Different manufacturers have diverse ideas when it comes to distributing their limited component spends. Do you max out on the graphics card and ignore the rest, or do you need a beastly CPU to keep things ticking along?
Other concerns relate to the lifespan of a system. Where's the value in a budget PC if there's no reasonable upgrade path? And if you've got to replace your machine next time you find yourself short of power, is it really worth the money?
This budget gaming rig from Wired2Fire is aiming to straddle those complexities, and offers a system that will give quality performance right from the get-go. Perhaps more importantly, it will also form the basis of your gaming machine for years and upgrades to come.
The premise for those claims lies in this rig's Intel heart. The ASRock Z87 Pro motherboard and overclocked Core i5-4670K could have come straight out of the belly of a £1K+ gaming machine, yet this PC costs far less than that. Wired2Fire has saved big money by using a traditional hard disk instead of a fancy solid-state drive, and saved some hard cash when it comes to the graphics card too.
The brand new GTX 750 Ti houses the first of Nvidia's next-gen Maxwell GPUs – the GM107 – and is the new mainstream darling graphics card. The GTX 750 Ti replaces the GTX 650 Ti. It performs just as well as its predecessor for a slightly cheaper price, uses a fraction of the power and produces far less heat.
Palit's slightly overclocked version is different to the Gigabyte and EVGA cards we've checked out as it hasn't opted to tack on a six-pin PCIe connector just for the hell of it. This is a proper bus-powered version, despite that higher clockspeed.
Inevitably, this graphics card doesn't perform like it's been ripped from a beefier gaming rig, but if you're just rocking a 1080p screen it doesn't really matter too much right now. The top games of the moment are currently running happily on a GTX 750 Ti at max settings, even with the weight of anti-aliasing around its neck. While it's not a stellar high-res rig, this machine will give you decent standard gaming performance.
Importantly, though, there is a very definite upgrade path. Arguably, the overclocked Haswell Core i5 processor is going to be a great companion for the graphics cards of the next couple of years, so it won't need a boost any time soon. And while the 8GB 1,600MHz RAM may not have a fancy heatspreader with edgy logos, it won't need replacing in the near future, either.
When you do decide you want more gaming performance, you can buy as powerful a GPU as you can afford without worrying about it not performing at its best with the rest of the rig.
It's possible to build a PC that performs better and comes in cheaper, but you'll struggle to produce one with such longevity
CPU rendering performance
Cinebench R11.5 Index score: higher is better
Wired2Fire Diablo Z3: 7.34
DinoPC Batman GTX 660: 3.96
Palicomp Haswell i5 Gamer: 5.53
DirectX 11 1080p gaming performance
Bioshock Infinite (Min) Avg FPS: higher is better
Wired2Fire Diablo Z3: (15) 28
DinoPC Batman GTX 660: (8) 51
Palicomp Haswell i5 Gamer: (9) 25
GRID 2 (Min) Avg FPS: higher is better
Wired2Fire Diablo Z3: (41) 52
DinoPC Batman GTX 660: (46) 60
Palicomp Haswell i5 Gamer: (29) 38
The powerful CPU in this Wired2Fire PC puts it ahead of the AMD DinoPC Batman and Palicomp Core i5 machines in certain benchmarks, but the GTX 750 Ti falls short of the gaming performance offered by the GTX 660. Even so, while the DinoPC may be a stronger performer for the time being, it has a much more limited, and expensive, upgrade path.