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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.