Building or Buying a Budget Gaming PC

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Gamers today are being treated to the newest evolution of games, and this article will demonstrate how the gamer with even the most limited funds can purchase or build a budget gaming PC to suit his or her bank account.

Graphics, textures, sounds, and overall realism are increasing at an exponential rate, and games have transformed from relatively brief and simple experiences that required button mashing and timing into more involved, transformative experiences that take the player on journeys that can last several hundred hours. In addition to the vastly increased involvement and quality, game technology has grown in leaps and bounds over the last decade.

Games like Battlefield 3 and Crysis 2 push the boundaries between fantasy and reality as techniques such as motion capture have become the industry standard, and computer power has increased to the point where it’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference between fantasy and reality. This writer has had several experiences, in fact, where I have been unable to tell if a cinematic was completely computer generated or if live actors were incorporated (and I’m still not sure).

As has become universal over the years, however, as technological advances have risen to new heights of complexity, so too have prices risen along with them. Graphical power used to be provided exclusively by GPUs that were natively integrated onto motherboards, whereas today, for a mere $999, one can purchase Nvidia’s newest creation, the GeForce GTX Titan, a supercomputing beast that delivers 1.48 terraflops of processing power per second.

While a GTX Titan, with its 6GB of DDR5 RAM and dual-core GPU, will deliver unparalleled performance and power, it’s possible to achieve workable and attractive results in games while spending a fraction of what the Titan costs for an entire system.

An Example

Budget Gaming PC
An Example of a Budget Gaming PC

At the time of this writing, I would describe my computer as a budget gaming PC. Inside my tower lies an Nvidia 9800GT that has 512MB DDR3 RAM; a 2.7GHZ Dual-Core Intel CPU; an Asus P5QL-EM motherboard, and 4G of DDR2 RAM. Currently, you could use all of my components to build a serviceable gaming computer for less than $500 (assuming those components are still available and haven’t been discontinued). I have yet to find a game I’m simply unable to play due to noncompatibility or performance issues with my system, from Diablo 3 and Starcraft II, Skyrim, the Mass Effect and Bioshock series, all on high settings (though the SC2 chugs a bit when huge numbers of units are on the screen at once), Battlefield 3 and Star Wars: The Old Republic on medium to high settings, and many more games at varying quality settings.

The purpose of this article is to provide a starting point for those needing to purchase or build a budget gaming PC that can handle the current generation of games being released, as well as those to be released in the near future. While we would all love to be able to fork out $1000 for just a video card, that, unfortunately, is an option for only the most fortunate among us.

Prebuilt PC Gaming Systems

For those who don’t want to go through the work of building a budget gaming PC from scratch, sites such as Directron and New Egg have prebuilt systems that will provide decent performance for $500 to $600 or less.

The Directron FM2 Budget Gamer is, at the time of this writing, $579.99 (shipping and OS not included, though Windows 7 can be preinstalled on the system for an additional $99). The system contains a 3.6GHz Quad-Core AMD A-8 series processor  integrated Radeon HD 7560D graphics, 8GB of DDR3 RAM in two 4GB sticks, a 500GB Sata HDD, a 22x DVD-RW drive, all connected to a Gigabyte GA-F2A85X-UP4 motherboard. The motherboard is capable of supporting up to 64GB of DD3 memory, 7 additional hard disc drives, the entire AMD A/Athalon series of processors, and a huge number of additional graphics cards. While being relatively cheap, the FM2 Budget Gamer could provide an amazing gaming experience on a relatively sparse budget, and it would be capable of upgrading to the highest tier equipment as it becomes available.

For even less, the Directron Budgetmaster PC3 only runs $439.99 at the time of this writing (again, shipping and OS not included). The system contains a 2.7GHz AMD A4 series Dual-Core processor, 8GB of DDR3 memory, integrated AMD Radeon HD 6410D graphics, a 1TB Sata HDD, and a 24x DVD-RW drive, all connected to an ASUS F1A55-M LE motherboard. Similarly, this motherboard is capable of handling a number of upgrades, depending upon the user’s needs and budget, and the system could handle all but the most graphically intensive games at the highest settings.

Newegg also has a variety of high quality systems that are relatively cheap. The CyberpowerPC Gamer Ultra 2140 Desktop PC contains an AMD 6 Core 3.3 GHz processor, 8GB of DDR3 RAM, NVidia GeForce GT 610 graphics with a 1GB GPU, a 500GB SATAII hard disc drive, and a 24x DVD-RW disc drive on an AMD 760G motherboard. This motherboard has less capacity for upgrades as the previously mentioned ones, only able to support 16GB of DDR3 RAM, for instance. That notwithstanding, it is a very beefy system that comes with Windows 8 installed, as well as a gaming mouse and keyboard, for only $499, with free shipping.

Building Your Own Budget Gaming PC

With all the various components that need to be purchased combined with the ever-decreasing prices of prebuilt systems, it’s debatable as to whether building a budget gaming PC yourself is cheaper than buying a prebuilt one. Certainly, the process is more complicated and requires more knowledge of assembling the many pieces of hardware. Building your own system, however, affords you the opportunity to use the exact components you want, from power supply to motherboard. Before purchasing all the various parts, there are a number of things you will need to ensure beforehand.

Compatibility

The main issue of compatibility comes up with motherboards. For instance, you don’t want to end up with 16GB of RAM and a motherboard that only supports 8GB, or triple channel RAM for a board that only supports dual channel. Some motherboards have a limit on the types of processors they can use, whether they only support dual-core or quad-core, while others require certain types of operating systems, even. Many older model motherboards can only operate on 32-bit operating systems, while most newer ones can support both 32 and 64-bit, and certain processors are the same, only able to handle either 32 or 64-bit systems depending on the number of cores. These are all issues that need to be taken into account, among many others.

Powering Your Budget Gaming PC

Obviously, your budget gaming PC will run on electricity that is funneled through your power supply, and said power supply needs to have an output strong enough to handle all the various internal components. Video cards, especially, can be huge power guzzlers. Thankfully, motherboards, video cards, and various other items have their typical power consumption provided on the manufacturer notes, and it’s simply a matter of combining all of them to reach your needed total power. The best rule for power supplies is that it is always better to have too much wattage than not enough. Underpowered computers will act sluggish, have distorted displays with low frame rates, and eventually, parts will begin to burn out. Rather than suffer through that, it’s easier and more optimal to buy a strong enough power supply for your budget gaming PC from the start.

Completion

Most folks who have never cracked open a computer case have no idea how many individual components lie within. An Ethernet card will let you connect to the internet. A video card, or a GPU integrated into your motherboard, will allow you to actually connect your monitor to the tower and see the display. A USB card will provide additional USB slots for things like speakers, microphones, and keyboards. Or, if you want higher quality sound, a good sound card will provide that, and thankfully for audiophiles, high quality sound cards are relatively cheap. Power supplies live up to their name and supply power to everything in the case. Oh, and you mustn’t forget the case. While it is possible to hook up all the components outside of a case just, say, lying on the floor, it’s not an optimal setup. Finally, all of the aforementioned components, as well as several others not mentioned, hook up to the motherboard. Your board will have BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) preinstalled on it, which is the native program installed to make the most basic functions of the motherboard operate. The BIOS is what allows an operating system to be installed and then loads it upon being started up. It controls the fans to keep everything cooled (don’t forget to buy the fans!), and it is where those interested can overclock their systems which involves pushing more performance out of various components than their listed amounts; for instance, taking a 2.7GHz processor and pushing 3.1GHz out of it.

Combining Everything

While building one’s own budget gaming PC can be a very rewarding experience, it is also a very involved process that should only be undertaken after thorough research. Making sure you have all the required components and making sure all those components are compatible with one another, making sure everything has enough power, and making sure, at the very base level, that all your components will physically fit in your case – which is a very real issue many people fail to take into account – are all things that need attention paid to them. Once you’ve assembled everything, however, installed your operating system, downloaded all the necessary programs and updates, and then downloaded and installed and opened your first game, you’ll be able to experience the joy and satisfaction of using a computer you built yourself.

Wrapping Up Your Budget Gaming PC

While both game and computer technology have advanced together at a fairly comparable rate (and prices for both have risen equally), older and less powered models of computers and the internal components have dropped in price at almost the same rate. A video card that cost $400 only 5 years ago probably costs $79 today. Granted, a video card that cost $400 5 years ago won’t have the same performance as a card that costs $400 today, but, for those on a budget and an insatiable need to play computer games, the performance will be more than sufficient. The internet has, in addition to all its other benefits, opened up worldwide marketplaces, giving access to a wealth of products from across the planet to those people who would otherwise have none. The days of having no choice but to browse through a limited selection of overpriced items at your local big box electronics store are no more. With availability has come cheaper and cheaper prices for those wanting to game on a budget.

Shop around. With the nearly infinite availability of systems and components, I have no doubt you’ll find a budget gaming PC you’ll love!

Follow Chris Payne:

Chris is an author and poet, a long-time gamer and computer geek, an astronaut and traveler to the depths of the Earth. He slew the Kraken and fills his time writing articles on PC Gamer Hub for the enjoyment and edification of its millions of readers. Chris is also a noted storyteller, and he tends to leave it up to the reader to decide the truth of things.

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