some sweet hardware - just would rather have that Ferrari instead.
 

nerrawg

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Of course it depends on what you lay in the definition of a midrange system, but in the comparison I chose it actually shows that if you did upgrade more often you would get more back on that meagre student budget of yours (mine as well). Of course you might view the value systems that where suggested here as "mid range" cause they are pretty powerfull - just depends on your perspective of course
 

nerrawg

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Exactly - you won't be able to able to resell anything - better to do change stuff out more often and then sell the parts - guaranteed to save you lots of money and be better in the long run - however all depends of course if you can be bothered to do this, just remember that building a system only takes a day or to set up properly even if you overclock.
Remember there is a sweet spot though - and that is what this article was all about trying to find - which from what it looks like to be between 500-700 dollars on the right upgrades per year or 2 - this may of course change. Don't know about how this changes over in Oz - I would call the E7400 and a 4850 a value option - but definitely a good choice. If you can get 3-4 years out of it then your gaming demands aren't as high as I was talking about in the comparison - there we were looking at systems that would play all games at near max settings ever year. That is why the upgrading is important. If you don't have this a requirement then of course you don't need to upgrade as often - or for that matter buy an expensive machine in the first place :sol:
 

nerrawg

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Unless you don't care at all about burning the green stuff, for all sake don't get the 965, or 940 for that matter! :non: Even if you don't overclock the 920, the 940 and 965 don't offer a performance increase near justifying the premium for these more expensive CPUs. Only get the 965 or 940 for bragging rights - and even then it just seems silly to the rest of us because you can overclock the 920 just as high as the 965 - it all depends on how lucky you are with the binning! Unless you are using the PC for professional apps that are incredibly CPU bound do not get these more expensive i7 models:
http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/Reviews/nehalem_core_i7_review/31.html
http://forums.anandtech.com/messageview.aspx?catid=28&threadid=2295517
http://forums.overclockers.co.uk/showthread.php?p=13868287
 
I try to avoid the term "future-proof," but I think "future-resistant" is not unreasonable. The only performance upgrade I've done on my rig is the GPU (more than once), but I find it hard to believe that a Q9450 will be anywhere near useless even 3-5 years from now, and I don't see my PSU dying either. My mobo is Abit, so it's a dead-end, but it is a good one for being a P35. I feel the itch to build, but so far I've satisfied it by building for family and friends, and a secondary PC I've taken to thinking of as the "Green Gamer." There's nothing I anticipate running for which my CPU will likely be insufficient, so I'll probably stick with it for the foreseeable future.
 

nerrawg

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I agree with you on the fact that your cpu will not be useless - your entire build will probably be just fine in 3-5 years. There are still people running on P4's as we speak and doing relatively fine with that. I actually think you will be in an even better position in 3-5 years time then they now because it will probably take that 3-5 years before any apps or games have 4 cores as a requirement, and I cannot imagine 6 cores or more being a requirement until much later.

To put that into the perspective of this comparison, the 3 year old 2007 enthusiast build in this example still plays the newest games - including crysis at very respectable settings for its age and even newer PCs. The idea behind the article was more to focus on how much you should pay. It shows that while that 2007 enthusiast system still is pretty awesome - you had to pay a hefty premium to get it and you could have saved around $1000 just by buying value systems (probably more if I had taken into account that those value systems could well have been upgraded instead of completely replaced). So I did not intend to say that buying an enthusiast or mid range system is wrong - far from it, I just intended to discover with this comparison what the best bang for your buck would be. Also the goal of this comparison was to always have a system that would play games at the best settings at the common resolution of its time (not many people had 1920 x 1200 or 2560 x 1600 in 2007). Thank you for the response though, and it gives this article important balance because as you stated you can keep a pc for 3-5 years. I just think that if you expect it to play the newest games at the highest settings 3-5 years from now you will at least have to upgrade the GPU
 

Helloworld_98

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should we define mid-range first? it seems to be a bit more debatable now because of the economic state and whatnot.

IMO about $1200 is a mid range build because thats around what most of us on here are ready to pay for a new build.

But yes pc's can be future resistant, to a point though, as soon as the next socket comes out then you lose your CPU, mobo and most of the time memory, and if you've had your PSU and gfx card for a year or more then you'll need to upgrade that too if you want to stay at a decent fps with good quality frames.