With the new year, it's time for a new low-budget gaming PC build. With our coverage of CES 2014 in the books, it's time to reflect on what we discovered there and move on to provide you with the best builds available for your budget.
This sub-$500 Cheap Bastard's gaming PC build attempts to demonstrate how little you have to spend to get a quality gaming PC -- now featuring a Kaveri APU. My initial purpose was to do a Steam Machine-style build, but seeing how the new SteamOS is still in beta, and the Steam Controller is not readily available, I decided to temporarily cut those two pieces. This is a great starter build for anyone looking to enter the world of PC gaming and offers plenty room for future upgrades.
We decided to go with a Kaveri gaming PC build list for this one, implementing fast RAM and a very stylish case from Corsair. Here's the list:
(Need to know how to assemble the system? Here's our DIY gaming PC build tutorial).
$484 AMD/Kaveri Budget Gaming PC Build List - January, 2014
OS & Recommended Extras
AMD A10-7850K Kaveri APU ($190): AMD has definitively put their focus on their APUs going forward, and this chip goes to show it was not done in vain. As we reported in our CES 2014 AMD Press Conference article, AMD is boasting that Kaveri is the future of not only AMD gaming processors, but the future of gaming in general. There are so many new additions to Kaveri that we can't dig into them all here, but in general, the three big gains are in the Steamroller architecture, HSA (heterogeneous system architecture), and hUMA (unified memory access).
The A10-7850K has 2xDual-Core Steamroller modules. AMD has a different definition of a CPU core than Intel (neither is really 'wrong'), and so this chip is classified as a quad-core CPU. AMD claims a 20% gain in CPU performance over last generation, and while it is still a little early to say for sure, these claims seem to be validated by a noticeable gain in single core performance. The chip is still being outperformed by Intel in the mid-range markets, but AMD's APUs are pretty impressive in the affordable and low-end market segments.
The next major advancement is with HSA, or Heterogeneous System Architecture. The best way to describe HSA is by first explaining that AMD has almost half of the APU die being used by the IGP (40%+). With HSA, GPU cycles that are not delivering visual effects are used by the CPU to assist in workloads. This should allow the CPU to work more efficiently, and has great potential. HSA is also the foundation of new render queuing techniques, namely those that allow the APU's GPU component to coordinate task execution with a discrete GPU.
The third gain is in hUMA, or heterogeneous Uniform Memory Access, which allows the CPU and GPU to utilize the same system memory through a shared memory architecture. This should allow the APU to operate more efficiently and even lower the costs of developing accelerated applications (by reducing the need for explicit copy/export functions in the software). Similarly, as with all APUs, because there is no on-card GDDR5 memory, faster system RAM will yield better performance from the IGP.
The A10-7850K's biggest selling feature is in the IGP. Kaveri is said to offer a thirty percent increase in graphics performance over Richland, and fifty percent increase over Haswell. There is no doubt that AMD's integrated graphics solutions -- regardless of where they stand in CPU performance -- blow away Intel's IGPs. This is largely due to the significantly larger portion o f the die allocated to the GPU in APUs.
Based on AMD's R7 graphics, you get eight compute cores and 512 shaders at 720 MHz. Basically, for under $200 you get a CPU and GPU in a single chip that will run most AAA games (think: Sleeping Dogs, Tomb Raider) at a medium-low hybrid setting with 1080 resolution; lower fidelity games will obviously run significantly better (think: CS:GO). Plus, Newegg is giving away Battlefield 4 free with the purchase of the A10-7850K, which doesn't hurt if you can deal with the bugs.
If you want to check out Dual Graphics when it's up and running (not quite ready yet) and have a little extra to spend, pick up this XFX R7 260x for $130 extra. The extra 896 Stream Processors paired with the A10-7850k should give you a very capable gaming rig that's able to play most games out at medium/high settings, minus a few more demanding games like Crysis 3 or Metro 2033.
Since this is an AMD processor that loves to be overclocked, we strongly suggest you pick up an aftermarket heatsink. The Silverstone Argon AR01 is on sale for $30 and is one of the best budget coolers we have tested. Even if you do not plan on overclocking, purchasing this cooler should allow the A10-7850K to operate more efficiently at lower temps and will preserve its life in the long-run.
GeIL EVO Potenza 8GB DDR3 2133MHz RAM ($80): While the price of memory is still above what we're comfortable with, I was able to find 8GB of 2133MHz RAM for a good price. We usually suggest at least 8GB of memory in our builds to allow you to have enough memory to sustain gaming and other tasks. The heat spreader should dissipate the heat more efficiently than a bare PCB, allowing overclocking room should you plan on OCing the RAM.
GIGABYTE GA-F2A88XM-D3H FM2+ Motherboard ($70): While Gigabyte is not one of our usual motherboard brands that we suggest in our builds, this one has gotten great reviews thus far (across the user spectrum, which is what matters when it comes to DOA sampling), so we feel more confident in its recommendation. It does help that the black PCB / black sinks assist in the color theme we have going on, given the limited differentiation between boards these days.
One of the biggest selling features that AMD has with its APUs over their FX series CPUs is the availability of new motherboard chipsets and technology. This FM2+ motherboard has the AMD A88X Bolton D4 chipset, which is the newest and best chipset AMD has to offer. You also get support for up to 64GB of 2133MHz RAM natively, 1xPCIe 3.0 x16 port, 1xPCIe 2.0 port, 1xPCIe x1 slot (useful for capture or audio devices), and 1xPCI slot (why?) on this mATX motherboard. As far as outputs, you get DVI, HDMI, standard 3.5mm, USB, and S/PDIF optical connections. Even though this is a smaller motherboard, being mATX, you get everything you should need in this build. If you purchase this motherboard before 1/22 and use promo code EMCPWWD92, you can save an extra $5.
Thermaltake TR2 500W PSU ($25): Once again Thermaltake has one of their TR2 power supplies at an insanely low price. The TR2 500W power supply gives you everything you should need in a budget PC for only $25. You get a 500W supply with all the power connections you'll need, but this PSU is neither 80 Plus Certified or modular, so we lose out on efficiency and cable management ease in favor of price. If those two features are important to you, you might want to consider another PSU -- Rosewill's HIVE 550W PSU is on sale for $50 and is both 80 Plus Bronze Certified and modular.
WD 1TB 7200RPM HDD ($65): Once again, we found a quality HDD with 1TB of storage space for $65. This seems to be where the prices have settled, for now, anyway. While not as fast as an SSD, this Western Digital Blue HDD operates at 7200RPM, making it ideal for low-cost primary storage (game/OS storage) without entering SSD territory.
We always suggest picking up a solid state drive for the faster data transfer rates that should, among other things, dramatically lower game loading times and boot Windows faster. Kingston is selling their 120GB HyperX 3K for only $90, making for a good MLC option at a sub-$100 price-point.
Samsung DVD-Writer ($17): I really wish I had something witty to say about ODDs, but some of us still have use for these relics. If you have an older one, re-use it and save a little money. Some cases no longer even support optical drives, but if you require one, then this one spins discs. Use promo code EMCPWWD35 before 1/22 and save $3.
Corsair Graphite 230T Case ($50): When doing these builds, I love finding this component the most. The case is the one part where you get to showcase your style and taste -- and as something you'll be looking at for a few years, this is important. Some people like cases that are more subdued in design, while others like their cases to be flashy and resemble ... 1980s cartoon robots. The Corsair 230T is one of the newest cases by the company, with this design more on the flashy side. Shipping with 2x120mm red LED fans on the front and 1x120mm fan in the rear, you should get good cooling potential out-of-box with room for up to three more fans to be installed (top and bottom of the case).
The 230T also includes dust filters for the front intake fans, great to indirectly help with air flow by keeping the dust out of the interior. A tool-free design enables easy installation of the components, and cable cutouts give room for basic cable management as well. The 230T also comes with room for 4x2.5" SSD bays, 4x3.5" bays, 3x5.25" drive bays, and seven expansion slots. The case is the most visible component of the build, so if this one does not meet your liking, let us know and we can help you select one that fits your needs and budget better. Use promo code CAEPM1014 at checkout to save another $10 before 1/20.
For just over $500, you get a great build for the entry-level budget gamer. This build will play most AAA games out at low-medium settings at a 1080 resolution, making it perfect for the gamers who plays games like League of Legends, DOTA2, CS:GO, Sim City, and Star Wars: The Old Republic, as the APU can easily support medium/high settings for these games. This should give you a good idea of what you can do with a low budget in PC gaming.
Please visit our forums for any questions or concerns, or feel free to post a quick question below! Until next time!
- Michael "Mikagmann2" Mann.