With Diablo 3 being released any second now (we can't believe it's actually happening, either) it's likely that quite a few people will be looking into either upgrading or rebuilding their PC so they've got something nice to play it on. I'm doing it, for one. Are you?
But Diablo 3, if you ask me, is more of a catalyst for upgrading than the sole reason to do it - it's going to be the gateway through which many people start to experience more and more PC gaming in 2012. As the console generation slows down to an ugly 30fps crawl there's absolutely no better time to bask in all those technical specifications, and after you've looked at Skyrim running on a PC you're unlikely to want to go back. I'm essentially looking to build a machine for Diablo 3 that will be able to comfortably run Battlefield 3 too, which should give your new rig enough chops to last a few months without becoming old and busted. I've also set myself a £500 limit.
I've gone through various UK online retailers (I mostly use Scan, but there's a few things from Overclockers on the list too) to offer up a fairly complete PC build that will give you a few quid change from your £500. I'll also be listing some of the downsides of the build, and reasons why each component part contributes to a surprisingly potent build for your money.
There's a few caveats that I should also mention: this is intended to be read as more of a big fat upgrade with a nice new case than a beginner's guide to obtaining a PC, and as such I'm not including the cost of a keyboard and mouse, as I'm assuming you've probably already got one kicking around and everyone's tastes can vary wildly when it comes to their favourite pointing and input devices. I'm also excluding an OS, as well as other bits like cables, thermal compound, postage charges and all that jazz.
How much, then? I built this machine for £492.29.
Prices are correct as of May 11, but they tend to fluctuate pretty quickly so things might be off by a few pounds here and there. Let us know if there's anything you'd add, remove or just change completely - are you a bigger believer in AMD's budget processors than the i3, for instance? - and maybe, just maybe, we'll come up with the best value PC gaming rig in the entire world.
Motherboard: Asus P8H61-M LE/USB3.0 (£47.51)
This is, quite frankly, the bare minimum when it comes to motherboards. The Asus board runs on an Intel H61 chipset, which restricts overclocking ability and only has support for 2x DIMM slots for RAM. There's no support for Nvidia's SLI or ATI's Crossfire, and the board is also SATA-II, which will really start to frustrate when you want to invest in a SSD drive down the line - and you probably will, because SSD drives are amazing. There's 2x USB 3.0 ports on the back, but none on the I/O board.
I don't want to be all doom and gloom with the board, however - it's excellent value for money, and I doubt most people with a shopping budget of £500 are going to really be looking into SLI/Crossfire and more than 2x DIMM's, anyway. It's a fine board for this particular build, basically, but it'll quickly become the system bottleneck once you start looking to upgrade.
Processor: Intel Core i3-2120 3.30GHz (£86.39)
Again, the i3 certainly isn't the best of Intel's Sandy Bridge processors but it packs a wallop for the price point. If you're looking to spend more cash I'd recommend looking at the i5-3570K, available for around £170, but then you'd need to be investing into a fancier motherboard as well - upping the price of the machine significantly. Not the best on the market, then, but you'll be running Battlefield 3 at decent settings and with a smooth framerate with this i3 - it'll make mincemeat out of Diablo 3, too.
RAM: Crucial Ballistix Sport 8GB (£39.95)
This is a real no-brainer of a purchase: 8GB (2x 4GB) of blisteringly fast DDR3 ram, from a well-regarded manufacturer, for under £40? At this price it's a steal, and comes easily recommended for our budget build. Plop this into our 2x DIMM slot motherboard and there will be no room for expansion, but you'll certainly be well equipped for now.
Cooler: Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro (£16.45)
The Freezer 7 is a legend of a CPU cooler, and the series has been reliably stopping computers from exploding into a ball of fire for absolutely yonks - I've been using Arctic Cooling products for years. Spending close to £20 on a cooler might be seen as a slightly superfluous step - the i3-2120 will come with its own stock cooler, after all - but you'll rest a lot easier (cooler?) knowing that this thing is keeping your system in good working order.
GPU: MSI R6850 (£89.62)
The current darling of the GPU world is the GeForce 560 Ti, but these are closer to £200 than £100. With our tight budget there's nothing better on the market than the MSI HD 6850, with 1GB of GDDR5 memory and a core clock of 820mhz. There's simply no better better card for the price, and the performance-per-pound on this GPU is immense. I'm usually more of an NVIDIA man when it comes to GPU's, but the Radeon 6850 is a star.
PSU: Cooler Master GX 650W (£69.98)
Coming in at close to £70, this is a significant slice of our budget - but you should never, ever skimp on a power supply. It's not the fanciest component on the market, but it'll keep your machine running and won't make a fuss about it. A good PSU is worth spending money on, and this is a good PSU.
Hard Drive: Seagate 500Gb 3.5" Barracuda Hard Drive 7200rpm (£56.38)
Hard drive prices are still absolutely insane, so there's no point in splashing loads of money on tons of terabytes right now. 500GB should last you a few months at least, provided you stream most of your late night media, and hopefully in a few months prices on hard drives will have stabilised. Ideally I'd want to get a SSD drive inside our machine alongside our bigger storage drive, but it's just not feasible given the budget.
This is a SATA-III drive, so it won't run at its full speed on our SATA-II motherboard. It's actually cheaper than most reliable SATA-II drives at the moment, however, and if you ever upgrade the motherboard you'll get a free speed boost so there's absolutely no reason not to.
Case: Fractal Design R3 (£69.95)
We're spending quite a lot of money on our case, but it's a really lovely case – maybe I'm insane, but I want my computer case to look amazing, so that I feel proud when I look at it and other people are jealous when they see it.
Fractal Design are a relatively new player in the case scene, but they've been building a solid reputation over the last couple of years. Their cases are sturdy, well-built, and focused on keeping sound and vibrations to a minimum. They also make assembling all your components a pleasure, and anyone who's ever tried to build a machine in a dodgy case will attest to the importance of that.
And, yeah, just look at it.
I'd also recommend the Fractal Design Define Mini, which is a micro-ATX case and sells for a similar price. I've grown pretty fond of small form factor build in the last few years, and while the micro size will make the machine a snug fit the airflow will be just fine considering the components here aren't the most power-hungry on the market.
DVD drive: Sony AD-7261S-0B (£16.06)
This 48x read/24x write drive was the last thing I added, mainly because I basically forgot about it: I can't even remember the last time I used an optical drive on PC. There are more expensive Blu-Ray drives available, but unless you're looking to watch Blu-Ray movies on your computer I can't see a reason why you'd want to fork out the extra cash. You could probably save the money in all honesty, but I'm including it in the build for legacy reasons.