That wasn’t good enough for some of you, apparently, because several of my bosses held their respective breaths until I agreed to make a list that went even cheaper.
Several Deep Thought sessions and hospital trips later (sorry, bosses), I have come up with, yes, a cheaper list.
Let’s be clear, though: This is not “The Cheapest PC You Can Build.” This is the cheapest PC I – me, Devin Connors – would build right now. And even that’s a stretch, because I’d rather
hold up one or two more Salvation Army donation collectors save a little extra cash and invest in more robust hardware. A rule of thumb: The less money you spend on a gaming PC (sales and such aside), the less time it will be a viable rig.
But fear not, my penny-pinching pals, for The Cheapest PC I Would Build is here for all to enjoy.
Per usual, all prices are subject to change – I pass this story in several days before publication, so do please save your “BUT DEVON THE RAM IS $5 MORE THAN WHAT YOU SAID IT WAS” malarkey for someone on the Tom’s Hardware forums. And while you’re there, tell Tom that I’ll SEE HIM IN LOS ANGELES. SUMMER SLAM. IN A STEEL CAGE.
Furthermore, feel free to post suggestions in the comments, but be nice about it. I don’t need to cry again this week.
CPU: AMD A10-7850K APU
$169.99 on Newegg
Because we’re going the frugal route with this build, I’m not including a standalone video card. Instead, I chose an APU (Accelerated Processing Unit) that packs decent (for the money) graphics horsepower. The 7850K has 12 Compute Cores — four CPU (so it’s a quad-core), and eight GPU cores. The eight GPU cores have a total of 512 shader cores, while the CPU cores run between 3.7 GHz and 4 GHz, depending on which cores are on or off (or Turbo Mode, in marketing speak).
AMD’s integrated graphics are solid (again, for the money), while the only Intel-based IGP worth chattering about is the Iris Pro 5200. The problem with the 5200 is that it’s only available in $300-ish CPUs like the 4770R (note: I know it’s also in the 4570R, but you can’t buy that CPU outside of a Gigabyte barebone system at the moment). And since the speedy, capable 7850K is a penny under $170, it’s a damn good value buy.
Not only is it a good value, but it’s upgrade-friendly, too. Once you realize that playing video games on APU graphics is, in a word, yuck, you will go out and buy a standalone graphics card. If you buy an AMD Radeon card, this shiny new GPU will Voltron-CrossFire into a “Dual Graphics” setup with the GPU on the 7850K. In other words: CrossFire without two standalone video cards. It’s not a perfect marriage – see this Tom’s Hardware post for more information – but two is (usually) better than one.
Back to the yuck: Even with speedy RAM (more on that later), the GPU cores in the 7850K will give you around 30-40fps at 1080p (think Bioshock: Infinite, Skyrim, BF3-4), while older titles (Orange Box) will run at or above 60. This is not bad, especially for a sub-$200 CPU-GPU combo, but for a new computer? It’s a little underwhelming. Give it a shot, but don’t be shocked if you find yourself saying “How ’bout that R7 265?”
But back to perspective: $170 is buying you a 2014-model speedy quad-core CPU, solid entry-level PC gaming graphics, and the foundation for a serviceable budget PC built upon AMD’s latest APU architecture. Sounds pretty good, yeah?
Motherboard: ASUS A78M-A FM2+
$57.79 (after MIR) on Newegg
A cheap PC needs a cheap motherboard, and the A78M-A from Asus is exactly that. It’s not the motherboard we want, but the one we need… Commissioner Gordon said something like that in The Dark Knight, I think.
The A78M-A is a Socket FM2+ motherboard, which means its takes our FM2+-based 7850K with no hiccups. It also takes older FM2 (no plus symbol) APUs, in case you just need a mobo upgrade.
So what the deuce does $60 get you for a motherboard? In this case, it’s not bad! The A78M-A has USB 3.0 support (including a plug for front-of-the-case ports), six SATA 6 Gbps ports, and a PCI Express 3.0 slot for [lighting strike] future GPU upgrades. HDMI, DVI, and VGA are on-board for APU graphics output.
This is not an enthusiast board, but that’s not possible in a $60 package. The A78M-A brings your 95W bundle of joy to life, without leaving you stuck in I/O and/or bandwidth purgatory.
Memory: G.SKILL Ripjaws X 2x 4 GB DDR3-2133
$84.99 on Newegg
“WHY IN THE NAME OF GABEN/INSERT PC GAMING MEME HERE are you spending $85 on RAM for a budget PC?” I’ll tell you why, Ranger Rick!
Because we are using an APU, there’s no dedicated video memory (or VRAM). When you take down John Q. Graphics card from Amazon or Newegg or that shady-looking van behind your local university’s Computer Science building, it comes with several gigabytes of dedicated GDDR5 memory. We have no such setup here, which means our APU is going to be using some of the system memory – that 8 GB of juicy, golden G.Skillitude I chose – for VRAM.
Because our graphics part needs system RAM, it’s better to go with faster RAM, which is why I selected the DDR3-2133 Ripjaws X kit. And since we still need RAM for other things (fifty open browser tabs, that massive Harry Potter-Lana Del Rey fan fiction odyssey you’re writing), 8 GB is a good quantity to go with.
If you don’t want lots of fast, speedy memory occupying your slots, go with a 4 GB DDR3-1600 kit. It’s no skin off my nose, netizen!
See the CPU/APU section, you salty son-of-a-gun!
Power Supply: Corsair Builder Series CX430 430W
$41.27 on Amazon
With no dedicated GPU, we scaled back slightly on the power supply. But fear not! This 430W hummingbird is a gem at under $50.
The Corsair Builder Series CX430 should be on every poor gamer’s power supply list. It’s decently efficient, with an 80 Plus Bronze certification to prove it, and it’s made by Channel Well, a decent PSU OEM. Even JonnyGuru digs it (even if the review is three years old).
If you think a standalone graphics card is in your future, you might want to consider an alternative power supply with more than one PCIe connector. A fantastic (but more costly) alternative is the Rosewill Capstone 450W, which has two PCIe connectors, and an 80 Plus Gold rating.
Case: Rosewill LINE-M
$38.14 on Amazon
The Rosewill is exactly the kind of case I want for this build. It was designed with Micro ATX motherboards in mind, and it still offers some nice features while coming in under $40 on Amazon.
Two USB 3.0 ports are located up front (which can plug into the header on our Asus A78M-A), drive installation is tool-free, and there’s a sizable cut-out in the motherboard tray (after-market cooler installation made easy). If you decide to upgrade later, the Line-M can still hold a full-size graphics card, despite its small stature. Two 120mm fans handle airflow.
Simply put: You’ll be hard-pressed to find a finer case for under $40, both in terms of thermal performance and case features.
Storage: Seagate Barracuda 1 TB
$50.40 on Amazon
No SSD this time around, and I didn’t even spring for a hybrid drive. Like Anytown, USA’s used car emporium, bottom-of-the-barrel price begets average hardware!
But the Barracuda is a solid spinning hard drive. You get 1 TB of 6 Gbps, 3.5-inch storage for a hair over $50. That’s enough space for your OS, documents, most/all of your games, and a volume or two of your “Adult Entertainment Encyclopedia.”
The major downside to this Barracuda — and most of the spinning hard drive selection these days — is the warranty: a paltry two years. In other words? Keep your business backed up!
Optical Drive: LITE-ON DVD Burner
$12.99 on Newegg
It’s a DVD burner! It burns! It reads! It annoys all the “YOU DON’T NEED AN OPTICAL DRIVE”-spouting readers who will surely make themselves known in the comments!
If you need it? Buy it. Don’t need it? Roll that $13 into the power supply budget, and pull the trigger on the 450W Capstone.
After factoring in $99.99 for a God-forsaken copy of Windows 8.1, this build should come out somewhere $555-$560. That means we’re spending $455 or so on hardware, which is about as bargain basement as you can get in this business.
There are a few tweaks you could make to this build, assuming you have the extra cash. For starters, look into a solid state drive, or at the very least a hybrid drive. The latter will give you faster boot times while still retaining the spinning innards, while a more expensive SSD is wicked fast. Seagate is the only major name in hybrid drives (meaning Western Digital doesn’t play that game), while there are plenty of good SSD options at your disposal. Mushkin, SanDisk, Samsung, and Intel are good brands to look at.
As for graphics power, The R7 265 is a great option if you want to stay around $150. It also uses one six-pin PCIe connector, so it will play nice with the Corsair PSU I chose.
Speaking of PSUs, look at the Capstone. A higher 80 Plus rating, more wattage overall, and two 6+2-pin PCIe connectors make it a great option at $50-$60.
I’m sure there are budget build opinions abound, so post your hardware musings in the comments!