GRID: Autosport (benchmarked) is sure to get the juices flowing for any car lover. Doubly so with the graphics enhancements that benefit from Haswell chips from Intel. But what happens when you want performance that matches a 500-horsepower car and only have a 100-horsepower Saturn budget? Simple, grab this build, add a touch of overclocking, grab a copy of GRID: Autosport, and enjoy the drive.
The focus of this build was to feature the overclockable Intel Pentium G3258, offer solid mid-to-high level graphics for gaming, and allow for easy upgrades in the future. Our last few extreme budget gaming PC builds were mostly AMD and, based on some great comments both in the forums and article comments, I felt it was time to give Intel a chance to make its mark in this price range.
For those looking to build a cheap gaming PC with the ability to run games on high / ultra graphics -- all for just around $500 -- this is where the buck stops.
$538 DIY Intel Overclocking & Budget Gaming PC Build - July, 2014
OS & Recommended Extras
How to Build a Gaming Computer - Step-by-Step Tutorial
MSI GeForce GTX 750 Ti 2GB ($130): The GTX 750 Ti was able to produce great results in our GRID: Autosport benchmark on high graphics settings, and wasn't a dismal failure on "Ultra" settings (though it did dip significantly under 60 fps). MSI Afterburner can be used to push the 1059MHz core clock (boost clock at 1137MHz) to squeeze a bit more performance from this 2GB GPU. This card is also fully-compatible with G-SYNC monitors, if you should happen to go that route in the future.
Intel Pentium G3258 ($75): Combo'd with board. This fully-unlocked CPU has been making overclocking a viable option for Intel lovers without much money. Although it only has 2 cores, operates at 3.2 GHz, and has no hyper-threading capability, this CPU is not to be taken lightly. When overclocking (we have a how-to guide here), the new Pentium CPU can be pushed well past 4.0 GHz and regularly sits around the 4.8 GHz range. This boosted performance is huge for single- and dual-core tasks (most games currently don't utilize hyperthreading, so the lack of it isn't a huge deal for most normal use).
The Pentium G3258 uses the LGA 1150 socket, which allows easy upgrading to the i5 or i7 when budget allows. One of the biggest limitations of this CPU is that it is still stuck in the 1333-1600MHz RAM range instead of the more modern 1600+. This isn't a huge issue, but it's something to be aware of -- especially if you have some spare 1333 RAM you want to reuse. Note that most games, F1 2012 aside, will not see any noteworthy benefit from RAM faster than 1600MHz. Use code "0725WCPMT3" for $5 off.
NZXT T20 CPU Cooler ($20): One of the best upgrades to any system is a decent CPU cooler. This is even more important when attempting to overclock a CPU, which this build is pushing towards. NZXT's T20 air cooler has been tested on our bench with moderate performance (see the most recent chart on our Argon 01 review). The fan that comes with the cooler has a high rate of airflow and maintains a minimal noise. A stock cooler would be acceptable for a non-overclocked build, but the G3258 really is built and intended for overclocking -- get a decent air cooler to ensure success and longevity of the chip.
ADATA XPG V1.0 8GB 1600 ($65): After an MIR, ADATA's first-generation XPG memory comes in at $65. Memory prices have spiked recently (we're investigating why this is), but 2x4GB at 1600MHz for $65 is right in-line with where prices were about a month ago. We've tested ADATA's XPG memory in gaming and real-world benchmarks before with great results.
MSI Z97 PC Mate LGA 1150 Intel Z97 ($90): Combo'd with CPU. There's no point to having an unlocked CPU if you don't have a board capable of pushing the limits a bit. MSI's Z97 PC Mate board has all the budget-friendly, new tech you could want for future-proofing a system, and should make overclocking an easy process. The board features the typical items: 4xPCIe slots (PCIe 3.0x16, PCIe 2.x, and 2xPCIe x1), 6xSATA 6Gb/s, 2xUSB 3.0, and 4xUSB 2.0. The Z97 PC Mate board features everything in a clean black and blue layout. There isn't anything mind-blowing about this board as it is an entry level Z97 option, but it'll get you started with the G3258.
Corsair CSM Series 650W 80 PLUS GOLD ($75): The Corsair CSM comes with a very efficient 80+ Gold rating. It also features the full spectrum of 115/240V power input (so our friends abroad can use this PSU without fear of it going off like a nuclear bomb). The modular design makes it easy to only use required cables to help keep the case looking clean. Corsair's CSM 650W PSU comes with enough juice to power multiple low-mid range GPUs (which is something that an overclocked G3258 thrives with) and has all the protections you would want a PSU to provide -- over/under voltage, short-circuit protection, and over-temperature / over-power protections. Thin cables are used to minimize the air resistance for the cables that you need.
WD Blue 1TB 7200 RPM ($58): This is a fairly standard 7200 RPM HDD. With more than enough space for normal gaming use, it should be able to meet most needs perfectly. Storage is one of the areas where bottlenecking will be noticeable; adding an SSD, like the PNY Optima, would help measurably improve OS boot times and load times.
Corsair Carbide SPEC-03 Budget Case ($45): Corsair's brand new Carbide SPEC-03 enclosure has a discrete, stout look to its exterior, but packs two high-end 120mm Corsair fans internally (white LEDs). The case will easily fit small radiators and additional fans. The case has basic cable management options to help clean things up, which is helpful when considering the tinted-black side window.
This build will not only allow med-high graphics for most games, but will squeeze-in slightly cheaper than the Zotac ZBOX we just reviewed. If you have any questions about this build or would like to suggest a future build concept, please post a comment or visit the forums for expert advice. Also, keep an eye to our Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube feeds for build tips, sales, and other news (though future lottery numbers are being concealed as we don't want to have to split the winning pots).
- Scott "Abibiliboop" Griffin.