A Guide To Building A Budget Range Gaming PC
You’ve just checked your bank account, an uninspiring amount stares back at you…
…only R7,231. A great big body sigh overcomes you as you slump down into your chair, staring over at your six year old obsolete computer.
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“Damn, now I’ll never experience the graphical glory that is Crysis 3, BioShock Infinite, and Tomb Raider.”
Comparing to last month’s article, I was pretty focussed on advancing a particular combination of CPU, motherboard and graphics card. Namely, AMD’s graphics offering and Intel’s motherboard and CPU components. If you thought spending over R10,000 on a gaming machine amounted to an exercise in insanity, then this platter of PC parts might be more palatable to your bank account.
Relating back to the Three P’s Model I talked about last month, this build leans towards satisfying the Price factor to the detriment of Performance, and less so regarding Purpose. That being said, it is still a highly capable gaming PC for current generation titles, on High to Medium details running above 30FPS at full 1080P. With these items a budget gamer cannot “afford” to spend more money on them than say spending more on gamer-centric components like the CPU, motherboard or graphics cards
In the lower range, the options are not as clear cut as last month’s mid-range guide. The budget waters have recently been splashed by AMD and Nvidia trying hard to earn your budget coin. AMD CPUs seem to offer a more convincing line-up as opposed to Intel in this segment, and that makes it a great hunt for a CPU which can overclock to net you a modest return on investment. We shouldn’t discount Intel, as they do have some nippy chips in the lower range that offer something more sublime than outright gaming performance (of which they are still more than capable). To this end, I would feel torn for choosing one over the other. It’s like choosing to either eat a marshmallow in your one hand or some melted chocolate in the other.
To satisfy your tech sweet-tooth, I am going to offer two “equal” builds within this segment: an AMD based build and an Intel based build.
|CPU||AMD FX -6300 – R1754||Intel i3 3240 – R1604|
|Motherboard||MSI 970A-G46 – R892||ASrock H77 Pro4-M – R1099|
|RAM||2X Team Elite 4 GB 1600 Mhz – R352||2X Team Elite 4 GB 1600 Mhz – R352|
|Graphics Card||AMD Powercolour 7850 – R2235 ORNvidia Geforce 650ti Boost (depends on local pricing)||AMD Powercolour 7850 – R2235 ORNvidia Geforce 650ti Boost (depends on local pricing)|
|Case||Antec One S3 – R477 Or Cooler Master K280 – R436||Antec One S3 – R477 Or Cooler Master K280 – R436|
|Power Supply||Corsair CX 500 – R659||Corsair CX 430 – R506|
|Hard Drive||Western Digital Caviar Blue – R764||Western Digital Caviar Blue – R764|
|Total||R7133 / R7092||R7037 / R6996|
The final price for either system is a little over R7,000, where I’m afraid that any more cost cutting isn’t very possible. More cash can be saved by shaving off +-R100 on the case, but then you are left with a rectangular box with no features like dust filters, cable management or USB3 support. As you have noticed by now, the main differences between the builds is the choice of CPU, motherboard and power supply (PSU). I have chosen different PSUs based on the different features each build accommodates, something I will get to later on. The RAM and hard-drive I chose will suit both builds and are the cheapest I could find to suit a gamer’s needs. As for the case and GPU, they will still be subject to some scrutiny.
I See Red People: AMD Build
The Red Team has a lot going for it in the budget arena, offering up an impressive overclocking-friendly budget line with the FX4300 and FX6300. The impressive FX6300 is a 6-core 3.5GHz/4.1GHz (Boost speed) CPU that ticks a lot of the high-spec boxes. It’s got high clock speed, lots of cores, is generally cool running, and has average power consumption. Most importantly, it’s affordable and is capable of overclocking quite well.
I know the budget range is the last place you’d think to hear about overclocking, but AMD has filled it amicably. The one issue relating to the AMD chip and motherboards in a South Africa: I was properly frustrated in trying to find an online retailer with stock of both. At times it proved to be akin to finding a needle in a stack of needles: painful. It could be that the budget build is popular and thus the parts are sold out, but I get the feeling that AMD is just not as supported by retailers as Intel. So keep that in mind when shopping for the AMD build.
I was originally tempted to choose the FX4300 as the CPU, but pricing of the chip is really doing it no favours. It remains too close in price to the more capable FX6300 to justify the minimal savings over performance loss. The ATX size MSI motherboard is a relatively capable board with “good enough” features for the gamer on a budget. The board can overclock the FX6300, although a few Google searches suggest that there is some controversy over the somewhat unstable VRM’s on the board. However, with a 95W chip like the FX6300, the motherboard should be fine. If for peace-of-mind in overclocking, you can shop around for a more expensive motherboard such as the Asus M5A97, which will then take the AMD over budget.
Red Turning A Bit Blue In The Face: Intel Build
Comparing the suggested chip against the 3.4 GHz Intel Dual Core Ivy Bridge 3240, one might think that the dual core would be run down by this higher clocked 6-core beast. You would be sorely mistaken. Most games today are reliant on single threaded CPU performance, and sadly this is where AMD have not performed as well as Intel.
Few games take advantage of multi-threaded CPU performance, let alone AMDs multi-core CPU architecture. This is why most games that are not bottle-necked by graphics cards will allow a Dual Core Ivy Bridge i3 3240 to be decisively faster than a stock-clocked FX6300.
As for the choice of motherboard, the ASrock H77 Pro4-M will not turn many heads, but it will get the job done without a fuss. It is a MATX board and therefore does have less available SATA ports than the ATX AMD based build, but it makes up for it by having front USB 3 motherboard headers, whereas the AMD MSI board only has front USB 2 headers. For people with USB 3 external and USB drives, the AMD build will not have front panel USB 3 support, leaving you to reach around and plug the external to the back I/O area for full speed. Remember that you can still use USB 3 devices over front USB 2 ports, however they will just function at USB 2 speeds.
I must draw your attention to my use of the word “stock FX6300”–earlier in the last paragraph. Even though AMD have produced a 6-core chip that is hounded by a cheaper Hyper-Threaded dual core Intel chip, it cannot be simply tossed into the silicon bin. The redemption of the FX6300 is lying in its capacity to be overclocked. If you are willing to research the Dark Arts, change some frequency and multipliers while upping the voltage a smidgen. This can help boost the FX6300 to run at 4.5-4.6 GHz where it can decidedly surpass the hamstrung Ivy Bridge 3240.
We are at a quandary it seems: The AMD based build allows for some tweak-ability on the part of the gamer to get better results; where the Intel build offers gamers great stock performance without space for tweaking and improvement. Basically it comes down to the gamer’s preference as opposed to the technology. If you only want to game and not worry about the added “hassle” of overclocking, get the Intel based build. If you want to overclock, get the AMD based build. It’s really that simple.
With that, if you still fancy the Intel side of things, you can increase your budget by about +-R500 to get a Quad Core i5 3330 that can pretty much equal the overclocked FX6300. Gun to the head though, I would definitely go for the AMD based build.
A few days ago I would have said go for AMD’s Powercolour 7850 2 GB card. However Nvidia recently launched a broadside to AMD’s line-up in the form of the 650ti Boost. Once the dust had settled, and the AMD fanboys were silenced, the unanimous outcome was that Nvidia has produced a highly attractive card for the budget gamer. Good news for us, bad news for AMD. By and large it is cheaper than the 7850, where it needs the same amount of power to perform better–around 5%. It’s not much better, but it is better. While the bundled game on offer with AMD’s 7850 is still appealing, the competition’s faster and cheaper card should sway more people to Nvidia.
The local pricing for the 650ti Boost will either make it or break it as the king of the budget card, so in the mean time, I can only recommend that you wait a few weeks for pricing before deciding on which card. If the 650ti Boost comes in at an equal or lower price than AMD’s 7850 in South Africa, snatch it up like it’s the last Twinkie in the known universe. I estimate that the 2 GB card should sit at around R1900-R2000, but that’s just a guestimate.
You will see I’ve got two different PSU’s powering the two builds. This is where the Intel build can save us a bit of money due to the CPU’s extreme power efficiency and lack of power consuming overclocking options. While the AMD 7850 and Nvidia 650ti Boost could also get some overclocking love, the amperage on the CX430 should be more than enough to cater for the extra juice needed to overclock either GPU.
On the other hand, the FX6300 is nearly double the carbon footprint of the Intel chip, and to remain a viable choice in this build it needs to be overclocked, thus raising its power consumption even more. I’m sure the AMD build could run off the CX430 PSU, but just to be safe I bumped up the PSU to a Corsair CX500 power supply.
The only other concern for this budget rig is the case you want to use. I have vetted two options: the Antec One S3 and the Cooler Master K280. They are both decent budget ATX chassis that feature some high end characteristics, like tool-less drive mountings, thumbscrews, USB 3 front panel support, dust filters and cable management ability.
Unsurprisingly however, there are glaring signs of cost cutting involved. The K280 features only one USB 3 slot partnered with one USB 2 slot on the front panel. Admittedly, it is a cheap but effective way of providing backward support for those using USB 2 drives, or for those with motherboards that don’t have onboard USB 3 headers–like the AMD motherboard suggested above. Also the K280 only provides three tool-less mounts: two for HDD mounting and one for an optical drive.
Alternatively, the Antec One S3, which being a tad pricier, has Dual USB 3 front panel support and one USB 2 to USB 3 converter cable. A win for the Antec is that it comes with full tool-less mounting capacity. The only area in which the Antec will lack in comparison with the K280 will be in the cable management department, as the K280 has enough space behind the motherboard tray to tuck the cables away nicely.
I really cannot recommend one case over the other, as both share enough features, as one advances in one area where the other is lacking, and vice versa. I therefore suggest choosing a board purely on personal preference, based on aesthetics and the specific functionality you require.