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Building A Budget Gaming Computer

Written by:
Santana Holcomb
5 Star Support Technician

I think starting off with building a budget system first is the way to start off.
First and foremost thru this whole article is price and how much you want and are able to spend on building your budget gamer. To keep cost down you can use your old case unless it is a Dell or HP/Compaq since they use power supplies built to their size specs to fit their cases. There are plenty of low cost cases out there for you to choose from. You can get a nice case for 50 dollars without the cheap power supply included.

You will need a good power supply unit (psu). Next to the CPU this is most important in a good stable and reliable system. To figure what you need is this list with what each component typically uses in wattage. Add the watts for each component in your system and multiply by 1.8 for what you need.

Motherboard----------------------------------20-35w
Intel P4 CPU----------------------------------70w
AMD Athlon XP, 64or FX CPU---------------60-95w
Hard drive 5,400-7,200-10,000 rpm-------10-20w
AGP Videocard-------------------------------30-55w
PCI card---------------------------------------5-15w
RAM (memory)-------------------------------20w per 256mb
Case fans--------------------------------------3-5w each
CPU fan----------------------------------------3-5w
Optical (CD or DVD) drive-------------------10-20w
Floppy drive (3.5)-----------------------------5w
Cold Cathode Lights--------------------------3w each.

Source for above: PC Power and Cooling

Buy the best PSU you can afford because you donít want to not be down and not able to play because you used a cheap PSU and had it damaged one of your components. It can and has happened before since cheap PSU will not try to even out small power spikes and sags. Buy a PSU that will have the power connectors you need for your hard drive and motherboard. The minimum should be a 350watt unit. I recommend a 400watt unit for your budget gamer. A good brand name 350watt unit runs about 70 dollars and a 400 watt unit runs about 80dollars.

Next up is your processor. Intel or AMD that is the question. You will go with the one you like and that is fine. Intels are usually rated at higher megahertzís than AMD. Which would seem to make them faster but all is not as it seems. AMD processors can usually do more per clock cycle than Intel so while they are rated at lower megahertzís than Intel they run basically neck and neck with them. I myself use both and have no complaints about them. Buy the fastest you can afford for your budget gamer. Average price for an AMD Athlon64-2800 is 140 dollars and a P4-2.66 is about 160 dollars.
Since we have talked about processors lets talk about CPU heat sinks and fans. Most retail CPUís will come with a heat sink and fan and some kind of thermal paste or pad. These are ok as long as you donít want to push your CPU. Now since you are building a gaming system they just will not do. I suggest for your budget gaming system that you spend the money for a high-end heat sink and fan combo. Donít skimp here since you can always use it in another system if you want. Prices range from 25 dollars to 60 dollars. Look for a heat sink fan combo that has a large slow fan to keep the noise down while still doing plenty of cooling. Buy a good thermal paste like arctic sliver. There is plenty of other good thermal paste out there.


Motherboards are next on your list to decide about. Buy a motherboard that uses the processor you picked out and has on board networking and sound. For a budget gamer there are plenty of motherboards (mobo) to choose from that will have on board networking and sound with an average price of around 75 dollars. The choices out there for you will keep you busy trying to decide on what to buy. The Intel board D845GVSR for the P4 CPU with on board networking and sound is around 70 dollars. The MSI board KM4M-V for the AMD CPU with on board networking and sound is around 55 dollars. If the board you get has on board video do not use it since it will not be up to playing games at the minimum frame rate you will need.

Now for memory and no not your memory but computer memory. There have been big jumps in memory in the last couple years. Buy brand name quality memory. There is Corsair, Kingston, and Crucial to name a few. Prices start from 35 dollars for 256mb of pc2700 from Kingston and up depending on what you want. I recommend you use at least 512mb of memory for your budget gamer to 768mb.This is will keep you in the running while playing. Games will not usually run smoothly in WinXP with 256 meg of memory since WinXP likes and will use up to 256 meg of memory for itís self.

Video cards and no I didnít forget them. There are 2 main players in the video chip game. ATI and nVidia. There are a mind-numbing amount of companies using chips from them to make video cards along with them. All I will say is that you get a video card with at least 128mb of ram. From ATI the lowest I would go is the Radeon 9600 XT with 128mb of ram. Prices start from about 165 dollars. From nVidia the lowest I would go is the FX5600 with 128mb of ram. Prices start from about 165 dollars also. If you spend some time you can probably find either of them for lower prices than I have quoted.

Soundcard so you can hear all the action as well as see it. Unless you want to spend money for a good high end card then no matter what sound card you get it will affect your game performance a tad. That is because it will be off loading work to your CPU to do for it. You can get a nice card for less than 50 dollars like the Mad Dog Entertainer 7.1. But save your money and use the on board sound of your motherboard. As for speakers well that is up to you and your ears. Price will be your limiting factor and believe me the sky is the limit. Speakers can be had for 10 dollars but you can get pretty good ones for around 20 dollars.

Hard drives are large and getting larger all the time. The smallest I would recommend is 80 gigs and if possible get the 8mb of cache. The standard is 2mb of cache and will work fine. The larger cache allows the drive to have more information ready to go at a nano second. Try to go with a 7,200 rpm drive. I know there are cheaper 80 gig drives but they will be 5,400rpm drives and the faster the drive spins the faster you can play. The 7,200 rpm drives are perfect for your budget gamer. A 80 gig drive with 8mb of cache will run around 75 dollars but once again look around and you can probably get one cheaper.

Floppy drives are cheap and in my humble opinion they are still needed and useful. I know there are plenty out there who will argue they are not until they are blue in the face and they will be right once CD drives can read any and all manufactures media. Which they cannot do at this time. You can find good quality floppy drives from Teac and Samsung for 12 dollars or less if you look hard. There are cheaper brands but you take your chances with them lasting. CD players, CDR-RW, DVD players, DVD-R+R are priced pretty low these days and if you want to spend the money you can put both a DVD and CDR-RW in your budget gamer. I would recommend you go with a combo unit-CDRW/DVD. You can play and burn CDís and play DVDís. A combo unit like that will run around 50 dollars.

Now here are more components that I consider important to a gaming system. The keyboard and mouse. They are what you will use to interface with your system and make your moves in the game. Go with the best you can afford to buy and that feel real comfortable to you. If it does not feel comfortable to you then no matter what you do you will not be at your best while playing. The microsoft IntelliMouse with a 800dpi will run around 40 dollars and the logitech MX510 with 800 dpi will run you around 50 dollars. Do not go with a mouse that has less than 800 dpi. A keyboard will run around 15 dollars for a basic and up for more advance one.

Now on to case cooling. You will need at least 2 case fans of at least 80mm. Mount one in the bottom front and have it blow the air into the case. Mount the other fan in the back panel near the middle or where the mounting place for it is and have it blow the air out of the case. There will be an arrow on the side of the fan showing which way the air blows out of the fan. 80mm case fans will run around 8 to 12 dollars each.

In summary pick your components carefully and match them as close together as possible and shop for the best deals you can find. You can build a budget gaming system that with a little tweaking can still kick some ass and take names as long as your playing skills are up to it. Plus it will not break the pocket book. If you spend the time looking you can find what you need for less than I have quoted above. I know I did. You can find some good buys on used stuff from e-bay and computer stores where they have done upgrades. Stores have clearance sales and there are the on-line stores also.

Just to let you know I have built a budget gaming rig for 500 dollars to test the above out and my son has been in the top 10 where ever he plays and that is against high dollar machines. They cannot believe it when he tells them what he is using. The biggest plus is that I built it the way I wanted to and with the quality of parts I wanted. If you go to http://www.5starsupport.com/tutorial/build_computer.htm, there you will find instructions on putting your system together. Start with the default settings and run your system to burn everything in for a week to make sure you do not have any lemon components before tweaking it. Besides we will cover tweaking the gaming rigs in up coming articles.

Keep the faith
Santana

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