I Built A Really Cheap Gaming PC

4 months ago Jack 0
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I’ve said before that a relatively cheap off-the-shelf computer can be a good base for a gaming PC. Well, I set out to prove it. For about $300, I managed to put together a system that should get a person started in PC gaming. Read on to see how it worked out!

I took an inexpensive refurbished workstation PC, threw a low-profile graphics card in it, and installed some of the most popular free and cheap e-sports titles to see if the solution worked well enough for a beginning PC gamer.

I doesn’t look like a gamer’s PC. There aren’t arrays of flashing LED lights illuminating the whole room, legions of large fans spinning up a tornado, or gaudy components with words like “GAMING”, “ULTRA”, and “MASTER” painted all over. It’s a basic system with basic parts.

The specs:

  • i5-2400 Quad Core Intel CPU
  • 8GB DDR3 Dual-Channel RAM
  • 80GB SSD
  • 500GB HDD
  • 240W Power Supply
  • CD/DVD Drive
  • Tons of USB 2.0 (only 2.0) ports
  • Gigabyte nVidia GTX 1050 2GB GDDR5 Graphics Card (added this later)
  • Windows 10 Home included

The system without the GPU cost me $162 + tax; approximately $176. The GPU was another $130. That’s above the MSRP for that card, but bitcoin mining has driven up GPU prices around the time of this post. The tower was a refurbished model and, as you can see, there are some scratches and dents in the body. You pay for what you get. I’m happy to take some dents and dings if it means I get a higher performance PC for a lower price.

Of all the specs, Windows 10 Home was the most important to me. I do NOT recommend you buy CD keys for Windows from various discount sites or eBay. I have heard that they can be a way to launder stolen money or otherwise fund criminal activity. Ask yourself, if every store in the country can charge $100 for a Windows license, why would these stores sell them for $25? Bingo; there’s a criminal element.

Anyway, getting a legitimate Windows license with a PC can save you $100 right off against building your own PC. For $176, you could view that as spending $76 for all of the included parts.

The added GPU fits it right around last generation’s GTX 960 2GB. That’s a card I used in my own gaming PC for a while and enjoyed regularly. For e-sports, you can enjoy any of the games on a card this powerful.

I made some recordings of games played on this PC. Unfortunately, there wasn’t quite enough power to record high quality video and game at high settings simultaneously. The videos came out choppy, but do show the actual framerates the computer produced. Keep in mind that I did not experience the choppiness while playing the games.

The punchline of this article is:

Esports titles are completely playable on a cheap system like this.

League of Legends, Ultra Street Fighter 4, and even Ultimate Marvel Vs Capcom 3 all played at 4K with 60FPS locked at high settings (maybe LoL dropped a little in some heavy team fights, but I can only vaguely recall that happening).

War Thunder, CS:GO, and DOTA 2 all ran at high settings at 1080p with smooth frame rates and great playability.

Fortnite had to come down to high or medium settings to lock the game at 60fps, but looked great. With cartoon-style games like that, in my opinion, turning up the settings isn’t very important.

I also had a chance to run Dragon Ball FighterZ on that same GPU, but in a different PC, and it ran amazingly well at 1080p. I don’t doubt that I could take the settings higher than I did, but I think I ran everything on high settings and had graphics scaling set to 100 (goes up to 200, which seems like double-res then downscaled).

It’s Not All Awesome

This power supply was being pushed near its limit. The GPU and CPU could easily run up 150W at full load. The rest of the components probably could reach another 30-50W. I don’t feel well pushing a PSU to the rated limit and this was too close. A system like this couldn’t take much more.

This system required a low profile car. It also had a custom shape PSU. That means you’re not going to be able to upgrade the GPU any higher than the best low profile card available (which was the 1050 ti in this case, but I didn’t spring for that).

The PSU often spun up with the fan off-balance and made some serious grind noises. Good news is that it settled down over time and got quiet. Bad news is, again, I could only replace it with the same model. No PSU with a large, high-quality fan could be added. In fact, I think most of the power connectors were proprietary (meaning designed and used by HP only) so an off-the-shell PSU couldn’t even power the system from outside the case.


For about $300 total, you can put together a complete system with Windows that can play modern games. If I did this again, I would look for a refurbished full tower system. Having the extra space inside the case means that my graphics card selection isn’t limited to low profile cards. If I found a cheap used card, more than likely I could fit it in. Also, I could replace the power supply if the included one didn’t have the juice to run.

Should you really spend $300 on a PC just to game? No, I don’t think so. If you need a computer for work, taxes, browsing the internet, writing resumes, editing videos, and all of the other interesting things it can do, I think this solution could work.

What I certainly DON’T recommend is buying an expensive custom PC branded with all of the gaming nonsense. I’ve done that before at regret it deeply. When it comes to competitive PC gaming, everyone in the world wants to sell you the competitive edge. The reality is, a little bit a brain power, some practice, and a balanced life (exercise, prayer, discipline, etc) will make you a better gamer than any extra dime you spend trying to get those FPS.