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Build a Killer Linux Gaming Machine for $430

Posted by Josh Klint, 04 October 2013 · 592 views

Several people have asked me for my hardware recommendations for a new Linux gaming machine. I get rather frustrated by PC manufacturers who load computers up with expensive Intel CPUs and extra RAM you don't need, and then forget to include a graphics card. Or they proclaim PC gaming is not deadand proudly announce their "gaming machine" with a shoddy GPU, that costs more than my first car. I've been building my own PCs since high school, and I know you can build a PC with superior performance and lower prices than the garbage PC vendors are selling today. So I am writing this article to tell you what I would buy if I wanted to build a high-quality future-proof gaming PC with big performance on a small budget.

These components were chosen to give great performance at an affordable price, with maximum upgradability. I expect this computer would run any PC game today with maximum settings at 1920x1080 resolution. Components were chosen specifically for gaming, thus more importance is placed on the GPU and the CPU is relatively more lightweight. If you do not want to assemble the components yourself, any computer shop will do it for less than $100. I only chose components from reputable brands I have purchased hardware from before, no cheap brands or refurbished parts.

For Linux gaming, I recommend buying AMD CPUs. The integrated graphics chips in Intel CPUs may cause problems with detection of a discrete graphics card and make it very difficult to install graphics drivers. AMD CPUs also give a better price/performance ratio with somewhat slower single-threaded speeds at a much lower price. For gaming, the single-threaded CPU speed isn't actually that important since the intensive tasks like rendering and occlusion culling are typically offloaded onto the GPU, and modern game engines like Leadwerksmake extensive use of multi-threading.

Disclaimer: I have not built a machine with these exact components. I am not responsible if it doesn't work, do so at your own risk, blah, blah, blah. Now on to the parts...

Motherboard
Asus M5A78L-M LX3 Desktop Motherboard (Socket AM3+):
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813131935
Price: $44.99

CPU
AMD FX-4300
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819113287
Price: $109.99

RAM
Corsair 4GB DDR3
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820233349
Price: $39.99

Graphics Card
MSI Nvidia GEForce 650
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814127703
Price: $94.99

Case
Cooler Master Elite 350 with 500w power supply
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811119269
Price: $59.99

Hard drive
Seagate Barracuda 500GB
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822148767
Price: $59.99

Optical drive
ASUS DVD Writer
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16827135305
Price: $19.99

Total cost: $429.93

Other cost-cutting tips
  • If you have any old computer, chances are you can reuse the hard drive, memory, optical drive, and even the case. Eliminating these items would bring the cost down to a ridiculously affordable $249.97.
  • I could have got the price down to about $350 if I used really cheap parts, but I don't recommend doing this.
  • TigerDirect.com may have some prices even lower than NewEgg.com, but I find their pricing information to be confusing. I don't ever consider manufacturer rebates, since you have no guarantee you will ever actually receive a check.
Improving performance:
  • If you want better performance, invest in the graphics card. When shopping for graphics cards, just look at the number of "Cuda Cores". This will give you a pretty linear estimate of performance. (On ATI cards divide the number of "stream processors" by five and that is equivalent. But I don't recommend buying an ATI card for Linux gaming at this time.) My next choice up would be the Nvidia GEForce 670, which provides 1344 Cuda Cores versus the 650's 384, at a price of $299.99:
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814121707
  • If I were to upgrade the CPU, I would get the FX-8320, which only costs $159.99 and gives the best price/performance ratio, according to cpubenchmark.net:
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819113285
  • An SSD will significantly improve game load times, and will generally make your computer feel much snappier whenever files are accessed. However, the prices are still high compared to hard drives, like this 256 gb PNY SSD for $179.99:
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820178456
Conclusion
The companies selling PCs don't seem to have a clue about gaming hardware requirements. Fortunately, you can build your own gaming rig and get better performance for much less money than anything they are selling. A good gaming PC doesn't need to be expensive. My recommended build here costs less than $430, and can be less than $250 if you have any spare parts lying around or an old computer you can cannibalize.

The upgradability of the PC means future upgrades can cost very little and add significant performance to your hardware. My suggestions for improving performance would raise the price by about $365, giving you a mid-high machine for $795. I don't recommend buying the very highest-end parts because the price/performance balance just isn't there, and a year from now whatever you bought will be second-best anyways.

When you're done building your killer Linux gaming machine, remember to take the money you didn't spend on Windows and use it to buy some great Linux games.




Your ATI cores tip only applied on the 5xxx and before series as that was VLIW5 arch, the 6xxx series switched to VLIW4 (so divide by 4) and the 7xxx series and beyond on, Graphics Core Next (GCN), are scalar Compute Units (like NV's CUDA Cores) and as such division no longer applies as they are in line with NV's setup.

You don't need a 256GB SSD for gaming, though. Especially since Linux takes less space than Windows in general, you can get away with even smaller SSD's. Hell, I have a 120GB SSD for my Linux OS, I've had it for more than a year now and it's still only 20% full. I would grab a small SSD anyway if you have a few bucks to spare, even if just for the operating system, definitely a QoL matter but the improvement was well worth every penny for me at least.

Your ATI cores tip only applied on the 5xxx and before series as that was VLIW5 arch, the 6xxx series switched to VLIW4 (so divide by 4) and the 7xxx series and beyond on, Graphics Core Next (GCN), are scalar Compute Units (like NV's CUDA Cores) and as such division no longer applies as they are in line with NV's setup.

Thanks!

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