Despite all the noise notebook manufacturers make about how great their products are for gaming, the truth remains that, pound for pound money-wise, a desktop computer will perform better than its svelter counterpart.
That said, the dilemma about whether to build or buy your next gaming rig remains. There are a few good reasons to actually buy a gaming computer, believe it or not, even if you're a seasoned veteran.
You save time, you reduce the risk of frying components (or slicing open your finger), you often get a "free" operating system and you often only need to deal with one shop (rather than a fair few). Today though, we're on a mission to build you the best rig for £500 (around $743), give or take £5. Ready? Let's roll.
- Check out the rest of our PC Gaming Week coverage
Let's start by using components that are common to both AMD and Intel processor bundles. They are likely to be the ones I would reuse if I were to upgrade the rig. As a rule of thumb, always start with the components that will usually last longer.
For the casing and PSU, we've gone for a Cooler Master CM FORCE 500 (£59.99, around $89). That's a great price for a mid-tower from a reputable brand and one that comes with a 120mm fan to boot. It supports USB 3.0 and has a lot of features that will make DIYers jump for joy — like tool-free access for ODD, accessories and HDD. Note that it also comes with a 500W Elite PSU from the same maker. You can buy a cheaper brand but as many builders will tell you, when it comes to the PSU, you get what you pay for.
As for the storage, I'm going overboard by RAID-zeroing twin Kingston SSDs, two 240GB V300 models at £59.98 (around $89) a pop. At less than 25p per GB, they are the cheapest SSDs from a recognised brand. Getting them on RAID-0 will make any system fly, just make sure you backup.
The last four components will have to share a budget of around £380 (around $565).
For the memory, I opted for Kingston's 8GB (2x4GB) DDR3 1600MHz CL10 HyperX Fury memory modules which automatically overclock to the highest frequency possible without having to reach out to tweak anything in the BIOS (1866MHz in most cases). Available in four colours, the cheapest is the blue one (£47.24, around $70).
For the graphics card, I've chosen four possible combinations: two from the green team (the Palit GTX 960 OC and the Zotac GTX 960) and two from the red team (the XFX R9 285 and the PowerColor R9 285). The Nvidia cards cost £150 (around $223) each while the AMD cards are on sale for £140 (around $208). Mileage will vary but on the whole the GTX 960 should match the R9 285 pretty evenly across the board with power consumption being much better for Nvidia.
CPU and motherboard
So we end our journey with just over £230 (around $342) (assuming you opt for Nvidia) to spend on the processor and the motherboard. Go for an ATX model as it will provide you with room to grow.
Let's start with AMD, possibly the easier of the two. At £158.64 (around $235), the AMD FX-8370 Black Edition is not the most expensive processor in AMD's desktop line-up. But it is the most powerful one that can run at 125W or less. It has eight cores, 8MB of cache, runs at 4GHz and has a TDP of, wait for it, 125W. Pair it with the MSI 970A-G45 motherboard at £44 (around $65) and you get a decent AMD rig (actually the best you can buy from them) for less than we had to spend. You will likely need a solid cooler for this little baby though.
The piece de resistance has to be the Intel bundle. We opted for the MSI B85-G41-PCMate ATX motherboard, a socket 1150 board with a B85 chipset. Not only does it have four USB 3.0 ports, it also has four DDR3 memory slots. A real bargain at £52.54 (aorund $77). Which leaves us with about £180 for the CPU, which will have to be the Core i5-4690K at £173 (around $257), Amazon's current best-selling processor and an absolute beast of a processor. Based on Devil's Canyon, it has four cores, comes with a heatsink/fan, clocks at up to 3.9GHz, has 6MB cache and a TDP of 88W, and oh, is also unlocked.
One thing that immediately jumps out is how late AMD are to the game. Other than price cuts and some minor improvements, it looks as if the company has given up on the enthusiast market almost completely. The FX 9590, a 220W CPU, actually being more of a swansong than anything else. Intel's K-series runs circles around anything AMD currently has on the market.
So there you have it – a sub-£500 (around $743) build based on either Intel or AMD and using either Nvidia or ATI.
For the sake of simplicity, I have assumed the following:
- You know how to build a PC
- You have the necessary bits and equipment to build one
- You have an OS to hand
- You don't want to overclock at this stage
- You have other peripherals (mouse, keyboard, monitor, cables etc)
- You plan to recycle some components (fans etc)
Also why not read the following features related to building your own PC...
- Why you should build your own PC
- How to build a dream PC that will give your wallet nightmares
- The best and worst things about building your own PC
- How to build the best PC for your needs