I'm an engineering student who has always loved gaming and tinkering with machinery. So naturally, I have always wanted to build computers. While this is a fun pastime for me, I do not have an excessively high income to build a powerhouse rig with. I did have experience building in the past since I built an APU rig before with the help of a friend of mine (he currently has that one) but I wanted to build a gaming PC for myself. So I decided to start off with a modest rig that had a solid upgrade path to go through one component at a time.
Building this PC has been an incredible experience for me. Not only did it satiate my desire to create and game in one device, but it taught me a lot about how modern computing works, and that fascinates a nerd like me!
Here's how my gaming performance has progressed as the upgrades were installed:
Getting started, on the cheap (A6-5400k, 8GB RAM, no external graphics): This rig was able to run basic games and older games pretty well, I was actually really impressed considering I picked the CPU up to update my bios to get myself Kaveri ready. I played lots of Payday 2 on 720p and was able to match PS3 quality graphics for the most part. It also handled Bethesda RPGs before Fallout 4 with ease. I even managed to complete a playthrough of Shadow of Mordor on the chip (albeit on low settings at 720p). It was definitely a good starting point and a necessary one if your FM2 board was bought secondhand like mine was and did not have the bios for Kaveri on it.
The next step (A6-5400k, 8GB RAM, EVGA GTX 750 Ti FTW): The graphics card made a huge difference in game performance. Shadow of Mordor, a GPU heavy game, went from barely reaching for 30 fps on the lowest settings at 720p to getting over 40 with nearly all settings maxed at 1080p. I played a lot of Fallout 4 on this setup, and it was fairly playable everywhere except for densely packed areas such as downtown Boston, where there was simply too much for the poor little dual core to process. Overall, though, this setup was able to run and play decently comfortably nearly anything I threw at it, and that is an incredible feat for a PC that cost me under $400!
A true gaming rig (Athlon X4 860k, 8GB RAM, EVGA GTX 750 Ti FTW): Here we are, gaming nirvana for under $500. While I can't claim to be getting 60 FPS at all times, I haven't found a game I can't run at 1080p with nearly every setting at high/ultra with the guts to push my FPS below 30 (beyond the occasional frame drop when open world games load a new area (I.E. Sprinting through the world of Fallout 4 in downtown Boston). For instance, on the above setup (APU with graphics card) I could only manage the upper teens for FPS in Project: Cars (at the lowest possible settings), but with the processor upgrade, I can easily run it on high and get around 50FPS average. I am blown away by the power of this setup, and it will only get better once I add another stick of RAM to it for 16GB dual channel!
Future steps: I know I plan to add another stick of RAM as detailed above, but as this rig sits, it is an extremely capable gaming PC that can run nearly any game at maximum settings. I am hopeful that AMD will release their new ZEN architecture that has been rumored, but the X4 chip will serve me well for a long while. The only upgrades I have planned are going to a 500W modular power supply (likely from EVGA) and grabbing a cheap disc drive to make driver installs that much easier.
I was able to put this computer together as cheaply as I did because I took my time, did my research, and was able to take advantage of sales and promos through various online websites. Because of this, I had to buy parts separately and many of the components were bought as certified refurbished status from their respective manufactures. While I fully trust re-certified refurbished parts, there is still a slightly greater risk in purchasing these parts instead of brand new parts. Always try to go for refurbished before secondhand, but if you must buy secondhand, be sure to verify with the seller that the part works (if you can get photo/video evidence, definitely do this)! That being said, if you are on a strict budget as I was, it is possible to build a 1080p capable rig on the cheap if you can wait a while!
Note: I did not include peripherals in the cost of this build, but they ran me about $60 all told (buying things secondhand is the way to go!). I also was able to score Windows 8.1 through my school for free. That being said, if you have a mouse, keyboard, and monitor laying around, this build was put together and is happily gaming for well under $375, which places it at almost the exact cost of an Xbox One or PS4 but gives you a completely functional PC rather than just a gaming device. I am certain this rig will get some CAD experience as I continue doing engineering classes, and for the price, I'm not sure I could ask for much more out of this rig!
So how'd I do? Where can I improve? What upgrades should I consider?
Thanks for reading about my build!
I should be able to give this CPU 10 stars. It is the best budget CPU that AMD has to offer right now, and it flat out performs. For a little background, this chip is the A-10 7870k without the integrated graphics in it. This little guy, combined with my GTX 750 ti (both at stock clock speeds) handles Xbox One/PS4 games at 1080p and on high/ultra settings with ease (including Fallout 4, GTAV, Shadow of Mordor, and Wolfenstein: The New Order, more on the way as I become rich :) ). Buy this processor and you will not be disappointed, it is a true budget gaming unit!
Why are you reading this? You already know this is the best cooler in this price range!
My CPU temp has yet to break 75 degrees even when benchmarking, this cooler is simply the best.
Fantastic Motherboard for the price, and has all the features you could possibly want to boot! Plenty of USBs, a front USB 3.0 header, and HD Audio in a 4 channel RAM board for under $50? Can't say no to that. Oh, and ClickBIOS is pretty neat too, once you finallly manage to figure out how to boot windows 8.1 from it (software newb here).
I docked one star from it because I did have to buy a cheap APU to flash the BIOS, but I knew that I would have to going in. Just be careful when you buy your components, folks!
Good, stable ram. I had this stick overclocked to 2133 speed when I was using the APU (APUs are very affected by RAM speed), but I am using the stock speed now and it works very well. I will add a second stick to take advantage of dual channel soon
I am blown away by this card. It has given my dual core rig the power to easily match the PS4\XBOne in graphics capability. It gives me an amazing 50 FPS on Shadow of Mordor with all settings on ultra except for textures, which is on high. I know a 900 series may be a bit more powerful but I couldn't pass up this card. Get it!
EDIT: Pairing this with the Athlon is a match made in heaven. The combo handles current gen console games extremely well and the card has yet to break 60 degrees Celsius on me, the value of this card is amazing and anyone building a budget gaming PC should definitely look into it!
Pretty good case for the price. It has 4 fan mounts, comes with one fan, and feels somewhat sturdy with the exception of the front plate not lining up with the top USB housing properly. I like the window in the side, it gives it a nice look.
An 80+ certified PSU for $25 is pretty agreeable. I trust the Corsair name.
EDIT: Still hasn't blown up or fried my components, but I am wishing I shelled out a bit more for the modular unit.
Exceptionally quiet fans, no complaints here! I am running four of these, two in and two out. They work well mounted above my CPU cooler for a push-pull setup.