As a bit of a birthday present to myself, I decided to take advantage of Black Friday sales and buy a dedicated gaming PC. My iMac has been serving double-duty as both a Mac and a Windows gaming machine since I bought it in 2010, replacing my previous iMac in that role since 2006. The dual-boot Mac setup has always worked well in the past: it marries a large screen (24″ and then 27″) with a fast CPU and reasonable graphics card. The graphics were not upgradable but worked well enough for a few years until it was time for my next upgrade. Graphics performance was usually a step or two up for the games that I already owned and allowed me to play new games at reasonable quality settings for a few years. The benefit is that I don’t need two machines and can take advantage of the beautiful monitors that are built-in. The disadvantage is that I have to buy an entirely new machine when my games start to struggle, even if the Mac side of the house is fine.
I decided to change that strategy a bit with my 2010 iMac purchase. The 27″ model can actually act as a dedicated monitor to another machine, assuming it has a Display Port interface. By buying that machine I knew that I’d later have the option to purchase a separate dedicated gaming PC when performance and quality started to suffer. I started looking last year and considering my options a bit. I was leaning toward building my own since it was the least expensive option, but it’s so labor-intensive. Trying to make sure all of the components were compatible, that the power supply was big enough, that everything fit in the case, the wires… Maybe if I didn’t have two young boys and an active career I’d actually have time for that stuff. I started looking at iBuyPower, which is a company that basically does the custom-building for me, but decided that I didn’t really need a machine at the time.
With Black Friday in full swing I decided to take another look. I hit the iBuyPower site, saw that they were having some sales, and decided to price some things out. I ended up placing an order for a gaming PC that should keep me happy for years to come. They have a bunch of different systems to choose from, including a really nice little system that maintains the customizability of a gaming PC but takes up about as much space as an Xbox or PS4. I ended up with a more traditional mega-tower because it was a better deal and offers better expansion for the future. Here’s what I ended up with:
- 4 GHz Intel Core i7 (4790K Quad-Core, 8 MB L3 cache, Turbo Boost to 4.4 GHz)
- I went with Intel because Intel has the highest performance. AMD is fine but I wanted to be as insulated as I could from CPU bottlenecks in the future.
- 16 GB DDR3-2133 RAM (free Black Friday upgrade from 8 GB DDR3-1600)
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 4GB Overclocked
- This is a very expensive and powerful graphics card for me. The high-end iMac typically ships with a mid-range mobile card, currently the GTX 780M with 4 GB memory. The GTX 970 desktop card is much more powerful. I’ve always wanted a system that allowed me to max out the graphics in all my games; I think this is it.
- 2 TB 7200 RPM hard drive with 64 MB cache (free Black Friday upgrade from 1 TB)
- LG Blu-Ray Writer Combo Drive (Free Black Friday upgrade from DVD drive)
- I’ll probably never use it as a Blu-Ray drive, but hey, it was free
- 700 watt power supply (Free Black Friday upgrade from 600 watt)
- This is where the smaller system really broke down for me: it shipped with a 350 watt supply and could only go up to 500 watt due to space constraints. I don’t want to be in a situation where some graphics card won’t work because the power supply is too small.
- A blue light inside the case
- It was $10 and Adam likes blue, so…
- A touch screen fan controller and temperature display
- I like settings and info; it seemed cool
- Windows 8.1
- I had the option to get Windows 7 but I figured I might as well go with the latest since many of the kinks were worked out in 8.1. I’ll also only be using it for gaming so the terrible desktop experience won’t bother too much.
- A backlit keyboard, gaming mouse, head set, and wireless USB adapter – all free as part of the Black Friday promotion.
The whole thing cost $1300 which isn’t bad compared to other systems that I’ve looked at. I know that I could build it cheaper myself, but again, I don’t want to do all that work. The August 2014 Ars Technica Hot Rod machine cost $1,334 for a 3.3 GHz Intel Core i5 (4 core), 8 GB RAM, 2 TB hard drive, DVD RW drive, and a Radeon R9 280X 3GB. This price is from August and also includes a monitor, but the system I’m getting certainly isn’t bad considering someone else has to assemble it for me. I’m getting a faster CPU, more RAM, a better drive, and a comparable-to-slightly faster graphics card – assembled, shipped, and ready-to-go.
I’m pretty excited. My iMac has been a fine gaming machine, but it is showing its age. I can play all of my current games on medium settings, but playing at full 2560 x 1440 resolution is starting to tax it out. I’d also like to play something at full settings just to see what it looks like. The GTX 970 should provide plenty of power to do that. I’m also going to gain storage space. At the moment I’ve only allocated about 250 GB for Windows on my Mac. That’s enough space for 5 games or so. After that I have to delete something to add something else. Having a full 2 TB will leave plenty of space for games.
The final advantage is upgradability, namely for the GPU. Gone will be the days that I have to consider dropping another $2,000 on a new iMac just because I can’t run a new game in a reasonable way. Now that graphics are on a card, I can upgrade it every few years for $200 – $300 instead of buying a new system. I could even buy a second edition of the same card in a few years and run them together for 2x the performance. I won’t need to change the case, the hard drive, the power supply, the motherboard, or anything else unless something dies or becomes a huge bottle neck. If that happens I can still upgrade the CPU, motherboard, or any other part independently.
Now I know that some of you might be thinking that the Mac guy finally saw the light, but don’t get too excited. Windows machines are and always have been much better for gaming than the Mac. They have always been more upgradable. For what I’ve been doing a dual-boot Mac setup was the best option. I’ve been thinking of getting a dedicated gaming machine for a while and I’ve finally decided to do it. I don’t use Windows for anything else and don’t intend to. The Mac is my daily machine. Windows is for fun 🙂 My new PC is supposed to ship by December 18th and will hopefully arrive just in time for my 1.5 week holiday vacation 🙂