Merry consumerism! After our recent $357 Cheap Bastard's Build and $1000 high-end rig, and with the holidays just around the corner, we figured we'd put together a holiday gaming PC on a budget. Don't let that fat man in the red suit get all the credit -- build your own gaming PC and frag him back to the north pole.
This DIY budget gaming PC is targeted for those looking to spend around $600 and takes advantage of holiday/Xmas sales. This is another AMD-equipped build, given AMD's high cost-to-performance ratio in the mid-range and low-end markets. Despite the i3's excellent performance, we've recently been pushing more toward quad-core systems to help accommodate future gaming trends.
Let's get to the goodies.
$608 Custom Gaming PC Build - December, 2012
|Gaming Parts List||Name||Price||Rebates/etc.||Total|
|Video Card||Sapphire RADEON 7850||$190||- $15||$175|
|CPU||AMD Phenom II X4 955||$95||Free Shipping||$95|
|Memory||G.Skill Ripjaws 8GB||$40||Free Shipping||$40|
|Motherboard||ASRock 970 Extreme3||$75||Free Shipping||$75|
|Power Supply||Rosewill 500W PSU (COMBO 1)||$50||-$7, Free Shipping||$43|
|SSD||Kingston HyperX 3K SSD 120GB||$120||Free Shipping||$120|
|Optical Drive||Samsung Optical Drive||$18||-||$18|
|Case||Rosewill Challenger (COMBO 1)||$50||-$8||$42|
Optional Add-ons (pick and choose as budget allows)
|Add-on Parts List||Name||Price||Rebates/etc.||Combined Total|
|Operating System ||Windows 7 64-bit Home Premium||$100||Free Shipping||$708|
|HDD ||1TB 7200RPM HDD||$65||Free Shipping||$773|
This time around we decided to stick with the tried-and-true HD 7850, which has proven itself to be the best video card in its price range. This GPU can handle most of the games out there at high or near-high settings with little to no problems. The 7850 comes with the newest generation of AMD architecture, using a refined 28nm manufacturing process and 2.8 billion transistors, to allow much better gaming performance than the previous HD 6XXX cards. It also has a wide 256-bit memory interface and 1GB of GDDR5 memory, DVI and HDMI outputs, and an included HDMI cable with it. To top it all off, you get a free copy of Far Cry 3 - part of AMD's never settle promotion.
Once again, our budget system builds have evolved to keep pace with the gaming environment. We decided to move away from the FX line of CPUs to get better single-threaded performance, as is vital in today's gaming software, but at the same time, we've stuck with a quad-core unit to allow maximum growth potential. We have selected an older chip (the Phenom II X4 series), but it holds its age very well and makes for a fantastic performance-to-price option. The FX line is more geared for quad-threaded applications and overclocking capabilities, so if you're doing H.264 encoding or similar processing, consider a more targeted unit. For gaming? The Phenom II is arguably AMDs best gaming processor out right now -- in spite of its age, the Piledriver and Bulldozer units just can't compete on single- and dual-threaded software.
Since the vast majority of games sloppily utilize four cores at best, this processor remains best for the budget. We were able to combo this up with the RAM to save a bit of money, too.
Here we decided to go with a pair of 2x4GB (8GB total) G.Skill Ripjaws memory, clocked at 1600MHz. They're priced reasonably at $39, have the memory capacity to support even the worst tab opening habits, and runs at a moderate frequency.
G.Skill, Corsair,Kingston, Patriot, and Geil all make excellent memory in the same price range, so if you don't like the look of the Ripjaws brand, maybe consider some HyperX Blu, Vengeance, or Viper options.
The motherboard we have selected is once again made by ASRock. ASRock has grown to be a go-to brand in the budget motherboard marketplace -- the warranty support doesn't quite match that of ASUS, but the featureset and pricing are both excellent. The 970 Extreme 3 motherboard has a modest 970 chipset -- which is plenty for most gamers (see below note) -- and all the SATA connections you should require, as well as USB3 support.
Note: If you're planning to use SLI / CrossFire or would like to have the option available in the future, you'll need to upgrade the board to something using a 990X (x8/x8) or 990FX (4-way x8; x16/x16) chipset. The 970 doesn't support GPU arrays.
Here we have Rosewill's 500W "Stallion" PSU. While 500W may look low compared to other, more powerful units out there, it's plenty for the system we've built-up in this article; believe it or not, as GPUs and CPUs continue to go through die shrinks and advance in technology, they still manage to maintain or decrease TDP from previous generations. With that said, if you're looking to do a lot of aftermarket modding (lights) or aim to add an additional GPU (see previous motherboard note) or other components, you may need to increase the wattage -- ask us below for help in that scenario!
The Stallion ships with all the proper connections to power this rig and, if you're into this kind of thing, even has a nice blue glow to go with the case it is bundled with.
Note: Use the code "EMCJHND29" at checkout to bring the cost down by an additional 15%.
SSDs make us giddy, if we haven't proven that already. I'm excited to put this bad boy in this build -- the HyperX 3K SSD is one of the better performing SSDs that we've tested, and at $120 for the full kit, it's worth every penny. You should experience dramatically decreased load times, and if you've never owned an SSD, you won't look back after owning this one; it's only 120GB though, so if you have an older SATA II HDD to use for storage, it's worth doing -- if you require additional storage, we'd recommend a simple 1TB HDD from NCIX.
I would put the OS, core applications, and a few most-played games on the SSD; archival / additional storage can be used for swapping games as they fall to your blade.
"I'm not dead yet!" comes to mind with optical drives. If you haven't yet moved on from the more physical medium and don't have spares lying around, you can pick a cheap disc spinner up for ~$18.
This is a component that I take more time in selecting, since it is the primary part you'll have to look at for the next X years. We try to select the best gaming case at our given price and we have fairly specific requirements for what constitutes a "good gaming case." You can read about our selection process (if you'd like to shop on your own) in this picking a good gaming case guide. The Challenger isn't brand new, but it's solid and very affordable -- the combo deal is what really pushed us toward its selection, though. Coming stocked with a blue LED 120mm fan, a 140mm fan, rear 120mm fan, the barebones requirements for simple cable management, and its sleek design. This case is a steal at a mere $45.
If you'd like an easier time with the installation process (read: more cable management room) from the same company and at a similar price, consider the Rosewill R5.
This budget build is not the cheapest one we have ever done, but it does give you a lot of room to upgrade in the future. The solid Extreme 3 motherboard is also set for the AM3+ chips (like Bulldozer / Piledriver) and has all the extras you should need right now. The HD 7850 is a great budget GPU, and at its price, is still the best performing graphics card for gaming. The inclusion of the HyperX 3k was an added bonus this time -- SSDs are the way of the future, so better to adopt early.
Keep in mind this is an idea of what you can build as a serious gamer at a low price; if you have more money to spend (or less!), we're here to help you modify a build for your needs! Post below in the comments or visit our PC build forums for in-depth support. That's what we're here for.
- Michael "Mikagmann2" Mann.