This system was built for someone who needed a fairly powerful CPU to handle vector calculations for work, and who also wanted to play some games: Counter-Strike Global Offensive and Fortnite (basically a free-to-play PUBG; lots of fun). Oh, and the budget was about $200. Challenge accepted! This may be the best bang-for-buck thing I've ever built ;-)
Vectoring is the kind of workload that benefits from multi-threading, so an i7 was the request for this system. The only way that was going to happen within budget was if I found a used office PC with the right specs at a decent price... voila! Several hours of hunting online turned up a Dell Optiplex 990 SFF, with an i7-2600 and what turned out to be 16GB of RAM, plus a 500GB hard drive and a licensed copy of Windows 7. That was the good news...
The less good news was that the 'S' in SFF stands for 'small', and Dell ain't kidding! This thing is only ~9cm along its smallest dimension. That limits the GPU options pretty severely. Further limiting things is the power supply: 240W, with no PCIe power cables. The i7 covers the work requirement here, but what about the play side of the equation?
Nvidia's latest generation of ultra-budget graphics cards do not suck. I decided to try one: a GT 1030 from Gigabyte, which was low-profile (a must in this case) and passively-cooled, which was nice because I was watching every watt and no GPU fan is one less thing drawing power (even a little bit) to worry about.
At under $100 the card fits not only the case but also the budget, too.
Getting the system up and running was a moderate ordeal but once done, all looked good. Under torture test load (Heaven and Cinebench simultaneously) the system drew ~150W from the wall. Plenty of headroom for the 1030, I hoped...
(Well, I did already know that card only drew ~40W absolute max, so wasn't too worried, but still, that's all coming through the motherboard PCIe x16 slot, and the less stress placed on the Dell power supply, the better I felt.)
And yes, with the 1030 installed, total system power draw under the same load was only ~160W. I used AIDA64 and MSI Afterburner to monitor temps and clocks (CPU and GPU) during stress-testing and actual gaming, and everything was fine: high-ish but acceptable temps and no thermal throttling from either part. From the GT 1030 this was seriously impressive, considering it's crammed into a case with terrible airflow.
What about the actual gaming performance, you ask? Well, in synthetics the 1030 looks piss-weak. It was never going to impress here. Jumping into some actual games though, things look very different.
CS:GO and Fortnite were the two in particular this system needed to handle, and I tested a handful of other eSports titles, just for the info of anyone wondering how this sort of system would run their own favourite game.
The results were again very impressive from the 1030 (check the pics for specifics), which handled everything at 1080p Med or even High with extremely playable framerates. I suck at all these games, but had a lot of fun testing them :-)
So, there you have it: with a lot of bargain-hunting, and a little thought and effort, $200 can get you a system with an i7 capable of computation-heavy work and also a graphics card that'll handle eSports with ease. Who knew?!
Hope you enjoyed this "build" such as it was, and please let me know what you reckon below, or look me up on Facebook where I'm Sensible Systems.