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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.