Picking A CPU, Motherboard, And RAM
CPU: An Inexpensive Choice with Overclocking Potential
As mentioned, AMD's Athlon X4 750K is our insider tip, selling for a scant $80 and easy to overclock. Its base stock clock frequency is 3.4 GHz, and Turbo Core pushes that up to 4 GHz, depending on the load you apply. Of course, the K-series Athlon can also be overclocked through its adjustable multiplier.
There's another way to overclock this chip: configure the maximum Turbo Core clock rate of both modules to increase when temperature, power, and load allow. A default ceiling of 4 GHz is advantageous because it keeps the processor running cooler in the heavily-threaded tasks that hit both modules, while ramping up performance when only one is needed. If you're lucky, it should be possible to push the 750K to a maximum Turbo Core rate of 4.5 GHz with a respectable cooler.
Motherboard: Socket FM2 or FM2+
The Athlon X4 750K fits either processor interface, and the motherboard form factor you pick will probably depend on the case you choose. We chose a mini-ITX platform for our Red Devil built (the fancied-up one), since it includes bundled Wi-Fi and Bluetooth without breaking the bank. MicroATX boards sell for even less. Some cost as little as $40.
And there's another reason to try the Athlon X4 750K. You simply can't get the same level of performance from an Intel-based CPU/motherboard combination (though we're really excited about the upcoming Pentium with an unlocked multiplier, which could very well decimate AMD's entry-level enthusiast advantage). Our efforts to build something similar with a Pentium fell short; it couldn't keep up with this overclocked Athlon X4. It was fast enough to not bottleneck a Radeon R7 260, but that doesn't come close to giving us the performance we need for FHD in our benchmark suite.
Because this story went live in Germany first, our team over there went with an MSI FM2-A75IA-E53 motherboard. While it might have been a best-fit for them, Newegg no longer lists that platform in stock and instead suggests the A88XI AC as an alternative. The A88X FCH is a step up, as is the 802.11ac Wi-Fi controller. But a $100 price tag is higher than even our CPU of choice.
There are plenty of affordable alternatives out there from companies like ASRock, Biostar, and MSI dipping down below $50. A more premium option could be the ASRock GM2A78M-ITX+, which satisfies our mini-ITX requirement and sells for $80.
RAM: Avexir DDR3-1600 8 GB Kit with Red LED
Let's spring for a bit of eye candy, shall we? Avexir's DDR3-1600 CL9 kit is neither too large nor too small, and it generally fits the system well. The Athlon X4 750K’s integrated memory controller could conceivably handle higher data rates. However, our benchmarks have shown that potential gains are in the single-digit range, if they're measured at all. Of course, if you'd like to throw more money at the memory issue, you're more than welcome to.
Remember that our CPU doesn't have integrated graphics, so the benefit you'd normally see from lots of memory throughput feeding an on-die GPU isn't there. Optimizing the timings on a DDR3-1600 kit should yield plenty of performance without hammering your bottom line. And then there's the fact that this kit looks nice as well, especially since the pulsing red lights can be seen from outside of our case through the air vents.
Before moving on, let’s take a look at our expanded table (feel free to use it as a shopping list). Prices fluctuate on a daily basis, but we just updated it again to reflect the most recent changes.
|Components||Baseline Build||Price||Red Devil||Price|
|Graphics Card||AMD Radeon R7 260X||$120||AMD Radeon R9 270Nvidia GeForce GTX 750 Ti||$150|
|CPU||AMD Athlon X4 750K||$80||AMD Athlon X4 750K||$80|
|Motherboard||Socket FM2 or FM2+||$45||Mini-ITX Socket FM2+||$85|
|RAM||8 GB DDR3-1600 Kit||$65||Avexir 8 GB DDR3-1600 LED Kit||$75|