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A modern motherboard is like a Lego board, made easier by the labels that take up every square inch of its silicon real-estate. So, as you collect the right Lego bricks (read processor, GFX card, RAM kit and so on) and plug them into their respective places on the board, you got yourself a working system. It is that simple!
The problem however is the plethora of hardware choices and combinations out there fighting for your attention. To add to that, there is the ever-lasting argument between Intel vs. AMD processor and graphics cards. This is just the tip of the iceberg for someone wanting to build a budget gaming PC.
But, don’t fret, this cheat sheet shall give the right perspective to builds, components and much more on a budget. In other words, if you are okay with playing the latest PC games at ultra-settings (and some at high) on a 1900 x 1080 resolution HD monitor, then you’ll find this article helpful. If not, then this will seem pretty rudimentary for your liking.
Processor And Cooling Unit
From a purely gaming perspective, you shall need a discrete graphics card in any case, so features like ‘integrated graphics’ on your processor shouldn’t matter. However, the processor goes into overdrive for RTS (XCom 2), simulation (Grid Autosport), or games with adaptive utilization of computation such as Deus Ex 2: Mankind Divided. Also, multiplayer games will take more processing power.
That said, all current gen, quad core CPUs can handle modern gaming challenges. Intel core i3-7100 is a good starting point with its dual core, quad thread processing capability and 3.9GHz base clock. Its not power hungry and provides optimum cover for your affordable gaming needs.
Going up the processing-to-price scale, AMD FX-8300 is a capable processor at $105. Its an octa-core processor with 3.3Ghz base clock that ramps up to 4.2GHz on turbo. We suggest you spend on a proper cooling unit like Cooler Master’s HX-212 fan to keep this beast under control.
If you decide on Intel’s i3 processor, then you’ll should be looking for LGA 1151 socket type motherboards, in which case the likes of Asus H110M-A/M.2; MSI H110M Gaming and Gigabyte GA-H110M-A come into play. We like the MSI variant but that is more of a personal rather than a professional choice.
All three motherboards fall within the $60-$80 price band, and offer similar features like two DIMM slots with support for DDR4 RAMs; single slot for graphics card; one processor fan and one case fan connection. Depending on your budget, you could ramp up the motherboard selection to avail more bells and whistles.
As for AMD FX-8300, any good quality, AM3+ socket type motherboard will do the job. Here again, you could choose between Asus, Gigabyte and ASRock for budget motherboards in the $60-$90 range. They offer all the basic connections.
However, if longevity is in your plans, then we suggest you spend a bit more and choose between either MSI Gaming 970 or ASRock AM3 970A-G/3.1. Both gall within $90-$100 and will not wilt under heavy gaming, thanks to their build and pre-installed heat dissipation solutions.
8GB of RAM should be sufficient for most gaming requirements. So, depending on your choice of motherboard, you could either go for two 4GB sticks or a single 8GB memory module. There is a lot of choice when it comes to RAM manufacturers. So, its really a matter of preference and price ($50-$60).
However, your choice of RAM stick(s) should match your motherboard’s specs. For example, AMD based motherboards accept DDR3 RAMs whereas their Intel counterparts accept DDR4.
Another aspect is the latency if you’re employing two RAM sticks. Make sure the latency of both sticks match exactly.
For a budget PC build, 500-600 watts power supply should be enough. But not all PSUs are built the same and what you really ought to look for is one that gives you constant efficiency at 20, 50 and 100 percent loads. Thus, any PSU with an 80 Plus Bronze certification will cater to your budget gaming rig’s power needs effortlessly.
In the 500 to 600-watt range, EVGA 500B and Seasonic S12II 520W are two excellent choices for sub $50 PSUs. However, we like EVGA 500 W1 for builds with NVidia GTX 1050 and 1060 GFX cards, whereas Corsair’s CX600 600-watts PSU is our favorite for AMD GFX based PCs.
In terms of sheer price to performance ratio, its hard to ignore the tug-of-war between Nvidia’s GTX-1060 and AMD’s Radeon RX480. Both cards come in two different GPU RAM variants. The 1060 offers a choice between 3GB and 6GB version. Similarly, RX480 comes in 4GB and 8GB variants. The pricing too varies between $200-$250.
Nevertheless, our budget winner in GFX card category has to be the GTX-1050Ti. It hits the sweet spot with its $150 price point; 4GB RAM and 1354Mhz base clock speed (EVGA model). It is just about perfect for playing classic and modern games at 1080p at high settings.
As a gaming machine, 1 TB SATA hard drive running at 7200rpm will do just fine. But if you are keen upon faster load times, then you could choose a 480GB SATA-3 SSD, in which case Toshiba OCZ Trion 150 and SanDisk SSD Plus become choices worth looking at.
For a better match between speed and affordability, a combination of 128GB M.2 SSD (ADATA or Transcend) and 1TB hard-drive (WB Caviar Blue) would serve your needs and your pocket better ($100 combined).
Discussed above are the fundamental purchases but not the only ones. There is the aspect of CPU cases, computer peripherals, monitors and the likes. We decided to leave them out because quite honestly, that discussion deserves content space of its own.
Its also worth repeating that PCs assembled with these combinations would cost between $450-$750 and cater to the 1080p gaming audience. Therefore, expecting these builds to take on 1440p, 4K or VR with style would be sheer naivety.