The $650 Computer Challenge: Build a PC


With a tight $650 budget, TotalGeek proves that you can game in HD without breaking the bank.


   $650 can buy a lot more power today than it used to. Thanks to huge improvements in CPU and GPU architecture, mainstream consumers can own the performance of what used to be reserved for super-computers just a few years ago.

With the goal of being able to get the best performance in the latest, most demanding games, TotalGeek found the perfect parts and built a gaming rig on the cheap. With a $650 limit, squeezing the most power out of every dollar wasn’t easy. Sacrifices were made and most computer enthusiast parts were not even considered.

The first decision was to go Intel or AMD. With Intel’s latest Haswell with the optimized architecture on the 22nm process, this was an easy win. The Haswell prices were even to the Ivy Bridge counterpart so purchasing the latest model was the better choice. Although Haswell desktop performance doesn’t break any remarkable barriers, given the equal price the slight gains are worth it. AMD just isn’t there. Their cores aren’t truly independent cores and single-thread performance is a joke. They also eat up close to 2x the power of Haswell and are remarkable inefficient by comparison.

The hardest decision of this build was whether or not to go for the i5 or the i3. We felt that an i5 would better future-proof the system as replacing a graphics card 3-4 years down the road is a lot simpler than replacing a cpu at that time. We sacrificed some gpu performance to go with the i5, and because of this our build is a little overkill on the cpu side.

After deciding which processor to use, we looked at some of the cheapest motherboards out there. Overclocking is risky business and with the i5 it is not even needed. We went with the MSI B85-G41 in the 1150 socket. This Motherboard is reliable with its military class components, and has several features such as  a BIOS gui. It is not able to overclock the cpu however and that is why the price for this component is lower. There was another tradeoff here as we would like to OC, but it just isn’t worth it on a cpu heavy rig.

The Radeon 7770 is a perfect balance between price and performance, creating one of the best bang for your buck gpus available. This card will run most games on max settings at 1080p. While it will strain the card running multiple monitor setups, it will dominate with a single display. This card is truly amazing for only $90. It sips power with its efficient 28nm build, and is considerably smaller than we expected. We were really considering going with the 7790, but figured to spend the extra on the cpu now and perhaps upgrade the gpu in 3-4 years to better future-proof the system.

With the abundance of cheap RAM on the market, it isn’t too sexy these days. TotalGeek decided even  humble RAM could use a spice up. We installed 8 gigabytes of the red hot G. Skill RipJaw to make this build sizzle.

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We also had to splurge on the case. The ULTRA Defender II looked amazing at the store and knew this would display all our hot n; sexy components elegantly with its side panel.

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The rest of our components were pretty standard. We installed a 1 TB WD hard drive which is a great value, but given some extra cash we would have loved to install a SSD boot drive. 

After our build was complete, it was time for analysis. We benchmarked  this rig on 3Dmark and got some pretty impressive results for a 7770.

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Here are the prices for every component:

Build Template


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