Build me a computer
February 10, 2015 12:17 AM   Subscribe

I have a budget of £600 and want to build a robust PC for gaming that is relatively future proof

My birthday is coming up, and I have decided to get a new PC. My current one suffers from having too small a case and thus serious overheating issues, such that upgrading it isn't feasible.

Now, and I want to be super clear on this, I really have no interest whatsoever in building the PC myself. I am aware that I can make savings that way, but frankly I'm far too cack handed to trust myself on building a machine. Trust me, you are not going to persuade me on that. That said, I do have a local shop that will build it for me for a fee, so I wouldn't be utterly opposed to that route.

Alternatively I am thinking of a PC building service like PC Specialist or Cyberpower, or something pre-built from newegg.

I already have a monitor, which is 19 inches, and I'm happy with that for now. What I want is a PC on which modern games will look fine: they don't have to be at top resolution or anything, but I want them to run. I want to play (for instance) Skyrim, Dragon Age Origins and Dishonoured with no worries. I'd also like to have the ability to upgrade my computer gradually as time goes on, so I'll need a power supply that will run to that, and a case that is nice and roomy. 600 is probably the absolute limit, and will probably need to include an OS (I have a copy of Windows 7 but am probably going to sell that with my current PC).

Can you point me at any builds/ pre-built PCs you've had good luck with? I have a rough idea of what is good and what is bad but personal experience is always valuable.
posted by Cannon Fodder to Technology (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If you go with a local shop to build your computer, you'll likely need to budget about £70-80 for a separate Windows license.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 1:02 AM on February 10, 2015

Some thoughts...

I've always built my own rigs (since 2002) and the thing that stands out to me (personally) is that the intention to "upgrade the computer gradually" never worked out.

The design life of most parts is around 3 years, which is the usual upgrade cycle for enthusiasts. PSU and hard drives in particular experience increased decreased efficiency / output and higher failure rates beyond 3 years. You can't beat the laws of physics and entropy, regardless of how much money you spend initially, and you don't want to be upgrading to a bigger graphics card just when your PSU is nearing its end of life.

You can't usually upgrade your CPU / Motherboard / RAM as they're usually all tied together (it's generational). Buying an SLI matched pair for your graphics card is hard 3 years on because it's most likely not available anymore.

One thing that people don't put enough emphasis on is the monitor. It's no point having fancy graphics if the colors are washed out. Watching movies or playing games on an IPS monitor is a massive difference. An older TN monitor produces around 262,000 colors, and approximates the rest through dithering, while a proper IPS monitor produces 16.7 million colors. The colors are much more "real" and present: on my TN monitor the same scene looks flat and lifeless. Not sure you can afford it, though, but a good monitor will last much longer than your PC will so it's a long term investment thing to consider.

PR hardware requirements have hit a plateau of sorts, the "midrange" gaming PC I built over 3 years ago is still going strong even on relatively current games.

I saved some money each time by not buying (or installing) a DVD drive into my rig - I have an old one I plug into the motherboard just for the Windows install then put back into the box. No point it consuming power / resources when no one uses a DVD anymore.
posted by xdvesper at 1:41 AM on February 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

cyberpower seems to have the best options/prices of the pre-built services you listed. if "future proofing" means being able to play games, then this probably means getting the best video card you can afford. if you think you will be able to spend additional money on a GPU in the near future than this may not exactly apply:

start with the i5 configurator and downgrade the cpu and other options while upgrading the GPU... you should end up with either an r9 280/X or the gtx 960 close to your budget.

alternately, go to your local shop and ask them what's the cheapest PC they can build with an R9 280X or gtx 960 or better GPU.

basically, you have to decide how much GPU you can afford. everything else follows from that.
posted by at 6:27 AM on February 10, 2015

oh wait, cyberpower default is no OS, you may not be able to hit the 280X / 960 with your budget.

i would try to at least get a 960 or 280.
posted by at 6:29 AM on February 10, 2015

There are some great subreddits for PC building:

/r/buildapc: PCs that other people have built. Good for getting ideas and seeing what your money will buy you.

/r/buildmeapc: Post your requirements and budget and you will get a bunch of good, and very specific, recommendations.
posted by indyz at 12:18 PM on February 10, 2015

Tom's hardware guide does build guides for several different price/performance tiers.

Buy a good case (if you don't have one) that will last through several different builds. Don't skimp here-it will last for far longer than any other component if you buy quality.
My advice for building a somewhat upgradeable pc: buy the newest/best motherboard you can with the latest proven CPU socket and hardware bus options. These are the two things that go out of date the fastest, and are often on a 3-5 year lifetime cycle before they become obsolescent.

after this for gaming buy the best graphics you can, often the sweet spot for the most money for the highest frame rate is about 200-250. Often these cards will be on the market for about 2-3 years after they first hit this price. If you want to and your motherboard supports it you can buy another one to SLI or crossfire (link them to get about 1.5x times the peformance of 1) when they drop to the next price point-100 to 150. Oftentimes it isn't worth it and you will get 2-3x times the performance with a new card at the mid tier price point. Also another video card in the case introduces a LOT of heat into the case and heat kills computers and really hurts performance if you push it.

CPU's are not supercritical for most games anymore and here you can buy last years hotness without really suffering much in performance. The difference for most games between an I5 and an I7 isn't much, spend the money here saved here on a better heatsink and monitor.

Memory-more memory is more speed, however after 8 gig the gain isn't huge, but i think worth it to go to 16 gigs. also means you probably aren't going to need to change it for a long time.

DONT SKIMP ON HEAT SINKS or management. I did and it blew up a motherboard and then a video card, requiring me to build a new system before i wanted to. Fans are cheap, stupid cheap and worth it. See also cases above. Tom's has a specific section just for cases. it is an often overlooked area.
posted by bartonlong at 1:33 PM on February 10, 2015

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