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)
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
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)
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


View All Comments

  • JarredWalton - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    While it would be great if Bulldozer could run in current motherboards, all the information I've been able to gather (including asking a contact at a motherboard manufacturer) is that Bulldozer for desktops will run in AM3r2. That socket will be similar to AM3, and it will be able to accept and run current AM3 processors, but the reverse isn't true. So, in essence it's the AM2+ situation again.

    If you search AMD's site, there's no mention of AM3r2 that I can find outside of their forums. It's still possible that we're mistaken, but AMD hasn't unequivocally stated that "yes BD will work in current motherboards" so I wouldn't count on it. I think originally the idea was to try and make it happen, but now it's not guaranteed.

    If you really want to go to the rumor mill, BD might actually work in current boards but might blow caps or have reduced performance. Maybe someone will come out with a fix. All indications however are that there will be new chipsets (980/990 most likely), a new socket requirements, etc. I guess it may be a lot like the socket 775 transitions from Intel where we had a few manufacturers that got older 945P chipsets to run Core 2 and such.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    Just to add a bit more: Phenom X6 will technically work in many 790FX motherboards... but it's not the same as running it in an 890FX. 790FX wasn't designed for Turbo Core, it has some power management issues with Thuban, etc. We have seen similar issues with previous updates where a CPU would work, but it didn't perform optimally. We may see that with Bulldozer as well, where it will run in 800 series boards with a BIOS update but it very likely will run best with a new motherboard/chipset. If AMD and their partners can prove me wrong, I'd be very pleased, but based on at least one source I'm not holding out much hope. Reply
  • blotto5 - Saturday, November 20, 2010 - link

    thanks for the info good to know since im running a phenom x6 in a 790fx mobo but i think im going to wait to buy a new mobo because of this talk of a new socket a la am2 to am2+ Reply
  • baba264 - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    This comes quite handy as after the death of my graphic card two days ago, I was seriously thinking of buying a new system that would be quite similar to "Ryan's High-End Gaming System".

    However, when I had previewed the various parts I wanted, I had set my mind on a new lynnfield core with an i7 870 rather than the old Bloomfield core. Since I don't plan to upgrade to an SLI setting I thought that the i7 870 was the best choice of processor (for the price), was I mistaken?

    Anyway, thanks for the article, this article really comforts me in what I meant to buy.
  • Ryan Smith - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    The 870 is quite good. In fact when I was putting that list together I was seriously considering that instead of an X58 platform. The clincher was SLI support (P55 boards with SLI quickly drive the price up); but since you're not going to be using SLI I wouldn't be concerned. Reply
  • mapesdhs - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    P55 boards run very nicely SLI, easily outperforming X58 boards, and that's
    with an 860, never mind an 870. See my results pages:


    Further tests coming soon with an 870 + GTX 460 FTW SLI.

    it's only really 3-way SLI where X58 takes over. For 2-way, the speeds
    are just as good (if not better) and the costs are significantly lower - the
    board I'm using costs less than 70 UKP ($110).

  • JarredWalton - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    Color me confused, but those links don't seem to provide the data you're talking about. The question is how something like i7-930 with X58 compares to i7-860 with P55 while everything else is kept constant, and all the stuff there looks like 930 + 4870 CF or 460 SLI, and 860 + 8800 GT SLI, or some other sets of data. You'd need to show X58 460 SLI vs. P55 460 SLI to "prove" that P55 is "easily outperforming X58 boards". And if you do everything with similar quality components, the X58 ought to win out by virtue of having two x16 connects compared to two x8 connects on P55. Reply
  • mapesdhs - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    (my friend has 4890s, not 4870s)

    I'm surprised you'd say that given existing articles have already
    shown that SLI doesn't need full 16x to perform nicely. Some games
    need it because they're written badly (FSX), but others run perfectly
    well at 8X, or even 4X.

    Specific data coming soon (still testing) but my point was that the
    existing data already shows the same effect - people on forums
    said the 4890s should win, but they don't much of the time except
    where resolution, etc. are a factor.

    I'm still ploughing through my P55/460 tests. All takes time as I'm
    sure you can appreciate. :)

  • JarredWalton - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    I'm not saying X58 is substantially faster by any means; I'm just saying that all things being equal there's no reason P55 should be faster. x8 vs. x16 isn't a huge benefit, but especially with higher clocked CPUs and more powerful GPUs (i.e. GTX 580 or HD 5870) the X58 should come out ahead. Anyway, Gary Key did a pretty direct comparison when he was still with us:

    In general X58 CF is better than P55 CF, though the margin is never so large as to be alarming. What Gary doesn't show is how the SLI setups compare (probably for lack of an SLI capable P55 board at the time he was with us). I'd figure they're also similar. All told, P55 is faster for single GPUs, but the x8+x8 dual-GPU configuration should and usually does incur a small performance hit.
  • mapesdhs - Saturday, November 20, 2010 - link

    Generally true, though remember the one advantage which
    can make a difference sometimes (and push it in favour
    of P55) is the better Turbo on the 870, etc. For fixed
    clocks, have a look at the CPU scores I get with the
    860 at 4018 for the 3DMark06 CPU tests, compare to
    my friend's 930 at 4136 (and btw, it's not RAM speed;
    I lowered my RAM to match, scores only dropped 1
    or 2%).

    You're right though about the top-end cards/CPUs, if
    I was playing at crazy res with expensive cards like
    the 580 then X58 would be more logical. For midrange
    though, like the 460 (with or without SLI), the gain from
    X58 is minimal at best - the cost difference (which
    may be large) can be used to have a better GPU,
    widening the gap further.

    And by cost difference I mean, for example, the Asrock
    P55 Deluxe, which is now as cheap as 68 UKP here.
    It has excellent slot spacing for SLI, ie. better cooling.

    Either way, we shall see; after doing default tests, my
    plan is to run the FTWs at lower clocks to match my
    friend's Palit Platinums, that should be interesting.

    All I'm saying is, don't be surprised if P55/SLI runs
    better than you might expect. I certainly didn't think
    two 8800GT SLI would be able to match or beat
    an X58 with two 4890s, but they can and do.


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