THERE YOU HAVE IT: your very own bud­get 1080p gam­ing ma­chine. It’s ver­sa­tile, com­pact, easy to build, and looks darn good, given the limited funds we had. We could have whacked in an In­tel Core i3 quad-core part or a GTX 1060 to bol­ster per­for­mance—two very smart moves—but that would mean a big­ger bud­get, and not ev­ery­one has that kind of cash ly­ing about.

We man­aged to stick to our $500 hard­ware bud­get fairly well. In fact, if you’re in­ter­ested in check­ing out where we sourced the parts for this build, head to https://pc­part­picker.com/list/3YQfFt for a full break­down. Don’t worry, there are no af­fil­i­ates links or codes there, least not from us, al­though we’re pretty sure that’s how PC­Part­Picker makes its money. Any­way, you can see what we chose, at what price, and where we’d pick it up from.

But enough of that—was this build a suc­cess? Yes. It was never go­ing to com­pete with our zero-point—that’s a $1,100 ma­chine pack­ing a six-core pro­ces­sor, 16GB of DDR4, a PCIe SSD, and an Nvidia GTX 1060, af­ter all—but for the price, it ac­tu­ally held its rat­ings fairly well, and de­spite the lack­lus­ter com­pu­ta­tional per­for­mance, the ef­fect on real-world feel and use is slim to min­i­mal.

In game, it’s rather dif­fer­ent, of course, with most of our tests be­ing al­most un­playable in cer­tain cir­cum­stances, but this is where we need to get a lit­tle gran­u­lar and ex­plain the whole pur­pose of our build. With a sys­tem like this, you need to be a tweaker. Not nec­es­sar­ily of hard­ware or over­clock­ing, but of graph­i­cal set­tings. From past ex­pe­ri­ence, we know that when gam­ing, there are two ef­fects that take up the ma­jor­ity of your pro­cess­ing power: an­tialias­ing and shad­ows. Now, in our sce­nario, you’d be gam­ing on a 1080p 24inch panel, so turn­ing off AA in its en­tirety is a bad idea; re­duc­ing it, how­ever, is less so. But let’s give you some met­rics here.

In our Ul­tra pre­set bench­mark test for Warham­merII, we man­aged 27fps. With a few mi­nor tweaks, shad­ows re­duced to min­i­mal, a slight de­crease from Ul­tra to Medium in var­i­ous tex­tures, and a re­duc­tion in fo­liage/tree qual­ity, we man­aged 38fps, with min­i­mal im­pact on over­all tex­ture qual­ity. Take that same logic across to Rise­oftheTom­bRaider, and we man­aged 52fps. Amaz­ingly, there’s a set­ting that ren­ders each in­di­vid­ual strand of hair on Lara’s head; al­though it looks breath­tak­ing, dur­ing the mid­dle of a game, it’s not some­thing we par­tic­u­larly no­tice.

Per­haps the big­gest dif­fer­ence was in GhostRe­con. A de­mand­ing game at the best of times, drop­ping the graph­i­cal pro­file down from Ul­tra to High, and again ad­just­ing the shadow qual­ity (not dis­abling it en­tirely), bumped up frame rates from 5 all the way up to 40fps. That’s a 700 per­cent in­crease just by tweak­ing a pro­file. OK, it’s a bit more mess­ing about be­fore play­ing, but even at the high end, with GTX 1080 Tis and Ti­tans, you still go through the same process any­way, so what’s so dif­fer­ent down here at the $500 bud­get?

1 Hid­ing any ex­cess ca­blesun­der the hard drive caddy here is ideal for keep­ing things tidy, as long as you don’t have more than one 3.5-inch drive, of course.2 There are no in­take fanswith this build—adding two 120mms in the front of the rig would keep tem­per­a­tures down, es­pe­cially dur­ing the hot sum­mer months.3 If you’re go­ing toup­grade your pro­ces­sor at a later date, re­mem­ber to get a beefier cooler; this slim­line stock one won’t cut it.4 We love a GPU that drawspower solely from the PCIe bus, al­though ad­mit­tedly, it won’t be as fast as some of its higher-spec bud­dies.

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