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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  • StormyParis - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    htpc should fit into a stereo cabinet. you're trying to build a NAS + HTPC + desktop into one machine, which makes no sense at all. Split the thing in 3, with a real, small, silent HTPC, a NAS, and a mini-itx desktop, and you're much better off, for pretty much the same price. Reply
  • ajlueke - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    While it is somewhat a matter of personal preference, I admit, some people really hate giant cases in the living room. I love having everything built into one system, and using it to serve the rest of the house and play Starcraft II on the big screen. The real downside, is then you are using a high end rig to serve you other computers as opposed to a NAS, and a NAS is going to have far superior numbers in the power consumption department. Reply
  • Mathieu Bourgie - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    Good job on the builds everyone, great idea of getting several members of the AT's team to work together on this.

    Here are my opinions, suggestions and things that I'd personally change:

    Dustin's AMD Pure Budget System:
    Hard Drive: Actually, if you shop on Amazon instead, you can snap a Spinpoint F3 500Gb for about $46 and a 1TB for $53, without needing to find any coupons.

    Power Supply: I'd mention that the Antec EarthWatts Green EA-380D 380W doesn't include a power cord in its package. Not a big deal for most of us, but still good to knowi f you don't have a spare cord.

    DVD Burner: Why go with an IDE based model, which is out of stock by the way? Because the motherboard comes with a single SATA and a single IDE cable? Hardly a reason if you ask me.

    Might as well get a SATA model that can be used for years and years, if you upgrade the system down the road. Going by customer's feedback on NewEgg, ASUS 24x SATA DVD Burner is one of the most reliable model available, for only $20: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...

    Balraj's Intel Budget System:
    The one stick of RAM is an interesting trade off, sure you lose dual-channel but you gain the ability to easily upgrade RAM down the road. Then again, a motherboard with 4 RAM slots would allow for both options.

    Blu-Ray: The Samsung SH-B083L/BSBP has pretty bad reviews on NewEgg, I'd get the Samsung SH-B123L instead, which costs $20 more, but is also faster (12x vs 8x).

    Power Supply: I cannot skip this: you really want to avoid using a low-end, generic power supply, for reliability purposes and to protect your components. You do not want to cut corners on a power supply.

    Jarred's AMD Budget Gaming System:
    You mention Crossfire support, but go with a motherboard that has the PCI-Express 16x slots running at 16x and 4x, which would bottleneck performance?

    For a similar price, the ASRock 870 EXTREME3 comes with two PCI-Express 16x slots at 8x/8x, which are well spaced to allow both cards to "breath".

    125W CPU, with a stock cooler? Sure, it's "adequate" for cooling in most cases, but that stock cooler is going to be heard from miles away when you game for hours and/or during hot summer nights if you don't have an AC. Not much of an issue if you play with headphones, but still, I'd get at least a Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus CPU Cooler.

    "Gaming depends primarily on your GPU" "You could even go with a cheaper CPU like the Athlon II X4 645 or the Phenom II X4 810"
    Agreed for most games, but there are games that will be CPU bound (Think RTS like SC2, or MMORPG like WoW), where you'll want a powerful CPU that allow the GPU to flex its muscles.
    Also, while the X4 645 isn't a bad CPU, losing the L3 cache and the lower frequencies are going to hurt performance quite a bit for video games.

    Vivek's Midrange Intel System:
    Once again, Crossfire is mentioned, but the second PCI-Express slot runs at 4x...

    An ASRock P55 EXTREME4 will fix that and if you want USB 3.0 and SATA 6.0Gb/s at the same time as Crossfire 8x/8x, you'll want an ASUS P7P55D-E Pro, which features a PLX chip, making it one of the few P55 boards that can run SATA 6.0Gb/s, USB 3.0 and Crossfire 8x/8x all at once, unlike most boards where USB 3.0 and SATA 6.0Gb/s will fall back to USB 2.0 and SATA 3.0Gb/s due to the lack of bandwidth (lack of PCI-Express lanes, thanks to the P55 chipset).

    PSU: OCZ don't exactly make the most reliable PSUs, with the biggest issue being that reliability varies from a model to another, since they use various manufacturers for their PSUs. You get what you pay for with a PSU and a solid Corsair or Seasonic PSU will serve you much better IMO.

    Raja's Midrange AMD Overclocking System:
    I actually agree with all your choices and like how you didn't strictly stick to NewEgg. Way to go.

    Raja's Midrange Intel Overclocking System:

    I'd avoid the ASUS Maximus III GENE like the plague. I used to recommend it, until I'd hear back from so many readers that had issues with it (Read some review on NewEgg) that I had no choice but to stop recommending it, because it's so unreliable.

    Ryan's High-End Gaming System:
    Way to go for keeping noise somewhat under control. Once again though, an IDE DVD Burner in a 2k+ system? Really?

    Also, the sound card is priced at $100, not $75, unless I missed something here.

    Brian's Intel Dream PC:
    Hahaha, now you're talking! Couldn't agree more on the motherboard, which is a one of a kind.

    Just one thing though: You forgot CPU Coolers, since Xeon CPUs don't come with any.

    Also, why ECC RAM? ECC seems kind of futile for a Gaming PC.

    Keyboard: Yes! Mechanical keyboards are the best. I personally recently got a Filco with MX Cherry Blue switches and that keyboard helped me increase my WPM typing speed tremendously. The feedback and noise is also great for gaming.

    Mouse: I've always been a fan of the Logitech MX-518, which remains excellent years after its release and offers a great bang for your buck too.

    Don't have much to add to the HTPCs, they make sense and quite frankly, it's a matter of personal tastes too.

    Except for a few things mentioned above, great job all on the builds. Although I'm a bit sadden to not have seen any Workstation build.

    P.S. For those who wonder about my experience building PCs and the like, I’m a computer enthusiast with 10 years of experience in building, fixing and modifying computers, who has been writing about/offering PC Builds of all kinds (Gaming, HTPC, Workstations, etc.) at various price points on my own blog (www.hardware-revolution.com) for over two years and a half now.

    Cheers,
    Mathieu
    Reply
  • Ben90 - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    I agree completely on the inclusion of a mechanical keyboard, they are the SSDs of the keyboard world. Once you try to type on rubber domes again it feels absolutely horrible.
    Personally I am a Cherry Black guy as I like the linear travel for gaming, but for typing its impossible to beat Cherry Blues unless quietness is a metric.
    Reply
  • bji - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    How do you feel about scissor switch keyboards? I like them as I find them to be much less mushy than rubber dome keyboards, but alot quieter and with less key travel than mechanical keyboards. I use the Kensington "Slim Type Keyboard" (that's what it says on the bottom, I can't remember the exact model number) and highly recommend it. Reply
  • Tom_S - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    Concerning keyboards etc. I *have* been living under a rock and had not heard of the DAS keyboard that sounds interesting, but while under the rock I have been using my Northgate and Avant keyboards (made by CVT Inc) which were always the gold standard in mechanical keyboards. I looked at the site, and it appears that the lesser of the Avant kbds is not available right now, but the Stellar is.
    http://www.cvtinc.com/products/keyboards/menu.htm

    I concede that these are old fashioned - not USB without an adapter, no USB hub, but they have been around since the 1980's and are noteworthy. To further date myself, one of their features has been to remap the left ctrl and caps lock keys (moving ctrl next to the "a" key), for those of us still used to old terminals and editors/programming environments that use control keys.
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    Are the current Samsung HDDs any good? A couple years ago I bought a Samsung HDD recommended on this site for a build for work. First one wouldn't allow an OS install. RMAed it, got a replacement. That one died a few months later. RMAed that, bought one from another brand, and after testing the third Samsung to be sure it could be formatted when we got it just kept it on the side for emergency use. Can't say I'm anxious to try again. Reply
  • Mathieu Bourgie - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    Samsung HDDs are some of the best drives on the market in my opinion. Their F3 and F4 (The 7,200 rpm 320GB model that is) line-up offer some of the best throughputs rates in MB/s, are very reliable and emit very little heat.

    For the average latency time, the Western Digital drives tend to be better, although they run hotter and have slightly lower reliability. For Gaming, I'd say that WD drives are the best, but quite frankly, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between a system equipped with Samsung or WD drives.

    Also, keep in mind warranty: W.D. offers 5 years on their Black Caviar line-up, as opposed to 3 years on their Caviar Blue and 3 years for Samsung drives.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    I did try to price-check everything using our internal pricing tools (Dynamite-Data is an AnandTech affiliate of sorts), so where I could find clearly better prices from other than Newegg I went that route. Obviously, 10 systems or whatever makes it a bit difficult to get every little detail, which is why some IDE DVDRW drives slipped in. Oops!

    The CrossFire/SLI issue on lower end motherboards (i.e. P55 with x16/x4) was another one that I wracked my brain on for a good long time. I'd really like to go the Biostar route on Vivek's setup (or the overclocking board), but truthfully I'm a bit gun-shy with Biostar. I've had decent boards in the past from them, and other boards that sucked hard. Price is another item that I kept running into -- I don't want to recommend an expensive Intel board when SB is coming so soon.

    I'll try to go through and update the optical drives to be SATA, though. Shame on my fellow writers for being so lazy! :-) Thanks for the comments.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    Okay, I made some updates and added some additional commentary where appropriate. But I chose to disagree (or let the editors disagree at least) with some of your comments. IMO, there's no need for aftermarket cooling on CPUs if you don't intend to overclock, so I left my build without one.

    The other big issue is Newegg reviews; they're just not reliable by any stretch. We've had motherboards that our guys loved that get mediocre scores at Newegg because of idiot users. "Gee... my memory isn't working and I plugged it in, never looked at the BIOS, never updated the BIOS. What's wrong with this board!?" Likewise, some items get 5 eggs not because they're the best but because a lot of buyers think they're a great value... and they wouldn't know quality if it walked up and punched them in the nose. So, while I generally avoid stuff that gets 3 eggs or less, the 4/5 egg stuff may be decent, good, or great depending on the user. Plus, people with problems are about 10X more likely to post as people where everything worked fine.

    Anyway, thanks for the corrections/suggestions.
    Reply

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