Feature Article

Can We Build a Gaming PC on a Console Budget?

Put your money where your mouth is.

There's no debating that a souped-up gaming PC will outperform an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 any day of the week, but it'll also cost you a lot more at checkout. However, what about a gaming PC that isn't top of the line, say, one that was built for $550?

This is the question we put to the test: could we build a gaming PC from scratch that could provide a gameplay and visual experience on par with a next-gen console, for around the same price as a next-gen console? While the PlayStation 4 is substantially cheaper, we wanted to make this exercise as competitive as possible, and that meant allowing ourselves the luxury of a slightly higher budget. Our own Mark Walton and Peter Brown each built one machine; one based on Intel and Nvidia chipsets, and the other on AMD hardware. Then, we put them to the test to see if Mark and Peter used their budgets wisely or if they would have been better off buying a console for great graphics on a fixed budget. The text on this page covers the basics of our test, but be sure to check out the videos below for a more in-depth look at Mark's and Peter's process and results.

Rules and Goals

We aimed to stay within a budget of $550--roughly the most you can pay for an Xbox One in North America. In addition to acquiring the bare essentials for a PC--CPU, GPU, RAM, motherboard, power supply, computer case, and hard drive--each editor had to include the cost of a mouse, a keyboard, and a Windows license. No piracy or preexisting parts allowed!

The other goal was to build a machine that performs as well as or better than an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 in cross-platform games. The list of benchmark candidates included Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, Battlefield 4, Thief, and Titanfall.

Mark Walton - AMD Gaming PC

Mark Walton's AMD PC

Gaming PCs live and die by the GPU and CPU. AMD's budget offerings are a far better value for the money than either Intel's or Nvidia's. For less than the price of the cheapest Ivy Bridge-based Core processor from Intel, you can pick up six-core chips from AMD that happily outperform it. The same goes for AMD's GPUs, which offer excellent performance for less than the Nvidia equivalent.

My plan was simple: stick as much money into the CPU and GPU as possible, and work with what's left--and if I could make the computer look half decent too, all the better.

ComponentTypePriceStore
CPUAMD FX-6300 Vishera 3.5GHz$109.00Amazon
MotherboardASUS M5A78L-M/USB3 AM3+ AMD 760G$48.49Newegg
CaseFractal Core 1000$39.99Newegg
PSUEVGA 100-W1-500-KR 500W$44.99Newegg
GPUPowerColor AX7850 2GBD5-DH Radeon HD 7850 (open box item)$107.00Newegg
RAMHyperX XMP Blu Series 4GB DDR3 1600$40.00Newegg
StorageSeagate Barracuda ST500DM002 500GB 7200 RPM 16MB$50.95Amazon
OSWindows 8$70.00eBay
Key/MouseV7 Standard PS/2 Keyboard and Mouse Combo$10.19Amazon
Subtotal$520.61
Sales Tax$45.55
Total$566.16

GameSettingsAverage Frame Rate
Assassin's Creed IV1080p, Ultra, AA42
Battlefield 41080p, High, AA72
Battlefield 41080p, Ultra, MSAA42
Thief1080p, Ultra, AA87
Titanfall1080p, Very High, AA60

Note: Click the links under "settings" to view the complete list of settings used during testing.

I was pleasantly surprised at just how well this system worked. All the games I tried hit frame rates 60fps, and--with the exception of Battlefield 4--did so at the highest settings. Rendering games 1080p60 is an achievable goal on a budget, then, as long as you're realistic about which games you'll be able to do it with, and at what settings. If you're after a bit more oomph and some peace of mind for future releases, though, spending a few extra bucks here and there will give you a big boost in performance.

More RAM is the obvious choice. It doesn't cost much to bump it up to 8GB, and the less time the PC has to spend thrashing the hard drive for a swap file the better. An extra $70 toward an R270 GPU would be a wise decision too. It's good value and overclocks extremely well, putting it firmly in the high-end GPU segment for just a fraction of the cost. There's also the option of an SSD for a more responsive feel, an aftermarket cooler for CPU overclocking, and a nicer-looking case, but they're not essential.

Peter Brown - Intel/Nvidia Gaming PC

Peter Brown's Intel/Nvidia PC

A budget of $550 is unusually small for a gaming PC, especially when the cost of an operating system is factored in. My strategy for this build was centered around a few key tactics.

First, I planned to keep the system's power draw as low as possible to save money on the cost of the power supply. I wanted to build small because smaller form factor cases and motherboards are usually cheaper overall unless they're particularly fancy. I also decided to use an unusually modest CPU. Intel makes excellent processors, but this quality isn't limited to the Core line. As long as I wasn't going to risk bottlenecking the GPU's performance, I looked for the simplest and cheapest option available. That way, I could focus on the linchpin of a gaming PC: the GPU. In this instance, I was aiming for Nvidia's Geforce GTX 750 Ti due to its great price/performance ratio.

ComponentTypePriceStore
CPUIntel Pentium G2130 3.2 GHz$74.99Newegg
MotherboardBiostar H61MGV3$36.99Newegg
CaseTopower TP-1687BB-300$34.99Newegg
PSU300W SFX Power Supply (included w/case)n/aNewegg
GPUEVGA GeForce GTX 750 Ti 2 GB$154.99Newegg
RAMTeam Elite 4GB (2x2GB) DDR3 1333$39.99Newegg
StorageWestern Digital Blue 500 GB 7200 RPM 16MB$54.99Newegg
OSWindows 8.1 64-Bit$99.99Newegg
Key/MouseRosewill PS/2 Wired$12.98Newegg
Subtotal$509.91
Sales Tax$38.24
Total$548.15

GameSettingsAverage Frame Rate
Assassin's Creed IV1080p, High, FXAA40
Battlefield 41080p, High, 2x MSAA50
Thief1080p, High, FXAA55
Titanfall1080p, High, No AA50

Note: Click the links under "settings" to view the complete list of settings used during testing.

Like Mark, I was surprised how well my rig performed. I had faith that the GTX 750 Ti would hold up under light pressure, but given its partner in crime, the Pentium CPU, I presumed that I would have to dial down the in-game settings a bit more. In practice, all it took for most games to play near 60 frames per second at 1080p was to disable a few flourishes like ambient occlusion and aggressive anti-aliasing. With my $550 PC, I was able to handily outperform the Xbox One in every case, and the PlayStation 4 in most cases, which says a lot about the value of the PlayStation 4 given its lower $400 price point.

If I had had a larger budget, I would have sprung for a better CPU and a bit more RAM. My inexpensive Pentium CPU held up quite well considering that it cost only $80, but it was typically running at full speed with little to no remaining overhead. Unfortunately, given my skimpy power supply, there's little hope for tossing a better Nvidia GPU into this build down the road without other additional upgrades. In the end, with our meager budget, Mark's AMD focus gave him a slight advantage in terms of performance and upgradability.

Closing Thoughts

As it turns out, you can build a gaming PC for around the cost of an Xbox One that will outperform both next-gen consoles given the current stock of cross-platform games. You'll also enjoy a massive library that neither the PlayStation 4 nor the Xbox One will ever be able to match from a pure numbers standpoint. Plus, your PC is upgradable, and its functionality in non-gaming areas only adds to its value. AMD has an advantage when it comes to the balance of price and performance on the low end, but there's nothing stopping you from mixing and matching components from different manufacturers, which very well might be the best plan if you've got a larger budget to work with.

Keep in mind, too, that current cross-platform games on consoles perform best on a PlayStation 4, which currently sells for $100 less than an Xbox One. If you were to try to build a gaming PC for $400 to $450, our experience has taught us that you would end up with a machine that can't compete with either next-gen console. Though we both succeeded in our goal, $550 was proved quite limiting when it came to picking components.

If you had a budget of $550, which platform--PlayStation 4, Xbox One, or PC--would you choose? How would you build a gaming PC on a console-size budget? Let us know in the comments below.

Written By

Discussion

4686 comments
sabredragon143
sabredragon143

How did you install the OS without an optical disc drive?

TheForthcoming1
TheForthcoming1

I have a used Dell Optiplex GX620. It has an HD Radeon 6450 video card with 1 GB Ram, P4 HT 3.4 Ghz CPU, 4 GB Ram and a 1 TB hard drive.

It can run any game from Bethesda including Skyrim, Far Cry 3 and several other current day games. Windows 7 I will upgrade to soon, it may be able to run Alien Isolation.

It cost me only $120 for the PC (works great, has Windows XP as of now) and $200 to upgrade it in it's current state.

Total cost: $320

pimphand_gamer
pimphand_gamer

Let's see this build in 5 years and do some benchmarks of games released in that time....assuming all the parts still work without ever having to replace anything.

destromofia
destromofia

I'm thinking about building something like this, but I would want to hook it up to my 32 inch 720p hdtv.  Is that even fesible? is everything going to look terrible when I'm not in a game?  


It's been a pretty long time since I even considered building a computer so I'm pretty out of touch.

pc_is_best
pc_is_best

I'm in Australia and the parts are a bit more expensive so here's my AMD based list...


CPU: FX-6300 $109.99 Amazon

MOTHERBOARD: Asus M5A78L-M/USB3 $68.61 Newegg

CASE: Fractal Core 1000 $54 PLE

PSU: FirePower ModXStream Pro 600W 80Plus $105.51 Newegg

GPU: MSI R9 270X GAMING 2G Radeon R9 270X 2GB $189.99 Newegg

RAM: HyperX Fury Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) $74.99 Newegg

STORAGE: Seagate Barracuda 1 TB HDD $53.99 Amazon

OS: Windows 7 Ultimate x64 pre-owned

KEYBOARD & MOUSE: pre-owned


TOTAL COST: $647.28

Over here that's the cost of a PS4 with an extra controller and 1 game or no extra controller and 2 games

jasswolf
jasswolf

The 750 was a really solid choice in the non-AMD setup.

With a BIOS hack and some overclocking, that thing can really motor due to the updated architecture.

Mondo80
Mondo80

You should have used the same graphics cards in both setups, there IS a difference in a $100 card vs a $150 card.  Also in the test results many of the intel setting are lower, so it will appear faster.  This whole article is nothing more than an ad for intel.

afarsani
afarsani

Guys if you REALLY have to compare PC to Console think about these points:
1) You do NOT have to pay 60$ per year to play online, assuming you keep your console for 5 years = 300$ saved just like that!
2)Steam allows you to buy a 70$ game for 15$ every summer if you are a GAMER you will buy around 12-20 games per year , do the math and see how much you save right there!
3)This is my personal reason of loving PC (I have 2 xbox360s and 2 PS3s but cannot push myself to buying PS4 or Xbone):
ALL of your game collection (from beginning of the time!) is yours to play. You can play anything you had on your next/upgraded PC. I have around70 games for PS3 and Xbox360 and it is very painful to let them go just because Sony and MS are too greedy to let me play my own games

eramos31
eramos31

This would be better than either and at a lower price http://pcpartpicker.com/p/QKTPQ7

I would check out /r/softwareswap on reddit for windows 8 though as I got 8.1 for $10 and works great!

ziviqar
ziviqar

how can i buy pc in pakistan


mord_fustang
mord_fustang

Don't forget about a wireless card, Bluetooth, and Bluray drive just like the console counterpart has.  And consoles are $400, not $550.

eorde
eorde

But you spent $150 more than next gen consoles, and didn't have Kinect or blu-ray drives

mixindave
mixindave

i have a gtx 660 and my adverage frames arent that high, you think the 955 phenom is holidng me back then? what would be a decent amd upgrade? 8350?

kingpin3690
kingpin3690

I'm worried about the case peter used. Wouldn't that overheat your system alot quicker in the future? Say 3 months.

duckin4
duckin4

If you had a budget of let's say 600$ what would you change on the intel?

Jovola
Jovola

About AMD conf

There is no need to buy Case and PSU for 40$ + 45$  (those can be found at 20$ each)

6GB ddr 3 can be bought for the sum they used for 4GB

AMD x4 750 k can be bought for 79$ and would do just fine

they should have taken better GPU (R9 270 comes at 170$) it would smash any conf up there.


HD peripherals and motherboard are realistic

That's -45 and -30 on PSU Case and CPU and + 63 on GPU


ko3n9033
ko3n9033

I want to build the AMD-PC cause it looks good. only one problem: the GPU is out of stock and i dont know if it is still being sold. my question: what part can i use that is as good and as cheap as the original GPU?? (i don't know what parts are compatible with eachother)

mantiis
mantiis

HA...its nice to know that my latest build, ORAC, will be able to beat a PS4 or XB1 once I upgrade my monitor- and surpass it entirely once I upgrade my CPU to a Q9550. Few years down the road when I switch to a different socket mobo and cpu, ORAC will be eating consoles for breakfast. But I already knew that.

Intel Core 2 Duo E8600 3.3GHz OC @ 3.9GHz
GIGABYTE GA-G41MT-S2PT 
KINGWIN Mach 1 ABT-600MA1S 600W (650w max) PSU
G.SKILL Ripjaws X Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 
Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 ST3500641AS-RK 500GB 7200 RPM 16MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb  
Seagate 80GB PATA 
Maxtor 160GB SATA
Gigabyte Geforce GTX 650 Ti Boost OC

Windows 8 x64
Realtek 7.1 audio
Thermaltake Commander (Snow Edition) Chassis
Asus 19" widescreen

JDintheOC
JDintheOC

I recently purchased a Lenovo computer with an Intel i3-3240 CPU, 64 bit with 6Gb ram  and an onboard Intel HD graphics 2500 video chip.  Tried the demo of Call of Duty 4 and if there was any lag, I didn't notice it.  I'm looking for other high requirement games but I refuse to knuckle under to Steams extortion in order to play their games.  I'm not sure whether CoD4 is in fact a higher requirement game but I'm now checking their high end recommendation against other games requirements before purchasing.

mlg_brickgamer
mlg_brickgamer

This is cool I will get most of things from the AMD 1 but the only things I will add is 8GB RAM 1Tb storage and graphics card as in video. And will manage to save $60 :)

zrazies
zrazies

Or wait till black Friday. I paid my gaming rig $1,200 with almost $500 worth of discount PLUS Free Shipping so if you wait till black Friday then it wouldn't be that $500. :)

Yes, I can get lot cheaper than $1200 but there's couple of things I wanted and it cost little bit more.

smitty_123
smitty_123

I'd have to choose both.

I love the console for its simplicity, however my pc I customized and build myself which was extremely fun and after you get to use something u put ur mind into and built.

Both consoles are great but I lean more towards Sony (hardware/price). Tho everyone should take into account that Sony has been in the red for awhile and PS4 was basically the last push and they didn't make as much as the needed sooo idk is Sony will actually be here in a couple years for all u console only users.

eschelar
eschelar

Not bad, but the thing that bothers me most about this is that they were required to buy everything new. Also, Win8 for $70 and $99? Ouch. Win7 64 for $40... 


I am sys admin for the company I work for and I regularly build basic computers for around $200 (although we don't have the Windows license included). I maintain computers for our art department with a higher budget, but for $400, I've got a decent i5, 8g DDR3 1600, an aftermarket cooler and a mid end nvidia video card. Push me to $550 and that video card is budgeted at almost $300


If I had to do a $550 build, I'd grab a second hand case, second hand PSU/keyboard etc Not hard to find an old case/keyboard with a serviceable PSU for $20-30 that still looks nice and supports lots of cheap case fans.

dinwitty
dinwitty

I think you need to compare same games like SkyRim on Xbox/Ps3/PC, but I think I could drop some prices and still get a beat console deal, but your just talking prices. None of the Consoles have a mouse. OhYehSure you can voice command but that was possible on the PC back in the late 80's.

Its the console proprietarying making all this Kinect blah blah. In building my PC's like the Radio Shack and trying to add a device, I could not due to proprietary hardware, sux bigtime.  I stayed on PC and got away from proprietariness.


Now for AMD/Intel, AMD has held off on PCIe 3.0 on their motherboards/CPU, why? dunno most current vidcards handle PCIe2.0. But they might soon, BUT, PCIe 4.0 is about a year away and thats when the PC goes thru a regeneration. This is going to beat up all consoles.

I don't want to hear about "oh you can build a PC today thats near new consoles now"...ppffooey, I did some compares and current PCs about any iteration beats the current consoles.

The console wars are just creating a mindless lower end war on the public while the PC thrashes on.


major_retard
major_retard

Don't care...I spent $2500 on my TV in addition to buying a console as opposed to a gaming rig.


Gaming from the comfort of my cushy couch >>>>> PC chairs and 24" monitors

lonkilanki
lonkilanki

@destromofia With a 720p display you would be able to run every game without a problem, but considering the size of the monitor and that you might be sitting very close to the monitor( if you are to use this in a pc setup) it is going to look pretty blocky. And if its a standard "TV" you might suffer from some very noticeable input lag when using a mouse. Just my thoughts :P

TroyTrojanGamer
TroyTrojanGamer

@destromofia Wait until next year.  There will be budget cards capable of 1080 ultra settings and affordable 4K cards.  Not to mention DDR 4 has just hit the market so it will drive prices down.


I'm not saying wait for price.  I'm saying don't make the mistake the consoles did this gen.  They released during a transition to 4k capable technology. 

luqmanr
luqmanr

@Mondo80 What? The AMD based PC clearly performed better for the buck.

tahirhakeem
tahirhakeem

@ziviqar I know this is too late to reply - but dude are you out of ur head? Old PC parts are cheap and easily available in PK. Heck you can even get the latest hardware.... this is what I currently have:

Intel Core i7 4770K [4th Gen]
MSI Z87 G45 Gaming Mobo
16GB Crucial Ballistix Tracer RAM
700W Xigmatek PSU
Samsung 840 PRO 120GB SSD

Seagate 2TB+3TB HDD
HAF XB [Gaming HTPC connected to a 46" Samsung ES7500 3DTV]
EVGA GTX 980 SuperClocked
Logitech Wireless Gaming Mouse [g700s] and Keyboard [K800]
Xbox One Controller connected via USB

ALL of it was bought from Pakistan.... we have online shops and physical market in all major cities that deal with low to high end PC parts... please do some research :)

summerfr33ze
summerfr33ze

@eorde This build really only costs $450 because any smart person would just pirate windows. It's also a lot more powerful than the consoles and who cares about the kinect or blu rays. You're also going to save money because you don't have to pay money to connect to the network, which frankly is a ridiculous thing to have to do. 

seanwil545
seanwil545

@eorde 

XBO with Kinect cost $500 when they first did this article.

Both the PS4 and XBO are useless without PSN+ or Gold Live, so tack another $50~$60 onto the consoles.

byhzyy
byhzyy

and you have a stronger machine than next gen consoles and who cares about kinect or blu-ray driver?


i never used one

str8mjed
str8mjed

@mixindave 8320 would be cheaper and ideal. You can overclock an 8320 and can equal the 8350.

crashck
crashck

@ko3n9033 Don't build this PC. The builds Gamespot creates are terrible. Go to reddit.com/r/buildapcforme. Find a post with a similar budget or post for yourself. They will create a much better build than these two.

ko3n9033
ko3n9033

if you can help me pls reply to my comment.

Oozyrat
Oozyrat

@zrazies Did you get it all off one website? I'd love to know where you got the stuff lol

eschelar
eschelar

@smitty_123  One can always hope that Sony isn't basing their future on their console sales. The funny thing is that anything we can do to strengthen the position of PC's is probably more important than strengthening Sony.


And FWIW, A TV + Console + PC budget is going to ensure that your PC sucks unless you are in an income bracket where the prices of these things is meaningless. For me to go out and buy a new PC is no big deal. For my dad (kids all moved out years ago, government job), it's not a problem. But I suspect we are the minority. Plenty of people out there for whom the $550 budget limitation would be a very real line in the sand.

Oozyrat
Oozyrat

@major_retard Only thing is that PC's can be hooked up to the TV, and you could sit on the couch with a controller now that most PC games have controller support.

RuthlessRich
RuthlessRich

@major_retard I can appreciate that. You get to sit somewhere comfy and it's easier to be sociable when the screen isn't inches from your face. You could always hood a PC up to that monster of a TV of yours and then connect console controllers to it. But let's assume for a moment that's not possible. There are so many great games that are PC exclusive, and many non-exclusives that I feel just don't work well on consoles. Personally, I hate playing shooters with a controller, I need the mouse. I know the world's divided on that one but what about strategy? You can't play Total War on a console.


If I had $3000 to spend on an entertainment system, I would probably get a more modest TV so that I could afford the console AND a decent PC besides. All bases covered :)

ko3n9033
ko3n9033

@crashck i see youre point, but i don't need a super-powerful pc. a pc that runs bf4 on 72 fps on high settings is fine by  me. i play games like garry's mod so i dont really need much power. i just want to know what GPU can replace the out of stock one. (same speed, about the same price)

zrazies
zrazies

I ordered them all from newegg.com same time.

mcarb2
mcarb2

@ko3n9033 I ran into the same problem you did. I have every piece on the list except that GPU! I contacted Newegg, and they said that they wouldnt be carrying that GPU anymore. I am pretty new to this PC thing, so i dont know how to find a GPU that is as good as the one they listed, but also actually runs with the rest of the hardware