Building a new PC part 2 – The minimum spec

So the first question to ask before building a new PC is, does my current PC meet the requirements with a few upgrades? I currently have an old 3 GHz P4 with 2Gb of RAM and using the onboard graphics. The minimum spec for Bioshock Infinite (my requirements model) is the following:

  • OS: Windows Vista Service Pack 2 32-bit
  • Processor: Intel Core 2 DUO 2.4 GHz / AMD Athlon X2 2.7 GHZ
  • RAM: 2 GB
  • Hard Drive: 20 GB free
  • Video Card: DirectX10 Compatible ATI Radeon 3870 / NVIDIA 8800 GT / Intel HD 3000 Integrated Graphics
  • Video Card Memory: 512 MB
  • Sound Card: DirectX Compatible

I’m running Win7 and I have 2Gb of RAM. The rest however is below spec. Due to the AGP graphics slot slapping a new graphics card in there is out of the question so I’m back to square one. I need to build a new PC.

As I’m not just using the PC for gaming I’m making the decision now to add more memory and go with 4Gb of RAM. This is due to a very extensive music library and a lot of photo editing (see previous post).

Next I’m looking at the CPU. The question here is whether to go for a combined graphics CPU with Intel HD graphics onboard to save money or go for a separate graphics card. Looking at the benchmarks for the graphics cards the integrated graphics fall so far behind the discrete cards that it becomes a no-brainer. For gaming discrete is always better, even at the bottom end. With that in mind it becomes a straight race between the AMD and Intel processors. And this is where I get my first surprise. My preferred supplier has stopped selling the Intel Core Duo. The next Intel processor in the benchmarks is the Pentium G630T (£56.69), almost twice the price of the Athlon II 340 (£28.28). Another surprise is the fact that these processors are now only available in 64bit. Effectively 32bit computing is dead. Despite the cost difference the Intel processor is still in the running however as we still have the motherboard to factor in.

So next up, the motherboard. With 2 processors to choose from that means 2 different motherboards to choose from. We’re not interested in how great the board is, just will the processor fit and is it cheap. First up is the AMD processor, which requires an Socket FM2 board. Straight away I’m looking at a selection of micro-ATX form factor boards. I also spot in the list at the same price point the board for the Intel processor, again in micro-ATX form factor. The 2 MSI boards are thrown out straight away for not being compatible with the processor (despite being the right socket type) which leaves me with a pair of Gigabyte motherboards. The Gigabyte F2A55M-DS2 at £39.74 for the AMD processor and the Gigabyte GA-H61M-DS2 at £37.25 for the Intel. Both boards take DDR3 memory with the AMD board allowing for the faster 1600 MHz memory over the Intel’s 1333 MHz memory, both 240 pin.  For graphics they’re both the same with PCIe 2×16 slots on both boards.

So back to memory. Now we know what to buy it’s a simple question of whether to buy the slower memory for both boards (£44.88 for a Lenovo 4Gb stick) or go for the faster memory for the AMD board. At exactly the same price it’s another no-brainer, the AMD board gets the faster memory.

This brings us handily to the graphics card. And another minefield of differing specs, manufacturers and compatibilities. With the onboard graphics already out of the running it’s a straight race between nVidia and Radeon. Straight away I have a problem. The only nVidea cards available that are a high enough spec are all PCIe3 and much more expensive starting at £89. While these are backwards compatible it does mean hobbling the graphics card slightly down to the PCIe2.0 specification. That leaves us with the Asus ATI Radeon 6670 with 1Gb of memory (twice the minimum needed) at £73.81.

Going back to the processors I find another problem. The heatsink. For the Intel build I have the Hyper 212 EVO Processor Cooler from Coolermaster at £25.88. But the AMD processor is socket FM2. Some mixed information online but from what I can tell the same heatsink and fan should also fit the FM2 socket processors so that’s added to the build on both machines.

Knowing cases and PSUs can also have issues I decide to look first at the case and then choose a PSU. Thanks to the micro-ATX motherboards we can go for the relatively tiny Coolermaster Elite 343 at £28.15.

Being quite a basic setup there’s no real power consumption here (not even once I add the DVD drive) so we can get away with the Coolermaster Elite Power 460W at £36.90.

Hard drives surprise me. The only compatible drives are not only huge capacity, but also exceptionally expensive. Luckily I have a few other vendors to choose from and I quickly find a WD 500Gb SATA II drive for £45.67.

And as stated, we’ll need a DVD drive to play all those games that still require physical media to install. Again I have to go with one of my other vendors and quickly find a LiteOn iHAS124 DVDRW for £12.99.

So now time for the maths. During this I’ve assumed that somewhere you have a copy of Windows 7 or 8 lying around. This is a purely hardware exercise.

So for the Intel machine this brings us up to £362.22 and which also brings us to this:

When it comes to building a minimum spec machine for gaming you may as well not bother. The PC being sold above is a much better machine for pretty much the same price as it would cost to build your minimum spec. In short you’d be wasting your money doing it yourself. You’ll notice I didn’t price up the AMD machine. At less than £30 between them and with such a huge difference between the AMD machine that can be built and the one that can be bought there’s no point. In fact the machine being sold Is so close to the recommended spec for Bioshock Infinite it makes building a recommended spec PC obsolete as well.

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