Getting that gaming build on the cheap
Gaming computers are seemingly not a cut above consoles, more that they are straight different from consoles. The amount of money I have seen people put into a PC to further enhance that ‘gaming experience’ can amount to several thousand pounds. Conversely, I have seen people gaming on the most ancient of Laptops, held together with duct tape and hope and cooled by blocks of Ice.
Experience varies greatly depending on your build and how much money you invest into it. With this guide, the aim is to get you on the right path. I shall show you how to get your build done from pretty much start to near finish and save the money that companies will take for simply putting parts together for you for the ultimate gaming tower.
So let us start on the biggest factor.
Budget is the killer of power on most builds. Every budget is different and you have to understand that on PC the more money you put in, the better experience you get out and the more games you can play. When thinking budget, you need to consider the following components of the build:
- The tower. This is going to include the case, motherboard, processor, graphics card, RAM, hard drives and a DVD drive. The majority of your money is likely to go here.
- The monitor. Remember that you are going to be looking at this for the whole time gaming, so figure out which screen size you want.
- The peripherals. This is normally just your keyboard and mouse though you may wish to consider speakers or headphones to improve the gaming experience.
- Everything you don’t consider. This may be odd to consider as, by its definition, you cannot consider it, however, there will be things you haven’t considered that you need to cover in your build, such as Operating System and the risk of trying to purchase a part out of stock.
From this consider how much you can spend on your build. If you find some good bargains £400 will get you a solid ‘console killer’ PC. However, for more indie gaming you can get away with less.
So you have whatever budget, you desire. From here we go to step 2.
So now you have to decide on what the tower is going to have. This is going to be the powerhouse here and scrimping is going to cause almost all of the damage.
For this I recommend going to PC Parts Picker. The site PC Part Picker is a phenomenal resource for making a PC for yourself. You can look through builds made by other people and either create a build from scratch or work off one of the completed builds and modify it to your liking/budget. The site has a whole host of incredibly useful features. The best one I found was the power indicator which gave a recommended wattage for your components allowing the purchase of the best power supply available. Other useful features include a compatible algorithm which automatically removes parts which are not compatible with components you already have selected. Here are some tips whilst hunting through:
- For cost-effectiveness AMD is recommended over Intel. You can buy a decent six core processor for less than £100. Try to avoid APUs and stick to CPUs only.
- Motherboards will come in various sizes. Unless you desire to build quite a small tower stick with an ATX board to allow room whilst installing and good airflow. A decent ATX motherboard should cost around £50.
- Most games nowadays recommend 8GB RAM to play. Try to look for 2x4GB sticks of budget RAM without purchasing some suspicious Unbranded model. Ram comes in various speeds so aim for what you can afford for the budget set.
- A Graphics Card is where most of your build money will be spent, more so than probably any other part of your build. If possible look for a 3GB card, although 2GB will run a large number of modern games still.
- For most budget builds a decent 1TB hard drive will suffice. Look for Seagate or Western Digital for a good quality model around £50. If you can splash out, consider getting a 120GB+ SSD for your OS and other important programs and a 1TB HDD for games as the SSD will speed up computer boot time and OS functions.
- A DVD drive is useful to have as most companies still offer the disk product for less than the digital download despite the fact a large number of companies simply put a product code within the disk. A DVD drive can be bought for around a tenner and is definitely worth the investment.
- If you’re using PC Parts Picker, you should have a recommended wattage. Aim comfortably above this to give a little room for any parts that want to draw a little more power and Overclocking or upgrading opportunities in the future.
- When looking at a case, look for something which you like the look of as you will be looking at the case most of the time. Be sure the case also has plenty of room for installing cables and has a few extra peripheral ports, such as USB ports or an audio jack in the front of the case.
Remember once again to make sure the parts you have bought are compatible with each other. I would assume it is galling to spend a large sum of money on a completely useless part which will become nothing more than a doorstop.
One point to consider here is how the case will be cooled. Computer parts without adequate cooling will, unsurprisingly overheat under heavy load and can begin to ‘thermal throttle’ to prevent damage which can harm performance. Most cases come with 1 or 2 fans built in and as long as the computer is kept clean and not locked away in a cabinet both of them with the stock CPU cooler should suffice.
So hopefully you’ve done some research, looked at some builds and decided upon an epic tower, which combines beauty and budget in a way which pleases you. From here we need to look at a possibly even more important part.
A monitor is almost a more important part than any other. You will be looking at this part and using this part more than anything else, so choosing something pleasing to the eye is worthwhile. Here there are two options:
Option one is to buy a PC monitor. This is generally the safest option. Here the aim is to get a 60Hz monitor which can support 1080p, written as 1920×1080, with an input which is supported by your card, likely HDMI. The only major change to cost here will be the monitor size. A decent 21.5” monitor will cost around £70 and you can push to a 24” monitor for around £30 more.
Option two is to buy a TV as a monitor. This can seem beneficial as you can get a lot more screen size for your money. However, most TV’s have a lower pixel density than a dedicated PC monitor, so when sitting close the image will appear less defined than on a similar sized monitor.
So you’ve hunted around and found yourself a monitor that you can survive looking at for prolonged periods of time. Next we go on to your input interface.
Peripheral for most people are just a keyboard and mouse. However, as gamers, we much also consider the audio experience as well.
Keyboard and mice you can get surprisingly cheap these days. Companies like Element Gaming (who I recommend highly) produce gaming-oriented peripherals at budget prices. Even if you cannot get a gaming mouse and keyboard a regular keyboard and mouse can suffice.
For the audio end of peripheral I recommend looking at an article I wrote for Invision Gaming Community on what is right for you. There I go into far more detail than I ever could hear about what you can get for your money.
Odds are that you have not thought of everything for your build. People tend to omit things such as Operating Systems, cables, and other parts which are insignificant until you do not have them. Operating System aside, you should not have to spend too much here so do not worry about this breaking the bank.
At this point you should have your whole build planned out. You should know what’s going in the tower; what monitor to get; what keyboard and mouse you want and how every penny of you build is going to be spent. Now brace for the even more gruelling, yet possibly fun part.
Saving the money
There are several ways that, even before buying a single part you can start saving yourself some money. I was lucky enough when building my current tower to have a few godly bouts of luck which saved me plenty on my build and still leaving me with a high-quality computer. So here are a few ways to save some money before you begin purchasing parts:
- Head round some second-hand stores, charity shops and recycling centres and hunt for good quality second hand parts. Several retail stores work on pawn or trade-in such as CEX and can have second-hand parts which you can save money by using over a new part. Recycling centres may have refurbished PC monitors going for a bargain or Pawn shops may have a TV for a competitive price. I personally bought my monitor (A refurbished Samsung Syncmaster T260HD, part of a line of TV’s Samsung sold with a pixel density matching computer monitors) for £50 from a recycling centre local to me. At the same time a friend of mine bought a refurbished Alienware PC there and a 32” TV as a bundle for £400. Online sites such as Gumtree can also yield good results, though here more than any other check that the parts are in working order before forking out money.
- Check with friends to see if they are selling any parts off or considering upgrading. I bought my current graphics card (R9 200 3GB I think) off my housemate for £80 rather than forking around £200 for a new one at the time as he was conveniently upgrading.
- Look around at retail websites such as Amazon, Ebuyer and Aria to see if they have any deals on. Depending on your luck and how close to Christmas you are purchasing parts you could possibly acquire better hardware for the same or less price than the hardware you chose. Hunt carefully and be sure to check any parts you decide over previously chosen parts are compatible with your build.
How much can this help? Quite a lot if luck is in your favour. I began building my gaming/music production PC at the beginning of 2015 with a budget of roughly £600. In the end the cost totalled around £750 thanks to some monetary influx, allowing some more expensive parts. I saved money on several areas, though. My monitor as mentioned earlier was bought from a recycling centre as a refurbishment for £50 and works perfectly giving me 1920×1200, a small step above 1080p. My 1TB hard drive was given to me by my father as he had a spare from some upgrading we have done at Christmastime. My keyboard, mouse and headset were all kindly given to me by Element Gaming for review, and my Graphics card was bought off a friend for a fraction of the retail price. In total I saved around £300 over buying the parts outright.
So there you have it. With some careful planning and my hopefully helpful advice you are likely looking at a much better quality build than you could have hoped for within your budget. Remember to look hard and be certain of the parts before you buy, and you will end up with a beautiful gaming PC ready for whatever game takes your fancy. For help putting the actual components together, I recommend looking at one of the many instructional videos on YouTube from people such as Linus Tech Tips, or paying a trusted tech-savvy friend in beer to build it for you. Any spare coin you have, if you don’t wish to just save it, can be put into a few nicer components such as silent fans or a prettier case.
Building your own PC, you should find, is a cheaper and far more satisfying experience hitting the power button for the first time than splashing out on some pre-built expensive trash. Gaming can be better on PC for not much money if you know where to look and with this guide you should know where to look.
Guest Post from Thomas Lashbrook at Invision Community