Affordable All Rounder
For the time being, a nifty dual-core CPU capable of 3.5-4GHz is perfectly fine for everyday use. Pair it with a decent graphics card and a splash of memory and and you'll be able to play modern games on a 22in screen, or possibly even one of the new 1,920 x 1,080 23.5in screens if you want some extra screen space.
After all this time, ATI still hasn't nailed the budget graphics card with its Radeon HD 5000 series and Nvidia has yet to reach this market with a DirectX 11 replacement of the GeForce GTS 250
. The most recent cheap DX11 card, the Radeon HD 5670 1GB
isn't quite fast enough either, and the Radeon HD 5750 1GB
is too expensive for the PC we're building here.
Finding a reliable source of Radeon HD 4850s is becoming ever harder now in the UK, so we've decided to drop that card from our recommendations, which has left us with just the GeForce GTS 250 to choose. It's gone up in price compared to previous months too, but even though the G92-cored graphics card has been around since 2007
in some description, it's still a capable DirectX 10 product with a very mature driver set.
The All Rounder backbone is still the MSI 770-C45
motherboard and Athlon II X2 250
combo for yet another month. We're aware that the Athlon II X2 255 has launched at 3.1GHz, but for the £10 price premium and only 100MHz extra it's not worth it - we'll add that speed by overclocking, thanks all the same AMD.
The Nvidia GeForce GTS 250 512MB is our budget card of choice, along with the AMD Athlon II X2 250 CPU
Please don't be tempted by the Athlon II X4s; cheap quad-core CPUs are not the bargains they appear to be
the minimal L2 cache and lack of L3 cache really hold these cheap quad-cores back. The Phenom II range, meanwhile, has a bank of L3 cache, and X2 and X3 CPUs can have their disabled cores unlocked if you have the right hardware. As such, the Phenom II X2 550 or 555 Black Editions are prime alternatives if you want to opt for a bit more power than we've outlined in our table above.
While this computer is not designed for heavy multi-tasking, it will still be happy to do a few things at once. The Athlon II X2 250 should stretch to nearly 4GHz when overclocking if you're lucky, though taking it to 3.5GHz is a more sensible bet for safe, everyday operation.
MSI's 770-C45 motherboard
The latest Intel Pentium Dual-core G6950 and low-end Core i3s are still just outside the budget for a sub-£500 gaming PC - it's not just the cost of the CPU you have to factor in, but the LGA1156 motherboard too. That said, if you can afford it, a Core i3-530
and Gigabyte GA-H55M-UD2
will get you a lot more performance.
Memory prices went up yet again in the last month, with basic 4GB of 1,333MHz DDR3 setting you back nearly £100. We continue to include the excellent Antec Three Hundred case, Corsair CX400W PSU
and coolers from either Akasa or Arctic Cooling that offer a bit more cooling and less noise than the reference model. Don't spend more money on a bigger cooler to overclock cheaper CPUs at this level because the next CPU upgrade is only £10-20 more, and will yeild more performance.
Finally, throw in a DVD-RW SATA optical drive and your choice of 500GB SATA 3Gbps hard drive for £15 and £35 respectively, and you've got yourself a solid machine. If you haven't got a copy already, you might 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 need the pricier retail version.