Entry-Level Gaming Box ($800)

Upping the budget by $300 opens quite a few doors and results in a heavily upgraded version of our Budget build. This box should prove to be an excellent companion for running general applications and should make quick work of most games. Extremely demanding titles ought to be playable with dialed down settings.
Motherboard:
MSI 770-C45 - $80
The MSI 770-C45 is a solid AM3 option that seems to be offering a bit more than other products in its price range. For $80 you'll have support for a socket AM3 CPU, 16GB of DDR3 RAM (up to 1600MHz overclocked), and a PCI-E 2.0 x16 video card - which is quite the deal.

While DDR3 may not be worth the additional cost right now, and no GPU in your budget will saturate a PCI-E 2.0 x16 slot's bandwidth - at least you'll future-proof your setup a little. There's no telling precisely what tomorrow will bring, but the 770-C45 should be ready for it.

Other specs include two PCI-E x31 slots, three PCI slots, one PATA host adapter, six SATA II host adapters, six USB 2.0 ports, and integrated audio.

Processor:
AMD Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition - $120
When it was introduced back in February, the Phenom II X3 720 was priced at about $145 and impressed hardware reviewers around the Web. Now down to $120, we've found it to be the most fitting solution for an entry-level gaming rig.

The Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition is a 45nm socket AM3 CPU that features a 2.8GHz clock frequency, 4000MHz HT, 128KB+128KB of L1 cache, 3 x 512KB of L2 cache, 6MB of L3 cache and a 95W TDP.

Being a "Black Edition" AMD CPU means that the chip's multiplier is unlocked, and ultimately that it's prime for overclocking. Users and testers seem to unanimously report very successful overclocks, and some have even managed to unlock the X3's fourth core. You ought to get more than your money's worth with some careful adjustments.

Memory:
4GB DDR3 Crucial Kit CT2KIT25664BA1339 - $70
This is the lowest-priced 4GB DDR3 1333MHz kit around - but not by much. If you throw an extra $10 into the mix a door to about five other kits opens, including those by PNY, Mushkin, Geil and G.Skill.

The extra dough won't pay off though. Apart from the name on the modules (and Crucial is as good as it gets), a few of them offer slightly tighter timings and may withstand overclocking a bit better, but that will vary from product to product so take a look around when you make your purchase.

Video Card:
ATI Radeon HD 4770 - $110
Oddly nestled between the performance of the Radeon HD 4830 and 4850, and trumping the GeForce 9800 GT by a smooth 10% in our tests, the Radeon HD 4770 is an excellent choice for your low-cost gaming PC.

The 4770 is built on 40nm tech and features a 750MHz core clock frequency, 512MB of 128-bit DDR5 memory with a frequency of 3200MHz, 640 stream processors, HDMI via an adapter, HDTV-out, two DVI ports, and max resolution of 2560 x 1600.

Hard Disk Drive:
Western Digital 640GB WD6400AAKS - $70
Western Digital's WD6400AAKS should offer plenty of storage space for every day computing and the typical accumulation of media. It houses two 320GB platters and features 16MB of cache, SATA II interface, and a three-year warranty. Benchmarks around the Internet show the drive as having average transfer rates of 87MB/s to 91MB/s and an idle/load acoustics of 24.7/32.1 dB(A).
Optical Drive:
LG GH22NP20 - $30
The LG GH22NP20 is the same high quality optical drive recommended throughout the guide. It can write to DVD+R media at up to 22x, DVD+RW up to 8x, DVD-R at 22x and DVD-RW at up to 6x. It can also write to CD-R at up to 48x, CD-RW at up to 32x, DVD+R DL up to 16x, and DVD-R DL up to 12x.
Power Supply:
OCZ OCZ500MXSP - $60
In our tests with the Radeon 4770 we found that being built on a 40nm fabrication goes a long way in terms of power consumption. It consumed 224W of power under full load, and a meager 146W at idle - a 12% improvement over the Radeon HD 4830. That being the case, a decent 500W PSU should be more than enough juice to power this build.

You'll find that most power supplies ideal for this PC are paired with a mail-in rebate. Some decent models are driven down as low as $40-$60 after the rebate is factored in. Units often within that price range include the OCZ500MXSP, OCZ550FTY, OCZ600MXSP, ETK500AWT, EPR525AWT, and the StablePower 500W. Being one of the heavier components, buying a slightly more expensive PSU with free shipping might work to your advantage.

Case:
Chassis with sufficient cooling - $30-$40
If you're working with a tight budget sacrifices have to be made. Buying a suitable low-cost case is as simple as asking yourself two questions. Can the cooling apparatus stand up to your equipment, and will everything fit well? If you're confident on both fronts, then add the box to your cart.

With this build, it is our recommendation that you aim for at least a single 120mm rear exhaust fan and one intake. Most cases that ship with two fans start at about $30 to $40, and you'll find that a significant portion are manufactured by Rosewill or Cooler Master. There are so many models stamped with both names in the budget-bracket and yet little difference between them.

For a $30 case, consider Rosewill's Wind Ryder RZLS142A-P, which comes with two 120mm fans, and all of the traditional garnishes. Another $10 will put you in the range of many more models, including Rosewill's R901-P, R5730-P, RZLS142A-P, R909SL, and Cooler Master's Centurion 541 and Elite 310, 330, 335, 341, and 360. Cases are heavy too, so try and snag one with free shipping.

Monitor:
Acer X223Wbd 22" or Asus VH226H 21.5" - $160
Depending on your taste, we have two very capable monitors that weigh in at 22 and 21.5 inches. The biggest difference between them however is not screen size but native resolution.

The Acer X223Wbd is a 22-inch monitor sporting a screen resolution of 1680 x 1050 and a dot pitch of .282mm. As such, things in the Acer monitor will appear larger than on the Asus alternative, but the amount of desktop space will be more limited. Other features of the Acer X223Wbd include 170/160-degree viewing angles, 2500:1 contrast ratio, and a 5ms response time.

At 21.5" the Asus VH226H features a native resolution of 1920 x 1080, a pixel pitch of .248mm, 170/160-degrees viewing angle, 300 cd/m2 brightness, 1000:1 contrast ratio, 2ms GTG response time, connectors for D-Sub, DVI and HDMI, and two 2W speakers.

Input Devices:
Keyboard and mouse - $60
As mentioned in the budget build, if you want a basic wired setup take a look at the Microsoft Wired Desktop 600, and for wireless see the Logitech EX 110 - but neither are particularly suitable for gaming.

For inexpensive gaming-inspired devices look no further than OCZ's Alchemy Series Elixir keyboard ($15 after rebate) and Behemoth mouse ($30). With your remaining funds you might want to invest in a decent mouse pad, which start at about $10 (check out the offerings from OCZ, SteelSeries, Xtrac, Belkin and Kensington).


Our Entry-Level Gaming Box, in a nutshell...
Component
Product
Cost
Motherboard MSI 770-C45
$80
Processor AMD Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition
$120
Memory Crucial 4GB DDR3 Kit
$70
Video Card ATI Radeon HD 4770
$110
Hard Disk Drive Western Digital 640GB
$70
Optical Drive LG GH22NP20
$25
Power Supply Unit OCZ OCZ500MXSP
$60
Case Chassis with sufficient cooling
$30-$40
Monitor Acer 22" or Asus 21.5"
$160
Input Devices Keyboard and mouse
$60
Total
$795