Save money by building it yourself, or at least get a friend to help you, and scour the used market for second-hand parts. Prioritize the components that deliver the performance you want and skimp on those that don’t. Whenever possible, reuse old PC parts and avoid superfluous purchases like fancy cases and RGB lighting. Lastly, be sure to plan an upgrade path.
There’s never been a better time to get into PC gaming, but hardware is expensive. If you don’t have a massive budget, you’re probably looking to cut some expenses and save some money. Good news!
Save on labor costs by building it yourself
Being in charge of building your PC puts you in a great position to save money. From the start, you are not paying for labor costs as you will be doing the work yourself. If you already have the skills to build a PC, you know that it will only take a few hours at most to get everything up and running.
If you have little or no experience building a computer, this prospect may put you off. Fortunately, there are plenty of great resources online, including How-To Geek articles, YouTube tutorials, online PC building tools, and even the instruction manuals you’ll find in the various boxes to help you along the way.
PCPartPicker is a great place to plan your build. This website will help identify components that will work together (and flag any incompatibilities), as well as constantly suggest parts and builds that others have used and completed. Ask questions and read comments from others on the helpful r/buildapc subreddit as well.
In addition to saving labor costs, building your own PC gives you flexibility. You can change your mind mid-build if you run into a hot sale, parts shortage, or a sudden change of heart.
Ask a friend to build it with you
Alternatively, you may prefer to have guidance from someone who has done this before. Having a friend show you around can help boost your confidence and reduce your risk of breaking something (which is already pretty low). You might want to enlist a friend for the more involved parts of your build, like mounting the CPU or applying thermal paste.
If you want to develop your PC building skills, it is important that you ask your friend to help you, instead of doing it all for you. Building a PC is a relatively simple process. Learning to do it yourself will give you skills that you can use in the future when upgrading or building a new machine.
Save money on used components
Building a PC yourself (or hiring someone to help you) means you can buy whatever components you want. Buying a pre-built PC usually means buying completely new parts, which come at a premium price. Of course, these parts also come with a warranty, so your investment may involve a bit less risk.
The second hand market can save you a batch of money, especially if you know what you are looking for. There are some basic rules to follow in terms of which PC components to buy secondhand and which to avoid. Generally speaking, used CPUs, RAM, and monitors are considered relatively safe purchases.
Buying a used GPU is also something to consider. Although second hand GPUs may have been used in mining rigs (which can shorten their lifespan), there are many that have simply been used for gaming. Knowing what to look for when buying a used GPU will help. Research the card’s history, test and inspect where possible, and always use buyer protection when shopping online.
Motherboards are another component you can buy used. The savings here aren’t nearly as compelling as many newer, simpler motherboards are cheap. If you have decided to buy an older used CPU, you may have to turn to the used motherboard market if your CPU is not compatible with newer models.
You should avoid buying a used power supply entirely, the risk is not worth it. A “bad” power supply can damage your entire system, so be sure to use a quality power supply from a reputable brand. Used storage devices like hard drives aren’t worth it either, especially since new drives have come down significantly in price. Peripherals like a mouse and keyboard can save you money, but keep hygiene in mind when buying them.
Do you really want a keyboard that’s full of crumbs and other people’s hair when you can buy a mechanical keyboard for under $40? You can even find a cheap gaming mouse for around $20 if you can handle a non-wireless version.
If you’re replacing an old PC with a new version, you might want to consider using some of the old parts (assuming you’re not passing the old PC on to someone). Save money by reusing the old case, fans, power supply (since you know the history), storage, RAM, or cooler.
Be realistic and understand where your money is best spent
Acceptance is an important part of building on a budget, whether it’s a house or a computer. Your money will only go so far, so make sure you budget correctly so you won’t be disappointed. Being realistic can help you make better decisions about where to spend your money for better returns.
You can use tools like PC Builds FPS Calculator, How Many FPS, and CPUAgent FPS and Bottleneck Calculator to understand what your potential build is capable of. Use these tools to get an idea of what kind of frame rates you can expect in popular games, and what components make a difference. This can help you adjust your settings and make better decisions.
For example, all wants 64GB of the fastest RAM they can afford, but how much difference will it make? Realistically, you probably only need 16 GB of RAM to play games and you’re better off spending the rest on a better GPU to improve performance.
The same goes for a monitor. If the setup you want offers smooth gaming at 1440p, you probably shouldn’t spend more money than necessary on a 4K monitor. If you’re not getting 240 or 360 frames per second on the games you want to play, don’t waste your money on an ultra-high refresh rate monitor.
You can also save money on storage. A fast M.2 NVMe drive is great as a boot drive, but you can save a lot of money by using slower SATA SSDs and even cumbersome old hard drives for “deep storage” purposes. And while many gamers want as much RGB lighting as they can get their hands on, this is purely decorative and should be the last thing on your mind while building on a budget.
You also have to take into account all the little things that can cause the cost of your construction to increase. You’ll need a decent cooler for your CPU, and while it might be tempting to buy an all-in-one (AIO) liquid-cooled radiator, you can get similar or better performance with a cheaper air cooler. Air coolers don’t have to be noisy either, and understanding the fundamentals of good airflow can greatly improve your PC’s thermal performance.
Plan your upgrade path
Choosing a PC over a Mac or console gives you all sorts of upgrade opportunities, especially if you build it yourself. This is especially important if you’re on a budget, as it allows you to plan your build around future upgrades. You can buy what you can afford right now and add to it in the future when you have more disposable income to spare.
This is why it is so important to choose “good bones” in the first place. Don’t skimp on your motherboard or CPU. While most gamers also want a fairly modern, high-performance GPU, you might even be able to hobble around with an older model for a few months and buy something flashy when your budget allows.
During the pandemic-induced semiconductor shortage, many gamers had no choice but to use whatever they could get their hands on. This included older cards and even APUs (CPUs with mixed GPU capabilities) until the market recovered enough and GPU prices started to drop.
The same goes for RAM and storage. While not having enough RAM can create a bottleneck, it can easily be overcome by spending a little more in a few months. If you don’t need several terabytes of storage right away, buy a fastboot drive now and add more in the future (it’s one of the easiest upgrades to do).
Save money on games too
If you’re building a gaming PC on a budget, you’ll probably also want to save some money on the games you’ll play on it. We have some tips for playing on a low (or no) budget. One of the best-looking games in the world is free, a great starting point to test your graphics card.
On top of this, you might want to try Game Pass for PC, which gives you access to a catalog of games for as little as $1 for your first month.