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The Entry-Level Rig
Having an extra $300 to spend opens many avenues unavailable to the Budget Box. This computer would be an excellent companion for running general applications and should make quick work of most games, including the more 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 H87M Pro4||$78|
|Processor||Intel Core i5-4430||$190|
|Memory||2x2GB G.Skill DDR3 1333MHz||$46|
|Graphics||Radeon HD 7790 / R7 260X||$140|
|Storage||Western Digital Caviar Blue 500GB||$55|
|Power||Corsair Builder Series CX500||$60|
|Case||Cooler Master HAF 912||$60|
|Monitor||Acer H236HLbid 23"||$160|
|Speakers||Cyber Acoustics CA-3602||$40|
|Peripherals||Logitech G400s + Microsoft Wired Slim Keyboard 600||$50 + $15|
|Core System Total||$649|
|Core System + Monitor and Peripherals||$914|
Motherboard, Processor, Memory
At $200, the quad-core Core i5-4430 is a little pricier than we'd usually pick for our Entry-Level Rig, but given Haswell's impressive performance and the fact that its platform is still brand new, 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 i5-4670K 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 H87M 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 (one 3.0 and one 2.0 that runs at x4).
The ~$100 bracket isn't usually associated with gaming graphics cards, but that's precisely what you get with the Radeon HD 7770 or HD 7970/R7 260X, assuming you can live without maxed quality settings. Given the price adjustments associated with the arrival of AMD's RX 200 series (which are basically rebadged HD 7000 products if you haven't read our review), $130ish should buy you very playable frame rates in various games including Tomb Raider, Far Cry 3, Civilization V, Diablo III, Thief as well as 2013'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, in our opinion they're fine for entry-level or even mid-range usage today. If you're of the opposing mindset and you have the cash to burn, by all means buy an audio card. Asus has arguably displaced Creative as the standard choice among enthusiasts, and although both outfits offer decent products for $40 or less, it seems worthwhile to spend another $30 or so on the Xonar DX, which is also our pick for the Enthusiast's PC. We assume you'll use the same sound card for at least three years, quite possibly longer, and you may eventually tap into the DX's broader array of features.
Building a new rig in the $800 range is a bit of a bummer because there's very little wiggle room for an SSD, but you can definitely pull it off if you're willing to settle for a relatively low capacity drive, especially if you can recycle a component or two from a previous build to loosen your budget. At only $100, the 128GB OCZ Vector is a fine budget-friendly choice that should have enough space for your operating system and plenty of applications.
Alternatively, if you have about $100 to spend on storage you'll be within range of Seagate's 500GB Momentus XT hybrid drive. Granted, it's not as quick as a full-fledged flash drive, but it performs like a quieter, less power-hungry VelociRaptor (Western Digital's 10,000RPM drives). Being only a tad more expensive than our chosen 500GB drive, it's a luxury well within reach of the average user and we suggest you make the jump if at all feasible.
You're probably thinking Corsair's 500W Builder Series 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 i7-3960X Extreme Edition/GTX 780-packing test machine only consumed 333 watts at full load. If you need a little more proof, electricity load meters start at about $20. The CX500 offers solid parts, 38A on the +12V rail and a three-year warranty.
The Cooler Master HAF 912 comes with two 120mm fans, one for intake and another for exhaust, and supports up to three additional blowers. Like its pricier siblings, the HAF 912 has plenty of room for high-end components and touts many of the same quality features. Highlights include a top-notch cable routing, a CPU retaining hole, removable dust filters, and liquid cooling outlets – not to mention the same aggressive design, which we happen to be fond of.
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 the fact is, 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 Acer unit we've selected is one of the handful of budget-minded IPS panels that have hit the scene recently, offering solid viewing angles and color accuracy in an affordable 23", 1080p package.
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
If this system will be used for serious gaming or long productivity sessions, a mouse that ships with cheaper combo sets won't cut it. The legendary Logitech MX518 has been revamped in the form of our pick (the G400) which adds an improved sensor (1800 DPI versus 3600 DPI), a less restrictive cable and more.
The keyboard is a less crucial element for most and a no-frills $8 model from Lite-On seems to be keeping a lot of people happy, though a few bucks more for Microsoft's basic model seems sensible. If you are pickier about keyboards (some TS staffers definitely are) check out the Enthusiast and Luxury