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Frugal Fun: How to Build an Awesome Gaming PC On the Cheap

Building your own cheap gaming PC gives you greater control over your computer’s speed and capabilities. It also saves you money.

Many manufacturers markup any premium computer components included in their standard builds. Less money spent on the computer means more money to spend on computer games, which is always a good thing.

Before you start building a cheap gaming computer, check out the vital components found in every desktop PC below.


8 Vital Components Necessary to Build a Cheap Gaming PC

Learn the eight most important parts of a computer with examples of inexpensive components for the cheapest gaming PC build. Want to buy a pre-built computer instead? Here’s some more info.

#1. CPU (Central Processing Unit or Processor)

The central processing unit, known as the CPU, acts as the brain of a computer. This small computer chip sits on top of the computer’s motherboard. On the chip, billions of microscopic transistors work together to make the calculations necessary for running a computer program.

This process happens in three stages called fetch, decode, and execute. The CPU fetches instructions from the computer’s memory (RAM) where you store the program. It then decodes the instruction by performing a calculation. These calculations could be basic arithmetic, a comparison between two sets of numbers, or moving information around in the memory.

The CPU uses numbers to perform the calculations and different numbers represent each part of the computer. Once it decodes the instruction, the CPU sends the numbers to each piece of hardware needed to execute the instructions. The numbers pass through the motherboard and to the necessary hardware.

Many modern CPUs feature more than one CPU on a single chip, referred to as a multi-core processor.

Example: Intel Core i3-8100

Cost: ~$120

The Intel Core i3-8100 is a quad-core processor with a 3.6 GHz base clock and turbo clock. The quad-core Intel CPUs work great in gaming computers and this version will cost you much less than other CPUs in the same price range.

#2. Motherboard

The motherboard is the main circuit board in a computer. A type of printed circuit, the motherboard transfers the instructions decoded by the CPU from the RAM. It coordinates all the computer’s processes, like making sure power reaches the correct places. The motherboard connects all the parts of a computer together.

Motherboard design varies between manufacturers. The most common makers include Gigabyte, MSI, Asus, and Intel. All motherboards share a few key features required for coordinating the computer’s processes.

Every motherboard has circuits that facilitate this process. They also feature a heat sink or another type of device meant to redirect or absorb heat to cool the motherboard. They usually come with a secondary power source as well.

Since the motherboard must interact with all the components of a computer, they have many open slots and connections on the outside. Any external accessories like a keyboard or mouse must connect to the motherboard too, not just the internal components.

Computer enthusiasts refer to the two most important connection sites on a motherboard as the chipset. The chipset includes the connection to the CPU and to the power functions (I/O). Together the chipset forms the circuit and the computer’s backbone to control all the processing and power for all tasks.

Example: MSI Z370-A Pro

Cost: ~$110

A very affordable motherboard with lots of potential, the MSI Z370-A Pro comes with four DIMM slots. This means you can upgrade to four sticks for more memory. It also means you can upgrade to a mid or high-end processor for some overclocking potential. The MSI Z370-A Pro supports memory up to DDR4-4000, which is much greater than other motherboards of the same price.

#3. RAM (Memory)

Random access memory, or RAM, appears in tablets, gaming consoles (like the new PlayStation 5), and smartphones as well as laptops and desktop PCs. A very fast type of computer memory, RAM temporarily stores the information your computer needs to run now and in the close future. Your computer determines what things it may need to find out soon and pre-loads them so it can read them quickly.

Information in the RAM is not stored for a long time like in the system storage. It acts as the computer’s short-term memory to process and load information fast. Rather than go through your storage system, hard drive, or solid-state drive in order to open a new tab on your computer, it uses the RAM.

Once you turn off the computer, the RAM empties to prepare for the next session. This is why you need additional storage systems.

RAM comes in a couple different types. In modern computers, RAM is technically SDRAM, or synchronous dynamic random access memory. The most common type of RAM sold nowadays is the DDR4 with older computers using DDR2 or DDR3. The speed and bandwidth increase as manufacturers come out with new models.

VRAM, or video RAM, is an important type of RAM for building cheap gaming computers. It affects the amount of memory available built into a graphics card or on a graphics chip.

Example: 8GB DDR4-2400

Cost: ~$80

Aim for an 8GB DDR4-2400 that costs no more than $80-$100 to get the most out of your purchase. The speed should be about 2,400 MT/s with 15-15-15-35 timing with a voltage of 1.2V. You may be able to find faster DDR4-2666 a DDR4-3000 RAMs for about the same price.

#4. Storage Space (HDD and/or SSD)

Two options exist for your cheap gaming computer’s storage system: a solid-state drive (SSD) and a hard disk drive (HDD). The older HDD uses magnetism and movement to operate with actual disks that spin around writing code into a magnetic coating. The newer SSD uses flash memory rather than physically writing the data onto a disk.

SSDs use memory chips or, more specifically, NAND-style chips. Covering the chips are semiconductors that flip into different electrical charge states in order to store code. Nothing moves, hence the name “solid-state.”

SDDs operate much faster than HDDs while being lighter, but they tend to be much more expensive. However, they do fail much less often and work longer than an HDD.

Example: Crucial MX500 250GB

Cost: $65

While many quality SDDs come with a hefty price tag, the Crucial MX500 250GB offers you one of the fastest SATA SSDs at a cheap price. The 250GB memory space gives you enough room to store and run a fair number of games on your custom PC. If you want more space, you can buy the 500GB version for about double the price.

#5. GPU (Graphics Processing Unit or Graphics Card)

The Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) is a programmable chip that affects your computer’s display functions. It renders videos, images, and animations displayed on the monitor. Find the GPU on a plug-in card, on the same chip as the CPU, or in a motherboard’s chipset.

The GPU affects 2D data, like panning or zooming, as well as the decoding and rendering of 3D video and animations. Better GPUs offer smoother and faster motion with higher resolution. A GPU on a separate plug-in card usually comes with its own RAM whereas a GPU connected to the motherboard or CPU use the computer’s main memory.

Graphics cards perform parallel operations on more than one data set at a time. So they also act as a vector processor for repetitive, non-graphics computations.

Example: GeForce GTX 1060 6GB

Cost: $280-$300

For the cheapest gaming PC build, choose a GeForce GTX 1060 6GB as your graphics card. It handles all current games with a base clock of 1,506 MHz and a boost clock of 1,708 MHz.

#6. PSU (Power Supply Unit)

A computer’s power supply unit, or PSU, converts the alternating current (AC) power from your main power source to the more manageable low-voltage direct current (DC) power. Computers need this continuous form of power to run correctly.

The PSU also regulates temperature by controlling the power’s voltage. You can change this either manually or automatically depending on the type of PSU. Your PSU must be compatible with your motherboard and other vital components to work properly.

Example: EVGA 450 BT

Cost: $30

The EVGA 450 BT is a small, cheap, and efficient power supply unit. It can power most single graphics processing units along with the other necessary components. The EVGA 450 BT is non-modular and 80+ bronze certified with up to 82% efficiency. If you can afford a semi-modular or fully modular power supply it would be better, but this will work for building a cheap gaming PC.

#7. Cooling System

No matter the components you choose to build your cheap gaming computer, it will still generate a significant amount of heat. Many CPUs and GPUs come with heatsink fans pre-installed and most modern PC cases have intake and exhaust fans to keep the machine cool.

If you need to buy a third-party cooling system, you must decide between a liquid or air system. Choose air for a cheaper option as a beginner. Liquid-cooling systems work better, but they have a higher cost and require a greater understanding of PC building.

Example: Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO

Cost: $30

The cheapest cooling systems will always be air and there is no more trusted brand than the Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO. It will cool your system by up to 20 degrees more than the stock fan. This small cooler comes with added AM4 compatibility as well.

#8. Case

If the CPU is the computer’s brain, then the case is its skin. It protects your computer’s internal components from liquids, dust, etc. A computer case hides away the loud and ugly computer components as well.

A PC case also keeps your internal components cooler. Most cases come with special air vents to allow some air to escape while using the rest to cool the hardware. A case makes it easier to reach USB ports and power buttons while keeping the connected internal parts close.

Example: Fractal Design Focus G

Cost: $50

A sleek looking case with ample compatibility and ports, the Fractal Design Focus G does everything you need for cheap. It even comes with two 120mm internal fans to keep your system cool.

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