Bit of back story here, as I had no plans to build a PC in 2015. Two things happened - firstly, after living in flats/small houses for 10 years I'd be using pre-built laptops for gaming due to lack of space and when we bought a decent house I had some room for a desktop. Secondly, after a long gaming session in the spring my laptop overheated and was basically dead. It would have cost me a few hundred pounds to have it repaired and it was already a few years old at that point.
So, I harvested what I could from the laptop (SSD & 2.5" mechanical drive) and resolved myself to build a cheap and cheerful desktop gaming system to a fixed budget. Couldn't afford much and as the only peripherals I had was a mouse I had to factor in a monitor and keyboard as well. I set myself a budget of £750 for the lot.
Build was completed one afternoon in September 2015 and it has been a joy to use. I haven't built a PC since the early 2000's, so I did some research online and after buying the parts I put it all together and got it up and running in one afternoon. All in, all the parts cost me £725. I purchased everything from Amazon, as I get 5% back from a cash back site it turned out to be the cheapest place.
It runs quiet, cool and has played everything I've asked it to with decent settings - Kerbal Space Program, GTAV, Heroes & Generals, Elite Dangerous, even Arma 3 with the Exile mod runs well. I've even edited a couple of videos for Youtube on it, although they did render rather slowly! It isn't going to set any records but it does exactly what I need it to do with the potential to upgrade.
Temperature testing was done with Prime95 for the CPU and 3DMark for the GPU.
Some of the choices were also made while considering future use, as I can swap out parts as I upgrade this rig for use in an HTPC/under TV gaming PC. I'll try to explain those as I go.
CPU I chose an Intel processor mainly due to bad experiences with AMD chips in the past. After shopping around for a while I settled on this over the Pentium G3258. No problem running any games thanks to hyperthreading and for general productivity it does nicely. In my opinion, this runs better than the mobile i5 I had in my last laptop!
CPU Cooler This may seem like an odd choice, due it being such a low profile cooler and having a case capable of housing a larger one but this was chosen for future use. As I plan to build an ITX system for going under the TV at some point as I upgrade this system, I went for a cooler I could re-use. I chose a Noctua product due to their rep for silence and even at full load on Prime95 it was only generating a small amount of noise.
Motherboard Cheapest Z97 Asus board I could find that support SLI at the time. I wanted an Asus board due to brand rep and that was my main reason for buying it. I chose Z97 over H81 so I could upgrade to a i5 or i7 down the road without having to swap out the mainboard, while maintaining the option to overclock. Runs well, quality was good, BIOS is comprehensive and was easy to work with during assembly.
RAM Again, cheapest 8gb kit I could find from a reputable brand when I purchased the parts. Will upgrade to more RAM in the future as required and this will go into the under TV PC.
GPU This was probably the one component that I was looking forward to working with the most. Heard a lot of great things about the 750ti and it was the price to performance ratio of this card that made me start down the road of a desktop over a laptop. This runs most games really well for what is a very cheap card. Never felt I've had to compromise too many settings for gaming at 1080p. It won't get super high frames or be able to be pushed to ultra settings in games but it is consistent and runs very quiet (silent on desktop & indie games). I chose this model specifically for it's top reviews, the fact it doesn't need an extra power connector and the display outputs - it has both Displayport and HDMI 2.0 - means that if I migrate this to an under TV HTPC in the future it can run video output at 4k 60Hz. I know the 950 has DirectX 12 support so I would have gone with that (had it been out) but as I plan to upgrade this card before too many games that I would play take advantage of the new API, does it really matter?
Case I originally envisioned buying a SFF case and going down the mITX route. However, due to my limited experience I instead chose to go mid-tower sized for easy assembly and future expansion. Case itself is well made, easy to work on and both my drives fit behind the motherboard tray. Two gripes I have about it are that the front panel connectors don't allow the USB plugs to sit fully in the socket and when I received the case the 3.5" mechanical drive sleds were slightly bent. Not too much of an issue as I removed the sled entirely but quality control should have picked that up.
PSU I wanted a semi-modular power supply as, beyond the motherboard, I am only powering two drives and didn't want loads of extra cables restricting airflow in the system. This was well reviewed and I can see why - compact, quiet and well made. Cables are nice too. This will be migrated to the HTPC as it will fit in most mITX cases.
OS Started with Windows 8.1 (bleurgh). Lasted about 3 weeks before I upgraded to Windows 10. Never looked back. I could have gone down the SteamOS/Linux route but I wanted to use this system to be versatile and easy to use.
Display Chose this as it was good value from a well rep'd brand. Very happy with this. Image is crisp, colours are decent considering it is a TN panel and it is well put together. I usually run my Raspberry PI on it as well, which works great with it and also tried out my old Xbox 360 too. Can imagine using this in the future for other projects or as a placeholder TV display with an external source when I upgrade.
Keyboard Nothing fancy here. No really, it is the least fancy keyboard ever. Couldn't afford a mechanical one at the time so went with something I knew. I have one of these at work and I know they are reliable and long lasting. Always handy having a basic keyboard lying about.
In addition to the parts I purchased, here's the rest of the items included in the build that I already owned or recycled from my dead laptop:
SSD Plextor 256gb SSD, not the fastest but it is still makes the system snappy. I keep most of my games on here. I purchased a USB to SATA cable and formatted using an old laptop before doing a clean Windows install when the system was assembled. One thing I will do is either go for a larger capacity boot drive in the future or add a second SSD for games as I am constantly running out of space (thanks GTAV!)
HDD Also rescued from the laptop, this 1TB 2.5" drive had a lot of media and other bits on it so I installed it straight into the new PC. Even though it is only a 5400rpm drive I use it to store recorded Shadowplay footage at 1080p to it no problem. Think this will be replaced with a 3.5" larger capacity drive in the future if I can straighten the HDD sleds that came with the case. Or I may invest in a NAS and move all the media to that, so the system would only contain SSDs.
Mouse Purchased this in an Amazon flash sale 2 years ago for a big discount. I shape fits will in my hand, it looks great and it doesn't have some of the build quality issues I've had with gaming mice in the past.
Headset Was going to buy a Razer headset for use with my laptop but this caught my eye in a couple of years ago. I'll admit I didn't use it as much as I should as the whole setup is a bit cumbersome with a laptop but works great with a stationary setup i.e. desktop. Sound quality is good and fairly neutral, full mic is good (so I'm told), they are fairly comfortable and the included dedicated volume dial with mute is a godsend (can't imagine not having these now). Also has some telephony features that I haven't really used. One thing I have found is that it is versatile. As it comes with multiple mic options, so I can unplug the full mic from the headphones and use those with the inline mic on my tablet for watching Youtube videos or streaming video, all without having to dig the connector out of the back of the case.
For internet connectivity I use a wired connection, as my router is a bit naff and I am loving not being bottlenecked by the wifi connection.
I spent the last £25 of my budget on a wired Xbox 360 controller (£22) for playing GTAV and the remaining £3 on some sweets to give me the sugary energy for putting all the bits together.
Thanks for reading and I hope you like my build!