Everything you need to build a cheap gaming pc – 2021

everything you need to build a cheap gaming pc

Table of Contents

You can build your own computer, but it’s not always possible to have a new and shiny custom-built computer.

It’s good to know that you don’t have to own one of these devices in order for you can play games.

You might be able to get a decent gaming computer for $400-500, but it is possible to find a cheaper option if you have limited funds. It is better to buy refurbished computers. Although you might find a bargain gaming PC on Craigslist for a small sum, it’s possible to get more bang for your buck by purchasing a used office computer.

You’re correct, with a few upgrades, the Dell towers littering office buildings around the globe can be turned into gaming rigs. They are likely to be in your community, as businesses and schools often dispose of large quantities.

Your loss is their gain–let’s bring one such suckers back to life.

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What you will get

You need to establish your expectations before you begin looking for hardware. A low-end computer like the Dell Optiplex that I tested won’t run the most recent triple-A titles at high resolutions and with stunning raytraced graphics, even with a few upgrades. However, it can handle many lower-requirement titles such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and League of Legends. It also supports Rocket League, Overwatch, Fortnite, Overwatch, Fortnite, Overwatch and Overwatch. Higher-end games such as Shadow of the Tomb Raider may be possible depending on the upgrades that you make. If you are willing to lower the resolution to 720p, you might still be able to play them. (If you have any problems, the YouTube channel LowSpecGamer offers many tricks to play newer games below the system requirements.

Although it doesn’t seem like much, with some love, this baby can help you win hundreds upon battles. Whitson Gordon

You can also grab games from years ago at a Steam Sale and enjoy them with no problems, for a super low price. You don’t have to play the most recent graphical marvels on launch day. There are many stores that offer classic games like GOG.com.

This PC is not a long-term investment. Consider it a temporary solution until you have the funds to buy a better build. It’s an old and well-used computer, so it is not a long-term investment. You can only make it as far as you want before it becomes more cost-effective to build a brand new one. You may need to do some maintenance. Be prepared to fix any problems that arise and keep a backup copy of your data.

If you find all of this appealing, it is time to go deal hunting.

Where to find your parts

There are many places to find cheap parts for PCs online, but you will likely find the best deals in your local area. I suggest that you walk the streets and find your local electronics recycle centers, office lichidators and thrift shops. Give them a call or stop by to see what type of used PCs they have. You can also ask local businesses and schools if they are looking to sell any of their old gear.

This will allow you to locate many of the components that you need, but not all. You can search Craigslist and OfferUp for anything you don’t see at an ewaste center. You can also use amazon. However, the site has a larger audience so stuff tends to be sold at a fair market price. You’re trying to save money on a computer, so the market price may not be what you are looking for. Instead, you want a local seller willing to make a great deal to get your PC. You can even get some gaming parts free . But I wouldn’t be too hesitant to say no, especially if you need stuff that works well.

Local buying allows you to try the equipment before paying. Ask the seller to have the equipment plugged in before you arrive to pick it up. This will allow you to check if it boots into Windows. Also, you can run CrystalDiskInfo and see if it is still in good condition. It’s not common for companies to remove hard drives from computers before disposing of them. If it doesn’t, you can check if the computer boots into the BIOS or . You can then take the computer home and begin your upgrades if everything is working properly.

Buyer protection is available through online sales such as eBay. This protects you if the component goes wrong. You won’t have recourse if you get a defective component from Craigslist. So, it’s important to consider your risk tolerance and your budget before listing.

What to look for

It is a good idea to plan everything before you go shopping for your PC. We assume you have an idea of the steps involved in building a gaming computer. The first step is to determine your budget and then find the right parts for you. My goal was to make something for $100. But, because I love a challenge, I will also lay out parts at different prices for those with more money.

The tower

This is basically what saved the poor tower of a PC from running Excel in an endless loop. Whitson Gordon

There are many types of office-oriented computers, but the Dell Optiplex is the most common and I recommend it for this purpose. You can also use a Compaq, HP, or Lenovo machine with similar specs at a reasonable price. However, they are more difficult to find. It is best to look for a second-generation Intel Core i5 CPU. The four-digit number following i5 begins with a 2, so an i3 may work, but you should avoid Core 2 Quads or other lower-end CPUs.

These office computers also come in various forms. A larger “mini-tower” is better than a smaller, slimmer model. It will be easier to fit a graphics card and power supply. You can find a small rig at a bargain price, but you will need to shop for low-profile graphics cards, or jury-rig the case with a PCI Express riser.

Consider your future plans for upgrading this machine. You don’t have to worry about future upgrades if you are just building a PC for a quick fix. If you plan to add more power to your build, it is worth narrowing down your search to models with a 24-pin power socket. These office PCs have a smaller, nonstandard 8-pin power connector. This means that you won’t ever be able to upgrade the power supply. Although it is not necessary, many people will be able to use the included power supply with a low-power graphics cards like the one I am using. However, it is nice to have that option in the future. There are many 8-pin to 24 pin adapters available, but I hesitate to use power supply adapters such as these because they are often cheaply or poorly made.

Although it sounds like there are many caveats, you will quickly spot them when you look through the photos at Craigslist or the shelves at the electronic waste center. There were a few options in San Diego, but I settled on a Craigslisted Dell Optiplex 9010 which met all my requirements and cost only $50. Although it didn’t come with a hard drive but that was a minor drawback, it was still the best deal I could find. A hard drive is an inexpensive addition.

You must be patient. While you may not find the best deal today, tomorrow or next week, if you keep your eyes open and negotiate hard, you will eventually find the perfect system at an unbelievable price.

Graphics card 

The NVIDIA GTX 650 is a great value for money. Whitson Gordon

A typical office PC will do the job for most tasks, but it won’t be able to handle gaming tasks. You’ll need a dedicated graphics card. You’ll need to search the used market for the best deals. This is an area where ewaste centers may not have the right equipment, but eBay might.

An NVIDIA GTX 650 can be found at a very affordable price. They usually retail for $35 on eBay. Although it’s a bit old, you might be able to get away with using it. Titles such as CS:GO and League of Legends should run well at 1080p. Games like Fortnite, Overwatch and Rocket League will require you to lower the resolution a little bit. It’s a great choice to get something like the ASUS model, as it doesn’t need a 6-pin power supply connection (which most office computers don’t have).

An NVIDIA GTX750 Ti is even better if you can find it. This build would work well with a GTX 750 Ti. This build can beat most esports titles and is capable of surviving in high-end triple-A games. I found this Zotac Model for $50 on OfferUp in San Diego. I was able to negotiate down to $30, which is a great deal. If you don’t need to upgrade your power supply, it is important that there is no 6-pin socket.

A low-profile card is best for smaller computers. The NVIDIA GPU GT 1030, which has a power rating of approximately the same as the cards above, is very popular. The market price is $50 for the more expensive models. However, you may be able get it cheaper locally if you are patient.

The more cards you have, the more you can play. For example, you could buy an AMD RX460 or 560 card for about $65, or a GTX950, 960 or 1050 Ti for $100. For slimmer desktops, the 1050 Ti can also be purchased without a 6-pin connector and in a low profile shape. You will need to add a stronger power supply at this point. This will increase your setup’s cost. A $200 rig powered with a GTX 1050Ti is still a great value.

Although you can move up the chain, the old CPU that was in the computer’s salvage will soon become a bottleneck. This means that your performance won’t improve enough to justify the expense. You might also want to build a new PC rather than using an old office rig.

Other hardware (and software)

Companies tend to delete hard drives before disposing off their computers. This means that you will likely need to buy a new one. Whitson Gordon

There are some other things to be aware of if you have more money or your computer is missing certain components.

  • Storage: Many used computers don’t include a hard drive. You’ll need to purchase one. There are a few options: You can get a 500GB HDD for $25, but it will be slow. A lower-capacity SSD with a higher speed, like this 128GB PNY model, is recommended if you are efficient with your storage. If you have the money, buy one of each. Use the SSD to store your boot drive and your spinning drive to save your files. You can find towers that have storage. If it does not, you can test it with CrystalDiskInfo. If it is failing, you might be able to negotiate a lower price to cover the cost of the drive.
  • An operating systems: To install Windows, you’ll need a flash drive of 5GB. If you don’t own one, borrow one. You will only use it for a few hours. Nearly all these computers should have a Windows license in the form a 25-digit key printed on a sticker on the tower. It’s unlikely that yours has a Windows license. Windows is about $100 per computer. You don’t have to worry if you intend to run Linux, but most people will want Windows for gaming.
  • A keyboard, monitor and mouse: We assume you already have a monitor, keyboard and mouse. If you don’t have an old monitor, mouse and keyboard, you’ll be able to find them in the same ewaste centers or classified apps as the tower. You’ll just need a budget. If you are willing to spend more, there are plenty of “gaming” keyboards and mice on Amazon.
  • A network connection: My computer didn’t have WiFi. This was fine as I intended to use the more reliable Ethernet connection for internet access. If Ethernet is not an option and your PC does not have Wi-Fi, then you will need a PCI (or USB Wi-Fi) receiver to access the internet. These can be purchased either new or used on Amazon.
  • A better power source: While the 295-watt power supply in my Dell Optiplex was sufficient for my GTX 750 Ti GTX 750 Ti, I think it’s borderline. It’s worth upgrading to a better model, such as this EVGA 450-watt unit. You’ll find your system more stable because it has more headroom for your hardware and a 6-pin connector. This will also give you more options when it comes to graphics cards.
  • You might need more RAM: If you have a 4GB RAM-equipped office computer, it will be sufficient. However, this is not what I recommend for a Windows system. You can buy an additional 4GB on the used market for as low as $10, thanks to the DDR3 standard. It’s worth it, especially if you intend to open a lot more browser tabs and play higher-end games.

There isn’t much you need, but rubbing alcohol might be helpful for cleaning the case and a cloth to clean any dust from internal components.

Make your upgrades and install Windows

Once you have your hardware, it’s time for you to start building your computer. This guide has already shown you how to make a PC. I won’t be holding your hand through every step, but I will highlight some things to keep in mind when using Optiplex-like office computers.

 

Let’s move on to the easy part. Whitson Gordon

I ended up with a Dell Optiplex 9010 for $50 that houses an Intel Core i5-3470 processor, 4GB RAM, and no hard disk. A GTX 750T I bought for $30 and an SSD that I received from a friend while he was out of town were added to my purchase. However, let’s assume I paid $20. This comes out to $100 for my final setup. If you have $50 extra, I recommend adding a little more RAM and a new PSU.

Although my Optiplex was clean enough, I did give it a thorough cleaning with some rubbing alcohol, a microfiber cloth and some sandpaper to remove any remaining sticker gunk. However, you should not remove the Windows license sticker. I removed the side panel and expelled the dust bunnies using a dustblower. Finally, I gently wiped the fans clean with a dry cloth. An electric air brush is a great option. Although canned air is also possible, it can be harmful to the environment so I do not recommend it.

Ventilation fans can accumulate a lot dust and are often gross. It deserves tender love and attention. Whitson Gordon

You will need to attach a new power supply before installing any other hardware. Remove the four screws from the back of your PC. Unplug any rainbow cables (if necessary) and then swap in the new one.

Next, take your SSD or hard drive and insert the SATA cable. The SSD I used was able to hang it out of the DVD drive’s place. However, if you have a traditional hard drive you will need to insert the SATA cable into the caddy and then slide it into its cage. The blue caddy was not included with my particular Optiplex, but they are available for $4 on eBay.

You should not leave your hard drive unattended. Instead, secure it with a few screws. Whitson Gordon

Next, place your graphics card into the top PCIe slot of the motherboard. Make sure it is securely in place. If you have extra RAM, put it in a separate slot. If you’re not sure which slot to use, your RAM must be in the correct slot. You can find the information on the manufacturer’s site, e.g. Dell.com.

Yes, it can all seem a bit overwhelming. You can find your manual online if you need assistance. Whitson Gordon

You will need to use Microsoft’s Media Creation Tool to create the Windows installer on another Windows PC before you can continue. This process will take some time so start it now and let it run while your next steps are completed.

You can now plug your computer in to the wall, connect your keyboard, mouse and monitor, then fire it up. You’ll need to look for any text on the screen that reads “Press DEL to Enter Setup” or “Press F12 to Boot Options.” Once you have entered the UEFI/BIOS menu, make sure to double-check a few settings. If you are using an operating system that doesn’t support this feature, make sure your computer is set to boot using UFI. Also, ensure your SATA drive is set AHCI and not IDE or RAID.

You will need to get comfortable as there is a lot of rebooting and booting involved. Whitson Gordon

Once you are satisfied with the BIOS settings, insert your Windows flash disk and reboot your computer. The Windows installer should automatically boot. Select a custom installation, delete the hard drive you prefer, and format it to Windows use just as you would with any other new computer. Enter the sticker on your computer to get a Windows key. It should work with Windows 10, even if it is for Windows 7/8.

You might need to wait for the installation to complete. Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy your excitement. Once Windows has installed your desktop, you can go to the support page at the manufacturer’s site for your computer (e.g. Dell or HP will drop you into the desktop. You can then go to the support page on your computer’s manufacturer site (e.g. To install your graphics card drivers, you will also need to visit AMD’s site.

Your drivers are the key to your success. Visit the manufacturer’s site to download and install your drivers. Whitson Gordon

After that, I recommend you run a CPU stress test such as Prime95. This will check if your computer has any power management issues or stability issues. It should be done alongside HWiNFO, so you can monitor your CPU temperatures. You should be able to run Prime95 for an hour and keep it below 80 degrees Celsius (176 Fahrenheit). If you have any problems, you might need to troubleshoot. Your CPU could be dead or you may need a new power supply. To make sure your graphics card is working properly, you can run a GPU benchmark such as Heaven for about two hours.

Congratulations! Congratulations! Although your productivity may drop, you’re still going to have fun. Whitson Gordon

It’s difficult to put off the fun. But if you can manage to get through these stress tests, your PC will be ready for gaming. It’s now time to start playing. Start your games by downloading them. You can start the graphics at their lowest setting, and gradually increase the settings until they become too blurry for you. You’ll soon be killing alien invaders with a little tweaking.

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