For a budget of $350 to $400 you can build a computer to play all of today’s modern games. Those of you who were building a computer a few years ago know that this wouldn’t have gotten you very far in the past. However, now that video cards and processors have improved substantially, the cost has gone down considerably. In this post, we’ll piece together a budget build and give you our thoughts on why you should go with certain aprts.
$400 PC Vs Console Debate
While I think there will always be room for consoles, PC gaming has become a global phenomena over the last couple of years. This is due to popular e-sport games like League of Legends, CSGO, and Hearthstone which are not playable on consoles. This makes the appeal of PC gaming wider than ever. Streaming sites like Twitch.TV only add to the hysteria. While our $250 gaming PC build would be able to play these games, adding a budget of $100 to $150 allows for higher settings, frame rates, and the possibility of playing more modern games for the same price or less than consoles.
The appeal of consoles and their exclusive games, controller-based play, and special features still holds value to many. Not having to worry about graphical settings or upgrading your hardware is especially appealing to those on a budget. What’s more is that the competitive scene puts players on an even playing field of graphics and frames.
Still, the allure of saving by not upgrading your hardware is not what it once was. PC’s stay relevant longer than they once did. What’s more is that PC gamers willing to wait just a few weeks may spend considerably less on AAA titles. Those willing to wait a year or so will find themselves spending even less while similar AAA titles hold their value on the console.
Budget $350 To $400 Intel and AMD PC Build 2015
Why the budget range?
We want to give you flexibility with the build. In addition, knowing how close you are to upgrades should make them worth it for many.
|Part||$350 Intel / AMD Build||$400 to $450 Build|
|CPU||Pentium G3258 / Athlon 860k||i3-4160|
|Graphics Card||GTX 750 Ti||R9 270X or R7 370|
|Motherboard||MSI H81M-P33 / Gigabyte GA-F2A68HM-H|
|Ram||2x4 GB G.Skill NS 1600MHz|
|Storage||WD Caviar Blue 1TB|
|Power Supply||430 W EVGA 80 Plus|
|Case||Thermaltake V3 VL80001W2z|
Processors From $60 to $110
There’s a few different processor you could go with for this build. On the budget side, look to the Pentium G3258 Anniversary Edition or the Athlon 860k. The G3258 has better single-threaded performance while the Athlon 860k has 4 cores. Since some games require 4 cores, it may be worthwhile for some to go that direction.
If you’re willing to put your budget more in the $400 range, you can also go with an i3 processor. Something like the i3-4160 would be ideal and since it has hyperthreading, it will be able to run games that require 4 cores.
If you go with the Athlon 860k, you’ll need an FM2+ motherboard while those who go with the i3-4160 or G3258 need to keep in mind that these are both Haswell refresh CPUs. Going with a first gen Haswell motherboard may require a BIOS update on your part. While many of these boards already ship with the BIOS updated, it’s still something to keep in mind. If you want to be completely safe, you’ll need to go with an H97 or Z97 motherboard.
Best Graphics Cards from $100 to $150
If you want to stay within that $350 price range, then your choice of CPU comes down between the 750Ti and perhaps an R9 270 that happens to be on good deal. The Gigabyte Windforce 750Ti is a solid option at right around $110. If you go with the 750Ti, then a CPU like the G3258 should be more than adequate. That being said if you upgrade from here, you might want to also go with a better CPU. The more graphical performance a card has, the more CPU you’ll need.
Going from $100 to $150 you have a few options. Specifically, I’d look at the R9 270X and the newer R7 370. The R7 370 edges out the 270X in most games by a frame or two but overall they’re very similar. Still, if you can go with the newer card, I’d do so. That being said, if you find a 270X for cheap, it’s still a great option.
750 Ti vs R7 370
At about 70% of the price of the R7 370, the 750 Ti is considerably cheaper and has a much lower TDP at 60 vs 110 for the R9 370. On the other hand, the R7 370 offers anywhere from 10% to 25% more frames in most games. Recently, Neoseeker offered the following benchmarks comparing the 750Ti and the R7 370.
Battlefield 4 Ultra Preset
R7 370: 39
750 Ti: 30
Assassin’s Creed High 4x MSAA
R7 370: 29
750 Ti: 22
Total War: Rome II
R7 370: 29
750 Ti: 22
Thoughts: As you can see both graphics cards perform well enough in medium to high settings in today’s latest games. Overall, you’ll have to decide whether you want to go with price and energy efficiency or add additional cost and power for performance. On a different note, if you upgrade to the R7 370, I’d recommend you go with an i3 rather than the Pentium G3258. Overall, this is around a $100 upgrade so keep that in mind.
I mentioned chipset compatibility above, but I’ll go over it briefly to avoid confusion. I’m recommending the MSI H81M-P33 here. It’s a cheap motherboard that does a great job at overclocking and getting the most out of the G3258. Still, it’s a first generation Haswell motherboard so keep that in mind. However, most likely if you buy it new it will already have the new Haswell-refresh BIOS installed.
If you go the AMD route here and go with the Athlon 860k, go with a cheap Gigabyte FM2+ board in the space. They have some of the better value and features available right now in the sub $50 FM2+ market.
There’s just enough in our budget to go with the Western Digital Caviar Blue 1TB hard drive. For around $50 you’ll have enough storage for all of your most important games.
I wanted to make sure there was enough in the budget to go with 8GB of ram. The G. Skill NS Series is on sale this month for $45. Get the one with 1600MHz speed.
Here I’m going with the same power supply we used in our $250 PC build, the EVGA 430W or 500W 80 Plus power supply. It’s 80 PLUS, looks great, and is of a decent quality. The capacitors may not last you forever, but it’s definitely good enough for this price range.
Good Computer Cases Under $30
USB 3.0 Header Compatibility Issues:
In this space there’s several options you could go for. I still like the Xion Micro ATX case we used in our $250 build, but you could also go up to something like the Fractal Design Core 1000 here. Keep in mind that there’s a slight compatibility issue here as the MSI board we recommended doesn’t have USB 3.0 headers while both of these cases offer front USB 3.0 support. You’ll probably have a similar issue if you use a cheap FM2+ board, so getting a converter might be a good idea or go with a slightly more expensive board if you want that compatibility.
A Good Case that still has USB 2.0 in the front:
Another option would be to simply go with a case like the Thermaltake V3 VL80001W2z. It comes in as low as $25 this month at Micro Center. That being said some may have trouble finding it under $40 so you may need to look around a bit in order to get it at that price. It includes a bottom-mounted PSU design, a metal mesh front bezel for more intake, and a rear 120mm silent blue LED fan.
Overall our $400 build performs well in just all of today’s latest games. PC gaming has finally gotten to the point where I’d consider it as cheap or cheaper than console options on the market. This is especially true when you take games into consideration. Feel free to comment or ask questions about the build in the space below.