Jarred's AMD Budget Gaming System
Hardware Component Price
Processor AMD Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition
(Deneb 45nm, 3.4GHz, 4x512KB L2, 6MB L3, 125W)
$166
Motherboard ASUS M4A88T-V EVO/USB3 (AMD 880G AM3) $110
Video ASUS EAH6850 Radeon HD 6850 1GB $200
Memory A-DATA 2x2GB DDR3-1333 CL9
(AD3U1333B2G9-DRH)
$62
Hard Drive Western Digital Caviar Black 640GB (WD6402AAEX) $70
Optical Drive Samsung 22X DVDRW (TS-H662SA) $15
Case Antec Three Hundred Illusion $70
Power Supply Antec BP550 Plus 550W
(-$30 Combo)
$35
Total System Price $728

When it comes time to put together a PC for friends or family, price is usually a driving factor in every component selection. Depending on what compromises you're willing to make, you can easily get a complete system for under $500 (sans LCD, OS, and peripherals), but if I'm putting together a system I don't want compromises—I want a good PC that I'm confident will last at least three years, barring unforeseen component failures. So, my go-to system tends to focus on balancing price, quality, and performance, which means I check in right around the $500 mark. That's not bad for a PC, but what if you're interested in gaming?

Here's the thing so many people overlook when it comes to gaming consoles. The basic hardware will set you back $300 or less, but you end up occupying the living room, games cost more, and if you want to do things like surf the Internet, type a report, email, print, etc. you still have to have a PC somewhere in the house. So take your standard home/office PC, make sure you have a few upgrade options available (i.e. don't buy one of those ultra-budget systems with a tiny power supply, cramped chassis, and no PCIe x16 slot), and then you go out and buy a decent graphics card. Even the $115 graphics cards pack plenty of performance (i.e. the GeForce GTS 450), but for serious gaming you should plan on spending more like $200 and getting a GTX 460 or HD 6850. That's what I've done here, with a few other noteworthy extras.

First, notice the CPU: AMD's Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition. The stock 3.4GHz clock is already more than fast enough for any games, but the Black Edition means you can play around with overclocking without needing to raise bus or memory speeds. Sure, Intel has faster processors available, but for less than $200 it's going to be very difficult to match the performance of the Phenom II 965!

With an AMD CPU and motherboard chipset, $10 more gets you basic CrossFireX support—in this case courtesy of the ASUS M4A88T-V. You also get native SATA 6.0Gbps ports from the chipset and USB3.0 ports, so you've got just about everything you need to last you through the next two generations of hardware. And if games get to the point where a single 6850 can't handle your chosen resolution/settings, you can grab a second card and boost your performance! If you're serious about the CrossFireX route, though, you might want a motherboard with dual x8 PCIe slots as opposed to the x16/x4 on the selected ASUS board, in which case you're looking at another $20 to get something like the Gigabyte A-890GPA-UD3H.

As far as the GPU goes, the video card I selected is AMD's latest Radeon 6850, which is roughly on par with NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 460 1GB. Honestly, I would probably lean towards the latter on an Intel setup, but getting SLI support on an AMD platform is becoming rather difficult and pairing the AMD CPU with an AMD GPU has a nice symmetry to it. I'd suggest 1080p and high details as reasonable for the 460 and 6850, but you'll need to turn off antialiasing in some titles to get acceptable performance. The 6850 GPU I selected also comes from ASUS, by virtue of the fact that it was the quietest card in our 6850 roundup.

Some enthusiasts like to stay on the cutting edge, but that costs more money and the net difference often isn't worth the price of admission. I've been running an Intel Kentsfield processor at 3.2GHz for the past three years as my primary system (about the same performance as the Phenom II 965), and while I have a faster Core i7 desktop available I honestly don't notice the difference in most tasks. Gaming depends primarily on your GPU (unless you have a really slow CPU like Atom), so that's where you need to focus your money. You could even go with a cheaper CPU like the Athlon II X4 645 or the Phenom II X4 810, but as you can see from the linked results the overall performance drop likely isn't worth the money saved—especially if you want to upgrade to CrossFire down the road. Also worth noting is that there are games that hit the CPU quite hard (StarCraft II in large battles is particularly brutal), so don't skimp too much.

The rest of the components I've selected are still good in their own right, and there are plenty of sales and combo offers right now. If you have a bit of extra money left over, adding a moderate 64GB SSD as your OS/application drive is certainly worth doing, but with a focus on keeping costs down and gaming performance up, I left it out (and I'm sure others will include it). If you want an alternative to my selection, you could even go with the winning Newegg EggXpert PC SuperCombo (which has quite a few similarities to my build). Just add an OS, display, keyboard, and mouse and you're golden!

Balraj's Intel Budget System Vivek's Midrange Intel System
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  • JarredWalton - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    Honestly, the AMD/Intel stuff was in a large part based on editor personal preference. For a budget build, it's hard to match AMD, but ultimately it's just a $40 upgrade to Intel. Some of us really like AMD, some of us really prefer to run Intel. Funny thing is that I'm more of an Intel guy but decided that AMD made the most sense for what I was building, and Vivek definitely wanted to do Intel. Also consider that we didn't want a ton of overlap; if you asked each of us for a system we would REALLY build, no one would put together a dream setup, and likewise few of us would go budget; you'd get all sorts of $700-$1300 builds.

    The graphics card side was left entirely up to the editors. Some felt the need to list both options and others went with what they felt was "best". But then, there's enough parity in current GPUs that you really can go either way and be fine. So that's pretty much how the process went.
    Reply
  • wumpus - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    Why in the world do you need to make separate Intel/AMD builds to keep the fanboys happy, and why don't you bother to include AMD/Nvidia splits as well?

    Second, I have to question pairing a GTX580 with a 1920x1200 monitor. While it does let you play crysis2 with absolutely everything turned on, it will be spinning its wheels doing everything else. While trying to build a decent $900 eyefinity* system might require raiding the budget from other components, the end result (5' of monitor instead of a big port hole) is likely superior to any single monitor 1920x1200 (even 24" IPS and a GPU that *never* drops below 60fps).

    Finally, with all the worrying over hard drive brands nobody gave a thought to RAID5? You would think in the "ultimate HTPC" system might want to keep data after a drive death, but I guess all that expensive and noisy gear already thrown at it priced [physical] data integrity out the window (an SSD in an HTPC? Junk the software first and put something that works in its place!)

    *note that a pair of 460s should not be ignored, and probably fit the price best when trying to match with 3 monitors
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    Might want to read Brian's build a bit more carefully:

    "On every system I've built in recent memory, I've gone with an SSD + RAID array of slow but capacious storage; I think the same is best here. Get four or five 1.5TB or higher HDDs of whatever brand makes you feel warmest inside, toss them in a RAID5 set, and enjoy a crap-ton of storage that's fully redundant. I suppose if you're really feeling ultimate, you could get a RAID card instead of using the ICH10R's software fakeRAID, but it probably isn't critical unless you want to eek out everything you can from those mechanical drives."

    Anand has also added his build, with RAID1.

    As for 580 + WUXGA, while Crysis is the game everyone mentions, let me just state that Bad Company 2 (and the new Medal of Honor uses the same engine) can be very demanding as well... about as demanding as Crysis in fact. Mafia 2, Metro 2033, and a variety of upcoming and recent titles are also very demanding. I've got a 30" panel with 5850 CrossFire, and I certainly can't max out everything!
    Reply
  • ajlueke - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    I did think about doing RAID 5 in my build. But in all honesty, out of the 3 WD20EARS drives I have purchased and the several 1 TB black editions from WD ,I have never had a single one fail...ever. Certainly I back up my programs and documents as well as anything that cannot be replaced such as pictures and itunes purchases. All the other data on the media drives is already backed up on the physcial discs from which they were ripped, and are now safely stored in my basement. Yes, it would be time consuming to rerip all of the media on a failed drive, but it is also time consuming to rebuild a RAID 5 array. I found the money spent on an extra drive for the storage overhead of a RAID 5 is better spent on cooling solutions to prevent drive failure in the first place. As I have never had a HDD fail in five years of building HTPC systems, I think the policy has worked out fairly well for me. The setup is actually extremely quiet, but certainly not as much some smaller solutions. But adding an SSD definately helps with the noise, as do the green edition WD drives. Reply
  • Jovec - Saturday, November 20, 2010 - link

    I agree with the need for data backup, but RAID 1/5 really has no place in 99% of home usage situations. You are better off using a spare drive(s) for a proper backup. RAID provides insurance against hardware failures, but not user error. You are much more likely to suffer an accidental deletion/overwrite/etc than a drive failure. Reply
  • mattgmann - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    Everything has looked pretty good until this machine.

    For one, why is a monitor now included? Though I do think it's a good monitor (nice alternative to the dell U2410). But, as a gaming system, why not get 3 24" tn panels for the same price for eyefinity goodness?

    Also, what is with the use of all the WD drives? They're good drives, but the samsung f3 and f4 drives are just plain faster and don't cost any more.

    Is a sound card really necessary? I would only include it if you're including speakers.
    Reply
  • Iketh - Saturday, November 20, 2010 - link

    i really appreciated the addition of a monitor in the higher priced builds... the cheaper builds are assumed you'll reuse your current display, just common sense in my book... and then eyefinity? no thanks, unless a monitor with one large curved display exists...

    i have never and will never build my mid-range or higher gaming PC without a dedicated sound card... the sound clarity is very noticeable for headphones or higher-end speaker systems... but I agree 100% with not a mention of speakers for the systems including a dedicated sound card, please add suggestions!!
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Tuesday, November 23, 2010 - link

    3 TN monitors is certainly an option and I mentioned it in the writeup. However all of these builds are ultimately based at least partially around our preferences, and my preference is for a larger, high quality monitor paired with a single fast GPU, as opposed to many low quality monitors and a dual-GPU configuration. Reply
  • Nataku - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    Eh... I just thought we'd see a few low~mid range systems with SSDs lol

    I was going to put together a system like below (im going to wait for sandy bridge instead though)
    Zotac H55 w/ wifi
    One of the lower cost SSD
    probably thermaltake's Element Q for case
    cheapest 4GB kit I can find

    guess size of HDD does still matter more XD
    Reply
  • Nataku - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    and... stupid of me to forget to include the CPU =.= i was thinking i3 lower end ones Reply

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