Building a barebones budget gaming PC for under $550

One of the most requested features here on Hardware 2.0 is for a 'Best Bang for the Buck' budget gaming PC. Cash is tight and people want to get the best hardware possible for their hard-earned dollars.So let's take a look at what what you bucks can buy!
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Contributing Writer

One of the most requested features here on Hardware 2.0 is for a 'Best Bang for the Buck' budget gaming PC. Cash is tight and people want to get the best hardware possible for their hard-earned dollars.

So let's take a look at what what your bucks can buy!


Let's start with the heart of the PC and start with the processor. I used to recommend that gamers spend money on a fast dual-core CPU rather than invest in a quad-core piece because games rarely leveraged more than a core or two. Things have changed, so it's time to change the advice and recommend that gamers go for a quad-core piece of silicon.

The CPU I've chosen for this project - AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition. Here you have a Socket AM3 125W TDP, quad-core, 3.2GHz part with 4 x 512KB L2 cache, 6MB L3 cache. Being a Black Edition it means that it has an unlocked multiplier, so if you're an overclocker you'll be able to squeeze more from the part.

Excellent component, excellent price.

Price: $115


With the CPU chosen, it's not time to choose the motherboard.

What we now want is a cheap, robust, fully-featured motherboard, and while there are quite a number of possible candidates, I've gone for the ASUS M4A88T-M LE. Along with all the stuff you expect on a motherboard (USB, Gigabit LAN, audio ports ...), you also get cool features like HDMI, a CPU 'Turbo Button' and an onboard Radeon HD 4250 GPU.

Given that this motherboard comes kitted with a Radeon HD 4250 GPU, we could save cash and not fit a discrete GPU, but since this is a gaming rig that would be cutting one corner too many!

Good, solid motherboard.

Price: $80


OK, now RAM.

Since this is a gaming rig, we need a lot of RAM, and we want that RAM to be fast and we want that RAM to be stable.

The RAM I've chosen to go for here is 8GB of G.SKILL Ripjaws Series DDR3 1600.

Fast, stable, and sexy.

Price: $85

Graphics cards

This is a gaming PC, so we need a decent graphics card. That said, since this is a budget system we can't just spring for a top-end AMD Radeon HD 6000 or NVIDIA GTX 500 card. We want something that is in the sub $100 mark.

For this build I've gone for the SAPPHIRE 100289-2L Radeon HD 5670 that comes with 1GB of DDR5 RAM fitted. Not the most awesome card out there, but it's still good enough to keep up with the latest games out there.

Price: $90

Power Supply Unit (PSU)

Time to power this puppy.

This sort of system needs a robust, reliable PSU but you don't need a behemoth 1000W+ to power this PC. A good sub 500W PSU is more than adequate.

I've picked the Thermaltake TR2 W0070RUC 430W. This is all the PSU that you need for this PC, and it comes with a decent price tag.

Price: $45

Hard drive

Storage. We want lots of storage, and we want it fast. If this wasn't a budget system than I'd suggest a Solid-State Drive (SSD), but we're working on a budget here.

I've gone for my favorite drive from my favorite vendor - The 1TB Western Digital Caviar Black WD1002FAEX. This is a super drive that offers bags of high-performance storage (thanks in part of the 7,200RPM spindles and 64MB of cache).

Price: $90

Optical drive

Finally, an optical drive. Nothing much to say about this. Go for the ASUS DRW-24B1ST DVD burner. It does the job.

Price: $20

Barebones price: $525

Additional components

A couple of additions you might be in the market for (unless you already have them):

  • PC chassis - There are so many to choose from that I'm not going to bother picking one. Since this is a budget system I personally wouldn't spend more than about $50 on a case, but you're free to do whatever you want.
  • Operating system - Windows 7 Home Premium SP1 64-bit OEM - #99.

Thoughts? Feedback? Questions? Hit me up in the TalkBack section below!

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