While it’s easy to be wowed by gaming PCs that cost as much as a used car, for the vast majority of gamers, money matters, and spending several thousand on a computer isn’t a viable option. But unless you really need the bragging rights of being able to play the latest games at maxed out settings with every graphics mod in the book at 4K and 60 FPS, you really don’t *need* all of that power. For an average gamer, being able to play all the newest games on medium to high settings at 1080p while staying comfortably above 30 FPS should more than do the trick, and you can achieve all of that at a fraction of the price. The key is in recognizing what matters, what doesn’t, and how to make sure it all works together to give you the biggest bang for your buck. Here’s what we came up with.
CPU: AMD FX-6300 Black Edition
Motherboard: MSI 760GMA-P34
GPU: Sapphire Dual-X R9 280
RAM: Kingston HyperX Fury 8GB
HDD: WD Blue 1TB 7200rpm HDD
Power: Corsair Builder Series CX600
Case: Rosewill Dual Fans MicroATX Case
At the time of this writing, the above build comes out to exactly $500 after applicable savings and rebates. Follow the links above to see the current prices as they may fluctuate. Read below for more on how we chose each component, as well as suggestions on areas to upgrade if your budget is more flexible.
CPU: AMD FX-6300 Black Edition ($100)
While Intel’s Core i3/i5/i7 lineup is very impressive, AMD’s long held a reputation for offering some good price/performance processors. The FX-6300 is one such example, and it was really aimed at budget gamers from the start. Its six cores are useful when playing games that take advantage of multithreading, but even without that, the base clock of 3.5 GHz (and AMD chips have always been great overclockers) means you won’t get bottlenecked by this CPU.
If you’re considering going with an Intel-centric build, you’ll find yourself having to pay a bit more, but you could get an Intel Core i3 4130 for about $115. Note that you’ll need a different motherboard than the one we’ve recommended in that case—try the MSI H81M-E33 instead.
Motherboard: MSI 760GMA-P34 ($55)
Building a budget PC can sometimes mean eschewing the bells and whistles, but we were able to find a relatively inexpensive motherboard that still has everything you could need. Obviously, it supports all AM3+ socket AMD CPUs (of which the FX-6300 is one) and it has a 16x PCI Express slot for a graphics card, but it also has support for DDR3 RAM clocks of up to 1866 MHz (overclocked), SATA III, and USB 3.0. The MicroATX form factor is important because it allows us to opt for a smaller (and cheaper) case.
GPU: Sapphire Dual-X R9 280 ($170 after rebate)
While other sites might suggest AMD’s R9 270 or 270X (or NVIDIA’s GTX 750 Ti) at this price point, we were able to budget out just enough to fit in the more powerful R9 280. With NVIDIA’s newest chipsets out now, AMD has been forced to slash prices and offer rebates, and that’s made it possible to get a bargain. The 280 outperforms the 270X across the board (and for only $10 more), so it’s really a no-brainer.
As I mentioned, NVIDIA’s recently released their latest series of GPUs utilizing their Maxwell chipsets. The latest one to release is the GTX 960, which is for budget-conscious gamers. It’s a little more expensive than the R9 280, but it also represents a significant performance upgrade as well. The most popular of the newly released 960s is the EVGA GeForce GTX 960 SuperSC, but take note: it’s a big card and you’ll need a bigger case to ensure it fits. Go with the Superclocked version instead of the SuperSC if you want the smaller form factor.
RAM: Kingston HyperX Fury 8GB ($60)
More is better when it comes to RAM, and 8GB is plenty for this setup. As a nice bonus, this memory is overclocked to 1866 MHz, which the motherboard we’ve selected actually supports. Whether you’ll really notice the difference or not is debatable, but it certainly can’t hurt.
HDD: WD Blue 1TB 7200rpm HDD ($45)
Unforunately, a $500 build priced us out of going for an SSD (which can have read/write speeds of 4-5 times that of a typical HDD), so the name of the game was finding cheap yet reliable storage. Western Digital is a trusted brand, so this is a solid drive for our purposes. A 7200rpm drive is better than the 5400rpm you see most often in laptop drives, because faster spinning actually results in faster read/write speeds. There are gaming hard drives out there at 10,000rpm, but SSDs have made them somewhat obsolete. If you do want to go the SSD route, try either the Crucial MX100 or the Samsung 850 EVO. It’s a tradeoff between storage capacity and speed, however, unless you’re willing to fork over a lot of money.
Power: Corsair Builder Series CX600 ($40 after rebate)
AMD’s CPUs and GPUs draw a lot of power (relative to Intel and NVIDIA), and it’s important not to skimp on a power supply, when poor quality can end up frying your whole system. The Corsair CX600 offers 600W of power, which is well beyond what this build should need (an estimated 400W according to this calculator).
Case: Rosewill Dual Fans MicroATX Case ($30)
A case really needs to do two basic things: first, it needs to fit everything that you’re trying to put into it, and second, it needs to have enough airflow to keep all your components from cooking themselves. Considering the price, this case does an excellent job moving a lot of air, and the small form factor can be a plus if you’re looking to take this rig for LAN parties and such.