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System Builder Marathon Q1 2015: Budget Gaming PC

Affordable Upgrades

System Builder Marathon Q1 2015: The Articles

Here are links to each of the five 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: The Budget Gaming PC
Day 2: The Mainstream Enthusiast PC
Day 3: Our $1750 Performance PC
Day 4: System Value Compared
Day 5: Alternative $1750 PC

This quarter, Thomas let us know that his high-end system goals required a bit more cash. Don replied to him first, suggesting $550, $1100 and $1650 performance budgets. Hoping to address the Pentium G3258’s main disadvantage, its dual-core architecture, I planned to shift funds away from graphics to the host processor. An extra $100 would make my life so much easier. Historically, spending $50 more on the processor exacted a substantial hit on graphics muscle. But now I could buy a Haswell-based Core i3 and beefier graphics, taking my system to a higher performance tier.

Although it was already Friday and we wouldn’t be ordering our parts until the following week, I priced out a quick build, upping last quarter’s processor to a Core i3 and snagging a Radeon R9 280. I still wasn't out of money, though. If I grabbed the cheapest 8GB kit of CL11 DDR3-1600 memory, I could even ditch mechanical storage for a Crucial M550 256GB SSD!

As luck would have it, the M550 sale didn’t last through the weekend. After considering various other pricing adjustments, I wound up $5 short of my 240GB SSD. And that wouldn't be enough space to set up our typical testing environment.

Once again settling for more affordable mechanical storage, I still had the budget to buy an H81-based motherboard with front-panel USB 3.0 connectivity. Although this might sting me when it comes time to calculate value, surplus funds also allowed me to grab a $50 enclosure and an optical drive, too.

Intel's Core i3-4150 and AMD's Radeon R9 280 will certainly bump up our benchmark numbers. But with excess funding shifted towards supporting components, could such a build still sweep the competition in bang for your buck?

Current Budget Gaming PC Components
CPUIntel Core i3-4150 (Haswell)$120
CPU CoolerIntel Boxed Heat Sink and Fan$0
MotherboardASRock H81M-HDS, LGA 1150, Intel H81 Express$57
RAMG.Skill Ripjaws 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3 1600 F3-12800CL9D-8GBXL$64
GraphicsSapphire Dual-X Radeon R9 280 100373L$180
Hard DriveWestern Digital WD Blue WD10EZEX 1TB$55
PowerEVGA 100-W1-500-KR 500W$43
Performance Platform Cost$519
Storage DriveNone$0
CaseNZXT Source 210 Elite Black$50
OpticalAsus DRW-24B1ST/BLK SATA 24x DVD Burner$20
Total Hardware Cost$589
OSWindows 8.1 X64 OEM$100
Complete System Price$689

My system cost $699 originally. But I had to return a graphics card (more on that later), and its replacement sold for $10 less. That's a bit of a cheat, but since we give these systems away, I’m using this actual cost for today’s comparison.

  • cmi86
    Over all I like it. I am glad to see that you went with the superior R9 280 over the thoroughly underwhelming GTX 960, which I thought you may have felt obligated to include in the budget build. Only minor gripe I have is that I am sure you could have saved five dollars somewhere to get that SSD in there, case maybe ?
    Reply
  • TNT27
    ehh, id rather drop down to a regular 210 case, and get a better psu
    Reply
  • damric
    Should have used Windows 10 Preview instead of paying $100 for OS. It's an obvious choice for a cheap build.
    Reply
  • TechyInAZ
    15365194 said:
    Should have used Windows 10 Preview instead of paying $100 for OS. It's an obvious choice for a cheap build.

    I disagree, eventually windows 10 preview will stop working when windows 10 is officially out. And for people viewing and building a duplicate rig off this post half to a year later, they would be out of luck.

    Nice computer! I personally would have chosen a gigabyte mobo instead.
    Reply
  • Onus
    I didn't like it. I can't help but think I'll get lots of downvotes, but it looks like a hodgepodge of throwaway parts. By that I mean every choice was an example of "settling" for less than what was probably wanted. On a tight budget, with limited or no future upgrade possibilities, maybe it is the best that can be done. Throw in some possible future upgrades though, and I would have made some sacrifices for the benefit of future growth. For example, I'd rather see a more competent mobo (e.g. to allow a data RAID1), PSU, and storage (i.e. including a SSD), and would have lowered the CPU and/or graphics card (depending on benchmarks) in order to get there. As good as most modern games look even on a mix of "high" and "medium" settings, this would create a system with much longer-lasting core components, and snappier "home-user" performance (because of the SSD). Future GPU and/or CPU upgrades in a year or so would keep the whole system humming right along.
    Reply
  • envy14tpe
    This is the best Budget Gaming PC I've seen on this site. Love the choices. Did not skimp and no overkill on one component while weak other components. For a build under $600 you could not have done better. This will max out 1080p gaming!
    Reply
  • MerryLane
    Why not buy an AIO cooler with these 100 dollars and overclock the hell out of the pentium?
    After all the i3 has only two cores too ... and no overclocking possible.

    I'm pretty sure that 50% overclocking is greater than 2 extra threads that give at best 30%.

    There are also great bundles everywhere, G3258 + motherboard for cheaper.

    The GTX 960 also seem more future proof than a 280 and barely more expansive.
    Reply
  • TNT27
    15366289 said:
    Why not buy an AIO cooler with these 100 dollars and overclock the hell out of the pentium?
    After all the i3 has only two cores too ... and no overclocking possible.

    I'm pretty sure that 50% overclocking is greater than 2 extra threads that give at best 30%.

    There are also great bundles everywhere, G3258 + motherboard for cheaper.

    The GTX 960 also seem more future proof than a 280 and barely more expansive.

    Are you serious in saying that you belive a gtx 960 is more future proof? The r9 280 is on par or better than the 960, and its cheaper. When overclocked the 280 can reach into gtx 770 territory. Its also go a wider bus, and a extra gig of vram= much better performance in higher resolutions, and newer games that are starting to use that gig of vram.
    Reply
  • dstarr3
    I've built with that case before, and it is really surprisingly good for it's cost. But I got it for $35 at my local computer parts store. Regular price. If you're paying $50 for it, you're mad.
    Reply
  • turkey3_scratch
    I don't see why SSDs are being considered a necessity. With Windows 8 and the fast startup you don't even need to worry about waiting a minute, and on a budget I don't see why it's worth the extra money just to calm one's impatience for 10 seconds of loading.
    Reply