The scrapyard gaming PC challenge

4 weeks ago, my friend Nick challenged me to build the fastest gaming PC possible, for £450. A decent gaming rig usually costs over £1000, so this would be a good test of our hardware and overclocking knowledge. Unable to turn down a challenge, I accepted, and we agreed a prize of £50 Steam credit – and the kudos of building the fastest PC.

The Rules

  • £450 only applies to the PC case and contents (peripherals are excluded).
  • Hardware must be purchased. Use of existing spare hardware is prohibited.
  • Postage is not included. (I don’t remember agreeing to this, but Nick insists I did)
  • Benchmarking will occur on May 4th 2016, and will consist –
  • Each benchmarking tool will be run 3 times, and the best score used.
  • Failure to achieve a score, due to crashing, will result in disqualification.

Getting started

For the first week or so, every conversation I had with Nick was about hardware. We spent all of our free time researching CPUs, RAM, motherboards, cases, PSUs, trying to determine the cheapest combination to deliver the biggest bang for buck. I can remember one evening bidding wildly on an eBay auction, thinking, “Nick is probably the other guy bidding against me!”. In the following days, I read numerous articles about overclocking, and how to squeeze the most performance out of slightly older hardware. Eventually I settled on an i7 4th gen, socket 1150 motherboard, and DDR3 RAM.

First to arrive was the ex-display Gigabyte GA-Z97-D3H motherboard, second-hand 16GB (2x8GB) 2400MHz Corsair Vengeance Pro DDR3 RAM, and second-hand Intel I7 4790K 4.0GHz. Even without a case, I couldn’t wait to power everything up, so I hooked up a spare PSU and took it for a spin…

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Next I ordered a new Corsair Carbide series 200R case with side window, Corsair CX600M PSU (power supply) and Samsung 850 EVO 250GB SSD. My PSU of choice was an EVGA model, however Ebuyer failed to fulfil the order and I was forced to find an alternative. In hindsight, the modular cabling of the CX600M was actually a good choice.

First boot

Installing the motherboard into the case was really easy and only took a few minutes thanks to the intelligent design of the Carbide 200R.

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I compared Windows 7 to Windows 10 benchmarks, and Windows 10 appeared to be marginally faster than Windows 7. So I installed Windows 10, the Gigabyte BIOS/motherboard utilities, Intel Extreme Tuning Utility and CPU-Z. Once Windows was installed, I rebooted and counted 4 seconds from POST to the Windows desktop! The Intel XTU reported the CPU was running hot at 4.3GHz (constant), so I knew the stock fan wasn’t going to cut it, and ordered the budget Corsair H60 CPU water cooler. After installing the H60, I followed this guide from Overclockers.co.uk and managed to achieve 4.7GHz (constant)! Ade (from Overclockers) told me I’d be hard pushed to get a stable higher base clock without removing the CPU’s thermal shielding and fixing the H60 directly to the exposed chip. Maybe I will one day, but not today.

Budget?! What budget?

Meanwhile, over in the other camp, Nick was busy building his gaming PC. I had no idea what hardware he’d bought, but he casually mentioned one day that he may have gone over the £450 budget. Knowing that I still had a graphics card (GPU) to buy, we agreed we could go slightly over budget, but a handicap would be applied to the benchmark results.

I considered my options. I didn’t want an AMD, so it had to be an NVIDIA chipset. I scoured eBay, Craiglist, and Gumtree for deals, and bid on numerous cards – only to be repeatedly outbid or way over budget. In the end, I blew the bloody doors off and bought the ASUS Strix GTX 980 TI. I know it’s not really in the spirit of the scrapyard challenge, but I was running out of time. When it arrived, I skipped the benchmark tools and instead started The Division which was bundled free with the card. Here it is, with the graphics on Ultra – doesn’t it look great.

Nick’s build

Watch Nick as he explains his hardware choices and costs…

Who won?

Read part 2…

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