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Informit's 2006 Guide to Building the Ultimate Gaming PC on a Budget: Revenge of the Dual-Core, SLI Machine, Part 2

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In Part 2 of this three-part series, your gaming dream machine is beginning to take shape. Author Cyrus Peikari continues his DIY guide by showing you how to choose the graphics card, CPU and heat sink, and RAM.
This is part 2 of a 3 part series. Miss the first one? Read Part 1 first.
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In Part II, we use two graphics cards on the same mainboard, thanks to SLI technology. Our goal is to come close to a high-end graphics card by using two $100 graphics cards in parallel. We also discuss dual-core CPU technology, as well as RAM latency, power, and quiet cooling. Our dream machine is beginning to take shape.

Choosing the Graphics Card

There has never been a better time to buy a graphics card. The street price has dropped; you can now easily buy a card that you couldn’t dream about two years go. That’s because Doom 3 raised the bar so high two years ago that card manufacturers had to go way beyond the state of the art. The good news is that Quake 4 and newer games are not much more demanding than Doom 3. So the graphics card industry has caught up the gaming industry. This cat-and-mouse game has gone on for years; in every case, it has been a game based on John Carmack’s game engines that has pushed the state of the art further than it thought it could go.

For this machine, we’re going to use a card nearly identical to the one in the "How To Build the Ultimate Windows Media Center 2005 Machine on a Budget" article we wrote in October 2005. We will be using the Gigabyte GeForce 6600 GV-NX66256DP. We have been amazed at how well this card performs. The reason we chose this for our case is that it is probably the fastest card you can buy, without having to use a fan on the Graphical Processing Unit (GPU). GPU fans can spin like mad, especially when you boot into your 3D game. We’ve never really heard of a card with a quiet GPU fan (even if replaced with an aftermarket fan).

Instead, this card uses a heat pipe and a massive heat sink for cooling. There is no fan. This also means that you need extra space around your card (meaning, this won’t fit into smaller cases). The best part is that you can now buy it for around $100. We are actually going to buy two cards and test them in an SLI configuration. It is a little known secret that this inexpensive card is certified to work with SLI. So for $200, you could run two of these in parallel and compete well with cards that cost nearly $500.

Our goal is to be able to handle Quake 4 with ease. Quake 4 online multiplayer has been arbitrarily capped at 60 frames per second (fps). So all you really need (and want) is to be able to hit 60 fps with reasonable texture quality. This card will definitely give you that. It delivers one of the smoothest online gaming experiences that we have ever seen—at a fraction of the cost of more expensive cards.

Figure 1 shows the graphics card, along with the SLI bridge that comes with the ASUS mainboard. Note that this graphics card does not need the SLI bridge. It is completely software-controlled. That means you can easily toggle the use of one or both cards with a simple mouse click.

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