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Monthly Value Gaming System Buyer's Guide

March Entry-Level Gaming PC Guide

By Housen Maratouk March 20, 2011

As with our recently published Enthusiast Gaming PC Buyer's Guide, this guide has been retooled since it was last updated. Now bearing the name of "Entry-level PC Buyer's Guide" and a slightly lower $900 budget, it aims to show that you can still build a perfectly capable system for less than a thousand dollars. This guide, like the other, will offer processor and motherboard suggestions for both an Intel and AMD system, though the other components will mostly remain the same. And while even more compromises will need to made with a $900 budget than had to be made with our Enthusiast system, you'll still end up with plenty of power to get some work, and some gaming, done.


System Case: NZXT GAMMA Classic Series GAMA-001BK Mid Tower
Current Cost: $40

At this system's budget point, it just wasn't feasible to go with a full tower for our system. But luckily, there are plenty of good mid-tower options available. We chose to go with the $40 NZXT GAMMA GAMA-001BK mid-tower case.

Measuring 7.48" (W) x 17.68" (H) x 20" (D), this mid-tower should still allow you to fit whatever graphics card you choose to put into your system. While NZXT only included one 120mm fan, mounted in the rear, the case supports five additional 120mm fans and comes with pre-drilled holes for those who wish to go with liquid cooling. And showing that form can go hand-in-hand with function, it sports a design that screams "gaming system."


Power Supply: Antec Basic BP550 Plus 550W Continuous Power ATX12V V2.2 80 PLUS Certified Current Cost: $65

For our power supply, we went with the Antec BP550 Plus, a 550w power supply that is 80 PLUS Certified. Despite costing half the price of the PSU we suggested for the Enthusiast PC, it still offers a modular cable design and three +12v rails that should enough power for most users' needs.


AMD CPU and Cooling: Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition (3.2GHz) w/ Bundled Cooling
Current Cost: $140

With a 3.2GHz clock speed and an unlocked multiplier Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition is a processor that offer more bang for buck than one might be expecting in an entry-level build. This quad-core AM3 socket processor comes with 6MB of L3 cache and with 512KB of L2 cache dedicated to each of its four cores. And while the bundled heatsink and fan won't match the performance of an after-market solution, you'll still have no trouble doing some light-to-moderate overclocking of this already-speedy processor.

Intel CPU and Cooling: Core i3-550 (3.2GHz) w/ Bundled Cooling
Current Cost: $130

In selecting a processor for our Intel build (for both builds, really), we spent a whole lot of time trying to decide just how much of the budget we were willing to spend. Ultimately, we decided to go with the Core i3-550. While nowhere near the highest-end processor available from Intel, with 4MB of L3 cache and 256KB on each of its two cores this dual-core still offers plenty of speed for an entry-level gaming system. And as with our AMD selection, we're going with the bundled heatsink and fan; a solution that leaves us more of the budget to spend elsewhere, while still allowing you to do some overclocking.


AMD Motherboard: MSI 870A-G54 (AMD 870)
Current Price: $100

Powered by the 870 and SB850 chipsets, the MSI 870A-G54 is an AM3 motherboard offers three PCI-E slots, four memory slots (with a max of 16GB of RAM), six USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, gigabit LAN, integrated audio, and 6 SATA 6Gb/s. In other words, there are plenty of options available, considering that you're getting MSI's reputation for quality as such a reasonable price.

Intel Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-H55-USB3
Current Price: $110

Our motherboard selection for the Intel build is the Gigabyte GA-H55-USB3, powered by the H55 chipset. This LGA1156 motherboard offers two PCI-E slots, three PCI slots, four memory slots (with support for up to 16GB of RAM), four USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, one IEEE 1394A port, one e-SATA port, gigabit LAN, integrated audio, and seven SATA 3GB/s connections.


Memory: G.SKILL F3-10600CL9D-4GBPK 2 x 2GB kit
Current Price: $43

The 4GB G.SKILL kit that we went with for both of our builds should offer plenty of memory for an entry-level gaming machine. In each of our builds, though, this will leave two memory slots available. So as time passes and needs change, some buyers may choose to splurge and up that to a higher total.


Hard Drive: Samsung Spinpoint F3 HD103SJ 1TB (Bare Drive)
Current Price: $55

Offering the same 1TB capacity as the drive we recommended for our Enthusiast PC, this drive from Samsung offers plenty of performance and space with only a few compromises having to be made: namely its 32MB cache and 3.0Gb/s SATA interface. Despite these, this 7200rpm drive is sure to please and is a perfect fit for an entry-level gaming system.


Optical Drive: LG DVD±RW GH22NS50B SuperMulti Drive Black SATA Model (OEM)
Current Price: $18

While we would love to have been able to throw a Blu-ray combo drive into this system, it unfortunately tipped us over our budget. So for now, at least, a DVD burner will have to do. The good news, though, is that the LG we went with offers plenty of speed for the money and should more than meet most users' needs.


Video Card: Sapphire 100283VX-2L Radeon HD 5770
Current Price: $125

While it might not be cutting-edge nor top-of-the-line, the RADEON HD 5770 is still a perfectly capable video card and will more than do the trick for this entry-level gaming system. And at a price of only about $125, it will do so without breaking the bank. The specific model we chosen to mention is from Sapphire, though others are also available and rebate deals often abound. So keep an eye out for deals, and you should be able to beat that already-reasonable price.


LCD: Acer G235HAbd 23"LCD
Current Price: $140

This 23" LCD from Acer offers a 5ms response time, 1000:1 contrast ratio, and 1920x1080 resolution. Connections include an analog connector and a DVI port. HDMI isn't available… but given that it doesn't include integrated speakers, that wouldn't really add anything over DVI.


Sound Card: Integrated
Current Price: $0
Logitech LS21 Speaker System
Current Price: $24

Given our $900 budget, we decided to forego a dedicated sound card and make do with the integrated 8-channel chipset that each of our selected motherboards comes with. Paired with the Logitech LS21 speaker system, though, we're still left with some darned good sound for a price of only $24.


Mouse: Razer Abyssus Gaming Mouse
Current Price: $32
Keyboard: Rosewill RK-7300 Multimedia Keyboard
Current Price: $15

While not as high-end a pairing as we suggested for our Enthusiast PC, this mouse from Razer and keyboard from Rosewill should still offer the flexibility and functionality that one is looking for in a gaming system; and at a fraction of the cost.

Operating System: Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit 1-pack for System Builders
Current price: $100

And finally, we again chose Windows 7 64-bit as our operating system. In this case, we chose to go with the Home Premium version of the operating system, though we stuck with the 64-bit version to allow for memory amounts that exceed the 32-bit version's limitations.

Price Roundup

AMD Phenom II X6 System
Case: NZXT GAMMA Classic Series GAMA-001BK - $40
Power Supply: Antec Basic BP550 Plus 550W - $65
Processor: AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition 3.2GHz - $140
CPU Cooling: Stock Cooling - $0
Motherboard: MSI 870A-G54 (AMD 870) - $100
Memory: G.SKILL F3-10600CL9D-4GBPK (CAS9) 2 x 2GB kit - $43
Hard Drive: SAMSUNG Spinpoint F3 HD103SJ 1TB 7200 RPM 32MB - $55
Optical Drive: LG DVD±RW SuperMulti Drive Black SATA Model GH22NS50B - $18
Video Card: Sapphire 100283VX-2L Radeon HD 5770- $125
Monitor: Acer G235HAbd 23" 5ms 1920x1080 - $140
Sound Card: Integrated Sound - $0
Speakers: Logitech LS21 Speaker System - $24
Mouse: RAZER ABYSSUS Gaming Mouse - $32
Keyboard: Rosewill RK-7300 Multimedia Keyboard - $15
Operating System: Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit - $100
Total Price: $897


Intel Core i7 System
Case: NZXT GAMMA Classic Series GAMA-001BK - $40
Power Supply: Antec Basic BP550 Plus 550W - $65
Processor: Intel CPU: Core i3-550 Clarkdale 3.2GHz - $130
CPU Cooling: Stock Cooling - $0
Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-H55-USB3 - $110
Memory: G.SKILL F3-10600CL9D-4GBPK (CAS9) 2 x 2GB kit - $43
Hard Drive: SAMSUNG Spinpoint F3 HD103SJ 1TB 7200 RPM 32MB - $55
Optical Drive: LG DVD±RW SuperMulti Drive Black SATA Model GH22NS50B - $18
Video Card: Sapphire 100283VX-2L Radeon HD 5770- $125
Monitor: Acer G235HAbd 23" 5ms 1920x1080 - $140
Sound Card: Integrated Sound - $0
Speakers: Logitech LS21 Speaker System - $24
Mouse: RAZER ABYSSUS Gaming Mouse - $32
Keyboard: Rosewill RK-7300 Multimedia Keyboard - $15
Operating System: Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit - $100
Total Price: $897

 

Closing Remarks

We cut it close, but we managed to keep both of our builds just under the $900 mark. And while compromises certainly did have to be made, we nonetheless ended up with two capable gaming machines that anyone can build, complete with a monitor, for comfortably under $1,000.

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