Budget Gaming Rig Still Going Strong

This time last year I built a budget-but-powerful gaming rig. Lately however, I keep thinking that I should improve it. I keep looking at nvidia’s new series of graphics cards, and at more powerful processors… so I’m writing this article to remind myself why my gaming rig is still perfectly good as it is, and why I don’t need to spend hundreds of pounds upgrading it!

On a (roughly) £700 budget, here are the fundamentals of my gaming rig, and why I chose them:

Case: Silverstone Raven RVZ02

This choice was fairly simple: I wanted a case that could accommodate everything I needed, but wasn’t enormous! Most gaming chassis are huge, so the decision to do an ITX build was an easy one. I saw a lot of reviews praising the Silverstone RVZ01, and lots of builds using it on pcpartpicker, so the RVZ02, which had just been released at the time, seemed like a no-brainer. This was also going to be my first gaming rig build, so I hoped the dedicated and easy to use compartments for the hard drives and graphics card would make things easier.

The fans for the PSU (Power Supply Unit), CPU, and GPU sit right up against the plastic vented windows, so they have easy access to the air. But it obviously means that there’s no space for additional fans. That being said, I do monitor the CPU and GPU in game from time to time, and neither of them have ever really exceed 75°C which is great - they usually sit around 65°C. If they ever reach the 90 - 100°C area on a regular basis then I might start to worry, but there’s clearly room to overclock both the CPU and GPU in this case without much to worry about.

Admittedly, I do wish I’d known how difficult cable management would be in this case! It’s a problem with any ITX gaming build, as all the space is used by the actual components, so the cables to connect everything up just get in the way without same imaginative use of cable-ties. The USB 3 cable in the RVZ02 is almost as thick as my thumb though, so it’s very difficult to get out of the way. So the inside of my gaming rig is a bit of a mess…

Motherboard: MSI Z97I AC

I knew very little about motherboards and I can’t pretend otherwise! I’d spent a fair amount of time reading forums and recommendations about ITX motherboards, but in the end I just went for one that was on offer at the time. I did at least know that this motherboard came with MSI’s OC Genie, which makes overclocking nice and easy should it be needed. The Z97 Express chipset was only one generation old at the time (the latest Skylake processors had only just been released), but is also backwards compatible with the previous generation of processors, which opened up the 4th or 5th generation intel CPUs (Haswell or Broadwell) as options. It also came with WiFi antennae which was a useful bonus.

CPU: Intel Pentium G3258

My main motivation for this CPU was that it was cheap! For roughly £50, you get a 3.2 GHz dual-core haswell (4th generation) CPU that’s unlocked, so is easily overclocked. I’ve only recently decided to overclock it, and even then that’s largely just because I can, not because I’ve needed to. I’ve also only overclocked it by 500 MHz (to 3.7 GHz) as I’m still using the stock CPU cooler that it comes with. I have seen elsewhere online that others have overclocked it up to 4.7 GHz with the benefit of a decent fan!

This is the main component I’ve been thinking of upgrading though, because, with the introduction of DirectX 12, modern AAA games are able to make better use of multiple CPU cores. So having a processor that can only maintain 2 threads could start to be a limitation. That being said, it hasn’t been a problem so far. Even at the default 3.2 GHz I had no issue running the likes of Fallout 4 and The Witcher 3 at maxed out settings, without the CPU causing any limitations at all.

So if I do need to upgrade it, it doesn’t need to be anything too expensive. Even if newer games make better use of multiple threads, the clock speed is still the important part. An upgrade to something capable of managing 4 threads but that is still around the 3.2 GHz mark or higher (so either a dual core i3 processor with hyper-threading, or a quad core i5) would be more than sufficient. Anything with 6 or more cores would just be overkill.

GPU: MSI Geforce GTX 970 Gaming Edition

This graphics card is great! I had been considering getting the GTX 960 as it was £100 cheaper, but I’m glad I went for the 970 instead, for its longevity if nothing else. This card has handled everything I’ve thrown at it so far, old and new. Fallout 4 wasn’t a challenge to it at all - at 1080p on ultra settings it averages around 70fps, with occasional drops to 60fps. The Witcher 3 has a slightly lower framerate, with ultra settings at 1080p averaging around 50fps, which is still great!

At the time, the GTX 970 could only really be beaten by the GTX 980 and the Titan. Nvidia have recently come out with the next set of graphics cards, the 1060, 1070, 1080, and the Titan X. But despite there being an increased number of superior GPUs now, my GTX 970 has plenty of life left in it. Especially as it still has room to be overclocked as well! So I imagine it will be plenty powerful enough to handle upcoming games on High or Ultra for at least another 2 years, but could probably last another 4 or 5 years if I’m willing to lower myself to Medium settings…

RAM: Corsair Vengeance 8GB DDR3L

There’s not much that can be said here. I chose some RAM that could be overclocked if necessary, but that’s never been needed. Conveniently, this RAM module also has a fairly low profile, so if I ever do overclock the CPU any further, I should be able to fit a different CPU fan without the RAM stick(s) getting in the way.

I’ve recently ordered another 8GB stick purely for the sake of future proofing my setup. My RAM use has never exceeded 7GB while playing a game - in some games it’s even as low as 3GB. So having 16GB may even be overkill, but I don’t know how memory hungry newer titles may be. Anything above 16GB would definitely be overkill!

PSU: 500W Silverstone SX500-LG

With the release of the RVZ02, Silverstone also introduced a new form factor for Power Supplies: SFX-L. Typically with ITX builds you’d use an SFX power supply, which are small form factor units. SFX-L is slightly larger, and can have a slightly bigger fan, so doesn’t run quite as hot, or as loud. With everything cramped into a small case, reducing the heat and noise sounded like a good idea to me! The SX500-LG also has a gold rating for its power usage, and is fully modular - meaning that you can remove any cables you’re not using (whereas with some power supplies, you can’t unplug any of the cables).

As it turns out, 500W was a much higher wattage than I needed. After listing all the parts in pcpartpicker (after I’d already bought everything), it kindly informed me that the overall power usage would be 247W - less than half! So if I do upgrade to a more power hungry processor and/or graphics card in the future, I at least won’t need a new Power Supply.

Storage: 256GB Crucial SSD

Not all hard drives are born equal. I first switched from regular mechanical Hard Drives to the flash memory chips of Solid State Drives about 5 years ago, and once you get used to the speed advantages of SSDs, you’ll never want to use mechanical drives again. SSDs are a lot cheaper now than they used to be. 128GB is a bit too small, and 256GB drives usually have a slight speed benefit over their 128GB counterparts. So a 256GB drive meant a slight speed increase without costing too much. I’ve bought a second 256GB drive since that was on offer for some extra storage as well. But 256GB is more than enough for my gaming uses alone.

You can get some incredibly fast (and incredibly expensive!) SSDs now. I’ve used a few different ones, and although the difference can be considerable when you look at the numbers, in real world perceivable terms, I’ve never noticed much of a difference. Even with the cheaper SSDs, most game loading screens last no longer than a few seconds - in games like Skyrim and Fallout 4 the loading screens go by so quickly that you can barely read the information included on them.

Get On With It Already…

For £700, I built a gaming rig a year ago that’s lasted brilliantly, and will more than likely continue to do so. The CPU is the weakest link in the chain, and even then it’s not a particularly weak one. For most games, a dual core CPU is easily good enough. I play plenty of games that recommend using a modern Intel Core i5, yet my pentium G3258 from mid-2014 is contending well.

If my CPU starts to struggle with some newer titles, I could either overclock it further and get a different CPU cooler to manage it (the cheaper option, but won’t help with the additional processing threads concern), or I could upgrade it to a fairly cheap quad-core option. The one I have in mind is the Intel Core i5 4460 which is around £150 at the moment, but may get cheaper over time.

So even as it currently stands, my gaming rig should last a while longer, and a simple CPU upgrade (if newer games make use of additional threads) should further increase its longevity. I might even go for the Intel Core i5 4690K when it comes to it, which can turbo up to 3.9 GHz, and can be overclocked beyond that.

Posted: October 2nd, 2016
Categories: tech, video games, life