PC Buyer's Guide - Low End
Welcome to page one of Guru3D's PC Buyer's Guide - We'll only cover the PC itself. Monitor, keyboard, mouse and speakers are not included. We do this for brevity's sake, as the monitor alone would require its own guide, especially if I were to cover LCD monitors.
Since this site is called "Guru3D" this guide will target a system intended for gaming primarily while not spending heaps of money. So what sort of criteria do I take into account when deciding what parts to recommend?
- Price and Performance: First and foremost, what gives the most bang for your buck, in terms of gaming primarily of course.
- Reliability: Second on the list but just as important. This includes things such as compatibility (ever had RAM that worked on one motherboard but not in another?), trustworthiness of a brand overall (do they have a history of making reliable parts?) in addition to the reliability of the part in question.
- Overclockability: Overclocking can help squeeze out that extra performance out of a system and can make a big impact on price versus performance (why should you buy a $1000 CPU if you can overclock a $200 CPU to match it?) so this factor can always swing my decision.
- Heat and Power Issues: Heat is the enemy of a computer and it can affect the stability (and reliability) of your machine. Performance per watt has become a buzz word and as power requirements for computers rise I eye this more and more closely.
For those wondering about "Target Resolution," instead of listing a particular price point (since price will vary somewhat with vendor/e-tailer) I have listed here what type of resolutions you can expect to be playing most of today's games (with AA and AF on of course) on such a rig, both standard and widescreen resolutions were taken into consideration.
Target Monitor Resolution: Below 1920x1080
Intel Core i3-3220 (but Intel Core i5 3570K preferred)
As much as we like competition unfortunately Intel stands unchallenged for gaming CPUs. Yes I know there will be angry emails from people claiming "but most games are GPU limited." True, but some are not and when they aren't the Intel processors race way ahead. We wish it was more balanced, but honestly Intel is the way to go if gaming is concerned.
Check out Guru3D related reviews:
Now we need to recommend something like a Core i3-3220 here but really, we write these guys for gamers. So alternatively you should keep in mind the 225 USD Core i5-3750 you can save a few dollars by purchasing a non K model, but those are locked processors (and slightly lower clocked) and will never ever give you as much overclocking pleasure and scalability as the K model. This processor will blow a hole in the low-end budget, but we think it's worth it.
So yeah, a true value Ivy bridge based processor however is (125 USD) Intel Core i3-3220, but that CPU is oh so important hence our Core i5-3570K recommendation stands. Trivial we know.
The stock HSF will provide passable cooling power for your Ivy Bridge, but you want to treat your CPU right don't you??? There are a number of inexpensive, quality coolers available now, don't let your CPU languish beneath the stock cooler. Remember to always check to make sure your cooler is compatibile with your choice of motherboard and case!
Check out some of these Guru3D related reviews, great value for money are the H60 and Gelid GX-7:
- Corsair H100i
- Zalman CNPS 9900 DF
- Zalman CNPS 12X
- Gelid GX-7
- Noctua NH-C14
- Zalman CNPS 9900 MAX
- Corsair H60
- Corsair H70
- Thermalright HR-02
- Scythe Ninja 3
- Cooler Master V6 GT
Gigabyte Z77MX D3H
What to look for when buying a motherboard, regardless of chipset or processor it supports:
- Good chipset cooling. Chipsets these days continue to run hotter. Better cooling means improved stability, improved longevity and better overclocking potential. Be mindful when using a passively cooled motherboard (even one with the works, including copper heatsinks and heatpipes) to ensure that you can provide the coolers with adequate airflow.
- Solid state capacitors. Offers improved longevity and heat resistance as well as avoids the dreaded "leaking" capacitor problem.
- Improved voltage regulator. Does the motherboard use a 3 phase voltage regulator or something higher? How do you determine the phase you ask? It is determined by the number of MOSFETs (Metal Oxide Semiconductor Field Effect Transistor) used. As a rule the higher the number (and hence the phase) and quality of the MOSFETs, the cleaner (higher quality) the voltage delivered to the CPU, offering improved stability and overclockability of the CPU and improved thermals for the MOSFETs. Many motherboards now feature heatsinks to cool the MOSFETs as well, always nice.
- Features. What features do you need? Chipset features vary broadly as do features individual motherboards may offer. Do you need RAID? If so what type? If you chose to use onboard sound then take a close look at the audio chipset and its associated features as they differ widely.
Editor's Choice: A motherboard based on the Z77 chipset. The successor to the Z68 chipset and the only choice to make if you're an overclocker.
Check out some of these Guru3D related reviews there are motherboards starting at 100 EUR already, here we recommend the Z77MX D3H which costs merely 100 EUR / 120 USD (there is a TH model with the only difference being Thunderbolt, save yourself the 30 EUR as that TH version is 130~135 EUR). It's absolutely value for money and we even overclocked a Core i7 3770k CPU towards 4800 MHz on that budget board.:
- Gigabyte Z77MX D3H TH
- MSI Big Bang Z77 MPower
- Asus Maximus V Extreme
- EVGA Z77 FTW
- Asus Maximus V Formula
- MSI Z77A GD80
- ECS Z77H2-AX
- Asus Maximus V GENE
- MSI Z77A-GD65
- Gigabyte Z77X-D3H
- Asus Sabertooth Z77
Solid State Drive Samsung 830 128GB
If you haven't yet made the switch to a solid state drive, it will be one of the biggest performance upgrades you have made to your computer in some time. Prices have continued to fallen and the latest generation of drives have reached us. Be sure to do your research, SSD technology continues to change rapidly and there have been a lot of firmware problems... we also suggest you read some of our many many reviews. Things to be aware of:
- Know how much space you need. Space is still at a premium with SSD's as you'll see. Before you upgrade check to see how much space you are currently using. Anticipate needing more then that in the future!
- There are a number of different types of memory controllers on the market. They each have their performance strengths and weaknesses. Samsung uses their own MDX controller for their 840 series. OCZ is using the Barefoot 3 controller for their Vector drives. Plextor Pro drives use the new Marvel 88SS9187-BLD2 controller. The Corsair Neutron series uses the Link_A_Media Devices LM87800 controller... This list goes on. Do your research!
- There are also a number of different types of NAND. SLC, MLC, TLC... 45nm, 32nm, 21, 19nm... Asynchronous vs synchronous... even different size capacities of the same model drive... All of these things affect performance and lifespan. Again... research!
You will absolutely want a secondary traditional hard drive to store all your multimedia, it will not fit on that small SSD (for example I use a 256 GB Crucial M4 for the OS and applications and a 2 TB hard drive for everything else).
Editor's Choice: 128 GB Samsung 830. The 830's have proven to be reliable and a good performer, an excellent combination. With the new 840's now out, this is an excellent time to snag one of these drives on sale. You can get a 128GB Samsung 830 or Crucial M4 for 90 EUR.
And we know recommending an SSD for a budget system might sound weird, but SSD are the norm and will speed up your PC experience tremendously. The right combination is an SSD for your operating system, and a nice 500GB+ HDD for storage like MP3, Movies etc.
Check out Guru3D related reviews:
8 GB DDR3 1600 MHz DDR3 RAM
Even for a low end machine, for gaming you'll want a lot of memory. It's very cheap right now so we suggest you take advantage of the prices, even with a budget machine like this. The integrated memory controllers on CPUs these days are quite efficient, so unless you want to overclock, 1600 MHz is the sweet spot (save those dollars for something else). An important note to remember: if you select a 3rd party heatsink for your processor there could be clearance issues with the RAM depending on its height (particularly the modules with larger RAM heatsinks).
Editor's Choice: Samsung's 30nm low voltage DDR3 1600 MHz modules (example: MV-343G3D/US). Its very low profile ensures this memory will fit any system you care to build and is an easy overclocker. A low Profile Corsair Vengeance 1600 MHz DDR3 1600 8GB kit can be spotted for only 30 EUR.
Check out Guru3D related reviews:
- Corsair Dominator Platinum 2133 MHz DDR3
- Mushkin Blackline Ridgeback 2000 MHz DDR3 8 GB
- G.Skill Sniper 8 GB CL7 DDR3
- Corsair Vengeance 12 GB DDR3
- G.Skill Flare DDR3 2000 MHz C7
- G.Skill 2x4 GB CL7 1600 MHz Trident DDR3
- A-Data DDR3-2200+ DRAM XPG Plus
- G.Skill DDR3 2200 MHz C7 PI
- A-Data 6 GB Triple Channel PC3-12800
- OCZ Blade DDR3 2000 C7 Memory Kit
- G.Skill DDR3 PC3-16000 Triple Channel Memory
- Corsair Dominator 6 GB 1866 MHz DDR3
- G.Skill DDR3 PC3-12800 Triple Channel Memory
AMD Radeon HD 7850
AMD has done a lot of price cutting, new "boosted" GPUs, as well as significant driver performance improvements this year to remain competitive against NVIDIA's more power efficient Keplar based GPUs as they slowly trickled out this past year.
As a result we have the Radeon 7850, which originally found itself competing with the GeForce GTX 660, now just 20 USD more then the GeForce Ti 650 and definitely the best buy for under 200 USD. For those of you who don't know, Guru3D maintains charts of the performance of all recent video cards in a wide variety of games, check it out here!
Recommendations (our PCs are the basis for gamers!), the radeon 7850 or 7870. On NVIDIA's side the GeForce GTX 650 Ti (be sure to get the Ti model!) and GeForce GTX 660.
Check out Guru3D related reviews:
- Far Cry 3 VGA Graphics Benchmark
- Club3D Radeon HD 7850 Royal Queen
- HIS Radeon HD 7850 IceqX Turbo X
- MSI Radeon HD 7850 Power Edition
- AMD Radeon HD 7850 and 7870
AMD has an excellent incentive program BTW, if you purchase a new Radeon HD 7700/7800 or 7900 card you can get one or multiple new games for free (downloadable). The titles are:
- Sleeping Dogs
- Hitman Absolution
- Far Cry 3
- Medal of Honor Warfighter (discount only)
Internal Realtek or VIA
Vista left the audio card market wide open by removing direct hardware access, thus taking away Creative's long enjoyed performance advantage thanks to EAX. Into the fray came Asus with wide variety of audio cards for any price point. Now many of you may think that onboard audio is fine, especially for a budget gaming machine. And it is, really.
However if you are serious about gaming even an inexpensive sound card can offer extra quality and features above and beyond onboard audio (not to mention that manufacturers tend to skimp on the audio on a budget board). Your call, onboard VIA or realtek audio solution will save you money and will function fine.
Editor's Choice: Asus Xonar DG/DGX. Bring some improved audio to your budget gaming machine for only 20 USD!
How often do you use physical discs anymore? Thanks to digital distribution platforms like Steam, Origin, etc time to take this one off this list I think. If you want to burn DVD's or watch Blu-rays, by all means go ahead but for a gaming machine you may no longer need (plus I imagine most of you already have a spare optical drive laying around).
Okay I'm going leave this one open to your decision. Cases are a love-hate thing, what one person likes another will not. So go find a case you think suites you and remember you're the one who will have to look at it every day! A few things to remember when looking for a case:
- Decide what type of computer you want and what you want in it. A LAN party, portable gaming system... or a full sized, water cooled, overclocked system with Quad-SLI. The parts, power and cooling requirements are going to be very different.
- Remember your case will decide some of your other components. A small case will limit the size of your motherboard, your CPU heatsink and the number of peripherals you can install.
For on the go aluminum is a definite plus as it will make your computer significantly lighter. Being able to mount 140mm fans are the way to go as well, ensuring good airflow in your case while maintaining a minimum of noise. A removable motherboard tray is particularly useful in cramped cases, while a CPU backplate cutout is very nice if you want to later mount a different CPU cooler (without removing the motherboard).
Check out Guru3D related reviews:
- NZXT Phantom 820
- Corsiar Carbide 200R
- Nanoxia Deep Silence 1
- Cool Master CM Storm Stryker
- Corsair Obsidian 550D
- Cooler Master Silencio 650
- Corsair Vengeance C70
- XigmaTek GIGAS
- Corsair Carbide 300R
- Cooler Master CM 690 II
Power Supply500 Watts or Higher
The power demands of the PC continue to escalate, thanks in large part to GPU's and the move to quad core CPU's. Be sure to go out and get the biggest and best power supply you can, do not skimp on the power supply! This is an often overlooked part and yet it's the source of so many computer woes. Be sure to check the amps on the 12V rail(s), you want a power supply that can handle a lot, multiple 12V rails is an additional plus (although not required).
For a frame of reference: Guru3D recommends a 500 Watt PSU for a single AMD Radeon HD 7850 and 750 Watt for Crossfire. Just remember: don't try and buy a cheap generic brand to save some cash, just because it says 1000 Watts (or whatever the number is) doesn't mean it can actually handle that (sadly).
Quality counts big, be sure to get a quality power supply or you can face any number of problems. Also remember it never hurts to err on the side of caution and get more watts then you need, then to come up short when you decide in 6 months to upgrade to that latest video card!
Check out some of our many power supply reviews here and stick to the brands we have reviewed.
If we take:
- Core i7 3570
- Gelid GX-7 Cooler
- Gigabyte Z77MX D3H
- Samsung 830
- Radeon HD 7850
- Soundcard Internal
- Corsair Carbide 200R
- Power Supply 500W
Then for roughly 800 USD you are ready with a very decent gaming PC. Onwards to the next page please where we look at the mid-range gaming PC of our choice.