A Gaming PC Without Breaking The Bank

As a Software Engineer, I like to be able to try, and be updated, about all sort of software, including games engines and modern Virtual Reality applications.

While going console would’ve trapped my money behind gaming only, and I’m not even such a great gamer, a PC would’ve easily expanded possibilities beyond mere gaming entertainment.

Choosing components strongly supported by Open Source drivers, would’ve also brought for free many extra years of Operating Systems support to the table, giving my investment a duration in time boost.


Budget Goal: £600,00

Considering that some graphic card costs £600,00 by itself, having a whole gaming PC under such price seems quite a great deal, right?

Let’s check out these PC’s full specifications:

Being Steam available for Linux, and being AMD hardware fully supported by Open Source drivers, including ongoing improvements over the recent Vulkan API, there’s no reason to spend extra money for the Operating System: any modern Linux distribution would work out of the box.

I’ve personally installed Arch Linux with GNOME, and I’ll tell you more about it later on, but if you are new to the OS world, I suggest Linux Mint or any other Debian derived distribution, including Ubuntu: you won’t be disappointed!

Last, but not least, if you really want to spend extra £100,00 for a Windows 10 license, I can assure you everything in the specs will work out of the box.


AMD 6350 with Wraith cooler

All I can say about this CPU is that it’s really good enough. If you want to spend more for the 8350 or the 8370, do not expect such huge gaming performance boost.

The Wraith cooler is kinda quiet, surely better than old cooler, but under intense CPU tasks it’s not as quiet as a be quiet! pure rock would be.

I ended up spending 25 extra bucks for the Pure Rock, which despite its size it perfectly fits in the chosen case, but I honestly could’ve easily survived with the original cooler too.

AMD Radeon RX480

This is a powerful little beast. I’ve been away from games for the last 10+ years and I couldn’t believe how beautifully stunning these became!

Playing games like Valley has been initially breathtaking and there are only few cases where the maximum quality configuration made this PC sweat.

This GPU is packed with latest technologies for Virtual Reality and most advanced games. It’s probably one of the best value GPU cards ever made.

I’ve chosen the MSI model just to match against the Motherboard, and a 4GB version would probably be as good. There are many models out there, all not too expensive, but definitively powerful.

AMDGPU Open Source drivers are as good as native Catalyst and the Vulkan support is getting better and better on weekly basis. Don’t forget Vulkan is an Open Source standard and a cross GPU effort: it’s a future-safe bet.

“Vulkan in just one sentence? The endless war between performance and portability is finally over!” Dean Sekulic

Motherboards for AMD FX™

There are few as-cheap-as alternatives out there, what matters is to understand that PCI-Express 3 is compatible with PCI-Express 2 sockets and similarly fast, and that Sata 6GB is not always present on these mobo.

DDR3 vs DDR4 is a benchmarks enthusiasts debate, with low impact on real-world applications. Finally, being AMD CPUs quite outdated, all Sockets AM3+ should work without issues with 125W AMD “Vishera” editions.

HyperX FURY RAM & SSD

I’ve bought already in different occasions products branded HyperX and so far I’ve never been disappointed: good money for value and excellent performance.

While I believe 16 Gb of RAM should be more than enough, considering in this configuration there are also 8Gb of super fast RAM within the GPU, if you like to have all the games in your main SSD, 256 Gb aren’t probably enough, just a decent starting point for daily activities and a few games too.

A secondary hybrid disk with 1Tb or more storage is usually what cool kids use these days, but I’ve found that overkill for a budget gaming PC.

If you’re a “max two or three games played per time” kind of person, you really don’t need to spend for extra space.

Aerocool PSU and Case

Similarly to HyperX brand, Aerocool usually delivers good quality products at competitive prices.

A 500W PSU could’ve been probably enough, but the price wasn’t too different and I’d like to keep future extensibility doors open.

Same goes for the case, which beside being a very good looking one, has room for much more than just this configuration.

Please note: even if the PSU connector has 8 male, and the Power one on the mobo has only 4 female, you can use half of the connector to provide enough power to switch the mobo on.


Arch Linux via Syslinux on AMD Hardware

I was hoping archibold.io installer would’ve worked out of the box here, truth is I’ve learned quite a lot about booting an AMD based platform and TL;DR archibold ain’t gonna work.

Update

It does work, just ignore UEFI but create an UEFI like system and you’re good to go.

As of Syslinux 6.03, “pure 64-bits”, compression and/or encryption are not supported. — Syslinux Wiki

There are at least two possible solutions to this problem:

  • disable the “64bit” feature when creating ext4 volumes via -O ^64bit when mke2fs is run (not my cup of tea)
  • use a UEFI like configuration through a ~100Mb FAT32 partition (better)

The sequence of commands would be the following:

fdisk /dev/sdX
  • Type o. This will clear out any partitions on the drive.
  • Type n, then p for primary, 1 for the first partition on the drive, press ENTER to accept the default first sector, then type +100M for the last sector.
  • Type t, then c to set the first partition to type W95 FAT32 (LBA).
  • Type n, then p for primary, 2 for the second partition on the drive, and then press ENTER twice to accept the default first and last sector or, if you’d like a Swap, create just Swap space and repeat with partition 3 this very same step
  • Write the partition table and exit by typing w.
mkfs.vfat /dev/sdX1
mkfs.ext4 /dev/sdX2 # or /dev/sdX3 if you created a swap

At this point I usually mount the ext4 partition and create a boot folder to put syslinux on it later on.

mount /dev/sdX2 /mnt # or /dev/sdX3 if you have a swap
mkdir -p /mnt/boot/syslinux
mount /dev/sdX1 /mnt/boot
pacstrap /mnt base sudo syslinux gptfdisk arch-install-scripts networkmanager
arch-chroot /mnt /bin/bash
syslinux-install_update -ia
mkinitcpio -p linux
echo 'TIMEOUT 10
PROMPT 0
DEFAULT arch
LABEL arch
LINUX /boot/vmlinuz-linux
INITRD /boot/initramfs-linux.img
APPEND root=/dev/sdX2 rw edd=off
' > /boot/syslinux/syslinux.cfg

Please note this is not a full How To Install Arch Linux kind of post, just a quick summary of what’s different from usual install.

Disabled edd and no usage of UEFI was, in this case, mandatory to make the disk boot as expected (and in a couple of seconds, it’s that fast!)

GNOME And GPU Driver

I wouldn’t go for the proprietary and unofficial pro driver, it gave me black screen and it’s apparently still not supported by the kernel 4.8.

mesa-libg, vulkan-radeon, and eventually xf86-video-amdgpu are all you need to enjoy the power of this RX480 little beast.

Bear in mind Steam might have weird x,y coordinates if GNOME is Wayland based, instead of Xorg one.


An Alternative from ZOTAC

Not sold to the public yet, the announced Magnus ERX480 mini PC offers basically this very same configuration but in a small-factor format and an Intel CPU. I believe the price will be around £750,00 without OS pre installed, and with 8GB of RAM, but if you don’t have space for a proper Case and you prefer an Intel CPU which will surely keep power consumption lower than AMD, keep an eye on this product.

Which Screen ?

The Radeon RX 480 shines on Full HD resolution. If you want to play games at 4K resolution, I am afraid you’ll need to rethink your budget.

As Summary

In 1998 I used to work extra time as Computer Shop technician, and I’ve assembled I’ve no idea how many PCs in my life.

Seeing components still being basically the same, except finally you can put an Open Source Operating System on top and also play games with extreme graphic performances, made me happy enough to believe this post would’ve been appreciated, specially to myth-bust that Linux is still not ready for Desktop and yada-yada talks from outdated “field specialists”.

Christmas is also coming soon, maybe it’s time to try again games and a new Operating System for a change in 2016?