It is my solid impression that most of you use, or are planning to buy computers far too powerful. Far too powerful for the tasks you can throw at them. It’s okay, marketing is like that. In this article I aim to prove that it’s often unnecessary to buy a PC for a thousand dollars, and you already have the skills to build one for under $250 given a list of the right components.
Most people don’t play demanding video games on their computers. Gamers tend to think otherwise, but they are a minority compared to those who simply want to stay connected with the online world.
In other words, a computer for most people is to be able to connect to the Internet, and run software that help them access the services they use daily. Google, Facebook and YouTube are the three most often visited websites on Earth. No wonder, they let you communicate with others, gain information and access rich media.
Based on the popularity of these sites one can conclude that the average user does little besides tasks related. E-mail clients consume negligible resources even if you’re sitting on an inbox of five thousand unread messages.
The four big browsers — Internet Explorer, Safari, Chrome and Firefox — raise the bar in terms of minimum requirements every day, even though one would assume they run on any computer with a monitor.
Some folks have digital cameras. In fact, more do every day. Sharing, organizing and processing of digital images are all tasks, which require disk space beyond that provided by the smallest available HDD, and at least some processing power above rock bottom. Therefore both the processor and storage department must be able to deal with at least basic photo editing software and a directory of a couple hundred pictures.
The $250 limit imposed by the title is admittedly arbitrary. It’s the result of a research session I had the other day, trying to find the minimum amount one must spend while building a halfway-decent PC. I started out with the $300 figure in mind, but quickly realized it’s more than possible to get a capable computer for much less than that.
This amount includes everything inside the box, referred to as ‘net configuration’. It means I assume most of you already have peripherals and a monitor, which is why I didn’t include those. If you don’t have a mouse and a keyboard already, you should take a look at the palette and set aside $30.
Further $120 should buy you a full-hd, LED backlit 22″ monitor. At the $150 price point you even get to pick and choose between brands.
I must also mention software, which can add a substantial amount to the final cost, or can be completely free depending on your options and choices. The 4GB of RAM included requires a 64 bit operating system of some sorts. The reason is simple yet unimportant; 32-bit operating systems cannot address more than 4GB of RAM. It often includes more than just system memory (video memory, virtual memory etc.), rendering the practically available RAM to about 3.2-3.5GB at most.
Windows Vista/7 are good candidates, but unless you’re a student of an institute with MSDNAA –MSDN Academic Alliance, a co-operation between your school and Microsoft–, you’re looking at $90 to $100 for a home premium edition.
Another increasingly appealing solution is a Linux distribution of some description. Ubuntu Linux is now almost ready for prime-time. It can be operated by non-tech savvy users for the most parts. The best part is, the vast majority of non-commercial desktop Linux stacks are free of charge. You can’t beat free as far as cost goes.
The configuration assembled in this article costs $218. That includes brand-new parts purchased online. They’re as follows.
For the CPU, Motherboard and Video card I went with a minimalistic, heavily integrated solution called Gigabyte GA-D525TUD. It constitutes of a Dual-Core 1.8 GHz Intel Atom processor, the motherboard and an Intel GMA 3150 integrated video chip. It also contains 7.1 capable sound processor, gigabit ethernet controller supplied by Realtek and two, 240 pin desktop DDR3 sockets for a maximum of 4GB DDR3.
This combination is strong enough for all applications outlined under ‘Requirements’ sub-heading. The processor shows up in task manager as four distinct cores of which only two are physical.
The reason for this is Hyper-Threading, a technology implemented in certain Intel processors to virtually double the number of available processors. It helps distribute load to the processing cores, and optimizes multi-tasking performance by increasing the number of threads allocated at any given time.
In a nutshell, this technology makes the processor snappier at multi-tasking than it could be without it.
This motherboard can be had for $89.99 and comes with necessary cooling components (heatsink, fan) installed.
For RAM, I suggest using two, 2GB memory modules from a well-known and respectable brand, like Kingston, Crucial or Hynix. For a compatibility list, refer to the chart provided by Gigabyte on their tech specs page.
RAM should cost no more than $30 for the two sticks, or around $15 for just one 2GB module should you opt for the latter.
Storage is a part you’ll need to choose for yourself. A 3.5″ 1TB HDD sets you back by around $60, 500GB disks go for $45.
My personal experience suggests that folks, who never venture far beyond the confines of Facebook, tend not to use much disk space. Here I am, sitting in front of a laptop with a 250 GB HDD, and I can’t say I have ever came close to running out of disk space.
Those of you with a decent digital camera might want to have a 1TB model. Again, its cost marginally exceeds that of a 500 GB HDD, while effectively doubling available disk space.
Computer cases are overlooked easily and often. Big mistake. Oftentimes the power supply comes built into the PC case. A low-quality PSU will turn your smile upside-down faster than anything.
Steady voltages all across the components ensure you’ve got a decent foundation for a stable computer. Without them, you’re juggling metaphorical chainsaws.
Skimp on the case and/or PSU at your peril. I honestly can’t stress this enough; having had the opportunity to sit out on a couple of Counter-Strike matches at a LAN-party due to a blown power supply, I can assure you quality is critical.
For this configuration, I opted for an Mi-008 case, because it’s received significantly fewer complaints than its price would allow you to assume. $39.99 at the time of writing.
Realizing you don’t need a particularly strong computer anymore is only the first step towards saving some money on your next PC configuration.
The second is to actively look for parts that cost less than other, more obvious, yet –for our purposes– overpowered choices.
It’s possible in its entirety to build your own PC configuration for less than $250 using nothing more than a Philips-head and a slotted screwdriver. Using the parts described above nets you a performance you’ll most probably be comfortable with. That is, if you’re a heavy web user rather than a gamer.
As long as your work requires you to run applications no more demanding than Office, these little computers will definitely turn out to be excellent.