Usually, hardcore gamers sit around enthusing about the newest, fastest hardware for their PCs, but we recognize that not everybody has several thousand dollars available to buy the best consumer hardware just for entertainment – so we decided to see what we could do with about $700 (US).
While it would be possible to build a machine for cheaper than this, especially if you are a craigslist guru, we opted for only new budget parts that can be purchased from reputable retailers. We used Amazon, because who doesn’t have an Amazon Prime account in this day and age? (If you don’t have one, get one. Seriously. I couldn’t live without it.) Obviously, for $700, you won’t be getting a system that will game at 4K, and probably won’t be terribly comfortable at 1440p either, but should be just fine for an entry level machine at 1080p.
Without further ado, here are the parts that we have chosen:
CPU: Intel Core i5-8500
Motherboard: MSI H370M BAZOOKA Micro ATX LGA1151 Motherboard
Video Card: EVGA GeForce GTX 1060 3GB
All of this was available for $692.11 at time of writing, and every piece was eligible for Amazon Prime’s free delivery. Going more in depth:
There were a few contenders for our budget build – while AMD does have options apart from the Threadripper, AMD CPUs have shown themselves to be as good or better as workstation chips while being simply okay for gaming. That said, AMD does offer a selection of decent budget offerings, such as the Ryzen 3 2200G but in the end we opted for an Intel processor for better gaming performance. If you use your machine for cpu intensive tasks as well as gaming, an AMD chip would not be a bad choice. In Intel’s corner, after comparing the i3-8350K and i5-8400, we noted that the i5-8500 was only about ten dollars more expensive, and opted for that. The 8350K sports four cores without hyperthreading at a base clock speed of 4.0 GHz and is about $40 cheaper than the i5-8500 we eventually decided on.
While it is true that most games these days are not properly optimized for using a higher number of cores, real world benchmarks suggest that both the 8350k, with its less cores and greater clock speed, as well as the 8400 and 8500 with two additional cores at a significantly lower 2.8 and 3.0 GHz respectively, do not have a noticeable effect on gaming performance as neither will bottleneck the GPU – especially a budget GPU. As well, a CPU with more cores is almost certainly going to be more future proof than one with less cores, even for budget parts.
At the end of the day, we chose the i5 over the i3 because of a few reasons; for one, the i3, being a K model, is overclockable, but we did not want to suggest overclocking in our guide as it is not something that everyone knows how to do, and it can certainly shorten the lifespan of your hardware, or even damage it if done incorrectly. As well, in order to take advantage of the unlocked i3, we would need a more expensive Z series motherboard, and K series chips do not include a heatsink, so we would need to spring for that as well – all in all, the i3 would be a more-or-less equivalent choice for gaming, but would require better hardware to reach its full potential, and would still be less powerful in multicore tasks, assuming that you will sometimes use your PC for tasks other than gaming.
Because the i5 we chose is not overclockable, we were able to save money on the motherboard, opting for an H series.
As we mentioned, the H370 series motherboard we chose is a cheap solution that does not allow overclocking – something that doesn’t matter to us as our CPU is locked anyways. Even though it isn’t capable of overclocking, it supports up to 64 GB of RAM, and all of the high-end LGA1151 socket CPUs that Intel currently has on the market, meaning that it leaves plenty of room for upgradibility. We probably could have obtained a cheaper motherboard, but we decided to stick with reputable manufacturers – in this case, MSI.
In this day and age, 8 GB of DDR4 memory is the bare minimum – 4 GB is definitely a thing of the past and you will notice a sharp decline in performance if you go below 8 GB. That said, there isn’t much real world difference currently between 8 GB and 16 GB, and the system is easily upgradable to accommodate additional memory. While we could have gone for 2×4 GB sticks (and potentially seen a benefit from running in dual channel mode), we opted for a single stick solution that would allow for the most expandibility in the future. The Patriot stick we chose was the best bang-for-your-buck we could find without ordering from questionable manufacturers.
While I personally only use SSDs in my own build, I recognize that older-style HDDs with moving parts are much more cost effective in terms of storage per dollar. Therefore, we opted for a small, 120 GB SSD to run the OS off of, and a larger 1 TB hard drive for storage. It would not cost much at all to increase to a 240 GB SSD, if you have any additional cash available. We would suggest this as the next upgrade after the video card, below.
Most certainly the largest contributor to gaming performance, especially considering the CPU will not bottleneck today’s video cards, we opted for a GTX 1060 (3GB) from EVGA. While you could certainly save about $40 by purchasing a 1050 Ti instead, the difference in performance is very noticeable. If we had slightly more money, we would have opted for the 6GB version of the GTX 1060, as the 3GB version is more likely to offload vmem to the RAM, but that would unfortunately put us above the $700 mark – even though the 6 gb version is currently only about $30 more. If you have the extra money, we’d definitely spring for it.
If you’re running on a budget (and we are), the case is likely the least important purchase you can make. We chose a ~$40 Thermaltake Versa H21 case as, while it doesn’t feature RGB lighting or a clear side to proudly display your parts, it IS a pretty stable metal case with plenty of room for drives and a ton of airflow. I actually use this exact case for my own gaming machine, as I am not too fussed about making my system look cool at this point in time.
EVGA’s BT 450W 80+ Bronze Certified power supply is more than good enough for this build. It’s cheap, and while it isn’t modular (you get what you pay for), it will do its job just fine, with a peak wattage about twice as high as what the system should draw under load. Note that a GPU upgrade may require a new PSU as 450W isn’t a whole lot.