Building A Computer On A Budget

Posted on July 13, 2010


As technology progresses more and more every day, we need our computers to keep up. But buying a computer pre-made from a manufacturer can be expensive, especially if you want it to keep up with the ever-changing world of technology. Building your own computer is a great way to get a highly customizable machine that fits your budget yet remains powerful. However, computer building isn’t for everyone, there is a lot of planning and technological knowledge required. In this article, I will be telling you how to build a budget computer that performs like something for twice the price.

The first thing that you want to do is set your budget and stay with it. Pick a reasonable price (no, you can’t get a Crysis machine for $300) and adhere to it. This base price will be what you will be referring to for most of the planning process. For this build, I’ve picked a price of $700, which is the price of my current Dell Dimension computer. The goal: to double the specs. Sounds challenging? Well, that’s just how I roll.

First, we need a budget case. For this build, I’ve chosen the PowerUp ATX Black Mid-Tower case. At just under $60, it’s quite inexpensive as far as cases go, and offers quite a lot for that price. It has plenty of drive bays, expansion ports, and interior space for future upgrades. Remember, you always want to have your computer future-proofed, otherwise, you’ll regret it once your computer becomes outdated without room for upgrading.

Now that we have the case behind us, it’s time to start looking at the guts of the machine. Where to start? How about the motherboard? The motherboard is without doubt the most important part of your computer, and unfortunately most first-time computer builders overlook it and spend all their cash on the CPU and RAM. When building a budget computer, you need to spread all your money out evenly, not skimping out on anything, and not overindulging on anything either.

Keeping this in mind, I settled on the Asus M4N98TD EVO motherboard. At $175, it’s pretty expensive for a budget computer, but it will save us money in the long run. Because our tower is designed to hold ATX motherboards, I needed to keep ATX in mind when shopping for one. Sometimes first-time builders don’t pay much attention to how everything fits together, and that can become a nightmare really fast. Because it supports AMD processors instead of Intel, we’ll be able to get powerful processors from AMD that cost less than Intel processors, so we’re saving money in the long run. It has support for AMD Phenom II and AMD Athlon II processors, and Nvidia graphics cards. It also has 4 slots for DDR3 RAM, each slot having a total capacity of 4GB. Meaning that if you are running a 64-bit operating system, you can have up to 16GB of RAM. Another thing to pay attention to when looking at a motherboard is what type of RAM it supports. Some lower priced motherboards may seem like a great deal at first, but only have support for slower DDR2 RAM. DDR3 is the faster, higher quality standard, and you should spend the extra cash to get a motherboard that supports it. It will save you a lot of trouble in the long run.

Next, let’s keep that motherboard happy by filling it up with more hardware, starting with the CPU. CPU shopping can be a little stressful for the budget buyer, because you might have to pass up on higher end hardware in order to make ends meet. But bear with me, you can still get a great, fast processor for under $200. But don’t be wishing for any eight-core 4GHz processors. Remember, you need to make that $700 go to every component.

I first jumped to spend $200 on the newest AMD quad-core processor, but had to hold myself back and save some money. Instead, I settled on an AMD Athlon II dual-core 3.20GHz processor. At $99, it offers up good multitasking performance while still fitting our budget.

Next up is the RAM, this is the part where you need to step back and look at how much money you’ve already spent, because if you get too carried away, RAM can drain your money in a hurry. So far, we’ve spent half of our budget; $350. That means we still need to stretch out $350 over the graphics card, hard drive, and RAM. Yikes!

Keeping the limited cash in mind, I bought two sticks of 2048MB (2GB) dual-channel DDR3 RAM, totalling 4GB of RAM and half of our slots loaded. In the short term, we’re spending less money and getting good performance, and we still have plenty of room for expansion in the future. At $122, it’s only about 20 dollars more expensive then 2GB, which is a great deal.

Now that we have about $230 left, we need to be careful in choosing our graphics card and hard drive. Just remember: these are the two components of the computer that will be easiest to swap in the future, so don’t worry about getting the latest and greatest right now.

I went for the least expensive option and got the $55 EVGA 01G-P3-N959-TR GeForce 9500 GT graphics card. I’m not heavy into gaming, so this graphics card is perfect for me. It has 1GB of DDR2 video memory, dual-dvi and dual GPU support, and supports 1080p video without breaking the bank.

Now that we have a super low-budget graphics card, we have about $180 left to spend on hard drives, which is more than enough for what we need. With hard drive prices at an extreme low nowadays, I took full advantage of my $180 and bought not one, but two hard drives. My first one was a $50 Seagate Barracuda 250GB hard drive. This one will be used just for the operating system, so I don’t need too much room. Now, with about $130 left for my final hard drive, I went all out for a $150 Fantom GF2000EU G-Force 2TB external drive. It’s slightly over my budget, but trust me, at 2TB this hard drive has plenty of space to hold my files for years to come. The reason for an external drive over an internal drive is simple: portability. It allows me to mess around as much as I want with my computer without having to worry about my files. If I need to reinstall my operating system for any reason, I can just wipe the internal drive and reinstall without a hitch. When you upgrade something major like a CPU or motherboard, you need to reinstall Windows. Having a separate hard drive for my OS and documents allows me to not have to worry when upgrading. Also, 2TB will be plenty of room to back up files from all my other computers as well.

At the end of it all, I’ve spent $712. Slightly over budget, but it does beat my initial goal of doubling the specs (or at least coming close) of my original computer in most fields.

Original computer:

2.90GHz Intel Dual Core Processor

Intel motherboard with support for two sticks of DDR2 RAM


500GB Hard Drive

Intel integrated graphics with single-VGA support.

New computer:

3.20GHz AMD Athlon II Dual Core processor

Asus motherboard with support for four sticks of DDR3 RAM


250GB hard drive + 2TB external hard drive equalling 2.25TB of total space.

Nvidia GeForce 2500 graphics with dual-DVI support

Need help on building a computer? Check out my article on computer building tips.

Please note that this build does not include a monitor and operating system.

I got all products through