It's still a great time to buy a budget gaming system. Most games at the moment can be played at decent settings with our Affordable All-Rounder and what's more the hardware we've picked is pretty quiet and power-efficient too. We've only got one major change this month, with the main fluctuations being price, with Gigabyte's Z68AP-D3 motherboard falling by few notes, while our CPU of choice is a little more expensive this month. Even so, the system costs a lot less this month thanks to a couple of key changes - great news if you're after a budget-friendly PC.
UK Price (inc VAT)
US Price (ex tax)
Intel i3-2100 3.1GHz
4GB 1,600MHz DDR3
AMD Radeon HD 6870 1GB
Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro
1TB SATA 3Gbps
New This Month
We've changed our choice of case this month to Antec's One - a modern refresh of our favourite and the highly popular One Hundred. It has USB 3, SSD mounting brackets, plenty of tool-free fittings and pleasing build quality. It's a brilliantly balanced case that edges others in terms of cooling and features, making it a great buy for around £40. The only thing you need to watch is the length of your graphics card - 266mm or less will be fine but the hard disk cage will prevent anything longer being fitted.
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We've also opted for a cheaper PSU in the form of ThermalTake's SP-530PCWEU, which sheds some cost off our system too. It's available in both the UK and US, and while it doesn't offer the modular cables, with some of its captive cables not even sporting braiding, it's perfectly stable, relatively quiet and a great choice for an affordable system.
And The Rest
With no Ivy Bridge Core i3 or Pentium CPUs having hit the shelves yet, we're left with little choice but to recommend the Intel i3-2100 again. Not that this is a bad choice - it made short work of AMD's similarly-priced offerings in our media benchmark suit and was pretty quick in games too. It's also very cool-running and costs less than £100 - what more could you ask for?
The Core i3-2100 also allows you to jump on the bandwagon of a healthy upgrade path too. Ivy Bridge CPUs are here to stay so by having an LGA1155 system, you'll be able to drop in a more powerful CPU in a year or two or even go bargain hunting for Core i5-2500Ks, which regularly go for less than £130 on well-known auction sites. Every Z68 motherboard we've seen will simply require a BIOS update at most to support Ivy Bridge CPUs. You'll be missing out on some features offered by combining the Z77 chipset and an Ivy Bridge CPU, namely PCI Express 3.0 and native USB 3, but these are hardly deal-breakers, and you'll be saving yourself some cash in the process.
Memory is continuing to drift around in very affordable seas. If you can stretch to another £10-15, then the upgrade to 8GB makes sense, especially if you can nab one of the regular sub £30 deals that do the rounds often. If you're keen on saving every penny, then 4GB is more than enough for most tasks at the moment, and you can always drop another 4GB set into your PC in future for enough RAM to see off future games and programs.
With our CPU of choice for the Affordable All-Rounder proving so power frugal and cool-running, there's little point opting for a behemoth of a CPU cooler, especially as the Core i3-2100 has a locked multiplier (booo!). However, there's still some noise reduction to be had over the reference cooler and the Arctic Freezer 7 Pro costs just £15, while also offering enough cooling headroom to deal with a more powerful CPU in future.
If you’re certain you’ll be investing in a significantly beefier CPU at some point and trying your hand at overclocking it, you may want to consider the Arctic Freezer i30. For just £10 more than the Freezer 7 Pro, you get a monster cooler that’s quiet and able to tame a heavily overclocked Core i5-2500K. This is definitely worth considering as we found our budget motherboard of choice, theGA-Z68AP-D3 to be a capable overclocker too.
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Our choice of a last-generation AMD graphics card might look odd, but the HD 6870 1GB still rules in the sub £120 bracket, out-doing AMD's 7700-series. However, probably our most favoured upgrade here if you had another £40 to spend would be to opt for a faster graphics card. The HD 7850 2GB and the GeForce GTX 560 Ti 448 Core now cost around £155 - the Nvidia card has the edge on performance, while the AMD card is very quiet and extremely power efficient. Prices are fluctuating quite a bit so we'll leave you to make that choice if you have some extra cash to burn.
If you haven't got a copy already, you might also want to factor in a copy of Windows 7 - if you're confident that you won't be upgrading much, then an OEM copy should be fine, but serial upgraders should pick up the pricier retail version. This will allow for several core hardware changes, whereas the OEM copy may throw a hissy fit. Finally, we’ve added the cheapest DVD-RW drive we could find and a 1TB hard disk, which will be more than adequate for most people's storage needs. Sadly, small hard disks still cost a bomb compared to their prices earlier last year, due to the flooding in Thailand.
If £500 is still too much, we still have some options for you. If you're not into all this overclocking malarkey, or don't think you'll ever bother with an expensive 'K' series Intel CPU, then you could consider a cheaper motherboard based on Intel's H61 or H67 chipsets. They're even cheaper than the Gigabyte GA-Z68AP-D3 but often lack features such as USB 3 and won't be able to overclock anything in future though.
Alternatively, AMD's A8-3870K and a Socket FM1 motherboard such as Gigabyte's GA-A75M-UD2H is capable mix for playing many demanding games at up to 1,680 x 1,050 at medium settings (more in some cases). Thanks to its on-board GPU, you don't have to invest in a separate graphics card saving you around £100 on the cost of the PC. The A8-3870K is also a potent overclocker, meaning dropping a discrete graphics card into the system when you can afford it is a more viable option than it was with earlier FM1 CPUs.