With our high-end Haswell PC build now officially published and getting assembled by builders everywhere, we figured it was about time to post something more budget-friendly. We're keeping this build short-and-simple: It's targeted toward pure gamers looking to build a system for mid-to-high level of detail in games, so if you don't have much interest in a PC outside of gaming (read: not doing any video rendering or overclocking), then this is the build for you.
This system won't overclock in the same fashion as a Z87/K-SKU build would, so you get what you buy, but not everyone needs overclocking -- we recognize that readily. I've offered a few suggested changes in-line for those who would prefer to have the option open to them, though it boosts the final price a fair amount.
This budget H87/i5 Haswell gaming PC is perfect for those learning how to build a computer: Priced at just over $600, you get a machine that'll play games very well without over-investing, but still get the fantastic experience of system building. Let's check out the list:
$649 Cheap Custom Gaming PC - DIY Build, June 2013
OS & Optional Extras
For this build, we've opted to use (yet again) MSI's rendition on nVidia's GTX 650 Ti Boost card. The 650 Ti Boost was the final card shipped with the GTX 600-series branding (with the high-end GTX 700 cards now shipping), but significantly outperforms the original 650 Ti. In a previous meeting with nVidia, we were told that this was their answer to AMD's lockdown on the low-end and mid-range market, where AMD has traditionally asserted dominance by cutting into margins and offering more universally affordable products.
The Boost outperforms the 7850 in some games, but not all. The cards are fairly "tied" all said and done, so really, a lot of the decision comes down to the bundled options, frame latency, and driver optimization. AMD wins hands-down for bundled games -- a 2GB 7850, for around $10 more, will get you Blood Dragon, Tomb Raider, and Bioshock Infinite. NVidia's giving out $75 of credit for free-to-play games, and let's be honest, that's not nearly as enticing. That said, nVidia has some of the best driver support on the market right now - especially with GFE and day-one drivers moving to the forefront of their strategy. That's without even mentioning ShadowPlay (also in the linked text), which is similarly promising.
The 650 Ti Boost we've selected is the 2GB model, giving you a solid price-point while retaining the ability to run higher-resolution texture packs and other memory-intensive tasks.
Being that this system isn't geared toward overclocking, we've stocked it with an i5-4430 CPU -- one of Intel's more mainstream Haswell SKUs -- so it's equipped for gaming, but not over-equipped. The Haswell series has pretty locked-down processors in the non-K range, so if you want overclocking potential, you really need to just get the 4670k. If you couldn't care less about overclocking (and not everyone needs to do it -- besides, the immediate gaming performance gain is pretty insubstantial), then this is an excellent processor for your needs.
The chip runs stock at a clean 3.0GHz and operates on four cores (as the i5- prefix suggests), so for gaming, you really don't need much else. You can read our full Haswell analysis over here, which answers the "is Haswell worth it?" question.
Want to OC? Grab the 4670K and a Z87 motherboard, like this one.
We're sticking with what's affordable. Unfortunately, prices involving Flash memory (SSDs, RAM, video cards) have sky-rocketed in the past 6 months, but they seem to have stabilized at this point. With a bottom-line of 1600MHz and 8GB capacity,Kingston's HyperX Genesis memory remains our current go-to choice for most gaming configurations.
The H87 chipset and board we've selected won't allow memory overclocking (which doesn't really gain you anything, anyway) so it's important to grab memory that natively clocks at 1600MHz, the maximum supported frequency for the board.
ASRock sees use in yet another budget build. Most of you have likely grown accustomed to ASRock's branding at this point, but for the unfamiliar, they've got two main series: "Pro" and "Extreme." The "Extreme" series of boards (see: Extreme3, Extreme4) tend to be equipped with the highest-end chipset, overclocking capabilities, and heatsinks. The Pro series tend to be geared more toward mid-range and budget builds (like this one), being that they lack some of the finer tuning capabilities. They're still solid boards, though, and we've become comfortable with recommending them.
This particular board is pretty basic, but still decent quality for a budget build. You don't get any OC or SLI/CrossFire functionality (1xPCI-e 3 x16 slot), but you get everything needed for a mainstream gaming build. Perhaps the only noteworthy features included on the board are ASRock's standard troubleshooting subsystems (like boot failure guards), which are generally useful for first-time builders.
Note: If you opt for a K-SKU CPU, upgrade to a Z87 board.
Being that the GPU itself has a TDP of ~134W, the CPU runs at 84W, and the rest of the components are fairly standard, we can get away with a 500W power supply pretty readily. Corsair's CX500M modular PSU is on sale for $40 after MIR and promo code (JCMPT5) right now, making it a steal at the price. It's just 500W, but with our low-draw components, it works well; if you plan to stuff a beefier GPU in here, it might be wise to reconsider the PSU choice. Just let us know if you need help below.
No SSD this time. In keeping with the budget, we've selected a simple 500GB spindle-based HDD, priced at $50 after MIR right now. The drive spins at 7200RPM -- our bare minimum for gaming -- and holds enough data for any new build. As an alternative for heavy data consumers, you could opt for the 1TB model instead.
It's almost there. We're almost to the point where this is an optional unit. If you've got a large USB device that can be used for Windows installations and have moved to digital media, you may not need a CD/DVD drive; personally, I still rely heavily on discs (and burn my own DVDs quite often), so I'd feel naked without recommending one. This is a simple burner that'll get the job done. These things don't get too fancy.
Between Corsair's 200R and Rosewill's R5, the budget market is pretty locked-down. The 200R ships with 2 basic fans (120mm intake/exhaust) and plenty of room for add-ons (we'd recommend 140mm, if you add more). The stock configuration is good enough to keep this stock-clocked CPU running at reasonable temperatures, and unless you're OCing the GPU with Afterburner, it's good enough for that, too. The case itself is a mid-tower, making it a little more difficult to work with than its full tower counterparts, but significantly more affordable, portable, and appropriate for the internals.
And now we're off to the next article. If you've got any questions about the above components, drop a comment below or post on our hardware support forums.
- Steve "Lelldorianx" Burke.