Tell me the best place to buy a gaming PC

My Vista gaming machine shit the bed last night. I've spent a couple of hours trying to track down the problem, but it's clear it's more than just a loose part or an easy fix. Probably a dead motherboard. I swore this would be the last PC I ever built, as I no longer have the mental stamina to handle it all. And I think that is going to go for buying new parts to troubleshoot this machine. I'll tear it down and sell the parts I can confirm are good.

I need a Windows machine, not just for gaming but to test all the Windows software and hardware that comes through. I desperately wanted a Mac Pro — swore it was going to be my next desktop — but I just can't justify spending $3k or so on a machine that will have less gaming performance than a generic PC that costs $1000. (Granted, it has other charms, but I'm not rendering HD video every day or doing other things that might warrant an 8-core system.)

So I'm going pre-built this time. I priced out a Dell XPS. Didn't like what I could get. Using CyberPowerPC.com's configurator I was able to knock together a pretty fantastic desktop PC with more polygon oomph than my now-dead one for about $900 before shipping. I was about to pull the trigger until I realized I'm not really abreast of where to buy pre-built custom machines as I've always built mine from parts.

Any suggestions? I'm looking for a pretty straight-ahead machine, dual core Intel, probably an ATI 48xx-series card, a modest power supply and as clean and unadorned case as I can possibly find. I'd like to buy from a place that lets me pick out my hardware but can still offer a warranty.

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56 Comments

  1. Today’s video cards and modest power supplies don’t don’t mix. That said, I hope you get some good comments here.

  2. Dunno if it’s in your price range or not, but you might want to check out http://www.pugetsystems.com . I haven’t purchased anything from them myself, but them seem like a good shop, and I remember hearing decent things from them.

  3. All I can say is, make sure you buy from somewhere that:
    a) has good, long warranties, and
    b) actually backs up those warranties

    After doing IT work for several years, I’ve come to realize that some companies (*cough* Apple and Sony *cough*) will void your warranty at the drop of a hat. Some, like Dell, will fix a computer that you’ve vomited on and thrown out a window if you can get past the first tier of tech support (“Your computer’s on fire? Let’s try reinstalling Windows”).
    But be prepared to say goodbye to those juicy lifetime RAM warranties. Oh, and make sure you have some sort of data redundancy worked out – a lot of companies these days will ship low-quality hard drives that are pretty much guaranteed to die at the worst time possible.

    If it’s the hardware research that irks you, you might want to give sites like http://www.sharkyextreme.com a try. If it’s the building of the computer that you find annoying, why not pay your nearest teenage computer fiend to assemble it for you?

  4. The mere mention of CyberPowerPC makes me twitch and point out that while their configurator is amazing, they have absolutely terrible customer service (as in, you stay on the phone for greater than an hour before being randomly disconnected from the queue) and quite often, their products aren’t tested prior to being shipped out.

    I’ve had two computers from them, a desktop (The DVD-RW drive never worked on it, and their response to this was ‘Eh well mail it in and we’ll send you a new drive!’) and a laptop whose issues are documented here (and the replacement hangs for about a minute while booting up, and I’m afraid to even try to get tech support for it):

    http://www.resellerratings.com/seller_info.pl?seller_id=6897&comment=359697#comment359697

    Sadly, I don’t have any constructive suggestions on where to get a new PC. πŸ™ Just… not CPPC.

  5. If it’s just the assembly you don’t want to deal with, you can pick out parts and add an assembly fee with http://www.directron.com/.

    I’d bought plenty of parts from them and the last time I needed a new PC, I had them do the assembly. I don’t mind putting in drives and whatnot, but I don’t want to mess with mounting the mobo or seating the processor.

    Their website isn’t always the most user-friendly, but once you get the hang of it, you can find everything you need.

  6. I don’t know where to buy one, but I do look to Ars’ buying guides to help with hardware recommendations. They might be a good place to look for your answer. In their forums, if there aren’t vendors directly linked from the buying guide.

  7. Whatever you do, do NOT get ANYTHING from ibuypower.com. Worst customer service ever, first box I ordered came broken, when I sent it back to them–on MY nickel, it turns out; they are Fine Print Bastards–it came back STILL broken and with MORE stuff broken–they even left unconnected parts rattling around inside the case.

    Oh, and their idea of “customer tech help” is to make you take off the side of your box and play Operation yourself when they are too stupid/lazy to hook up the MB right.

    When I tried to return it, they said that 90 days had expired and I had to fight it–because I never actually had a usable machine–those 90 days elapsed while I was trying to get them to repair the damn thing.

    As a final insult they tried to get away with not refunding me several small fees including the initial $90 rush shipping fee (ha!). I had to call my CC company to get my money back.

    At the end of the day I threw up my hands and bought a souped-up HP and it’s been wonderful.

  8. NCIX does assembly on custom pc’s for like $50. Removes some headaches if you must avoid it.

    However if you really want a mac pro and a great $1k windows gaming rig, it is worth putting together an OSX86 machine (aka hackintosh). I did this recently and am very very happy with the results. I’m using OSX 90% of the time, but within 2 minutes I can be in vista or xp and playing any game i’d like. The best part is that the equivalent mac pro would have cost about 3x as much. (I didn’t go with xeon’s, i can’t imagine quad cores are that much behind them though if at all). There are wiki’s around (try searching wiki and osx86) that have hardware compatibility charts. As of now every component in my machine is working in OSX and every piece of software works with the exception of iDVD… no big loss.

  9. i know it can bet a bit of a bitch assembling the entire box BUT its usually the best way to get the most for your dollar.
    Have you considered buying a mobo with the processor and heat sink already installed? thats the most tedious part of the build. that cuts the build time in half IMO. just got to deal with software, and dreaded drivers.

  10. I’ll understand if you think I’m a big fat dirty liar, but the Gateway FX series of gaming laptops is what you want.

    Yeah I know. Bear with me. Only Best Buy sells them, but it’s a 17″ notebook w/ Nvidia GTS 8800 GTS, fairly low cost, tons of ram and you can replace the CPU w/ a monster for about $300. It’s fast anyway, 4gb of ram now (up from 3 when I bought it in January) and kinda portable.

    Here’s your references: http://www.bestbuy.com/site/olspage.jsp?skuId=8780198&st=gateway+fx&lp=3&type=product&cp=1&id=1204332501169

    http://www.anandtech.com/mobile/showdoc.aspx?i=3273

  11. Cowardly anonymous poster here, but I’d like to beg to differ on ibuypower.com. Their customer service may leave something to be desired, but for price and configuration options, they’re the way to go. I’m not going to offer too much in the way of my own experiences, simply because I don’t really have any other than ordering from them and receiving what I ordered, but the network admin at my job swears by them.

    Of course, I could be an anomaly, and ibuypower.com could, in fact, be single-handedly responsible for the sub-prime mortgage meltdown, but I contend that they’re worth a look-see.

  12. The XPS are expensive. But the best deal is still at deal. Buy a barebones system and upgrade the video and ram.

    Check http://www.slickdeals.net/ once in awhile until they have a decent deal on a barebones Dell 9xxx system, or any of the larger ones with good power supplies. Buy it with as little ram and as cheap of a video as you can get, than slap in some ram and a 4750 and you’re good to go. Dell doesn’t change the power supply with the case, so if the model you’re buying can be bought with an 8800 or 4500, then the power supply is strong enough for them (even if it just says 350).

  13. Well, what I did in the same situation was to buy whichever HP system had the best pricepoint/performance ratio from bestbuy/CC/costco, and them dump another few hundred dollars into a good power supply and video card. I ended p spending around 1400 total, and I got a good system for games.

  14. Might I suggest Maingear?

    Their parts choice is extensive, their builds/wiring is as clean as it gets, and I’ve found their customer service to be affable and patient. They (supposedly) attempt to route customer support calls to the actual tech who initially built your rig (though this might’ve changed in the year-plus since I received my modest Prelude model from them). They also heeded my initial request (made during the ordering process) to disable the onboard audio chip so’s I could put in my X-Fi card.

  15. Before you commit to anything else, I’d suggest taking another stab at Dell. Many of the less XTREME! models of the XPS line are exactly the same as the Dimensions. I’ll bet you can configure the same components on a Dimension box, at a lesser cost.

    Plus, Dell really does have good warranty support.

  16. I went through this process about a year ago with similar motivations. I didn’t find individual reviews very helpful – for every person I could find that had a great experience with CPPC I could find another who had a bad experience and the same with other vendors. Sadly, poor service is the norm these days. I’ve built my own PCs and used smaller shops to build them for me out of components I chose and bought from Dell and HP. In the end, I’ve had the best luck with the Dell/HP machines. As someone already mentioned, I just add RAM and video from NewEgg to a stock machine and that seems to work. Good luck with your search.

  17. I know this won’t really apply to you Joel, but for anyone ordering in Europe, I’d sincerely endorse Komplett, they have local sites for Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Netherlands, Belgium and Ireland.

    I’ve bought a lot of hardware from them over the years and they’ve never let me down.

    Although I’ve just found out that they’ve closed their .co.uk and .de sites (I’m ordering from Ireland, so that doesn’t affect me) so this limits them to the countries above, because the German site used to ship to the rest of Europe too.

  18. Man, computers are a waste of time. Get a stick and a fistfull of pebbles. Push one end of the stick into the ground and walk 15 paces away. Turn around and throw pebbles at the stick. 1 point for each direct hit. To spice it up, call the stick names or substitute a can for the stick.

  19. i would mot consider a store bought pc unless it was bought from people who really care and now the hardware inside out. I still think that the Big vendors cut corners on the hardware with cheaper than they should be memory,mainboards and psus

    My PC now has a board out of the GIGABYTE Ultra Durable 2 range and this is the sort of component you should be getting in your high end pc

    If I was going to get a PC built it would be from SCan from the x3s range

    http://3xs.scan.co.uk/

  20. Cheap PC just good enough for work.
    Xbox360 for gaming FUN!
    Yeah, I got the RROD too, but MS got it fixed quick for free and paid all shipping costs too.

  21. Oops, belay that. Those coupon codes are expired. Back to the drawing board!

    I tore the whole machine down and put it back together again and it’s still not working. I think the MB was fried somehow.

  22. Joel –

    Head straight for the dell outlet – you’ll save a ton of dough.

    You should able to find a well spec’d insipron C2D desktop with without any issue. There are tons of 15% off coupons floating around (try the slickdeals forums).

    Figure ~$500 for that system, and then you can go to newegg and get whatever power supply and graphics card you want, plus the extra ram you’ll need.

    Dell’s support isn’t stellar, but at least you know what you’re getting, and you could do a LOT worse.

    Don’t forget about the business systems – the specs should be exactly the same, and all of them will come with a three year warranty standard.

    Cheers.
    Blitz

  23. I swear by my Alienware. Had it some two years no without a single hickup. They’re big, powerful machines but so reliable I recommend them to everyone. I really like their design too, but thats more a matter of personal preference. Great customer service too.

  24. I’ll bet one of the reasons that people get mixed results from the “noname” builders is the environment in which they are built, particularly in the area of static protection. Without proper static protection, the build will be hit or miss and could fail at any time. If you are not a competent builder then HP or Dell is your best bet. Otherwise, start out with a MB/CPU combo from Newegg and build up from there. I’ve found thier customer service to be pretty good and rarely needed. Do a little searching for MB reviews before you buy (i’ve built a couple of powerful DAWs using ASUS that are rock stable).
    Buy a quality case with a strong power supply and BIG (i.e. quiet) fans.
    And lastly, why Vista on a gaming machine? XP is your friend. The bleeding edge of technology can be a lonely place.

  25. I was trying to decide between a new HP Pavilion Elite and taking my old box to the shop around the corner and getting them to replace its guts. (Not a whole lot of options if you need a quad-core for the lowest possible price.)

    They gave me a quote for $875 including taxes and labour for a machine built to my needs. A similarly-spec’d HP-PE would cost $1200 or so, include a TV tuner and Vista (I know, I know, but I feel bad judging it on hearsay), but not quite as good a video card. If I have it built at least I know the case and power supply are good. Plus, ATX instead of Mini-ATX motherboard. And they’re nice guys, and I can yell at them personally if anything goes wrong.

    Seriously though, check if you have any brick-and-mortar computer repair shops around. Use what you can of your old machine (in mine, a case, power supply, fans, sound card, and DVD-RAM adds up to around $250 worth of little stuff) or just get them to build you an all-new system for X dollars.

  26. Go to Newegg, get the parts, build it yourself, you will come away with a cheap rig, that is good, and one that you know what the F went into it. And get air cooling, water cooling isn’t effective enough to warrant the larger price and risk. Get an nVidia 280, they pwn even the SLI-on-a-card models, and almost everything ATi can throw at them,though being a new model, it’ll easily be half the cost of your rig.

  27. I presume you’ve been searching Pricewatch for deals as well, no? I was configuring Core2Quad Q6700 systems with XP Pro, 4GB RAM, X-Fi sound card, 650W PSU and a modest (but older) video card for around $850, shipped. I put together a Core2Duo e8400 with similar guts but w/o a GPU for $733. The company was http://www.AscendTech.us

    And here’s a non-sequitur: I’ve been a Vista Ultimate 64-bit user for about two years now (a year in beta) and I’ve had very few issues — as many as I had in XP. The problems that cropped up were due to outmoded driver models or wonky 32-bit support; and were respectively fixed with updating and setting compatibility mode(s).

  28. I just bought an HP Elite System from ecost.com.

    Basically it is 1500 dollars anywhere else, but with shipping, ecost put it on sale for 800 dollars.

    2.6 ghz Quad Core, 1 TB Hard drive, 512 mb Nvidea 8800 GT graphics cards, 4 GB of Ram, Integrated TV input, and a butt load of other bells and whistles…

    Let’s just say when it gets here, it is getting plugged into the 32″ flatscreen TV I just bought, and the fun will ensue.

    Justin

  29. huh, bummer on the derned ibuypower thing, or so i thought till i went back and read their ratings on that site linked above, they did better than the one that joel mentioned. ive been saving up for a notebook from them for awhile and im really hoping things go well through them. i just dont want a dell even though the new ones arent designed half bad. anything but a laptop like everyone else plzkthx. anyways, good luck. blow the old one up in an amazing fashion and post the vid.

  30. hmmm, previous comment didn’t make it in?

    Anyway, Maingear FTW! Incredibly clean and elegant builds, classic Silverstone cases, sweet warranties and support, and rigs within your budget range.

    I just picked up their July F131 πŸ˜€

    Stay away from CyberPower and iBuyPower.

  31. I agree with #9 above – if you’re willing to give up the (lousy) customer support from name vendors like Dell, HP, etc… then Directron is a great place to buy from.

    I’ve had them assemble two systems from parts I’ve picked out on their site and the results have been great. Even received phone calls from the techs doing the assembly to clarify things & make good suggestions, and been very impressed with both their technical knowledge and courtesy.

    And as a counter-point to some of the other posts, I found Dell’s support to be spectacularly bad. Their on-site tech left my wife with a less than a year old desktop system that wouldn’t accept a re-install of Vista. Just walked off telling her to “Call customer service, it’s a software problem.” Absolutely pathetic service.

  32. While building your own computer is a pain and you have to re learn which CPU/RAM/Motherboard combo works, fits in your case and holds all your other cards, I still continue to do it that way.

    You save money, you create less waste (hopefully), you exercise your brain and you maintain that oh so important geek-cred that you know your system inside out.

  33. I went through this same thing a few months ago. Since most of the work I do is on a Mac, I went with the MacPro to avoid having 2 machines in my tiny apt – even though I thought (for gaming only) I could get more for my $ going the PC route. What I discovered was that the MacPro is crazy good for teh games. I went with the Nvidia 8800gt option and now enjoy better fps and graphic quality than my PC friends. Just a thought, don’t rule out the MacPro just yet.

  34. Hey, all of you build-it-yourself types – what cases do you use? Almost all my problems with my homebrew systems have been from good quality cases (Antec) that are knucklescrapers to put stuff in/troubleshoot crap. Any suggestions? Howabout those el cheapo giant sized tower cases?

    Alternatively, does anyone sell just the baseplate that the motherboard attaches to with the little brass standoffs for the screws?

  35. @Dondelny: Maybe the Japanese acrylic contraptions Joel posted yesterday would be something to extend the baseplate idea? πŸ™‚

    Can’t remember any brand names off the top of my head, but if you look around a bit you should be able to find cases where the whole plate that holds the motherboard can be slid out through the back to give easier access to the board. Lian-Li has some nice and roomy cases as well, but they have a price tag that requires a bit of consideration.

  36. I agree that the Mac Pro is simply too much money if you are not into a few very specific applications.

    But. Have you considered an iMac?

    No, no, I’m serious. I used to use nothing but towers, but sooner or later I realized I wasn’t upgrading them nearly as often as I told myself I would, and that what I really wanted was a computer that was quiet, compact, and moderately powerful, if not bleeding edge. I bought a 24″ iMac with an upgraded graphics card, and it’s been about two years, but it still works great. I’ve been playing a lot of the Orange Box and Bioshock on the Windows side, and Civ 4 on the Mac side. Games run great in both OSes, and of course I use the Mac OS for pretty much everything else.

    I’m not saying it’s necessarily the best choice for you, but I am saying you should consider it. Check out their website: http://store.apple.com/us/browse/home/shop_mac/family/imac?mco=MTE3MDM and pay special attention to the 24″ model. You can go in and upgrade to a GeForce 8800 w/ 512MB for an extra $150. That means for $1,949 you are getting a 24″ 1900 x 1200 monitor, and a rather powerful gaming computer. Also, $169 for a three year warranty isn’t bad at all.

  37. You’re a tech’ reviewer for an internationally renowned website & you can’t ponce a few different review machines off a range of different suppliers? Shame on you. HST is turning in his grave.

  38. @ Chaotic – “You’re a tech’ reviewer for an internationally renowned website & you can’t ponce a few different review machines off a range of different suppliers?”

    of course he could. This is one of those “get the community involved” threads, not “I don’t know what I’m doing OMG halp!”

  39. I’m surprised no one’s mentioned Digital Storm – I had a great experience with them, and they were the only company that let me configure my system EXACTLY the way I wanted it. (Previously I’ve always built my own systems, and I know what I want, so I’m very picky about not spending extra for no other reason than “you can’t have a smaller hard drive if you want that much RAM”.)

    And when they didn’t have the color case I had chosen, not that I cared at all, really, they called me immediately (to see if I wanted to wait for the color I’d ordered; I didn’t.) and then gave me that inside lighting stuff for free. Which I also didn’t care about, but it was a nice gesture.

    Their warranty/tech support is said to be very good, but I haven’t had to test this out yet. (The tech support you never use is the very best kind!)

    No, I don’t work for DS, and hadn’t even heard of them before I went searching for my last system. But I would order from them again.

  40. 1) Monarch Computers is D-E-D dead! Bankrupt, apparently. I had an issue with a mobo I bought from them. Luckily Asus honored the warranty.

    2) Try Vigor Gaming at http://vigorgaming.com/. That’s what I was pricing out when my mobo was gone and I wasn’t sure whether or not I would have to pay for a new one. They get great ratings on Reseller Ratings and were by far the cheapest of integrators of off-the-shelf parts.

    3) I may have missed this, but aside from the price tag, why don’t you get the 8800GT or the soon-to-be released ATI video card upgrade for the Mac Pro. Plus you could get away with getting one for a little over $2k with the right options (the Mac Pro, not the video card). You’d have to dual boot, but it would, as they say in the South, “Get her done.”

  41. Sorry Kestrel I should’ve added a ‘;)’ or maybe a ‘:)’ at the end of my comment.

    FWIW
    Maybe make the leap my Bro’ made hundreds of years ago. He got pissed off with graphics, sound and other stuff conflicts when trying to install and play games; having to spend lots of money on more RAM at a price that would be risible today.

    His solution was to go out and buy a PS for the following reason.

    “I’ve got bored with dicking around with my ‘puter just so I can play games. With the PS all I have to do is stick the disc in and play the game, no messing about.”

  42. lol, sorry for getting all aggro, Chaotic πŸ˜›

    In any case, let us know what you end up with, Joel

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