Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Building your own Custom PC: HD gaming for $850

Building Your Own HD Gaming Computer

Last week we built a PC that was targeted at providing a good HD gaming experience for the least amount of money as possible. Today, I am going to build a gaming computer that will provide a great gaming experience for around 850 dollars.

Full HD (1080p resolution) Gaming Computer for less than $850

Price: $848.62 (Price does not include mouse, keyboard, speakers or monitor.  It does take into account shipping and all available rebates.  It also include the cost of the Windows operating system) and can change at anytime.

Today, 1080p monitors are the least-expensive and most common monitors on the market.  My goal with this build was to create a system that will play games well on these standard 1080p monitors as well being a good base for future expansion.

Recommended Case

We have more money to spend on this build and we are going to put more of that money into a better case. Silverstone has been building high quality cases for a very long time. The Silverstone SST-RL01B-USB 3.0 is a good step up from the Cougar Spike I used in the low cost build. So what do you get for the extra ten dollars? Actually, you get a whole lot. You get dust filters for the fans, a CPU cutout on the mother board tray, and space to route your cables behind the motherboard. You will also get two USB 3.0 ports on the front of the case. This case is a full ATX mini tower, so it will be larger than the Cougar Spike and it lacks USB 2.0 ports on the front. With the price hike on the Cougar Spike this case is only $10 more than the Spike, which I feel is $10 well spent.

Pros: Price, USB 3.0 front ports, room for large video cards, large CPU coolers, CPU cutout on the motherboard tray, bottom mounted power supply. dust filters and room for cable routing.
Cons: None at this price point.
Comments: Silverstone is known for making some of the best cases in the industry. This case offers most of the features you would expect from Silverstone but at a very low price point.

Recommended CPU

Today, Intel is the way to go once you are past the low end of gaming. The new Haswell line of CPUs are very power efficient and offer a great expansion path

Pros: Haswell duel core. Runs cool. LGA 1150 compatible. Hyperthreading. 
Cons: Not unlocked so over clocking is limited, only dual core, and more expensive than the Athlon X4. 
Comments: You will not see a huge performance increase over the Athlon X4 used in the budget build so why move to the i3? While you will not see a huge jump in speed by going with the i3 over the Athlon X4 you will have a system that runs cooler and quieter. The big advantage is that you can upgrade the CPU to the latest i5 or even i7 without getting a new motherboard.  

Recommended CPU Cooler

Your CPU may or may not come with a heat sink and fan.  If it comes with it, the one thing you can be sure of is that it will not be great.  The Hyper 212 Evo offers great performance for a low price.

Pros: Probably the best cooler for the price.
Cons: Too large for some cases.
Comments:  So we are using a larger cooler with a CPU that puts out less heat. This will keep the noise level down. 

Recommended Motherboard

Not only are we going with an Intel motherboard, but also an ATX motherboard instead of the an mATX like the last build so that there are more expansion slots available. There are less expensive motherboards that we could have used. The i3 CPU used in this build is not over-clocking friendly, so a motherboard using an H87 or B87 chipset would have worked just fine and saved a little money. However, for this build I wanted an upgrade path available. You could change this from a step up gaming system to real powerhouse gaming system by just changing the i3-4130 for an i5-4670k which is over-clocking friendly. Or if you need even more power for video editing you could install an i7 cpu and up to 32 gigabytes of RAM. You can get the the same motherboard as an mATX if you want to build a smaller version of this computer. For an extra $20 or so you can get the ASRockZ87 Pro4 which supports Crossfire and SLI, if you want that option in the future.


Motherboard: ASRock Z87 PRO3 ($94.95 @ Newegg) 
Pros: LGA 1150, lots of SATA ports, four ram slots, 7.1 audio, and Z87 overlocking friendly chipset.
Cons: Does not support Crossfire or SLI so limited to a single graphics card.
Comment: A good over-clock friendly LGA 1150 motherboard. 

Recommended Memory

When you are looking at memory you are looking at how much and how fast.  I went for 8 GB of ram for this build which may be a luxury. I have not found any game that requires more than 4 GB of memory.  A few games are now recommending 4 GB of RAM, so 8 GB should be a good amount for now.  Modern CPUs use multiple memory channels.  What that means is that they will run faster if you use two sticks of memory.  For that reason I went with two 4GB of ram for the best compromise between speed, size, and cost.  Finally go with memory from a good, well known company.

Memory: GeIL EVO Veloce Series 8GB ($66.99 @ Newegg)
Pros: Good value for the money.
Cons: The large heatsinks could cause problems with large CPU coolers.
Comments: Good fast memory for the money.

Recommended Mass Storage

Now that we are not going for the cheapest, we can have an SSD for the OS and games to boost your speed and a second hard drive for storing music and video. 

Pros: It is an SSD.
Cons: It is not the best SSD, but it will be fast and offers good value. 
Comments:  Adding an SSD is one the best bang for the buck improvements you can do for you PC. 

Pros: The Caviar Green line offers a low power hard drive for a good price.
Cons: Not much is wrong with this drive. You may want to buy a two or three TB drive.
Comments: Probably one of the most popular drives market.

Recommended Graphics Card

This is a gaming computer and the graphics card will in large part drive performance in games.  Today there are two companies that dominate the graphics card industry, AMD and nVidia.  Both companies make great GPUs.  They both have a number of GPUs at a number of price points.  You can spend a thousand dollars on a graphics card and even use two, three, or four graphics cards.  If you are only going to use one 1080p monitor for gaming, there is no need to go to such extremes and costs.

Pros: Great performance at 1080p, good support for Linux, good OpenCL performance.
Cons:  Not supported under the beta build of SteamOS.
Comments: AMDs new family of graphics cards offers a great price to performance ratio and offer much better OpenCL GPU compute performance than cards from nVidia. The lack of SteamOS support should only be temporary. 

Recommended Power Supply

Do not cheap out on your power supply. A bad power supply can destroy other parts of your computer.  The keys to choosing a good power supply are will it supply enough power and is it from a good company. The 80 plus bronze efficiency means that this power supply has been tested and does not waste power. So this power supply is powerful enough for this build, is from Corsair which is a good company with a good reputation, and is 80 plus efficient. In other words we are picking a slightly bigger and better power supply from the same manufacture.

Pros: Great price, Bronze 80+ efficient,  and modular.
Cons: It is only 500 Watts
Comments: The extra power that this power supply gives you a bigger margin and the modular cables will help you keep your PC tidy.

Recommended Optical Drive

A lot of people do not use optical drives in their systems.  The problem is that unless you have some way to make a USB Windows install disk and/or you like to buy games on DVD instead of downloading them from Steam, having a DVD drive makes your life easier.  If you have an old optical drive from an older system you can put it in and save a few bucks.  Or you could buy a Blu-ray drive and have the option to watch your Blu-rays.

Optical Drive: LITE-ON DVD Burner ($17.99 @ Newegg)

Recommended Operating System

I am not a fan of Windows 8, but Windows 8.1 is a big improvement over Windows 8 and if you want to be able to play the widest variety of games, you will need to use Windows.  The only bad thing is the cost.  Windows is now more expensive than the motherboard.  Ubuntu, and LinuxMint are options for those that are brave. Your selection of games will also be much smaller but the price is free. 


This computer is a bit more expensive than the budget computer from last week. What you get is a much better case that will make your computer look better, run better, and will be much easier to build. You also get an SSD which will make the system run much faster, a slightly faster CPU, and a better graphics card. Of course nothing is written in stone so if you want to you could use the motherboard and CPU from the budget build with the case, video card, SSD, and power supply from this build to save a little money.

Some sites that can help you pick the right parts for your own custom PC are 
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