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For the money, Nvidia produces the best graphics cards (GPU) around. But you need to build a computer to put the GPU in. And that can get expensive. Fortunately, we’ve covered the best ways to keep computer building costs down and more.

We’ll start with doing a bit of research, discuss overclocking, then move on to choosing specific components. After that’ll, we’ll share some tips for getting the best deals on those parts.

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Estimate Your Budget

Budgeting is an important first step. Just saying you want to build a “cheap” gaming PC How to Build an 8-Core Gaming PC from Cheap Server Parts How to Build an 8-Core Gaming PC from Cheap Server Parts Want a beefed-up gaming or video-editing PC with dual Intel Xeon processors for under $200? The parts are out there, but finding and putting them together could prove difficult. Read More isn’t enough. Do you have $500 to spend? $700? $1,000? How you define “cheap” will make a big difference in the quality of the computer you end up building. Putting together a PC for less than $500 is certainly possible, but you’ll have to make some big compromises.

Also, you may benefit from being a little flexible on your budget, at least when it comes to two components. The GPU and CPU offer significant performance returns, per dollar spent. But you may need to spend a bit more to get them. So set a guideline budget, and keep it in mind when you start picking out your components.

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Two of the most useful PC-building tools are ChooseMyPC and PCPartPicker’s build guides. These two sites help find and build the best PC for your money. They’ll also ensure that your parts are compatible with each other.

Decide Which Games You Want to Play

What games do you play? Different types of games demand different hardware. For example, strategy games don’t require the graphical horsepower of first-person shooters. But they may be better served by a more powerful processor or more RAM. If you’re happy playing games released a couple of years ago, the requirements will be notably lower on both the CPU and GPU end.

Keep in mind, too, that games offer different graphics settings 7 Common Video Game Graphics Settings Explained 7 Common Video Game Graphics Settings Explained Don't know what those settings on your video games are all about? Let us explain what they mean and how they affect your games! Read More . Adjusting a game’s settings can let you play AAA titles on budget hardware. There are limits to how low a game’s graphics can scale down, but a good rule of thumb is that the minimum graphics settings equal the minimum system requirements. The recommended settings are normally the hardware specs that you want.

If you play strategy games, but you want to play a shooter now and then, a slightly less powerful graphics card might be a good decision. A $100 card easily handles strategy games, and you can dial down the graphics settings on the shooters to keep them running smoothly.

You can usually find system requirements on Amazon or Steam, but if you’re having trouble, just search for “[game title] system requirements.” They’ll be posted somewhere. Here’s an example of the system requirements for Dishonored 2:

Let’s look at the minimum requirements for a moment. You can get an Intel Core i5-2400 for about $160 on Amazon, and an acceptable Nvidia GTX graphics card for around $110. The recommended requirements, however, would run you closer to $550 for a processor and graphics card. Plus it offers twice as much RAM — that’s a big difference. Think of a handful of games that you’ll play shortly after building up your PC. Look at both sets of requirements, and keep them in mind when you’re selecting components.

To Overclock or Not to Overclock?

Overclocking — it always comes up when you discuss budget PC builds. In a nutshell, overclocking is the process of telling different parts of your computer (normally the processor or GPU) to run faster. Is it a good idea? Maybe. While overclocking your processor or your graphics card provides better performance, it comes with a cost. Overclocking causes greater power draw and heat production. That can potentially shorten the life of your components.

Image Credit: Christoph Burgstedt via Shutterstock

However, moderate overclocking isn’t likely to overly stress your PC. If you keep the increase in speed to a reasonable level, you don’t have to worry too much about damage. You’ll want to take the extra heat into account when determining the level of cooling you’re going to put into your case, though. An extra fan or a water-cooling system will definitely help keep your components functioning properly. It also may require additional wattage from your power supply unit.

If you’re trying to save as much money as possible, overclocking will help you squeeze every ounce of power possible out of your machine. Can’t afford to build the PC you’d need to play the games you want? Overclocking is a good way to go. If you don’t have to overclock, I’d recommend not doing it. Wait until you need some extra power, then overclock your processor and your graphics card. That way you decrease the chances of over-working your components.

And if you decide to overclock your components, do it safely How to Safely Overclock Your GPU to Gain FPS How to Safely Overclock Your GPU to Gain FPS Overclocking can make your PC perform at clock speeds one generation above its release. If done right, it's safe and easy. We'll show you how to get a GPU performance boost for free. Read More .

Choose a Graphics Card

Now that you have an idea of what you’re able to spend, and an idea of what sort of system you’ll need, we can start looking at specific components. We’re going to look at Nvidia graphics cards Nvidia Graphics Cards: Which One Is Right for You? Nvidia Graphics Cards: Which One Is Right for You? Nvidia graphics cards are the most popular for a reason. But which model should you buy and why? We explain the jargon, the cards, and their performance. Read More  for our example. Why not AMD cards? Because Nvidia cards provide slightly better value in the mid- and high-end range and require less wattage (and a less expensive power supply). If you’re a diehard AMD fan, by all means, get an AMD card — they’re comparable.

There’s a good chance your graphics card will be the most expensive part of your PC, so you’ll want to make the most of every dollar. If you’ve looked at a number of games that interest you, you’ll probably have an idea of the sort of card you’ll need. Most modern games will need a GTX-level card, and one with at least 2 GB of RAM. The GTX 1050 will satisfy these requirements for less than $150.

Of course, using the cheapest card means it becomes obsolete sooner rather than later. So instead, we’ll look at the Nvidia GeForce graphics cards that give you the best value. According to VideoCardBenchmark.net, the GeForce GTX 1050 is the second-highest-value card in the Nvidia lineup. It’s second to the GTX 1060’s 3 GB, but just ahead of the GTX 1050 Ti’s 4 GB.

The $150 GTX 1050 Ti is a phenomenal deal for a card with 4 GB of GDDR5 RAM. The price, memory, and speed put it in a sweet spot of great value and decent longevity. If you’re able to spend more money, stepping up to the GTX 1060 is a great choice. For $250 or so, you’ll get 6 GB of RAM and a big boost in performance. The 1060 will go quite a few years before becoming obsolete. And when it comes down to it, $250 for a graphics card is a really good deal.

Third-Party Manufacturers

Nvidia sells very few reference (or “standard”) graphics cards. Instead, you’ll see modified versions sold by companies like EVGA, Gigabyte, MSI, and ASUS. There are a few minor differences, but in general, they offer very similar cards. Their cooling systems are different: some pack a single fan, while others provide two. Some also offer overclocked cards that are already set up to provide maximum power. EVGA, a single manufacturer, sells no less than 10 different versions of the GTX 1060.

It can be easy to get caught up in the minute differences between these cards. But if you don’t need to create a gaming PC that’s going to make the absolute most out of every watt of power, don’t worry too much about it. Every company is developing strong technologies that keep your card running smoothly, providing a lot of graphics power, and running at a sustainable temperature.

If there’s one difference you look at, check out the listed clock speed. This is basically the speed at which the graphics card runs. The Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1060, for example, has a base clock speed of 1556 MHz. MSI’s version reports a base clock speed of 1594 MHz. Is that going to make a notable difference? Probably not. If you see a large discrepancy, do some further research. And consult the price performance chart on VideoCardBenchmarkTest.net to see which cards offer the best value.

The Absolute Minimum

If you’re looking to build a gaming PC on a shoestring budget, be sure to look carefully into the specs of the graphics card you buy. One of the most important components is the RAM used by the GPU, often known as GDDR5 SDRAM (double data rate type five synchronous graphics random access memory). GDDR5 is slower than GDDR5X. Also, make sure it has the ports you need — HDMI has become the standard for video output Video Cables Explained: Difference Between VGA, DVI, and HDMI Ports Video Cables Explained: Difference Between VGA, DVI, and HDMI Ports There are so many video cables out there and it can get confusing. VGA, DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort -- what's the difference and why do they even matter? Read More , but if you own an older monitor, you may need a VGA port.

Image Credit: Hiroyuki Takeda via Flickr

And remember that the graphics card is the real muscle of your PC. You can cut costs elsewhere, but be wary of low-priced graphics cards. They’ll really drag down the performance of your machine. Nvidia’s GTX 1050 is a high-value card at $150, and it’s going to be tough to go much lower than that without making some big compromises in graphics. If you’re playing lower-spec games, a GTX 950 will work, but you’ll pay almost as much.

Choose a Processor

The biggest decision you’ll make is which graphics card to use. After that, all choices become much easier. For example, choosing a processor is largely a question of looking at the system requirements of your games. If the minimum requirements say you need an Intel Core i5, for example, an Intel Core i3 may not cut it. Keep in mind that some games will provide requirements in the form of GHz speed, and you’ll need to check that any potential processor for your build.

Fortunately, good-enough processors cost less than a GTX 1070. An Intel i5-6500 with 3.2 GHz of processing speed, for example, costs about $200 on Amazon. That’s a great gaming processor that will last for years before it shows its age.

Intel has had a strong hold on mid-level and high-end processors for quite a while now, with AMD being more common at the low end (or for console VR rigs AMD's New Plan: Make Virtual Reality Cheaper for You AMD's New Plan: Make Virtual Reality Cheaper for You AMD seems to be switching gears in 2016, and if all goes well, they're going to be a big player in the virtual reality market. Read More ). AMD’s new Ryzen chips, however, are showing decent marks for gaming. At the time of this writing, only a handful have released, so there’s no real-world data to back that up. If the Ryzen chips do show strong gaming performance, however, pairing an AMD chip with an Nvidia graphics card could be a good way to get a lot of value for your money.

Until then, however, Intel is likely the way to go. The processing power you’re going to need to power modern video games is where Intel’s Core chips really shine.

And, of course, the more powerful chip you have, the longer it will be able to play the newest games.

Choose RAM

In 2015, Hardware Secrets ran a very interesting test, playing eight PC games with three different amounts of RAM. They tested Battlefield 4Dirt RallyDragon Age: InquisitionDying LightGrand Theft Auto VMetal Gear Solid V: The Phantom PainMetro: Last Light, and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt on machines with 4 GB, 8 GB, and 16 GB of RAM. Intuition tells us that 16 GB of RAM would always be better.

Image Credit: Georgii Shipin via Shutterstock

The results, however, showed that 4 GB of RAM was almost always just as good as 8 or 16 GB. In fact, 4 GB out-performed higher amounts of RAM in a few cases. How could this be? Hardware Secrets pointed out that the heaviest lifting is performed by the graphics card, not RAM. They also speculated that with lower amounts of RAM, some game features might not be loaded.

Whatever the reason, the fact remains that you don’t need to buy the absolute biggest and fastest RAM you can find. 8 GB is plenty for modern gaming How Much RAM Do You Really Need? How Much RAM Do You Really Need? RAM is like short term memory. The more you multitask, the more you need. Find out how much your computer has, how to get the most out of it, or how to get more. Read More , even at relatively high graphics settings. Of course, the more you have, the more you can do. 16 GB will let you run more programs in the background while you’re playing a game, for example. And future games may require more RAM.

If you’re looking for the best deal, though, get a single stick of 8 GB DDR4 RAM. It will give you performance close to that of dual sticks for less than $50. And adding more RAM in the future is easy.

Choose a Motherboard

Let’s keep this simple. A motherboard is very important because it links all of your various parts together. But as long as it can do that, you don’t need to worry about too much else for a budget build.

Check to make sure it supports your processor. There are different types of sockets for different brands and generations of CPUs, and the most recent Intel processor socket is LGA 1151, so there’s a good chance you’ll need to look for that. Check to make sure it supports DDR4 RAM (or DDR3, if you’re using that). Compare the ports that it has to the port required for your graphics card — usually PCIe x16. Beyond that, you don’t need to worry much about the differences.

Image Credit: cp2studio via Shutterstock

Sure, you can spring for a gaming motherboard that supports higher-quality sound or provides advanced networking features. But unless you have a pretty big budget for your gaming PC, your money will be better spent elsewhere. It’s easy to get a very capable motherboard for less than $100. (Though buying a higher-end one will give you added upgrade capabilities, like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity.)

When you choose your motherboard, be sure to note what size it is. ATX (large), Mini-ITX (small), and microATX (medium) are all common, and they’ll determine the type of case you need. Also, keep in mind that Mini-ITX and microATX options offer fewer ports and sockets. They’ll almost certainly have enough for a budget build, but double-check to be sure.

Choose Drives

What are you going to store your data on? Will you choose a fast solid-state drive (SSD), or a slower but much larger hard drive (HDD)? Many gamers opt for one of each, using the SSD for the operating system and games that get played often and the HDD for backup files, other types of data, or older games. SSDs are faster, but they offer significantly less space for the same amount of money.

Image Credit: Hadrian via Shutterstock

A 480 GB SSD will likely only cost you a little over $100, while a 1 TB HDD will be closer to $50. If you can’t get both, the HDD will likely be a better deal, as it will take longer to fill it up. And while an SSD is faster, it won’t make a difference to your actual gaming experience. Your computer will boot up faster and games will load more quickly, but the majority of your gaming will be handled by your graphics card.

Choose a Power Supply Unit (PSU)

All of these components need power. Which means you’re going to need a power supply that meets their needs. How do you figure out how much power you need? There are plenty of different PSU calculators available — PowerSupplyCalculator.net gives you many different options and lets you tweak values. If you’re building a budget machine, there’s a chance you’re interested in overclocking, and this calculator lets you take that into account.

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Simply put in the various components you’ve selected, and the calculator will tell you how much power you need. While choosing a lower power PSU will help you save on energy costs (no small matter if you plan on using your PC many hours a day), leaving yourself some room is a good idea. If you decide to overclock or upgrade your components, you’ll need more power. Starting out with a PSU that gives you some room means you won’t have to replace it.

Beyond that, it’s simply a matter of finding a PSU from a reputable company. If it provides the power you need, offers a good warranty, and is rated gold or above, go for it. Even a high-powered unit in the 750W range will be less than $90. Also, a modular power supply will be easier to set up and deal with than a non-modular one. Check which one you’re getting, and if you have the opportunity, go for modular.

Choose a Case

A case is arguably the least important part that you’ll choose (though that doesn’t mean it’s not important). Getting something cool looking is nice, but budget builds demand performance over aesthetics. In short, all you need is something that will fit your motherboard and graphics card.

Here’s where you need to know the size of your motherboard. A case that only fits miniATX is going to be way too small for your ATX board. Most full-size cases also support the smaller boards, though.

The same goes with your graphics card. Some of the higher-end ones with extensive third-party cooling systems can be absolutely monstrous. The larger ones are over a foot long. On a budget build, you almost certainly don’t have to worry about this. But you should check it out anyway. Manufacturers will tell you how long their cards are, as seen here:

You might have to do some looking around to figure out how much space the case has, however. If you have a 10″ graphics card and the case is 18″ long, you don’t have to worry. But if you’re getting close to the length of the case, you may want to find someone who has measured the space available. This is often available in the questions and answers section of Amazon.

Beyond that, make sure that your case has room for at least one extra fan (in case you decide to upgrade the cooling system in the future), and that’s about it. Spending more money gets you better cable management possibilities, more room, compatibility with specific cooling systems, and other features that you probably don’t need to worry about on a budget.

Image Credit: Bplanet via Shutterstock

Double-Check Compatibility

If you used PCPartPicker or another similar tool earlier in the process, you probably already know that your parts are compatible. But it never hurts to double-check. Go to www.pcpartpicker.com and put all of your components into the System Build window. If it warns you that there are incompatibilities, click the See Details link and see which parts are conflicting. Make any adjustments to your plan that are necessary.

It’s much easier to do this before you place your orders.

Here’s What My Budget PC Build Looks Like

Total Price: $974

How to Save Money on Components

Once you’ve decided on the parts you’re going to use, it’s time to buy them. But don’t just go to Amazon and order them all — take your time and you’ll save a lot more money 3 Simple Ways to Save Money When Building a New Computer 3 Simple Ways to Save Money When Building a New Computer There are a few tips and tricks you should know to save even more money when building a PC. Read More . Use price comparison sites 7 Price Comparison Websites You Should Bookmark Right Now 7 Price Comparison Websites You Should Bookmark Right Now Price comparison websites help you find the item you want at the lowest price possible. Read More , for example, to see who’s offering the best price. Try a few coupon-clipping extensions 10 Money-Saving Browser Extensions That You Should Install Now 10 Money-Saving Browser Extensions That You Should Install Now There are plenty of browser extensions that will compare prices, find coupons, and save you money. Install these 10 extensions now and watch the savings roll in! Read More to see if there are specials deals on the sites you’re using.

And look for signup bonuses! When I bought some of my own components from Jet.com, they were offering 15 percent off of three orders, up to $200, for first-time buyers. That saved me quite a bit of money.

Be sure to check the third-party seller list on Amazon, too. I saved $30 or so when I bought a motherboard because a seller was offering a new board with some damage to the packaging. It was unopened, although the box was scratched up a bit. There’s no reason not to take advantage of these types of offers. Most lightly used components, if they’ve been taken care of, will work as well. Just be sure to test them before you buy. There are lots of other good ways to save on Amazon 10 Super Ways to Save When Shopping on Amazon 10 Super Ways to Save When Shopping on Amazon There are plenty of ways to save some bucks when shopping on Amazon that you may or may not know about. Read More — take advantage of them!

The best way to save money is to pick the parts that provide the most value. But beyond that, you can probably save some extra, too. A gaming PC doesn’t have to break the bank, and if you do your research and consider multiple options, it can be downright affordable!

How do you choose your own PC components? Where do you shop to save money? And what advice would you give to others looking to do the same? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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  1. Jezwinni
    March 17, 2017 at 2:04 pm

    Why not consider AMD cards?

    Makes the article a bit of a joke tbh, that is the main area of competition in the gaming pc market and just to dismiss it entirely is either ultimate fanboyism or totally retarded!

    You start off talking about a cheap gaming PC but then dismiss AMD cards because "Nvidia cards provide slightly better value in the mid- and high-end range". That contradicts making a gaming Pc as cheap as you can.

    I am not a fanboy of either side but somebody reading this who wants to mainly play Ashes of Singularity or Hitman is going to be better off getting a rx480 than a gtx 1060.

    I think what is the most laughable thing about the gaming "community" is this fanboyism, at least it is usually the common place within the comment sections the journo's are usually a tad more subtle!

    • Dann Albright
      March 29, 2017 at 3:33 pm

      An article on choosing AMD or Nvidia could take up at least this much room, and that's not the point of the article. The point of the article is how to build up a cheap gaming PC. The discussion of AMD vs. Nvidia is better left to an entirely different article that can give more detail to the small differences between the two.