Build A Top-Notch Gaming PC Designed for Overclocking for $700
Author: Mathieu Bourgie
Editor: Shawn Knight
Date: 02-22-2010
Pages:
Introduction

About this $700 Gaming Build:


Who said that a budget build was boring and couldn't offer good performance?


  • Solid performance: This build will handle gaming, with modern titles, at a resolution up to 1920 x 1080 (1080p - Up to a 22-25″ monitor or a 1080p HDTV).

  • Quality and looks: This system is encased in an Antec Three Hundred Illusion case which offers a look that you can be proud of and cooling that will keep your system cool and reliable, even after hours upon hours of gaming along with overclocking.

  • Designed to be overclocked: Every part was picked with overclocking in mind, from the motherboard equipped with the SB710 Southbridge to the case equipped with 3 x 120mm and one 140mm case fans. Obviously, I didn't forget an essential element: A CPU with an unlocked multiplier and a good aftermarket CPU cooler.

  • Offering the performance of a more expensive PC for a lower cost: Thanks to overclocking, this PC can trade blows with a more expensive PC, making it more fun and giving you a better bang for your buck.

Figuring out which parts to pick


With the flood of parts available on the market, along with new ones coming out at an insane rate, it can be hard to keep up with all of them and figure out which parts are truly worth your money. This is where this article comes in, by showing you what parts will give you the most performance and allow you to build a top-notch Gaming PC out of a $700 budget.

Overclocking


Seen by many as a way to get more performance out of a system for free, overclocking is very popular with people who build budget rigs, as they want to get the most bang for the buck out of their system. When done properly, overclocking is indeed a relatively easy way to get a nice performance boost without additional costs. This build features components that were picked in part due to their ability to overclock well.

$700 Gaming computer hardware parts recommendations, short version:


  • In Bold, you'll find my recommendations, with a price that fits the overall budget.

  • In Italic, you'll find the best possible upgrades, that is the parts that offers the best bang for your buck.

  • In simple terms, if you want a more powerful CPU or video card, pick it from the list of recommended upgrades that are in Italic.

  • All upgrades are compatible with the rest of the system, as well as other upgrades, meaning that you can choose one or many upgrades without a problem.




$700 Gaming Computer Hardware parts recommendations, detailed version:

Motherboard:


GIGABYTE GA-MA770T-UD3P AM3 AMD 770/SB710 ATX

GIGABYTE GA-MA770T-UD3P AM3 AMD 770/SB710 ATX


A nice, solid full sized ATX motherboard based on the AMD 770 chipset along with the SB710 Southbridge.

It features:

  • Eight USB 2.0 ports, two PS/2, two FireWire (One mini and one regular), LAN, 8 channels HD audio and 1 x Optical, 1 x Coaxial S/PDIF outputs.

  • PCI-Express 16X 2.0, three PCI-Express 1X and two PCI slots, six SATA 3.0 Gb/s ports and the usual IDE port, etc.

I picked this board because it is an affordable and reliable motherboard from Gigabyte that offers the SB710 southbridge along with ACC (Advanced Clock Calibration), which allows you to unlock a core or two on the Phenom II X2 550 and the X3 720 with relative ease, by using Hybrid Mode with ACC in the BIOS options. AMD also claims that ACC improves the maximum frequency with overclocking.

Note that core unlocking is not guaranteed, as some cores are truly defective and cannot be unlocked.

For $85, this board pretty much has everything that you could need, unless you want Crossfire and/or support for USB 3.0/ SATA 6.0Gb/s of course. If that's the case, check out the upgrades below:

Recommended upgrades:

  1. GIGABYTE GA-770TA-UD3
  2. - A very similar board, except that for $10 more, you get USB 3.0/SATA 6.0Gb/s support here.
  3. GIGABYTE GA-MA790XT-UD4P - AM3 AMD 790X ATX Crossfire 8x/8x - This is the next step up. Based on AMD 790X chipset for enhanced overclocking, it supports Crossfire with two Radeon cards. However, no USB 3.0 nor SATA 6GB/s here, see the next upgrade for that.

  4. GIGABYTE GA-790XTA-UD4 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 Crossfire 8X/8X - This has it all. Crossfire support AND USB 3.0 along with SATA 6Gb/s support. This is the motherboard to get if you want to be as future-proof as possible.


CPU:


AMD Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition 3.1GHz Dual-Core AM3 80W

AMD Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition 3.1GHz Dual-Core AM3 80W


For overclocking enthusiasts, this CPU offers tons of fun for less than $100. Starting at 3.1GHz with a 200MHz frequency and a 15.5x multiplier, it's a Black Edition CPU, meaning that you can overclock it simply by raising its multiplier.

With the ACC Hybrid Mode, many were able to unlock two cores and get a very inexpensive quad-core CPU. However, keep in mind that not all X2/X3 CPU cores will unlock, as some are truly defective.

Also, with nothing short of four great AMD CPUs within $9 of each other, here are three other options that you should also consider:

  1. AMD Phenom II X2 555 Black Edition 3.2GHz Dual-Core C3 Stepping 80W - This particular CPU brings in slightly better thermal management with the C3 stepping, compared to the X2 550, allowing for higher maximum frequencies when overclocked. Also, good to know, there were reported successes of unlocked cores, allowing for a very cheap quad-core with an unlocked multiplier. With the highest frequencies, dual-core processors tends to currently be the best for video games whose performance highly depend on clock speeds.

  2. AMD Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition 2.8GHz Triple-Core 95W OEM - OEM means that it doesn't come with a stock cooler (You'll be using the Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus, so this not a problem) and that it comes with a 30 days warranty instead of 3 years: Not a problem again since overclocking voids the warranty ;) More importantly, for only a few dollars more, you get an additional guaranteed core while keeping the benefit of an unlocked multiplier (Black Edition CPU). Like the X2, this CPU can have its 4th core unlocked to become a quad-core CPU, although once-again, this is not guaranteed. With 3 cores, medium frequency and an unlocked multiplier, this is a well-balanced CPU that is good for gaming as well as CPU-intensive workloads such as video editing or 3D.

  3. AMD Athlon II X4 630 2.8GHz Quad-Core AM3 95W - Only a few dollars more than the Athlon II X4 620, the 630 brings in the benefit of a higher multiplier (14X instead of 13X), an important thing here considering that the multiplier is locked with this CPU. Indeed, this is not a Black Edition CPU like the other suggestions, however if you want a guaranteed quad-core CPU, this is the way to go. Also, some consider the lack of L3 cache a blessing for overclocking, because an Athlon II produces less heat than a comparable Phenom II processor, meaning that your temperatures will be lower and less likely to limit your overclocking. Since this is a quad-core CPU, it is capable of handling gaming without a problem, handles CPU-intensive workloads better than dual or triple-core CPUs and is considered by most to be the most future-proof solution.


Video Card:


Saphire Radeon HD 5770 1GB Vapor-X GDDR5 DirectX 11

Saphire Radeon HD 5770 1GB Vapor-X GDDR5 DirectX 11


Compared by some to the ATI Radeon HD 4870 when it comes to performance, which is somewhat true, the 5770 delivers as it uses less power, runs much cooler, is more quiet, has DirectX 11 support, Eyefinity and thanks to Sapphire's brilliant Vapor-X cooling system, great overclocking potential.

With CCC allowing to overclock the GPU up to 960MHz, memory 1350MHz and some reporting hitting 1100MHz+ with voltage adjustments (which can be done with MSI AfterBurner utility), this is a great card for an overclocker.

The Radeon 5770 supports DirectX 11 and it is perfect for gaming at 1680 x 1050 or at 1920 x 1080 (1080p) with most games. It also has a 1GB memory buffer to handle games such as GTA 4.

Finally, it is HDCP Ready and will handle Blu-Ray and other 1080p content playback, with audio over HDMI as well, with most audio setups (2.1, 5.1, 7.1, etc.).

Also good to know, Radeon 5770s are known to scale very well in Crossfire, matching the performance of a Radeon 5870 without difficulty.

Upgrades:


If you have an extra $125 laying around, you'll want to put it on the ASUS Radeon HD 5850 1GB GDDR5 DirectX 11 as this where you'll get the biggest performance boost in video games. With 1440 SPs compared to 800 SPs on the Radeon 5770, this card is much more powerful and future-proof. This particular edition from ASUS allows you to easily tweak the voltage for more overclocking goodness ;)

Some of you might point out the Radeon 4890 at $200, however considering its power consumption, lack of DirectX 11 and other features, it's hard to recommend, especially if you consider that when overclocked, the Radeon 5770 and Radeon 4890 will perform at about the same level, but the Radeon 4890 will consume much more power, be more noisy and lack the DirectX 11/Eyefinity support that the Radeon 5770 provides.

Same goes if you consider two Radeon 4850 in Crossfire for $200, as you consider that you'll need a Crossfire compatible motherboard (+$25), Crossfire compatible power supply (+$20) and a better case (+$40) to exhaust all the heat produced by those cards. That $200 cost is now $285. Do I need to remind you that for $300 you get a Radeon 5850? It is a vastly superior video card in my opinion, as it's not limited by Crossfire scaling, won't be nearly as noisy, won't consume as much power and supports DirectX 11/Eyefinity. Not to mention that two cards in Crossfire would dump a ton of heat in your case, greatly impairing your overclocking.


RAM:


G.SKILL RipJaw DDR3 1600

G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB) 1.5V DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Dual Channel


4GB of RAM is pretty much mandatory to handle the latest video games along with Windows and background apps such as your anti-virus, web browser, music/video player, etc.

Considering the price of RAM these days and the ever-expending memory use of games and programs, 4GB of high-speed DDR3 memory is a no-brainer.

I went with G.Skill for their high reliability and compatibility with the majority of motherboards. I chose these particular sticks as they only require the standard 1.5V to run at 1600MHz, resulting in lower power consumption, but more importantly, because you can raise the voltage higher to reach higher frequencies.

Note that the RAM will most likely not run at 1600MHz to begin with. This is normal, you need to adjust your BIOS settings to reach that speed.

If you want more overclocking headroom and/or more bandwidth, the G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB) 1.65V DDR3 2000 Dual Channel kit will do the trick for only $30 more.


Hard Drive:


Western Digital Caviar Blue 3.5

Western Digital Caviar Blue 3.5" 500GB 7200 RPM 8MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s


This is a standard SATA hard drive that offers 500GB of storage, plenty enough to handle your video/music collection and all your games.

I went with Western Digital because their hard drive offers the highest reliability in my experience, being less prone to failure on average. The Blue Caviar series drives come with a 3 year warranty.

Recommended upgrades:

  1. Western Digital Caviar Black 750GB 7200 RPM 32MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s - ($70) This upgrade offers more performance, thanks to a larger 32MB cache and the fact that this is the high-performance series from Western Digital, the Caviar Black. For $14 more, you get 250GB more, a tad more performance and a 5 years warranty instead of 3.

  2. W.D. Caviar Black 1TB 7200 RPM 32MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s - ($95) Here you get a full 1TB of storage, along with the high-performance of the Caviar Black series and of course, the 5 years warranty.


Optical Drive:


LITE-ON Black 24X SATA CD/DVD Burner

LITE-ON Black 24X SATA CD/DVD Burner


This drive is able to read and burn CDs and DVDs. It is silent and compatible with all major formats including DVD-RAM.

The motherboard includes two SATA cables (One will be used for the hard drive and one for this DVD Burner), so no need to worry about cables.

Also, seeing as DVD Burners are often go out of stock lately, here are a two alternatives that you can use to replace it. All are SATA based.

  1. LITE-ON Black 24X SATA Black CD/DVD Writer

  2. HP Black 24X SATA 24X CD/DVD Writer - Retail


Case:


Antec Three Hundred Illusion 300

Antec Three Hundred Illusion - 3x 120mm 1x 140mm fans


Priced at $70, the Antec Three Hundred is a smaller version of the well known Antec Nine Hundred. This particular edition (Illusion) comes with three 120mm and one 140mm case fans, all speed-adjustable. If you intend on overclocking, for an extra $20, this case will definitely help you lower your temperatures.

Recommended upgrades:

COOLER MASTER HAF 922 - 1x 120mm 2x 200mm fans - ($110) If you're searching for a different look, or simply hate blue LEDs, have a look at the Cooler Master HAF 922. It offers one 120mm fan as well as two massive 200m fans.

Antec Nine Hundred Two - 3x 120mm 1x 200mm fans - ($115) Following the massive success of the Nine Hundred, Antec brought out the Nine Hundred Two, an improved version offering nothing short of three 120mm fans (two in front, one in the back) as well as a massive 200m fan on top.


Power Supply:


SILVERSTONE ST50F-ES 500W ATX12V v2.3 80 PLUS Certified Active PFC Power Supply

SILVERSTONE ST50F-ES 500W 80 PLUS Certified


This power supply is capable of delivering up to 500W, not that you should rely on this information solely when deciding on a PSU as I point out in this post on my blog: Warning: 6 Surefire Ways of Blowing Up Your Computer Due to an Inadequate Power Supply. More importantly, we get 25A on the 12V line, one of the most important factors when it comes to choosing a power supply for a gaming computer.

Power Consumption:


According to the eXtreme Power Supply Calculator, it is estimated that this system will consume at load (peak usage):

  • 271W with the recommended Phenom II X2 550 and the Radeon 5770.

  • 284W with the Phenom II X2 550 overclocked to 3.8GHz/1.4V and the Radeon 5770.

  • 323W with the Athlon II X4 630 overclocked to 3.5GHz/1.3V and the Radeon 5770.

  • 364W with the Athlon II X4 630 overclocked to 3.5GHz/1.3V and the Radeon 5850. This is the worst case scenario.

This goes to prove how efficient these new Radeon 5xxx cards are, especially compared to the older Radeon 48xx series.

The power supply will have no problem handling the default setup and upgrades. However, if you want more power to be more future proof, have more overhead or any other reasons, for $20 more, you can get an Antec 650W CrossFire/80 PLUS Certified which should cover pretty much all your needs.

Cooling:


COOLER MASTER Hyper 212 Plus

COOLER MASTER Hyper 212 Plus


Recently declared the cooler that offers the best value according to Tom's Hardware, the Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus offers very good cooling capabilities for only $30.

Upgrades:

While the Hyper 212 is a good cooler, there are better solutions on the market. The first thing that you should look into to drop your temperatures by several degrees without spending much money is a quality thermal paste like ARCTIC COOLING MX-2 Thermal Compound.

Then, if you're really serious about overclocking your processor, you should take a look at the <CORSAIR Cooling Hydro Series CWCH50-1. Yes, I know, this is a water-cooling kit, which used to be regarded as crap quite frankly. However, Corsair did a very nice job here and with the stock configuration, this setup trade blows with the best air coolers on the market while producing way less noise. If you "mod" it a bit to have a pull-push fan configuration, it improves it even further. Sure, for $78, it is not cheap, but considering the performance/noise ratio, it is worth the extra $48 if you can afford it.

Sound Card: 8 channels sound card: Integrated on the motherboard


Integrated with the motherboard, this sound card will handle many different sound setups, including headphones, a microphone and more. While integrated audio on a PC used to be absolutely horrible, it has gotten much better in the last few years, thus why I have no trouble recommending it.

Network: Ethernet RJ-45 10/100/1000 Mbps LAN: Integrated on the motherboard


Integrated with the motherboard, this network adapter will allow you to access your local network and the Internet.

Recommended operating systems:


The operating system cost, if there’s one, is not included in the total cost. The two reason for this are:

  1. The budget only considers hardware.

  2. You may be able to re-use a previous license or go with an open-source OS such as Linux.

If you decide that you need a need an OS, here are some recommendations:

Windows 7


Despite Linux gaining more and more support, Windows still is the platform of choice for compatibility at the moment. Considering that you’ll have 4GB of RAM or more, along with a dedicated video card that also has memory (1GB), you’ll need a 64-bit version, as 32-bit is limited to 4GB of memory for the entire system, which is not enough now, nor in the future if you decide to upgrade.

Windows 7 is by far better than Windows Vista. It looks better, is more functional, less annoying, consumes less resources and brings DirectX 11 to the table.

Three Available Versions:

  1. Windows 7 Home Premium: The basic edition, with all the looks, most of the functionality and DirectX 11.

  2. Windows 7 Professional: If you want the virtual XP mode, you’ll need at least the Professional edition. Also required if you want to backup to a network, using the built-in backup mode in Windows.

  3. Windows 7 Ultimate: To help protect data on your PC and portable storage devices against loss or theft with BitLocker and to work and switch between 35 languages.

OEM vs Retail:

The OEM version allows you to only install it once on a computer. You cannot transfer the license to another computer in the future and you do not receive support from Microsoft. It’s the same type of license you get when you get Windows on a desktop or laptop that you buy from Dell, HP and such. It’s less expensive, but gives less flexibility. Ideal if you intend on keeping your computer for many years.

The Retail version is the full version, which allows you to transfer the license to another computer in the future and you can call Microsoft if you need any form of support. Ideal if you intend on upgrading/changing your computer down the road.

Other than that, you get the same features on both, only the license differs. The price between the two differs obviously.

OEM Versions:

  1. Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit OEM – $105

  2. Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64-bit OEM – $140

  3. Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit OEM - $175


Retail Versions:

  1. Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium Retail – $184

  2. Microsoft Windows 7 Professional Retail – $275

  3. Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate Retail - $292

Linux


A lot of people these days boots more than one OS. Linux is a wonderful choice: powerful, cool, and cheap. Take your pick of distributions and have fun! For Fedora, Ubuntu, Debian, Slackware, and Mandrake, try Distrowatch.com, Cheapbytes.com, LinuxQuestions.org or one of the many others.

While Linux does not offer the wide compatibility of Windows with video games, gaming on Linux is still possible, through projects such as Wine, Cedega and Crossover. For more on the topic of Linux Gaming, I invite you to read this excellent article from AnandTech: Linux Gaming: Are we there yet?

What about Word processing, Excel and other Windows-based programs that you need? Linux being an open platform, there are many free alternatives that will answer your needs. For Word/Excel and such, try OpenOffice.

Cost: Free

Conclusion


With a lot of overclocking potential, this system ended up being exactly what I planned: A Budget-priced PC build that can trade blows with more expensive PCs thanks to overclocking.

What do you think of this $700 Gaming PC Designed for Overclocking? Would you change a part for another?

Let us know what you think of it by leaving a comment in our forum.

About the Author: Besides writing various custom Computer Builds Guides on Hardware Revolution, Mathieu Bourgie also helps you Build your First PC.


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