Building An Entry-Level Gaming PC
Although we spend much of our time talking about and testing ultra-high-end hardware, sometimes it can be far more special to create something magical on a budget. Given a shift away from the high-end segment (but an eagerness to remain relevant to enthusiasts), AMD has a handful of inexpensive multiplier-unlocked models that power users can tweak without the burden of on-die graphics eating into the thermal budget.
For example, the Athlon X4 750K sports two modules based on the Piledriver architecture. Each module includes a pair of integer cores and a shared floating-point unit. Typically, you'd expect to find this configuration on AMD's APUs belonging to the Trinity family, with 100 W thermal ceilings and Radeon graphics. In this case, however, the company disables the GPU altogether, dedicating the 100 W ceiling to its x86 cores.
Learn About Piledriver
For more information about AMD's Piledriver architecture, check out AMD FX-8350 Review: Does Piledriver Fix Bulldozer's Flaws?
Newegg sells the Athlon X4 750K for $80, which is a solid bargain since that K suffix indicates an unlocked multiplier that's easy to overclock. And once it's properly tuned, it has little trouble keeping up with the $125 Core i3-3220.
Just that one well-thought-out choice already saved us $30 on our budget-oriented build. We can use that money elsewhere. But how much more can we save if we similarly think through each one of the components in an inexpensive configuration?
It All Depends on the Right Combination
Bottlenecks are a bad thing, regardless of whether you're looking at top-end gear or more mainstream hardware. In fact, a limitation is more likely to adverse the value-oriented setup, since its absolute performance is lower to begin with. We already know that it's possible to build a well-balanced system at a very low price. So, our first order of business after tapping the Athlon X4 750K has to be finding a discrete graphics card able to complement that CPU. The goal is to find something with enough 3D alacrity to let us turn on more advanced detail settings, like anti-aliasing.
Using our Graphics Card Charts, we poked around for the right board able to game comfortably at 1920x1080. And our main requirement is that frame rates remain playable.
Most CPU reviews are written using high-end graphics cards to deliberately isolate processor performance, alleviating GPU bottlenecks. In theory, that's admirable. But applicability to the real world is limited, since you'd never drop a GeForce GTX 780 Ti into a motherboard with one of these Athlon X4s in it. So, we turn the tables and start at the bottom of the graphics hierarchy instead.
We'll Pick Two Solutions: Bare Minimum Or A Step Up
During the course of our story, we'll naturally be considering the value of the parts we pick. The plan is to present two different configurations at a couple of price points. First, we'll look at the product of using the least-expensive components possible. The second machine puts a bit more emphasis on quality and looks.
Everyone's needs (and budgets) are different, so you may prefer one system over the other. Or, perhaps a combination of their parts is more suitable. Of course, less expensive components don't necessarily have to be lower-quality or ugly. Being frugal can even be a strength, so long as you're exercising that value in the right places, and not indiscriminately across the board.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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....