Next Gen Console Killer
Let’s say you have $600 to spend on your next gaming machine. Do you put that towards a Xbox One or Playstation 4? Or do you spend it on a PC that can do that and everything else? Can you even build a PC that performs like these consoles for that much?
Looking at the more powerful GPU of the Playstation 4, we have about 1.8 Tflops of processing power, 56.25 GTex/s pixel fillrate, 25 GPix/s texture fillrate, and 176GB/s memory bandwidth.
It’s basically a Radeon HD 7850.
Granted, the deterministic hardware and leaner APIs used by consoles will give them a performance advantage when all else is identical, but PC games, including ports from consoles usually have so much customizability available to them that performance can be tuned by the end user to overcome this. I would also submit that most games will be tuned for the slower performing Xbox One anyway, which will make it even easier for a PC to cope with.
Besides, you can do better than the Radeon 7850 while staying within the $600 budget…
|CPU||AMD FX-6300 3.5GHz||109.99||Amazon|
|Motherboard||Gigabyte GA-970A-UD3||94.99||NCIX US|
|Memory||Kingston Blu 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600||54.99||NCIX US|
|HDD||Seagate Barracuda 1TB 7200RPM||63.99||Geeks.com|
|Graphics||MSI R7870-2GD5T/OC Radeon HD 7870||191.09||Amazon|
|Case||NZXT Source 210 ATX Mid Tower||34.99||Newegg|
|PSU||Corsair CX500M 500W||54.99||Newegg|
With some effort, we were able to fit in a Radeon 7870 GHz Edition into our $600 build – and that isn’t even using one of the crazy deals that have brought it down to $170-180 after MIR occasionally. If you time it right, you may be able to save up to $30 and put that towards an SSD cache (my recommendation).
It’s pretty impressive that AMD is able to offer a six-core CPU with full sized cache and an unlocked multiplier for just over $100. But that’s what the AMD FX 6300 is, and it is a perfect fit for a build like this. The Intel alternative is the Core i3 3220, which is a dual core CPU with a small cache and crippled AES functionality. While gaming performance between the two are about the same, the FX 6300 is faster in just about every other scenario, especially the more threaded ones.
We’ll be going with the AMD 970 chipset for this build, since it’s a single GPU (or dual at most, should you decide to upgrade later) build which doesn’t need all the PCI-E lanes offered by the higher models. This allows us to spend no more than $95 on the motherboard, which we recommend to be the Gigabyte GA 970A UD3.
This board features an 8+2 VRM, which like all Gigabyte motherboards uses high quality components. It’s a no-frills solid motherboard, which is what we expect from Gigabyte in this price range. You even get Dual BIOS, which is useful.
In this price range, it’s great to be able to fit in an 8GB dual channel kit that runs at 1600 MHz. Since we’re not using integrated graphics, there is no need to run our memory any higher than that. For just $55, Kingston offers a pair from their “Blu” lineup that, like the motherboard, is no frills solid hardware. It even comes with a lifetime warranty.
We’re going to use the same 1TB Seagate 7200 RPM from the previous build. We’re sacrificing some capacity to make way for the GPU, but you can always add more storage later, or add $20-30 to the build to get a 2TB drive instead.
Here’s what makes this a next-gen console killer. The PS4 and Xbox One have a direct hardware link to a Radeon 7850/7770 but we’ll be using a 7870 with its 2.5 Tflops of processing power (over 1.8 on the PS4 and 1.3 on the Xb1), and 32/80 G fillrate (over 25/56 G on the PS4, and 13/40 on the Xb1). While it’s true that the consoles have a more direct route to this raw performance, going the PC route makes up for it in adaptability, more raw power, and the fact that console games will be optimized for the lowest common denominator in most cases.
You can really pick your own model based on the best deal available. If all else is equal, we recommend the MSI product for its excellent heatsink design.
With a relatively hot GPU and CPU, we need to give our hardware a little more breathing room than we did on the previous build. We’re still on a budget though, so we’ll go with the NZXT Source 210, for about $35. Like the rest of the hardware in this build, it’s a simple no-frills component that should still perform as well as you need it to.
Believe it or not, you can get a decent case these days while spending just $35. You get plenty of mounting points for 120mm fans (and one is included), a bottom mounted PSU, decent cable management space behind the tray, which by the way has a cutout under the CPU, for cooler installation. Sure, you’ll have to use screws when installing expansion cards and drives, but… it’s $35!
We turn to Corsair once again for the PSU, and in fact are using the exact same model as last time. However our power draw has gone up quite a bit – expect this system to draw up to 370W at full load at times. This time we went with the CX500M, 500W. It’s still 80 Plus Bronze certified, and has a very solid reputation for durability. Also, this model is partially modular, which will really help keep the enclosure clean and free-flowing.
Alternatives & Recommended Upgrades
There are sure to be some promo codes and deals when you finally decide to make the decision to purchase all this hardware. If so, you might be left with some leftover budget to make some upgrades – or maybe you want to go in a different direction brand-wise for whatever reason? If so, here are some other ways you could go:
|Cooler||Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO||29.99||Microcenter|
|Graphics||EVGA 02G-P4-2662-KR GeForce 660||194.99||Newegg|
|SSD||Sandisk ReadyCache 32GB||39.99||Microcenter|
|CPU||Intel Core i3-3220 3.3GHz||109.99||Amazon|
Perhaps you want to take that FX-6300 a little bit further – the motherboard is certainly up to the task, but the stock cooler won’t do you much good. In this case, you will want to buy what is known as probably the best performing CPU cooler for the price, the Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO.
It may not be pretty, but those four heatpipes and 82.9 CFM fan will keep the FX-6300 cool while you eke out an extra few hundred MHz out of it. At 159mm, it is going to be a tight squeeze in the NZXT Source 210 we recommend, but it’ll fit.
When we compared the Radeon 7870 to the GeForce 660, we found performance to be pretty close, although I think the 7870 is the better buy overall. Still, if you have a thing for Team Green, you won’t lose much by going with the GeForce 660 instead. It does have the advantage of lower power draw and cooler operation, if those are important to you.
I said it for the last build as well – if you can fit an extra $40 into your budget, the first thing you should look at getting is an SSD to use as a cache. Since the AMD platform doesn’t have caching software built-in, you will have to go with a third party option. Luckily Sandisk offers one for a great price.
I think the FX-6300 is easily the best CPU at this price, but the Core i3 3220 is no slouch. While it doesn’t have the multithreaded muscle that the FX-6300 does, that is less important in gaming, where the architecture has a advantages that make up for the fewer threads and lower clock speed. The biggest advantage of going this route is the much lower power draw.
If you go the Intel route, you will need to switch the motherboard too, of course. Staying within this price range, I would recommend the Gigabyte GA-Z77-DS3H. This is not an overclocking board, which is fine because you can’t overclock the CPU more than moving BCLK up a few MHz anyway. What it does have is durable components, a good layout, useful extra software, and high power USB ports.
If you do make these changes, you could probably save $10 by going with a lower capacity power supply as well.