Can a £300 gaming PC compare to a £3,000 one?

We pit a cheap gaming PC against a high-end rig

Rig one

Three thousand pounds has rarely looked so humble

rig one

This ladies and gentlemen, is what dreams are made of. You may have thought that this much cash would get you a computer core a little more sexy looking, but we're not interested in basic looks here, oh no, the beauty of this rig is very much on the inside.

The main components we've considered vital to the gaming experience are the graphics card, processor and SSD. The other components we've used could easily be replaced with similar models and aren't quite so vital.

We've gone into a little detail on those other components purely for system completeness. It's all decent kit, just not essential for the testing.

Processor

Core i7

Intel Core i7 3960X
Price: £800

Intel hasn't seen a lot of competition at the high-end recently. This has left us feeling underwhelmed by this, it's latest processor. That doesn't take too much away from the fact that it's the fastest darn slice of silicon money can buy though and here there's no other choice.

That big chunk of notes gets you six physical cores to play with, capable of handling 12 threads concurrently. The basic frequency clocks in at 3.33GHz, capable of hitting 3.9GHz in Turbo mode. You also get a healthy 15MB of L3 cache and support for quad-channel DDR3 RAM.

Motherboard

AsRock X79 Extreme4
Price: £175

Asrock X79

This may not be the best example of the plethora of X79 motherboards around but it just goes to show that you don't need the most expensive board to get serious performance out of your pricey CPU purchase.

That said it won't give you the same sort of overclocking performance as the Asus pairing of RoG Rampage and Sabertooth X79 boards, but when you're spending that much on a chip do you want to shorten its life by waving the overclocking stick at it? This sub-£200 board then is a decent partner and home for your Sandy Bridge E processor.

Graphics card

AMD Radeon HD 7970
Price: £454

Radeon 7970

Right now this is the fastest single-GPU graphics card on the market bar none. In fact it actually gives the dual-GPU cards a run for their money too. It may be a pricey ol' beast but it almost has the performance chops to make you forget about the price. It also does some smart power play too, keeping power draw low in down time.

But while it is definitively the fastest card right now, the performance lead over the last generation isn't great enough for us to think it's going to still be the fastest once Nvidia gets its Kepler cards out on the shelves.

Memory

Corsair Vengeance 1,866MHz
Price: £125

Vengeance

The jury is still out on how important an advantage the quad-channel memory of the X79 platform is, but if bandwidth is your bag then this awesome Corsair kit is a definite winning pack.

Rated at 1,866MHz out of the box, the Corsair kit is a doddle to set up, mainly thanks to the only real benefit of the latest quad-channel RAM kits. That's the latest iteration of the XMP initiative and means you don't have to go through the minutiae of your board's BIOS in order to make sure you're getting the most out of each of your modules. The XMP 1.3 technology then is a God-send.

Storage

OCZ RevoDrive 3 X2
Price: £1,324

Revodrive

Storage technology has had a major speed bump over the last few years thanks to the advances in SSDs. Your straight SATA-based drives are quick enough, but if you want crazy speeds then a PCIe-based device like the RevoDrive is the only way to go.

OCZ's current RevoDrive uses the latest controllers from SandForce to create the ultimate in desktop storage. At 480GB it's also easily big enough to use as the main boot drive in your machine without having to worry about what applications or games you have installed on it. And boy does it make your PC react quickly.

Power supply

Corsair AX 1200
Price: £210

AX 1200

Corsair has moved into a whole host of new markets, most recently with its excellent new peripherals. But its old school areas of expertise, that of memory and PSUs, are still very much in evidence.

The AX 1200 is one of the finest PSUs we've ever tested. It's a little chunky but is still incredibly efficient and displays minimal electrical interference at either 75 or 100 per cent loads. It can also be quite loud compared with other 1,000 watt (and above) power supplies. This is a supply yearning for a multi-GPU setup, but has enough efficiency for any load.

Rig two

We may be talking last gen but this rig still packs a punch

rig two

This machine is obviously not as technically-gifted as the previous system, but then its core components also cost around the same sort of price as the single graphics card we've opted for in Rig One. Should you buy the makings of a full PC or a Radeon HD 7970?

Again, the main focus here is the graphics card, processor and storage, in terms of gaming. The quad-core AMD chip at its heart will deliver a healthy chunk of gaming performance and when paired with a £100 HD 6850 you're looking at impressive pixel-pushing chops.

The HDD may seem a little retro, but it doesn't hold things back too much.

Processor

AMD Phenom II X4 960T Black Edition
Price: £101

Phenom II

As much as AMD wants you to believe that its latest Bulldozer architecture is the way forward, realistically an eight-core Phenom would have it beaten. The old Phenom II then, though not world-beating, is still a decent bargain quad and can be encouraged to hit 4GHz.

You could pick up a Sandy Bridge CPU for around the same money, but then you're looking at a dual-core CPU with zero over-clocking potential. This Phenom II X4 965 is a fully-fledged quad-core and so gives a decent balance between gaming pedigree and general computing.

Motherboard

Gigabyte GA-970A-UD3
Price: £82

Gigabyte 970

This AMD 970-based motherboard from Gigabyte is one of the few concessions to future-proofing that we allowed. It may not be the top-end 990 platform, but the 970 is still a capable platform and has that AM3+ socket, which means that Bulldozer or Piledriver will fit the board when it's time to upgrade.

But until then it's still a great home for the Phenom II chip and will also allow for an X6 upgrade too should you feel the need for those extra two cores. It's DDR3 compatible too, though lacking SATA 6Gbps but it does offer a decent shot at overclocking.

Graphics card

AMD Radeon HD 6850
Price: £103

Radeon 6850

We aren't too proud to change our opinions on a product if subsequent changes warrant it. And AMD's HD 6850 was a card we took an immediate dislike to originally, but it's fast become a budget favourite.

When it was first released it wasn't that fast for AMD's asking price. At around £100 though you're getting a rather powerful little graphics card, capable of hurling polygons around a medium resolution screen at quite a rate. In fact, it can even do a job at full 1,920 x 1,080 resolutions too. The latest driver releases have also given it a noticeable speed boost.

Memory

G.Skill Trident DDR3
Price: £36

G.Skill trident

There's a reason that only the X58 and X79 platforms use triple or quad-channel memory and that's because as essentially server components they rely on bandwidth. For the rest of us the old school dual-channel DDR3 is all the memory we need.

G.Skill has produced some of our favourite memory over the last couple of years with the RipJawsX kit being our current favourite thanks to its hefty overclocking chops. This Trident kit is cheaper and already comes rated at 2,000MHz. And we all know what faster memory means, just a plain better PC experience.

Storage

Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000
Price: £80

deskstar

The Hitachi Deskstar was the first 1TB HDD that we ever saw in the PCF offices, what a momentous day that was. Despite the 3TB mark being available in other drives, it's no longer an issue of capacity with storage, now it's all about speed. Or is it?

As much as having your PC turn on in 30 seconds is eminently desirable, a decently capacious SSD is frighteningly expensive. The SSD on the previous pages was half the size for around 17 times the price, for example. If you're on a tight budget, and have a little patience in your soul, then the humble hard drive will still do the job.

Read the full Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000 review

Power supply

Cooler Master Silent Pro 800W
Price: £99

silent pro

As much as you might baulk at paying £100 for a power supply, if you drop a ton on this PSU you'll find yourself the proud owner of one of the finest power supplies on the market. At 800W it's far more than this system needs, but that's not a problem for the Cooler Master supply as it's still very efficient even at the lower end of its load spectrum.

The unit's Silent Pro moniker isn't just for show either, it's easily one of the quietest PSUs we've ever tested. Looking down at the more technical tests too it comes out tops with almost zero interference when running.

Read the full Cooler Master Silent Pro 800W review