Resources for making a MOP-ready computer

This weekend, several of my guildies (including myself) decided to stop procrastinating and finally get our computers ready for Mists! With a new expansion comes new demands on our computer systems. Since our guild finally reached 8/8 hard-mode in our 25-man raids, we have even more reason to need computers that don’t cap out at 10 frames a second on boss fights.

My current computer is an old Dell machine that is about 3 years old (and was kindof a mediocre build at that point due to a lot of reasons), though I’ve updated the graphics as best I could with how non-customizable the machine is. Now that I’m no longer a “poor starving college student”, I can finally afford something better (though not the top-of-the line machine, either). I’m not a computer hardware expert, so I have to rely on other sources (including friends, guild members, and twitter) for figuring out what to do. In this case, I had to start from scratch, with my absolute maximum computer budget being about $1,000. My current build for my new computer looks like this, though I haven’t purchased it yet, since I’m still tinkering a bit and waiting for a few more people to sign off on the build. So, if any of you have strong objections/feedback, feel free to post in comments.

Below is some help getting to resources for making good choices about your computer purchases that I’ve been able to find along with some general pointers for thinking about computer upgrades. Since I spent all day playing with computers instead of writing actual WOW-related content, I thought I’d share my research with you.

So, what resources are available to you in building a new computer?

  • MMO-champion has recommended guides for choosing PC computer parts that come out every few months.
  • Kalganized maintains a post on the Wow games, gaming & hardware forum. This is helpful for looking at PC desktops & some help on PC laptops. Kalganized also has some advice for upgrading your current desktop if you don’t need all the parts.
  • I also found a post talking about cases on Squidoo. I’m  still not quite sure which case I want to use. It seems to be the piece that really comes down to personal preference in terms of aesthetics once you meet the minimum requirements you need for functionality.
  • PC Part Picker - A site that you can use to organize your pieces when building your own computer, and it will help you find the best price deals. If starting from scratch on that site seems too overwhelming, you can start with my current build and change out individual parts from there to ones you like better at your own particular price range.
  • If you absolutely can’t build your own machine, one inexpensive way of getting pre-built computers is to search for gaming computers in your price range on newegg or other websites.

Mac Computer advice:

  • For mac laptops and desktops, you are better off going with the most expensive versions of the builds that you can afford.  In general, I prefer desktops over laptops for gaming purposes. Apple doesn’t give you a lot of graphic card options, but I prefer to have a computer with a separate video card instead of just the stock build in graphics whenever possible.

General computer advice:

  • When running WOW on any laptop, keep in mind that you may want a separate cooling pad with fans to keep the temperature down. This goes for both mac & PC laptops. My first laptop that I played WOW on burned through 3 video cards due to running too hot and my lack of using a cooling pad.
  • The bulk of guides recommend going for an i5 processor over an i7 due to the value based on price differences vs performance differences.
  • I would also recommend at least 8 gigs of ram. While my build linked earlier had more, most of the guides say 8 is fine for playing WOW (so only go up to 16 if you can find the right price deals).
  • Your video card matters an awful lot. For video cards around the $200 range, the Radeon 7850 is decent. A better buy for around $300 is the  GeForce GTX 660 Ti. Make sure that your power supply can support the card (see Kalganized’s video card post for more info). Ranico, my guild leader, has been pushing the 660 Ti, but it’s not in my current price range. Also keep in mind that if you can’t afford to buy a whole new computer, getting a new video card often gives you the biggest bang for your buck, especially in pre-built machines where you may not have the flexibility to replace some of the other parts.
  • In machines where you have the ability to easily replace the CPU, some of the thread comments suggest that could be a better place to upgrade to improve performance.
  • When buying SSD cards, make sure that they come with brackets to fit in a desktop machine if you have a 2.5″ card instead of a 3.5″ card (sometimes, they sell them without the desktop brackets and PC part picker wasn’t good at telling me which ones would or wouldn’t work with my setup). My original choice didn’t, and MVP Crepe pointed out the error of my plan. :)
  • Building your own is almost always more cost-effective than buying something pre-built for gaming in particular and you have a lot more control over the quality of parts. Bulding your own also makes it easier to upgrade individual parts over time instead of having to throw out the whole kit and buy a new one in a few years. You can always try having a more tech-savy friend put it together if you aren’t comfortable doing it yourself. For some budgets, pre-built machines may be perfectly fine for WOW.

18 Comments

  1. Michel
    Posted September 9, 2012 at 4:57 am | Permalink

    Remember WoW is still a cpu based game. And the card is oke, even if you getting 200fps in game it doenst matter coz you can only see the fps as high as your refresh rate of your monitor is, so if your monitor is 60Hz you only see the game at 60fps (your eyes even cant see 60fps btw) So all the fps above your monitors Hz is a waste, so turning on Vsync and your card isnt running at 200fps for nothing and making it hot (vsync sets your card to your moniors Hz)

  2. Maven
    Posted September 9, 2012 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Some solid advice there. I will say:
    Wow runs much more on CPU than GPU. Others will say it before and after, but the processor is the best place to get performance in WoW. GPU lets you use truly huge screen/resolutions, but for many users its not worth the hassle.

    I like your build liss, but I will give one word of warning. Sapphire brand is not my favorite. I have had minor problems with two different fans of theirs, so I am not going back.

    I am surprised you are not using an aftermarket cooler. Its one excellent way to cut down on PC noise, and a very small dollar investment.

    Rosewill power supplies are pretty darn money.

    • Lissanna
      Posted September 9, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      I updated post to emphasize the suggestions here about CPU.

      What brand would you suggest instead of Sapphire? They all look the same to me, and my current video card is Sapphire. :)

      With the build we have, people didn’t think that an aftermarket cooler would be worth it. It’s something we can always add later if it seems necessary.

      • Maven
        Posted September 9, 2012 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

        The brand of Video Card only matters for the fan. Which is why I rag on sapphire. If I was to quantify the money, it would be worth about 4-5$ to switch to another brand. Obviously not a big deal, but since often the prices are the same, my preference is always to go without sapphire. I see your final build is w/o sapphire, I hope that you enjoy the XFX.

        As for the cooler, worth it is a matter of perspective. I agree with them if they say you won’t need the cooling to avoid processor overheating (if you use your system normally). On the other hand, if you are concerned about energy usage (as the platinum power supply suggests), a bigger/better heat sink **Should** allow you to use less power cooling your cpu (fan speed will be slower). Almost every aftermarket cooler will be much quieter than an intel fan, which is something that matters a TON to me, but if it doesn’t to you then thats fine. At what I assume is going to be your level, the advantages of CPU cooler are noise and (slightly) power consumption, and the disadvantage is cost (and i guess it takes slightly more complicated assembly). It is something that is very easy to add later, so no worries.

        Good luck, and great build.

        • Lissanna
          Posted September 9, 2012 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

          Yeah, we picked another brand that was about the same price for the video card. The platinum power supply was a recommendation from my guild’s GM ’cause that’s what he likes running. An extra cooling system is an easy upgrade to do later (I can put it on my list of things to buy later on, along with a new sound card for podcasting if the built-in sound card doesn’t hold up).

          The case has pretty good airflow (with one built-in rear fan already) and the computer sits on a table right near the window air conditioner, so I think we’ll be good for now. If it runs too loud, we’ll add a better cooling system later. I’m pretty sure I still won’t hear it over my air conditioner & the turtle tank’s water filter running 24/7. :)

  3. Lissanna
    Posted September 9, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    Update – the final build of my computer will be this one:
    http://pcpartpicker.com/p/gZMD

  4. Daniel
    Posted September 10, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    I have a couple of thoughts. First, if you can don’t buy Windows 7. Windows 8 is right around the corner and will cost you only $40 for the full retail version, which would save you $50. Install an old copy of windows or even better yet download the Windows 8 RC for free and then upgrade. (NOTE: You *might* have to reinstall when Windows 8 comes out.)

    Second, I am not a fan of microATX boards. Installing stuff is a lot easier on a bigger board and unless you have some specific reason for going with a smaller board I wouldn’t. My two cents having built many machines.

    Third, why do you need two HDs? Especially if you are using the second drive as back up I’d go with a cheaper 5400 rpm drive. If you really need fast speed and lots of space consider a hybrid drive.

  5. Treeboi
    Posted September 10, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    My take on computer builds….

    SilentPCReview.com

    The best thing you can do for yourself is to build a super quiet machine. And it really doesn’t take much additional work – typically just a good case, slower drives (5400 rpm drives for data storage, SSD for anything performance related, like games and OS), large quiet fans (especially the cpu heat sink fan), and a quiet power supply.

    Put the whole thing under your desk, and you won’t hear a thing. The silence is golden.

    My case is a Fractal Designed uATX SilentPC case.
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811352011
    It has everything you want in a silent case – 120mm fans, good airflow, room to work, and sound proofing. (Unlike Daniel, I like uATX motherboards, and find that space problems are primarily due to badly designed cases).

    My power supply is a Seasonic X650.
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817151088

    And all my fans are Notura. A 140mm one for the CPU and another 120mm fan for the case.
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16835608019
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16835608026

    As for the 5400rpm drives, the slower drives are more reliable, they use less wattage, and they are much quieter to boot. As long as you don’t need the performance, the 5400rpm drives rule. And if you do need performance, get an SSD. I’m running 3 drives; 1x SSD (for OS, applications, games), 2x 5400rpm HDs (for everything else).

    I went a little overboard on the quiet side, but after you’ve had a silent pc, you’ll never go back to a loud one.

    • Lissanna
      Posted September 10, 2012 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, if I had actual real money to spend on a computer, I’d do that. At this point, I want to be able to set my graphics above “fair” when I’m out exploring the world. If I set my current old computer graphics to high or ultra, I can’t even fly around Stormwind. So, my current requirements are more about functionality than sound pollution, since my turtle’s water filter sounds like a waterfall behind my head all day anyway. For other people, I’m sure that’s something they could really enjoy.

  6. Treeboi
    Posted September 10, 2012 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

    My take on upgrading piecemeal, based on actual experience….

    — You never upgrade your CPU, CPU fan, motherboard, power supply, or case. You’ll keep them until your next rebuild, at which point, you’ll replace them. You’ll never upgrade them, because all of these components normally require that you unplug or take apart many items, before you can upgrade them, which serves as a major deterrent.

    — RAM, HDs, SSDs, and video cards are the only pieces that actually get upgraded, because they are just 10-15 minute jobs.

    — The best upgrades in my book are, in order:
    1. A large screen TV as your primary monitor. The bigness will immerse you into the game like nothing else can. You’ll notice the difference at around 42″ or so.
    2. A secondary monitor.
    3. Great speakers with a separate sub woofer. Something that can pump 200 watts. My Klipsch speakers have lasted 8 years and are still going strong.
    4. A usb studio microphone, from a real audio company, like Samson or Blue. Usb provides power to the mic, which allows the mic to perform a lot better than an unpowered one plugged to an audio jack. My Samson mic picks up soft speech from 10 feet away.
    5. A mechanical keyboard using cherry switches (I prefer brown switches). You spend all day typing, so you might as well treat your fingers to a good keyboard. After a week, you’ll never want to type on a crappy keyboard again.

    Note that each of these upgrades will far, far outlast your current computer.

  7. Rauxis
    Posted September 11, 2012 at 1:37 am | Permalink

    I’m missing one important factor. Your graphic card needs to be powerful enough for a specific monitor resolution; 1280×1024 is far less compute intensive then 1600×1200. match those monitor and card to find an optimum for you

    Rauxis, chosen of CAT

  8. Posted September 11, 2012 at 4:45 am | Permalink

    I would take Asus over any other manufacturer for MB any day of the week. For the price you are paying on your ASRock you can get just as good if not better from Asus.

  9. Posted September 11, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    Not a bad build, especially with the comments from your other readers. I am heavily biased toward Nvidea products and never muched cared for AMD parts. That said, I know several friends who have received good results from their AMDs. So, take my thoughts with a grain of salt.

    I have two GTX 465s that’re performing quite well.They’re a Fermis, so the dump heat when the stuff starts rolling. For the same money you’re looking at that card, check out the specs on a GTX 560 Fermi. Consider your requirements and which card will fulfill the job. In my 3D benchmarking my 465s have scored well. These would mostly be used for applications other than WoW.

    I am pleased to see you running an SSD beside an HHD. From the beginning set your system up to install the vast majority of your applications on the HDD as it will (a) save space on your SSD and (b) save the read/write life of the drive. Applications that you want the best performance from (for me WoW, Daz Studio, and another 1 or 2) can be kept on the SSD. Also, config your Windows to store your User files on the HDD. I currently have a cold-start to desktop boot time of 25 seconds with my SSD. You’re in for a treat.

    For performance, I’m curious if you’ve considered a motherboard that supports Triple Channel memory. The communication will be faster for applications store in RAM and can have a substantial performance impact at times. Unfortunately I do not believe that any LGA1155 sockets support Triple Channel. You would need to look at a different socket; of course, a different socket means a different CPU. A quick Google query seems to say that none of the i5s support Triple Channel.

    That’s about all I’ve got atm. If you’re registered on the EVGA forumns I’ll drop you a link to my own rig and you can have a poke around.

    • Lissanna
      Posted September 12, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      At this point, I think I’m sticking with what I have now (the pieces already started arriving in the mail!). Nvidea cards were definitely better for WOW when WOW first came out, but the AMD graphics cards have caught up in the last couple of years and since I need an economy build more than a powerhouse. My bet is that the next machine I get will probably be able to allow me to choose better parts over cheaper parts, since my budget kindof cornered me on a lot of pieces. I almost didn’t even have enough in my budget to even buy a new video card. For a starting point, I think I’m in good shape.

  10. Lissanna
    Posted September 15, 2012 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    All my computer parts are here. Assembling it some time this week hopefully!

    • Lissanna
      Posted September 18, 2012 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      Okay, computer is built. Just need to install everything. Should be able to finish up program install in the next few days. I’m still raiding this week on the old computer since some work-related deadlines are eating up my time this week.

  11. Chezza
    Posted September 22, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    Only thing, be careful with the solid state hard drive. I’ve had problems with them in the past. I actually had read/write errors start popping up on both solid state hard drives in my machine around seven to eight months after building my machine last year.

    • Lissanna
      Posted September 22, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, but it makes things so fast! lol