How To Build A Great Gaming PC For Under $700

"Why didn't you tell me about this sooner?" It's a question I've heard with increasing frequency the past few years, uttered by friends who've finally dipped their toes into PC gaming, discovering what it has to offer them. Before taking the plunge, they had been wary, citing the prohibitive cost and overly complex nature of PC gaming.

So what changed?

PC gaming did. It matured. Now, you can build a PC for under $1000 that will play anything you want from the comfort of your own couch. Not only that, but building and maintaining a computer is cheaper and easier than ever. Anyone can get into it without having to invest a significant portion of their time and money to do so.

There's no reason to worry about frequent upgrades or crazy driver hassles, now that the pace has softened.

While building a computer may seem intimidating, don't worry: it's actually a lot like Legos! The instructions are clear (and tutorials on building a PC can be found all over the internet) and almost always in picture form, parts are deliberately made to prevent people from, say, jamming their RAM into their PCIe slot, and the hardware itself is generally well made.

Plus, there's nothing quite like the satisfaction that comes with building your own computer.

What follows is my recommended build, and it comes in well below the $1000 limit. Of course, you're more than welcome to adjust things as you see fit — this should be able to run your games at a butter — smooth 60 frames per second at 1080p resolution on moderate settings, but don't expect to try anything crazy, like ubersampling. Just bear in mind that your parts need to work together. If you're having difficulty selecting parts, PC Part Picker is a great tool that should help you on your way.

  • Case: If a computer is like a brain, the case is the head that houses it all. Because we're trying to build a small, TV-friendly PC, you might consider Fractal Design's minimalistic Node 304 Mini ITX case (~$90). There are plenty of cheaper Mini ITX cases out there, but Fractal Design's build quality, noise minimisation and cooling qualities are excellent.
  • CPU: You know the part of your brain that does the whole ‘conscious thought' process? That's a CPU, which comes in two main brands, AMD or Intel. AMD processors tend to be less expensive, so we're picking the AMD A8-3870K, a solid 3GHZ processor that won't break the bank at around $90.
  • Motherboard: Functioning like your nervous system, the motherboard is the bit all the other bits plug into so they can communicate. Since the processor's an AMD that uses an F1 socket, and the case is designed for the Mini ITX form factor, you'll need a compatible motherboard. ASRock's A75M-ITX is a highly-rated mobo, it's fairly inexpensive too (~$90).
  • Graphics Card: Taking on the visual processing duties is the graphics card, which interprets the data it's given to create coherent images. Sapphire's take on AMD's Radeon HD 7770 (~$100) won't be running games at 4K resolution, but it won't have a hard time running most games at pleasing settings in 1080p either.
  • Hard Drive: Without long-term memory, we'd be like Drew Barrymore in that movie where she forgot stuff all the time. A hard drive is the device that stores a computer's data. For our purposes, a 7200 RPM drive is fine. For this build, we're running with a simple 500GB Seagate drive (~$60).
  • Memory: If a hard-drive is long-term memory, then RAM, or memory, is a computer's short-term memory. Data is taken from the slower long-term memory and streamed to the short term memory, which is where the CPU processes the data it's been given. Many people have been recommending picking up Samsung's new 30nm RAM, and it's not hard to see why. It's fast, inexpensive (~$25 for 4GB), and draws less power than standard memory.
  • Power Supply: Without a power supply, your computer won't run, so it should go without saying that you'll want to pick a good one. In my experience, power supply issues have accounted for nearly all computer-related mishaps, so it's a good idea to pick a supply from a trusted brand. My personal favourite is Corsair, and at ~$70, you can't really go wrong with their CX 600 series.

That's a $600 machine right there — cheaper than the PS3 was at launch. For a limited gaming experience, you can transfer Ubuntu to a USB drive, install it, set up Steam, and be on your way... but like most people, you'll probably want Windows. If that's the case, you'd do well to pick up the 64-bit OEM version of Windows 7. Steer clear of Windows 8, which has compatibility issues with some games. If you don't feel comfortable ripping a disc of Windows on an ISO, or you just want an optical drive in your machine, try either something like this ASUS DVD burner (~$20) or this LG Blu-ray disc drive (~$50). That there is about a $700 machine.

There are no Xbox Live or Playstation Plus fees to worry about, free games and mods open up a world of opportunities, and, of course, massive sales from retailers like GreenManGaming, GoG.com and Steam. At the time of writing, the Tomb Raider reboot is selling on GreenManGaming for $45, with a further $15 in credit. That's already $15 less than console prices, with a further $15 to spend on other games. Bioshock Infinite also has a $15 credit!

I often buy games on release, but regularly save about $25 a game over console prices. That means that after just a handful of release date purchases, I'll have saved more money by choosing to play on the PC rather than consoles.

Should you want to build an absolute beast of a machine, you're more than welcome to: check out NeoGAF's 2013 "I Need A New PC!" thread if you really want to get into the nitty-gritty. If you do feel like you want a lot beefier computer, pick up an Intel processor, like the i5-3570k and a compatible motherboard. Consider switching video card manufacturers too — Nvidia has generally faster cards, better driver support and the addition of Physx enhancements. When it comes to cases, you can't go wrong with Fractal Design — I'm personally using an XL, but my plan is to pick up a Node 605 at some point in the future, stick my current PC's parts in it, and use my XL to house a new Intel/Nvidia machine for gaming.

The Software and Accessories

After building your PC, you're going to want to install all the basic software on it-the initial drivers, programs like Steam, and so on and so forth. If you're interested in being able to use it like a media centre as well as a game's machine, you'll want to install XBMC. Additionally, you might want to use a controller, a remote, or use some other accessory. If that's the case, let's cover some basics.

Whenever I do a system rebuild (because it's fun!), the first place I go after installing my OS is FileHippo. It's a fantastic repository for the latest releases of various bits of important software, from things like Adobe Reader to K-Lite's video codec pack.

For software, I'd recommend picking up:

  • Google Chrome: Yeah, your mileage may vary. Pick whatever browser you feel comfortable with-even if that means Netscape.
  • LibreOffice: Sure, you can spend money on Office, or you can pick up the excellent open source alternative. I own Office, but I barely use it anymore-LibreOffice is great!
  • Avast!: Debates about antivirus software are often as heated as debates about choice of browsers. It's worth noting that Avast won't deal with spyware; for that, you'll want something like SuperAntiSpyware. You should have spyware and malware defence on any computer you own. If you don't, please do so now.
  • CCleaner: Want to get rid of the random clutter your computer accumulates? Few programs do it better than CCleaner. It also has other tools dealing with things like registry cleaning and software uninstallation. CCleaner's developer, Piriform, also has a defragmentation tool, Defraggler, which I enjoy using.
  • Peazip: A relatively recent discovery of mine, Peazip is a great alternative to compression software like WinRAR or 7zip. If you plan on opening zip and rar files, it's worth checking out.
  • K-Lite Mega Codec Pack: Do you want to watch movie files on your computer? Most operating systems, whether they're Windows or Mac, come with the drivers to play their kind of video files, but not everyone uses those formats, which is where codec packs come in. If you want to make sure you don't run into video compatibility issues, you're going to want some good codecs and a nice video player. K-Lite Mega Codec Pack includes both. Just make sure you install everything + Media Player Classic when you're setting it up.
  • XBMC: It's the best media centre software out there, and, like everything else here, it's free. Even if you aren't planning to use your computer as a media centre, Lifehacker's article on XBMC is well worth checking out.
  • Steam: If you are going to play video games on the PC, you will want Steam. It is the platform that sets the golden standard for PC gaming, and it offers the kind of infrastructure people have come to expect from services like Xbox Live, but with no cost, enhanced social features, a screenshot function, cloud saving, and a myriad of other benefits. For our purposes, Steam is particularly useful because of Big Picture Mode, which allows gamers to navigate their game libraries with a controller, rather than a mouse and keyboard.

When it comes to hardware, you've got a myriad of options — far more than I could even begin to explain. Let's look at a few that will help you have an enjoyable gaming experience.

  • Microsoft's near-flawless entry into the controller field has become the de facto standard for people who want to play with a controller, which comes in both wireless and wired flavours. If you pick up the wireless controller, don't forget good batteries! I've recently been informed that rechargeable AA batteries are superior to Microsoft's battery packs. If your heart is set on another kind of controller, there are ways, through software like MotionInJoy, to use a DualShock 3 on the PC as well.
  • There are far more PC remote options out there than you can shake a stick at, so it's great that Lifehacker has provided an excellent article on the subject.
  • If you still find yourself wanting to, say, surf the internet on your computer, or play a real-time strategy game, there are numerous mouse and keyboard combinations for you to select from. Personally, I'm eyeing Logitech's K400, a thin, light, wireless keyboard which includes a laptop-like touch pad, allowing users to forgo the need for a mouse.

***

So, what now?

PC gaming comes in practically innumerable shapes in forms. It has something for everyone. If you want it to be convenient, it can be. If you want it to be inexpensive, it can be. You will never find a more versatile, flexible, capable way to game. It's precisely because of that flexibility that PC gaming is the hobby I'm most passionate about. I've had so many great experiences with it. I've learned a great deal about myself.

You don't have to jump into the deep end.

If you give PC gaming a go, though, I know you'll be rewarded. Over the past few years, everyone I know who has picked up PC gaming has had an absolute blast with it, discovering new games and new experiences. Their horizons have been broadened, their enjoyment of gaming has increased, and their wallets aren't quite so empty these days.

So go ahead, give it a try.

You might discover a new passion, and what's cooler than that?


GB Burford's childhood discovery that he could modify Microsoft Flight Simulator to allow behaviours the programmers hadn't intended spawned a life-long fascination with video games and their development. Now, he writes about video games and occasionally dabbles with making his own. His Twitter handle is @ForgetAmnesia.


Comments

    $700 + Australia tax?

      Australia Tax in this case is usually GST. I find there's generally not a huge markup on computer parts if you shop around.

        just out of curiosity, i plugged the components recommended into the ijk website & came out with a total of $827.
        thats not including monitors or other peripherals or any additional fees for having it put together.

        $700 is closer to reality than i was expecting, but its still a bit off.

          Try UMart or a few other specialist stockers. Much better pricing (except windows 7, its pricey here).

            I had a bad experience with Umart's customer service, so I dont really plan on going back there.
            IJK is down the road from my place & their customer service has been pretty good, so I'm ok with spending an extra $50 for the convenience.

              yea its strange with umart. Personally I have had no problems there (at the Gold Coast store), but a friend of mine also said he wont go back there due to their customer service.

                You want cheap prices yet you want good customer service? lol Pretty sure you can't have your cake and eat it mate.

              Try, MSY, or PC case gear?

                MSY for cheap parts (sometimes PC Case Gear beats them out though). PC Case Gear if you don't have a local MSY. Personally I just go with PCCG because they're pretty damned great. Been using them for my parts for a long time now.

                +1 on MSY. They were the 'other specialist stocker'. I usually go to them.

          He forgot the mouse and keyboard but I was under the impression it was running on his TV rather than a Monitor.

      Try using staticICE or something, and you don't even have to shop around; it'll show you some of the better aussie prices on hardware/software from a great deal of our retailers.

      http://www.staticice.com.au/

      Last edited 13/02/13 3:39 pm

      I built my PC BOX for $700 and had the monitor, mouse and keyboard from a previous pc. this was three years and using AMD parts and I am only just now needing to upgrade CPU and Graphics only. I bought a gigabyte motherboard capable of taking a better CPU so I don't need to worry about too many issues until maybe the next upgrade. If I spend $700 on those two parts then I will have a top of the line PC, mind you I would need some other parts to support a CPU and graphics option like this. I am all for DIY PCs, they save you heaps and are superior to the ones built and sold whole.

      Last edited 13/02/13 3:46 pm

    - AMD A8 is a piece of shit which is why it's so cheap. The whole benefit to an A-series CPU is it has a powerful GPU on board, and adding an add-in card basically negates that benefit. Better off sticking an Intel i3 in there.

    - Advocates getting an Optical drive when the selected case does not have an optical drive slot. The Node is actually a pretty huge case for an ITX system as well.

    - Advocates Avast for AV. Blergh.

    - Advocated installing the K-Lite Codec pack. Credibility completely lost.

      Not sure what's supposed to be wrong with avast, especially for an entry level user, but yeah, k-lite is where I stopped reading too.

        Nothing wrong with it but there are better options out there IMO.

          so what antivirus do you recommend

          and what do you use instead of klite? i use cccp

            Microsoft Security Essentials is reliable and non-intrusive.

            As for codecs, I just installed VLC and haven't had to worry about any codec packs in years.

              I use VLC a fair bit, but it has it's problems. I also use Media Player Classic and if I do need to get a codec, I use GSpot to work out which codec I need and just install that one.
              That said, I don't think I've had to install a codec in years, and probably only have a handful installed.

                I've never encountered a problem with VLC that wasn't addressed fairly quickly by the next patch. The worst I've had is the Mac version decided to sometimes not load the audio track for some files. Quitting out of the application and trying again tended to solve that. It hasn't happened in some time.

                Really, I haven't had any problems with VLC that would rate more than a minor inconvenience and it will work for 99.9% of what most people will want to do. So when it comes to recommendations, telling people to just get VLC seems like a solid bet.

                  Not really disagreeing, like I said, I use it a lot. It certainly seems better than it used to be and my main repeated problem looks like it has to do with one of the computers I use it on (university lecture theatre for an anime club) I'm certainly using it more and more, especially at work where I have it on my portable hard drive.

              I've got VLC player, and Shark007 aswell to make sure Media Player is able to handle everything if need be - it takes some tweaking to get everything working the way you want though so for no fuss just go with VLC.

            whats a matter dont know what files you have? dont know what your clicking...

            if you do know u dont need a virus scanner

              no i dont need anti virus, but i still like to double check twice a year and do a quick scan in case some genius developed a super virus or worm that unavoidably infects all computers

          I find Avast is perfect for gaming as its super low on resources, and I haven't had any problems with it. Also, its free.

          You win award for least useful commenter of all time.

          Are you like this in real life?

          'I don't like hamburgers. There's better food out there.' 'What do you want?' '*walks away*'

          Your girlfriend must love you.

      what would you recommend then negativezero
      you give criticism yet provide no solution
      not trying to attack you, just curious and trying to get the most amount of information

    For some more localised recommendations: Try Whirlpool's PC build suggestions. It's a pretty handy resource with suggestions that fit quite a few price ranges.

      Definitely, also there's always users on the Desktop part of the forums which are always there to help with advice/troubleshooting

    CPU: Intel Core i5 3470 $189
    MOBO: ASRock B75 Pro3-M $69
    Case&PSU: Thermaltake V4 Black Edition Case with 500W USB3.0 $75
    GPU: HIS Radeon HD7850 1GB $189
    RAM: 8GB RAM $49
    HDD: Seagate Barracuda 500GB ST500DM002 $59
    Optical: DVD drive $19-22

    Around $650, prices from www.pccasegear.com

    This should perform better than the build above for less. The power supply from the case is good enough to power the 7850.

      +1
      although I would spend 800 and go for a sub $300 gfx card. I like my pretties

    Any truth to this, @welbot ?

      if you're asking is it possible to make a reasonably decent gaming pc for less than $700, most assuredly yes.

        The easiest way to get a good gaming pc? Call/email me with your budget and get me to build it for you ;) /end shameless self promotion

          Oh, and where would one be able to contact you?
          (shameless as well)

        I will be in contact. Urrrr, just dunno when. I *STILL* haven't configured that router you bought me!

          you've got my mobile number don't ya? if so, just call me.. will probably be quicker to help you out with the router that way

            Yeah I have your number, what I don't have is time and patience. I've done my original router twice before. It's more of an issue of just sitting down and DOING IT.

            (Will be in contact about a desktop some day this year)

    You guys forgot the SSD... Once you've used Windows on an SSD you'll never go back to platters.

      Agreed, SSD's are one of the greatest upgrades you can do to a computer from a 'make life easier' stand point. Plus, when 60GB SSD's are around $60 - $100, they're not bank breaking either.

        Its even better when 128GB ones are $100http://www.pccasegear.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=210_902_1370&products_id=22033
        I've noticed prices have increased again, slightly. My 128GB Sandisk that I got for $97 is now $119.

          Have the exact same drive and got it when it was that price too! Haha.
          Yeah unfortunately, SSD's have stagnated a bit and fluctuated back up a tad. But that's normal I guess. As long as it doesn't go back up much more.

      Unless you want to install lots of games...

      Agreed. SSD's literally changed my computing life. I cannot ever go back to a pc without one. Ever. Refuse to.

      My PC boots up in 7 seconds flat from the time I hit power now. Used to be 50+. When I install a game to the SSD itself, instead of my platter drive (D:) I get a pretty hefty boost in performance from the game oddly enough too? Skyrim I usually get 45 - 50fps on my 460 gtx, when I put it on the SSD? I average 55 - 60. It's a noticeable enough difference in gameplay believe me.

      And this is how it goes, everyone here is suggesting other components which are slightly better and more expensive, and then you get it all home and find you could tweak it just a little more with another purchase. It's no longer a $700 computer which will need upgrading in two to three years. When ps3 xbox have been sitting comfortable for 7. Just a thought I always have when people tell me how cheap PC gaming is.

        last time I built a pc, to run crysis at I believe, it cost me $4500 including everything. It was top of the line for about four years. When I finally needed to upgrade the newer video card while not noticably better than the first still retailed at around $800. That's $200 more just by itself than my launch xbox-bundle-with-everything-extra

    "Steer clear of Windows 8, which has compatibility issues with some games."
    I disagree with this statement.
    The only compatibility issue I've had with Windows 8 is games for windows live. The workaround is very easy and only takes a few minutes (though you would think that microsoft would be able to make their own program fully compatible.)
    When you can still pick up an 'upgrade' version of Windows 8 at retail for under $70, I'd say it is the better option. It's faster to boot and once you learn the interface it is faster to use than Windows 7 et al.
    Even the start screen is better than the start 'menu'. Unless you like to use an inconsistant indexing system that hasn't been relevant or user friendly since 1995.

      The key word is 'some'. When I was using the upgrade assistant for windows 8, three games came up as incompatible. I actually abandoned the upgrade at that point because I particularly wanted to play one of them.

      No doubt W8 offers better gaming performance though.

      The 'upgrade' price is $70. This is not an upgrade, it is a new install.

      W8 on a non-touchscreen, especially big screen desktop, is a usability nightmare. Steer well clear.

    3870K and a 7770

    BOTTLENECK.

    recommend another cpu like the x4 965.. otherwise might as well pair a sempron with a 690

    ASRock H77M Motherboard
    Thermaltake V4 Black Edition
    8gb ram ripjaws
    Samsung 840 Series 120GB
    Western Digital WD Blue 500GB
    Intel Core i5 3470
    Total $560 from PCCG

    Not really sure about graphics card

    i'd like to jump on this band-wagon as well since i work in the Industry. First off, for that price and the fact you made reference to AMD and other cheap parts, i'd be changing the title to "building a game pc on a budget". Secondly as for gaming PC's you can forget I5 processors, i'd only recommend I5 processors for those who wants a reasonable quality pc and advise a min of 6gig ram, forget microsoft stating 4gig, unless you want to wait 10 years for everything, the system would gradually slow down. Thirdly an I5 system would generally last around a good 3 years all-round

    IF you want a "gaming pc, there's a high chance the word "performance" comes to mind.
    Having said that I7 Processor to start, memory 8GB min, maybe 16GB or more as if you're in the middle of an intense game and you need to switch games, you need RAM for that :).

    As for HDD's, you can buy them with reasonable RPM's, but now-a-days SDD's are coming down in price so buy one or two and raid 0 and you really want performance, then buy a standard drive for backup.

    Do you research in Motherboards and Graphics Cards

    Then all your other bits n pieces

    And thats about it

    I think everyone whose dabbed in to graphical games these days whether kids or adults know as a guideline on what to look out for.

    Hope this helps :)

    Sapphire's Radeon HD7770 GHz Ed? \o/ Got mine mid-last year - did something similar to this.

    i5 3570k, 16GB RAM Ripjaws, 128Gb SSD, 1TB HDD, Bitfenix Raider case... Came in at about $800 as I skimped on the motherboard (and still annoyed that I did so). Plays just about anything at 1080p on med/high, but struggles if I try to go full 5760x1080 on anything above low settings. Been thinking about upgrading the graphics card to a 7970 sometime this year...

    I'm going to do everyone a favour here.

    http://www.logicalincrements.com/

    This is the only guide you will need.

    I have a few points I'd like to make:
    A problem with graphics cards is the fact that both AMD and Nvidia have driver problems with certain games. It's especially important when on a budget to do research about which games work best with specific cards.
    At 1080p a 7770 really isn't gonna run games well if you like having all the settings turned up. Choosing to a 7850 or a GTX 660 (if you can find a cheap one) would be good. Alternatively you could go for a 1680x1050 resolution screen instead.
    An i3 3220 will outdo just about any AMD cpu. Pair that with a B75 motherboard and you've got a much more powerful system for around $60-80 more.
    Lastly when on a budget keep in mind that the difference between RAM at 1600mhz and 1333mhz is miniscule. It's usually only a $20 difference but it's worth mentioning.

    Last edited 13/02/13 6:32 pm

    The problem is that the above are really not that applicable. I'm a bit surprised that the author did such a poor cut and paste from last year.

    In any case, what people have suggested above are pretty much what I would go for. And definitely a +1 for http://www.staticice.com.au. It pretty much guarantees the cheapest in Australia/the states if you filter it.

    Shop with what people has offered here. Not in reading a tech article from Kotaku as they seem to think 2010 is this year... :S

    first place to go after any build is http://ninite.com/ it's saved me installing software so many times.

    I feel that this is the best place to put this. (though buried at the bottom)

    http://au.pcpartpicker.com/ - This website goes to all the websites in the selected country gets all available parts and prices, lets you design a machines makes sure you have everything you need and gives you the cheapest prices.

    it is an invaluable resource.

    Also suggest people go to www.reddit.com/r/buildapc the people there will suggest parts of better quality for the same price and will tell you which parts are better for you.

    Great Article: Very helpful, considering pre built computers in Australia are so damn expensive

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