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Building a Gaming PC for 1080p for Under $550

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Manufacturer: Various

Athlon and Pentium Live On

Over the past year or so, we have taken a look at a few budget gaming builds here at PC Perspective. One of our objectives with these build guides was to show people that PC gaming can be cost competitive with console gaming, and at a much higher quality.

However, we haven't stopped pursuing our goal of the perfect inexpensive gaming PC, which is still capable of maxing out image quality settings on today's top games at 1080p.

Today we take a look at two new systems, featuring some parts which have been suggested to us after our previous articles.

  AMD System Intel System
Processor AMD Athlon X4 760K - $85 Intel Pentium G3220 - $65
Cores / Threads 4 / 4 2 / 2
Motherboard Gigabyte F2A55M-HD2 - $60 ASUS H81M-E - $60
Graphics MSI R9 270 Gaming - $180 MSI R9 270 Gaming - $180
System Memory Corsair 8GB DDR3-1600 (1x8GB) - $73 Corsair 8GB DDR3-1600 (1x8GB) - $73
Hard Drive Western Digital 1TB Caviar Green - $60 Western Digital 1TB Caviar Green - $60
Power Supply  Cooler Master GX 450W - $50 Cooler Master GX 450W - $50
Case Cooler Master N200 MicroATX - $50 Cooler Master N200 MicroATX - $50
Price $560 $540

(Editor's note: If you don't already have a copy of Windows, and don't plan on using Linux or SteamOS, you'll need an OEM copy of Windows 8.1 - currently selling for $98.)

These are low prices for a gaming computer, and feature some parts which many of you might not know a lot about. Let's take a deeper look at the two different platforms which we built upon.

The Platforms

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First up is the AMD Athlon X4 760K. While you may not have known the Athlon brand was still being used on current parts, they represent an interesting part of the market. On the FM2 socket, the 760K is essentially a high end Richland APU, with the graphics portion of the chip disabled.

What this means is that if you are going to pair your processor with a discrete GPU anyway, you can skip paying extra for the integrated GPU.

As for the motherboard, we went for an ultra inexpensive A55 option from Gigabyte, the GA-F2A55M-HD2. This board features the A55 chipset which launched with the Llano APUs in 2011. Because of this older chipset, the board does not feature USB 3.0 or SATA 6G capability, but since we are only concerned about gaming performance here, it makes a great bare bones option.

Continue reading our build guide for a gaming PC under $550!!!

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Next, we also decided to take a look at the Intel Pentium G3220. Unlike the Athlon part, the Pentium isn't a disabled Core CPU, but rather a chip designed for the lower cost market. Based on the LGA1150 socket and Haswell microarchitecture, you are working with the most current technology.

The Pentium maintains an integrated Intel HD GPU. While this certainly isn't something you would ever try to use for gaming, having an onboard GPU can be useful for diagnostic purposes. Also, this GPU supports Intel QuickSync for accelerated video transcoding, which is a useful feature.

The motherboard we picked here is an H81 chipset option, the ASUS H81M-E. Whereas the A55 chipset is older, the H81 chipset was released with the launch of the Haswell processor family, and supports modern features such as USB 3.0 and SATA 6G.

 

Common Components

MSI R9 270 Gaming

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For the GPU, we decided to go with the AMD Radeon R9 270. As AMD GPU prices have decreased to a point where they now resemble their MSRP, the R9 270 is a great budget option. The MSI Gaming SKU which we found retails for $180, and will provide substantially better performance than the similarly priced GTX 750 Ti and R7 265.

Corsair Vengeance LP 8 GB DDR3-1600

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For RAM, Corsair Vengeance LP will more than suit our needs. We went with 1 DIMM because it was cheaper, allows for easier expansion in the future, and only provided a 4-5% performance drop in our CPU benchmarks.

8GB of RAM should be more than enough for today's games, and games for the near future.

Western Digital 1 TB Caviar Green

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The hard drive we picked is the tried and true Western Digital Caviar Green. This is a 1TB capacity version, and should provide more than enough storage for all of the games you are bound to buy on Steam and Origin.

While SSDs are nice, the cost/GB still isn't there to rely on them for storing tons of games. If you want to add around $100 to either of these builds, an SSD like the Samsung 840 EVO 120GB would be a great add-on and provide you with a noticeable performance increase.

Cooler Master GX 450W Power Supply

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One area where you don't want to pick the cheapest possible option when building a computer is the power supply. Cheap power supplies are prone to failure, and a power supply failure could take the rest of your components with it.

This is why we picked the Cooler Master GX 450W power supply. It is a high quality unit, and 80+ Bronze certified, so the efficiency will be higher than other products in the same price range. At $50, this is a bargain for a good power supply.

Cooler Master N200 MicroATX Case

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While cases are mainly personal preference, we figured that we would point you in the direction of one of the budget cases that we quite like, the Cooler Master N200. Both of the motherboards we picked were MicroATX options, so we were awarded the flexibility of going with a smaller case like the N200. Not only is the N200 smaller than a standard ATX case, it provides a nice clean look, devoid of obnoxious LEDs.

 

Now that we have taken an in depth look at the components, let's put them together and see how they perform.

Performance

In reality, there is little difference between the performance of these two machines.

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All games run at 1920x1080 at highest in-game image quality settings

As you can see in our graphics performance tests, both of these systems will provide you with a similar experience when it comes to gaming. The Intel has a 1-2 FPS advantage, but that is unlikely to be noticed.

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If we look at CPU-based performance, we can see that there is a split as to which platform has the advantage. This is due to differences in architecture between the two chips.

The Athlon 760K is a quad core processor, which means it has an advantage over the Intel option in multithreaded applications such as Cinebench 11. Even though the Pentium G3220 is a dual core option, it has a high performing core, giving it the advantage in single threaded applications, like x264 video encoding (1st pass).

This is also why the Intel machine has an advantage in gaming, which is usually a single or dual thread-oriented task.

Conclusion

It was an eye-opening experience to take an in depth look at products from segments which we don't normally cover. While low-end CPUs may not be the best for every day tasks, they seem to have a place in gaming machines. In a time where many people use a laptop as their main computer, building one of these inexpensive machines and dedicating it to only gaming tasks could be a compelling idea.

For just about $50 above the price of the Xbox One, and $150 above the price of the PS4, you can have a much higher performing machine that will stay that way for significantly longer than the consoles. You also gain access to a gigantic back catalog of games, which both consoles cannot offer anything close to at this point. Not to mention the upgrade options unavailable to console users.

As to which system out of the two that we have featured the article you should go for? Personally I lean towards the Intel option. Features like USB 3.0 are great, and hard to go away from once you've used them. Also, the slight performance increase in gaming from the Intel platform, and the lower price are persuasive arguments.

Either way, both systems are great options for 1080p gaming, and certainly better than both the Xbox One and PS4.

April 3, 2014 | 07:25 PM - Posted by arbiter

Wonder there ryan instead of a 1x8gb stick, maybe a 2x4gb set which i am sure is about same price might be faster for both cpu's as would allow dual channel?

April 3, 2014 | 07:57 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Quality settings?

April 3, 2014 | 08:26 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

1080p, top IQ settings.

Added in-line as well.

April 4, 2014 | 09:00 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Fantastic, thanks for the update!

April 3, 2014 | 07:58 PM - Posted by idiot101 (not verified)

I would like to use the front USB 3.0 ports. Spend the extra $10 on a motherboard like the Gigabyte GA-B85M-DS3H which retails for about $70.

April 3, 2014 | 08:26 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

There are ALL KINDS of nickel-dime upgrades you go down with these builds, absolutely!

April 3, 2014 | 08:00 PM - Posted by Humanitarian

Would've been nice to see how far you could've OC'd the Athlon on that stock cooler seeing as it's unlocked.

April 3, 2014 | 08:49 PM - Posted by biohazard918

I don't think that motherboard supports over clocking I could be wrong but I think its one of the limitations of the chipset.

April 3, 2014 | 09:33 PM - Posted by Humanitarian

The chipset definitely supports it, I've OC'd a Llano on an A55 before.

April 3, 2014 | 08:24 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

You forgot the OS cost(assume Windows is used).

April 3, 2014 | 08:27 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Last time we did a build article like this, we got chastised for INCLUDING one. :)

April 3, 2014 | 09:02 PM - Posted by biohazard918

I prefer to see os included In price but I think people will bitch ether way.

April 4, 2014 | 09:01 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Do the math yourself. Derp.

April 4, 2014 | 03:34 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Ryan, you should show the total hardware cost, then a line for Windows with the price, and show a total software+hardware cost.

That way you can also bring to light just how friggin' expensive Windows is and that Microsoft needs to get with the program and lower the price.

April 4, 2014 | 03:46 PM - Posted by Jim cherry (not verified)

MS has already gotten with the program that's why they make it free for 9inch machines and phones. Those are still growing markets while the enthusiast market is flat or declining. Of course it would be nice if they through us a bone and dropped the price to lets say 60 usd but the only benefit they would get from that is word of mouth.

April 11, 2014 | 09:45 AM - Posted by Rauelius

Well, with SteamOS coming, and the fact that Steam works well with Ubuntu I could see why not. Not to mention I've seen some solid deals for Windows 7 and myself got Windows 8 for $30 not to long ago. I prefer the OS be left out, as I can either use a Linux Distro like Ubuntu, MiNT or SteamOS and not incur the "Microsoft-Tax" or just Pick up a cheap copy of Windows 7/8.

April 3, 2014 | 11:39 PM - Posted by biohazard918

There are better mother boards for the 760k at that price I will accept that this may not have been true at the time the parts were picked. I don't agree with the use of a wd green as a system drive there are 1tb 7200rpm drives available at 55 to 60 dollars. I really think the 760k build only makes since if you are going to overclock currently its a good option for the hardware enthusiast on a budget much like the fx 6300. Other then a few minor gripes I really like the idea behind this article you don't see a lot about machines in this price range.

http://pcpartpicker.com/part/asrock-motherboard-fm2a75mpro4
http://pcpartpicker.com/part/seagate-internal-hard-drive-st1000dm003

April 4, 2014 | 12:13 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Ya, a 1TB Blue drive can be had from NCIX for $58

April 3, 2014 | 09:39 PM - Posted by collie (not verified)

this is super fascinating. I've always figured that building a dedicated gaming pc could be done like this, but I've never actually gotten around to trying one out.
thanks for doing the dirty work!

April 3, 2014 | 09:39 PM - Posted by collie (not verified)

this is super fascinating. I've always figured that building a dedicated gaming pc could be done like this, but I've never actually gotten around to trying one out.
thanks for doing the dirty work!

April 3, 2014 | 10:38 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

People say the dual core CPUs with no HT on Battlefied give you a bad experience, not necessarily bad average framerates, but stuttering, FCAT would be good to compare both CPUs,

also, Mantle?

April 3, 2014 | 10:46 PM - Posted by SKLDRBLDS (not verified)

Was a great read, using Highest settings and providing reasonable expected performance, you could have added a blurb - "Decreasing settings like AntiAliasing can substantially increase your performance further in games where that applies"
For the people who are not tech savvy.

April 4, 2014 | 02:21 AM - Posted by JohnGR

No SSD? In my opinion that also means NOT a Green drive. A single platter WD Blue would give excellent performance (over 150MB/sec I think) to a system that doesn't use SSD and better access times (7200 vs 5400 rpm). The fact that it is single platter also helps with temperatures and noise.

Give a try to single platter drives from either WD or Seagate.

April 4, 2014 | 08:26 AM - Posted by random guy who read the article (not verified)

I think that the idea of providing builds/build guides for more value-oriented gaming PCs is a great idea and that assembling the parts for such a build is a very interessting topic.
But there are two things I do not agree with:

1.) Amazon. Yes, I know that you get money from the Amazon affiliate links. Still it would make more sense for a value-oriented build to provide links to a price comparision website or to the lowest possible price.

2.) The components. I don't know if you get the parts from CoolerMaster, Corsair, and other brands for free or if these are older parts send for a review to PC Perspective. But using products from brands known for some of their higher-end products does only increase the cost without any relevant performance gain in the low-end regions.

I.e. I think that keeping the same level of performance while reducing the price by some 50 bucks should be easily possible by either going for components from less known/less reputable brands or by using the lowest possible prices for the given products.

April 4, 2014 | 12:47 PM - Posted by drbaltazar (not verified)

Ty ryan!that being said!long term viability might have it hard vs xbox one ,it was after all optiomised for azure cloud!

April 4, 2014 | 09:41 PM - Posted by brisa117

Great article guys! I'm very experienced in doing builds like this for my friends who want a "cheap gaming PC". And it's really nice to just have an article to point them to. I can give them buying advice/specs all day, but benchmarks give it a real tangible meaning behind the part numbers.

I would like to see similar articles in the future. Maybe a periodically updated story about building systems for family and friends. We all get that call. What about a general purpose PC build (non-gaming)? Like a comparison of building vs. buying vs. laptop. Sort of a bang for your buck article for parents, grandparents, church office, etc. Or at least add that to the hardware leader board.

April 4, 2014 | 09:43 PM - Posted by brisa117

Also, thank you Ken for the article ... who apparently published this and is getting no credit. Haha.

April 5, 2014 | 02:54 AM - Posted by RunningDuck

thanks for the test/idea. normaly there are only highend test and i miss the budget oriented view points. so far good job.

pls exchange the mobo with the MSI A78M-E35 same price but fm2+

for my personal taste. aes is a must have. and the pentium is without aes so the decision is simple.

April 5, 2014 | 03:58 AM - Posted by JohnGR

When you see a black socket that means it is a PLUS. Either AM3+ or FM2+.
So the motherboard they used IT IS an FM2+ board, not FM2.

April 5, 2014 | 12:07 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Can R9 270x really be purchased now for $180 ?

Prices came back to Earth?

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