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ScottyMcGeester's avatar

What are some of the best desktop computers for what I need?

Asked by ScottyMcGeester (1807points) May 19th, 2015

I’m getting a new desktop computer. I haven’t had one in so long.

I need something with good graphics power because I need to use a video game enginge called Unreal 4, and I also just handle a lot of media like video editing. So I can’t have it lagging on me or freaking out because of virtual memory.

I know Intel Integrated HD graphics are pretty much like the basic, bottom of the line graphics. So I want to avoid that. At the end of the day though, so long as I get something better than Intel graphics I can always get a new graphics card too if it’s still not as powerful to run Unreal 4.

My budget is around $1,000.

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13 Answers

jerv's avatar

Finding a good “out of the box” gaming rig at any price is a bit tricky, but if you are willing to do a tiny pit of work, then it’s easily possible to take a modest regular PC and turn it into a competent gaming rig for cheap.

Personally, I use an old Gateway that I picked up for $500 4–5 years ago, swapped ou the power supply for something more robust and reliable, and added a video card. Sure, it has a quaint CPU that was bottom-rung even then, but the video card is as good as any $100 mid-grade gaming card currently sold and 6GB RAM, so it’s still adequate.

Generally, the pre-built gaming rigs come with a worse video card than they should and up the CPU more than they need to, which is why I do it the way I do. There are places like Cyberpower that do do custom prebuilds though, so if you know exactly what you want then they will bolt it all together for you… usually. They don’t always offer the options I want, so I don’t use them, but they do offer enough options to make people less fussy than me happy.

Regardless of which way you customize your rig, for a “budget build” your best bet is probably an Intel Core i5-series CPU hooked to an R9 270X video card and no less than 6GB RAM. Maybe even an SSD for your OS and applications if you are truly serious, that is optional, but has a dramatic effect on how quickly the system boot and starts applications as well as load levels, and is an option if your budget is over $700.

XOIIO's avatar

Yeah I’m say get one custom made/

elbanditoroso's avatar

Buy a good name refurb computer from Micro-Center. By that I mean a speedy multi-core processor, a reasonable size hard drive. And a very high capacity power supply (or be prepared to swap it out).

Then max out your RAM, get the best video card you can afford.

Likely cheaper to do that than by a custom build.

ScottyMcGeester's avatar

How good is a GeForce GT 720 (DDR3)?

I’m looking at a list of best performance to worst performance here: http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/gaming-graphics-card-review,3107-7.html

The closest I find on there is GT 740 (DDR3) so I ASSUME 720 is like a notch below it. Or I dunno if I’m reading this wrong.

jerv's avatar

I use Passmark’s GPU list

For nVidia cards, my motto is “GTX or GTFO!”. A GT or GTS just won’t have what it takes. I’m not sure the GT 720 is even capable of streaming Netflix at 1080p HDTV resolution. It surely won’t do well at any sort of gaming unless you turn the settings way down.

The lowest I would go for anything dealing with the Unreal engine is GTX 750 or Radeon R7 260 or Radeon R9 270.

ScottyMcGeester's avatar

Hrm. Well the laptop I’m running now is way lower than GT 720 – and Intel HD Graphics 3000 and I’ve watched stuff on 1080p.

jerv's avatar

The GT720 wouldn’t be much of an upgrade though. The GT 720 is not much above my old GT 240, and that card required me to turn details to low on most games to run with only slight jerkiness at 1600×900. World of Tanks was barely playable, as were any other games that required hitting a moving target, and non-shooters were less enjoyable. My current GTX465 (roughly equivalent to the three $100 cards I mentioned in my last post) is capable of running 1920×1080 on High or above while keeping movement smooth; 30 FPS even at the worst of times. It also helps immensely on CAD work.

I will say that the HD 3000 is better than my old laptop’s Intel Media Accelerator, but still not enough for 3D rendering with any speed better than “grab a sandwich”. Rendering a flat video takes a lot less GPU power than rendering 3D models with shaded textures.

ScottyMcGeester's avatar

I finally found the Unreal 4 recommended requirements, from their own site no less, which is :
“NVIDIA GeForce 470 GTX or AMD Radeon 6870 HD series or higher ”

So more or less what you suggested.

The frustrating bit on this site is that it doesn’t show me the MINIMUM requirements for some reason. It has a section for it and displays some info but not the graphics card minimum. I don’t know why.

Upon further browsing, it seems there’s a bit of variation from users: https://wiki.unrealengine.com/Recommended_Hardware

I’ve noticed though that most have i7 processors. That’d up the price. Hrm.

Also, just to further elaborate what I’m doing, I’m developing a machinima with Unreal 4. I won’t be doing the actual developing of the animation itself. I have someone else doing that. It just makes it easier for me to communicate and work with him if I get to have Unreal 4 and open up the stuff he finishes. Also, eventually, since I’m the director with the vision I’d ultimately need to get Unreal 4 in order to actually film the shots. So – in other words – I won’t be utlizing all of its features. I’m playing a more passive role by having to at least load it and look at things. The official FAQ says UE4 will run on stuff below the recommended specs but performance may be limited. It’s just a bit annoying not knowing exactly at what point on the low end will it be practically unviewable, or what defines “limited performance”. I guess that’s just harder to look into.

jerv's avatar

I’ve always taken the requirements with a grain of salt. Officially, WinXP can run on 64MB of RAM, but the truth is that it takes up ~650MB of RAM, about ten times the minimum requirement, and thus is tricky to run on less than 1GB. I’ve done it on 768MB without flogging the hard drive for Virtual Memory, but was limited in what applications I could run without bogging; Firefox was okay, but gaming wasn’t.

There are rare occasions where the minimum specs actually have basis in reality, but given that a $100 video card is often twice as powerful as a $90 video card and ten times as powerful as a $50 card, I say that going a step beyond is worth the minimal extra cash. Think of it as future-proofing. The sweet spot for video cards in the last few years tends to be around $100–120 with a sharp drop-off in performance below $95 and diminishing returns above about $140.

Most budget gaming rigs go for an i5 over an i7 for precisely that reason too; the i7 is not always enough of an improvement to warrant the cost.

For gaming, the general rule is 30FPS as the absolute minimum which you should never go under under any circumstances, so you generally want a little extra just in case a background process decides to grab some system resources . However, anything above 60FPS is just wanking as most monitors cannot keep up since modern LCD displays usually have a refresh rate of 60Hz. Therefore, anything faster than 60 FPS is usually only good for bragging rights.

Personally, if I’m playing a game and the framerates goes over 50 FPS, I turn up the details until it gets down into the low-40s. It still looks about as smooth, but the higher detail levels look better. Conversely, if I’m dipping down below 30 FPS, I reduce detail until I get over 30 FPS as smoother motion is more of an improvement than the loss of detail is a detriment.

ScottyMcGeester's avatar

Okie dokie. Sweet. This is all the info I need. Thanks a lot.

I might stop by a PC Richards & Sons just for the hell of it. If I remember clearly, they had more options. Best Buy didn’t really have a lot of interesting options, at least the ones around here. There’s this whole “All-in-One PC” thing going on now, all of them with Intel HD graphics.

After that I’ll hit the Internet all the way through. I realized though that the nice thing about having bought something through a store was that they usually added on some antivirus. With my current laptop, they added Webroot, which was pretty awesome and you hardly notice it’s there. I’m pretty sure the desktop I got way back before that also had an antivirus included. So I’ve never actually gotten a computer relatively “naked” so to say; never thought about going custom.

jerv's avatar

I’m not a fan of the offerings of most brick-and-mortar stores, especially not national chains like Best Buy or anyplace that sells all appliances. If nothing else, they tend to have a narrower selection, and often higher prices than those who specialize in PCs. I really distrust any saleman who knows less about a product than I do.

All-in-one computers like the iMac don’t have the space for big heatsinks, and don’t go for a liquid cooling setup because radiators require unsightly holes, so they cannot dissipate much heat. Heat dissipation and weak cooling are why all-in-ones are forced to go with weaker CPUs and laptop GPUs, and also part of the reason that laptops are generally about half as powerful as desktops. (Laptops also have battery life concerns and thus have to watch power draw more than desktops do.)

Regarding antivirus, they offer what gets them a kickback, not what works. According to AV Comparatives, Webroot wasn’t even tested. A little digging shows that they started testing it and pulled the plug on it as it was so full of holes that it couldn’t hang; it detected less than 80% of their test viruses while the second-worst managed to find 94.4% and Avira caught 99.6%. AV-test likewise didn’t bother with something that couldn’t perform well enough to even qualify as anti-virus protection.

I use the free version of Avast! which consistently rates near the top, is absolutely free, and I only see it when it flashes an alert that it blocked a potential infection. Avira is comparable, but I found the interface a little more annoying; every time it updates the detection database (at least once a day) it flashes an ad for the paid upgrade. Also, odds are that you only got one year of Webroot free and have to pay after that; with Avast!, you’re free for life.

ScottyMcGeester's avatar

I never talk to the salesmen. I just look. Not to put anyone down who works there who might be seeing this but they know Jack shit.
I was annoyed at how many all in one computers they have now. I was like “ugh what? What is this?’

I never had to pay for webroot since I’ve had it in 2012. It still worked.
I’m totally surprised about webroot though. I typically run two antiviruses to be double sure. The other one I have is clamwin. I used avast so long ago I forgot about it ever since I chose webroot.

jerv's avatar

Trying to cash in on the iMac’s success maybe.

Generally running two real-time AV programs risks issues. ClamWin is “on-demand” and doesn’t offer realtime protection though

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