The $500 Gaming Cube


This build is for a well-rounded gaming or HTPC system that will cost you in the region of $500 before OS. It is compact, featuring a mITX board and case, potentially packing the punch of a full-blown system, in 1/3 the volume of an average Mid-ATX case.

The system should be capable of satisfying your casual gaming needs on most current titles without issues, given you won’t stubbornly pump the settings to “Ultra” with a satanic grin ala Wile E Coyote.

The components are offering great value, and the case and PSU offer room for future upgrades, potentially allowing for virtually any 2-slot single GPU out there (yes, you might have issues powering a dual GPU board with a 430W PSU, but most single GPU nVidia GTX 6xx or AMD Radeon 7xxx – along with future offerings around that TDP – are fair game.

  • CPU: intel Celeron G1620 2.7GHz this little Ivy Bridge dual core processor is the heart beating in the center of this little machine. Itis fast enough to help most of the GPUs out there deliver more than acceptable performance, and of course there will be no issues using it as an HTPC playing HD content.
    Available for less than $50 and rated less than 55W, this CPU is a bargain.
  • Mobo: Gigabyte GA-Z77N-WIFI – There are cheaper LGA 1155 mITX boards out there, but this offers the best available chipset (native SATA 3.0 and USB 3.0), along with intel Wi-Fi, dual Gigabit LAN, and Bluetooth 4.0. This board is not a great overclocker like more expensive offerings from Asus or Asrock, but it definitely can be a good base for a budget gaming or entertainment PC, which later can be upgraded to any LGA 1155 processor without issues.
  • RAM: Corsair Vengeance LP 8GB (2x4GB) DDR3 1600 –  Prefer low profile heat-spreaders. Those offer little to no gains in reliability and stability, but might cause installation issues obstructing the use of large CPU heasinks, and even airflow to the CPU in tight situations. The Corsair Vengeance LP or GSkill Ares series are fine examples of that. Intel CPUs don’t gain much from faster than 1600MHz modules, so these are a great price/performance choice.
  • GPU: EVGA GTX 650 SSC 1GB – This is a compact, cool running GPU that will pull decent FPS with most modern titles driving your 1080p monitor or TV. Should you be willing to go $20-25 over the $500 budget, a 650 Ti will worth the upgrade, but the 650 SSC can hold its own just fine.
  • HDD: Western Digital Caviar Green 1TB 7200rpm – This is a great little drive for the price. It will give you more than enough space to keep your game collection, along with the occasional photos, movies or MP3 files.
  • Optical Drive: Optical Drives (ODs) are rarely utilized the last few years. Broadband connections, cloud storage and affordable flash drives are replacing them. For most ODs are limited to installing new software and OS. Any basic DVD-RW drive will work. Make it SATA…don’t forget that IDE has vanished, so keep that ol drive inside your P4 case.
  • Case: Cooler Master Elite 120 Advanced – Well, here are the fun stuff. This is an amazing little case for the price. Yes, there are slicker mITX case available, but at 2-3x times the price. It will fit even high-end dual slot GPUs like the GTX 680 or HD7970. and you can do some interesting stuff should you wish to mod it in the future. Take it easy tho: this is a budget build, everything is stock to keep cost down!
  • CPU Cooler: Assuming stock speeds, there is no need for an extra cooler – especially with a low TDP Celeron. The factory cooler included with the CPU will work fine. Keep in mind the suggested mITX case is pretty compact, and you will have to be careful when selecting after market coolers: most of the heatpipe tower designs won’t fit. Closed loop watercoolers like the popular Corsair or Asetek units that flooded the market with great success the last few years, won’t fit without modding the case. An easy HDD cage removal will be enough to fit 120mm rad units of any thickness, but make sure to plan ahead before opting for one.
  • PSU: Corsair CX430M – Last but not least, this 430W PSU is more than enough to power this system, and probably allow for an upgrade in both CPU and GPU in the future. The fact that it is modular, will help you reduce the clutter inside the small case. This unit is often at sale or has $20 rebates in the US: a great opportunity to get that GTX 650Ti without breaking your $500 budget if you ask me! It is 80+ Bronze, and will have an easy time powering the above configuration which should be in the region of 200W under full load, much or less in real life scenarios.

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