Want an AMD processor, more RAM, or an Nvidia graphics card? Read on.
|Processor||AMD A10-5800K 3.8GHz||$119.99|
|Motherboard||ASRock FM2A85X Extreme6||$107.99|
|Storage||OCZ Vertex 3 60GB||$74.99|
|Corsair Force Series GT 120GB||$129.99|
|Graphics||PowerColor Radeon HD 7850 1GB||$169.99|
|Asus GeForce GTX 660||$214.99|
We think the Core i3-3220 is a better fit for the Econobox, but that doesn't mean AMD's A10-5800K lacks redeeming qualities. The A10 performs better than the Core i3 in many non-gaming tasks, and its integrated graphics are superior. That's an appealing combo if you're more of a casual gamer who tends to run demanding productivity applications, since you can save a few bucks by skipping the discrete graphics card.
There's no good way to spin the A10's 100W power envelope and currently non-existent upgrade path, though. This is a fairly power-hungry chip, and since it's the quickest one available for its socket, a future processor upgrade will likely require a change of motherboard, as well.
If you're happy with that, then the A10 may be the processor for you.
Note that we're picking the A10-5800K over the FX-4300. The FX does have a marginally better upgrade path than the A10, but it lacks integrated graphics, and its lower clock speed doesn't bode well. In our experience, processors based on AMD's Bulldozer architecture need all the GHz they can get in order to perform well. That holds especially true in applications that don't make use of multiple threads.
Most motherboards designed to mate with the A10-5800K have a microATX form factor, which means they have smaller circuit boards and fewer expansion slots. We prefer a full-sized offering. Among the few ATX models available, we like the ASRock's FM2A85X Extreme6 the most.
This mobo actually costs slightly more than our Intel board, but it's clearly worth the dough. It has three PCI Express x16 slots, which are configurable in a x16/x8/x4- or x8/x8/x4-lane setup, and it boasts no fewer than seven 6Gbps SATA ports and four USB 3.0 ports. ASRock even puts a CMOS reset switch in the port cluster, so in the event of a failed overclock or some other snafu, there's no need to pop the side panel to get everything back to normal.
Samsung's Spinpoint F3 is a fine hard drive, but it's no match for the responsiveness of an SSD. We have two budget SSD recommendations for the Econbox. The first one is OCZ's Vertex 3 60GB, which is currently available for around $75. This is a very speedy drive that will accommodate your Windows installation and a few apps, but it probably won't be roomy enough to hold all your games.
If you'd like a little more wiggle room, then Corsair's Force Series GT 120GB is hard to beat. This drive was so quick it earned our Editor's Choice award in a matchup last year, and at around a dollar a gig, it's now relatively affordable. You'll find cheaper 120-128GB SSDs listed at Newegg, but none quite this fast.
Nvidia's sub-$200 graphics offerings aren't quite up to par with the AMD solutions. That means the best alternative to the Radeon HD 7770 is another AMD card: the Radeon HD 7850 1GB.
The 7850 1GB is noticeably faster. In fact, it's quick enough to handle almost all games at 1080p with the detail settings cranked up. You'll only start to see performance suffer in titles like Skyrim, whose ultra-high-resolution textures can butt up against the 1GB memory limit—especially if you turn up the antialiasing, too. The 7850 1GB is a fairly inexpensive upgrade; PowerColor's version is available for around $170. As a bonus, it comes with a free copy of Sleeping Dogs.
Nvidia regains the upper hand above the $200 mark. Our scatter plots demonstrate that the GeForce GTX 660 outpaces the 99th-percentile frame times of AMD's competing Radeon HD 7870. Not only that, but our latest testing with the Radeon HD 7950 and GeForce GTX 660 Ti shows AMD has trouble warding off disruptive frame-time spikes. The same may hold true with lower-end solutions, in which case the GTX 660 could also deliver a noticeably smoother gaming experience than competing Radeons.
Regardless, the GTX 660 represents a sizable upgrade from both the Radeon HD 7770 and the Radeon HD 7850 1GB. This card is quick enough to handle many games on a 27" monitor at 2560x1440. Perhaps that's overkill for the Econobox... but then again, those 27" Korean monitors are awfully affordable.
You probably don't need to worry about getting a more powerful PSU if you opt for the GTX 660, by the way. The card only requires a single PCIe power connector, and in our testing with a much quicker CPU than either the Core i3-3220 or the A10-5800K, power draw with a GTX 660 peaked at 232W. (That was for the whole system, sans monitor.) Our 380W Antec PSU should have no trouble pumping out that kind of power.