The Ars System Guide’s Gaming Boxes: December 2014

The main Ars System Guide (last updated in August) is great for what it is—a well-rounded system with a strong focus on gaming ability. However, it has some definite limitations and a few gaps in coverage. And if our System Guide build got much bigger, it might not ever get published.

To get into the specifics, there is a decent gap between the Budget Box (our low-end, affordable build) and the Hot Rod (that “just right” bowl of build porridge). There’s also an enormous gap between the Hot Rod and the God Box (where money is no obstacle). To shift from capable-all-around boxes with gaming capability to boxes that are purely gaming focused requires an equally seismic shift. There’s where our latest System Guide comes in: Meet the special Gaming Boxes.

The goal of Gaming Boxes is two-fold. First, we want to help build boxes that are the best gaming performance for the money. Second, we want to do so while highlighting different price points than what we see in the main System Guide.

Shrinking differences

The differences between the specialty Gaming Boxes and others may be smaller than some think. With online distribution now mainstream for many gamers, the Gaming Boxes actually need fairly substantial amounts of storage. The shrinking cost of LCD monitors, affordable SSDs, fast video cards, and other components all mean that the adjustments in a build from a more well-rounded box to a gaming-focused box are smaller than they used to be.

Meet the boxes (and their requirements)

The Gaming Boxes put a greater emphasis on gaming performance than the boxes in the main System Guide (Hot Rod-class performance on a Budget Box price, or so goes the cliche.) For those who desire something more than the Hot Rod but don’t need all the storage or processing power of the God Box (and with a stronger bent on value), the Gaming Boxes can provide that too.

To start, the Value Gaming Box sits between the Budget Box and Hot Rod for price but aims for Hot Rod-level gaming performance. With gaming as the primary focus, details like noise and energy efficiency may take a slight hit, although that usually isn’t too severe these days. A target price around $1,000 reflects the narrowing gap between the Budget Box and Hot Rod, but this price point still allows a reasonable CPU, GPU, SSD, and some bulk storage while leaving flexibility for individual builders to bump up a component or two if budgets allow.

The Performance Gaming Box has many superficial similarities to the Hot Rod. The base components making up the Hot Rod are solid, which means bumping up some areas (such as CPU or memory) may be a relatively poor value. Keeping those in the same class as the Hot Rod and focusing on the parts that matter for more gaming panache—the video card(s) and monitor—is likely to be the most effective use of money. Many components do end up tweaked in order to handle the increased power draw of a pair of high-end video cards in SLI/Crossfire and the related demands.

Value is still key, and to that end, the Performance Gaming Box is bifurcated with two variations, each targeted at the extremes of the original Performance Gaming Box price range—$2,000 and $3,000. This wide range allows tremendous flexibility in a key area: monitors. The diverse choices in monitor resolutions, number of monitors, and higher refresh rates can cause a serious strain on the video subsystem. It also can significantly increase cost.

One last thing to note is form factor. Greater efficiency in CPUs and GPUs means smaller form factors are very viable for the Gaming Boxes, and while we may not go to the smallest-possible form factors (microATX and the even smaller mini-ITX), powerful gaming systems no longer need to be built inside standard ATX or massive XL-ATX cases.

Read More: The Ars System Guide’s Gaming Boxes: December 2014 | Ars Technica.