$550 Budget Gaming PC Build - September 2011

By Published September 17, 2011 at 6:42 pm

After the thrilling combination of parts we assembled in our previous $744 hardcore gaming rig (still an amazing option for those of you with some extra cash to spend) and the affordability of our prior $458 budget gaming build, we've decided to put together an "in-betweener" for you guys: this $550 budget-core gaming system. Yes, that's right -- a new category of gaming computers: the budget-core computers.

In essence, this rig is affordable - costing you only slightly more than an ultra-budget system - and powerful - consisting of a Phenom II X4 quad-core (with amazing L3 cache and cache per core ratios), an ATi 6870, and 8GB of beautifully heat-spread memory modules - clocking in at 1600MHz (PC3 12800 RAM). Oh, and there's more, too.

Our builds get better with each passing month, and although we at GN would like to attribute it to our god-like PC building ability, much of it can be acknowledged as consumer availability for newer products creating a decline in retail pricing trends for PC hardware.


Budget Parts List Name Price Rebates/etc. Total
Video Card SAPPHIRE RADEON 6870 $170 -$20, Free Shipping $150
CPU AMD Phenom II X4 (Click for COMBO1) $110 -$16 combo $94
Memory Corsair Vengeance 8GB (Click for COMBO2) $53 Free Shipping $53
Motherboard ASUS EVO AM3 (Click for COMBO1) $103 - $103
Power Supply Corsair 650W (Click for COMBO2) $85 -$30 $55
Hard Drive WD Caviar Black 750GB 64MB Cache $59 Free Shipping $59
Optical Drive LG Optical Drive $17 - $17
Case AzzA Triton Black $45 -$15 $30
Total $642 -$81 $561


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 $100
Expansion Fan
CoolerMaster 120mm Red Fan $9 - $9


Video Card:

The 6870 is currently only ~$10 more than the average 6850 (taking rebates into consideration), and performs quite capably for the dismissible price difference; on average, the 6870 performs at around 10 FPS faster than 6850s (tested in Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and StarCraft 2), which may not sound like a lot -- but it is. Of course, game development and performance are not necessarily linear - but for hypothetical purposes, if you were to play a game that chugs along at 20-25FPS on the 6850, you can expect 30 FPS on a 6870, which is the point where it becomes noticeable (you will visibly see lag at sub-30FPS).

More importantly, however, are the specs: the Sapphire 6870 we've chosen operates on 1GB of RAM with a 256-bit memory interface, giving you the best pipeline "width" for the price, so you can push more of that precious data around at once. While nVidia and ATi architecture is incomparable for the most part (without taking into account technical conversions), the 6870 will perform better than the equivalent 560 GTX nVidia cards; however, the nVidia cards will handle texture filtering better (not by much, though) and tends to get slightly higher FPS in some games. The 6870, on the other hand, outperforms the GTX 560 in anti-aliasing (the pixel rate), memory bandwidth, and has lower power consumption. In theory. This all depends on what games you're playing and if you've set up any customized settings.


We used a Newegg combo to bundle the CPU with the motherboard this time, so make sure you're getting the combo when you order this system. That said, let's delve into the technical reasoning for the Phenom II X4 945 CPU.

The Phenom II X4 945 is a quad-core processor operating on a core frequency of around 3GHz, with some room for overclocking if you upgrade your CPU heatsink, though it's not necessary in the slightest. The most mentionable item here is the cache -- the Athlon II X4 is slightly cheaper ($99), but the combo outweighs that price variance, and if that's not enough for you, the Phenom II X4 has 6MB of L3 cache (which the Athlon II X4 cannot stake claim on). The mid-high L3 cache availability is complemented by your standard 512KB x 4 L2 cache (512KB per core, or additively, 2MB L2 cache). This will enable your processor to perform more simultaneous functions and queue more tasks without getting bogged down and dropping / delaying lower IRQs (interrupt requests, essentially 'tasks'), giving a smoother experience when computing.

This CPU will excel for gaming and obliterate the mundane tasks of everyday computing, and it should handle video rendering and 3D rendering with relative ease and efficiency as well.


Note: this memory is in a combo deal with the power supply.

There aren't many cooler words than "vengeance." Corsair -- which seems to excel at appeasing gamers by its product and company naming schemes -- has been producing reliable RAM for many years now, and the Vengeance 2x4GB modules are no difference.

This RAM operates at 1600MHz (PC3 12800) and is dual-channel (you cannot use triple channel in conjunction with our designated processor). The timings are fairly standard and unexciting, ranking at a Cas Latency of 9; nothing fancy here. What is fancy, though, is the excellent heat-spreader design: your RAM will be the Italian mobster that runs the motherboard when you're not looking, the GPU will be like, "look, Vengeance, I couldn't get the boys over at North Bridge to comply with our whims -- what should we do?" and the memory will respond, "Make them swim with the mineral oil."

That may be a stretch (this is not legal advice: if your memory puts your feet in cement and submerges you in a massive liquid cooling solution, i.e., a lake, we do not take responsibility). In short: it's 8GB of memory. Fast memory. Get it.


Note: this motherboard is in a combo deal with the above Phenom CPU.

You get a lot of options with this $103 ASUS motherboard, and we do love us some ASUS. It's sort of like the fried chicken of the computer world. Granted, you typically don't want things that are fried when it comes to electronics...

Aside from a stellar heat piping system (look at that heatsink!), you get 2x PCIe 2.0 x16 slots (if you run them parallel, x16 and x4), which gives you room for extra PCIe utilities (like network cards, sound cards, TV tuner cards, etc.). Of course, as expected, you get a ton of peripheral device ports - 2x USB 3.0 ports, 6x USB 2.0 ports, 1xeSATA, 1x IEEE 1394a, and your traditional RJ-45 ethernet and sound ports. This board will fit all of your components beautifully and should offer plenty of expansion and forward-compatibility options (a la USB 3.0).

Power Supply:

Note: this is bundled with the above RAM.

Sticking with the Corsair theme, we went with this excellent high-end PSU. It normally costs $85, but with the combo deal and rebates, you're paying somewhere around $60 for it. That's an amazing deal, if you ask us. You're welcome.

This power supply has ample wattage, maxing out at 650W with up to 85% efficiency (granted, that is maximum efficiency, but still notable). It does have some basic over-voltage protection, so you can rest assured that if you couple it with a solid surge protector that has a metal oxide varistor (MOV), you should be reasonably safe from small surges.

Hard Drive:

There's no reason to get anything less than 7200 RPM these days, and while your hard drive won't necessarily utilize all 64MB of cache, it's nice to have as a backup (besides, it's only $4 more for the extra 32MB of cache).

The WD Caviar series has gained fame in PC build discussions over the last few years, and this Caviar Black maintains its reputation -- it can hold 750GB of data (we recommend partitioning it into at least a few splits for better organization and fault prevention), runs at 7200 RPM, and can handle your games just fine.

Optical Drive:

It reads and writes discs.

That is all.



We recommend you select the additional add-on above and purchase an extra 120mm fan for this case (here's a recommended fan that operates at a quiet noise level).

This case comes equipped with 2x 120mm fans (front and rear) and has plenty of optional spots for more (top, side panel); also, it's $30. Seriously - that's an amazing price. AzzA has been gaining Newegg cred lately, and its Triton 401 black case (with matching black interior!) is available with a $15 rebate, making it an affordable $30. The case has all the slots you'll need and will fit everything comfortably, though the GPU may be tight, it'll fit fine. Just get that extra fan in there to keep it cool. Besides, it's a non-offensive case for cheap. You really can't complain about that.

Hopefully this build will get those of you considering a new PC for the upcoming Battlefield 3 and Skyrim to see how affordable custom builds are these days. As always, if you have any questions or require clarification (or even just want us to double-check your build's compatibility), leave a comment below. We're here to help you guys build and customize the best gaming system possible at the most reasonable prices possible.

Good luck, and good gaming!

Last modified on September 17, 2011 at 6:42 pm
Steve Burke

Steve started GamersNexus back when it was just a cool name, and now it's grown into an expansive website with an overwhelming amount of features. He recalls his first difficult decision with GN's direction: "I didn't know whether or not I wanted 'Gamers' to have a possessive apostrophe -- I mean, grammatically it should, but I didn't like it in the name. It was ugly. I also had people who were typing apostrophes into the address bar - sigh. It made sense to just leave it as 'Gamers.'"

First world problems, Steve. First world problems.

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