Build a $600 PC
An all-around-capable, kick-ass rig doesn’t need to cost a fortune
There’s no such thing as a no-compromises $600 build. There just isn’t. But by balancing things where you can and making judicious cuts where necessary, you can at least build a modern gaming PC—with an upgrade path to the future. That means a full quad-core CPU, DirectX 11 GPU, and a fast hard drive. To paraphrase Han Solo, she may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts.
AMD Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition
The Phenom II ain’t the newest or fastest CPU on the block, not by a long shot. But it’s a cheap, overclockable quad-core with plenty of bang for the buck. We got it for $100. www.amd.com
Gigabyte GA-970A-UD3 ATX
It’s not the fanciest or the flashiest, but it has USB 3.0 and 6Gb/s SATA and supports not just our Phenom II but also FX CPUs, if we want to upgrade later. It only has one x16 PCIe 2.0 slot, but that’s what you get for $99. www.gigabyte.us
Patriot Gamer 2 Series 4 (2x 2GB) DDR3/1600
4GB is really the minimum, and we wish we could have gone for more, but every penny counts. Two 2GB sticks allow us to run in dual-channel mode at DDR3/1600 for just $32. www.patriotmemory.com
Case and Power Supply
Rosewill R218 w/450W PSU
OK, this is definitely a compromise. If we had our druthers, we’d go for a separate case and PSU, but we don’t have our druthers. We have about $43. At least it comes with a warranty. We’ve used this case/PSU combo before, and nothing bad happened. www.rosewill.com
Gigabyte Radeon HD 6850 1GB
It’s slightly more expensive and draws more power than the modern-gen Radeon HD 7770, but it’s also faster. Last generation’s where the deals are. It’s still DX11, and it’s only $138. www.gigabyte.us
Seagate Barracuda 1TB 7,200rpm
In a $600 budget build, you only get one hard drive and no SSD. It needs to be fast and capacious. This Barracuda is both, and it’s only $85. www.seagate.com
Lite-On iHAS124-04 DVD/CD Writer
t’s a DVD burner. It’s $18. If you’re on a budget, you can’t go without an optical drive. www.lite-on.com
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
We could have cheaped out and recommended Windows 8 Consumer Preview for free, but that’s a bit like cheating. $100, www.microsoft.com
Total Price: $615
At this price point, we’re going without many of the things we love best about custom PCs—no SSD, no aftermarket cooler, no cool case—but what we have is a desktop PC that will handle modern games and programs, will accept upgrades with ease, and doesn’t break the bank. It’s far slower than our zero-point, but that machine is built on a six-core Sandy Bridge‑E CPU with a $1,000 GPU and is designed to compete with $3,000 rigs. Even with a Radeon HD 6850, our Cheapskate PC puts out nearly playable frame rates in Arkham City at 2560×1600 with all settings maxed. It’s more than enough to run on high settings on a smaller screen. As for the CPU-bound encoding tests, the Cheapskate’s Phenom II doesn’t keep up, but for a gaming machine it’s fine.
There’s plenty of room to upgrade, too. The AM3+ motherboard will take a Bulldozer CPU like the FX-8150 and the upcoming “Vishera” FX chips, when they appear. You can easily put another 8GB (or more) of RAM alongside the existing 4GB. The motherboard’s second physical x16 PCIe slot runs at 4x, so CrossFire builds will be compromised, but you could update to a newer single-GPU setup down the line. An SSD would speed up boot and load times, and a more powerful PSU will allow more drives and a more power-hungry CPU and GPU.
|Premiere Pro CS6 (sec)||2,000||10,433 (-81%)|
|Stitch.Efx 2.0 (sec)||831||1,566 (-47%)|
|ProShow Producer 5.0 (sec)||1,446||2,658 (-46%)|
|x264 HD 5.0 (fps)||21.1||9.1 (-57%)|
|Batman: Arkham City (fps)||76||27 (-64%)|
|3DMark 11||5,847||1,164 (-80%)|
Our current desktop test bed consists of a hexa-core 3.2GHz Core i7-3930K 3.8GHz, 8GB of Corsair DDR3/1600, on an Asus Sabertooth X79 motherboard. We are running a GeForce GTX 690, an OCZ Vertex 3 SSD, and 64-bit Windows 7 Professional.
Note: This article appeared in the October 2012 issue of MaximumPC magazine.