Back in August I set out to build a decent PC gaming rig without breaking the bank. I wanted to show how much money can be saved when purchasing all the parts separately and assembling it yourself. For the price comparison I chose Alienware as they are pretty well-known for making high-end gaming PCs and Notebooks but with a hefty price-tag.
Since the PC is now built, I figured I’d follow the last post up with some performance benchmarks and updates on the changes made (notably the price). It has pretty much remained the same apart from the graphics card and a few minor changes. But the few minor changes have saved even more money. All the parts arrived about 2 weeks ago and I have found the time to put it together and run some benchmarks. So if you’re interested in building your own rig, read on if you want to see the kind of performance that can be attained on this budget.
The previous build came to a total of 1,534.79 Pounds Sterling, with Alienware costing almost double for practically identical specs. My slight hardware revision shaves even more off that price and weighs in at a more pocket-friendly 1,251 Pounds Sterling. That equates to $1,970.67 USD, but these parts are much cheaper in the U.S. as opposed to here in Europe so it would be even less expensive than that for my Yankee comrades.
Processor: Intel i7 950 Quad Core
This is a great Quad-core processor with Hyper-threading. All cores run at 3.06GHz but individual cores can be bumped up in speed when applications don’t make use of all the cores. It has come down in price literally by 50% in the past few months, so as I was going i7 anyway, this was a no-brainer for me. Plus if you’re into overclocking the CPU, I’ve seen people reach 4GHz with ease (with a decent air/water-cooler).
Graphics card: MSI Cyclone GTX 460 1GB
I can’t begin to praise this card enough. It cost me under 200 Euro; it runs silent, even while in game and has more than enough beef to handle any game I’ve thrown at it so far. The desktop temps are in the mid 20s and when I get out of a long stint of gaming, the card never gets hotter than 44 degrees. Plus this little mid-ranger is a Herculean overclocker, but more on that later.
The original build included an ATI 5970 but for one 22″ monitor that was a little overkill in retrospect.
Motherboard: Asus P6X58D-E
This board is basically the same as the Premium variant but with a few minor features missing. It’s the perfect budget-board for anyone interested in building an X58 system. It supports 3-way SLI and Quad-CrossfireX and has support for USB 3.0 and SATA 6GB/s, with all the usual ASUS features you would expect. Obviously it can house any Intel i7 processor, including the 6-core Gulftown.
System RAM: Corsair Dominator 3 x 2GB
This RAM performs very well. Although I had to adjust the frequency in the BIOS settings in order for the Corsair Dominator to run at its native speed of 1,600MHz. But that was painless and literally took seconds.
Power supply: Cooler Master Silent Pro M850
I went with the Cooler Master Silent Pro because it has an 80 Plus Bronze rating and got rave reviews pretty much across the board. It is extremely quiet (as the name
would imply), comes with a 5 year warranty and has ample power to feed my rig, even when I add another graphics card sometime down the line.
Modular PSU ftw!
PC case: Cooler Master HAF 932
The Cooler Master HAF 932 is one of the main stars of this build, and is a shining beacon of engineering prowess. I cannot heap enough praise and when you look at the Amazon page, you’ll see others sharing in my enthusiasm. The case’s aesthetics are first and foremost what drew me in. It looks like something you’d find in Darth Vader’s chamber in The Empire Strikes Back. It’s black all around with some red LED lights on the front intake fan.
The case sports 3 x 230mm case fans; one that blows from the side door right over the graphics card and processor, the other sucking air from the front and one more venting heat out the roof of the case. There is also a smaller fan at the rear, sucking hot air out the back. I could literally cool beers inside this case, it’s pretty amazing. If you’re looking for something that will give you ample room to
work in, have plenty of cable management holes, great air flow and killer looks, than I highly recommend the HAF 932 full-tower case from Cooler Master.
Hard drive: 640 GB Western Digital Caviar Black 6GB/s
I know a lot of you recommended an SSD, some were horrified that I would dare put a mechanical hard drive into a new gaming rig. But unfortunately price-per-gigabyte, I cannot justify spending money on these things just yet. I’m happy to see that the prices are coming down all the time, and I will add one in at a later stage, probably around the same time I pick up another GTX 460. For now though, the Caviar Black is a decent hard drive, very cheap and serves its purpose well. It’s limited to 7,200 RPM but I can live with that until SSDs come down a title more.
Mouse: Sidewinder X3
I really like this mouse. I’ve always said that Microsoft make great mice, that last. This mouse feels like it was custom-made for my own hand. I can game for yours with no cramp or wrist pain to speak of. The only thing I would complain about is the buttons on the side are a little far to the front of the mouse. But other than it’s a cool little mouse and pretty darn cheap.
Keyboard: Sidewinder x4
I’ve been using laptop keyboards for damn near 8 years now so it was a little bit of a transition to get back into PC keyboards again, but once I got past that hurdle, this is one comfortable keyboard with a wrist-rest at the base. It has all the usual features from a gaming keyboard; like the ability to assign macros to certain keys, and the likes of volume control, play, stop, etc. Very good price. Plus the keys light up in red, which matches the LEDs at the front of the case..’nuff said!
Monitor: 22″ LG E2240T LED
This is one sweet little monitor, with a crisp clear image. Compared to the laptop I have been using for the past few years, this monitor is like sweeping the cobwebs from my eyes and getting a cornea upgrade. For the price, wow.
Overclocking the GTX 460:
Despite all my inner voices trying to persuade me this was a bad idea and I didn’t need to do it, I ended up venturing into overclocking for the first time. After reading up on how well these cards overclock and how easy the software makes it these days, that coupled with the fact that I can practically cool beers in my Cooler Master HAF 932 full-tower case, I figured I’d give it a shot. I wasn’t prepared for how easy it was to get this card stable at the overclock I attained.
Another reason to pair this card with the HAF 932 is the lack of a shroud on the Cyclone 460 leaves it open to all the incidental air flow coming from the gargantuan case fans.
The default specs for Nvidia’s GTX 460 are 675MHz on the core, 1350MHz on the shader clock and 3600MHz (effective) for the 1Gb of GDDR 5 VRAM. The MSI Cyclone comes with a small overclock, giving you a bump of 50Mhz on the core. With a little voltage increase I was able to bring the core to 925MHz, shader clock 1850MHz and 4200MHz (effective) for the VRAM.
This overclock, that more than past my expectations is completely stable under Furmark, Unigine’s Heaven benchmark, 3Dmark Vantage and Metro’s own benchmark tool. I have also stressed it with hours of gaming and it hasn’t crashed once. I got the core up to 950MHz at one stage but the drivers crashed on some of the test benchmarks so I settled on 925MHz.
I must also stress that even with this aggressive overclock in place, the card idles around 26 degrees while on the desktop, and even after a few hours in game it never goes over 52 degrees. Even after stressing it under benchmarking suites like Heaven and 3DMark Vantage the core temps never exceed 52 degrees.
If you want to know how well this card performs with the overclock (and without) then keep reading.
THQ’s Metro 2033 makes formidable demands on today’s PC hardware, more so than probably any game released in 2010. This first-person shooter follows the story of Artyom, a young Russian male with a band of survivors living in an underground Metro station in Russia, after a Nuclear war. Humanity’s very existence is under threat by a new breed of predator.
The game comes with its own built-in benchmark tool. With the graphics settings on very high and a resolution of 1920×1080 and tessellation enabled, it was a bit too much for the mid-range card. But just knocking the settings down to high made all the difference in the world. With settings on high and tessellation enabled I was able to achieve very fluid game-play.
As you can see from the graph above, the card with its overclock in place managed an average of 52 frames per second. Remember that’s with settings on high at a resolution of 1920×1080, with tessellation enabled and advanced physX disabled.
Enabling advanced physX doesn’t hamper the performance all that much, I was surprised to find. A very acceptable average frame-rate of 48fps is what I got in the benchmarks after re-running the test with physX.
To give you an idea of how much the card benefits from the overclock, 10 frames per second are lost on the benchmark when running the Cyclone 460 at the default settings.
The overclocked card breezed through Unigine’s Heaven benchmark at a resolution of 1920 x 1080, with tessellation normal, shaders high, anisotropy x 4 with no AA. To give you an idea of fps gained, without the overclock in place I lost 12 frames-per-second in Unigine’s Heaven.
21,137 is a pretty impressive score for the mid-range GTX 460. I chose performance mode with all the default options left alone, and a resolution of 1280 x 1024. With this overclock in place the Cyclone GTX 460′s performance is easily on par with the more expensive, hotter and louder GTX 470.
It still can’t touch the GTX 480 but it costs less than half the price of Nvidia’s current high-end GPU. When I add another MSI Cyclone to the mix for an SLI configuration, I have no doubt they will absolutely smoke the GTX 480, given how well these cards scale in an SLI configuration.
Without the overclock, 3DMark Vantage score was 18,728.
In my original article I set out to show anyone sitting on the fence with regard to building their own gaming PC, just how cheap it was when compared to letting someone like Alienware do it for you. It was not an attempt to build the “Ultimate” gaming PC, just to show you really can have a mean gaming rig without breaking the bank. I hope anyone that was thinking of wetting their feet and taking a stab at PC building might give it a go. As long as you stick to reputable brand names like Asus, Corsair, Cooler Master, MSI etc you can be sure of a good warranty and after-sales support.
This PC was a labour of love, a real pleasure to put together. There was something about waiting on each new part to arrive in the post that made this 30 year-old feel like an 8 year-old on Christmas morning waiting for an acceptable time to sneak downstairs. I want to sincerely thank everyone for their input on the previous article – it helped me shape the final build and save even more Dollar off the price-tag.