PC Hardware Help
The Budget Gaming PC

The Budget Gaming PC

January 7th, 2006

Gaming is an expensive hobby. That is a fact. Every few months it seems a new PC game is released that pushes current technology to its limits and sends hardcore gamers off shopping to buy the latest and greatest video cards and RAM upgrades. All so they can play their games at the maximum settings possible in ungodly resolutions. Good for them. They can afford it. Here is the problem. Most gamers are not willing or able to spend hundreds every few months to have top of the line gaming PCs. Thats why this guide will focus on the rest of us poor bastards who may not be able afford top of the line, but still want a decent gaming PC at an affordable price that can handle the newest games. The goal of this is to build a respectable gaming PC for $500 (Don't laugh!). Will it be able to play F.E.A.R at 1600x1200 with max settings and 16x AF? Hell no! Though it may give you enough performance to enjoy it at 1280x1024 with medium settings.

All of these components can be obtained from many places for various prices. My personal favorites are Newegg, Mwave and ZipZoomFly, so all prices are based on the cheaper of those vendors and does not include any specials, rebates or one-day-only sales. We will be looking at core hardware components only. Those being the motherboard, CPU, RAM, video card, hard drive, and power supply. The final price will not include the PC case, operating system, optical drives, mouse, keyboard, or monitor (we are assuming you can scrap these from your current PC). Before we do anything a decision must be made. AMD or Intel. We chose AMD simply because they offer similar (or better) performance than Intel at a lower price. Now lets begin!

Motherboard

ASRock 939Dual-SATA2

Price: $64.50 at Mwave

For the motherboard we have the ASRock 939Dual-SATA2. I have spent a lot of time comparing the cheaper motherboards and at first didn't want to go with the ASRock because it had no support for SLI. Sometime later I realized that this is one of the best AMD motherboards you can get for under 100 bucks despite its lack of SLI. Anyway, on a budget of $500 one GPU is all we can afford. The ASRock has both PCI Express and AGP support and has room for expansion on down the road. The ASRock will allow you to upgrade to one of AMD's X2 dual-core CPUs later if your current processor starts holding you back.

CPU

AMD Athlon 64 3000+ (Venice core)

Price: $139 at ZipZoomFly

The Athlon 64 3000+ was an easy choice. You will not find a processor that offers better performance in this price range. It runs at 1.8GHz (could easily go 2+ with minor overclocking) and has 512KB of L2 cache. If you do decide to overclock and want to get the most out of the Venice possible a better heatsink and fan than the stock unit would be a smart upgrade, although not required.

RAM

Corsair 1GB (2x 512MB) DDR400 Value Select

Price: $79.68 at ZipZoomFly

These days RAM is very cheap so you should get at least a gig if possible. If you really want to stay under the $500 budget stick with 512MB, but for gaming at least a gig is ideal. I don't recommend using less. Two 512MB sticks of Corsair DDR400 running in dual channel will please any gamer on a budget. Later on down the road an extra gig could be added as some new games (we're looking at you BF2) are RAM hogs and will see improvements going from 1 to 2 gigs.

Video Card

XFX Geforce 6600GT (PCI Express)

Price: $125 at Newegg

Now we have gotten to the heart of any gaming PC. The PCI Express Geforce 6600GT is the perfect solution for our gaming PC without breaking the bank. It will handle most current games flawlessly on medium settings, has two DVI inputs for dual monitors and is a very good overclocker. Unlike other video cards it also requires less power to run and does not require a direct connection to the power supply. Its not quite perfect though. The below average cooling solution and 128bit memory are disappointing, but for $125 its a steal.

Hard Drive

Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 80GB 7200 RPM Serial ATA150

Price: $59 at Newegg

Normally for a hard drive I would wait for one of those 250GB for $50 or less deals after rebate that pop up at various places through out the year, but those are excluded so for our purposes a Seagate Barracuda 80GB with 7200rpm spindle speed and 8 meg cache will do. I always recommend Seagate over any other brand because of their 5 year warranty and they are generally very reliable and quiet.

Power Supply

Antec SmartPower 2.0 SP-400

Price: $54.99 at Newegg

A quality power supply is essential for a gaming PC. You get what you pay for. One of lower quality could cause your system to become unstable and reduce your overclocking potential. Thats why we went over our budget just a little to select a power supply of reasonable quality with a fair price. The 400 W Antec may be a little much for this system, but will be worth it for piece of mind. You could use a cheaper, probably less reliable power supply and get away with it to stay under the $500 budget, but why risk it now just to save a few bucks. We're cheap, not stupid.
Total Price: $522.17

The Bottom Line


Ok, so the budget didn't quite hold. We only went over by $22.17, mainly to include a good quality power supply and a gig of RAM. You should compare prices locally and online before you buy anything. You may be able to find good deals that would drop the total price allowing you to spend more in other areas. Some may decide that they would rather have more hard drive space than what we chose. That would have driven the price up and is not necessary for a good gaming experience so we stuck with an 80GB model. You would be better off waiting on a good hard drive deal. Maybe wait for one of the free after rebate hard drives and buy two for a RAID setup.

The components listed will give you a very good price to performance ratio. Will this system be able to play games released months from now. Maybe. Maybe not. What it will provide is a decent gaming experience with room for upgrades in the future if you decide to splurge or have some extra cash that you would rather not spend on frivolous things such as food or shelter.