Intel $800 PC build
These builds have been an interesting exercise in budgeting, that’s for sure. We often work at the crazy end of the system-building spectrum here in the labs, and as we’ve mentioned in the past, it’s far easier to get expensive components in than more affordable gear. Which, although truly hysteriainducing at times, makes working on a project like this far more satisfying.
That said, this isn’t the first time we’ve looked at such affordable rigs. Back at the start of 2017, you could just about build an Intel rig on a $600 budget with 8GB of DDR3 and a 256GB SSD... and a terrible, terrible, terrible processor. No, seriously, just how far things have come in processing performance in the last year is staggering. But more on that later.
So, what was the idea behind these two projects? In short, to keep things simple. Build two systems with a suitable upgrade path, and plenty of grunt to drive some modern 1080p titles, at medium settings or so. And to do it without breaking the bank. As memory and GPU prices have skyrocketed over the last two years, the game has changed significantly when it comes to pricing up rigs like this, and that $600 budget that you could have strived for 18 months ago is — today at least — a complete non-starter.
Admittedly, we haven’t included the price of the OS with these machines, because we’re focusing more on the hardware, but you can pick up Linux for free, and an OEM copy of Windows 10 is pretty cheap nowadays. Anyway, now the waffle is out of the way, let’s break down just what went into this very special Intel build.
THE BUDGET BUSTER
Let’s be frank, there’s not a huge amount of difference between our two builds. Spec for spec, they’re both fitted out with a similarly priced processor, similar memory, and like-for-like storage. Yet it’s the small details, the less-performance-affecting choices we’ve made, that really separate the two systems.
The most obvious being the two cases. Going up against the AMD build’s Cooler Master MasterBox Lite was always going to be a challenge. With its absolutely absurd arsenal of modernday features, including three RGB front fans, coloured accents, tempered glass and stellar internal layout, we needed something that could give it a fair run for its money. The BitFenix Nova TG brings that fight down hard. Coming in at a street price of $74, it’s 20 bucks cheaper than its competitor. Featuring an old-school internal layout, tons of room for storage, and a seriously slick tempered glass panel, BitFenix hasn’t held back when it comes to kicking. Airflow could be better up front, but given how little heat we expect this machine to produce, there’s an argument to be had for not needing it that much anyway, at least until you decide to upgrade at a later date.
Apart from the case, we also opted for a slightly pricier PSU, courtesy of EVGA, and some lower spec DDR4 to save a few bucks, purely because higher frequencies wouldn’t particularly benefit this Intel rig in any meaningful way. Although it’s not included in the pricing, using the remaining budget we snuck in a nice magnetic white 12-inch LED strip running along the top of the case as well, just to make it pop a little more. It’s a small luxury, using a little extra cash, and completely superfluous, but we may as well take advantage of that tempered glass side panel while we have it.
3 RETRO TIME
Our editor said we weren’t getting hands-on enough in the photography for this story, so we decided to take it up a notch, and point at this speaker. As we’ve gone for such a cheap Z370 board, having access to this little beauty helps us diagnose any errors on the board. Beep. One good thing about Gigabyte’s motherboards is the included front I/O header mounting bracket: simply thread your front panel connectors into the designated holes on the bracket, let them click into place, then carefully push the bracket on to the front I/O pins on the board. Our testing found that this reduced unnecessary cussing by a staggering 268% throughout the duration of a building session.
5 LIGHT UP YOUR LIFE
The one thing that isn’t budgeted for in our rig is the LED strip running along the roof, which we’ve discreetly hidden. If we’re honest, it was a last-minute decision to throw this in, just to show off the internal components, and how clean we managed to make the build, even on a budget. You can pick one of these up for around $30, and it even comes with an adhesive back, in case your chassis isn’t magnetic.
4 NOT QUITE ATX?
Unfortunately, there’s still some variance with ATX motherboards, especially at the budget end of the spectrum, with most ATX motherboards actually being about half an inch shorter than the full ATX standard. This means you’ll often find your motherboard can’t be secured across all of the ATX stand-offs in a chassis. This can make it particularly difficult when installing memory and the 24-pin ATX power on the motherboard, because you risk warping the PCB. We can only suggest you do as much as you can outside of the case first, even install the 24-pin with the motherboard on a box first, before you install it into the chassis.
6 CABLE FRIPPERY
We’ve got a pretty hefty CPU power cable on our 450W EVGA PSU, which means it’s a real struggle to fit it through the top passthrough in the case, and secure the motherboard down. To get around this, we’ve carefully positioned it below the motherboard, ahead of time, before securing it into place, keeping it tidy and out of the way. On top of that, we’ve kept our cables neat by tying several of them together. You’ll notice our ATX power and front panel headers are bound together, along with the bundled front fan and SATA power, and the GPU and additional Molex power that we didn’t need are bound at the bottom, then hidden in the hard drive cage. This keeps the cables taut, tidy and out of the way without necessarily tying them to the chassis itself.