I wrote last week about home computing on a budget. I mentioned that I thought the cheapest way to get an acceptable computer was to purchase a premade computer from your local big box store as most basic computers will be more than enough for a family. However, not everyone is going to be okay with a cheap computer from Dell, Acer, or HP. Depending on how you are going to be using your computer, you might find that it is a lot cheaper to build your own computer. If you are going to be using your computer for any sort of high end purpose, such as gaming, or video, sound, or photo editing, then definitely look into how much money you can save when you build your own gaming computer.
How Much You Can Save
Here is a gaming build from the Dell website. It uses a high end processor and video card to guarantee you fantastic results – for $2000. Not to mention that it looks absolutely, well, terrifying, and I’m sure that your friends will be suitably impressed when you tell them that it is “liquid cooled”. Unfortunately, the way that your case looks has absolutely nothing to do with how well it performs, and seeing as how you won’t be overclocking your system to try to eek out the last 5% of performance from your processor, you don’t really need it, especially when you consider the competition.
Here is a similar parts list from newegg.ca. You can see that the processor is slightly better, the power supply slightly smaller, and the keyboard and mouse are by a different brand. Other than a copy of Windows 7, there is no discernible difference between builds except for how the case will look once it is assembled. The kicker, however, is that you can purchase those parts (without doing any heavy research into sales, combos, or price matching) for $800 less, and you may already have an operating system laying around the house that you can use.
Before you rush off to Newegg to purchase those parts, however, stop and think for a minute if there is even more money that you can save. Thanks to the marketing prowess of Intel, you might know that the Intel i7 is the top of the line processor, and therefore it is what you should get if you want top of the line performance. In some situations, you might be right, but if we are thinking in terms of building a gaming computer, you might want to know that the i7 and the i5 processors are virtually indistinguishable when it comes to gaming performance. Therefore you can get a much cheaper processor and not suffer any loss of performance. In terms of RAM you can save some money as well, as most games will not use a megabyte over 4GB of RAM – anything more and you will not be able to tell the difference. While the 6870 is a fantastic video card, unless you are gaming on a large (think: 30″+) monitor, or with multiple monitors, a cheaper card will give you all the performance you need in order to enjoy your video games.
All in all, you really shouldn’t be spending more than $800-1000 on a gaming computer. If you have a larger budget – great! Build an $800 computer and put the rest aside for two years. In two years, build a new $800 computer. Over four years, you will have gotten higher and better performance than if you were to purchase a $1600 computer today. In fact, if you purchase certain parts correctly, you can reuse them in 2 years and will be able to build a fantastic new computer for $400 or less.
But Building a Computer is Hard!
This is a common myth. While it does take a bit of time and research, building your own computer is not that different from Lego or Ikea Furniture. There are plenty of instructions to follow, and for the most part, as long as it “fits” you should be good to go. There is always the fear of breaking something, or building it in a way that won’t work. As long as you feel comfortable with your hands, do not fear building a computer. Just take your time, follow the instructions, and you should be golden.
For in-depth reading and research, check out Tom’s Hardware’s How to Build a PC, or watch this 2 hour youtube video detailing how to build a gaming computer.
Alright, You’ve Convinced Me – But Where Do I Start?
The first thing to do once you’ve decided to build your own gaming computer is to start picking out parts. I suggest you look through and read the entire Logical Increments Guide. It should give you a basic idea of how much a entry level, moderate, or excessive computer should cost. It is updated on a fairly regular basis, so it should be relatively accurate and up to date. Just make sure you do your own research to confirm the guide’s findings.
Once you know what parts you want to purchase, check out NCIX.com. This Canadian retailer does price matching, so find your parts on the website, add them to your cart, and then do google searches of the part names and model numbers to find the best deals available in Canada. Append “canadapost” or “pricebat” to the search to find aggregates of online pricing. Find the lowest price, and update your NCIX with the price match before purchasing. Don’t forget to include shipping costs – it might be cheaper to order from a local shop or a different website depending on pricing.
Once you’ve ordered everything, wait for your parts to arrive, make sure you have another working computer with internet access so you can google any problems you may come across, and then start building. Be sure to follow the instructions that come with your case, motherboard, processor, etc, and then you shouldn’t have any problem piecing together a computer that will save you hundreds of dollars.
Have you ever built your own computer?