2015 - 07 (July) Budget Build

The Budget Gamer Component List for July 2015

As mentioned in the introduction, all prices are from PC Part Picker unless explicitly specified otherwise. No special prices (e.g., after mail-in-rebate prices or combo prices) are included if that can be avoided. If you are a conscientious rebater, you may be able to spend a bit less. I will include the PC Part Picker links in the table below where I tally up all the prices. You should be able to load these items in your cart using those links and get them at or near the prices quoted. My self-established goal is under $900 if possible, with an absolute maximum of $1000.

CPU

My choices in this price range (which I try to keep in the range of $100 to $150) are the Intel Core i3-4330 or the AMD FX-8320. I currently prefer Intel CPUs to the AMD CPUs because the AMDs are essentially the same design released in 2012, and they tend to run hotter than Intel CPUs. That means more power required from the power supply and more cooling to dissipate the heat that is generated. That's not to say the 8320 is a bad part. When looking at benchmarks, the AMD wins those where multithreading is the key, but the Intel wins in just about as many overall even though it only has half as many threads (and those are hyperthreaded rather than dedicated cores). Games are becoming increasingly efficient with multiple cores, but the having more cores doesn't make a winner. Price isn't a deciding factor either as the Core i3-4330 goes for about $130 and the 8AMD FX-3820 goes for $135.

AMD's FX-8320 is an eight-core part with an unlocked multiplier for overclocking. My mental problem with it is that is has a 125W TDP before overclocking, which is about 2.5 times the Intel Core i3-4330. Overclocking that part begs for a closed-loop CPU cooler. By the time you add that cost, you've bumped into the next higher Intel part (i.e., the Intel Core i5-4590). AMD recently introduced the AMD FX-8320E, which is a lower power part (95W). However, from what I can tell from reviews, they mostly played around with the current architecture slightly and capped the TDP at 95W. Benchmarks show the 8320E the same or slightly slower that the 8320, but the prices is about $150. It makes no sense to me to pay more for less performance. Really either the Intel Core i3-4330 or the AMD FX-8320 is a good choice in this price/performance range, but I'm going with the Intel Core i3-4330 for this build.

Good resources to check out the benchmark scores are Tom's Hardware's Best Gaming CPUs For The Money article (June 2015) and Anandtech's CPU Benchmarks.

CPU Cooler

We'll save cost here by using Intel's stock CPU heatsink and cooler. It's nothing to write home about, but it does the job and is included with the CPU. It's hard to beat a $0 cost.

Motherboard

Even though this is a budget build, there's no reason to use anything but a top-tier manufacturer's board. For me, that's Asus, Gigabyte and MSI. I have used ASRock in the past, too, but I find their motherboards can be a bit more finicky than the others. The headaches from cheap boards just aren't worth it for the few dollars saved. For this build, I've gone with the Gigabyte GA-Z97-HD3.

The GA-Z97-HD3 is a full-sized ATX board with two PCI-E x16 slots (but only one at PCI-E x16 speed), a pair of PCI-E x1 slots and a pair of legacy PCI slots. (The PCI slots almost seem an oddity now, but if you have an old sound card you'd like to keep for one more build, this will do it.) It also has six SATA III (6 Gb/s) ports for disk and optical drives. The back I/O panel has four USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet, audio and video out. We won't be using the video out since we'll have a dedicated graphics card, but it's there in case we repurpose this CPU for some other build in the future. We will also make use of the USB 3.0 header to supply USB 3.0 on the front of the case. That makes life a lot easier than reaching around the back to plug in a USB 3.0 drive or the like. My target price for the motherboard in the budget build is between $80 - $100. For $90, this is a hard motherboard to beat.

GPU (Graphics Card)

I'm going to be very prejudiced in my selection here. Simply put, for now and for the foreseeable future, I will recommend an Nvidia card each and every time. When I heard about the upcoming R9 3xx series from AMD (390X, 380 and 370), I thought it might be time to revisit the series. Then a friend tried out a AMD 290X ... twice. The first one wouldn't stay stable in any game he tried. The second one that he got (from returning the first one) didn't work any better in his system. We decided to try it in my system, since I knew that I had a really stable system. I couldn't get it to survive through the first 3DMark test. I don't know if it was the card or the drivers. Doesn't really matter.

It got so bad, I couldn't even keep it up long enough to uninstall the drivers. I put back in my Nvidia card (an EVGA GTX 670 at the time), and the sh*tty AMD Catalyst drivers - rather than gracefully handling the fact the card was missing and defaulting to the standard VGA drivers - blue-screened over and over again. I had to nuke and pave my operating system to recover. Three strikes and you're out. He returned that card and got an MSI Nvidia GTX 970. Problem solved. You would have to give me an AMD card for free and pay me on top of that to use one. This may change in the future, but it hasn't changed in over five years. On top of their driver issues, they are still shoveling out rehashed crap from 2012 with a few tweaks and a new name slapped on it.

Instead, I am recommending an Nvidia GTX 960. My favorite video card vendor at the moment is EVGA. For this build, I picked the EVGA 02G-P4-2966-KR GeForce GTX 960, which is slightly overclocked at the factory from the base specifications. EVGA doesn't cheap out on their cards - even the less expensive ones. This is a dual cooling fan unit and has HDMI port, three Display Ports and one DVI-D port. It can handle up to four monitors simultaneously, but in reality, that would only be practical for editing text. This card is likely not beefy enough to handle multi-monitor gaming. However, with a standard 1920 x 1080 (1080p) monitor, this card will do pretty well. This card requires only a single 8-pin PCI-E connector. If you happen to have a PSU that only has 6-pin PCI-E connectors, a dual 6-pin to single 8-pin adapter is included.

If you are a real AMD fan, the card to compare my pick to is the AMD R9 380. It's right at the $200 mark. AMD also has an R7 370, but benchmarks put it far behind both the Nvidia GTX 960 and the AMD R9 380.

My rule of thumb for the budget and mid-range builds is that the cost of the video card should be between 120% to 150% of the CPU. In this case, that's $156 to $190. With the EVGA 02G-P4-2966-KR, I'm going to be just above the maximum of that range at $208. That said, I found it pretty easy to find a site where it was discounted to around $190. My rule does change over the years. It used to be 110% - 115%, but so much of the work has shifted from the CPU to the GPU for most games, the GPU is more important.

Memory

DDR 3 memory is quite the commodity, but you still have to have some. I use a number of manufacturers, but I tend to stick with Corsair, Crucial, G.Skill, Kingston and Mushkin. I've gone with 8 GB kit (2 x 4GB to take advantage of the motherboard's dual-channel memory controller) rather than 16 GB or more. The motherboard has four slots and two of those will be open for additional memory. I use 8GB in my gaming desktop, and I've never found a need for more. The motherboard supports a whole range of memory speeds, but I stuck with 8GB of DDR3-1866 from G.Skill for $50.

Storage (Hard Drive[s])

I'd really like to have a solid-state drive (SSD) drive for the boot drive and some storage, but the prices are still a bit too high to get a useful amount of storage. (I wouldn't even bother with an SSD less than 256GB in size.) If I have to use a traditional rotating hard disk, I'd really like to go with the Western Digital Caviar Black series. Unfortunately at this time, their cost per gigabyte is way out of line with their competitors. Instead, I'm going with a fast, large Seagate 3TB 7200 RPM (ST3000DM001) for $89. A 1TB Western Digital Caviar Black is going for $71 and 2TB for $123, and it's really hard to justify that kind of cost difference in this build. While 1TB used to be a lot of space, I'd recommend at least 2TB currently. The difference between the 2TB and 3TB Seagate drives is about $10, so it makes sense to bump up to 3TB. The Seagate drive has a SATA 6.0Gb/s interface. My only hesitation about this drive is it only has a two-year warranty where the WD Caviar Black series has a five-year warranty.

PSU (Power Supply)

One upside of the budget build is we don't need any sort of outrageous power supply to make it run. We just need a competent one with sufficient connections. We still want quality here, though. A poorly designed, overloaded/underpowered power supply can manifest itself in a new build as all sorts of problems. If it drops power on one of the 12V rails, the graphics card can malfunction or a disk drive could get corrupted. A bad PSU can make it appear as if you have faulty memory or a faulty motherboard as well. My short list of PSU suppliers in my personal order of preference includes Seasonic, FirePower Technology, FSP Group (Fortron), Corsair, Enermax and Antec.

I also like a PSU with a single 12V rail and semi-modular connections. The latter lets me use only the power connectors I actually need. I have picked a Corsair CX series CX600M semi-modular 600W PSU for this build, which goes for $70. One nice thing that PC Part Picker does is estimate the power required by the build. Understand, they don't guarantee their number, but if you click on it, they do list the min to max numbers they have to make the estimate. This build is estimated to be 273W maximum draw. We want to run the power supply at 40-70% of its rated load. We would be at 46%, and we could really comfortably use a 500W or 550W PSU. For example, Corsair makes a 500W model, the Corsair CX series CX500M. The cost savings is only about $10 though. A 600W PSU is more likely to be usable in a future build with more demanding components.

Case

This is a component that often gets the short straw in a budget build because this is a place where some money can be saved. However, one can go too cheap and make building the new PC a miserable experience. There's nothing worse than having to tear everything apart just to be able to move one disk drive or add a new one. For this build, I have chosen the Corsair Carbide Series 200R Mid Tower ATX case, which runs from $65 to $70. I have not actually done a build into this case, but every review of it just gushes over how nice it is for the price.

My reasons for liking this case is that it is a tool-less design for the disk drives (including SSDs) and optical drives, decent cable management, rubber grommet fan mounts, a pair of USB 3.0 ports on the front panel (along with a mic and headphone jack). It has open mounting locations for many more fans, but for this build, we will use just the ones it comes with, which are a front 120mm fan and rear 120mm. The PSU, which is bottom-mounted in this case, also has a fan that will help push air through this case.

Optical Drive(s)

The optical drive is pretty much an optional part nowadays. After installing the OS, it may never be needed again. I very occasionally buy a game on disk, but it's probably been over a year since that has been the case. That said, for $20, why not. I've chosen the Samsung SH-224DB/BEBE DVD/CD Writer. A newer version is the SH-224FB/BSBE. Both support all the necessary formats and have the typical speeds.

Sound Card

While I still like sound cards and think they produce better sound than on-board video, it's a luxury we don't need for this build. The on-board sound supplied by today's motherboards is pretty darn good. It will do here.

Operating System

Take your choice of Windows 7 (Home Premium SP1 64-bit) or Windows 8.1 64-bit - OEM. Both are about $97. I use Windows 8.1 because it understands how to treat SSDs better, but pick either one. You're going to take the free upgrade to Windows 10 in a few months anyway. Do get the 64-bit version of whichever one you pick.

Component List and Tally

The prices given below are static and are the ones captured when this was written. Click on the link below the table to load the list into the PC Part Picker system builder.

Component Description Cost
Gaming on a Budget Component List
CPU Intel Core i3-4330 3.5GHz 130
CPU Cooler Stock (included with the CPU) 0
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-Z97-HD3 ATX LGA1150 90
GPU EVGA GeForce GTX 960 2GB SuperSC ACX 2.0+ 208
Memory G.Skill Ripjaws X Series 8GB (1 x 8GB) DDR3-1866 50
Storage Seagate Barracuda 3TB ST3000DM001 89
Sound Card Stock (motherboard sound) 0
Optical Drive Samsung SH-224DB/BEBE DVD/CD Writer 15
PSU Corsair CX 600W 80+ Bronze Certified Semi-Modular 70
Case Corsair 200R ATX Mid Tower 70
OS Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium SP1 OEM (64-bit) 97
     
Total   819

Not bad. For a total of $819 (or $60 less if you get in on current promotions and faithfully send in the rebates), you can build a pretty decent gamer. It should run most games on decently-high settings on a 1080p monitor. To see the current prices for these components, check the link to the PC Part Picker list.