Big Performance, Tiny Budget
Every month, computers are quicker than ever before, but the gap between the most and least powerful is becoming wider as well. Many of the tasks that users ask of their PCs do not require cutting edge hardware. Even gaming does not always demand the best of the best, as many enjoyable titles can be played with affordable video cards.
Building a budget computer is relatively easy today, but it does require realistic expectations and goals. If you'd like to build a computer for $500, that's fine. It will perform well. An issue occurs only when that same budget PC is used to play Crysis 2 at 1080p or encode a high-resolution video file. These are tasks not enjoyable on your typical budget box, and if you go in expecting satisfactory performance in these situations, you'll never be satisfied.
If you spend your money, however, you can end up with 80% of the performance of a high-end computer at 50% of the cost. You simply need to invest in the right areas. Below, we'll review each important category of components and I'll point you in the direction of articles that save you money.
Computer cases are important, and should generally be of high quality no matter what type of PC you're building. However, in a budget box you can save some cash by going for a less expensive case. You may not be able to fit as many fans or components, but since you're not going to be buying a lot of high-performance hardware, this shouldn't be an issue. There are in fact some cases that you can purchase for less than $60 that are component. Check out our case guides below for more.
- The Top 3 Budget PC Cases
- How to Choose a Desktop PC Case
- Antec NSK6850 Case Review
- Cooler Master 360 Case Review
- Best HTPC PC Cases
Although we're on a budget, it's still important to grab a solid processor. The processor contributes more to general PC performance than any other component, so while a $50 Sempron or Intel Celeron may seem like a nice deal, you're receive more bang for your buck if you increase your processor budget to about $100. This will make it possible to afford entry-level Core i3 processors, or an AMD Athlon Quad-Core.
The fight between Intel and AMD is fierce in this price bracket, and frankly, it's hard to name a clear-cut winner. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. AMD does provide a wider selection of products, but that's the only definitive advantage on side has over the other. I recommend that you read our processor guides and decide a winner for yourself.
- Core i3 Performance Review
- Core 2 Duo vs. Core i3: A Comparison
- Core i3 vs. Core i5: What's the Difference?
- Intel Processor Speeds Explained
- Decoding Compatibility Between AMD Socket A Processors
- AMD Processor Brands Explained
- Dual Core vs. Quad Core Processors
- What's the Best Processor for Video Editing?
Motherboards are another place where you can save money on a budget build, as less expensive motherboards don't impact performance significantly. You may lose some features, such as USB 3.0 or easy processor overclocking, but these are necessary sacrifices for budget buyers. The guides below highlight some of the best budget mobos on the market.
- How to Find a Good Motherboard
- Best Intel H55 Motherboards
- Best Intel H67 Motherboards
- Best AMD AM3 Motherboards
- Best AMD A75 Motherboards
If you're looking to game, a video card is often a good idea, even for a budget computer. Despite what you may have heard, it's not difficult to game on a budget. The only catch is that you can't expect to max out the detail settings of every game you play, although you may be able to max out some older but popular titles. Team Fortress 2 and World of Warcraft are examples of games that can easily run at max detail on cards costing $100 or less.
Depending on your needs, you may not even need a video card. Some of AMD's latest processors, called Fusion processors, have a built-in Radeon graphics processor. Although far from the quickest available, it is adequete for basic gaming.
- How to Choose the Best Video Card for your Gaming System
- Understanding Motherboard Graphics Card Compatibility
- AMD Fusion A-Series Review
Hard Drives and RAM
When it comes to RAM, the general rule continues to be that four gigabytes is the best compromise between budget and performance. Although two gigabytes is fine for very basic tasks, four gigabytes gives you the extra memory required for more demanding applications.
Budget hard drives are still ruled by mechanical devices. While solid state drives are quick, their price-per-gigabyte is far too high for a budget box.
- The Complete Guide to Hard Drives
- Western Digital vs Seagate Hard Drives
- Mechanical vs Solid State Hard Drives
- The Best Hard Drive and RAM for a Budget Computer
- Best Desktop Storage Buys for the Money
Peripherals, Add-on Cards, and More
While the sections above cover the basics of a new computer, there is more. You may also want to choose a sound card, a RAID card, and of course you'll need a keyboard and a mouse.
- The Top 5 Budget Sound Cards
- The Top 5 Mid-Range Sound Cards
- How to Choose a Stable Sound Card For Your PC
- What Can Motherboard RAID Do For You?
- Choosing a Budget RAID Card
- Best Ergonomic Keyboards
- Microsoft's Best Wireless Mice
- How to Pick a Computer Monitor
- The Best Widescreen LCD Monitors
- The Best Gaming Headsets
- How to Choose the Best Power Supply
Conclusion – Additional Guides
In this guide I've wrapped a lot of information about budget computers into a tight package. However, this is not the only general guide for building a budget PC that you'll find a Bright Hub. Other articles approach the topic from more specific angles. Scan the content below and see if it catches your eye – we may already have an article that fits your specific needs.
- How to Be Thrifty When Buying Computer Components
- Recycling Old Computer Components
- Budget PC Gaming Peripherals