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Build a Gaming PC with Slickdeals (Part 2)

Don't let the CPU be a bottleneck for your games.
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CPU and motherboard

In part one of this series, we built a solid foundation for our gaming PC with a full-tower case and power supply. Now, the Slickdeals gaming PC is ready for its main computing components — the central processing unit (CPU) and motherboard.

CPU

The CPU (also commonly referred to as a processor) handles all of the main computational tasks. But because a gaming PC usually has a dedicated graphics card to do the heavy lifting (more on that in the next article), the CPU simply needs to not be a bottleneck. In other words, an expensive flagship processor isn’t necessary.

When choosing a processor, there are a few key characteristics to consider: architecture, frequency and number of cores.

Architecture

A processor's architecture is the physical layout and design of its internal components. With each generational update, performance and efficiency improve thanks to better manufacturing methods. Semiconductor technology, for example, has achieved sizes as small as 14 nanometers (nm) for today’s processors, while previous generations were around 22 nm. Smaller architecture means less power draw and lower operating temperatures.

When new processors are released, one might think the older models would drop in price, but that isn’t always the case — sometimes, older processors end up being more expensive due to their lack of availability. Because technology changes so quickly, it’s best to go with the newest architecture that you can afford, and more often than not, it’ll be the current generation.

There are two leading manufacturers for desktop CPUs, Intel and AMD, and trying to determine which one makes a better product is an exercise in futility. It’s like having two cranky old guys argue about Ford versus Chevrolet — neither party will ever be swayed.

Frequency

A processor’s frequency, measured in gigahertz (GHz), is an indicator of how many operations it can be given in one second and still perform reliably. For example, a 3 GHz processor can receive 3 billion operations per second, and users see that performance by how quickly a program loads.

Consumer-grade processor frequencies have topped out between 4 to 5 GHz, primarily because of materials, manufacturing and heat-management limitations. But frequency isn’t as important as it was in the early days thanks to the application of multicore computing.

Cores

A core is an independent processing unit, and when two or more are combined, the computing power increases without the need for a higher frequency. Multiple cores give a CPU the ability to multi-task or complete a single task faster.

There are consumer processors that have up to eight cores, but for the purposes of not being a bottleneck, four cores are more than enough.

Intel vs. AMD

There are two leading manufacturers for desktop CPUs, Intel and AMD, and trying to determine which one makes a better product is an exercise in futility. It’s like having two cranky old guys argue about Ford versus Chevrolet — neither party will ever be swayed.

Both Intel and AMD make great processors, and choosing one simply comes down to personal preference. AMD tends to provide the best value for low-end processors, while Intel excels at high-end performance. But since we’re only interested in the middle ground — a very competitive space for both companies — it really doesn’t matter which brand you choose.

There are a lot of factors that go into determining whether a processor is low, medium or high-end, and Tom’s Hardware has a constantly updated list of recommended CPUs for every performance range and budget.

I’m a fan of Intel for no rational reason except that it’s what I've always used, and I chose the 6th generation Intel Core i5-6500 processor for my Slickdeals machine. The i5-6500 has a base frequency of 3.2 GHz, four cores and 14 nm architecture. It’s considered a high-end processor, but I do quite a bit of video editing (a computationally heavy task), so the extra performance comes in handy. Retail pricing for this CPU is just over $200, but with a 20 percent off code from Jet.com, the price dropped to $175.30 with free shipping.

If you know you won't be doing complex tasks, here are some solid mid-range processors to consider:

AMD FX-6300 - Currently $102.33 from Amazon, but we saw that price drop into the $80 range in the past few months. [Retail price: $149]

Intel Core i3-4170 - $119.99 from Newegg, but if you hold out for a good deal, you may be able to snag it for around $100. [Retail price: $124.99]

Motherboard

Asus Z170-A motherboard The motherboard is the backbone of a PC, physically hosting the CPU and acting as the communication link between all of the other components. Depending on which processor you’ve decided to use, the path to selecting a motherboard is pretty straight-forward.

Each family of processors has very specific compatibility requirements — AMD processors will not work with an Intel-based motherboard — and even more basic, each processor type will only physically fit into one type of socket on the motherboard. For example, the Intel Core i5-6500 processor requires an LGA 1151 socket, and the AMD FX-6300 requires an AM3+ socket.

And thanks to industry performance standardization, the only other factors to consider outside of CPU interface are optional on-board features and price.

For most gamers, an entry-level motherboard with a retail price of around $100 will do just fine. But if you have room in your budget, consider additional features like an overclock-friendly chipset, support for dual graphics cards, on-board Wi-Fi or USB 3.1 connections. Focus your shopping research on reputable brand names like Asus, Gigabyte, ASRock or MSI, to name a few.

Searching through the deal forums, I found a feature-filled Asus Z170-A motherboard on sale for $115 after a $25 mail-in rebate; full retail price is $165. The Z170-A comes with one click overclocking, an SLI bridge to connect two Nvidia graphics cards and support for the newest type of memory, DDR4 RAM.

Other good motherboard options include:

Gigabyte's Z170-HD3P -- Another LGA 1151 motherboard option currently selling for $95 from Newegg, which is just $10 more than the all-time low for this product. [Retail price $124.99]

Asus' M5A97 R2.0 -- Those taking the AMD AM3+ route can consider this option for $89.99, also from Newegg. However, we've seen pretty regular discounts into the $70 range, so you may want to hold out for a better sale. [Retail price $99.99]

 

Bonus Round: Better CPU Cooling

Most retail-packaged processors will come with a heat sink and fan to keep operating temperatures within an acceptable range, but I’ve found that these stock coolers can be a bit lacking for the types of graphically-intense games that I play.

A cheap and popular solution is the Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO. I was able to snag one from Amazon for $24.44 after a $5 mail-in rebate.

Heat is a processor's worst enemy, so an upgraded CPU cooler is definitely worth the money.

Build Recap

Let’s see where we’re at with our PC component purchases:

$104 - NZXT Phantom 530 case
$119 - Corsair HX850i power supply
$175.30 - Intel Core i5-6500 processor
$115 - Asus Z170-A motherboard
$24.44 - Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO
(-$500) - Chase Sapphire Preferred bonus points

Total cost so far: $37.74.

Like what I'm doing? Think my setup is overkill? Hop on over to my forum thread and give me your two cents!

Click here for Part 3 of "Build a Gaming PC with Slickdeals," where I'll be selecting the most crucial part of a gaming PC, the graphics card.

Missed the previous article? Get up to speed with the link below:"

Part 1 - Build philosophy, case and power supply

Images courtesy Andrew Chen



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About the Author
Andrew Chen Staff

Andrew Chen is a longtime PC gamer, an automotive journalist and an avid deal hunter. His first PC had an 80 megahertz processor with 4 megabytes of RAM, light years away from the powerhouse gaming rigs he builds today. You can follow Andrew's high-speed sports car adventures over at 6SpeedOnline.com. As a Slickdealer for over 10 years, nothing makes him more excited than getting a freebie!


Chat with Andrew on Twitter: @slickdealsdrew


29 Comments

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#2
Quote :
"It's like having two cranky old guys argue about Ford versus Chevrolet — neither party will ever be swayed."
Andrew, this is such an awesome series! And I love the comparison you made here haha.
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#3
Thank you, Lesley! I'm glad you're enjoying the series!
Quote from lesleysheridan
:
Andrew, this is such an awesome series! And I love the comparison you made here haha.
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Our community has rated this post as helpful. If you agree, why not rep Jabbit?
#4
Another great article! You were able to breakdown some often confusing terms into a manageable context. Looking forward to the next article on your build.
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#5
Thank you so much, Jabbit!
Quote from Jabbit
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Another great article! You were able to breakdown some often confusing terms into a manageable context. Looking forward to the next article on your build.
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#6
Thanks for the post and series Smilie Planning on going with this setup:

[$175] PROCESSOR: I5-6500 FC-LGA14C
[$30] POWER SUPPLY: EVGA 600W 80+ Certified ATX
[$95] MOTHERBOARD: GIGABYTE GA-Z170-HD3P
[$210] HARD DRIVE: 8TB Archive 3.5" SATA 5900 RPM 6Gb/s with 128MB Cache
[$68] MEMORY: 16GB (2x8GB) G.SKILL Ripjaws V Series DDR4 2400 Desktop
[$120] CASE: Corsair CC-9011061-WW Mini-ITX 380T
[???] GRAPHIC CARD: ???
[???] KEYBOARD/MOUSE: ???
======
$698

for an ITX will the above/below work?

is this a good graphic card for the build?
[$125] Gigabyte GV-N75TOC2-2GI GTX 750 Ti GDDR5-2GB 2xDVI/2xHDMI OC Graphics Card

[$20] Corsair Air Series AF120 LED Quiet Edition High Airflow Fan Twin Pack - Blue (CO-9050016-BL​ED)

Is this mother board:
[$95] GIGABYTE GA-Z170-HD3P (rev. 1.0) LGA 1151 Intel Z170 HDMI SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.1 USB 3.0 ATX Intel Motherboard

better than this one:
[$105] GIGABYTE GA-F2A88XN-WIF​I FM2+/FM2 A88X (Bolton D4) Wi-Fi/BT4.0 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 HDMI Mini ITX AMD Motherboard

or this one:
[$120] MSI Skylake H170 LGA1151 I3/I5/I7 12 Phase 4DIMM 3PCIE3.0 4PCIE ?

or this one:
[$125] Gigabyte Ultra Durable GA-H97N-WIFI Desktop Motherboard, Intel H97 Express Chipset, Socket H3 LGA-1150

or this one:
[$125] ASUS M5A99X EVO R2.0 AM3+, AMD 990X, SATA 6Gb/s, USB 3.0, ATX, AMD Motherboard
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Last edited by MikeVertx February 2, 2016 at 07:28 PM. Reason: simplify
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#7
Thanks for the write up Andrew. I use AMD and I have no problems with it, using only the integrated graphics to play games. I get a CPU, motherboard and memory combo every 2-3 years, for the last 9 years. I use my old case & power supply. Upgrade costs are usually $250, and with that I get incredible value. I can play the latest games on low settings, ~1 year old games on medium settings & older games very smoothly. I'm coming up on another upgrade cycle, should I pay up by switching to intel and getting a dedicated graphics card?
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#8
Quote :
Heat is a processor's worst enemy, so an upgraded CPU cooler is definitely worth the money.
Don't learn this one the hard way!
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#9
Thanks for checking out the article, Mike!

You've got a good plan for your PC. If you want to stick with the Corsair 380T case, you'll need to make sure you get a Mini-ITX motherboard. The Gigabyte GA-Z170 HD3P is an ATX form factor, and it will not fit in the 380T case. (Also check graphics card and CPU fan clearance as well)

Since you're going with the i5-6500 processor, make sure you only look at Intel-based motherboards with the LGA 1151 socket -- the Asus M5A99X, Gigabyte GA-F2A88XN and Gigabyte GA-H97N aren't compatible with the i5-6500.

I'm not able to find the exact MSI H170 motherboard you're referencing, but again, make sure the form factor fits inside your case. The H170 chipset means that it won't support overclocking (not sure if that's a priority). If you think you may overclock in the future, go for the Z170 chipset.

As for the graphics card, it really depends on what types of games you'll be playing. If you have a bit of room in your budget, I'd recommend going for 4 GB of VRAM, like in this Gigabyte 750 Ti [amazon.com] for $150. I'm currently using a GTX 770 4GB and it runs just about every game at medium-high settings.

Hope this helps! Keep me updated!



Quote from MikeVertx
:
Thanks for the post and series Planning on going with this setup:

[$175] PROCESSOR: I5-6500 FC-LGA14C
[$30] POWER SUPPLY: EVGA 600W 80+ Certified ATX
[$95] MOTHERBOARD: GIGABYTE GA-Z170-HD3P
[$210] HARD DRIVE: 8TB Archive 3.5" SATA 5900 RPM 6Gb/s with 128MB Cache
[$68] MEMORY: 16GB (2x8GB) G.SKILL Ripjaws V Series DDR4 2400 Desktop
[$120] CASE: Corsair CC-9011061-WW Mini-ITX 380T
[???] GRAPHIC CARD: ???
[???] KEYBOARD/MOUSE: ???
======
$698

for an ITX will the above/below work?

is this a good graphic card for the build?
[$125] Gigabyte GV-N75TOC2-2GI GTX 750 Ti GDDR5-2GB 2xDVI/2xHDMI OC Graphics Card

[$20] Corsair Air Series AF120 LED Quiet Edition High Airflow Fan Twin Pack - Blue (CO-9050016-BL​ED)

Is this mother board:
[$95] GIGABYTE GA-Z170-HD3P (rev. 1.0) LGA 1151 Intel Z170 HDMI SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.1 USB 3.0 ATX Intel Motherboard

better than this one:
[$105] GIGABYTE GA-F2A88XN-WIF​I FM2+/FM2 A88X (Bolton D4) Wi-Fi/BT4.0 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 HDMI Mini ITX AMD Motherboard

or this one:
[$120] MSI Skylake H170 LGA1151 I3/I5/I7 12 Phase 4DIMM 3PCIE3.0 4PCIE ?

or this one:
[$125] Gigabyte Ultra Durable GA-H97N-WIFI Desktop Motherboard, Intel H97 Express Chipset, Socket H3 LGA-1150

or this one:
[$125] ASUS M5A99X EVO R2.0 AM3+, AMD 990X, SATA 6Gb/s, USB 3.0, ATX, AMD Motherboard
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#10
Hi cheapbargaineer, I love your upgrade strategy! I've been doing something similar for many years.

If you like AMD, there's no real reason to switch to Intel. Since you've only been using the on-board graphics processor, you might not even need to update your processor/motherboard right now -- just adding a graphics card to your current setup will be a huge improvement!

Here's a great entry level graphics card for $110: EVGA GeForce GTX 750Ti SC​ [GeForce GTX 750Ti SC]

Let me know how it works out!
Quote from cheapbargaineer
:
Thanks for the write up Andrew. I use AMD and I have no problems with it, using only the integrated graphics to play games. I get a CPU, motherboard and memory combo every 2-3 years, for the last 9 years. I use my old case & power supply. Upgrade costs are usually $250, and with that I get incredible value. I can play the latest games on low settings, ~1 year old games on medium settings & older games very smoothly. I'm coming up on another upgrade cycle, should I pay up by switching to intel and getting a dedicated graphics card?
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#11
Quote from MikeVertx
:
Thanks for the post and series Planning on going with this setup:

[$175] PROCESSOR: I5-6500 FC-LGA14C
[$30] POWER SUPPLY: EVGA 600W 80+ Certified ATX
[$95] MOTHERBOARD: GIGABYTE GA-Z170-HD3P
[$210] HARD DRIVE: 8TB Archive 3.5" SATA 5900 RPM 6Gb/s with 128MB Cache
[$68] MEMORY: 16GB (2x8GB) G.SKILL Ripjaws V Series DDR4 2400 Desktop
[$120] CASE: Corsair CC-9011061-WW Mini-ITX 380T
[???] GRAPHIC CARD: ???
[???] KEYBOARD/MOUSE: ???
======
$698

for an ITX will the above/below work?

is this a good graphic card for the build?
[$125] Gigabyte GV-N75TOC2-2GI GTX 750 Ti GDDR5-2GB 2xDVI/2xHDMI OC Graphics Card

[$20] Corsair Air Series AF120 LED Quiet Edition High Airflow Fan Twin Pack - Blue (CO-9050016-BL​ED)

Is this mother board:
[$95] GIGABYTE GA-Z170-HD3P (rev. 1.0) LGA 1151 Intel Z170 HDMI SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.1 USB 3.0 ATX Intel Motherboard

better than this one:
[$105] GIGABYTE GA-F2A88XN-WIF​I FM2+/FM2 A88X (Bolton D4) Wi-Fi/BT4.0 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 HDMI Mini ITX AMD Motherboard

or this one:
[$120] MSI Skylake H170 LGA1151 I3/I5/I7 12 Phase 4DIMM 3PCIE3.0 4PCIE ?

or this one:
[$125] Gigabyte Ultra Durable GA-H97N-WIFI Desktop Motherboard, Intel H97 Express Chipset, Socket H3 LGA-1150

or this one:
[$125] ASUS M5A99X EVO R2.0 AM3+, AMD 990X, SATA 6Gb/s, USB 3.0, ATX, AMD Motherboard
Mike, I like the choice of a 600W power supply. Intel-based systems with a single graphics card rarely need more than 500W unless they're seriously overclocked. It's overkill to get (and pay) for supplies that are overrated for your components. I would like to point out that you could select better alternatives to the 8TB harddrive. The current choice is tuned towards archiving with a slower platter speed (rpm) and different seek-head timeouts than you would want for an operating system. This would result in less than desirable system performance. You might look into a small SSD for your operating system (Windows or Linux) around 128GB and a secondary desktop HDD with a size you select. Perhaps something like a 4GB HGST, Toshiba, or WD Black. 4GB seems to be the sweet spot currently for harddrives and can often be found around $110 on sale.
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#12
Great writeup so far...
Quick question: How will you be able to over clock with a non "k" coded chip?
I had thought you needed to have one to do so (IE 6820hk or 4920k)...
Is it similar to "rooting"on Android or "jail breaking" on Apple if you don't?

Thanks!
db
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Our community has rated this post as helpful. If you agree, why not rep kajoeyla?
#13
I think it ridiculous to count the $500 you are possibly going to receive for spending $4,000 on a credit card toward the overall price you are spending for the computer you are building. It might be one thing to count money received for spending exactly the amount needed to build a computer, but to count the "free money" when you need to spend $4,000 total is just misleading. The "free money" for selling out your credit rating could go to any expenses, and so it is just silly to count it as a line item in the cost of your computer.

I understand why you are doing it - which is to be misleading. It's just that most people are not willing to get another credit card for this reason. Your credit rating is impacted. Sure it sounds like free money, but it isn't.
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#14
Barlaam, there is a way to use software to change the base clock of non-k chips, but it's not very stable at the moment.

I won't be able to take advantage of the Asus Z170-A's one click overclocking feature, but for those that opted for something like an i5-6600K, it will be great.

Quote from Barlaam
:
Great writeup so far...
Quick question: How will you be able to over clock with a non "k" coded chip?
I had thought you needed to have one to do so (IE 6820hk or 4920k)...
Is it similar to "rooting"on Android or "jail breaking" on Apple if you don't?

Thanks!
db
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#15
The only reason I signed up for the credit card is because of this build -- I wouldn't be able to hit the minimum spend otherwise ($4k in 3 months). So I think it's absolutely fair and accurate that I apply the $500 bonus cash back to the total spend. It's basically a global rebate, and I'm choosing to apply it to the PC instead of my rent or whatever else.

If you read my very first article, I stated that this series is not about building the cheapest PC, but showing people the different ways to manage costs so that they can build something that they're happy with. I'm not misleading anyone to anywhere -- I'm showing them various paths and they're free to choose whichever path they want.

For the sake of education and entertainment, I'm documenting how I'm building this PC -- I'm not telling anyone what to do.

From Experian [experian.com], regarding credit score: "If you keep the balances low and always pay the bills on time, your credit scores will take care of themselves. You can have as good a credit score with two cards as you can with five or 10."

Thanks for checking out my article.
Quote from kajoeyla
:
I think it ridiculous to count the $500 you are possibly going to receive for spending $4,000 on a credit card toward the overall price you are spending for the computer you are building. It might be one thing to count money received for spending exactly the amount needed to build a computer, but to count the "free money" when you need to spend $4,000 total is just misleading. The "free money" for selling out your credit rating could go to any expenses, and so it is just silly to count it as a line item in the cost of your computer.

I understand why you are doing it - which is to be misleading. It's just that most people are not willing to get another credit card for this reason. Your credit rating is impacted. Sure it sounds like free money, but it isn't.
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