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Picking A CPU, Motherboard, And RAM

Build A Balanced AMD-Based Gaming PC On A Budget
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CPU: An Inexpensive Choice with Overclocking Potential

As mentioned, AMD's Athlon X4 750K is our insider tip, selling for a scant $80 and easy to overclock. Its base stock clock frequency is 3.4 GHz, and Turbo Core pushes that up to 4 GHz, depending on the load you apply. Of course, the K-series Athlon can also be overclocked through its adjustable multiplier.

There's another way to overclock this chip: configure the maximum Turbo Core clock rate of both modules to increase when temperature, power, and load allow. A default ceiling of 4 GHz is advantageous because it keeps the processor running cooler in the heavily-threaded tasks that hit both modules, while ramping up performance when only one is needed. If you're lucky, it should be possible to push the 750K to a maximum Turbo Core rate of 4.5 GHz with a respectable cooler.

Motherboard: Socket FM2 or FM2+

The Athlon X4 750K fits either processor interface, and the motherboard form factor you pick will probably depend on the case you choose. We chose a mini-ITX platform for our Red Devil built (the fancied-up one), since it includes bundled Wi-Fi and Bluetooth without breaking the bank. MicroATX boards sell for even less. Some cost as little as $40.

And there's another reason to try the Athlon X4 750K. You simply can't get the same level of performance from an Intel-based CPU/motherboard combination (though we're really excited about the upcoming Pentium with an unlocked multiplier, which could very well decimate AMD's entry-level enthusiast advantage). Our efforts to build something similar with a Pentium fell short; it couldn't keep up with this overclocked Athlon X4. It was fast enough to not bottleneck a Radeon R7 260, but that doesn't come close to giving us the performance we need for FHD in our benchmark suite.

Because this story went live in Germany first, our team over there went with an MSI FM2-A75IA-E53 motherboard. While it might have been a best-fit for them, Newegg no longer lists that platform in stock and instead suggests the A88XI AC as an alternative. The A88X FCH is a step up, as is the 802.11ac Wi-Fi controller. But a $100 price tag is higher than even our CPU of choice.

There are plenty of affordable alternatives out there from companies like ASRock, Biostar, and MSI dipping down below $50. A more premium option could be the ASRock GM2A78M-ITX+, which satisfies our mini-ITX requirement and sells for $80.

RAM: Avexir DDR3-1600 8 GB Kit with Red LED

Let's spring for a bit of eye candy, shall we? Avexir's DDR3-1600 CL9 kit is neither too large nor too small, and it generally fits the system well. The Athlon X4 750K’s integrated memory controller could conceivably handle higher data rates. However, our benchmarks have shown that potential gains are in the single-digit range, if they're measured at all. Of course, if you'd like to throw more money at the memory issue, you're more than welcome to.

Remember that our CPU doesn't have integrated graphics, so the benefit you'd normally see from lots of memory throughput feeding an on-die GPU isn't there. Optimizing the timings on a DDR3-1600 kit should yield plenty of performance without hammering your bottom line. And then there's the fact that this kit looks nice as well, especially since the pulsing red lights can be seen from outside of our case through the air vents.

Price Update

Before moving on, let’s take a look at our expanded table (feel free to use it as a shopping list). Prices fluctuate on a daily basis, but we just updated it again to reflect the most recent changes.

Components
Baseline BuildPrice
Red Devil
Price
Graphics Card
AMD Radeon R7 260X
$120
AMD Radeon R9 270
Nvidia GeForce GTX 750 Ti
$150
CPU
AMD Athlon X4 750K
$80
AMD Athlon X4 750K$80
Motherboard
Socket FM2 or FM2+
$45
Mini-ITX Socket FM2+
$85
RAM
8 GB DDR3-1600 Kit
$65
Avexir 8 GB DDR3-1600 LED Kit
$75
Total

$305

$390
Display all 75 comments.
Top Comments
  • 14 Hide
    esco_sid , May 29, 2014 2:47 AM
    It does not make sense to spend $80 on a case for a budget entry system why all the focus on eye candy at additional cost ? for the money you can get better hardware such as fx-6300 setup with better graphics card that's what i would be worried about while on a budget.
Other Comments
  • 14 Hide
    esco_sid , May 29, 2014 2:47 AM
    It does not make sense to spend $80 on a case for a budget entry system why all the focus on eye candy at additional cost ? for the money you can get better hardware such as fx-6300 setup with better graphics card that's what i would be worried about while on a budget.
  • 5 Hide
    Memnarchon , May 29, 2014 4:37 AM
    The minimum version is a trully great budget build, while the Red Devil is more ITX luxury build. An SSD and $80 case on a gaming budget? ;p
  • 9 Hide
    Zeh , May 29, 2014 4:43 AM
    Nice article, but I guess it's really important for readers to understand that the extra stuff is completely optional and the main point is #415 gets you a very decent (if not Good) gaming PC.
    We have $315 spent on eye candy, SSD and a little bit more thermal headroom, which is 76% of the 'cheap' budget.

    Personally, I would only get the SSD. Maybe the MB with Wifi if I'm building something really small and would like to avoid cable clutter. Definately not gonna spend $50 on a bit more mhz, neither $55 on a case for cheap hardware,
  • 3 Hide
    sparkyman215 , May 29, 2014 5:38 AM
    Error on page 4, paragraph 9: sticker -> stickler
  • 3 Hide
    ddpruitt , May 29, 2014 5:54 AM
    Now the trick is to benchmark both systems. Let's see if the "Bare Bones" build can keep up with the eye candy Red Devil build. I doubt there's a huge difference in performance, or perceptible noise levels. For a system that costs almost twice as much you might be able to be handle cost by going for functionality instead of looks. 240Gb SSD (or potentially more), better CPU or better GPU, though to each his own.

    For bonus points it would be nice to compare the budget build to a console in the same price range, but alas an Apples to Apples comparison isn't possible.
  • 4 Hide
    Onus , May 29, 2014 6:00 AM
    I really want to like articles like this. I lurk at the "budget" end of the spectrum myself, and some of the analysis on this one is really good, but I absolutely agree with Zeh; so much optional stuff was covered that it really distracted from what I expected to be the main point.
    I would have liked to have seen the bottom dollar build done first, followed by a discussion of what upgrades or enhancements might be substituted.
    Also, at least a few benchmarks are needed, if only to show that yes, this is a competent gamer, especially if "good" but less-than "UltraMaxOhWOW" settings are used.
  • 5 Hide
    vertexx , May 29, 2014 6:01 AM
    Nice article. This is definitely the way to present gaming system design, especially with graphics card selection based on CPU scaling. I really think the "Best Gaming CPU/GPUs for the $$" series could benefit from this approach. Instead of separating the CPU/GPU, you really want to look at the best combo's for the $$.

    I think you handled the "baseline" vs. "Red Devil" options well. The great thing about a budget build is not necessarily being a race to the bottom, but it's all about saving money so you can spend some on smart components that will add to the enjoyment of building and running the PC. With the case selection, that's a smart selection. Who wants to build a PC in a case that you're going to want to replace in 6 months? Perhaps you could have offered a cheaper alternative, but I like the choice to spend the extra $$ on the case.

    The only letdown I have is on memory scaling. There is a very long thread of debate in the Best CPUs for the $$ article about how strongly memory scaling impacts the 760K CPU because of its lack of L3 cache. The key seems to be that you also need to overclock NB freq. Because there are simply no reviews out there with a fully overclocked 760K platform, I was really hoping when I saw this article that the memory scaling would have been included.

    @Damric - if you're reading this article, perhaps you can chime in.

    Overall though, this is a great read! I can't wait to see a OC'd 760k vs. the upcoming OC'd Pentium in a budget shootout. If this is done, you really need to look at game selection and analyze games that optimize for more cores vs. the single-threaded performance in which the Pentium will excel.

  • 0 Hide
    Bill Reinhardt , May 29, 2014 6:09 AM
    Steam machine??
  • 1 Hide
    Falcorion , May 29, 2014 6:10 AM
    On the GPU selection page at the top it should read "Finding the Right GPU" not "Finding the Right CPU".

    Also, is there a reason we completely dismissed the r7 265?

    In fact it seems like you looked over a LOT of good value choices for a budget system.

    Tom's Hardware selections for a lot of their tests lately have had weird hardware choices....
  • 1 Hide
    Falcorion , May 29, 2014 6:21 AM
    Also, I wanted to add that your builder installed the PSU the wrong way, the fan should be facing the vent on the bottom, not the metal plate below the motherboard.
  • 9 Hide
    damric , May 29, 2014 6:48 AM
    Thanks, TH for bringing this platform to the light.

    A few things I'll add:

    The baseline build is fine. Pretty much every member of the Overclock.net 750K/760K fan club is pushing an HD 7850/7870 (R7 265/R9 270), so the build is balanced very well, but slightly favoring the GPU, which is good. The Super Flower PSU is not available in the USA. SF does not ship here. You can get SF Golden Green PSUs rebranded as Rosewill Capstone though. I have one in my 760K rig, imagine that :) 

    Now, on the enhanced build I say go with the 760K for $10 more.. What you get with this CPU is the improved Richland memory controller. It's even better than the ones in the FX Visheras. Good 2133CL9 or 2400CL10 is not that much more expensive, at maybe $10 more. This combination will make up for lack of L3 cache, as THE RAM will have close to the same latency as the L3 cache on the FX chips. You can verify this in Sandra or AIDA memory and cache latency tests.

    $40 for a CPU cooler is way too much to pay for a CPU this cheap, as at this point you might as well have gone with a faster i3 which can use the stock cooler. You shouldn't pay more than $12-18 for an aftermarket cooler, just something with some basic heatpipes will do. The TX-3 would be perfect at $18. No need for fancy TIM, just use the included stock thermal grease.

    And again, fix the PSU listing, as SF doesn't ship to the USA.

    Thanks again.
  • -2 Hide
    Traciatim , May 29, 2014 7:07 AM
    So this leaves you with the upgrade paths to -> Nothing. Could you do a comparison of this machine vs a Haswell Pentium model of somewhat similar price? Something like the 3420 or 3440? At least then in a year or two you could grab an i3/5/7 and a video card and rejuvenate your old machine.
  • 2 Hide
    damric , May 29, 2014 7:11 AM
    Quote:
    So this leaves you with the upgrade paths to -> Nothing.


    Wrong. FM2+ is alive and well. Soon the Steamroller based Athlons will be coming, and there will also be Excavator APUs and CPUs on this chipset. AMD has already confirmed this.

  • 4 Hide
    vertexx , May 29, 2014 7:14 AM
    Quote:
    So this leaves you with the upgrade paths to -> Nothing. Could you do a comparison of this machine vs a Haswell Pentium model of somewhat similar price? Something like the 3420 or 3440? At least then in a year or two you could grab an i3/5/7 and a video card and rejuvenate your old machine.


    I'd like to know how many people actually upgrade their CPU without also upgrading their motherboard. My guess is its a pretty small minority. Within a year, it's too much to spend to upgrade let say from a $140 i3 4130 to a $220 i5. Within two years, you're probably wanting a new motherboard if you really want to upgrade. I think the best "upgrade" path is to buy the best "platform" you can afford now and then upgrade components later.

    In this case, the "buy now" is the baseline components in this article. The upgrade path is those extra components that make up the Red Devil build.
  • 5 Hide
    envy14tpe , May 29, 2014 7:46 AM
    This article is purely a teaser. We all want to see the benchmarks..yesterday!
  • 0 Hide
    Traciatim , May 29, 2014 8:31 AM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    So this leaves you with the upgrade paths to -> Nothing. Could you do a comparison of this machine vs a Haswell Pentium model of somewhat similar price? Something like the 3420 or 3440? At least then in a year or two you could grab an i3/5/7 and a video card and rejuvenate your old machine.


    I'd like to know how many people actually upgrade their CPU without also upgrading their motherboard. My guess is its a pretty small minority. Within a year, it's too much to spend to upgrade let say from a $140 i3 4130 to a $220 i5. Within two years, you're probably wanting a new motherboard if you really want to upgrade. I think the best "upgrade" path is to buy the best "platform" you can afford now and then upgrade components later.

    In this case, the "buy now" is the baseline components in this article. The upgrade path is those extra components that make up the Red Devil build.


    I do on tons of machines I've had. It's not quiet as common anymore since the CPU's from the same sockets in the past few years don't have much performance difference if you already have a pretty performance rig, but in this case the low budget you can get in to a decent rig now and in 2-2.5 years upgrade it to a used i5/i7 and a new-ish video card and you'd extend this rig out to 4-5 years for a budget of 500 bucks every 2-2.5 years.

    Sure, FM2+ is going strong now. I'll only believe the new CPU's that get released for it are a worthy upgrade from the 750k when I see the real processors and see benchmarks from multiple sources. I certainly don't trust AMD enough to buy stuff with the hopes their new releases, but right now you have a defined upgrade path with the Pentium->i3/5/7 route. If AMD happens to follow the 'efficiency is good' route that has been teh trend in CPUs these days you might end up with things that perform about the same as the 750k but just use less power and are just slightly faster, kind of like people with current sandy/ivy bridge rigs (like myself) who want to upgrade but have nowhere to go.

  • 5 Hide
    Vlad Rose , May 29, 2014 8:38 AM
    So, you spend $80 on an Athlon X4, and another $40 on a CPU cooler to be able to overclock it so that it can perform equal to a stock $125 i3? Sounds like a waste overall trying save $5 ($120 vs. $125). Not to mention the increased wattage draw as a result.
  • 0 Hide
    Shin-san , May 29, 2014 8:51 AM
    I feel that the build is pretty good. $300-400 is a good target for a budget system. I would also like to see the "durable" option, where I feel parts of the Red Devil covered it well
  • 2 Hide
    vertexx , May 29, 2014 9:19 AM
    Quote:
    So, you spend $80 on an Athlon X4, and another $40 on a CPU cooler to be able to overclock it so that it can perform equal to a stock $125 i3? Sounds like a waste overall trying save $5 ($120 vs. $125). Not to mention the increased wattage draw as a result.


    Yep - good point, but this route is much more fun! And who wants to show off a stock cooler?

    (I'm with you though, because if you're not overclocking you can skimp on the motherboard and do something for ~$60 for a real budget build. Plus, you have less power & cooling required).

    It all depends on what the user wants. If you want to tinker, then this build is great. If you want lowest budget period, then I think the intel route is still better. Heck, my youngest son's PC is a pentium G on an H81 ITX board with a hand-me-down AMD 7850. It's built in a Silverstone SG05 using a 300W FMC SFX PSU. That build was really cheap (especially since I'm making him run Linux on it.... haha). It's a perfect Steam box.
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