It's been a while since we've run a proper "Cheap Bastard's gaming PC build," and feeling a bit nostalgic (and bastardly-cheap), we've decided to revisit the topic of a $500-range gaming PC. As always, the parts detailed herein are meant to get you on the ground with a DIY, custom gaming machine for dirt-cheap, and we think we've put together a list of reliable parts at a good price.
Besides, Spring is here, and what better time than now to do a little spring cleaning? Time to build yourself a gaming rig as a reward for all those long hours working and/or studying and get ready for summer vacation. We scoured the web for the best deals that we could find to allow you to play all of your favorite games at mid-to-high settings, ideally without breaking the budget; we've added recommendations for upgrade paths if you have extra cash to spend, all found in the below text. Let's get to the build already!
$508 Budget Custom Gaming PC - DIY Gaming Computer
OS & Optional Add-ons
It's a tough choice between the 7850, 650 Ti Boost, and 7790 for an entry-level budget build, but at our pre-designated budget of $500, the 7790 is an easy choice. It's a brand new card from AMD that has rapidly outpaced the 7770, placing it firmly between the mid-range 7850 and entry-level 7770.
The 7790 will run most games on mid-to-high settings (StarCraft 2: HotS, Skyrim, Shootmania, League of Legends, SWTOR, etc. will all run near-max) without breaking the bank. Higher-profile games (Crysis 3) will give it a serious run for its money, as will HD texture packs found in 4K mods, but it's still an excellent card for most gamers.
Use promo code "EMCYTZT3301" at checkout (until the end of 4/21) to receive 10% off the card.
If you're not content with high settings and want to push closer max for all these titles (again, sans Crysis 3 - whole different ballgame), then seriously consider picking up either the 2GB GTX 650 Ti Boost or 2GB RADEON 7850 ($150). The extra 1GB of GDDR5 memory will allow installation of ultra-high resolution texture packs (4k and the like) for mod-able games like Skyrim.
Once again we went with the FX-4300 Piledriver chip from AMD. This CPU comes with two bulldozer modules, each consisting of two integer units and one FPU, resulting in two threads per physical module.
The FX-4300 is a quad-core chip made with overclockers in mind. It also boasts a healthy 8MB L3 Cache and operates at an efficient 95W. I was one of the unlucky builders to purchase the first generation bulldozer chips, and now have a Piledriver and I can tell you first-hand that they have fixed numerous optimization and other issues. The new "mesh" TDP architecture allows for greater overclocking to push this processor well over the stock 3.8GHz speed, making for a fun enthusiast chip to play around with. If you do plan on overclocking, you need to consider picking up an aftermarket heatsink, as the stock heatsink will not be able to keep the temps down and is significantly louder than most aftermarket units. Check out our CPU heatsink reviews over here for more on that.
Here you get 8GB ofKinstonHyperX Red 1600MHz RAM that's fit for low OC and will ensure you're not throttled by memory. 8GB is more than enough for gaming and everyday needs. The price of RAM has unfortunately shot up within the past few weeks, but it seems to have temporarily stabilized at around $60-$70 for 8GB (up from $50 for 8GB).
Here we selected MSI's G43 970 AM3+ ATX motherboard. Since it is an AM3+ socket motherboard, it should be able to support the next-generation FX line of processors (codenamed Steamroller) whenever they drop, though we're unsure of if chipset issues will arise with the 970 chipset as they did with Piledriver's 870 compatibility (fixed in firmware patches).
MSI is well-known for their quality control and component selection, and while you won't get much more than mediocre-level products at such a firm budget, the G43 has proven in user-reviews to have a low failure rate (8% on newegg) and is reasonably reliable. The G43 can support up to 1866MHz RAM frequency stock and 2133MHz overclocked; it has basic UEFI functionality and some top-level overclocking options. The board also has 6xSATA III connections and 2xPCIe x16 slots. At only $65, you get a decently-reliable motherboard with some headroom for playing around in BIOS, all at a reasonable price.
Have $40 extra? Consider ASUS' M5A97 R2.0 motherboard instead.
We have come to admire RAIDMAX's ability to under-cut its competitors in the budget price-range with their entry-level power supplies. Here we've found a 530W PSU for roughly $25 after an instant 15% off promo code and the $15 rebate (for a total of $22 off the $47 list price). 530W is easily enough for this build's components and it's even semi-modular, making for an insane price given the featureset. The PSU is not rated by the 80 Plus certification standard, so it'll be a little less power-efficient than its more expensive competition, but that's a trade-off made in the "Cheap Bastard" price-point of cheap gaming PCs.
It does come with all the cables that you need and even offers 2x6+2pin PCI-e connectors (enough for one high-power video card or two low-power video cards). It also has a 135mm fan, so it shouldn't be as loud as some of the other budget power supplies out there.
In the past few PC builds we've advocated the purchase of an SSD, and while we still feel that they're the best upgrade to any system, it just doesn't fit in an ultra-budget build like this one; besides, this HDD is too good of a deal to pass up. As the price of Flash-based memory (including storage) seems to be going up, the price of HHDs continues to go down to prices we saw years ago. Toshiba's got two 7200RPM HDDs listed on TigerDirect right now—a 500GB model and 1TB model—both priced fairly reasonably. For most, $55 for the 500GB option is just right; if you need more storage for video editing or home media storage, opt for the $70 1TB version.
Unfortunately, optical drives are still in-use and physical media isn't going away anytime soon. If you are one of those who still actively uses optical drives, this CD/DVD read/writer from Samsung will spin those discs for you.
For our cheap bastard's build series, we try to find the best gaming case for the lowest price that still maintains a decent aesthetic. We've previously outlined our requirements for quality gaming cases and proper air cooling, but the first thing to look for is definitely airflow and cooling.
NZXT's Tempest 210 ships with 1x120mm rear exhaust fan and 1x140mm top fan (we'd recommend moving the rear exhaust fan into the front intake position, then set the top fan to exhaust). It's got room for up to 2x120mm front fans, 1x120mm rear (included), 2x140mm front fans (1x140mm included), and 1x120mm bottom fan. The case has enough drive bays for any basic build, offers basic cable management routing pass-throughs, and should cool reasonably for a relatively low-TDP build like this one.
At $55 flat, it's a great starter case.
This build should hopefully demonstrate that you don't have to be rich to enjoy PC gaming. For about $500, you get a great custom gaming computer that'll run games admirably on mid-to-high settings. Some games (Crysis 3) won't max-out, of course, but most of your games (to include Skyrim, StarCraft 2: HotS, Shootmania: Storm, GRID 2, and others should come pretty damn close to max settings.
Please visit our forums for any questions or concerns, or feel free to post a quick question below! Until next time!
- Michael "Mikagmann2" Mann and Steve "Lelldorianx" Burke.