Decent, low power gaming build on a budget


Oct 1, 2011
Approximate Purchase Date: As soon as my building gameplan is all set up.

Budget Range: Under $400

System Usage from Most to Least Important: Gaming, everyday web-browsing and media

Parts Not Required: Keyboard, mouse, monitor, speakers, OS, PSU, HDD, GPU, DVD drive

Preferred Websites for Parts:,

Country of Origin: United States

Parts Preferences: AMD CPU

Overclocking: No

Crossfire: Maybe in the future

Monitor Resolution: 1920x1080

Additional Comments:

Right, so first off let me explain that this isn't an entirely new build, more like halfway. Since that includes the motherboard and CPU, I'm hoping I'm not posting in the wrong place.

So, I have a fairly decent rig atm, but the main issue is the motherboard, an M2N68-LA (Ivy8). According to HP site, I can't really upgrade my processor much past my current Athlon 64 x2 4400+. If I'm wrong, please tell me, because that would save a good bit of money. Anyway, I'd like to keep power low (noise too), while still having some good specs.

The parts that I already have that I want to use are as follows:

DVD Burner/player
XFX ATI HD Radeon 6670 1GB GDDR5 RAM
Seagate 250GB 7200RPM HDD
Western Digital 320 GB SATA 6 Gb/s 7200 RPM 16 MB Cache WD3200AAKX
Antec EarthWatts Green EA-380D 380W PSU
Windows 7 Ultimate x86

So, naturally, any build I have will need to be compatible with the above. I'm not a master of pc parts (obviously), but I'd guess the PSU is the only real potential limitation. The parts I've looked at and think would work well with my build are as follows:

For the case, Cooler Master Elite Mid Tower Case, RC-310-BWN1-GP -OR-
Rosewill CHALLENGER Black Gaming ATX Mid Tower Computer Case

For the motherboard, BIOSTAR A870 AM3 AMD 870 SATA 6Gb/s ATX AMD Motherboard -OR-
GIGABYTE GA-970A-UD3 AM3+ AMD 970 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX AMD Motherboard

For the RAM, depending on the motherboard chosen, G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 4GB 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10666) -OR-
Kingston HyperX T1 Series 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1866

And last but kind of most, for the CPU, AMD Athlon II X4 645 Propus 3.1GHz -OR-
AMD Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition Deneb 3.4GHz -OR-
AMD Phenom II X4 945 Deneb 3.0GHz -OR-
AMD Athlon II X3 455 Rana 3.3GHz

Far as the case goes, I'm leaning more towards the challenger because it has space to put away wires, the 3.0 usb connectors, plenty of ventilation, *seems* to include more fans... and it looks kinda cool. Only thing is, will the bottom mounted PSU pose a problem for the PSU I've got (coming in the mail actually)? Either in terms of air flow or connectors reaching?

The motherboard I'm pretty stumped on. $45 difference is pretty big. Is AM3+ something I'd notice over the AM3? The Biostar only has 4 USB, but with the case I'd have 6 anyway. I don't know anything about connectors or space, so do either have a problem with the cases or otherwise in that respect? The Gigabyte has more plugs and supports better (I'm assuming) RAM, but how important is that? Will all the extra features use too much power?

I really know nothing about RAM. I assume the higher numbers of the DDR3 RAM indicates better performance, but I have no idea how much if so. Keep in mind I'm running 32-bit and can't use more than 4GB. RAM doesn't use much power does it?

Coming to the CPU... The one I have now is I think 65TDP, so 95TDP would seem a moderate power level, thus the Athlon II 645 seems a good option. The Phenom II 965 would be even better (Phenom II > Athlon II?) but the 125TDP may just be too much. Phenom II 945 would work, but it's currently sold out on Newegg. The Athlon II 455 is just the more budget friendly option, but I'd prefer 4 cores to 3.

All in all it's looking to be around the $300 price range. If you've spotted different items than I've listed you think I've overlooked, please feel free to show them to me. I'm mainly interested to know about any possible conflicts that could arise from any combination of the above, such as power limitations, incompatibilities, or physical space issues. Also, have I overlooked anything I'll need? I know I'll need thermal grease for the CPU, but beyond that I'm clueless. Secondly I'd like help figuring out the best performance for the money option for what I'm looking for in a PC. If you need further details, just ask.

I appreciate any and all help provided, and I hope this isn't too difficult.
Challenger case
Gigabyte AM3+ board - Because of forward compatibility. The ability to upgrade in two years to a new CPU if you feel the need. Also the Biostar board has no USB 3.0... that's huge. And the general quality of the two companies does not compare.

Don't waste your time on 1833Mhz memory. The 1333Mhz will be fine, but given prices you should consider a 2x4GB kit.

Given the good deal right now on the X4 965, go for it. Why are you hung up on TDP? Are you trying to conserve power? Your PSU is fine with that... but you may need to upgrade it when you get a bigger GPU. Probably would not run a 6870 on that PSU for too long.

Win 7 Ultimate OEM can only be installed on one motherboard. You will not be able to transfer it... or rather you will but it will not register and eventually shut down.

If you have a FULL version of Ultimate then you also have 64-bit and can install that on the new build.


Aug 1, 2011
I'd not go for AMD's backdated chips ATM. If you really wanna go AMD, wait until bulldozer releases.

i5 2500K - $220
ASRock Extreme3 Gen3 Z68 - $125
2x4GB Gskill Ripjaws X DDR3 1600 - $52
Rosewill Challenger - $60

Total : $457 before rebates


Oct 31, 2009
The Phenom II 965 would be a good CPu to go w/.
I would go w/ 1600MHZ clock speed for ram. If possible I would go w/ 2x4 gig sticks that way if u want to upgrade to more later you would have the room.
AS far as motherboard goes just keep doing some research cause once u put that board in zip tie those wires its a pain to swap boards out. Biostar boards are sable at stock speeds but if your wanting to over clock later, even a little I would go w/ an ASUS board then a Gigabyte board second.
Also you video card is on the low end so eventually you would be upgrading that later. But for now the CPU, motherboard and ram would be your best upgrade.


Oct 1, 2011
I wouldn't really say I'm all that interested in forwards compatibility, although it is nice to keep options open on your motherboard for when prices eventually fall. If you're gonna buy a motherboard, may as well make sure it'll last a bit I suppose. The Biostar doesn't have USB 3.0, but the Challenger case does. Those will work ok right?

As far as the TDP goes, it's partly to conserve energy costs, but yes, I wasn't really sure how much my new PSU would be able to handle. My current 250w PSU works with the GPU, but I don't know if it'll even work with the added HDD (don't know how much power they use). Aside from that, I admit I'm a little wary of modern higher end components getting too hot. Is not having water cooling an issue, or is that just for enthusiasts? I just got this 6670, and it works well enough for me atm. I may upgrade to a 6770 since they're not much more, and trade off my old components so my sister will have something she can play Sims 3 and Dragon Age on. Would the CPU plus a 6770 that be too much for the PSU?

And yea, I got Win7 Ultimate from my university, so it's not OEM. I want to say I had to pick between 32 and 64 bit, but I could be wrong. Not really sure about 64bit, on account of a lot of stuff still seems geared to 32bit (certain programs/drivers only for 32bit). If all I get from 64bit is added RAM, I think I can make do. Going from 2GB DDR2 to ~3.4GB DDR3 ought to be good enough for me.

I understand that Intel chips are more powerful atm, but I'm more comfortable with AMD (and I don't fancy shelling twice as much for the processor). I couldn't find pricing or release details about the Bulldozer chips, but I imagine they'll be more expensive as well, and I'd rather not have to wait. Maybe in the future I may upgrade. It will use the FX slot though, yes? Which would be another reason to go with the Gigabyte board.

That does look like a fair enough option. $3 more, but a bit more performance (though again I've no idea how much I'd notice). As for overclocking, nah, I'm really not interested.

Hmm. It's a cheaper option than the other Gigabyte board. But it is lacking a few things. No FX slot, only two ram slots, less quality RAM, a lot less PCI slots, no 6Gb/s support. Granted, most of that may not matter right now, but is less upgrade friendly.

Additional notes
I did find another potential processor. AMD Phenom II X4 840 Edition Deneb 3.2 GHz. It's cheaper and uses less power than the 965, but is missing an L3 cache and isn't quite as fast. Thoughts?
A USB port in a case won't mean anything if there is no place to plug it in on the board. USB 3 is much faster than USB 2 and you will have some degree of regret if you don't get that. It's way more important than SATA 6GB/s in a budget build.

The total maximum system draw from the wall, given your list with the EA-380D and a Phenom II X4 will be in the range of 210-260W. Normal draws while gaming are going to be less.
The video card pulls less than 60W DC at max, more like 45W under normal gaming loads.
The CPU will pull less than max under most conditions.
Hard drives spike a bit as they spin up, but normal draws are 10-15W
Case fans are about 5W each.
To those figures you have to add the efficiency of the PSU to discover the draw at the wall.

Adding a 6770 will add about 50W total, still within limits on the EA-380D.

The Challenger case could easily handle two much larger overclocked GPUs and a seriously overclocked CPU without water. Very few people percentage-wise use water cooling. To buy a water cooling system that is actually better than air for your CPU and GPU will cost well over $400.

I admit I'm a little wary of modern higher end components getting too hot.
The newer the part, the cooler it runs. Not the other way around. CPUs, GPUs, etc., are all getting more efficient as time goes by.

If you had to choose between 32 and 64 bit when you got it, it's probably an OEM version. Anyone can get an OEM version:
But the full version, that gives you a choice between 32 or 64-bit AND the ability to install on a new system, is more expensive:

Your idea about Intel being more expensive is wrong really. Have a look at this combo:

That's a dual core CPU, yes. But it's hyper-threaded and so behaves like a quad core. It's also faster in most benchmarks and USES FAR LESS POWER, which is important to you.


Oct 1, 2011
Hmm. So with the challenger + the Gigabyte board, would I then have 2 or 4 3.0 USBs? Bit confused on that. And yea, I know 6Gb/s doesn't mean much with a mechanical HDD, but SSDs may eventually come down a good bit in price (may take a few years). Only reason I mentioned it.

Guess I've been watching too many enthusiast setups on youtube. Now that I think about it, my current case has hardly any ventilation in the case, and only one case fan (not including the CPU fan). The Challenger has 3 (bigger) fans and plenty of ventilation, so I guess it should be cooler.

I didn't mean to say that Intel chips are more expensive pound for pound. Just that, from my understanding, the highest end Intel chips outperform highest end AMD ones, but are also generally more expensive. I admit, the power saving is a bit tempting on that combo... however, crazy as it may be, I think I'd just be more comfortable sticking with what I'm familiar with (AMD). Not because I think it's necessarily better, just I know some about their products, while with Intel I'm still clueless. And if your wattage calculations are correct, I guess I've been worrying about power limitations for nothing.

Back to the Windows 7 situation. I got it from my university, it's an upgrade disc (although I've heard of people being able to clean boot them), it says in the little sleeve it came in 32bit. On the disc itself, it says "Not for OEM or Retail distribution." Couldn't find any other mention of retail/OEM anywhere. But since it's an upgrade disc, I'm wagering it's not OEM. Could be wrong though.

So far, I think I'm liking the combination of the Challenger case, Gigabyte mobo, and either the 1333 or 1600 4GB G.Skill Ripjaws RAM. For the processor, I'm leaning towards the Phenom II x4 965. The 840 maybe, if L3 cache isn't important. But I guess it wouldn't be there if it wasn't.

Naturally, I need to make absolutely sure my Win7 disc isn't OEM before I go ahead with anything.
There's not a huge difference in performance between the two CPUs, really. because of the architecture the Intel CPU ends up beating the AMD in single threaded apps though. That's why the AMD CPU came down in price so much this year.

MS only makes so many different license types... There is no such thing as an upgrade OEM version of course, so you should be fine there, provided you have a legal OS tied to the new system that can be upgraded of course.

The 840 is really an Athlon II X4. I've used it in several office builds but never a gaming system. I recommend you get the 965 as it's unlocked and you may find you want a bit more out of it in the future. It will be much cheaper to overclock that part than upgrade it.



Oct 1, 2011
That's probably what I'll go with then. I guess the difficult part now will be figuring out how to take the pieces and put them where they go properly. But I'm sure I can find videos showing me how. So with this build, I'm looking at $310 about even. Guess that's not too bad.

Thanks everyone for your input, really helped!