Building a Gaming PC for 1080p for Under $550
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|
(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.
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.
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.
MSI R9 270 Gaming
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
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
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
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
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.
In reality, there is little difference between the performance of these two machines.
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.
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.
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.