$558 Budget Gaming Build - January, 2012

By Published January 07, 2012 at 1:35 pm

The first build of the year is here! After posting our hardware release timeline for 2012, and with all the big conventions kicking off in the next few months, now's the perfect time to start working on a system. Our newest addition to the "budget gaming build" family of cheap PC builds on our site is, as we always say, extremely powerful for the budget. We worked on this one a bit to include some excellent combos that mitigate the price of the artificially-inflated HDD prices.


While it's certainly no $430 budget build, which was an unbelievable price, this ~$558 variant comes packed with some serious hardware. No more screwing around with X3 CPUs -- and though we did try to cram an i5 in here, we ended up going with the good old Phenom II X4 series. That said, we're working on a ~$700 build that will have an i5 in it. That'll be posted tomorrow, we'll update this page with the link when it's live. Update: Here's a link to the $679 i5-2500 build.

It's about that time, eh chaps?

Budget Parts List Name Price Rebates/etc. Total
Video Card Sapphire 6850 1GB (COMBO 1) $150 -$25 $125
CPU AMD Phenom II X4 970 (COMBO 2) $140 -$10, Free Shipping $130
Memory G.Skill Sniper 8GB 1600MHz $44 Free SDHC, Free Shipping $44
Motherboard ASUS M4A87TD (COMBO 2) $105 -$31 $74
Power Supply Thermaltake TR2 650W (COMBO 1) $85 -$20 $65
Hard Drive Hitachi 320GB 7200RPM $53 - $53
Optical Drive Samsung Optical Drive $17 Free Shipping $17
Case Rosewill Smart One $50 - $40
Total $644 -$86 $558


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 $658


Note: The hardware we've been choosing lately tends to sell out rapidly, so we'll try to include a few other options in the event that something does sell out. Each item below will have the extra link in it, if we think it's necessary.

Video Card:

Ah yes, the tried-and-true AMD 6850. Many of you have no-doubt seen us use this card in the past, and between Nvidia's 550 Ti and the 6850 (which performs about 30% better), gaming PCs have never been so accessible. The 6850 is our preferred GPU and is capable of running most current games on high or max settings, depending on the game. For reference purposes, the 6850 should be able to run Skyrim on (or close to, with some view slider adjustments) max settings, Battlefield 3 on 'very high' hybrid setting, and StarCraft 2 on maximum. If you have specific games you're curious about, ask below. We combo'd the 6850 with a 650W PSU, found here.

Have $30 extra? If you find your pockets feeling a bit heavier, this is a phenomenal combo option. We've combined this 6870 with a 700W PSU, and the 6870 will play Battlefield 3 on or near maximum, depending on other hardware. This upgrade option would be the first one to look into if you have a few spare dollars lying around.


Here's the fun part! Before I say anything else, you can use the promo code "EMCKJKG26" at checkout to remove an additional $10 from the CPU price. That said, here's what we're looking at: I've opted for the Phenom II X4 970, which outperforms similarly-priced Bulldozer CPUs due to their transistor efficiency inconsistencies and general instability. The 970 hits 3.5GHz for its quad-cores, and is OC-able if you were to buy an aftermarket cooler. Intel's iX series has a better overclock ceiling, though, so let us know below if you'd like to go that route and we'll have to rebuild for you.

You get four cores, a smooth 6MB of L3 cache, and a respectable core operating frequency. We've combined the CPU with an ASUS motherboard, combo found here. The i5 route does get you quite a bit more power, but it's proportionately more expensive. If you think that's for you, check out our next build tomorrow.

Ned to save an extra $15? It won't hurt performance much if you get the 960T instead.


Since, like many other people on teh interwebz, you're likely an "El1t3 Shnipz0rz," we've decided on using G.Skill's ever-reliable 8GB PC3 12800 memory (DDR3 SDRAM at 1600MHz, at about a 12.8GB/s transfer rate). Going the 1600MHz route gives you an extra 2GB/s than the 1333 route, on average, of course. Your bottleneck will always be the HDD, but having fast memory is still important for those RAM-intensive programs (especially video encoders or renderers and certain game engines).

As an added bonus, G.Skill is currently providing a free 4GB SDHC card with an SD adapter with this memory. Woohoo, a $7 value! How thrilling. Still, it's free stuff. Feel free to send it to us if you don't want it.


You can always tell a motherboard by its heatpiping, and although the ASUS M4A87TD included here isn't anything ultra-special, it certainly gets the job done for the budget. The board natively supports 1600MHz memory and will allow overclocking up to 2000MHz, can fit four modules (16GB), and runs, of course, dual-channel (this is a CPU socket limitation as well).

You only get 1xPCI-e 2.0 x16 slot in this board, so there's no chance of going SLI/CrossFire in the future -- you'd have to get a new board, at which point you're looking at a new PC altogether. That said, SLI/CrossFire isn't reasonable at this budget, anyway, and it's typically our recommendation to get a single, more powerful card rather than two slower ones. Case-in-point: It'll cost just as much to get a 7950 in a few years when it's time to upgrade as it would to get a 6850. Why? As a specific niche is created -- those who are presently planning to CrossFire in 2-3 years -- the price of out-of-manufacturing products skyrockets. The 8800 GTX is a perfect example of why newer cards are more price-efficient.

Back to the motherboard, you also get some SATA III slots (6Gb/s) for if you plan to get an SSD at some point, and as we've discussed before, they hugely improve seamless gaming. In short: It's a great board for the price, despite having only one PCI-e slot.

Power Supply:

We combined this PSU with the earlier mentioned video card, the PSU combo can be found here. Thermaltake's become a fairly reliable company for gaming hardware -- this PSU is no exception for our price range. You're getting a 650W power supply with a nice-and-quiet 140mm fan, so it shouldn't be obnoxiously loud compared to other components.

650W is more than enough for the whole system, we've calculated that, as is, this PC should consume about ~430W under 85% TDP, so the extra wattage gives you a safety net and some provisions for additional fans, lights, hard drives, or other add-ons. You'll probably be able to migrate it to your next system, as well.

Hard Drive:

Believe it or not, we've discovered an unlikely location for affordable hard drives. Yes, given the flooding circumstances, $53 isn't bad for a 320GG, 7200RPM, SATA II drive. Don't tell too many people, this is our secret place to buy drives on the cheap - you got me?

Hitachi has retained its status as one of the most reliable hard drive manufacturers, right up there with Samsung and with WD falling closely behind them both. 320GB is plenty of space for a new gaming system - by the time you need more storage space, drives should be back to normal prices.

If this drive is out of stock when you check it (surely they'll sell out fast), you could get the $80 500GB variant.

Optical Drive:

I know, I know - you've all been waiting for the most static, completely uninteresting, obsolete item, right?! Right. Well, here are the stats:




GN staffer FJ "Trymutos" Ybarra found this great case for only $50, and I agree with him on his selection. The case comes with 3x120mm fans -- top, front, and rear -- and has room for two more should you need them. We discussed the differences between fan sizes in a previous article, for those interested in how to achieve quieter gaming.

The Rosewill Smart One, aside from being a bit pompous, has a sleek look that should hold its own among minimalists and some "lightcore" gamers alike. It has powerful enough cooling for this setup and is large enough to fit all of these components and most aftermarket CPU coolers.

Have an extra $20? If you're looking for an even better cooling solution or something that's taken a few more design liberties, the Zalman Z9 Plus has impressed us ever since PAX East 2011.


That's all, folks! Feel free to ask questions below or post more in-depth questions on our hardware forums, where our staff is happy to support you. System building is a fun process that can teach a lot about computer maintenance and troubleshooting, so enjoy it! We know that there's not a lot of support out there for people who build their own rigs, so we try to alleviate that by offering our own services for free. Don't hesitate to ask questions!

Last modified on January 15, 2012 at 1:35 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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