Build an 'ultimate value for money' PC

Build an 'ultimate value for money' PC

Summary: It's very easy to overspend on components when building a PC if you don't know which parts give you the best bang for the buck.

TOPICS: Hardware

 |  Image 1 of 7

  • Thumbnail 1
  • Thumbnail 2
  • Thumbnail 3
  • Thumbnail 4
  • Thumbnail 5
  • Thumbnail 6
  • Thumbnail 7
  • Introduction

    It's very easy to overspend on components when building a PC if you don't know which parts give you the best bang for the buck.

    Here I'm going to look at the parts what should be in any 'ultimate value for money' PC you buy.

    I'll show you the best sub-$200 processor, the best bank for the buck solid-state drive, a GPU for under $230 that will handle any game you can throw at it, and much more.

  • CPU

    With high-end processors going for over a thousand dollars, care needs to be taken when choosing a CPU to make sure that you're getting the latest technology without breaking the bank.

    Right now, my silicon of choice comes from Intel, and I believe that the best bang for the buck is offered by the quad-core 3.2GHz Core i5-3470 with built-in HD 2500 graphics. You get cutting-edge 22-nanometer Ivy Bridge technology at a price that won't break the bank.

    At $200, this is a lot of silicon for the money.

Topic: Hardware

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Parts swap

    Personally I would swap to a 128GB SSD save ~$100 and put that into an i5 3570 or 3570K $15-40 extra and the rest into a better graphics card pehaps the gtx 660ti $30-70 extra.
  • PC, best bang for the buck

    I love building PC's... why waste money on a useless iPad, try self assembling a PC for that money.

    The one thing I couldn't solve on a self assembled PC is the fan noise... The fans ( CPU + GPU + Power Supply + Case) gives a lot of noise... Water cooled solutions are available...but expensive
    • I always recommend canning whatever you're given

      Stock cooler and case fans are notoriously noisy. I'm a big fan of corsair's for cost/quiet ratio, but to be honest a lot is achieved by carefully reviewing airflow; high static pressures and velocities are going to lead to more sound production.

      You can also introduce fan speed limiters to control the speed of airflow, massively reducing noise, but it will reduce airflow, so design needs to compliment it.

      With regards to liquid cooling, I wouldn't really say it's quieter - you usually have the same number of or more fans, plus the pump(s), but it does often get rid of the gpu fan, which are seldom designed for being quiet!
      • The GPU fan is the loudest.

        I have few PCs under my desk, all that noise adds up in a quiet room.
    • huh?

      Buy several fans, a gigantic heat sync, don't allow your CPU to go into Turbo mode or whatever, use a passive PSU and something like the Geforce 630 with no fan.

      Set the fans to quiet in the Bios and you should be all set.
      • Home built PCs are

        Noisy pieces of junk. They're equivalent to garage built automobiles. I had one of those noise boxes about 8 years ago. It sounded like a 747 taking off. I needed the performance, but couldn't afford at the time a truly engineered piece of computing machinery. About 5 years ago I bought a real, engineered computer, a used Mac Pro. It runs either Windows 7 or Mac OS X. With its two 4 core processors, it will still give any current computer, Apple or otherwise, a good run for its money. Unless the machine is working hard, such as encoding video, it is almost totally silent. It's fans are all variable speed, controlled by special custom electronics. Home built machines just can't be engineered properly for that sort of thing because of the varying complements and their airflow needs. I upgraded it last year with 128 GB SSD as the system drive. In addition it has a 3 TB and two 1 TB data drives. As with everything else in life, you get what you pay for.
        • That's funny

          nuf said (everyone else is ignoring your post).
        • Completely untrue

          My Windows XP machine was an off-the-shelf model from Best Buy, & ended up requiring additional fans as it went through its life cycle.

          My new, homebuilt Windows 7 machine not only has more fans than the XP machine did, but is at most *half* as noisy. I credit that to the custom cases that homebuilt machines use: unlike the off-the-shelf models, they're designed for optimal airflow, & the more natural airflow a case has the less the fans have to work for the same amount of cooling.

          And yes, my homebuilt machine *does* control the fans, as the motherboard utility allows me to control when the fans come on based on the CPU/case temperatures. And that's without any expensive, high-end liquid cooling system.

          Yet I will bet that I paid less for my brand-new, never-used, custom-assembled homebuilt machine than you did for your used Mac Pro, and definitely spent less than your machine cost when brand-new.
        • ¿Como dijo amigo?

          My Cooler Master CM Storm Scout Box with 3 fans 2 @ 60 CFM + 1 @ 44 CFM(The Power Supply's is also Cooler Master so there is another fan @ 44 CFM), not counting the CPU Fan (5 fans total) it's so silent that I can sleep next to it while running, and of course it has truly engineering, by design, and it can have another 2 - 120 mm fans @ 44 CFM. In my location summers are very hot !

          By the way, it runs a AMD Phenom II X6, and a 1 Tb disk at 7200 rpm + 1 250 GB @ 5400 rpm. And no, I'm not running OS X, better than that I run Linux Mint & Windows 7, which I use only to run MS Oficce, AutoCad and ArcMap, (< 15% of the time) and all the other applications run in Linux, which is better than OS X, and free!, so I can't say I have to much money to spend in a Apple Machine.

          Next time, you better choose real engineered components, and You'll get a nice PC.

          Sorry for my English it's my third language !
        • 8 years is a long time, Sahib...

          ...times and tech have changed.
          Feldwebel Wolfenstool
    • Could try using the motherboard utility to regulate them

      That was one of the worst problems with my old PC. The computer desk couldn't really be moved, & the case had limited airflow, so the cooling solution (2-3 fans) wasn't ideal either for noise or actual cooling (ended up losing a couple of hard drives due to overheating over the 7-year period).

      My new AMD-based machine, however, uses a GigaByte mobo, & the included utility allowed me to set it so that the CPU fan only comes on when the processor gets above a certain threshold. Also, since my quad-core CPU has more than sufficient juice for a single core to handle most apps, I also have it turn off some of the cores when I don't need them. Combined with quieter fans, a case with more openings for air flow and a better design for fan placement, I've got probably 50% or less of the previous noise level going on.
    • Best PC for the money most be...

      something that you put together with the basic elements like:

      - the most compatible motherboard with all the latest I/O ports and able to use 16+ GB RAM
      - the CPU & RAM meet your needs
      - the graphic card should be 1+ GB 5GDDR RAM (bigger GPU and more RAM mean more silent fan)
      - SSD is the best choice today and 120 GB is fine for the main program like OS, audio/video editor. Another 120 GB is needed when you play games because most games is 7+ GB. (MS Flight Sim use 18+ GB and Trainz Sim use 18+ GB)
      - the monitor should be 23"+ because you can relax your eyes a lot more with bigger monitors. My newest is 27" and is not to big for my use.

      A tip for those who like a silent PC as I do...
      Buy an extern DVD/BLU-ray player and a extern USB-hub to put on your table, because that is all you need in your daily use of the PC.
      Put the cabinet with everything else on the floor. If you like even more silence then put a wooden board up between you and PC, that will reduce the noise from the fans and save you a lot of money, because not many fan is that silent.
      • Quiet fans

        The larger the fan, the slower it can run to move the same amount of air. And the slower it runs, the quiter it is. Therefore, get the largest fans your case can accomodate. Be sure the case you choose can handle large fans (120 mm).
        • Oops! Quieter, not quiter...

          Oops! Quieter, not quiter...
  • I was considering an iMac 27inch

    But, I am saying seriously, to buy it abroad and ship it here is ridiculous. $270,232.50 (US $2,800). This is 2013, ridiculous, instead, I will just build a decent computer using your recommendations.
    • By the way

      Its the base model iMac, but local tax and import duties plus shipping pushed it to that.
  • Um... I think we earn different.

    For many this would be their dream-limited-by-price build.

    Let's go part by part
    I3 not i5; at nearly half the price you get a lot more bang for buck. In desktop cpu's i3's are more than suitable enough for nearly all tasks. Think you need i5? If it's not a gaming rid/renderer then no. You don't.

    Asus p8z77 in any form factor. You'll save a lot by going Asrock (not my choice; I have the mini itx Asus z77 but his is about bang per buck) and if you don't intend to overclock, get the h77 chipset.

    Graphics card... $250 card in a cost effective machine?? This will depend on what you do. Not being a gamer, I choose amount of video Ram over it's speed. I spent $65 on get 630 2gb ddr3. I use it mostly with games at default settings (steam) and watching movies. No dramas.

    Ssd - 128. If you're running a dual set up, and you have less than 100gb of program files, 128. Just move users over to the platter drive. (Got 100GB of music? Even if you choose 512kb/s encoding, you will be fine with platter read speeds.)

    Additionally you forgot to recommend a PSU - This is my number one tip for all builders; do not skimp on the PSU. The amount of times I've advised people on builds where they've already decided to sli two $300 graphics cards, but plan to spend $40 on a PSU because "it's just the PSU" , it has the right connectors, or they haven't even worked out what wattage they need.
    • Today's gaming rig is tomorrow's standard business machine

      Well, maybe not quite. But for a small office/home office, that's more often the case.
      • Too true

        In fact, given that we're looking at a "value" PC, I'm going to assume that we're looking at most at casual gaming (i.e. browser-based). That doesn't any sort of mid-grade, let alone high-end, graphics card, & the i5-3470 he picked comes with onboard graphics (listed as similar to the i5-3550 my work PC uses, which has 64MB dedicated & up to 1.5GB using shared memory) -- which, given that my work PC only has 4GB of RAM but he's recommending 8GB, means there will be plenty for even a less-casual gamer (i.e. someone not running the latest & greatest 3D games). That will save you another $250.
      • I think the gap is widening faster than ever.

        Between what the hardware can do and what we use it for. If you have a home office or just a YouTube/facebook/MSoffice/iTunes home PC... In terms of processor, a core2duo would suffice.

        It's one of he things really hitting PC sales. Running right up to the first few years of the last decade (if I ever say "noughties" shoot me) you were literally forced into buying new hardware by new software not being able to cope.

        The reality is that your arm based handheld can do all that. Why would you replace a machine that doesn't need replacing?

        It isn't just mobile tech that's killing desktop sales; people do still use them and like to have at least one in a home, it's just their life cycle has most likely doubled for most home users.

        Your average PC user is not a gamer. Most new stock pc's will run most games. Gamer pc's are only for the top of the line, and more commonly highest settings enabled games.

        I routinely have laptops brought to me "running really slow and crashing" and get told "it is a bit old" have a look; 4gb, 1st gen i5, 500gb hdd. My diagnosis - reinstall, your hardware is fine.

        To be honest, unless you have parts already lying about I never recommend anyone build a budget PC. If you want a budget office PC, go to PC world; it'll be a lot less than you're able to get a self build down to. I find it helpful to tell them that they are realistically going to spend $500 plus monitor, but they will get much better kit for that money than they could possibly get from any OEM. (I also tell them to plan ahead and combine shipping; my last build required my flat ate not to be in for deliveries, shipping came in at nearly $100 all told!