How hard is it to get a decent gaming PC without breaking the bank? If you go out and buy yourself a pre-assembled name-brand computer, chances are, it won’t be powerful enough to be a viable gaming computer, or you’ll spend a lot more than you would prefer. Essentially, neither of these two possibilities are ideal, and it seems like you have no other options. Maybe if you put it in a little labor into building your own computer, you might be able to find a middle ground where you get decent gaming performance at the right price.
To test this theory, I decided to build a custom gaming rig. The total budget for the entire build? A measly $500. This is a pretty tough challenge, but there’s a reason for it. The main competitor for this build is Alienware’s X51 desktop, which includes a 3.3 GHz Intel Core i3 processor, 6 GB of RAM, a 1 TB hard drive, an 802.11n wireless adapter, and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 645 graphics card. The price of the X51 is $699 with Windows 7/8, or $649 if you opt for Ubuntu. While this is a decent price for an entry-level gaming PC, I definitely think that I can do better for less.
We’ll be giving away this custom budget gaming PC, so there’s no reason not to continue reading right until the end then join the giveaway!
For my build, I decided to use the following parts from Amazon:
- Rosewill Dual Fans MicroATX Mini Tower Computer Case FBM-01 – $29.99
- ASUS M5A78L-M LX PLUS AM3+ AMD 760G Micro ATX AMD Motherboard – $55.99
- AMD FD6300WMHKBOX FX-6300 6-Core Processor Black Edition – $126.69
- Sapphire Radeon HD 7770 GHZ 1 GB DDR5 HDMI/DVI-I/DP PCI-Express Graphics Card 11201-17-20G – $104.99
- Cooler Master eXtreme Power Plus 500W power supply – $36.26
- Kingston HyperX Blu 8GB 1333Mhz DDR3 DIMM memory – $67.80
- Western Digital Green 500 GB 3.5-inch SATA III 64 MB hard drive – $61.99
- Samsung DVD-RW optical drive – $20.15
- Order Total: $503.86*
*prices accurate at time of writing.
Component prices on Amazon fluctuate depending on the vendor, but generally, the total should float around the $500 mark. According to today’s prices, I exceeded my budget by about $4 but at the time of purchase, it only costed $497.
Since this is a custom budget gaming PC build example, I shall explain my reasoning for selecting the aforementioned components:
Rosewill Dual Fans MicroATX Mini Tower Computer Case FBM-01: This case was chosen as more of an afterthought, as the case really doesn’t matter as long as it can house the components you picked out. It’s cheap, it’s sturdy, and it’s not terrible looking. It certainly doesn’t scream “gaming”, but if you’re on such a tight budget, that doesn’t quite matter. Cover it with cool stickers if you feel like it.
ASUS M5A78L-M LX PLUS AM3+ AMD 760G Micro ATX AMD Motherboard: I went with ASUS for the motherboard because I’ve never had any problems with their motherboards and they’re pretty known for reliability (among others, but ASUS is a good choice). This motherboard has everything that I need — AM3+ support for the latest processors, support for up to 8 GB of RAM, a PCI-Express slot, and multiple available SATA ports.
The RAM support is a bit lacking with a maximum of 8 GB and supported speed of 1333 MHz (or 1866 MHz when overclocking), but it’s a sacrifice I had to make. You’re always welcome to overclock the RAM if you’d like, but I enjoy hardware longevity and decided not to enable it as long as I have it. The SATA ports also only go up to 3 Gbps, but that’s fairly irrelevant when it comes to actual gaming performance — it will only affect loading times. On a side note, the motherboard also includes dedicated Radeon graphics that are built onto the motherboard itself, which is nice, but irrelevant since we’ll be using a more powerful dedicated graphics card anyways.
AMD FD6300WMHKBOX FX-6300 6-Core Processor Black Edition: If you’re a computer shopper on a budget, it’s definitely advisable to go with an AMD processor. Although Intel processors generally offer more performance in a CPU, AMD processors have more bang for the buck. With a budget of just $500, we really need to thread carefully so that there’s still enough money to spend on the other vital component — the graphics card.
Originally, I wanted to just get a 4-core processor, but it was pretty much at the same price as this 6-core model, so I just opted for more cores because I didn’t really have to pay more anyway. I didn’t get a more powerful CPU cooling solution because it would have made me go over my budget, plus I don’t plan on overclocking the CPU. If you plan on overclocking, I’d definitely recommend a bigger fan or a water-cooling solution.
Sapphire Radeon HD 7770 GHZ 1 GB DDR5 HDMI/DVI-I/DP PCI-Express Graphics Card 11201-17-20G: AMD and NVIDIA graphics cards are pretty much head to head, so I just stuck with a graphics card from AMD because I have plenty of past experience with those. I actually picked the graphics card last, because I wanted to spend as little as possible on the remaining parts, and then spend the rest of the remaining $500 budget on the graphics card. Placing such an emphasis on the graphics card is important because plenty of games today tend to be GPU-limited, so major improvements in the CPU will only yield an extra frame or two per second at best. With approximately $113 dollars left to spend, the Radeon HD 7770 was the best graphics card I could find. Based on the specs that it includes, it’s already better than the Radeon HD 6950 that I use for my own gaming desktop.
Cooler Master eXtreme Power Plus 500W power supply: Cooler Master is a respected brand for power supplies and cooling, so I gravitated towards their products. With a decent CPU and GPU, I predicted that 500 watts should be more than enough to power the entire system. I could’ve probably gone with a 400 watt power supply without any issues, but I wanted to be completely sure. At just under $45, it’s not a bad price anyways. If you’re unsure about which power supply to get for your custom budget gaming rig, Matt explains everything you need to know about power supplies and how to pick one.
Kingston HyperX Blu 8GB 1333Mhz DDR3 DIMM memory: This set of RAM was the best that I could find that were in line with the motherboard’s specifications. Kingston is a good brand, and the attachments on both sides of each module of RAM helps dissipate heat. The price also wasn’t bad.
Western Digital Green 500 GB 3.5-inch SATA III 64 MB hard drive: I wanted to find a cheap hard drive that would still offer a decent amount of storage. I absolutely love Western Digital hard drives (and absolutely despise Seagate hard drives), so I went with a Green 500 GB. Since loading times are going to be reduced anyways, might as well save some power while we’re at it!
Samsung DVD-RW optical drive: Although it’s becoming increasingly rare to have to use a CD or DVD, I still like to be safe and include one, especially when I have the space in the case to include one. This optical drive is a DVD-RW, so you’ll be able to work with everything except Blu-ray discs. Those optical drives were still rather expensive.
Distinguishing From The Alienware X51
Now that I’ve explained my reasoning for choosing each component, there are a few things to notice that distinguish it from the Alienware X51.
If you’ve noticed, this custom budget gaming PC build does not include a copy of Windows. I did this to reduce the overall cost of the build (Windows licenses can go up to almost $100!) and allow the winner of the build better flexibility when it comes to the operating system. Some people are still on the fence about Windows 8, so offering the option to choose whether they’d like to install Windows 8 or Windows 7 onto the machine is pretty nice. All necessary drivers could be downloaded from the Internet beforehand. Additionally, as Linux has suddenly become a viable gaming platform (hey, Alienware offers multiple models that ship with Ubuntu) you are also free to install a form of Linux onto the system.
The custom budget build ultimately has a better CPU, a better GPU, and more RAM. It has less hard drive storage and lacks a wireless adapter. While 1 TB sounds a lot better than 500 GB, you should still be able to live with 500 GB of storage. Also, the absence of a wireless adapter isn’t a huge issue, as an Ethernet connection is more reliable, generally faster, and more responsive than a wireless configuration anyways.
Putting The Custom Budget Gaming PC Build Together
Building the computer is actually pretty easy as long as you know what to do. Here’s a simple guide help get you started.
Remove both panels of the case to give you as much room as possible to work in.
Screw the metal standoffs into the case in the corresponding holes (the same ones the motherboard ends up using) so that the motherboard won’t be directly touching the side of the case. Place the motherboard on top of the standoffs and screw it in. Make sure that you also have the I/O panel (the back panel where you connect everything) pressed into the back of the panel before screwing in the motherboard. You want the female connectors to be visible and accessible through the holes in the I/O panel.
Plug in the USB connectors and front panel connectors to the bottom of the motherboard. The included manual for the motherboard will tell you which connectors need to go where.
Install the power supply at the top of the case. Screw it into the back of the case so that it doesn’t move.
Connect the 16-pin connector into the motherboard, as well as the 4-pin power connector for the CPU (again, refer to the motherboard manual to locate these).
Install the CPU by placing it into the holder. It can only go one way, so once the CPU “falls” into place, lock it with the lever.
Install the CPU fan by removing the plastic from the bottom (careful, thermal paste is applied that needs to go directly onto the CPU!) and place it onto the CPU. There should be braces on the motherboard surrounding the CPU holder where you can lock the fan into place. Connect the CPU fan to the motherboard (see manual).
Install the RAM modules by placing them into the memory holders and pressing down until you hear a click. One side is shorter than the other so pay attention to which way you’re trying to install them.
Install the optical drive and hard drive by placing them into the 3.5″ bays and screwing them into place. Connect both with SATA power and SATA data cables to the motherboard.
Install the graphics card by fully pressing it into the PCI-Express slot. Screw the back metal plate into the case, and make sure that the 6-pin power connector is attached on the other end of the graphics card to power it fully.
Switch the power supply in the back to the “on” position, and then press the Power button in the front!
If everything went well, your computer should be starting now! If not, don’t worry. Just check each component to ensure that you did everything correctly. Make sure that you look at any appropriate manuals or other instruction pamphlets of each component for highly detailed instructions on installation.
We finally have a custom budget gaming desktop that was cheaper to build than to just buy an Alienware X51! I installed Ubuntu as it’s the most common distribution of Linux and the most recommended distro of game developers like Steam. Of course, to make full use of the graphics card, I also installed AMD’s proprietary graphics drivers (to learn how, read Installed Ubuntu on Your Laptop? 6 Tweaks You’ll Need).
Once I did all that, I installed Team Fortress 2 and Dota 2 via Steam. I also separately installed Urban Terror, another popular game on Linux. The custom budget gaming rig performed very well with these games. The settings for Dota 2 and Urban Terror were set to their maximums and gameplay remained very smooth. Team Fortress 2 also ran without a hitch following the settings recommended by the game — all of which were set to “High” if not the maximums. These results are all very impressive for a computer that costed less than $500.
So, is it worth it to build your own gaming rig? Absolutely! Not only can you save money by not paying the “Alienware” tax (or insert the name of any other brand you’re looking at), but you can set your own budget and ensure that all of the components that you use are of high quality. As you can see, I ended up spending less money for arguably more gaming performance. When buying a preassembled computer, you’re most likely not told what brands they use aside from the CPU and GPU.
How do I win the Custom Budget Gaming PC?
You may enter by submitting your name and email address. You’ll receive one entry simply by doing so.
After that, you’ll also be offered various methods to earn additional entries. They range from sharing a link to this giveaway on social networks; to commenting or visiting a specific page. The more you participate, the higher your chances of winning! You will receive 5 additional entries into the giveaway for every successful referral via your shared links.
This giveaway begins now and ends Friday, August 30. The winner will be selected at random and informed via email.
Congratulations, Colleen Boudreau! You would have received an email from firstname.lastname@example.org. Please respond before November 14 to claim your prize. Enquires beyond this date will not be entertained.