HUGE UPDATE: I changed out the case and GPU in this build and reposted it, as members on the forum suggested. Check that out - it's more current than this one! Thanks for looking :-)
I've been building PCs for about a couple of years now, but I always found myself buying things that were "low end" or borderline outdated as I could only spend a small amount of money. I wanted to change that and I did with this build after getting a seasonal job for about 4 months where I saved about $1000 and had a few hundred bucks set aside to build this.
I was smart (a rare occurrence with computer-related things) and bought a very budget system but with a good motherboard so I figured I could gradually upgrade the system to what it is today incrementally, so I could have a ton of time to find the prices that border on robbery, while selling my old parts online for good (for me) prices to minimize the damage to my wallet.
In case you're wondering, my system a year ago was an FX 4100 at 5 Ghz (no typo, great quad core for $90 at the time) and an HD 6850 in a cheapo Cooler Master case that cost me 400 bucks for the system. It worked but couldn't handle much at high settings. Kerbal Space Program at max settings made that GPU wilt, IIRC. This build shows that you can get performance in another league for only about 60% more.
Anyways, this is my system! I've worked really hard to get it to where it is today and am quite proud of the cable management because I SUCK at it. I'm not used to anything so tidy :-) You can't even see the 8 pin CPU power plug/cable! The only thing I hate is that pesky black case fan cable going across the GPU area. Maybe sometime this weekend I'll put that under the motherboard or something so it's not so ugly.
This system maxes out anything I can throw at it at my current (but about to change) resolution of 1600x900. I have a limited game library that exists partially thanks to the Humble Origin Bundle that includes Battlefield 3, Crysis 2, Grid 2, Kerbal Space Program, and some other non-graphics intensive NFS/other racing games and such. The 660 Ti doesn't even have to put forth much effort to max out NFS Shift 2 or Burnout Paradise. I will get my hands on an Asus 1080p IPS monitor so I can go dual monitors this weekend
(hopefully.. It would be a birthday present for my 16th birthday) (ended up getting it :3) According to benchmarks online, I should be able to still max those games out at 1080p. Fingers crossed..
I honestly feel that this is about as good as I could do considering that the tower only cost me around $660. Most other builds in the 600 dollar range seem to have an i5 with not enough GPU horsepower or an i3 with something like a 660 Ti.
The reason that some of my prices are so dirt cheap is mentioned above. I bought what I needed over the course of months when the item went on clearance or someone posted a refurbished/open box item on eBay. If you're willing to do this, you can save huge amounts of cash if you're smart about it. For example, I picked up the RAM for $45 plus tax because my local Best Buy either wanted that exact memory kit gone or just was clearancing it out for who knows why. It's back at $80 there last I saw. I also got a case fan there for 5 bucks because it was a returned item. That little stuff adds up real fast. Shopping like that probably saved me a couple hundred dollars over buying new at whatever the current price is.
Also, I came into PC building with no knowledge and all of my incremental upgrades went without a hitch. (except for the one I describe shortly) I didn't ever break anything or damage anything and I have gotten it where I can fully assemble this PC from scratch and cable manage it in about 2-2.5 hours, taking my time.
I have a pretty decent OC on my CPU at stock volts, but my GPU utterly sucked at overclocking. I could only squeeze about 20 Mhz out of the core clock (albeit before GPU Boost's auto-200 Mhz overclock to about 1240 Mhz in games). After that point, it crashed regardless of voltage. I did give it a decent memory OC to help with the 660 Ti's bandwidth issues at higher resolutions like 1080p. I added about 180 Mhz in EVGA Precision X to give it about 10 GB/s more of bandwidth because it was free performance, I guess. I'll take it any day considering I got it for $170 hardly used on eBay.
I feel I should also note that this system is very quiet. On the 'high' fan controller setting built into my case, all I hear is air moving. Lots of it. The included fans are very quiet and by some great luck I got some super-quiet Rosewill fans that I can't even hear on max RPMs that also move lots of air. (EDIT: with the new fans there's less 'whoosh' and clicking noise but there's still lots of air moving.)
The reason I bothered with such a cheap sound card is because my integrated audio from my old Antec (!!!) PSU exploding in my face. After that happened my onboard audio just put out static (tested with multiple headphones and speakers) and did nothing. Drivers weren't an issue. When that old PSU died, there was lots of noise and I could hear what sounded like sparks flying. Also, my old blue LED fan was twitching. The LEDs were flickering and everything. I'm darn lucky not to have broken anything else. I think the sound is a bit better in games, though. Could be that good ol' placebo effect.
Also, please don't bash the image quality. All I have for pics is an iPhone and I had to upload the pictures to my Google Drive account and download them to my PC before re-uploading them here. Some of the quality could have been lost if the images got resized. I feel that the pictures show you the system, though.
Let me know what you think and if there's anything I could have done better, considering the budget and the fact that I'm only 16 on Saturday :3 If there's any more pics you think I should take and upload, let me know. I'll try to get to it some time I suppose. I'm a busy person who does a LOT more than game. However, there might be reason to doubt that considering what I have typed up here. Goodness, I've typed a lot.
Take note that the CPU cooler only will install vertically on AMD systems. I had no choice but to install it that way. It surprisingly performs very well pulling hot air off the GPU. I have no idea how.
Thanks for checking my build out!
EDIT: I did some more cable management to tidy it up a bit. Notably, I moved that fan cord that stuck out against the motherboard. I put it near the back of the case, in that little hole between the motherboard and the GPU's PCB right against the back of the case. It looks better than before, and I'm not about to remove the motherboard for 1 lousy cable. I also swapped some fans out with a 2 of those Cooler Master value fans that come in a 4 pack. They're amazing, especially at that price. There's no coil whine and I just hear some air movement. For $3 each, you can't go wrong. Also, I've got some extras if another fan decides to act up now.
I swapped them in for the fans I had because most of them made this annoying clicking noise that I thought was just something in my house. Those NZXT fans' bearings all made that noise, except for a couple of them. It annoyed the heck out of me. Now, I can sleep in the same room as this PC. I can barely hear it, which is saying something because that little, rapid clicking noise kept me awake.
I also removed that WD Blue drive. It was very old and was vibrating enough to shake the entire case enough to make significant noise. I just moved what little I had on it to the 500 GB drive and tossed it in a drawer in case I ever decide that I need something from it. I also removed the CD drive, as I haven't used it other than to install the OS. The cables annoyed me.
I will add pictures hopefully this evening of the interior. Not much changed inside and I'm busy for a bit this evening.
Adding the pics now. I'll leave the old ones as 'before' pictures I guess. The last 3 are the new pics. There's no lights in there anymore because the 140mm fan wasn't balanced - it visibly wobbled a TON while operating and just spinning it by hand (after me noticing the wobbling) and made a clicking noise that I can't stand. I think it's that 'rifle' bearing NZXT uses. It seems to be kind of cheap.
Also, my dog scratched at the side panel while I was tinkering with cables and, after directly inflicting a small nick on the inside of the panel, kicked it over onto an old power supply I had sitting out for some reason. She pushed it onto the corner of the PSU as well as some of the sharp plastic plugs on it. It's an old work PC PSU from about 2003. Now there's 3 nice little scratches on the outside of the side panel T_T (of course, it has to be the windowed panel, the only one you actually look at.)
I also tossed in a pic of my dual monitor setup. I'm using my old 1600x900 as a secondary, and it's really nice for general tasks and schoolwork that requires research to be put into a paper, for instance.
Again, sorry for the iPhone quality pictures. Taking pictures with EXTREMELY shaky hands (runs in the family. makes PC building and playing golf near impossible, but I'm good at both - I hope :P) and an iPhone while awkwardly laying on the floor is hard.
The GPU is now making an extremely annoying noise that's coming from the power delivery system. (ferrite chokes?) Although it wouldn't be an issue for 98% of people, it is for me, since I'm young and can actually hear those high pitched noises. Plus, the fans are very quiet, so the noise is exaggerated and I'm having issues sleeping with this system on.
And yes, I tested with another GPU to make sure that it was the source of the problem.
I found a brand new 7870 on eBay for $125 that will be its replacement. The 660 Ti was a bit much for my uses, and I'd like some extra cash. Plus, the 7870 is sure no slouch. It should perform similarly if I can overclock it, since my 660 Ti refused to overclock at all.
The case is also picking up nasty vibrations from the hard drive that are rattling the side panel because the center of the panel isn't secured down, due to the fact that the 2 thumbscrews only secure the edges down. Also, it's not exactly quiet when you're trying to fall asleep. For daily use, it's great, but I'm uber picky about that kind of stuff when I'm not playing a game or something. I also think that the Corsair 550D looks outstanding.
I'm thinking of getting a Corsair 550D with the money I will save going to the 7870. I'm willing to sacrifice a few degrees for the quietness. Does anyone have any personal experience with this? I can get it "like new" from Amazon's warehouse deals for like $80 I think. I've had good experiences with them.
Pics of this should arrive in a week or 2. If anyone has experience with the 550D let me know please!