Gaming PC on a budget.
September 17, 2011 2:48 PM   Subscribe

Is a gaming PC for £400ish doable and where do I even begin to figure out what I need?

I'm looking to build a desktop for gaming in the next month or so, but having googled a bit, I feel like I'm completely out of the loop. I haven't built a PC since before PCI-e came in and I have no idea where to start. It seems a lot more complicated than it used to be, and there's so much more choice I'm bewildered.

I want to use it to game, but I'm not fussed about playing everything on the highest settings, I'd just like to play games like Fallout: New Vegas and Just Cause 2 decently on medium settings if at all possible.

Is this possible for about £400 or am I looking at spending more? Assuming I have monitor/mouse/keyboard and a harddrive already. (Also I am in the UK.)
posted by daysocks to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds doable, especially if you aren't concerned with highest settings.

The forums here are pretty helpful.
posted by treasuretroveoftrollsandlust at 2:56 PM on September 17, 2011

Best answer: I think you can do this. I would look into buying used. People are getting starry-eyed over Sandy Bridge processors, and are selling off their PERFECTLY GOOD Nehalems and Athlons.

The graphics card will be the pivotal component.

- Find the sweet spot on the price-performance curve in graphics cards these days. (This Tom's Hardware guide will tell you.)
- Buy the cheapest card from the sweet spot. Seems to be the Radeon 5670, going for $70 in the USA back in August.
- Figure out what the minimum RAM is these days for the games you want to play. 2-4GB. I'd take 4.
- Buy a used machine without a GPU for the rest of £400. (Just make sure you can fit a full-size GPU in it, and that the power supply is sufficient - the graphics card manufacturer will spec a recommended power supply size.)

That's it :)
posted by krilli at 3:01 PM on September 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

I like krilli's advice, but I'd bump the GPU up to a 5770 if you can, it's just over $100 in the US, but I think well worth the extra dough. Should still be in your budget.
posted by InsanePenguin at 3:07 PM on September 17, 2011

Best answer: I find this guide a brilliant overview of the current state of the component market. Prices are in USD, so you'll need to do a bit of translating, but it clearly lays out the ladder of good to best for every major component.
posted by FfejL at 3:32 PM on September 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Well, in case it is helpful to hear from someone utterly ignorant, who yet accomplished what you are trying to do, I'll tell you what I did when I was looking for the cheapest of all possible gaming PCs.

1. I went to Can you run it? on the current computer (knowing the answer was NO YOU CANNOT) and looked up the recommended stats for the newest games I was likely to want to play.
2. Made a spreadsheet of the recommended stats for various new games.
3. Went to newegg, used their excellent Narrow Results function to search only for the computers with the highest stat in each category from my spreadsheet.
3.5 Graphic cards seemed to be in a special category not fully described by numbers, so once I knew what the minimum specs I needed were (that is, the the maximum from the recommended specs xls), I looked around on the internet to see what reviewers and people were saying about the cards that met those specs.
4. Went back to newegg, and TigerDirect, and picked the computer that met the highest stats on my spreadsheet, and had the graphics card that people liked best.
5. Paid $700 or so, can play games...

...still don't know what the numbers mean. Win.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 5:09 PM on September 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

my gaming pc cost me about $550, not including the monitor and I'm playing starcraft and deus ex on basically the max settings, so yeah, it should be fairly easy. Just get a cheap refurbed computer for like $400 and throw a $200 video card in it and you're set.
posted by empath at 6:02 PM on September 17, 2011

Gaming PCs fall into a special category where you care more about the GPU than the CPU (though you can't skimp too much on the CPU), and where you do care about the CPU, you care more about raw speed than total throughput.

For the GPU, you can get a 5770 for £65. Consider that a minimum, but a damned fine minimum, certainly not a bad card.

For the CPU, you can get an i5 2400 for £145.

Toss in a halfway decent motherboard in the £60 range, 4GB of decent memory for £40, a 2TB HDD for another £55, a case with 400W PSU for £35, and you have yourself £400 even.

If you want to go up or a down a bit in speed/quality, I usually recommend splurging on the PSU, then motherboard, then RAM, in that order; For your purpose, however, I'd say go for GPU all the way, as it will have the greatest direct impact on gaming performance (watch your power, though, modern GPUs can eat 350W alone). However, the next GPU or two up (in terms of performance, not model numbers), the 6850 or 5830, will cost twice as much. So realistically, you can probably boost the CPU a bit more fine-grained than you can the GPU; Likewise for memory, spending a few quid more will get you much better RAM.

Note that I just pulled all those prices from - You can probably do better, if you shop around.
posted by pla at 6:56 PM on September 17, 2011

PC Gamer do a guide to components in the back each month - it's certainly doable based on reading my SO's copies. Have a look on their website - they have an example PC based on the best value for performance components currently available, but you can adjust this according to your own needs.
posted by mippy at 3:12 AM on September 18, 2011

Best answer: Earlier this year we built a ~£400 gaming PC for my other half. It is decidedly not state of the art but handles all modern games with aplomb. Phenom 2 X4 3.2ghz, 4gb DDR3 memory, GTX460 graphics card, branded 550 watt PSU (Corsair, I believe), 500gb hard drive and a basic Coolermaster case. In my opinion, prioritise getting 4 cores, 4gb, and at least a GTX460\560 card (or whatever the AMD equivalent is). My PC is for most purposes identical apart from being dual core, and it struggles in some games where my partner's is fine.

Said PC has thrown around The Witcher 2, New Vegas, Deus Ex Human Revolution, Portal 2, and Crysis 2 on max or close to max settings at excellent frame rates on a 1080p monitor.

Since you're UK-based, keep an eye on Aria's bundles and systems. They'll throw decent components on a decent motherboard and overclock it for you; add the case, PSU and GPU and you're set.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 10:39 AM on September 18, 2011

You may also find Bit-Tech's guides useful, since they're UK-based.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 10:57 AM on September 18, 2011

Response by poster: There is a lot of fantastic information here, thanks so much :)
posted by daysocks at 3:07 PM on September 20, 2011

Because I'm waiting for my database to work, I threw together a just-over £400 example PC build (including shipping). It has more than a few corners cut (that's about the cheapest Intel i5 you can get, on a micro-ATX motherboard with only 2 RAM slots) and requires you to use your existing hard drive but it's similar to my partner's PC but with a faster CPU. The prices are from Scan.

If you were to use exactly those components I'd double check with the shop that they're all compatible.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 5:36 AM on September 21, 2011

Also, since you haven't built a PC in a while (assuming you go the build-it-yourself route), this recent how-to guide might be helpful.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 5:48 AM on September 21, 2011

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