Gaming PC - What can I get for £500?
A basic guide to what you could assemble
25Spare Christmas money, an accumulator come through, or just wanting to have a new gadget around the house? £500 can go a long way, and sometimes even a small computer can cast a very large shadow. Having looked at the benefits of a games PC over consoles, we now turn our attention to what you can actually get for a budget.
Now, with an outlay as relatively small as this (in gaming PC terms), the recommendation would be for you to hook your newly built machine up to your television and play on there until more fund become available. Using your TV as a display removes the need to purchase a monitor and speakers, which all adds up.
£500 is a small amount for a gaming PC, so corners will have to be cut in order to stay within budget. Using a TV in lieu of a monitor and a set of speakers is the first corner we’re cutting.
For those of you who’re new to PC building, a PC needs a set amount of parts in order to function. First off you’ll need a motherboard to plug all your components in to. Secondly, you’ll need a CPU (central processing unit) that’ll deal with the demands gaming can present. Your two kinds of memory: RAM (random access memory) and storage (either using a hard disc drive or solid state drive) come next. Your power supply should be next and needs to be tailored to the amount of power you expect your rig to kick out. Next, your video (or graphics) card. Finally, a case to house all these parts.
This is the basic of the basic. With a budget like this, custom CPU coolers, case fans, extra storage, optical drives and a whole host of other peripherals have been omitted.
One huge thing that’s often overlooked when building your PC is the operating system. They don’t come cheap, and as such buying Windows 8.1 could take a huge chunk out of your potential funds. Don’t forget, though, that Windows isn’t your only choice. Linux is completely free, if not a lot more fiddly than Windows.
For now, we’ll assume that you have access to an operating system. Another similar build with an operating system included in the price can be found at the end of the article.
A motherboard is an important factor both now and in the future of your build. For a £500 budget, the MSI Z97 PC MATE for £65 is a solid choice. You’ve got room for two video cards if ever you decide to Crossfire your original card (note that this is a board that isn’t compatible with SLI) and a maximum of 32GB of RAM
The motherboard we’re going for only supports certain Intel CPUs, which is fine, because Intel are the place to go when you’re looking for great CPUs. The Intel Core i3-4160 for £90 is a pretty good price. It’s dual core, clocks at 3.6GHz and should handle what’s thrown at it pretty competently. If you’re in a pinch and £500 could be a stretch, the Intel Pentium G3258 is great for around £50 right now. With a more attractive price point and similar specifications, it’s also able to be overclocked to an impressive 4.4GHz using air cooling.
RAM is a simple one, 8GB is about as much as most PCs need. If you’re planning on rendering video that’s when more might come in handy. For around £58 you can’t go wrong with one stick of 8GB Corsair Vengeance DDR3-1600 RAM. It’s great RAM and can be added to in future with another 8GB stick, if you feel the need for it.
Many PC gamers, including myself, run systems that utilise both a HDD (hard disk drive) and an SSD (solid state drive). Using the solid state drive for your operating system and other programmes, and hard drive for general storage can really improve the speed of your PC. That said, with a budget of £500, you only really have the money for a HDD that’ll store everything you have. For around £35, the Hitachi Ultrastar 1TB HDD is good value for money and works out at about £0.034 per gigabyte.
Your power supply unit (PSU) is one component that should never be scrimped on. If your power supply fails, the chances are it’ll take everything else with it. Paying extra for that peace of mind is highly recommended. The Corsair 430M for £40 is an absolute steal and comes with an essential 80+ Bronze efficiency certification. As a general rule of thumb, consider PSUs with an 80+ efficiency rating, that way you know you’re buying a quality product.
The video card is what’ll be defining the graphical capabilities of your PC. They’re great fun to shop for as they’re just kind of cool, I really can’t phrase it any other way. A very popular choice in budget builds right now is the MSI Radeon R9 280. With 3GB of VRAM and Crossfire supported, at £150 this is a very good card at a reasonable price. It should handle most games out now pretty comfortably and the motherboard we picked can support two of them in the future, if you so wish.
We all, at some point during our first build, thought an insane amount of LEDs were cool. But despite all the rumours that red LEDs will make your PC run faster and blue will make it run cooler, LEDs aren’t important. Understated is the new eccentric, but those rules don’t apply on your first build. You want your case to look as angular and insane as possible, and therefore the Cooler Master K380 with a side window for around £35 is ideal.
Well, that’s it. The basic of the basic PC, but it’ll cost you about £465-475 if you already have access to an operating system. That extra £25-35 isn’t money saved, though, you’ll likely have to spend it on some necessary peripherals. If you’re using this PC beneath a TV in a living room, a wireless mouse and keyboard would be an invaluable investment. Wireless Xbox 360 controllers designed for PCs are also a good buy, if you’ve got some extra cash laying around.
This PC is one that also has some room to grow. The motherboard we picked supports Crossfire, meaning you can add another of those video cards in the future. Bear in mind that you might need a new PSU the more pieces you attach to the PC though. With these components, the machine will be estimated to be using around 355W of power, meaning you don’t have far to go until you hit the maximum 430W your PSU allows you. It’s something to look out for.
As well as another video card, you have room for a lot more RAM, should you take up video editing or feel that you would simply like more. You could buy a custom CPU cooler, be it air or water, just to lessen the heat the chip might reach. Some extra or new case fans wouldn’t go amiss either, as keeping a nice supply of cool air running through your PC is always a good thing.
An optical drive for CDs or game discs could be added in, but with the rise of digital media on PC, discs are becoming more and more a relic of the past. As I mentioned earlier, when funds become available, an SSD is always a good purchase; you’d be amazed at the speed difference between your operating system on a HDD and a SSD.
The beauty of your PC is that it can change however you want it to once you’ve got it going. If you’re unhappy with something it’s a simple tweak or fix, and doesn’t even have to involve spending more money.
These are all just suggestions though, and there are a range of different opinions on which kit will offer the best results or value for money, so if you need any further advice, the PC gaming forum here on AVF is full of people who have a wealth of experience, and it’s the first place you should go if building a PC is something you’re seriously considering. It’s a great forum with a friendly atmosphere, and I’m sure you’d find it more than welcoming to newcomers.
Here is the list of the parts we picked:
MSI Z97 PC MATE
Intel Core i3-4160
Intel Pentium G3258
8GB Corsair Vengeance
Hitachi Ultrastar 1TB HDD
MSI Radeon R9 280
Cooler Master 8320
Another build for £500, including an operating system, can be found here. Please note that due to cost limitations, this build will be somewhat weaker than the build talked about in the article.
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