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||Kingston 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3-1600||$46.99|
|Graphics||Gigabyte GeForce GTX 650 Ti||$129.99|
|Storage||Seagate Barracuda 7,200 RPM 1TB||$69.99|
|Enclosure||Corsair Carbide 200R||$59.99|
|Power supply||Corsair CX430M||$49.99|
The arrival of AMD's Richland processors hasn't really changed the dynamic in this price range. AMD solutions still offer superior integrated graphics and multithreaded CPU performance at a premium, but Intel's Ivy Bridge-based Core i3 chips continue to deliver better single-threaded performance at lower prices.
Since the Econobox is outfitted with a discrete graphics card, we're going to give the Core i3 the nod again for our primary config. This chip performs better than competing AMD solutions in games, and as a bonus, it will consume less power doing so. Casual gamers and folks who want to prioritize multithreaded performance can skip to the Econobox alternatives section on the next page, where we recommend one of the new Richland A-series APUs.
Our Intel CPU doesn't need a terribly expensive motherboard. At a little under $100, Gigabyte's GA-H77-DS3H delivers everything we should need for the Econobox: a full ATX layout, dual physical PCI Express x16 slots (albeit with four lanes of connectivity running through the second one), 6Gbps Serial ATA, USB 3.0, and Gigabyte's latest UEFI interface, which is much improved over the company's older designs. Gigabyte doesn't have the finest fan speed controls around, but with the GA-H77-DS3H, it delivers a very compelling package for the price.
PC memory prices have climbed further since our last edition of the guide, so there's no way we're going back to an 8GB kit this time. This Kingston dual-channel kit is one of the most affordable 4GB DDR-1600 bundles listed right now. It runs as fast as our processor supports, and it's affordable enough to keep us from straying too far from our budget. What more could we want?
The GeForce GTX 650 Ti doesn't come with free bundled games like its Radeon rivals, but it's quicker than the Radeon HD 7770—and, among relatively low-end cards like these, every ounce of performance matters.
Our chosen GTX 650 Ti model hails from Gigabyte. It runs a fair bit quicker than Nvidia's reference design (1032MHz, up from 928MHz), and it has a humongous fan that should keep noise levels nice and low under load. (Remember, the bigger the fan, the lower the rotational speed required to pump a given volume of air per minute.) The card also comes with $75 of credit for free-to-play games including PlanetSide 2, World of Tanks, and Hawken. The extra credit is a nice touch, although admittedly not as desirable as a free game.
If you're more keen on Radeons, or you simply want a higher-tier card, check our alternatives on the next page.
Seagate's 1TB Barracuda returns as our system drive of choice, since the Econobox's budget is too tight for an SSD. The Barracuda has a 7,200-RPM spindle speed, a 64MB cache, 6Gbps Serial ATA connectivity, and a very affordable price tag. Western Digital offers a similar drive in this price range, the 1TB Blue, but the 'cuda has fewer, denser platters (just one of them, actually), higher performance, and comparable user ratings on Newegg. It's just too bad about the two-year warranty—but WD is no better on that front.
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 can always come in handy.
We used to recommend Antec's Three Hundred case for this build, but Corsair has bested Antec pretty much across the board with its Carbide Series 200R case. The 200R sells for $60 and packs a wealth of enthusiast-friendly goodness. 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—handy, should you ever upgrade the Econobox with an SSD.
We've tested the 200R right 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 the Three Hundred Two. The difference was relatively small, however, and we were stress-testing with high-end, power-hungry components. The Econobox has a 55W CPU and a power-sipping GPU, so thermals aren't a big challenge here.
This system doesn't draw a lot of power, which means we don't need a very beefy PSU. We do, however, want a modicum of quality. Bargain-basement power supplies might be tantalizingly cheap, but they often fail to deliver where it counts. Also, they can be frighteningly prone to failures that can take out other components. No thanks. We'll spend a little more on a branded, high-efficiency unit with good reviews.
The Corsair CX430M ticks all of the right boxes: 80 Plus Bronze certification, modular cabling, a jumbo intake fan that should be reasonably quiet, a three-year warranty, and a low price. We've been spoiled by the ease of use and convenience of modular power supplies in higher-end builds, and since that convenience comes cheap here, we'd be fools to pass it up.