This story began earlier this year when my best mate Ben and I wanted to build a couple desktop machines to take our gaming to the next level. We wanted good performance, but you could say that we were both ballin’ on a budget. We wanted to find the sweet spot where we got a great machine without wasting money. I’ve long said that computer hardware is a thing best purchased in the middle of the road. Get cheap stuff and it will fail early or be obsolete by the time you open the box, thereby flushing your money down the toilet. Buy the bleeding edge hardware and you pay a premium when the gains are not that substantial.
I used to buy everything at Newegg. Still a decent place to buy stuff and they’re doing the best to become a “little Amazon.” But if you’re an Amazon Prime member like me, you get everything at your door so fast that it’s hard to find a reason to shop for raw computer components anywhere else. It’s getting hard to find a reason to leave my chair, to be honest.
I got some advice from a friend of mine who is a real expert in hardware. In the end I ended up with a list of PC components that adds up to a fantastic performer for a really decent price. My argument here is that every component is a sweet spot if you compare performance to dollars spent. It’s also a very stable machine. There are at least 4 of this exact setup floating around that I’ve built and everyone is sending rave reviews about its performance and stability for the money. It pays to cross-reference compatibility charts and hunt for the best deal.
The motherboard is at the very center of the build. Not only is it the unifying component that everything else interacts through, the motherboard contains many integrated components that we’ll use every day.
I went with Gigabyte as a manufacturer because, well, I always do. I’ve found them to be a consistently stable and reliable brand name with really decent support and a willingness to solve problems if they come up.
The Gigabyte AM3+ is an AMD 970 board which means I chose to go with an AMD CPU for my build. I trusted the advice I got from some hardware gurus that I could get more for my money if I went with an AMD chip.
For this product, the Amazon Reviews have some of the best points you can make. As of writing this it has over 40 reviews and an average of 4 stars.
The AMD FX-6300 6-Core Black Edition comes with a pretty substantial discount when ordered from Prime. You’d easy spend twice the money to get a comparable processor from Intel.
It comes with a really basic heat sink and fan that would definitely need to be upgraded for overclocking. It’s a solid choice for the money.
Memory is another critical component with a wide range of prices you could pay. I went with 16GB of Kingston’s HyperX. Gaming is very dependent upon memory so I wanted fast, reliable RAM
Kingston is a brand name I trust. I have had very few problems with their memory modules.
It’s very important to check your motherboard’s compatibility chart when ordering RAM. This RAM is on the compatibility chart for the Gigabyte AM3+ which is one of the main reasons why it’s such a stable system. You can find the memory compatibility chart for the AM3+ on Gigabyte's site.
Corsair is another trusted memory brand. One of the systems I built on this hardware list had the Corsair Vengeance Red which is definitely a superior option. While it allows better performance and opens overclocking options, it's almost twice the money for the same amount of memory.
This is where the magic begins. The flow of electrons begins its journey as a disorganized torrential flow of alternating fury and it’s here that it is converted into precise levels of direct current which can be further honed into the elegant electrical signals which make up the innermost thoughts of your computer.
I chose the Antec VP-450 for my power supply. It lacks some of the things you’ll find on higher end units like over 500 watts of output, modular cabling, and heavier gauge wiring. It has what it needs, nothing more, nothing less.
Antec is a trusted manufacturer. And 450 watts is plenty of output for our gaming machine needs. The ball bearing fan will last for years without failing and getting noisy or stopping completely and it’s quiet. The quality of the cabling is definitely better than other units in this price range.
It was only $5 more than a “cheapo” unit. It’s not excessing any way and it definitely has quality in what’s there. Sweet spot found!
You can also head over to Hardware Secrets for a more in-depth review of the Antec VP450.
As far as hard drive goes, I went with two. One small solid-state drive for the operating system and core programs, a normal platter drive for storage.
Let’s keep in mind that I was trying to be cost efficient and managing mine and my buddy’s needs with this build. This provides the best of both worlds.
The solid-state drive is a Crucial M500 120GB drive. It’s 2014 and most people can’t operate on 120GB, true, but it’s easy to operate with the most used files on a small, fast drive while keeping the bulk storage on a second drive.
For the second drive I went with a 1TB Western Digital Black.
There are a ton of articles online that back it up, but these two drives have given me great performance and reliability and I’ve installed dozens of each.
Note that I also grabbed a 2.5” to 3.5” converter to make mounting the SSD in my case easier. The Sata and power connections require no adapter.
Back in the old days it was a race to see which nerd could have the biggest, heaviest, most nooked and crannied and accessorized Antec case. We’d paint them, cut holes for plexiglass viewing panels, install lighting, hydraulics, plush seats, coffee makers and sentient robotic arms that could fulfill our every need. Okay that rant got a little bit out of control. Let’s just say that we put a lot of effort into our cases and we might have been compensating for something when it came to their immensity.
Today what I look for in a case is simple. I want something that’s spacious. Personally, I hate working in a cramped, confined space. Most of the quality cases these days don’t require tools. It should be easy to organize with lots of space for hard drives. The ventilation should be exceptional. It should be tight so it doesn’t rattle and make weird noises from vibration caused by moving components. The metalwork should be consistent with chamfered edges so you don’t get cut when you put your hands inside it.
This is the only logical option. It meets all those criteria and it doesn’t break the bank. Sold.
There’s a great review of the Antec Three-Hundred Two at HardOCP. Take a look for more detail.
I saved the video card for last. This is a spot where I picked a nice cost-effective card that worked for me, but depending upon the gaming you’re doing you might want something a lot more powerful.
So to wrap this up, I can attest to the stability and performance of this machine because I have several people out there on this exact hardware that have been impressed for the money spent.
Also note that I haven’t included monitor, keyboard, mouse, or operating system. These are extra personal choices that depend upon your own taste and requirements. A lot of people already have these components on their desk and just want to upgrade their tower.
Anyway, enjoy and comment if you have any of this hardware.