Gaming Upgrade Kit stub

$550 Budget Gaming PC Bulldozer Build - March, 2012

Posted on March 13, 2012

Welcome to another edition of GN's monthly gaming PC builds! In March 2012's budget gaming PC build, we put together a powerful, elegant, yet cheap system which will aid you budget gamers in your quest to conquer the cyber world. Our previous build was built for those with a bit more cash, so if you have around $900 to spend, check this one out.


Let's have at it! Here's our $550 gaming pc build:


Budget Parts ListNamePriceRebates/etc.Total
Video CardSapphire 6850 1GB$150-$15, Free DiRT3$135
CPUAMD FX-4100 3.6GHz Quad (COMBO 1)$110$10 gift card, Free Shipping$110
Memory8GB Patriot 1600MHz (COMBO 1)$45-$15, Free Shipping/SD Card$30
MotherboardASUS M5A97 AMD970/SB950 ATX AM3+$93Free Shipping$93
Power SupplyOCZ 600W PSU$75-$35, Free Shipping$40
Hard Drive500GB Seagate 7200RPM HDD$86-$10, Free Shipping$76
Optical DriveASUS 24x Optical Drive$26-$10 instant$16
CaseRAIDMAX Blackstorm 615WU$70-$20, Free Shipping$50


Optional Add-ons (pick and choose as budget allows)

Add-on Parts ListNamePriceRebates/etc.Combined Total
Operating System
Windows 7 64-bit Home Premium$100Free Shipping$650


Video Card:

After consulting our price-to-performance chart, it's clear that the 6850 remains one of the most reliable cards at the listed price. The GTX 550 Ti is a bit cheaper, but it's nowhere near the 6850 in performance -- it gets smoked by about 25%. You get 1GB of ol' reliable GDDR5 memory running on a 256-bit memory interface, allowing for plenty of bandwidth at a low price. If you're interested in learning more about what all the specs on the video card listing page means, check out our "GPU Dictionary" posting!

Have an extra $30? The 6870 is a bit more powerful, so if you do have the extra cash, check out the Radeon 6870.


For this particular build, we picked out an AMD quad core: the Zambezi processor. Despite the rocky start that AMD's Bulldozer CPU series experienced, the debilitating bugs have been tweaked at this point and allow for a reasonably-priced CPU. If you want an Intel option, go take a look at our awesome i3-2120 build from last month.

The AMD FX-4100 Zambezi is great for what you're paying: $110 for a 3.8GHz quadcore with an impressive 8MB of L3 cache and 2x2MB L2 cache. Intel's i3-2120 will outperform the FX-4100 in applications that can only utilize a few threads at a time, but the FX-4100 gives a great punch in CPU-intensive applications (rendering, encoding) and some CPU-intensive games (Civilization V comes to mind).


We've used Patriot in past builds -- they're a long-standing memory brand and have a respectable record of quality control, so we've opted to combo Patriot's 8GB 1600MHz "Gamer 2" memory with the FX-4100 (combo here). The combo saves you $10 extra, on top of a $4.50 promo code (instant), $10 of rebates, a $10 gift card for Newegg, and a free 8GB MicroSDHC card -- not bad at all.

1600MHz memory has a transfer rate that far surpasses other bottlenecking components in any system (like the hard drive, as we've learned here), so you won't have anything to worry about for some time. Even so, it's easy to overclock memory by an extra jump.


ASUS M5A97 motherboard (we chose NCIX for the free shipping) stands as a strong Bulldozer-compatible foundation. This board natively supports 1600MHz and 1866MHz memory, has an extra PCI-e 2.0 x4 slot for expansion cards, hosts 6xSATA III (6Gb/s) ports for future SSD expandability, and sports stylish heatpiping to boot.

ASUS is one of the most reliable brands in computing hardware -- they've been knee-deep in the enthusiast market for years and have solid warranty predictability, so we always keep them on our A-list.

You won't have to worry about any compatibility issues with this board, but if you'd like to swap it out for something else, comment below and we'll help you out!


This OCZ power supply was chosen for a very simple reason: Newegg has an excellent deal on it. It's $75 - $10 instant (promo EMCNGNB24) - $25 rebate, totaling $40 for 600W. Impressive. Not only will 600W be enough power for the system (and future upgrades -- if you went the 6870 route, it's good for that, too), but OCZ also makes quality components and has grown to be a trustworthy brand.


Yeah, yeah. Broken record, we know. Hard drives are still expensive from the floods and will continue to be for some time, but we're doing the best we can with the prices -- Seagate's become the go-to post-flood brand, for some reason, offering their basic 500GB drive with 16MB of cache (plenty for us) at $75 on NCIX. It's nothing special, but it won't hurt you either.


There aren't that many high-performance budget cases out there and we search tirelessly to choose a different case for each build we put together. Lately, RAIDMAX has made an impact on our forum users with their Blackstorm case. Blackstorm comes with 2x120mm fans and a side-mounted 180mm fan, has a very cool exterior (an SC2-colored blue and black combo), and totals $50 after rebate. Perfect. It'll fit your motherboard and keep things cool enough to game, plus its outside has a nice shape for case modders.

This build will be able to run most contemporary games at medium-high settings. If this is even out of your desired budget, be sure to comment below and we can help you customize a build that will better fit your budget! If you have any questions, post below or head over to our hardware forums!

-FJ "GT" Ybarra