Building a barebones budget gaming PC for under $550

Building a barebones budget gaming PC for under $550

Summary: One of the most requested features here on Hardware 2.0 is for a 'Best Bang for the Buck' budget gaming PC. Cash is tight and people want to get the best hardware possible for their hard-earned dollars.So let's take a look at what what you bucks can buy!

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One of the most requested features here on Hardware 2.0 is for a 'Best Bang for the Buck' budget gaming PC. Cash is tight and people want to get the best hardware possible for their hard-earned dollars.

So let's take a look at what what your bucks can buy!

Processor

Let's start with the heart of the PC and start with the processor. I used to recommend that gamers spend money on a fast dual-core CPU rather than invest in a quad-core piece because games rarely leveraged more than a core or two. Things have changed, so it's time to change the advice and recommend that gamers go for a quad-core piece of silicon.

The CPU I've chosen for this project - AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition. Here you have a Socket AM3 125W TDP, quad-core, 3.2GHz part with 4 x 512KB L2 cache, 6MB L3 cache. Being a Black Edition it means that it has an unlocked multiplier, so if you're an overclocker you'll be able to squeeze more from the part.

Excellent component, excellent price.

Price: $115

Motherboard

With the CPU chosen, it's not time to choose the motherboard.

What we now want is a cheap, robust, fully-featured motherboard, and while there are quite a number of possible candidates, I've gone for the ASUS M4A88T-M LE. Along with all the stuff you expect on a motherboard (USB, Gigabit LAN, audio ports ...), you also get cool features like HDMI, a CPU 'Turbo Button' and an onboard Radeon HD 4250 GPU.

Given that this motherboard comes kitted with a Radeon HD 4250 GPU, we could save cash and not fit a discrete GPU, but since this is a gaming rig that would be cutting one corner too many!

Good, solid motherboard.

Price: $80

RAM

OK, now RAM.

Since this is a gaming rig, we need a lot of RAM, and we want that RAM to be fast and we want that RAM to be stable.

The RAM I've chosen to go for here is 8GB of G.SKILL Ripjaws Series DDR3 1600.

Fast, stable, and sexy.

Price: $85

Graphics cards

This is a gaming PC, so we need a decent graphics card. That said, since this is a budget system we can't just spring for a top-end AMD Radeon HD 6000 or NVIDIA GTX 500 card. We want something that is in the sub $100 mark.

For this build I've gone for the SAPPHIRE 100289-2L Radeon HD 5670 that comes with 1GB of DDR5 RAM fitted. Not the most awesome card out there, but it's still good enough to keep up with the latest games out there.

Price: $90

Power Supply Unit (PSU)

Time to power this puppy.

This sort of system needs a robust, reliable PSU but you don't need a behemoth 1000W+ to power this PC. A good sub 500W PSU is more than adequate.

I've picked the Thermaltake TR2 W0070RUC 430W. This is all the PSU that you need for this PC, and it comes with a decent price tag.

Price: $45

Hard drive

Storage. We want lots of storage, and we want it fast. If this wasn't a budget system than I'd suggest a Solid-State Drive (SSD), but we're working on a budget here.

I've gone for my favorite drive from my favorite vendor - The 1TB Western Digital Caviar Black WD1002FAEX. This is a super drive that offers bags of high-performance storage (thanks in part of the 7,200RPM spindles and 64MB of cache).

Price: $90

Optical drive

Finally, an optical drive. Nothing much to say about this. Go for the ASUS DRW-24B1ST DVD burner. It does the job.

Price: $20

Barebones price: $525

Additional components

A couple of additions you might be in the market for (unless you already have them):

  • PC chassis - There are so many to choose from that I'm not going to bother picking one. Since this is a budget system I personally wouldn't spend more than about $50 on a case, but you're free to do whatever you want.
  • Operating system - Windows 7 Home Premium SP1 64-bit OEM - #99.

Thoughts? Feedback? Questions? Hit me up in the TalkBack section below!

Topic: Hardware

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76 comments
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  • RE: Building a barebones budget gaming PC for under $550

    Everything looks decent but I would not skimp out on PSU. Spend a few extra bucks and get at least a 550W, But I would suggest at least 600W for any gaming rig.
    Bates_
    • RE: Building a barebones budget gaming PC for under $550

      @Bates_ <br><br>It's not just the watts, look for a good 80+ certified rating plus good build quality. A good 80+ 400watt ps would be fine for that rig. I would only suggest a 600+ ps if you were going sli/crossfire or adding lots of other components. You need to match the efficiency rating and avg. use of your components and ps...not just throw more watts at them.
      ewell44
      • RE: Building a barebones budget gaming PC for under $550

        @ewell44
        I'd go with a Rosewill 630W single-rail PSU for $55 myself, or a corsair 550w - single 12v rail and 85+% efficiency.
        flapinux
    • RE: Building a barebones budget gaming PC for under $550

      @Bates_ Why? You're not going to use that... If your components draw a total of 300W why would you spend extra to buy a 550W supply? My PC is similar to this one (almost identical, except with an Asus board and 2 extra drives), and hooking up an amp meter inline with the load shows it's using ~2.5A even with Oblivion running on full detail and 2 extra hard drives. That's only about 300W (at 120VAC).<br><br>You don't really need a big supply unless you plan to go for SLI. As for "certification" just buy buy a major brand with a warranty. Antec power supplies and cases are nice. I've been building my own machines for 16 years now, I've never had a power supply fail due to too much current draw... Honestly who has? I've also never had a problem returning a power supply, and I've only ever had to return 2.
      snoop0x7b
      • RE: Building a barebones budget gaming PC for under $550

        @snoop0x7b

        The Reason is that if you have more power available then your PSU will last you longer and have less stress related wear and tear. If you buy close to the required then the power supply works hardware to keep up, gets hotter, and really Um I find it really hard to buy a Decent supply that lacks connectors. adn teh odds are that Consumers are gonna buy a buidget to get started. Most Gamers are gonna chase the SLI and or Crossfire, so to buy a power supply sub 500 is pushing it, because the odds are with 30 AMP + requirements on Decent new GPU's spending 45 bux is gonna lead to a replacement supply in a few months anyway

        Even Back in teh day 300WATTs wouldn't last on a Decent Gamer rig no matter how much the platform components cost. I remember in the GF 3days a 300 WATT PS would burn out in a year if not less.

        The Point here now is to buy as much as you can afford and don't' spend less then 60 for a 500WATT supply. In the long run you will spend less, and be better ready for SLI. I do Suggest a 700 or so for any dual Card system with a 30+ AMP on the Rails, costing no less then 70 bux. With this note you can slack ont eh Eff a buit sense you have more then enough Power to sport them. Remember higher Eff. is important yes, but only becomes a really important factor when your PS is stressing
        Ez_Customs
      • RE: Building a barebones budget gaming PC for under $550

        @snoop0x7b I had the Thermaltake TR2 430 watt PSU in my rig back when I had a GeForce 8600GTS, underclocked Core 2 e8400, and a single hard drive; it never got hot like the PSUs in several HPs friends of mine bought, but it did get warm. I've since upgraded the video card (Radeon 6970), added 4 more hard drives, and overclocked the processor (3.8 GHz stable); this combination would probably make the TR2 hot but my current OCZ modxstream 600w stays cold, even under load. It's probably 200 watts overkill, but I'll take overkill and stable over not overkill and questionable any day of the week.
        Champ_Kind
    • RE: Building a barebones budget gaming PC for under $550

      @Bates_ just a small reminder for the 1st time builders. The other important concideration is connections. A sub 500 watt with an 80+ rating and all the right connections and extras for expansion is more important than a 500+ watt with only a few connections. I have 4 drives (2 DVDR/1HD/1SSD), Nvidia GTX460 and had to swap out my PSU since the connectors were wrong.
      Techanalyst
    • RE: Building a barebones budget gaming PC for under $550

      @Bates_ AGREED. It may be a little overkill at first, but later on you may decide to add another identical video card and run in SLI or CrossFire or upgrade to a more powerful card. Hveing to buy another PSU just to upgrade your card is a pain and only adds to upgrade costs later on.
      thomascwhitfield@...
  • Great article, typo fix

    I think:
    "With the CPU chosen, it?s not time to choose the motherboard."

    needs to be changed to:
    "With the CPU chosen, it?s NOW time to choose the motherboard."

    CAPS for highlighting. Again, great article, ty!
    rich.brooks@...
    • RE: Building a barebones budget gaming PC for under $550

      @rich.brooks@... Thanks Mr. Grammar check. Since were editing, also the price for Windows is "#90" which should obviously be "$90".
      thomascwhitfield@...
  • Message has been deleted.

    rparker009
    • RE: Building a barebones budget gaming PC for under $550

      @rparker009 Would you provide examples of software that doesn't like AMD?
      mikerosile
      • RE: Building a barebones budget gaming PC for under $550

        @mikerosile MOST GAMES...but thats not to say it won't work. But usually you will get better gaming performance from Nvidia.
        thomascwhitfield@...
      • RE: Building a barebones budget gaming PC for under $550

        @mikerosile,<br><br>VMWare Workstation doesn't run too well on AMD. It runs, but performance is not that great.<br><br>Now, why would any gamer give a darn? A real gamer might not care, but many customers of "gamer" CPUs (like me) buy the machine for production work, actually. We learned to head to the gaming market to find bargains on strong computers. (That's why I'm reading this $550 thread, too!) If one looks at my computer purchase stats, I must be a heavy "gamer", yet the only game I ever played was Loony Pinball (15 years ago, for maybe an hour. <img border="0" src="http://www.cnet.com/i/mb/emoticons/happy.gif" alt="happy"> )
        mrdelurk@...
      • RE: Building a barebones budget gaming PC for under $550

        @mikerosile

        give you a Name, How about we say about 85% of the software out there is not Friendly with ATI. The ATI hardware just is capable of using most of it, because the basic stuff that is required is supported, doesn't mean that you are seeing everything? Proper Shader Support sucks, AA isnt' supported on ATI for Optimized nvidia Titles, No native 3D support, cards work better with Software emulation so this is why 85% of the Software isn't good for ATI. The games and 3D rendering software are hardware rendering, not software!! Effect Over all Stability and performance cuts.


        Sorry it is just way easier to list that then give you a small list, because the games that support ATI are so hard to find they aren't worth rememebering.
        Ez_Customs
    • RE: Building a barebones budget gaming PC for under $550

      @rparker009

      .... and what kind of software would that be that doesn't like AMD crap??? Please enlighten me.
      ironlocal1
      • RE: Building a barebones budget gaming PC for under $550

        @ironlocal1 MOST GAMES...but thats not to say it won't work. But usually you will get better gaming performance from Nvidia.
        thomascwhitfield@...
    • RE: Building a barebones budget gaming PC for under $550

      @rparker009 Considering I have been building and using AMD since 2002, I have yet to find any software that will not run on an AMD, and if you are indicating the video card, in 9 years of building PC Gaming Systems, I have had more issues with nVidia drivers than any single product line. Not saying that AMD drivers are perfect, just less issues with programs and operating systems. But this should not turn into an AMD vs Intel or AMD vs nVidia list. Good article, agree that the power supply should be at least a 500w good quality power supply.
      techhund
      • RE: Building a barebones budget gaming PC for under $550

        @techhund

        I plan to build my 1st system soon, can i email you if I need any help. Thanks,
        molgen6@gmail.com
        sm108
    • RE: Building a barebones budget gaming PC for under $550

      @rparker009 No. That's why x86 and x86_64 are STANDARDS.
      snoop0x7b