I know that with the recent release of Battlefield 3 (not to mention upcoming games such as Skyrim, MW3, etc), many PC gamers are looking to either upgrade their current computers or to build new ones with the latest and greatest hardware. With that in mind I thought it would be helpful to create a new "What hardware should I buy? - BF3 Edition" thread.
Couple of things to point out, the first is that while I will suggest specific hardware below, I know that everyone has their own brand preferences and budgets, so I'll try to keep things general (like recommending a chipset as well as a specific motherboard) while also giving lower priced options when available. There will also be some commentary and links to the current state of hardware (upcoming CPUs and GPUs, etc).
As always, please critique my suggestions and post your own choices below, there's a million different ways to build your own PC, and there's certainly no one right way to do it, but it is fun to see all the different combinations that enthusiasts like ourselves can come up with.
All of the links below are from Newegg, but I'd recommend using your choice of shopping helper (Google, Bing, etc) to try and get the best price. Also of note is that we are approaching the holiday season, so hopefully we'll see some good deals in the upcoming weeks (Newegg has already started their "Black November" promotion).
I was hoping that AMD would provide some competition (both in performance and price) with their recently released Bulldozer CPU, but unfortunately that doesn't appear to be the case. With the upcoming LGA 2011/Sandy Bridge-E from Intel still planned for later this year (but quite frankly it's overkill for current gaming), the default choice is the hugely successful Intel Core i5-2500k. The budget option is the solid i3-2100, just make sure you pair it with a good motherboard in order to ensure a future upgrade path for Ivy Bridge.
Personally I do not trust stock heatsinks, while they should do the job (but you can ask Teck about this), they're generally loud, inefficient and not up to the task of overclocking. Simply put, the CPU is the heart of your system, you need to protect it with good cooling. Just make sure that any heatsink is compatible with your CPU socket (with the i5-2500k it's 1155) and is not too tall for your case.
I struggled with trying to narrow down the choices to a few specific motherboards, as there are simply so many varieties from many different manufacturers. My preference leans towards boards from Asus, but I know many others who like options from companies such as MSI or Gigabyte. The most important point though is that you need to select the right chipset, what you want to look for are boards with either the P67 or Z68 chipset. These are the two chipsets that support CPU and memory overclocking, and the Z68 also supports Intel's integrated graphics (not really a concern for us in this build, but if you think you might turn this PC into an HTPC later, then consider the Z68 option).
Traditionally you could save a little bit of money by getting a MicroATX version of the motherboard, but most socket 1155 boards do not feature either the P67 or Z68 chipset. If you're absolutely sure that you will never want to overclock, then you might be able to save a significant chunk of money by going with a MicroATX board with one of the other chipsets. If you just want the smaller board (for a smaller case perhaps) and still want the best chipset, then look at the Asus I've linked below.
The minimum GPU (an AMD Radeon HD 6870) is quite simply the lowest GPU that I feel can run the game with adequate eye-candy at a decent resolution. While you could probably eek out enough performance from an AMD 6850 or NVIDIA 550 Ti, I'd rather not have to tone-down the settings to the point where the wall texture looks like a disgusting brown smear with horribly jagged corners. With regards to resolution, the minimum GPU should be able to run the game decently at 1680x1050 or less, while the budget GPU (AMD 6950 or NVIDIA 560 Ti) can run the game well at 1680x1050, and can be pushed up to 1920x1080 (1080p). The recommended GPU (AMD 6970 or NVIDIA 570) should have no problem with 1920x1080, and the performance GPU (NVIDIA 580) should just look fantastic on almost anything. If you can afford the last level of GPU, then you're welcome to buy me one as well.
RAM is RAM, it's cheap and it's fast, get a minimum of 8 GB (two 4 GB sticks). While you could skimp here and only get 4 GB total, the price difference isn't that much, and it would be an awkward number for future upgrades. For any RAM you get, check the user reviews to make sure it's a reliable product/brand. A good stick of DDR3 1600 should serve you well, even with overclocking, though if you really want to stretch performance look at DDR3 1600 with tighter timings, or bump up the speed to DDR3 1866 or higher.
A SSD is not a mandatory option yet, but out of all of the components in this post it is probably my most highly recommended (yes, even higher then a good GPU). The SSD is the one piece of hardware that will make your computer faster for virtually every single everyday task, and that can not be understated. If you can afford it, a 128 GB SSD is the perfect size as it can easily store your operating system and several games (remember that games are now often 5-10+ GB), but a 60 or 80 GB boot drive isn't a bad choice either. Fortunately the SSD market is thriving with competition from several manufacturers, so you have good options across the range of capacities and price.
Traditional hard drives have both gotten larger and cheaper, which is a good trend for the consumer. I'm a big fan of Samsung, having used many of their drives over the past several years without a single failure. If you don't get a SSD, then I would highly recommend the F3 1TB drive as your primary drive (but wait for it to go on sale, all HDDs get massively discounted in cycles). Seagate and Western Digital also make good drives, and similar to the RAM just keep an eye on the reviews for the overall product reliability. While the new SATA standard of 6 Gbps is a nice feature (and is a requirement for SSDs), it's not a must have at this point in a mechanical hard drive, also only consider "eco" or "green" drives for secondary storage, they should not be your primary drive.
While I know that it's tempting to skimp on the power supply and just throw in a generic 1210 gigawatt PSU that you saw on sale for $15, I strongly urge you not to do so. I'd rather see you use an old cardboard box as a case if it meant that you could use a quality new power supply, it really is that important to the overall long-term health of your computer. You don't need to go crazy with the amount of Watts either, a 600-700W PSU should be more then adequate for a budget or recommended build, and a 700-1000W PSU for a performance PC. Newegg has a handy Power Supply Calculator, while X-bit Labs has an excellent feature on PC Power Consumption. Modular power supplies are also something to consider, they're generally much easier to install and provide for better airflow within the case, though they do usually come with a premium price.
Minimal and understated, or over-the-top and garish? Most styles for cases break down into one of those two categories, and each individual has different tastes when it comes to the appearance of their computer. Whatever you decide to go with, make sure the case gets good reviews for construction and is easy to work with when assembling your new PC.
You still need an optical drive, a standard CD/DVD burner should cost between $15 and $20 (I like this one because it's all black), while a Blu-ray combo drive will run near $60. All motherboards come with onboard sound, though there are good add-on cards from Asus with their Xonar line. A copy of Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit can be had for around $100.
Monitor, Headset & Peripherals
I should devote an entirely separate thread to this, as I feel that a good monitor, headset and a set of peripherals is almost always criminally overlooked while contributing massively to the overall gaming experience. In short, while the computer runs the game, you interact with it via these key components, and it's near pointless to spend a significant amount of money on a high performance system if you're going to use to to look at washed out colors accompanied with a static filled soundtrack. Peripherals are an easier matter, though finding a mouse that fits your hand can be a bit of trial and error (go to your local big box store and try them out there). I'll update this thread with more on monitors and headsets later.
Price and Final Thoughts
The total cost at stock prices for the above components should range from around $750-850 for a budget build, $1000-1200 for the recommended, and $1200+ for extra performance, but that is before any discounts, sales, promo codes or combo deals. The holiday season really is the best time of year to upgrade your computer or build an entirely new one, but you have to sign up for the various promotional emails, or visit sites such as slickdeals to get the most bang for your buck. For example, in the past three days Newegg has offered 20% off heatsinks, 10% off Windows, 10% off Asus monitors with free shipping and 15% off Corsair power supplies with free shipping. If you are you patient and buy the components over the course of the next few weeks when they go on sale, you can see significant savings. You could also wait for the major events on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but my impression recently has been that those days focus more on doorbusters (very specific products at limited quantities), while the general category sales during the month are the better opportunity.
I hope that this guide has helped you if you're currently looking to upgrade or build a new gaming PC for Battlefield 3, while the hardware requirements certainly are steep, I think that overall a tremendous system is in reach for most gamers (not to mention the fact that if it can run BF3 well, any current game will look fantastic). I'd love to see some suggestions for an extreme budget build (around $500 total), but I think the hefty GPU puts that out of reach.
One day I hope to have my own custom box, after going through college, getting married, getting an apartment, and paying off CC's, I just can't afford it right now. Credit cards are my main priority to pay off.
Yeah, get debt paid off before toys. Much better long run.
Joe, you're just trying to get me to build a computer now, aren't you? Great list, and I'm glad I took your advise on monitors. I only ended up with a S-PVA, but it's so much better than the TN displays I have to use elsewhere.
Lots of good advice for anyone building in the near future!
Originally Posted by VincentVega
I'm assuming that those of us with i7-9XX machines will be fine so long as we have enough video.
I have an EVGA Superclocked 260 (Craigs) I'm not currently using. I presume with another one of those, I should be more than fine
I'm still running with an i7 920 and a single GTX 260. With some light overclocking on my 260 I was able to get BF3 to run on "low" at 1920x1200 @ 60fps. Higher BF3 settings don't seem to cause huge drops in fps, but I'd rather play it safe and avoid any dips while in a battle. If i was willing to drop the resolution down though, it should run fairly well minus the dx11 eye candy. I'm just trying to hold myself over until Kepler if I can. The 580/570 still seem crazy expensive to me for an card that has been on the market for that long. If they underwent a massive price drop I might reconsider.