Build a cheap, overclockable PC

I've had a number of enquires from readers who want to build (or buy) a cheap yet powerful PC. Can it be done? You bet! What components will you need to buy? Read on!
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

I've had a number of enquires from readers who want to build (or buy) a cheap yet powerful PC.  Can it be done?  You bet!  What components will you need to buy?  Read on!

E4300 Core 2 Duo
One of the cheapest (and best) ways to get your hands on a powerful PC is to make sure that it's built around a CPU and motherboard configuration that allows it to be overclocked.  Overclocking is highly desirable because it allows you to tap into extra power for free.

When it comes to overclocking the best CPUs can be found in the Intel Core 2 Duo LGA775 range.  Here's what's currently available along with current pricing (from Newegg):

  • E4300 1.8GHz - $169
  • E6300 1.86GHz - $184
  • E6400 2.13GHz - $222
  • E6600 2.4GHz - $314
  • E6700 2.66GHz - $512
[poll id=96]

All these CPUs overclock well but for the price the E4300 1.8GHz (Allendale) processor offers excellent value for money.  With very little tweaking at all (boosting the core voltage to around 1.4 to 1.465V) it's possible to get this $169 CPU purring at 3.0 - 3.1GHz and need nothing more than the stock cooler.  Very impressive indeed and one heck of a boost up from the stock 1.8GHz. 

However, to overclock this CPU up to this level and still keep things stable you will need a decent motherboard.  Three that spring to mind are the ASUS P5B ($131.99), the ASUS P5N32-E (108.99) and the Gigabyte GA-965P-S3 ($107.99).  You might be able to get away with a cheaper board but these may not offer the voltage stability that the CPU will need when overclocked.  I'm not going to say that you couldn't overclock the CPU to a high level with a lower cost board, but if I was building a system with overclocking in mind, I wouldn't skimp on the board.

So, an E4300 CPU and a motherboard that'll allow you to squeeze out all the power the processor has to offer will set you back about $280. 

To that I'd add at least 2GB of good quality RAM, something like Kingston, Crucial or OCZ.  I particularly like the Platinum series RAM from OCZ because you are allowed to push use a VDIMM of 3.0V ± 5% without invalidating the lifetime warranty, but this comes at a price.  Whatever you buy, just make sure that it's backed by a good warranty that allows you to return the RAM if it doesn't work out in an overclocked system.

From that point on, what you add to the system is up to you.  You need a chassis, a PSU, a hard drive, a graphics card (spend less than $100 and you'll be doing your system a massive disservice) and an optical drive.

No matter what extras you choose, you're bound to end up with a system that's powerful and can take anything you throw at it.

Thoughts?  How would you complete the system?  What tweaks would you make?  What do you think of overclocking?

Editorial standards