Building a PC: Blending Budget and Performance

By | December 18, 2015

the (obligatory) team
PCPartPicker part list / Price breakdown by merchant

Type Item Price
CPU Intel Pentium G3258 3.2GHz Dual-Core Processor $62.99 @ Amazon
Motherboard MSI H81M-P33 Micro ATX LGA1150 Motherboard $45.98 @ OutletPC
Memory G.Skill Ripjaws X Series 8GB (1 x 8GB) DDR3-1600 Memory $34.99 @ Newegg
Storage Hitachi Ultrastar 750GB 3.5″ 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive $34.99 @ Amazon
Video Card MSI Radeon R9 380 4GB Video Card $218.98 @ Newegg
Case Thermaltake Core V21 MicroATX Mini Tower Case $54.99 @ Micro Center
Power Supply EVGA 500W 80+ Bronze Certified ATX Power Supply $38.98 @ Newegg
Prices include shipping, taxes, rebates, and discounts
Total (before mail-in rebates) $531.90
Mail-in rebates -$40.00
Total $491.90
Generated by PCPartPicker 2015-12-17 22:26 EST-0500

Build notes, courtesy of PCPer:

  • Some Intel H81 chipset motherboards may need a BIOS update prior to using Haswell Refresh CPUs.
  • Thermaltake Core V21 MicroATX Mini Tower Case has front panel USB 3.0 ports, but the MSI H81M-P33 Micro ATX LGA1150 Motherboard does not have onboard USB 3.0 headers. ( USB 3.0 ports are backwards compatible, you can still use the ports but with 2.0 speed AFAIK)
  • Estimated 332 wattage. (for each additional drive, mouse, headset, etc type peripherals – add about 15w to the maximum)

I chose the Intel G3258 as the processor because it is capable, efficient, and cheap. I really like this processor and apparently people have a lot of fun overclocking it. The motherboards available to pair with it are cheap as well – CPU and motherboard bundles are a specialty deal of Microcenters, so check if there’s one near you with a bargain. Another CPU/motherboard pair worth mentioning: G4400 and MSI eco board. Since the motherboard has the smaller mATX form factor, and the processor has a small thermal footprint, why not get a small and discrete case as well? Warning: small form factor builds can be tricky to work in and might lead to difficulty for people with larger or less dexterous digits. It’s your call though! For a more recent build, see the Ryzen section at the bottom of the page.

With this build I have outlined, we come in just under $500 (at the time of writing) – with the stipulation that you do the mail-in rebates (nobody ever does the mail-in rebates). Of course this is just the desktop PC itself and you will need to find a suitable monitor, keyboard and mouse yourself. Maybe ask for those things as gifts? Decent keyboards and mice can be had for $25-$75. In hindsight, the Black Friday sales would have saved us a small amount, as indicated by the PCPer graph right around the 25th of November:


Some possible modifications or permutations of this build: swap out the GPU for a Fury or a 970 – these cards are smaller and will better compliment the compact build. Change the RAM/motherboard to color coordinate – not everybody cares about this, but it would only take a few adjustments and push the total cost slightly over $500. Add a 120gb/240gb for $75 more, install your OS on it, and reap the benefit of having lightning fast boot times. Hmm what else. . . Get some stickers? Or you could always go for an AMD processor like this other blogger did. The benefit of having an AMD processor is more cores, which translates to better performance on rendering tasks and a select few games.

When is the next time you can hope to save on sales? I remember there being some alright deals around spring break last year, but nothing worth holding your breath for. This good looking $500 budget build could make a great gift for a loved one, or even yourself 🙂

If you do end up pulling the trigger and order a build, check out the post I did about my own build – it might save you a headache or two by learning from my mistakes. Also make sure to read through the resources listed in /r/buildapac, the community has been good at providing high quality documentation specific for builders. If you can remember, snap a few pics of your build and share your album when you’re done! We’d all love to see what you made!

Update 4.23.2017 – The Ryzen Option

This page is getting some traffic so I felt compelled to update it. Just recently, AMD’s new processor Ryzen was released. The verdict is in, and in most cases Ryzen ties or beats Intel’s processors of the same tier. This is a significant event and may be a good time to build. Below I will add an example Ryzen build.

Type Item Price
CPU AMD Ryzen 5 1500X 3.5GHz Quad-Core Processor $189.99 @ Amazon
Motherboard MSI B350M MORTAR Micro ATX AM4 Motherboard $94.99 @ Amazon
Memory Crucial 8GB (1 x 8GB) DDR4-2133 Memory $49.88 @ Amazon
Storage Western Digital WD Blue 750GB 2.5″ 5400RPM Internal Hard Drive $49.99 @ Amazon
Video Card Asus Radeon RX 480 4GB Dual Video Card $239.95 @ Amazon
Case Corsair 100R ATX Mid Tower Case $44.99 @ Amazon
Power Supply EVGA 450W 80+ Bronze Certified ATX Power Supply $33.89 @ Amazon
Total $653.69
Generated by PCPartPicker 2017-04-24 00:19 EDT-0400

The only thing I should recommend shopping elsewhere on is the GPU. You can frequently find 480’s for under $200, like at Jet (184.30 currently) and NewEgg ($189 at the moment). There’s almost always a $30 dollar rebate or free game to be had when buying a GPU. And every now and then, usually immediately after you log off, a price mistake occurs where you can get a 480 for $130. It’s a flip of the coin as to whether the retailer will honor the sale. Sometimes they’ll cancel your order before it can ship and refund you (Staples does this), but it’s still worth a shot for most people.

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