|Budget Parts List||Name||Price||Rebates/etc.||Total|
|Video Card||ASUS ENGTX 550Ti 1GB GD5||$130||-$20
|CPU||Intel i5-2500K 3.7GHz CPU||$220||Free Shipping||$220|
|Memory||G.SKILL Sniper 8GB||$60||Free Shipping
|Power Supply||Cooler Master GX 650W||$75||-$25
|Hard Drive||Hitachi 1.5TB 64MB Cache HDD||$65||-
|Optical Drive||Samsung Optical Drive||$19||Free Shipping||$19|
|Case||Cooler Master Storm Scout||$80||Free Shipping, -$10
Optional Add-ons (pick and choose as budget allows)
|Add-on Parts List
|CPU Heat Sink
||Zalman CNPS10X Heat sink||$55||Free Shipping, -$10
||Windows 7 64-bit Home Premium||$100||Free Shipping||$100|
||Apevia 120mm Red Fan
|Keyboard||Saitek Cyborg Keyboard (Red)||$39||-||$39|
|Mouse||Saitek RAT 5 4000DPI Mouse||$60||Free Shipping
|Headset||Razer Carcharias 5.1 Surround||$70||-
|Monitor||ACER 23" LED Backlit LCD||$160||Free Shipping||$160|
||Complete Gaming Starter Kit||$493||-$10||$1227|
Although it's no Bat Mobile, this monstrous video card certainly looks ready to game -- and it is. We originally used the GTX 550 Ti in our 3D gaming rig, and it's been a reliable card since. The card comes packed with 1GB of GDDR5 memory -- fairly standard, these days -- and uses a 192-bit memory interface; you could go 256-bit for another $50 by using a 6870 instead, but for a couple of bits, it's not worth the "upgrade." The ASUS version of the 550 Ti uses improved cooling technology and better metals to dissipate heat, so you won't experience any of those notorious nVidia overheating issues. Being that the card comes with a $20 rebate (as of this writing), this is the best deal for video cards out there in our price range.
Bonus: This 3D-ready card gives you the option to go 3D when money permits (that requires a compatible monitor and 3D glasses, which are fairly pricey - around $500). You can read more about our impressions 3D Vision technology here.
This CPU has 6MB of L3 cache, and 256KB L2 cache per core (so 4x256KB L2 cache). It runs at 3.3 GHz, but when Turbo Boost is active, you get a massive 3.7 GHz out of this champ. The Sandy Bridge architecture means it uses Intel's newly-introduced 32nm engineering, and utilizes integrated execution cores, cache, memory control, PCI-e, and graphics all on the same chip -- no bouncing around for this one. This translates to diminished response times between all of your core components, and that in turn means less lag and more fault tolerance.
The i5-2500K Sandy Bridge blows everything else out of the water -- sure, the i7 is compatible with triple-channel memory, but will you really notice that in the sub-$1k range? No. You won't. Though it is one of the most expensive components, we've elected to go for higher-priced core components so that you can more easily upgrade video cards in the future (without swapping the whole system out).
Optional Add-on: This Zalman CPU heatsink will keep things cool and quiet for an extra $45.
You know they're targeting gamers when they name their memory modules things like "sniper" or "ripjaws." G.Skill has managed to produce the most cost-effective, best performing memory in its class once again -- this time, in the form of the G.Skill Sniper. Wicked heat-sinks and casing aside, you get 8GB (2x4GB) of PC3 12800 DDR3 1600 memory. Our motherboard supports 1600 MHz memory modules, and our budget can easily support the low $60 price (and amazing heat spreaders), so G.Skill was the logical choice for this one. The memory is XMP certified and compatible with the P67 platform, meaning you can rest assured that you will receive maximum power between the memory and the CPU. Believe us, our previous $800 build comes nowhere close to this one. Technology has changed considerably in just a few months.
ASRock has been propelled to top-of-the-line status with the introduction of the P67 platform (the Sandy Bridge-compatible architecture); although our hearts will always rest with ASUS, this board takes the cake: $150 for 3xPCI-E (Single x16 or dual x8/x8), 4xSATA 6.0Gb/s slots (RAID compatible), USB 3.0 compatibility, and support for 32GB of memory is an unbelievable deal. The ASRock P67 Extreme4 board natively supports DDR3 1600 prior to overclocking, so you have more room to play before attempting any serious overhauls on your memory.
Act fast on this one. Seriously, like now. Famous for their successful career in cases, Cooler Master has moved into power supplies with a strong force behind it: this GX Series PSU checks in at 650W -- plenty for our needs -- and contains a rebate that knocks the price all the way down to $50 from $75.
This one runs on a single 12V rail, has 2x6+2-pin PCI-e connectors, and has more sophisticated surge protection to help ensure your motherboard, CPU, and video card remain safe (no guarantees, though - lightning is, uh, powerful). The PSU efficiency is certified to run 80% and above, so you can be sure that you are getting most of that 650W (it also means less power loss through heat - and less heat in general).
Hitachi has become known for their increased reliability in recent years, and we've grown to trust them. HDD manufacturers swap positions for reliability every few years - it used to be Seagate, then WD, and now it's Hitachi, Samsung, and Intel (in the SDD area). This drive makes uses of your motherboard's SATA 6Gb/s technology, so if you're running SATA 3 now, you'll experience 2x faster transfer rates. The drive can store up to 1.5TB of space (we recommend partitioning this into a 30-50GB OS partition, then break the rest between games and non-games), has 64MB of cache, and runs at 7200 RPM. Hitachi takes great pride in their "Halogen-free design," and as much as we love the outside world, it's not the main selling point: this drive is good. For $65, you'd be missing out to go with any other drive in this range.
Feel rich? Make use of that RAID compatibility by getting two. Granted, if you're that rich, you could go with this extremely affordable solid state drive. I have like, a whole room full of those. Get money, get paid, son.
They're loud, they're old technology, and they're mind-numbingly boring -- what are they? Optical drives! I really do hate these things. It's time to phase out optical drives, but alas, we'll need them for a few more years yet. It's $18, the shipping is free, and the brand is reliable (not that there are many unreliable optical drives out there, though I'm sure we could find a few). There's not much to see here.
22X DVD+R 8X DVD+RW 16X DVD+R DL 22X DVD-R 6X DVD-RW 16X DVD-ROM 48X CD-R 24X CD-RW 48X CD-ROM
Let's end this one on an up-note! All-black chassis are the new... black, I guess. Cooler Master's Storm Scout case fits the bill, and comes with a 140mm front fan (intake), a 140mm top fan (exhaust), and a 120mm rear fan (exhaust), in addition to expansion slots for 2x120mm side fans. We've included one additional 120mm fan (red, to match the rest of this build's flare) for you to install on the side of the case -- be sure to install it so that the black logo faces in (direct the airflow inward) so that you have another intake fan to match those two exhaust fans. This particular case does come with an unboxing video, so you can get a good preview of it here:
The case will fit your motherboard, massive video card, and plenty of future hard drives, so get ready for upgrades.
Optional Add-on: This Apevia 120mm fan provides you with one extra intake system for $9.
We have taken the liberty to include a handful of extras to this build, just in case you're brand new to PC gaming or have some extra money to expand on this build. All of our extra parts (in the parts table above, at the top of the article) match the red-black theme of the system, so you have some extra style to keep you at the PC.
Hopefully you guys get some use out of this build! In interest of being the best hardware journalists out there, we've included a lot of options for upgrades this time - you should be able to slightly tweak this build to your budget and end up with one of the best starter PCs money can buy. Of course, our previously-mentioned $458 PC build is still "new" in terms of hardware, so those with a strict budget can resort to that one.
~Steve "Lelldorianx" Burke