The Entry-Level Rig
Moving from the Budget Box we are essentially spending around twice as much on the Entry-Level Rig. This computer would be an excellent companion for running general applications and should make quick work of most games, including demanding titles. Chances are, the components you choose will be from this system or our Enthusiast's PC if you are looking for good value.
|Motherboard||Asrock H97M Pro4||$70|
|Processor||Intel Core i3-4330||$135|
|Memory||G.Skill Ripjaws X Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-2133||$50|
|Graphics||Gigabyte GeForce GTX 960 2GB||$190|
|Storage||Crucial MX200 250GB||$110|
|Storage||WD Red 2TB||$100|
|Case||FSP Group AURUM S 400W||$55|
|Power||DeepCool Tesseract SW||$40|
|Monitor||LG 27MP33HQ 27"||$200|
|Speakers||Cyber Acoustics CA-3602||$40|
|Peripherals||Logitech Wireless Combo MK550||$50|
Core System Total
Core System + Monitor and Peripherals
Motherboard, Processor, Memory
At just $135, the dual-core Core i3-4330 is perfect for our Entry-Level Rig, providing users with four threads via HyperThreading. Time and time again we have found that the Core i3 is able to deliver performance similar to the more expensive Core i5 and Core i7 processors when playing today's computer games. Furthermore, the Core i3 is snappy when it comes to general computing tasks.
Given Haswell's impressive performance and the fact that its platform is still current, it's hard to recommend investing in anything else -- including AMD's Bulldozer chips. If you plan to overclock heavily, need support for three or more graphics cards, or want support for Intel's SSD caching technology, we suggest upgrading to the i5-4690K and the motherboard in our Enthusiast's PC.
Asrock has become one of our favorite board makers over the last few years, offering feature-packed products at reasonable prices that cover every budget. The company's H97M Pro4 would provide a solid sub-$100 foundation for your new gaming rig -- entry-level or otherwise -- providing support for fourth-gen Intel processors, up to 32GB of RAM, 7.1-channel audio among a plethora of other connectors as well as two PCIe x16 slots.
Normally we allocate $150 for the GPU in our entry-level system but with Gigabyte offering their GTX 960 for just $190 we couldn’t help but spend a little extra. Our initial choice was the Radeon R9 270X ($160) but for a little less than 20% more the GTX 960 will more often than not deliver a little over 30% more frames per second.
At just $190 the Gigabyte GTX 960 should buy you very playable frame rates in various games including Tomb Raider, Far Cry 4, Grand Theft Auto V and Call of Duty Advanced Warfare as well as 2015's top holiday releases.
Opinions vary when it comes to the necessity of a dedicated sound card. While integrated solutions were less viable for serious computing setups a decade ago, we think they're fine for entry-level or even mid-range usage today. If you disagree and you have the cash to burn, by all means buy an audio card.
For our entry-level rig we have allowed for a budget of roughly $200 for storage and these days that opens the door to some impressive options. Previously we were strictly limited to the use of hard drives in our budget and entry-level builds but with the continued improvement of SSD pricing things are now changing.
The Crucial MX200 is an ideal SSD for this build and incredibly $100 buy you a roomy 250GB model. Since the budget allows we are also going for a larger secondary hard drive, in this case the WD Red 2TB.
You may think a 500W power supply isn't up to snuff for a new gaming rig. If that's the case, we invite you to take a look at some of our recent GPU reviews which show system power consumption rates. Our Core i7-5960X Extreme Edition/GTX Titan X-packing test machine only consumed 331 watts at full load. If you need a little more proof, electricity load meters start at about $20. The FSP Group AURUM S 400W offers solid parts, 32A on the +12V rail and an extensive five-year warranty.
There is now a wide range of impressive budget cases and few are as good as the DeepCool Tesseract SW. For just $40 it comes loaded with two 120mm blue LED fans and an impressive case window. The case offers plenty of room for radiators, can handle full size 310mm long GPUs, 165mm tall CPU coolers and 230mm long power supplies. Those are some pretty incredible specifications for a relevantly compact mid-tower that weighs just 5.1kgs.
There are tons of monitors on the market suitable for the Entry-Level Rig, but making the right choice simply boils down to your budget and taste. We firmly believe that a 23-24" display is worth the money and will provide a better experience than something in the 20-22" range, especially if you're considering high resolutions. At $120 it's easy to see why 21.5" 1080p displays are so appealing, but unless you're sitting right on top of the screen or have spectacular vision, the small text can be too difficult to read.
That said, we understand the value of such displays and if you know it's going to suit your needs, don't let us scare you off. Most of the budget-oriented ~24" TN screens are of a similar quality, so if you're going that route, it's safe to buy one of the cheaper options as long as you're happy with features such as connectivity.
However, the LG unit we've selected is a budget-minded IPS panels that measures in at 27 inches. Previously we recommended the Acer H236HLbid 23" for $150 which is another great affordable IPS panel, though we think there's room in the budget to justify something a little more special. The LG's 1080p resolution is good for the GPU we've selected but those extra 4" have a massive impact on the system's wow-factor. Again, if you'd rather save $50 then Acer's 23" display is worth looking at.
As convenient as it may seem to have speakers built into your monitor, it's one of those things that is just too good to be true. In most instances, integrated speakers are barely a step above not having any sound at all, so we didn't bother choosing a monitor with audio bundled in. Budget 2.0 and 2.1 setups from reputable companies such as Logitech, Altec Lansing and Cyber Acoustics can be found at $20 to $40 and some of the more popular models include the LS21, VS2621, and our recommendation, the CA-3602.
Mouse & Keyboard
Again we have gone with the Logitech MK550 wireless combo as this is another keyboard/mouse combo that I have a lot of experience using and very much like it. At $80 its relatively cheap given what is included and the Logitech unifying receiver means you can later upgrade to something like the Performance Mouse MX (M950t) which is better suited for gaming than the M510 which comes in the package.