Building A Balanced Intel-Based MicroATX Gaming PC On A Budget

Back in May, we published a story called Build A Balanced AMD-Based Gaming PC On A Budget, which showed you how to construct a low-cost system using AMD's Athlon X4 750K CPU and appropriately-quick graphics cards, all housed in an attractive case. After all, just because you kept an eye on your budget doesn't mean your gaming box needs to be ugly.

This time around, we wanted to do something similar on the Intel side, particularly in light of the good press its Pentium G3258 has been receiving. Our own coverage (Intel Pentium G3258 CPU Review: Haswell, Unlocked, For £55 and The Pentium G3258 Cheap Overclocking Experiment) shows that, even though the Pentium is a dual-core processor lacking Hyper-Threading technology, overclocked, it's still able to out-perform the quad-core Athlon in a great many workloads. It's cheaper, too, which we like.

Component vendor Deepcool has been offering to send us hardware for years, and we typically declined because the company's products weren't readily available in the U.S. More recently, however, it scored a spot on Newegg, and so the Steam Castle enclosure we're using today is something you can actually go out and buy if you're in the USA. We thought we'd give the enclosure a test run.

In addition, we have the company's Maelstrom 120 closed-loop liquid cooler. That one isn't available yet, though we're assured it will be soon.

The core of this DIY project is MSI's H97M-G43 motherboard, which sells for about £65 (not the automatically generated price you see below), and Intel's overclocking-friendly, multiplier-unlocked Pentium G3258, available for about £50.

We don’t blame you if you do a double-take: overclocking on a H97-based board? Yup. You've already seen us do this on an inexpensive H81-based platform using beta firmware. So we can't guarantee that Intel won’t kill this feature through some upcoming microcode update. But given the overwhelmingly-positive community response, we've only heard a token protest from the chip giant (and not even through official channels). 

Our overclock was an overwhelming success, peaking at 4.7 GHz through a massive voltage increase. This is neither reasonable nor practical, though, and we've trolled the G3258 user reviews, noticing a great many power users hitting ceilings around 4 GHz, too. As a result, we settled in on a 4.4 GHz clock rate, which requires very few changes in the BIOS and should be possible with most Pentiums.

Then we added a £115 MSI GeForce GTX 750 Ti Twin Frozr Gaming graphics card, completing our well-proportioned budget-oriented gaming machine. It has no trouble handling AAA titles. Just don't expect to run at the highest resolutions with overly taxing detail settings. Not everyone needs a high-end system and its associated price tag. With that in mind, we're happy to present this alternative to our previous AMD build, which should give you years of great performance, despite its conservative cost.

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  • skilltim
    No mention of RAM. I can only imagine a temperate spec. of 2x4GB DDR3 1600MHz.
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  • Dromoxen
    one graph is labelled with GPU temps when it is probably showing cpu temps ?Also I applaud the germans on their good taste. Those vents aren't even functional? And can the optical "cage"/bay be completely removed. One last pointy c/an tjhese "pirate" BIOS modded boards be used to overclock higher K procs (4690k etc)?
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  • TotallyNotANinja
    Nice article, I recently completed a very similar build (same CPU, Mobo, Hard drive, GPU chip, even the case was almost identical internally to the steam castle). I installed the latest official MSI bios and that also supported overclocking although X.M.P is nowhere to be seen :/.
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  • HEXiT
    sorry this is neither balanced or a budget rig.
    your spending 100's on the case and cooling when you could be spending it on hardware.

    seriously about 25% of the budget is blown on looks. and as any moder will tell you its better to have a rat rod that goes fast than a well painted amc pacer that cant do 50 in a strong wind. the same goes for pc's
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  • skilltim
    Anonymous said:
    sorry this is neither balanced or a budget rig.
    your spending 100's on the case and cooling when you could be spending it on hardware.

    seriously about 25% of the budget is blown on looks. and as any moder will tell you its better to have a rat rod that goes fast than a well painted amc pacer that cant do 50 in a strong wind. the same goes for pc's

    You haven't realised how this website is funded.
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  • HEXiT
    i know how the site is funded. but normally they would put that the build is sponsored...
    but thats no excuse for bad editorial.
    while its great that the hardware chosen will mostly do the job. the fact its limited to 2 cores and must have a high oc to make it functional. well im sorry id much rather have a build that doesnt need a massive oc and runs cool. that could still have been achieved within this budget and likely gain a bit performance 2...
    while its nice to see toms championing the budget parts its hard to agree that a fast dual is just as effective for gaming as a slower quad... it will be in some cases but there are more and more scenarios where that just doesnt hold true.
    so like i said it doesnt fit my idea of balanced.
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  • skilltim
    I'm with you guys on this. Most of my customers only need the cheapest current components with a 120GB SSD. Yes their build is balanced but only mid-range. Who buys mid-range for it to be bottom-range next year?
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