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|Budget Parts List||Name||Price||Rebates/etc.||Total|
|Video Card||NVIDIA GTX 550 Ti 1GB (COMBO 1)||$145||-$20 rebate, free shipping||$125|
|CPU||AMD Phenom II X3 tri-core (COMBO 1)||$75||-$8, Free Shipping||$67|
|Memory||Kingston 8GB DDR3 1333||$40||Free Shipping||$40|
|Power Supply||Cooler Master 500W PSU (COMBO 2)||$40||-$10 rebate||$30|
|Hard Drive||Seagate Barracuda 500GB (COMBO 2)||$110||-$15, free $20 dvd drive||$95|
|Optical Drive||Sony Optiarc||$20||Free with Combo 2||$0|
|Case||Rosewill Blackbone mid-tower||$40||-$5 instant, free shipping||$35|
Optional Add-ons (pick and choose as budget allows)
|Add-on Parts List||Name||Price||Rebates/etc.||Combined Total|
||Windows 7 64-bit Home Premium||$100||Free Shipping||$582|
For a budget gaming build with such small wiggle room, the GPU and CPU take the biggest share of the wealth: EVGA is known for being nVidia's favored brand, and the 550 Ti is still an outstanding card in terms of its cost-to-performance ratio. For $145 (with a $20 rebate and free shipping), you get a card that is just shy of a 256-bit memory interface (the 550 Ti is 192-bit - close enough), has 1GB of dedicated memory, and clocks in at 951MHz (EVGA ships it with some extra oomph), 1903MHz shader clock, and 4356MHz memory clock (effectively).
For those wondering, this card should play Skyrim on max (or close to it), Battlefield 3 on medium with some slight tweaks, and StarCraft 2 on max. We estimate the card will give you a solid few years before replacement (probably ~2.5 years of max/ultra/high settings and then decay from there).
The CPU is combo'd nicely with the video card, giving us a small-but-worthwhile discount. GN contributor GT adeptly selected the AMD Athlon II X3 445 triple-core CPU for this build (if you have an extra $45 to spare, get the 3.4GHz quad-core here).
Remember - most games are still optimized to run on only two threads, so you're not missing out on a whole lot of performance by opting for a triple-core setup over a quad-core proc. If you're a lover of the Total War or Civilization series, it may be worth springing for that above CPU.
This one definitely meets the recommended requirements for the vast majority of games out on the market right now, to include Skyrim.
Kingston's been in the game for a long time now, and their recent HyperX series broke into the gaming scene with force at events like PAX East '11. It's still mind-blowing that 8GB of memory (DDR3 1333) is only $40, but it's true. This is more than enough to run Win7 64-bit with any games and memory-hungry programs a budget gamer would need.
We opted for one of the best-performing gaming brands out there for system builders: MSI. The MSI 870s-G46 will fit all of the components herein comfortably, and on top of that, it has a little bit of room for future upgrades (PCI-e SSDs, SATA 6Gb/s devices, and RAM included). You certainly won't be able to comfortably SLI with this board, but if that's what you want, you should look at one of our other PC builds.
We combined the power supply with a hard drive and a (free) optical drive for this setup, so jump on this combo ASAP. Remember: if you're from the future -- maybe 6 months from now -- or are not in a huge rush to get a new PC, you should wait on the hard drive. If you want a PC now, then get this. Drives will only increase in price as the shortage drones on, so your best two options are either to A) purchase now, or B) wait a few months. Of course, if you have old drives laying around, you can always use those.
This power supply is a cool 500W, so it'll handle your system with just enough to spare for those intense gaming sessions. If you plan on making sweeping changes to this build list, you should probably post below and ask if this PSU will still work well for you. Cooler Master is one of the most trusted brands out there in computing, and for $30, it's incredible that you can get a "name brand" PSU at 500W.
This part is normally the easiest choice for us: we figure out the budget, deduce how much is left for a drive, and pick one of our favorites. Unfortunately, due to the flood I keep mentioning, these drives are way up in price. It seems very few HDD manufacturers had a back-up plan in place.
The drive is combo'd with the PSU, so that shaves $15 off the top of the inflated price (taking it down to something reasonable, almost). While we'd normally recommend WD or Hitachi, the Cheap Bastards out there can't afford the extra dough for them, and the difference is minimal to begin with; this Barracuda will get you 500GB of space at 7200 RPM (and operating on a SATA 6 Gb/s interface, not that it uses it), so it's plenty for your games and your OS.
Luckily, we were able to secure this free optical drive with the combo! There's not much to say here -- it reads and writes discs. This technology has not changed in a long, long time.
It's always a fun challenge to locate a case for such a budget build, but our resident expert - GT - has made that task simple. We looked at a few options and decided on the Rosewill Blackbone mid-tower case, which comes with a few fan expansion slots for the future and 2x120mm fans built-in. It's just barely enough to get by for now, but as soon as you have $7 to spare, grab a case fan. For $35 and free shipping, it's a fantastic setup.
Hopefully this build helped you figure out what kind of options you have in the cheap gaming market! Keep in mind, PC gaming hardware is now six years ahead of consoles, so even the cheapest gaming rig you can build will far-and-away outperform consoles -- view our charts on that for more console v. PC performance details.
Again, let us know below if you need help or check the forums for more detailed support.
Big thanks to GN's GT for his help on finding components for this build.