Gaming Upgrade Kit stub

$487 Budget Gaming PC Build, April 2012

Posted on April 22, 2012

Welcome to another monthly installment of our budget gaming PC builds! Last month we posted our ‘$437 Cheap Bastard’s build,’ so now it’s time for something a slight bit more powerful. For just under $500, you should be able to play most games out at high settings (with the exception of Battlefield 3, for which we’d recommend this build).


Like we always say, all you really need to build your own rig is a screwdriver. That said, let’s check out what goodies we have for you this month:


Budget Parts ListNamePriceRebates/etc.Total
Video CardXFX 6850 (COMBO 1)$140-$20 MIR, free shipping, free games$120
CPUAMD X3 455 Rana CPU (COMBO 2)$80Free Shipping$80
Memory4GB AMD RAM (COMBO 1)$33-$7, Free Shipping$26
MotherboardASUS M4A77T$80Free Shipping$80
Power SupplyRosewill HIVE 550W (COMBO 3)$60-$25, Free Shipping$35
Hard Drive500GB 7200RPM Hitachi$80Free Shipping$80
Optical DriveLITE-ON Optical Drive (COMBO 2)$18-$7$11
CaseRosewill Future (COMBO 3)$55Free Shipping$55


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$587


Video Card:

For a budgeted price range, as our Graphics Wars: AMD vs NVIDIA guide shows, AMD is the strongest contender in the sub-$200 territory. The GPU is arguably the most important component in a gaming rig. So is the CPU. And motherboard. And RAM. And… they’re all important (well, maybe not the ever-neglected optical drive) but the GPU definitely sets the stage for gaming. When you are on a budget, every dollar counts, and the XFX 6850 is the best video hardware at this price range (as this price-to-performance chart shows). This is in a combo with the Memory, dropping our price a little bit more. The 6850 has remained one of the best video cards for our budget setups, and with the evolution of the new 7X series, previous-gen cards are including more-and-more free stuff to justify purchases. The 6850 will play Skyrim and SWTOR admirably.

It also comes with two free games: Dirt 3 and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat! Oh, and a do-not-disturb door hanger for when you’re, you know, gaming.

Have $40 extra? Try the AMD 6870 instead. Here’s a combinatory overview of the differences. And finally, for those unfamiliar with graphics terminology and specifications, here’s our GPU Dictionary to help define all those words and acronyms.


The tried-and-true tri-core. While Intel’s i3-2120 is still stronger, AMD’s X3 setup is powerful enough for gaming and fits the bill nicely (and most games only utilize two threads, anyway). AMD’s three core CPUs give the owner the ability to enter the ‘core lotto:’ With the proper motherboard and some luck, you can potentially unlock this CPU into a quad core. You could even unlock the L3 cache, but more than likely it’ll just end up enabling the hidden core. In part, AMD does this so they can thin out their inventory. At best, you get a free core; at worst, you get a fast tri-core that will fit your gaming needs. If for some reason you have trouble with the unlocked core, you can always disable the faulty core and revert to three.

Have an extra $45? We strongly recommend you pick up a Phenom II Zosma 3.0. The Zosma can also be unlocked, but it comes with four cores natively and can unlock into a six-core processor. In addition to the extra native core and faster speeds, the Zosma also comes with a nice 6MB of L3 cache that will really come in handy when performing cache-intensive tasks (compiling, encoding, rendering, and general loading).


The memory we selected here is AMD’s Performance Edition 4GB DDR3 1333MHz RAM. This is AMD's line of “value” gaming memory (with a reasonable heatsink to keep it nice and cool during intense gaming sessions). This RAM gets great user feedback and is a solid starting point for your build. 4GB will be enough for a gaming-only system, but if you’re the type that never closes anything and want to upgrade to 8GB, get this combo. It will only run you $15 more, so it is a very wise option to upgrade.


I looked for a cheaper motherboard, but all I found were cheap motherboards. Don’t let that word throw you off, though. The ASUS M4A77T is a powerful motherboard for a starter or budget system, though it has limited room for upgrades. It only has room for one video card, so if CrossfireX or SLI is in your plans (which it shouldn’t be if you’re running an X3 and $500), you may want to upgrade or consider our other builds.

Have $10 extra? Pick up the ASRock 970 Extreme3, which can hold two video cards, comes with USB 3.0 and Sata 3, as well as support AM3+ chips. For those of you, like me, who are waiting for the Piledriver to save AMD from their disappointing Bulldozer line, you need an AM3+ board. I feel it is worth the small increase in price, you get more room to grow.

Power Supply:

I am a huge fan of what Rosewill is doing in the budget range – they’ve always been a fairly reliable brand at low prices, and hopefully they’ll continue that legacy. This power supply provides 550W on a single rail to help moderate the electric bill while still supplying plenty of power. With its modular advantages, the Hive serves as a very good option with ease of cable management and, as a result, better overall airflow. The combo with the Future case is too good to overlook.

Hard Drive:

There’s still little decline in the prices of hard drives, though they are slowly returning to normalcy. We strongly advise you to recycle an older hard drive from another system right now to save a bit of money. Prices of 500GB HDDs are still about $30 higher than they were previously, so if you have an old one sitting around (2-3 years), pop it in and abuse it. That money can go elsewhere.

If that’s not an option for you, this 500GB hard drive from Hitachi should provide adequate storage space and still be fast enough for gaming. This Muskin 120GB SSD is only $119 and well worth it, but we’d recommend a bump in the CPU or motherboard first. Check out our SSD Dictionary to find out the benefits of going with an SSD over a traditional hard drive.

Optical Drive:

It reads and burns CDs. Go out and pick up one of these before they become extinct. It’s only $11 with the combo with the CPU. What else can I say about it... It makes discs spin…


Rosewill, Antec, and Cooler Master make fantastic budget build cases (and Zalman ventured into the territory for a while, too). The Future is now with this case.

Rosewill’s Future case is one of my favorites in the sub-$70 range -- it has everything a gamer needs in a case, including four 120mm fans and enough room for growth. It has many features that make putting your build together much easier, from the CPU cut to the toolless drive bays, to the USB 3.0 on the front.

This has been one of our favorite builds thus far, but remember that you need to make every dollar count by keeping your rig alive. Check out our Gaming PC Preventative Maintenance guide for tips on how to increase the longevity of your system’s lifespan. Don’t discount the power of blowing out dust every now-and-then.

If you decide to try your hand at building your own rig or have any technical questions, go to our forums for one-on-one support with experts and industry vendors. For quick questions, feel free to leave a comment!

- Michael "Mikagmann2" Mann.