Building a Budget Intel-Based MicroATX Gaming Cube
Back in May, we published a story called Build A Balanced AMD-Based Gaming PC On A Budget, which showed you how to construct a low-cost system using AMD's Athlon X4 750K CPU and appropriately-quick graphics cards, all housed in an attractive case. After all, just because you kept an eye on your budget doesn't mean your gaming box needs to be ugly.
This time around, we wanted to do something similar on the Intel side, particularly in light of the good press its Pentium G3258 has been receiving. Our own coverage (Intel Pentium G3258 CPU Review: Haswell, Unlocked, For $75 and The Pentium G3258 Cheap Overclocking Experiment) shows that, even though the Pentium is a dual-core processor lacking Hyper-Threading technology, overclocked, it's still able to out-perform the quad-core Athlon in a great many workloads. It's cheaper, too, which we like.
Component vendor Deepcool has been offering to send us hardware for years, and we typically declined because the company's products weren't readily available in the U.S. More recently, however, it scored a spot on Newegg, and so the Steam Castle enclosure we're using today is something you can actually go out and buy. We thought we'd give the $100 enclosure a test run.
In addition, we have the company's Maelstrom 120 closed-loop liquid cooler. That one isn't available yet, though we're assured it will be soon.
The core of this DIY project is MSI's H97M-G43 motherboard, which sells for about $90, and Intel's overclocking-friendly, multiplier-unlocked Pentium G3258, available at $70 on Newegg.
We don’t blame you if you do a double-take: overclocking on a H97-based board? Yup. You've already seen us do this on an inexpensive H81-based platform using beta firmware. So we can't guarantee that Intel won’t kill this feature through some upcoming microcode update. But given the overwhelmingly-positive community response, we've only heard a token protest from the chip giant (and not even through official channels).
Our overclock was an overwhelming success, peaking at 4.7 GHz through a massive voltage increase. This is neither reasonable nor practical, though, and we've trolled the G3258 user reviews, noticing a great many power users hitting ceilings around 4 GHz, too. As a result, we settled in on a 4.4 GHz clock rate, which requires very few changes in the BIOS and should be possible with most Pentiums.
Then we added a $160 MSI GeForce GTX 750 Ti Twin Frozr Gaming graphics card, completing our well-proportioned budget-oriented gaming machine. It has no trouble handling AAA titles. Just don't expect to run at the highest resolutions with overly taxing detail settings. Not everyone needs a high-end system and its associated price tag. With that in mind, we're happy to present this alternative to our previous AMD build, which should give you years of great performance, despite its conservative cost.