Welcome to another edition of our Cheap Bastard's builds! This time we decided to take a slightly different approach to the DIY gaming PC guides -- we wanted to put together the least expensive gaming-grade HTPC (home-theater PC) for the extremely budget-conscious gamer; this custom, ultra-cheap gaming HTPC build makes for a great DIY project, and if you like ultra small gaming computers or want a system to plug into your TV, this may be the one. The fact that it's Black Friday only helps matters that much more.
We went with one of AMD's APUs—which make up around 75% of their sales—the A10-5800k APU powers this mighty mouse-like rig, using its moderately-powered integrated graphics chip for any lightweight gaming tasks thrown at it.
This particular PC build won't be able to produce the highest graphics settings from more intensive games, but for the incredibly low budget, this makes a fantastic mid-range gaming PC and runs most games quite admirably on medium configurations with 1600x1050 or 1920x1080 resolution (1080p). Really, for around $350, it's our cheapest build we've posted on the site yet and it runs games well. Technology has advanced immensely.
Let's get to the list!
$357 Custom Gaming HTPC Build - Black Friday, 2012
|Gaming Parts List||Name||Price||Rebates/etc.||Total|
|CPU/GPU||AMD A10-5800k / 7660D||$130||Free Shipping, $10 gift card
Free DiRT Showdown
|Memory||G.Skill Ripjaws 8GB 1600MHz||$40||- $15, Free Shipping||$25|
|Case & PSU||IN WIN BK644 w/ 300W PSU||$66||-||$66|
|Hard Drive||Seagate Barracuda 1TB 7200RPM||$70||Free Shipping||$70|
|Optical Drive||Lite-on Optical Drive||$16||-||$16|
Optional Add-ons (pick and choose as budget allows)
|Add-on Parts List||Name||Price||Rebates/etc.||Total|
||Windows 7 64-bit Home Premium||$100||-$20 code "EMCJJHF52"
||Samsung 840 TLC SSD||$90||Free Shipping||$90|
As a quick aside, we recently posted this intro-to-overclocking build, so if you want something higher-end, go check it out.
We decided to move on from the traditional CPU in favor of AMD's highly-regarded Trinity APUs (Advanced Processing Unit), which fuse gaming-grade graphics chips and traditional CPUs on the same die. APUs are effectively an all-in-one CPU and GPU package, as it boasts an operating frequency of 3.8GHz on four cores and an integrated AMD Radeon HD 7660D graphics processor.
The 7660D is certainly no 7850, which has been our go-to gaming card for mid-range builds, but at the same time, it's nothing to be overlooked. The 7660D performs well in many games on 1600 resolution with medium graphics, as seen in Anandtech's benchmark, and should be more than enough for gamers who don't mind playing on lower-than-max settings. The Trinity chip is well-known for its overclocking abilities with the new Mesh technology, allowing greater OC'ing, but pick up a solid aftermarket heatsink if you choose to do that (ask us in the comments for recommendations).
This is AMD's top-of-the-line APU and beats out similarly-priced HD4000 chips, making it one of the best all-in-one options out there.
G Skill's been pushing the limits of memory lately, and despite recently shattering a world record, the company hasn't stopped offering its entry-level memory. Using some of the Black Friday deals for PC hardware, we were able to snag these 2x4GB modules (total 8GB) of DDR3-1600MHz memory (natively supported by the board) with fairly standard CAS timing of 9-9-9-24.
And while they look nice, the heat spreaders aren't just for show -- these sinks will help keep the RAM cooled in an otherwise minimalistic case.
At $25, it's a steal.
Excited for the FM2 motherboards, we decided to go for MSI's FM2-A75MA-E35 board (using the A75 chipset); this board is HDMI-enabled, fits in our case (micro-ATX), hosts all SATA III ports, natively supports high-speed memory, and ships with a PCI-e 2.0 slot, 2xPCI-e x1 slots, and one PCI slot. The slots, while normally not worth mentioning, are significantly more important for HTPC builds: Using expansion cards, you'll be able to add high-quality audio or TV Tuner card (if you'd like to build your own DVR), making for a more complete HTPC experience.
HDD / SSD (Optional)
With HDDs finally back to somewhat reasonable prices (Will it last? I wouldn't hold your breath), we can pop a 1TB 7200RPM drive into this build for high-quality media storage. The drive operates at a reasonable enough RPM to supply predictable load times and boot-up, but certainly doesn't match up to an SSD in that department.
Optional SSD: And on that note, SSDs are extremely affordable right now. They keep dropping as manufacturers rush to fill a growing market requirement, and that means better prices for us. SSDs will marginally decrease game load times, but more importantly, will make boot-up noticeably faster than an HDD. For a true HTPC that's being operated as a DVR, it's in your best interest to add an SSD to the system so that you can reboot swiftly and minimize TV programming disruption. We've selected Samsung's 840 TLC SSD for this, which we previously explored in this article.
There is absolutely no science to picking this part out. We look for a reliable optical drive that can read and write, match it with the lowest price, and go with it. This technology is getting stale anyways, making discs spin is not a very complicated thing. This $15 Lite-On drive will do nicely.
Case & Power Supply
We were impressed with In-Win's design at PAX East 2011 -- I think that was it -- and have been keeping an eye on them ever since. They've produced one of the only 5-egg-receiving mATX boxes for under $100, and being that it ships with a reasonable 300W PSU (which is more than enough for this build), we can keep cost of the build low. The A10 APU has a TDP of 100W and other components may consume 60W-90W of power (load dictates), so we'll be running at peak efficiency with 60%-80% load on the PSU.
The case is small enough to tuck in a corner, but isn't the smallest out there; unfortunately, mini-ITX options are almost entirely Intel-based, so we're forced to use an mATX motherboard. Regardless, the case is quality enough and the PSU will keep us running, so at $70, the bundle is a good offering.
If you need help building, customizing parts, or encounter questions, please leave a comment below and we'll help you out -- that's why we're here! For more in-depth support, check out our hardware forums and ask our expert system building community.
- Michael "Mikagmann2" Mann and Steve "Lelldorianx" Burke.