With the release of Intel's Pentium Anniversary processor, powerful entry-level gaming PCs are now a reality. We round up the six best budget gaming PCs you can buy in the UK in 2015. (Also see: What's the best gaming PC 2015.)
A decent gaming PC can easily outperform any of today’s consoles, but it will cost considerably more. However, if you’re willing to cut some corners, you can get a speedy model by just spending an extra £100 over the cost of an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 with all the multipurpose benefits of a full PC system. Also see: How to buy a great gaming PC.
6 best budget gaming PCs 2015 UK: Processor
Powerful performance like this at under £500 wouldn’t be possible without the Intel Pentium Anniversary Edition (G3258) chip, and all the PCs on test use it to great effect. Also see: What's the best laptop for games 2014.
With its unlocked multiplier, the overclocking potential of the Pentium G3258 is so great that this low-end processor can run at an extra 1GHz above its rated speed without breaking a sweat – and it’ll go a lot faster with only moderately priced air cooling systems. The Pentium G3258 is a dual-core processor without Hyper-Threading, so while it’s capable of running most games at a decent speed, it’s no match for a Core i5 when it comes to running multiple desktop applications simultaneously or multithreaded apps like Adobe Photoshop.
6 best budget gaming PCs 2015 UK: Motherboard
Special considerations apply when building an overclocked gaming PC on a budget. While the Pentium G3258 processor is an inexpensive component, a motherboard with an overclockable Z97 Express chipset is relatively costly. Intel’s less expensive H81 Express and B85 Express chipsets, aimed at budget PCs, don’t officially support overclocking, but many vendors including MSI and Asus have found a workaround to ‘unlock’ them. This enables the pairing of a low-cost Pentium Anniversary CPU with a low-cost budget motherboard and is the way most of these PCs have been put together.
The saving allows you to build a less expensive PC, or as is the case in our round-up, to buy a faster graphics card.
Although your warranty protects you from system failures due to overclocking, it’s theoretically possible for Intel to pull the plug, and put pressure on vendors to remove the overclocking features in forthcoming BIOS updates. Similarly, Windows Update could also be used to install new processor microcode with the same effect.
Most motherboard manufacturers aren’t making a big deal about this feature, either. MSI has issued a statement (tinyurl.com/kvfu6lf), but that’s about it.
So, choosing an H81 Express or B85 Express-based system isn’t without risk. You’ll need to carefully read through release notes before installing any BIOS updates and also keep an eye on any processor-related fixes via Windows Update. This could cut you off from future bug fixes which may arrive in updates which also disable overclocking.
The Z97 Express chipset brings more than just overclocking features – it also adds more USB 3.0 and SATA ports, support for Intel Smart Response Technology, RAID and PCI-E M.2 SSDs. Your choice comes down to either ultimate performance now, or extra features and the confidence that future updates won’t slow down your PC, later.
6 best budget gaming PCs 2015 UK: Graphics card
In nearly all cases, it’s the graphics card that’s going to determine the overall quality of your gaming experience. The best performance in this group test comes from the MSI GeForce GTX 760. One of these, paired with an overclocked Pentium Anniversary Edition processor can deliver smooth gameplay with high-quality settings at the maximum resolution of a full HD monitor or TV. Want one? You’ll have to go with an H81 Express or B85 Express motherboard to stay within our budget. Also see: What's the best graphics card 2014.
The next step down in performance comes from the nVidia GeForce GTX 750 Ti, and, if overclocked, it will still enable good gameplay at high resolutions, but you’re going to have to bring down the quality a notch or two to maintain high enough frame rates. The difference is noticeable, but it won’t prevent you from playing any of your favourite games. Another lower-cost option is an AMD Radeon R7 265, as supplied by Wired2Fire. Although this card didn’t perform as well as a GTX 750Ti, there are plenty of games where it will beat the performance of the MSI card quite convincingly.
6 best budget gaming PCs 2015 UK: Cooling
This is essential to stop your CPU from overheating, but it’s especially important with an overclocked one. There’s not enough money in the budget for fancy liquid-based coolers, so most vendors have opted for traditional heat-pipe based heatsink and fan combos. Low-cost examples of these can still provide better cooling performance and less noise and a stock Intel cooler. The more you overclock your system, the better the cooling needs to be. If you intend to push your pre-overclock PC even further, choose one with a powerful cooling system.
Gamers like their systems to look the part, but the case needs to be practical, too. Smart internal cable management helps with airflow, while fan controllers let you reduce noise or boost cooling as necessary.
6 best budget gaming PCs 2015 UK: Monitor
For more immersive gameplay, go for the largest display you can find and one with a good contrast ratio. A quick response time will ensure that fast, frantic gameplay remains blur free, although not all gamers will notice the difference. TN-based monitors cost less and provide most of these features, but IPS-based displays will give you better overall colour reproduction and wider viewing angles, but response times tend to be slower.
The type of controllers you need depends on how your PC is set up, and only Chillblast includes a keyboard and mouse as standard.
If you’re using your PC on a desk with a monitor, you’ll benefit from the improved responsiveness of wired, rather than wireless, devices. Look for high-resolution mice, and keyboards with programmable keys and backlighting.
High-grade mechanical switches in keyboards have a better ‘feel’ and last longer than cheap membrane switches. Some draw attention to the W, A, S and D keys with a different colour or texture. A gaming sound card can provide a more immersive experience by adding multiple sound effects. Also consider a gaming headset with a built-in microphone and wireless controllers. We’d recommend a wireless keyboard with its own trackball or trackpad. You may not need an internal optical drive, either.
6 best budget gaming PCs 2015 UK: Warranty
Warranty terms are crucial when it comes to gaming PCs. An advantage of buying a pre-built overclocked computer is that all of the overclocking will be covered by the vendor’s warranty. The longer the warranty the better, but be on the lookout for a collect-and-return option rather than a return-to-base one.
6 best budget gaming PCs 2015 UK: How we test
With this budget gaming PC group test, we’ve started testing with Futuremark’s PCMark 8 v2.0 benchmarking suite. Unlike the previous PCMark 7 benchmark, the new version doesn’t produce a single overall figure. Instead, results are divided into Home, Creative, Work and Storage tests.
The Home benchmark reflects command tasks for typical home use with lower computing requirements such as web browsing, photo editing and low-end gaming.
The Creative benchmark is aimed more at enthusiasts and professionals working with multimedia and entertainment content. It is more demanding on the processor and includes transcoding tests as well as further gaming workloads.
The Work test is geared towards office work tasks like creating documents, web browsing, spreadsheets and video conferencing. This test does not stress the gaming and multimedia capabilities of the PCs in this group test.
We’ve used three games to evaluate graphics performance. We run our tests at 1280x720- and 1920x1080 pixels at various detail settings. Framerates are recorded using the following games and quality settings.
Final Fantasy XIV: 1280x720, Medium quality; 1920x1080, Maximum quality.
Alien vs Predator: 1280x720, all settings at Maximum quality; 1920x1080, all settings at Maximum quality.
Sniper Elite V2: 1280x720, all options set to Low quality, advanced shadows off, Supersampling off; 1920x1080, All options set to Medium quality, advanced shadows off, Supersampling off; 1920x080, all options set to Ultra quality, Advanced shadows – high, 4x Supersampling.
Power consumption torture testing
We measure the power consumption of each PC base unit when idle, and again while running at its performance limit. During the idle test, the PCs hard drives are still spinning and the power-management features are not enabled. For the full-load torture test, we run Prime 95 to force all CPU processing threads to maximum utilisation and stress system memory. At the same time we run the Geeks3D Furmark benchmark to stress any installed graphics cards. We leave these tests running for 10 minutes, then record the power consumption and the CPU temperature reached.
Because gamers demand the best performance from their hardware, we allow vendors to overclock PCs in this category. We require that any tweaked component is designed for overclocking, and that the PC vendor offers a comprehensive warranty.
We pay close attention to the physical characteristics of each PC, its noise output and its build quality, delving inside the case and taking note of the quality of components used, cabling and airflow.
Differences in warranty terms can impact our scoring. Long warranties are sought after, but we also look at the terms and conditions – specifically, whether faulty PCs must be returned to the vendor at your cost and if both parts and labour are included.
6 best budget gaming PCs 2015 UK
- Reviewed on: 25 August 14
- RRP: £599 inc. VAT
If you can get past the fact that the 4.3GHz clock speed will gain you no bragging rights whatsoever, the Chillblast Fusion Spartacus is actually a rather sensible choice at a very reasonable price. Gaming performance is right up there with the fastest systems you will see.
Read our CHILLBLAST FUSION SPARTACUS review.
- Reviewed on: 28 August 14
- RRP: £599 inc. VAT
If you can't afford the budget-busting Scan 3XS Performance GT and you want to stick to officially sanctioned overclocking methods, then the Dino PC Magmadon GTX 750 Ti is the system for you. Its slower graphics card means it'll never deliver the best gaming performance, but it's still a competitive all round package.
Read our DINO PC MAGMADON GTX 750 TI review.
- Reviewed on: 27 August 14
- RRP: £599 inc. VAT
The Cyberpower infinity Apollo Pro delivers excellent performance and good features at a very competitive price point. The unofficially overclocked H81 Express based motherboard helps keep costs low enough to allow for a speedy graphics card within our assigned budget. Were it not for a couple of failures during testing, this would have been a strong contender for our Best Buy award.
Read our CYBERPOWER INFINITY APOLLO PRO review.
- Reviewed on: 1 September 14
- RRP: £549 inc. VAT
A steal at only £549 for the full system, the Wired2Fire VX-6 performs very well at the lowest overall price of the group. It also packs a speedy hybrid drive which increases overall system responsiveness, although it can't match the gaming speeds of the fastest systems we have tested.
Read our Wired2Fire VX-6 review.
- Reviewed on: 29 August 14
- RRP: £611 inc. VAT
The Scan 3XS Performance GT is a good system to those who can afford it. It offers class-leading graphics performance combined with a high-spec Intel X97 Express-based motherboard which will ensure performance and upgrade capability in the future.
Read our Scan 3XS Performance GT review.
- Reviewed on: 2 September 14
- RRP: £599 inc. VAT
The YoyoTech Warbird RS5 offers a possibly over-ambitious overclock to 4.6GHz, but comes with an SSD – reducing boot times and speeding up game loading – at the expense of a faster graphics card which would deliver better frame rates. It offers excellent build quality and will take on all comers at general application performance, but will ultimately disappoint dedicated gamers.
Read our YoyoTech Warbird RS5 review.