Because speed doesn't have to cost a fortune
Our budget build's target price has fluctuated over the years, but our aim has always been the same: to spec out a solid budget gaming PC without ugly compromises. Decent graphics performance is a must here, as is a strong upgrade path.
|Processor||Intel Core i3-3220 3.3GHz||$129.99|
|Memory||Crucial Ballistix 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3-1600||$35.99|
|Graphics||HIS Radeon HD 7790 OC||$119.99|
|Storage||Seagate Barracuda 7,200 RPM 1TB||$69.99|
|Enclosure||Corsair Carbide 200R||$59.99|
|Power supply||Corsair CX430M||$49.99|
We're still waiting for Haswell to trickle down to budget territory, so the Ivy Bridge-based Core i3-3220 remains our primary CPU recommendation for the Econobox. AMD's latest Richland APUs do offer better integrated graphics and competitive CPU performance with widely multithreaded applications. However, this machine is configured with a discrete graphics card that's far more powerful than AMD's fastest integrated Radeon, making the onboard GPU moot. Also, most users—gamers included—would be better served by the Core i3's superior single-threaded performance. The Ivy Bridge chip has lower power consumption than comparable Richland APUs, and it's cheaper, too.
The Gigabyte GA-H77-DS3H from the previous guide has been discontinued. Gigabyte offers a similar microATX model, but we're building a full-sized ATX system here, so we might as well not sacrifice expansion slots needlessly.
MSI's ZH77A-G43, which sells for only $85, is an appealing ATX option for the Econobox. Don't let the sneaky "Z" in the model number fool you; the board is based on the H77 platform. Short of full CPU overclocking support, the H77 has everything we need for a budget build, including support for multi-drive RAID arrays and SSD caching.
The ZH77A-G43 also has two 6Gbps SATA connectors and four USB 3.0 ports—and unlike some other value-oriented Ivy mobos, it has overwhelmingly positive user reviews. MSI's 7-series boards don't have the best Windows-based tweaking software, and their firmware-based fan speed controls are a little limited, but the GD43 is still a good option given its price tag.
PC memory prices are down from earlier this summer, so we can nab 4GB of RAM for only $36. This dual-channel Crucial Ballistix kit is one of the most affordable DDR3-1600 options from the big-name memory vendors. Its DIMMs run at tight 8-8-8-24 timings on just 1.5V, and they have low-profile heat spreaders that steer clear of aftermarket coolers. If you run memory-intensive applications and would prefer an 8GB kit, check the alternatives section on the next page.
The GTX 650 Ti Boost is still hanging around $150, which is a little out of our price range. The vanilla GeForce GTX 650 Ti is a more reasonable choice; it's available for around $130 for a hot-clocked model. Juiced-up Radeon HD 7790 cards occupy similar territory, and you can get this HIS model for only $120.
When we tested a similar Radeon HD 7790 card earlier this year, it came out slightly ahead of a faster-than-stock GeForce 650 Ti with double the memory. The Radeon had lower power consumption under load, too. Since it's also the cheaper of the two, it's our pick for the Econobox.
We don't have the budget to include an SSD by default, so Seagate's 1TB Barracuda returns as the Econobox's system drive. This 7,200-RPM mechanical drive has a single platter, 64MB of cache, and a 6Gbps Serial ATA interface. It also boasts higher performance ratings than WD's comparable Blue 1TB drive, which uses two platters and is likely to be noisier as a result. Too bad neither drive offers more than two years of warranty coverage.
We're rounding out our storage recs with a DVD burner. Optical drives are almost unnecessary in modern PCs, but this is a full-sized desktop, and we have three 5.25" drive bays just waiting to be filled. A DVD burner like Asus' DRW-24B1ST only costs an extra $20 or so, and it could come in handy.
We used to recommend Antec's Three Hundred case for this build, but Corsair's Carbide Series 200R is our current favorite budget case. Despite selling for just $60, the 200R is loaded with enthusiast-friendly features. Thumbscrews abound, the cable-routing holes are nice and wide, the tool-less drive bays work effortlessly, and Corsair even offers four dedicated 2.5" bays for SSDs and mini mechanical drives.
We've tested the 200R alongside the Three Hundred Two, an improved version of the Three Hundred, and working in the Corsair case was far more comfortable and convenient. The 200R only had one disadvantage: it didn't keep components quite as cool as its Antec rival. The difference was relatively small, however, and we were stress-testing with high-end components that consume a lot more power than our Econobox config. Thermals shouldn't be an issue for this build.
Since this system doesn't draw a lot of power, we don't need a beefy PSU. We do, however, want a modicum of quality. We'll spend a little more on a branded, high-efficiency unit with good reviews.
One such unit is Corsair's CX430M, which ticks all the right boxes for the Econobox: 80 Plus Bronze certification, a jumbo intake fan that should be reasonably quiet, a three-year warranty, and a low price. Not only that, but the CX430M has modular cabling, which will help keep our internals as tidy as possible.
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