How do I love thee, PC building? Let me count the ways. You’re fun, rewarding, challenging (at first, perhaps), and ultimately you help keep money in my pocket. But money is usually the problem with cobbling a gaming rig together, isn’t it? Your budget is the judge and jury, keeping you from that GTX 770, $200 motherboard, or diamond-encrusted Gordon Freeman profile you want on your case door.
Starting, well, today, we’re going to try and post one PC build every month on The Escapist. The specifics of each build will vary, and this month I’m focusing on the low end: the almighty $750 budget build. How far can we get $750 to go? Pretty far, in fact.
I managed to keep within the $750 budget while nabbing a six-core CPU, decent discrete graphics, a solid state drive, and Windows 8.1. The only gear not included in the price is a monitor and peripherals.
One final important note: Part prices change literally every day, so there’s a chance parts could be a few sheckles more (or less) once this post is live.
CPU: AMD FX-6300
$118.49 on Amazon
If you’re spending less than $200 on a CPU or APU, AMD definitely rules the roost. Intel has some compelling offerings in its Pentium and Core i3 lines, but how can you say no to a six-core CPU running at 3.5 GHz? The FX-6300 CPU is exactly that, complete with a 95W TDP, a 4.1 GHz Turbo clock, and 8 MB of L3 cache. It’s not the latest and greatest (if you’re expecting that in a $750 build, let me show you to the door, sir or madam), but it needs less than 100W to run, and it will keep up with any game you’ll be playing on the PC. Tom’s Hardware has the FX-6300 listed as their best gaming CPU for $120, too. And for those who need a CPU that can flex its muscle outside of the gaming universe, the 6300’s six cores are very multi-thread-friendly. That should keep the Photoshop crowd happy, I think.
To keep the budget on track, I’m not including a third-party CPU cooler. The one included in the box by AMD should do just fine, unless you want to do some serious overclocking.
Motherboard: MSI 970A-G43
$69.99 on Newegg
When building a PC on a limited budget, the motherboard is where you’ll often see the most sacrifices…but that doesn’t mean you’re going to get stuck with a lemon. MSI has stepped up its motherboard game tremendously in the last two years or so, and the 970A-G43 is hard to beat at $70.
The 970A-G43 is a Socket AM3+ motherboard, which is exactly what we need for our FX-6300. No Thunderbolt or PCI Express 3.0 means it’s not the most future-friendly motherboard on the planet, but it has UEFI BIOS, two USB 3.0 ports on the back (along with USB 2.0, 8-channel audio, Ethernet and PS/2), and a USB 3.0 header below the RAM slots for 3.0 ports on the front of your case. Six SATA 6 Gbps ports are enough for our two storage drives and optical drive, with pots leftover for later expansion, and RAID is supported on-board.
The 970A-G43 is going to accomplish exactly what it needs to: Boot, run all the chosen hardware, and hopefully stay alive and kicking for three or four years. It’s a budget board, through and through, but it’s one of the best around.
Memory: Team Elite 8 GB (2 x 4 GB) DDR3-1333
$65.99 on Newegg
Team Group memory tends to circulate in the lower price brackets, but that’s because the company doesn’t spend nearly as much on marketing as Corsair, Kingston, and the like. It’s a Taiwanese manufacturer that flies fairly low on the U.S. hardware scene radar, but you’ll find Team Group wares in many a budget build.
Today’s choice? The “Elite” SKU, specifically an 8 GB kit (two sticks of 4 GB), running at DDR3-1333. The 9-9-9-24 timings are pretty solid for memory that’s still in “budget” price territory, and you could do a little overclocking with this kit -just be careful with that stock AMD cooler we’re running.
GPU: MSI Radeon R7 265
$149.99 on Newegg
Much like it does with CPUs and APUs, AMD offers a lot of compelling products in the entry-level and mid-range GPU categories. With a total budget of $750, I wanted to dedicated about 20 percent of that cash to the video card, on a GPU that could do some decent gaming at 1080p. The end result? A $150 AMD Radeon R7 265 from MSI. The R7 265 typically edges out the similarly-priced GTX 750 Ti from Nvidia. One 6-pin PCI Express connector is all it takes to power the R7 265, and MSI’s cooler design should keep the GPU nice and comfortable when you’re playing Battlefield 4 and Goat Simulator 2014. You should expect 60 fps on Medium or High settings in most modern PC titles.
Some important tidbits about our GPU pick:
- The R7 265 is a PCI Express 3.0 card, but it will work unfettered in the PCI Express 2.0 slot on our MSI motherboard choice.
- Speaking of which, the MSI motherboard I chose supports CrossFire, so you could always add a second R7 265 in the future to bump your framerates up.
- If you’re firmly in The Way It’s Meant To Be Played Camp (Nvidia), the GTX 750 Ti is a brilliant choice at around $150, too.
- The R7 265 supports all of AMD’s bells and whistles, including the new-ish Mantle API.
SSD Drive (Boot Drive): Mushkin Enhanced Chronos 120 GB
$69.99 on Newegg
I decided to drop a solid state drive in the $750 build because I AIN’T GOT TIME TO WAIT FOR BOOTING. Also, because SSDs are getting cheaper every day!
Along with brands like Intel, SanDisk, and Samsung, I really like what Mushkin offers up for SSD products. The Enhanced Chronos series has long been lauded by enthusiasts for being reliable at a low price, making Mushkin a top choice among budget builders.
120 GB is plenty of space for your Windows install (or SteamOS, or whatever tickles your fancy), along with documents and a select few of your most played games.
There are other compelling SSD offers at reasonable prices — the 120 GB Samsung 840 EVO at $80 is a great deal, too — but 120 GB for $65 from a reliable SSD brand? SOLD!
Storage Drive: Seagate Barracuda 1 TB
$49.99 on Amazon
Western Digital and Seagate, ever locked in their Storage Cold War, offering nearly identical drives these days. The 1 TB-size Seagate Barracuda and Western Digital Blue drives both have two-year warranties, and can be found for under $60. It just so happens that the Barracuda is about eight bucks cheaper right now, hence its inclusion on my part list.
This is the drive where most of your games will live, along with backups of documents, photos, and blackmail material. The Barracuda packs 64 MB of cache, spins at 7,200 rpm, and uses the latest SATA 6 Gbps connector (not that a mechanical drive can use all that bandwidth).
Need more space? The 2 TB Barracuda is usually around $80-$85.
Power Supply: Rosewill Stallion Series 450 W
$49.99 on Amazon
UPDATE: The Rosewill Capstone-450 is now available on Newegg for $49.99 after a $10 mail-in rebate card. I would absolutely buy this unit over the Stallion I originally recommended. It’s more efficient, comes from a more dependable OEM (the company that makes the unit which Rosewill puts its label on), and it has two PCI Express power connectors instead of one.
Original Recommendation: Budget PC or not, you don’t typically have to go crazy with your power supply. You want something reliable, but builders more often than not pack in a power unit that provides way more wattage than necessary.
Our PC will be just fine with a 450W power supply, and Rosewill’s Stallion series offers that power reliably, and for a penny under $50. One PCI Express connector means you’ll be using a 4-pin/Molex-to-PCIe converter if you want to run a second GPU, but that might not be possible on a 450 W PSU, anyhow.
I chose the Stallion for its price, but if you want to spend $15 extra for more efficiency, and more connectivity, check out Rosewill’s 450W Capstone unit as well.
Case: Corsair Carbide 200R
$59.99 on Amazon
The Carbide 200R from Corsair is exactly what a PC case needs to be, without anything I would consider a frill. Two USB 3.0 ports on the front (along with audio in, out) plays nice with our MSI motherboard choice, and the two included 120mm fans will keep air moving without any additional investment (and Corsair fans tend to be fairly reliable, too).
The 200R also has the two features I always want in a case, budget build or not. First, this Corsair model has a hard drive cage that’s mounted sideways, so the front of the drives are perpendicular to the front of the case. This makes getting drives in and out easier, and positions the cables so they can be neatly routed behind the motherboard tray.
Secondly, the motherboard tray has a cut-out for third-party coolers, so swapping in a new CPU cooler doesn’t involve removing the motherboard.
Optical Drive: Asus 24x DVD Burner
$19.99 on Newegg
There’s not much to say about this DVD burner. It’s under $20, it burns DVDs, and it’s the highest-rated DVD burner on Newegg — a 5/5 rating with over 5,000 reviews. Seems like a no-brainer to include, yeah?
All the hardware above should total out to around $645, give or take a few dollars. Once you factor in the $99.99 pricetag on Windows 8.1 64-bit OEM, your total is just under $750.
Now there’s a good chance you could have some elbow room on your build, and it’s pretty easy to see where improvements could made made. You could go with higher-speed memory, so DDR3-1600 or DDR3-1866 instead of the DDR3-1333 I chose. You could also bump up the drive sizes, from a 120 GB SSD to 240 or 250 GB, or get a 2 TB hard drive instead of a 1 TB option. You could also shoot higher up the GPU ladder, opting for an Nvidia GTX 760, or AMD R7 270X. But if $750 is your hard target, this PC should serve as a good reference point. Happy building!