Can I build a gaming computer under $1000? (Apr 2015 edition)

It’s April 2015 and we are revisiting our exercise in budget computing: Can we build a computer that will give acceptable gaming performance for under $1000 (In our 80 pound weakling Canadian dollars)?

In the past year we have seen DDR3 memory prices go up and then ease back just a little, the Canadian dollar go down precipitously adding 20% to the cost of nearly everything, and SSDs (flash based hard drives) steadily dropping in price and increasing in capacity.

The component that has the most impact on performance in a gaming computer is the video card, so budget compromises have to be between the relative costs of the GPU video card vs CPU processor vs SSD drives. Fortunately, video cards have been improving in performance, and the latest generation of NVidia Maxwell chips is particularly impressive.

The best bang for the buck on CPUs is still an entry level Intel Core i5 CPU or a 6-core or 8-core AMD FX series CPU. For the cheapest possible machine, an AMD FM2 A8 or A10 APU could be used, or one of the fast dual-core Pentium chips, but that sacrifices CPU power to the point that it can affect game-play.

Here are suggested configurations at about the $1000 price point (before tax, Canadian dollars, current to April 25 2015) In all of the configurations, we have gone with motherboards that have:

  • at least two PCI-e video card slots compatible with Crossfire (or SLI) for future acceleration (with more money, you can get 2 PCI-e x16 slots with full 16 lane support on each, but at this price level, the second slot can be limited to 4 lanes).
  • USB 3.0 on board
  • SATA III (6.0 Gb/s) on board
  • Gigabit Ethernet (1000BT)
  • 4 RAM sockets with overclocked DDR3 capability, with a mximum RAM capacity of 32 GB. This allows us to get 8 GB of Dual Channel RAM installed, with room to upgrade later as budget allows.

A micro-ATX board with 2 slots can save some cash, if you are willing to live with a single PCI-e x16 slot and 2 memory sockets with 16 GB maximum, you could save up to $50

In brute computing performance benchmarks using all cores, the 3.5 GHz AMD 8-core FX-8320 out-performs the Intel i5-4440. (However in the real world we’re often in the position where not all 8 cores are utilized to the max,, and there the 4-core i5 holds its own). We have gone with a 240 GB SSD drive as a primary drive on each machine, for the speed of booting and loading.  Its easy to add an extra hard drive if you need the space for file storage.

So here are our contenders:

AMD FX 8-Core system.

Case Coolermaster CMForce 500 CSE-FOR500KR500   $87
Motherboard MSI 970A-G43 AMD AM3+ 970/SB950 DDR3 SATA PCI Express USB 3.0 ATX $91
Power supply Coolermaster Elite 500W   included with case    
 SSD drive  Kingston 240 GB     $135
Memory DDR3-1600 CL9 8 GB (2x4GB DIMM) BLS2KIT4G3D1609DS1S00 $89
CPU AMD FX-8320 8 core 3.5 GHz / 4.0 GHz boost FD8320FRHKBOX   $199
Optical drive Asus DRW-24F1ST/BLK/B/AS   $20
Keyboard and Mouse Coolermaster CMStorm Devastator combo SGB-3010-KKMF1-US   $34
Additional Fan 120mm (one included with case)     $11
Video card Asus R7 260X 2GB OC R7260X-DC2OC-2GD5 Overclocked, with 2 GB of video memory   $159
OS Windows 8.1 OEM WN7-00615   $116
Cooler Stock cooler  Included with CPU    
 TOTAL before tax, shipping and assembly     $941

The Black edition FX-8350 chip would be fun if you want to experiment with overclocking, but it adds $40 or more to the cost plus the cost of a better cooler.  (If you’re going to spend the money, the Intel i5-4670K is about $100 more, but offers about 25% better performance than the FX-8350)

Intel 4-core system.

For today’s system we are moving the i5 up to the slightly more powerful 4460 at 3.2 GHz, and going with SSD as the primary drive, and it just sneaks in under $1000 before tax.

Case Coolermaster CMForce 500 CSE-FOR500KR500  87
Motherboard Gigabyte ATX 4*DDR VGA DVI HDMI Main Board GA-B85-HD3 109
Power supply 500W included with case    
SSD Drive Kingston 240 GB   135
Memory DDR3-1600 CL9 8 GB (2x4GB DIMM) BLS2KIT4G3D1609DS1S00 89
CPU Intel i5-4460 3.2 GHz 4 core / 3.4 GHz boost BX80646I54440 239
Optical drive Asus DVD-RW DRW-24F1ST/BLK/B/AS  20
Keyboard and Mouse Coolermaster CMStorm Devastator combo SGB-3010-KKMF1-US  34
Additional Fan 120mm (one included with case)   11
Video card Radeon R260X 2GB Overclock Example Asus R7260X-DC2OC-2GD5 159
OS Windows 8.1 OEM WN7-00615  116
Cooler Stock cooler    
 TOTAL  before tax, shipping and assembly   $999
Cooler for overclocking Coolermaster Hyper 212 EVO RR-212E-20PK-R1  $32
Upgrade the video card  NVidia GTX750TI  2GB GDDR5  $197 -159= +$38
Upgrade the video card  NVidia GTX960
(+ power supply adapter cables or upgrade PSU)
 2GB GDDR5  $282 -159= +$123
Upgrade the Power Supply If you want a high powered video card, you’ll have to up the PSU’s capabilities. Switch to CM Elite 371 BLACK Case and CM GX2 650W 80+ Bronze PSU, less the cost of the CM Force 500
  $135 – $87 = +$48  

The video card is the obvious first step to upgrade beyond the basic level. The GTX 750ti, which runs the NVidia Maxwell architecture gives a small but real upgrade in some specific games over the R7 260X $197  (the AMD card does better in some benchmarks, and in a few titles).  Plus the 750ti is very energy efficient and does not need supplemental PCI-e power connectors.

The next big step up is the GeForce GTX960, with the second generation of NVidia Maxwell GPU architecture $282.

Some GTX960 cards require one 8 pin PCI-e power connector and some need two 6 pin connectors.  Since the CM500 Elite PSU has one 6-pin PCI-e connector, the GTX960 upgrade would require either an upgrade to the stock power supply, or some adapter cables to provide connection from 4-pin peripheral power connectors.

These computer builds rely on the stock cooling fans, which is perfectly fine at the rated clocks – if you are intending to overclock, then you may be wise to look into third party CPU coolers, and the Intel Core I5 i5-4670K, 3.4GHz Unlocked “K” version of the CPU for about $67 more than the stock i5, which will push the Intel system just over $1100. For overclocking as well, there are RAM upgrades in the 1866 MHz region for not much more, and in the 2100 – 2400 MHz region for quite a lot more.

Other upgrades:

Mouse: Logitech Gaming Mouse G500 USB $79
(note that you don’t want a wireless mouse or keyboard for gaming)

Keyboard: Logitech Gaming Keyboard G110 12 programmable keys, backlighting, USB audio $96

RAM: 16 GB rather than 8 GB  Add about $100

Next time, we’ll see if we can put together a credible $600 machine.

Previous posts
Feb 2014

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