System Builder Marathon Q4 2014: Budget Gaming PC

System Builder Marathon, Q4 2014: The Articles

Here are links to each of the four articles in this quarter’s System Builder Marathon (we’ll update them as each story is published). And remember, these systems are all being given away at the end of the marathon.

To enter the giveaway, please fill out this SurveyGizmo form, and be sure to read the complete rules before entering!

Day 1: Budget Gaming PC
Day 2: Mainstream Enthusiast System
Day 3: $1600 Performance PC
Day 4: System Value Compared

Our “Budget Gaming PC” name should be read as affordable, low-cost, or even cheap. But rarely is the intent “casual” in nature. Rather, these builds are for PC gaming diehards who are limited by thin wallets.

Enthusiasts know the above terms imply some level of sacrifice, along with the challenge of honing in on specific build targets, and even planning for future upgrades. A $500 PC just isn’t going to excel in all areas, so we must consider the specific needs, both present and future.

If you are fortunate enough to end up with some extra cash or a Newegg gift card this holiday season, you need to ask yourself a few questions before placing a hasty order. For starters, how prevalent is gaming in your life? Casual gaming needs could be met with an AMD A-series APU, or simply buying an off-the-shelf Intel-based system or notebook which contains a low-end dedicated graphics card. If you are willing to tone down the resolution and settings, funds can be shifted away from graphics over towards meeting processing, storage or even acoustic needs. Or instead, the change could be pocketed to aid in paying other bills. But when you desire to play the latest games in FHD with as much eye candy enabled as possible, well, then you’re going to need a true 3D gaming card.

I set out to build a competent $500 Gaming PC, or $600 if you factor in the Windows operating system. Officially, my budget allows $450 of this to be put into what we dub the “performance parts”. The remainder is set aside for an enclosure to house these components, and an optical drive, if desired.

On a firm budget, I’ll price up the necessities to see how much funding remains for the platform and graphics. Games and daily computing tasks can benefit from having more than 4GB of RAM, so I try to outfit 8GB of the lowest priced DDR3. Although SSDs are becoming more and more affordable, I’m stuck pricing up larger and cheaper mechanical drives instead. Even without a digital media library to consider, our current SBM test suite alone chews up almost all of a 250GB drive. And I’ll often install an extra game or two taking a deeper look at the machine’s capabilities. I need to price up adequate and reliable power too, just to size up current availability. Typically, this sets me back around $40 at minimum. This quarter, about $286 remained for securing the motherboard, processor and graphics card.

Earlier this year, we had lowered our budgets to a point where my go-to processors, the AMD FX-6300 and Intel’s Core i3 and i5 lines, all took a sizable chunk out of my graphics funding. With limited options, a Trinity-based AMD Athlon X4 750K represented the most affordable processor able to meet my needs. Last quarter, Intel’s unlocked Pentium G3258 had arrived and was an easy decision for comparison, as I’d been waiting a long time to tinker on Intel’s budget hardware once again. This time around, I had planned hit another option gaining popularity, AMD’s Steamroller -based Athlon X4 860K, but it had been MIA on Newegg for quite a while. I wasn’t all too disappointed, as it would zap extra funds, and there had been favorable movement on the graphics front that was hard to pass up. I priced up another Pentium G3258 build, only this time outfitting a beefy Radeon R9 280 with 3GB of GDDR5. While unbalanced for many games, it was a substantial bump in 3D horsepower for 1080P and above, and it even left me a little change left over.

Budget System Components

Purchase Price
CPUIntel Pentium G3258 (Haswell)$70
CPU CoolerIntel Boxed Heat Sink and Fan-
MotherboardMSI H81M-P33, LGA1150, Intel H81 Express$46
RAMTeam Vulcan 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) TLYD38G1600HC9DC01$69
GraphicsMSI Radeon R9 270X Gaming 2G$160
Hard DriveWestern Digital WD Blue WD10EZEX 1TB$55
PowerEVGA 100-W1-0500-KR 500W $40
Price of Performance Hardware$440
CaseDIYPC M89-R mATX Mini Tower$30
OpticalLG 24X SATA DVD Burner Model GH24NSB0B $18
Total Hardware Cost$488
Operating SystemMicrosoft Windows 8.1 64-bit - OEM$100
Price As Tested$588

Unfortunately a busy work week was coming to an end, and compiling all our orders had to be delayed until the following week. I pretty much knew that meant Sapphire’s beefy bargain would either jump in price or sell out by Monday, which it did, so I had to change things up a bit. With the X4 860K still unavailable, I simply dropped down to an R9 270X, which was now $10 cheaper than last quarter’s R9 270. To avoid retesting my last build with just a minor GPU speed bump, I decided to further trim my overall system budget by grabbing an entry-level mATX enclosure. The idea here was to see if a mildly tuned G3258 could keep up with R9 270X without requiring any extra expense in the enclosure or cooling. This is for folks who either deliberately, or by luck of the draw, fall well short of the 4.4 to 4.7GHz these Pentiums are often tested at.

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52 comments
    Your comment
  • airplanegeek
    Why is the PSU fan facing up instead of down? Doesn't that affect the cooling of the PSU?
  • sea monkey
    Upon submission of the form:

    Quote:
    The Sweepstakes opens on September 23, 2014 12 noon PDT and closes on October 6, 2014 12 noon PDT.


    Umm...
  • pauldh
    Yes it would. And it is facing down, just hidden from sight in the photo. The PSU fan's venting holes are flush with (and actually a part of) it's shell.
  • Zeh
    Just a hint: you SHOULD be using an air conditioner so you can have the same room temperature over the year.
    Preferably one with Inverter technology, which will decrease the temperature delta (it doesn't start-stop once it reaches a given temperature threshold).
  • Onus
    Hmmm, I see some kudos for the VP-450 in here, being remarkably efficient despite not being 80+ (it is disqualified for 80+ for not having Active PFC).
    Since the purpose of these SBM machines is (imho) to learn things, I would have liked to have seen a different mobo used, for comparison.
    I appreciate the thoughtful approach to overclocking that was used here.
    The only niggle I can't resist is the $18 for the optical drive. For months, I've been seeing one or another of them for around $13-$14. That seems a small thing, but that $4-$5 plus the leftover may have bought either a better cooler or a faster HDD.
  • sea monkey
    Quote:
    totally disappeared from site


    sight

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    while monitor temperatures


    monitoring

    Quote:
    to be sure it could bee done


    be

    Quote:
    none the less


    nonetheless

    Quote:
    it’s R9 270X graphics card


    its

    Quote:
    Yet, both machines share a similar weakness, they’re outfitted with a dual-core Pentium capable of juggling only two threads at a time.


    comma splice

    Quote:
    outputting to 3-panels


    three panels
  • codyleemanofaction
    Darn those moving prices! I was hoping to see the R9 280 make it!
  • lesmore2222
    I agree with cody. I really wanted to see the difference a r9 280 would make as well. This was just too similar to the last build. Should have bought the r9 280 anyway and fibbed on the price a little. ;)
  • ingtar33
    Quote:
    A final thought to consider is at what point will the next big game on your radar force an early upgrade to Core i5? It might not be too far off, as Far Cry 4, which launched a week after we ordered this machine, completely lacks official support for dual-threaded processors.


    same with the game of the year, Dragon Age Inquisition.

    I suspect it's time to drop dual cores as a build suggestion.
  • BoredSysAdmin
    Great build. I would probably never built it exactly like the article (more ram, sdd - etc), but it provides great bones to build upon.
  • mitcoes16
    Why not Nvidia Maxwell GTX 750 Ti or better (from 120 USD and best price/performance at http://www.videocardbenchmark.net/gpu.php?gpu=GeForce+GTX+750+Ti), and Manjaro Linux (free) with Steam and wine.

    It would be even more budgeted than this machine, more like a console, and able to perform almost any AAA title at 1080p fast enough, and very fast at 720p
  • ingtar33
    130978 said:
    Why not Nvidia Maxwell GTX 750 Ti or better (from 120 USD and best price/performance at http://www.videocardbenchmark.net/gpu.php?gpu=GeForce+GTX+750+Ti), and Manjaro Linux (free) with Steam and wine. It would be even more budgeted than this machine, more like a console, and able to perform almost any AAA title at 1080p fast enough, and very fast at 720p


    because a r9-270x is almost 50% faster then a 750ti.
  • RedJaron
    I would have loved to see what the 860 would do. Shame they weren't available.
  • Onus
    I believe I mentioned this in an earlier SBM cycle. Alternate builds are acceptable, but if they fail to follow the "rules" of the SBM (e.g. all Newegg prices) they will be deleted as off-topic.
    That said, based on some of Damric's findings on how AMD APUs should be overclocked, an 860K would be an interesting choice. I think Paul said he wanted to try one, but it was not available. Oh well.
  • envy14tpe
    I'm a little confused. This current build and Q3 2014 both have the same CPU and most other components about the same. However, the GPU in the current build is a 270x compared to 270 in Q3, yet both setups essentially game the same, differ only be 3fps, at 1080p. Anyone else surprised?
  • damric
    I can't recommend the 860K because there are no motherboards that will let it even boot without first updating BIOS with an older FM2/+ processor. Also, it's such a poor clocker it can barely do above stock turbo frequencies. BTW, been testing 860K for about 3 weeks now.

    Seeing that the Pentium chokes very hard when it comes to more modern games, I only would get 760K if on a budget. If budget permits then definitely get an i5, even a locked one on an H97 platform is pretty darn fast.
  • RedJaron
    699111 said:
    I'm a little confused. This current build and Q3 2014 both have the same CPU and most other components about the same. However, the GPU in the current build is a 270x compared to 270 in Q3, yet both setups essentially game the same, differ only be 3fps, at 1080p. Anyone else surprised?


    Not really. The 270 and 270X share the same 7870 silicon, just different clock tweaks. The 270's GPU is clocked a little slower than the 7870, but VRAM is much faster. The 270X is clocked higher across the board. With good tuning and a little luck, you can get a 270 to perform almost the same as a 270X. You have a slightly faster GPU that's still occasionally held back by the dual-core CPU.
  • Drejeck
    I think the CPU is too slow for the 270X, I'd rather have any 4 threaded CPU from Intel Sandy Bridge series, T, S and non K but not 2C/2T. I really appreciate the pentium unlocked but I think the graphics card must be paired with something costing 150% it's price and nothing more. I wish that 860K had more potential about overclocking. I saw a Kabini 5350 delivering FHD games quite nicely with a 750Ti (this card in particular does a beautiful job even on a 4x link) and suffering only on those extremely CPU bound. The whole platform didn't went over 100W of TDP.
  • Onus
    I really want to see what that 5350 can do; so much so I'm tempted to buy one.
  • Gain_Agin
    Why would they use LGA 1150? I heard Intel is discontinuing it? Does it mean when we need to upgrade the CPU we have to buy a new mobo?
  • ingtar33
    47340 said:
    I really want to see what that 5350 can do; so much so I'm tempted to buy one.


    the benches put it close to the per core ipc of what a late model athlon x64 would do. so basically it's like a moderately slower version of an early model core2quad.

    if the price on them went down a little bit they'd make world class business computers and family drivers. of course amusingly AMD priced it right out of the market.
  • revanchrist
    Call of Duty Advanced Warfare, Far Cry 4, Assassin' Creed Unity.
    The above three titles initially doesn't support dual core cpus, but release patches later that allows dual core cpus to play the game, but buggy like s**t.

    Dragon Age Inquisition.
    You cant play the game, literally.

    There's more and more titles coming in 2015 that will not support dual core cpus. If you want to play new games on a budget, either get x x860k or add a little more money for an i3. Yup, i3 is still a dual core but it has 4 thread which has no prob playing any new game at all.

    Good luck with your G3258.
  • damric
    1648561 said:
    Call of Duty Advanced Warfare, Far Cry 4, Assassin' Creed Unity. The above three titles initially doesn't support dual core cpus, but release patches later that allows dual core cpus to play the game, but buggy like s**t. Dragon Age Inquisition. You cant play the game, literally. There's more and more titles coming in 2015 that will not support dual core cpus. If you want to play new games on a budget, either get x x860k or add a little more money for an i3. Yup, i3 is still a dual core but it has 4 thread which has no prob playing any new game at all. Good luck with your G3258.


    The problem with the 860K is that none of the good motherboards are compatible out-of-the-box. You got to flash the BIOS on these or they won't even POST. So while it's a good upgrade from an FM2 dual-core, I steer everyone else to the 760K so there is no compatibility issues.

    G3258 still great for old games, mmorpgs and RTS though.
  • ingtar33
    1648561 said:
    There's more and more titles coming in 2015 that will not support dual core cpus. If you want to play new games on a budget, either get x x860k or add a little more money for an i3. Yup, i3 is still a dual core but it has 4 thread which has no prob playing any new game at all. Good luck with your G3258.


    actually DA:I won't even boot on an i3. the box is very specific. it calls for a quad core cpu min. i3s don't count as true quad cores so it won't even boot on an i3. I don't know about the other games you listed, but i know DAI doesn't work.

    410076 said:
    [The problem with the 860K is that none of the good motherboards are compatible out-of-the-box. You got to flash the BIOS on these or they won't even POST. So while it's a good upgrade from an FM2 dual-core, I steer everyone else to the 760K so there is no compatibility issues.


    not true but whatever keeps you warm at night. granted some of the early release fm2+ boards have this issue. particularly if you're looking at an asrock motherboard. but with asrock's issues on the whole APU platform i would have thought people would have stopped buying those boards for AMD chips a few years ago. Many fm2+ boards do work with kavari out of the box. you just have to do a little homework to figure out which ones.

    that said considering how poorly kaveri clocks and considering how fantastic richmond overclocked i would steer people to the 760k just like you. Solves all your issues. you get a chip that will hit 5ghz without any real effort and it will work with any fm2+ board you can name.