Project: Game On!

Budget gaming rig? Is this an oxymoron? Maybe or Maybe not. I’m going to demonstrate how to build a capable gaming pc that isn’t a one trick pony. — Michael M.  (no-control)

First some background as to how this system came about. My son has had a PC for a couple of years now and it was getting pretty long in the tooth. He busts his butt all year between maintaining a great GPA in school, swim practice and TKD practice. Not to mention helping out around the house and with the baby. Great kid, anyway. As a thanks for being a great kid….and me being a technophile, decided to get him some upgraded equipment for his PC. So last Xmas he received a 28” 1080P monitor as an all-in-one to replace his 19” monitor and 27” SDTV. This began the painful realization that the older PC was woefully underpowered. Being a parent I wasn’t about to just hand over some PC gear without a lesson in work ethic. Long story short, he busted his butt all summer to earn enough to pay for this system. So keep in mind we’re working with a 13 year olds budget here.

The 3 P’s; Plan Prior to Purchase

What did the boy want his PC to do? Everything! What else would you expect from a teen? Great gaming performance, web, social, skype, TV and movies. Tall order for sub $500 budget. He certainly didn’t make dad’s job easy. Here’s the build’s purchase order.

  • Intel Core i3-530 CPU – $99
  • XFX 5770 1gb GPU – $130
  • 4gb G.Skill Ripjaw DDR3 1600 RAM – $90
  • WD Caviar Black 500GB HDD – $60
  • 3 Rattle cans of Flat Black spray paint and some masking tape – $10

You’ll notice some missing items here. Well like any upgrade build some parts are reusing some of his existing parts.

  • Antec 900 Case
  • Sony DVD-RW ODD
  • Corsair 400w PSU
  • Razor Death Adder Gaming Mouse
  • Dell 2.0 speakers
  • Coolermaster Hyper 212+
  • Hanns-G 28” 1080p Monitor

Still missing a key item right? Through some bargain hunting I was able to find some used or discounted parts to increase the bang for the buck performance ratio

  • Gigabyte H55M-SD2H – $50, bought on a forum as a new RMA return.
  • OCZ 30gb Vertex SSD – $40 bought on a forum as a used part
  • Razor Lycosa Gaming Keyboard – $45 bought on a forum as a used part.
  • Ebay MCE remote and IR USB Receiver – $10 ebay

Nothing wrong with used parts a long as they are in good condition. In all honesty I could have bought the mobo new for $90 and passed on the rest of the items on the used list. Being a sealed RMA return usually is a new part with a warranty that has been shortened. In this case I’m leveraging for more performance at the expense of long term security.


Since we’re recycling the case, I wanted to update it visually as the 900 is pretty industrial looking and the grey/silver interior clashes. After full disassembly we broke out the masking tape and laid down a nice coat of hotrod flat black. Reassembled the case and the result is a more uniform looking case. Being 13 he opted to keep the blue LED fans.

Pasts assembly was fairly straight forward cable management on a 5 year old case is poor as you would expect. But we managed. The SSD was mounted on the back side of the motherboard. So I wont bore you with the details. Only hiccup was the GPOU was DOA on installation. Luckily XFX is down the street from me so I was able to drop off my RMA and have the new one within a few days.

IMG_6615 IMG_6616

IMG_6617 IMG_6620


About $530. He kicked in for an extra $40 from his allowance for the overage. If we really wanted to go budget, I could have bought most of these parts used for under $400. How much for the whole system new? Probably about $1200. More important though the core components (CPU, mobo, RAM, HDD, PSU, GPU) remains around the $500 retail mark, depending on your flexibility, and deals available to you.


So does it perform? Oh baby does it! Gaming performance is strong. FPS are able to maintain 60 frames with high DX11 settings, maxed AS and 2xAA in newer games such as Bad Company 2. I was able to max all settings for older DX10 games only exception being crysis of course. RTS and 3rd person games are also smooth. HTPC performance is excellent. BD, DVD, TV playback is effortless and without issues. Menus are smooth and image cache loads quickly. I was able to record a TV show while playing games with no real noticeable lag.


The above performance was all using stock settings. I was able to overclock the little i3 to 3.9ghz (21x190bclk) with a small voltage bump. Impressive, but not very stable considering the cooling solution. I’m confident I could have had this @ 4.2 stable on water. I backed it off to 3.4ghz (19x180blck). I didn’t bother overclocking the GPU as I don’t feel the gains are worth the heat and stability issues.

IMG_6619 IMG_6621 MCE

Building a great gaming rig doesn’t require any special know how, deep pockets, or boutique’s webpage. Just careful part selection, smart compromise, and some patience to find the deals. Now get out there and build it!

Listen to BYOB show 15 for our discussion of this project.

by:  Michael M.  (no-control)

You may also like...