How to Purchase Parts for a Custom Computer (on a Budget)

Selecting components to build your own custom computer is usually a very difficult scenario. When you are placed on a budget, it makes the process even harder. The following is some basic suggestions and general prices for specific components of the computer which need to be obtained.


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    • This is arguably the most important component in the computer. If this is not a quality piece of hardware, your whole computer could be doomed from the get-go.
    • Try buying from established and reliable companies such as ASUS, GIGABYTE, ASRock, or Intel.
    • Purchasing the motherboard is a complex decision. It often determines how much money you will need to spend on other components, but you also want to keep options open for upgrading. Some examples (for modern components as of Q2 2013) would be purchasing from Intel using a Z77 chipset for best overclocking ability rather than a H77 or B75 (inexpensive chipsets); another example would be getting a motherboard with SLI capabilities (with 2 or more 16x PCIe slots) or single 16x PCIe (cheaper motherboard).
    • Additional options should be considered for the motherboard. If you are not using the computer for video card-intensive programs (such as gaming, certain 3D workstation applications, or some components of advanced video editing) then on-board video will save you money. Additionally, on-board sound is much higher quality than it was a couple years ago, and this too will save you money (if exceedingly high-quality sound it not required). On-board ethernet should be a must for any modern computer.
    • Count on spending 10-15% (of your total costs) on a motherboard without spending less than $90.
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    • The processor is to the computer as the frontal-lobe is to your brain. It does most of the logic and math used by all executables, and it organizes all the information going to, from, and through the computer.
    • There are many factors that make a good processor. Now, more than ever, gigahertz (GHz) are not the key aspect (but it does help). Key factors of a processor are: the manufacturer (AMD or Intel), the number of cores (multi-core processors are very common now), speed (GHz), cache (L1, L2, and sometimes L3: the more the merrier), and ultimately the processor has to be compatible with the motherboard you chose (socket type). A dual core should do for basic applications. A fast dual-core like the Intel i3-3220 works well for gaming. A quad core is more useful in multitasking and things like video editing, but be aware that not all programs can fully utilize 4 cores.
    • As of today's date, Intel's Core i7 is the fastest single-socket processor, but it is expensive. An Intel Core i5 or an AMD FX would serve well for most applications.
    • It may be smart not to buy the absolute top-of-the-line processor, since upgrades are always frequent (if you purchased the right motherboard compatible too).
    • Based on your needs, plan on spending between 10% and 25% of the computer's total cost on the processor. Add another 2-7% if the processor does not come with a cooling solution (you will need to purchase one separately). Don't forget to get a tube of thermal paste if your cooler doesn't come with it!
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    Video card (AKA Graphics card or GPU):
    • This is either a critical component, or a negligible one depending on what the computer will do.
      • If you chose to buy a motherboard and purposely got on-board video, this section can be ignored (if you have a motherboard with on-board video, but wish not to use it continue reading--but be sure to disable on-board video in the BIOS when you first build the computer).
    • Be sure to get a video card with PCIe 16x or better (depending on the motherboard slots you have available).
    • When not using the computer for gaming, a simple video card will likely be sufficient. Something that is designed by ATI or Nvidia (Nvidia does not actually produce their own video cards, but a card with an nVidia GPU should suffice) is best. An Nvidia Geforce 650 or an ATI Radeon 7770 should serve quite well. Be sure it is at least DirectX 10 compatible.
      • Spend at least 10-15% on a non-gaming rig's video card.
    • Gaming computers require much more from a video card. Video cards are the primary bottleneck in modern gaming. Running 3D games in high resolution with all the bells and whistles would require a $300+ video card. As for the hardcore gamers, putting 2-3 cards in SLI/Crossfire configuration is often required to reach performance targets when single cards are not enough, but make sure you have a compatible motherboard and a large power supply.
    • While on a budget, it will be better to purchase one video card, but having a motherboard capable of accepting two gives you room in the future to upgrade. In a year or two, you can add another identical video card and (by then) cheaply increase your video performance (by an average of about 40-50%). Beware though many budget cards lack the ability to SLI/Crossfire(using 2 or more cards)
      • Gaming video cards are extremely important, and likewise, expensive. 25% (of the total cost) would be the minimum for a gamer, and 35-45% of the rig's cost wouldn't be out of the question.
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    Hard drive (AKA HDD):
    • Two primary aspects of the hard drive to consider are capacity and performance.
      • Capacity will allow for more/larger files to be stored on the computer. The more GBs, the better. The highest capacity hard drives are perpendicular-recording drives.
      • A by-product of capacity is performance due to areal density, which allows the disk to read/write more information while spinning at the same speed. There are other attributes which contribute to performance which is RPMs (don't settle for less than 7200 RPMs), and cache (16MB is good, but there are still some very high performance HDDs with only 8MB).
    • Capacity should almost always take priority over performance, since in most cases (especially in gaming or other 3D applications) the HDD is not a performance factor except for when loading files for caching.
    • SATA is the current standard, so be sure to get a SATA hard drive (while older HDDs use PATA connectors, SATA will perform much better, and will be compatible with future motherboards.
    • SSD's are useful for low disk latency. It will help your computer to boot up and open programs very quickly because of how fast you can read data. Usually SSDs are above $0.50 per GB as of Q2 2013. Many people buy a 128GB SSD to use as a boot drive (install windows on it) and then use an extra HDD to store data like movies or pictures.
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    Memory (AKA RAM):
    • This component allows your computer to cache files in temporary, fast memory, which allows you computer to do many smaller things faster than it normally would. Thus, to a point, the more RAM you have the faster things will respond.
    • RAM is important for modern games, at least 4GB - 8GB is recommended; but for a less demanding users 4GB is plenty.
    • Make sure that you get a 64 bit operating system if you get over 3GB of RAM, but make sure you have a 64 bit processor.
    • Be sure to purchase RAM which is compatible with your motherboard (SDRAM, DDR, DDR2, DDR3).
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    DDR3 is the most common now and is available cheaply from many reliable sources.
    • Spend 10-15% for standard users, and about 20% for gamers.
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    Sound card (not included in total price):
    • Sound cards are usually only added to motherboards without on-board sound, those who require nothing but the best quality sound, or those who do audio editing.
    • If you are adding a sound card because the motherboard doesn't have on-board sound, any sound card will do, but cards from Creative are highly recommended. Audigy, Audigy 2, or X-Fi come in many different specs and prices, and are among the best.
    • For the best quality sound, or for gamers, there is only one option: Creative's X-Fi. If you want to go all-out, X-Fi Fatal1ty will even give slightly better performance in games.
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    Case, monitor, optical drive(s), mouse, and keyboard:
    • Case: the case should be large enough to house all your components, and larger if you want the installation to be easy. If you bought an ATX motherboard, almost any standard case should work (if you didn't, make sure the case supports the motherboard mounts).
      A case and power supply combo will save you money, but the power supply may not be able to support certain things like SLI and video card power assist. In these cases, a separate power supply will need to be purchased.
    • Monitor (this was not included in the total price): LCDs are cheap, and are always getting better. For a standard user a $200 19-inch or $170 17-inch is perfect. For gamers CRTs (older, big, heavy monitors) still offer the best flexibility and image response, but LCDs are very convenient, and a well-priced LCD can give performance comparable to CRTs.
    • Optical drives: as long as you do not purchase next-generation hardware like Blu-ray or HD-DVD (HD-DVD should be avoided as it does not have a lot of support), these drives can be very cheap. A very fast DVD+/-RW can easily be purchased for less than $40. Going with a respectable and reliable company is key, but speed is also an issue. One DVD+/-RW should take care of all your current-gen optical drive needs.
    • Keyboard and mouse (not included in total price): wireless mouse and keyboards are the staple for modern computer users. You can get a key/mouse combo for less than $100. A wired mouse and keyboard could be bought for $30 or less.
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    Operating System (AKA OS): For home users, Windows 7 Home Edition will be perfectly fine. For gamers and demanding applications (like Photoshop)Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate is a good way to go. Windows XP support will be dropped soon, and Vista is buggy, so Windows 7 is the way to go if you want Windows
    • For more speed and general use (not gaming) Linux may be better. Linux is free and outperforms Windows 7 in many benchmarks. Although it does have an abbreviated list of supported hardware, it will run fine on AMD and Intel PCs, and also will run quickly with 512MB of RAM and a 1 GHz Processor
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  • If you are really on a budget, consider waiting for a major holiday before buying the parts. Almost annually Thanksgiving (here in the US) shows the greatest sales both in-store and online. Other holidays include: X-mas, New Years, presidents day, Easter, July 4th, Columbus day, back-to-school sales. Sometimes the savings can be up to 15%, other times its not worth the wait. Be prepared that most of the savings are through rebates.
  • The video card, processor, and motherboard are the three most important pieces of hardware for a gamer (in that order).
  • Always plan ahead for future upgrades, this will allow your computer to stay on the higher end of the spectrum of performance, budget just a little bit of money per year (no requirement to build a completely new computer for quite a few years).
  • The more money you spend, the longer it will take for your computer to go out of date.


  • Make sure that all of your components are compatible with each other. Also make sure that the OS you plan to install has compatibility with your hardware (Mostly applies to non-Windows OSs).
  • Use reputable website when shopping on-line.

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Categories: Hardware