Build a killer Windows 8 gaming PC for under $1,000

How we assembled an inexpensive gaming rig that delivers solid frame rates and is poised for future upgrades.

By Loyd Case, PC World |  Hardware, gaming PCs, windows 8

Building a fast gaming PC is easier than ever. Building a fast gaming PC on a tight budget is a little hardernot because of the building, but because of the shopping. You have to scour the web (or your favorite retail stores) for the right prices on components.

I've built gaming rigs that cost under a grand a number of times in the past. Typically, I'd hunt around for the lowest-cost set of components that could hit the price point. But given the rapid pace of change in the PC industry, this edition of the $1,000 gaming rig required fewer sacrifices. This time around, I felt free to take a different approach. I wanted a PC that could be gracefully upgraded in order to keep pace with technical advancements. To achieve this, I had to spec out relatively modern core components, particularly the motherboard. I spent a lot of time number juggling to get a faster CPU, but also wanted a graphics card that could deliver good performance at 1080p.

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In the end, I barely squeaked under that magic $1,000 mark, mostly due to the current high prices of hard drives. I'll walk through the component list, and then take a look at performance.

The build list

I'm providing two lists of components. The first, with all the entries boldfaced, are the components I actually used. The second is an alternate list, with a few changes to drive the price even lower.

Component

The system

Cost

Alternate system

Cost

CPU

Core i5 3570K

$215

Core i5 3450

$210

Motherboard

Gigabyte Z77-UP4 TH

$185

Gigabyte Z77-UP4 TH

$185

Memory

Corsair XMS DDR3 1600 8GB

$ 38

Corsair XMS DDR3 1600 8GB

$38

Graphics

XFX Radeon HD 7870 Core

$235

XFX Radeon HD 7850 Core

$199

Hard drive

Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB

$ 80

Western Digital Caviar Blue 500GB

$60

Optical drive

Samsung SH-222BB DVD

$ 21

Samsung SH-222BB DVD

$21

Case

Antec One

$ 45

Antec One

$ 45

PSU

Coolermaster GX650

$ 69

Coolermaster GX650

$ 69

Operating system

Windows 8

$ 95

Windows 8

$ 95

Total cost

$988

$ 923

An important note: Some of the prices you see above were the result of lucky sales. For example, the Western Digital 1TB Caviar Black is usually $95 or so, but it was on sale at Newegg, so I picked that up. The same was true for the Core i5 3570K, which is normally about $10 more. Also, I didn't include shipping or taxes in my price tallies. Taxes vary quite a bit, and with some careful shopping and bundled shipping, you can often get shipping for free.

This brings up a key rule of building a system on a budget: shop around! You'll find deals on components that will enable you to hit a tight budget, and end up with a system better than you might have otherwise realized.

The platform

The basic PC platform consists of the CPU, motherboard, and memory.

The CPU choice is pretty straightforward. The combination of processor performance and power efficiency made an Ivy Bridge class CPU the logical choice. But which Ivy Bridge? The higher end Core i7 3770s were out, since the price would have likely pushed the system over $1,000. On the lower end, Intel ships the Core i5 3450, with a default clock of 3.1 GHz and a maximum turbo clock of 3.5 GHz. I ended up going for the middle solution: the Core i5 3570K. The 3570K is unlocked, so if you wanted to overclock the CPU, it's pretty straightforward.

Loyd Case
Intel's Core i5 3570K is unlocked, fast, and efficient.

I wanted a fairly premium motherboard. I didn't need hefty overclocking capabilities, but I wanted something that would support current and upcoming LGA 1155 CPUs for some time to come. The Gigabyte Z77X-UP4 is a midrange motherboard using Intel's Z77 chipset. It includes a couple of cool features. One is an MSATA slot, so if you want to later add a small SSD drive as a RapidStore cache for the larger hard drive, you can. The second is the presence of dual Thunderbolt ports, so you can attach high-speed external storage should you want it.

Loyd Case
The Gigabyte Z77X-UP4 includes two Thunderbolt ports

Finally, you want enough DRAM to get the job done. The good news is that memory prices are cheaper than ever. I found out that 8GB DRAM kits, consisting of a pair of 4GB modules, are only marginally pricier than 4GB kits. So I picked up a Corsair XMS 1600 kit for just $38.

Loyd Case
Corsair's XMS DDR3 1600 8GB kit is affordable and speedy.

Graphics

No gaming rig would be complete without graphics. I wanted a balanced graphics card that offered good performance, but wouldn't break my budget. Given what I've seen of AMD's most recent drivers, plus recent price moves, I picked up an XFX Radeon HD 7870 Core Edition for just $235. There's a $20 rebate, which theoretically means it's actually $215, but I'll keep the $235 price since that's a little more logical.

Loyd Case
XFX Radeon HD 7870 Core.

This card is based on AMD's Radeon HD 7870GHz edition, with a core clock of 1GHz and 2GB of frame buffer memory. If I wanted to, I could take advantage of AMD's recent "Never Settle" game bundle, and pick up Far Cry 3 for free when it ships. It has only one fan, unlike the pricier Double D version, so is a little noisier. But it gets the job done.

Storage

Hard drive prices are still pretty high, and I was resigned to picking up a fairly low-capacity drive, until I stumbled on a deal for a 1TB Western Digital Caviar Black for $80. That's a little faster, due to a larger cache, than the Caviar Blue 500GB I'd been looking at, and only $20 more.

Loyd Case
The Caviar Black 1TB, with rails attached.

An optical drive is no longer an essential, but I included one for those increasingly rare games that still use DVD media. A Samsung SH-222BB was just $21.

Loyd Case
Only $21 for a DVD drive, which you probably won't use much.

Case and power supply

I opted for a low-cost case, figuring the core components that actually drove the system were more important. I found an Antec One at a local dealer for $45.

Loyd Case
Antec One is a $45 case that's mostly tool-free.

I'd initially found what I thought would be a good power supply for $59, but that ended up DOA. A quick trip to the local shop uncovered a Cooler Master GX 650 PSU for $69. That's cheaper than I've found it online, so maybe sometimes local is better!

Loyd Case
The GX650 is a single-rail class PSU.


Originally published on PC World |  Click here to read the original story.
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