A little time and effort can save you hundreds of pounds compared to high street prices.
These days you can build a very decent gaming PC for far less money than it would cost you to buy one.
Some PC components have gone up in price this year, but you can still make significant savings if you choose to build your own PC rather than buying a pre-built one.
In fact, for less than £300 you can build a great gaming PC that will be able to play all of the latest games on at least medium settings.
I’ll start off by saying that I’m only talking about the base station, not the monitor, keyboard or mouse. I’m going to assume that you already have these.
That being said, if you don’t have them, you can pick up a decent full HD monitor for less than £150, and a basic £10 keyboard and mouse will be sufficient to get you started.
Processor and Motherboard.
Processing power isn’t as important as you’d think for a gaming PC. What’s more important is the graphics card and the amount of memory that you have, but we’ll get to that later.
An AMD processor will prove a lot cheaper than an Intel one, so something like the AMD Athlon II 250 should be fine. This particular processor features two cores, each clocked at 3GHz. A retail version will come with a suitable heatsink and fan, and you should even be able to overclock this processor by 400MHz or so without any issues.
This processor uses an AM3 socket type, so you’d need an AM3 motherboard. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to get basic features like a network port, built in sound card or USB 2 ports, so a cheap Asus unit like the M4A78LT-M will be fine.
This motherboard also has a built in graphics card, though we won’t be making use of it. Importantly, though, it uses DDR3 RAM which gives us some degree of future proofing.
At today’s prices, that brings the cost of the motherboard and processor to: £85.48
The next thing you’re going to want to consider is the amount and type of memory that you use in your system.
Hopefully your board supports DDR3 memory, like the one I used as an example, as this will allow you a greater choice and also allow for larger capacities.
DDR3 comes in several speeds, so it’s important to consider the type of memory that your motherboard supports (check the specifications or the user manual).
4GB is sufficient for most gaming purposes at the moment, though your budget may stretch to 8GB.
It’s best to buy a matched pair of sticks as this makes the best use of your motherboard and also assures that your memory sticks will work well together.
It’s also a good idea to buy “named brand” memory as you can experience compatibility issues with cheaper sticks. Brands like Kingston, Corsair and Patriot are the names to look out for.
This 4GB set of Corsair XMS3 memory will work great on most basic AM3 motherboards, and include heat spreaders to ensure that things don’t get to hot in your case.
The ultimate in gaming performance would mean a solid state hard disk, but sadly our budget isn’t going to stretch that far.
The choice of hard disk will affect the load time of your OS and your games, so it’s important to choose wisely, even though we’re stuck with a traditional hard disk.
Make sure that the rotational speed of the disk is 7200rpm. Older (or cheaper) 5400rpm disks spin slower and will therefore take longer to read and write data.
Also make sure that the disk is not a “green” model. These disks are great for things like mass storage as they draw less power, but they can run a lot slower than other hard disks.
A good example would be something like this Seagate Barracuda 500GB model. 500GB should be more than enough for all of your games, as well as sufficient space for music and video files.
Today’s prices for this RAM and hard disk comes in at:
Which brings the total so far to:
This is one of the most important parts of your new PC.
Graphics cards can be incredibly power hungry, so if you don’t buy a power supply with enough “oomph” then it could end up blowing up when you turn on your computer for the first time.
You’ll also need to pay some attention to the type and amount of connectors that are available on your power supply in order to make sure that it’s suitable for your motherboard and graphics card.
For a basic system of the type we’re building here, a 500W power supply should be more than enough. That being said, you’ll still want to buy a “named brand” unit as the cheaper ones can end up failing even though they should provide enough power.
OCZ, Coolermaster, Antec and XFX are all names that you can trust, I’m selecting a Coolermaster Elite Power unit as it should be more than enough to power this system and it comes with all the power connectors needed for a basic system.
You’re not going to want to spend a lot of money on your case, especially if you’re on a budget.
Thankfully there are a whole bunch of budget cases out there providing your requirements are quite low, which ours are.
Most major component websites will sell their own line of low-end cases, though the truth is that these are just nameless cases bought from factories in the Far East.
That being said, there’s nothing wrong with them, in fact some of them can be quite good.
For this build I’ve settled on an Arianet 2017 Midi tower case. This will have enough room for all of our components, and leaves some space to add more hard disks at a later date if we want to.
Don’t be tempted to spend loads of money on a computer case, especially with a budget as tight as £300. You really do need to focus all of that money on what’s inside the case, the case itself is almost an inconvenience.
Today’s prices for the case and power supply come out at:
Which brings the total spend thus far to:
Now we’re getting to the interesting part.
So far we’ve spent just under £190 on our PC, and we’re going to want to spend most of the rest of the budget on the graphics card.
At the same time we need to keep a little bit of money to one side for any extra components you might want, as well as the cost of shipping, so be wary not to blow the rest of the budget on the graphics.
These day’s there’s only one type of graphics card commonly in use: PCIe (or PCI express). The two main manufacturers of graphics processor are ATI and Nvidia. Which card you choose is really a matter of preference.
My card of choice, right now, would be a card based on the ATI Radeon 6770 graphics chip. I can personally vouch that this card will run almost any game that’s currently available, most of the time on high settings and at full HD resolutions.
This particular card is made by XFX and uses the Radeon 6770 chip. It also has 1GB of dedicated graphics memory, so should fly.
If you would prefer to buy an Nvidia card then one featuring the GeForce 450 graphics chip will give reasonable levels of performance. If your budget stretches to it then opt for one with the Geforce 460 chip as these are much better, but at the time of writing they are just out of our price range.
My personal preference at the moment is to use ATI graphics cards. In recent years Nvidia have produced cards that run very hot and use much more power than their ATI counterparts. PC components wear out quicker when they are hotter, so I choose longevity over a slight performance edge.
Today’s price for the above graphics card is:
Which brings the total to:
There are a couple of things missing from our PC at this point, not least of which is some sort of optical drive.
I’ve purposefully built some contingency into this PC build for things like this, as everyone’s needs and preferences will be different.
Personally, I don’t bother with fitting any form of optical drive to my own PC’s as most of the games I play are bought through online services such as Steam. If you do want a DVD-writer, though, you can pick one up for less than £15.
Other components you might consider are a WiFi card, or maybe you could spend the extra money on a better keyboard and mouse.
Hopefully the last few pages have shown you that it’s entirely possible to build a new gaming machine from scratch for less than £300.
By prioritising your money on the key components (graphics card and memory) you can produce a system that will handle anything that you can throw at it, and will probably be usable for the next three or four years.
That being said, there are several things that have been left out of this build. For one, there is no operating system installed. The reason for this is that a lot of people will have a valid Windows 7 license already. If you don’t, then you’ll need to add around another £75 for a copy of Windows 7 Home Premium.
If Windows isn’t your thing (or if you just can’t afford it), then there’s always Linux, which is free. The problem here is that most games are written for Windows, so it may be an additional cost that you have to budget for.
I’ve also given no consideration to your monitor, on the understanding that you already have one. If you don’t then another £100 will need to be found if you want to take advantage of your new PC with a 20″ widescreen.
At the end of the day, if you’re comfortable with building a PC then this is a great way to save some money. An equivalent system on the high street would cost around £450-500, so the savings are significant.
You also retain a degree of future proofing as your machine will be upgradable for some time to come. A processor upgrade to one of the latest quad core CPU’s would cost less than £100, and graphics card updates can prove quite cheap as well, providing you sell your old card on to someone else.
Finally, although I’ve used examples from online one online source, it’s important to remember that there are plenty of other resellers available online. In my experience, Aria usually have some of the best prices around and also have a great selection of components.
It’s also important to consider the shipping costs; buying each component separately may seem like the cheapest option, but add in the postage costs for each item and it can sometimes work out cheaper to buy from one reseller, even if some of the components aren’t the cheapest.
The closing message for this article is to at least consider building your own PC, it can be a daunting task to begin with, but it really isn’t that difficult, and there’s a ton of information available on the Internet regarding how to do it.