5 potent gaming rigs you can build for the price of a console

best processors for gaming
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While there a number of ideological and practical differences that separate PC gaming and console gaming, there’s one that divides more than any other. It’s not the battle between controllers and mice, and it’s not the exclusive titles or the online communities. It’s an economic argument about what people are willing to spend on entertainment. Put simply, PC gaming is more expensive.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Quality components are cheaper than ever, so cheap that even a console-priced PC can play most any game at 1080p, especially if you’re willing to accept the console’s target of 30 frames per second. Here are five builds that provide all the functionality and versatility of a gaming PC without the supposed high cost of entry.

A fair fight

Before we get down to builds, let’s go over the ground rules. While a Playstation 4 or Xbox One can be had for less than $300, we’ll also assume that we want a couple of other games, and an extra controller. That puts the total price right around $500, so we’ll set that as the target price for our builds.

Neither console consistently runs newer titles in 1080p at 60 frames per second, so we’ll shoot for a solid 30-60 fps when plugged into a 1080p monitor or TV. We didn’t include an operating system in the cost of any of these builds. Students can often access a free or discounted Windows license through the school, and the Windows Insider program is a good alternative for those who aren’t in education. SteamOS is a fine option too, if the plan is strictly gaming.

In the interest of choice, we’ve assembled a full list of five budget-friendly and competitive gaming machines.

The Wastelander: Beat consoles on a budget

Fallout 4
The parts Details Price
Processor Intel Core i3-4170 Dual-core, 3.7GHz $113
Motherboard ASRock H97 Anniversary ATX ATX, LGA1150 $57
Memory G.Skill Ripjaws X series (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 $43
Storage Seagate 1TB SSHD 3.5″ 7200RPM $67
Graphics Zotac GeForce GTX 950 2GB $152
Case Antec VSK-4000 ATX Mid tower $36
Power supply EVGA 500W PSU ATX, 80+ Bronze $38
Total cost = $506

Ready for AAA gaming glory? A GeForce GTX 950 with 2GB of RAM lives at the heart of this console-smashing gaming PC. Despite its entry-level status, we found the 950 more than capable of taking on newer titles like Grand Theft Auto V, Battlefield 4, and Fallout 4, even with the settings turned up.

The processor is a dual-core Intel Core i3-4170, and while it’s a little on the older side, it’s hard to beat the sub-$100 price for a chip with a base clock of 3.7GHz and Hyper-Threading. It’s paired up with 8GB of RAM, and for storage we’ve chosen a Seagate 1TB hybrid drive. The hybrid drive is a more cost effective option that allows us to still leverage the power of a solid state drive to improve gaming performance.

We’re not too worried about size for this build, so we’ve made some more room with a full-sized ATX motherboard and case. We can’t be too picky, but did manage to find a well-priced Antec case with plenty of room for our graphics card. The power supply is a quality 500 watt unit from EVGA that should last years without issue.

The Ancient: For MOBAs (and sometimes more)

dota-2-reborn-art
The parts Details Price
Processor Intel Pentium G3258 Dual-core, 3.2GHz $70
CPU cooler Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO $20
Motherboard ASRock H97M Pro4 Micro ATX, LGA1150 $70
Memory G.Skill Ripjaws X series (2 x 4GB) DDR3-2133 $43
SSD Sandisk SSD Plus 120GB 2.5″ $44
HDD Seagate Barracuda 1TB 3.5″ 7200RPM $46
Graphics PowerColor Radeon R7 370 2GB $119
Case Silverstone PS07B MicroATX Mini Tower $71
Power supply EVGA 430W PSU MicroATX, 80+ $25
Total cost = $508

There’s another genre that dominates the PC gaming community as of late, and that’s the MOBA. It’s tough to define exactly what a multiplayer online battle arena looks like, but you know it when you see it. Whether it’s Dota 2, League of Legends, Heroes of the Storm, Smite, or any of the other myriad games in the highly competitive category, this machine has an eye on the prize.

At the center of the build is an Intel Pentium G3258, a chip known for its budget-friendly pricing, satisfying gaming performance, and unlocked cores. We’ve thrown in a third-party cooler if overclocking is in the cards, but it’s more for ensuring stability even after hours of practice with the squad. The graphics card doesn’t need as much oomph, so we saved a bit of money by opting for the AMD R7 370 with 2GB of VRAM.

Saving some scratch on the GPU leaves room to move from a hybrid drive to a dedicated SSD and 1TB mechanical data drive. That means the OS and the relevant games can be loaded to the SSD for faster resource retrieval and speedier load times. It all fits into a MicroATX case that’s easy to transport for a long gaming session, with compact 430 watt power supply.

The Party Animal: For people with friends

Rocket League
The parts Details Price
Processor AMD A10-7870K Quad-core, 3.9GHz, Onboard Radeon $129
Motherboard ASRock FM2A88X-ITX+ Mini ITX FM2+ $73
Memory G.Skill Ripjaws X series (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 $43
SSD Seagate 1TB SHDD 3.5″, 7200RPM $67
Case Thermaltake Core V1 Mini ITX Tower $40
Power supply EVGA 430W PSU MicroATX, 80+ $25
Total cost = $377

While a lot of PC gaming happens alone, behind closed doors, there’s been a surge in popularity of games like Rocket League, Towerfall Ascension, and Speedrunners that pit friends against each other in glorious, couch-bound battle. We’ve compacted things even further for this build, with a Mini ITX setup that should fit in nicely besides a home entertainment setup.

The only AMD-powered build on the list, this party animal is powered by an A10-7870K, a quad-core APU that features 8 Radeon GPU cores right on the chip. It’s not as impressive as a dedicated graphics options, but it trounces the performance of Intel integrated graphics, and is more than capable of handling casual party games.

It also affords us some other benefits, the most important of which is affordability. For what the R7 370 would cost alone, this system crams in a CPU and GPU, which also allows for the smaller Mini ITX footprint without overheating or causing a ruckus. It’s the cheapest build on the list, sliding in at under $400, which leaves plenty of room for a full set of controllers and extra games.

The Futurist

Crysis 3 multiplayer 1
The parts Details Price
Processor Intel Core i3-6100 Dual-core, 3.7GHz $127
CPU cooler Gelid Solutions CC-Siberian $9
Motherboard MSI Z170 PC Mate ATX, LGA1151 $90
Memory Crucial 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR4-2133 $46
SSD OCZ ARC 100 120GB 2.5″ $60
HDD Seagate Barracuda 1TB 3.5″, 7200RPM $46
Graphics MSI GeForce GTX 950 2GB $150
Case Thermaltake Commander MS/I Snow Edition ATX Mid tower $25
Power supply CoolMax 500W PSU ATX, 80+ $34
Total cost = $587

Conversely, the Futurist is the most expensive build on the list — but for good reason. It’s based off the newest Intel Z170 chipset, which means access to the latest 6th-generation CPUs and DDR4 RAM. That means the system is well positioned for future upgrades, although it’s no slouch with the components inside it now.

The Intel Core i3-6100 is one of the most powerful chips on our list, with two cores, Hyper-Threading, and a 3.7GHz base clock. It doesn’t come with a cooler, so we chose an inexpensive option with good reviews that fits in the case. This build also boasts a separate SSD and HDD, which means adding more data storage or installing a new OS is a quick and painless process.

The GPU is a GTX 950 with 2GB of VRAM. It’s a capable card right out of the box, delivering smooth performance on even the newest AAA games. That’s paired with 8GB of RAM, which should be more than enough for the next few years. The full-sized ATX motherboard and case leaves plenty of room for additional components, and the 500 watt power supply should handle any future hardware, as long as you don’t want to install more than one graphics card.

The Hipster

gtav hipster small
The parts Details Price
Processor Intel Pentium G3258 Dual-core, 3.2GHz $70
CPU cooler Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO $20
Motherboard ASRock H97M Pro4 Micro ATX, LGA1150 $70
Memory G.Skill Ripjaws X series (2 x 4GB) DDR3-2133 $43
SSD Sandisk SSD Plus 120GB 2.5″ $44
HDD Seagate Barracuda 1TB 3.5″ 7200RPM $46
Graphics PowerColor Radeon R7 370 2GB $119
Case Silverstone PS07B MicroATX Mini Tower $71
Power supply EVGA 430W PSU MicroATX, 80+ $25
Total cost = $508

Too cool for school? This build pushes the boundaries of what it means to be a budget PC, without losing sight of the goal of solid gaming performance. While the processor is once again the budget-friendly and overclockable dual-core Pentium G3258, it’s cooled by a Corsair H50 liquid cooling loop, which should give plenty of room for improvement if decide to crank the Pentium up to eleven.

The MicroATX motherboard also means a non-standard case, namely the Corsair Air 240. While it might look short and squat, it’s actually about the same volume as a mid-tower ATX case — how ironic! That means plenty of cooling room for the lone GTX 950.

For storage, we’ve chosen a simple Seagate 1TB hybrid hard drive. It provides some of the performance bonus of a dedicated SSD, with the full storage capabilities of a mechanical drive, but best of all is the price. The system is a little over the $500 target range, mostly because of the liquid cooling, but its geek cred makes every cent worthwhile.

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