Building a bargain PC

WHEN IT COMES TO BUILDING YOUR OWN COMPUTER, THE CHEAPEST ISN’T ALWAYS THE BEST OPTION.

[ LINDSAY HANDMER ]

A NEW computer can be a lot of fun, but also a big hit to the wallet.

Saving money gets complex when there are loads of different options to juggle, so we’ve put together a guide to building a bargain PC.

It’s not just desktops that can be configured — many Aussie laptop vendors provide customisation options that can be affordable way to get the balance right for your needs.

It’s not just desktops that can be configured — many Aussie laptop vendors provide customization options that can be affordable way to get the balance right for your needs.

We’ve tended to focus on the more affordable side of things, but a cheap PC isn’t necessarily a bargain. Rather, it’s about getting the most performance for your dollar, whether it’s a $500 build or a $5,000 one.

KNOW YOUR PURPOSE

As much as it can be tempting to drool over, or buy, specific hardware just because it’s awesome, it’s important to spec correctly for your needs. A big mistake we often see is people building or buying a computer that is simply too powerful for the job at hand. Even the best deal on a $1,000 PC is not a bargain if a $500 machine would have done the same job. While the impact is relatively small, a lower-end PC will use less power, saving a bit of money. Gamers have it relatively easy, as they can look at the minimum specs of their favorite titles, or look at loads of realworld feedback from other gamers. A great resource for new builds is PC Part Picker (au.pcpartpicker.com), which lets you play around with different builds, compare prices, check hardware compatibility and has a range of handy guides.

For those who want something at least semi-portable, laptops can actually be great value, as everything needed is included.

It’s also possible to plug them into a keyboard, mouse and monitor to replicate the desktop experience. Gamers will have a tougher time getting the desired performance from a laptop, but some models, such those from metabox.
com.au, can be custom specced much like a desktop.

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CHOOSE YOUR HARDWARE WISELY

It’s important to consider what a PC will be used for its entire life, not just what you want right now. The right build can give you a measure of future-proofing, by making it easier to upgrade down the track. For example, you might need a PC right now for productivity tasks, but want to splurge on a GPU in the future for gaming. In such a case, it’s important to choose a CPU with inbuilt graphics for the short term, but a motherboard with a PCIe slot for later upgrades. Or spend a little extra now to buy 2 x 8GB RAM chips rather than less on 4 x 4GB, so you can drop in another 2 x 8GB as an upgrade in the future.

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STORAGE WARS

Those ultra-fast NVMe SSDs are rapidly dropping in price but, in all but some specific cases, give little real-world performance advantages over a cheaper, slower SATA III SSD. It’s well worth combining a main SSD and a mechanical HDD is you expect large storage needs. Cheaper M.2 SSDs can make for easy installs, better airflow and tiny footprint PCs.

THE AMD ADVANTAGE
While getting better, AMD CPUs are a mixed bag, whereas the GPUs are generally excellent. But where they truly stand out from Nvidia is low-cost gaming builds and FreeSync. On any mid-range gaming PC, performance is enough to push frame rates beyond 60fps, so a monitor with a higher refresh rate is needed. That’s where adaptive sync technologies steps in, to help maintain a high frame rate without screen tearing or stuttering.

FreeSync was developed by and is supported by AMD and is royalty free.

That means it’s included on a big range of monitors, including loads of affordable monitors. In contrast, Nvidia’s G-Sync is a better technology, but needs expensive hardware included in the monitor and isn’t found on as wide a range of monitors — especially not bang-for-buck-oriented ones.

For those wanting to include FreeSync in their next bargain build, it’s hard to go past the ViewSonic VX57 Series, with a 1080p resolution 75Hz refresh rate and available in 22-, 24- and 27-inch models.

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PRICE COMPARISON

Like any purchase, there are plenty of savings to be had by comparing prices. Our go-tos for tech are still Static Ice (www.staticice.com.au) and Getprice (www.getprice.com.au) — don’t forget to account for shipping, or use the advanced search to narrow the results down to your state. Mentioned above, PC Part Picker is another great resource, which includes price comparison.

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DIY VS ASSEMBLY

It’s well worth learning how to build your own PC, because it helps save money with troubleshooting and upgrades down the track.

Don’t let your old PC parts gather dust — sell them on eBay or search for second-hand bargains instead of buying new.

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BARGAIN HUNTER BUILDING A BARGAIN PC

But even experienced builders shouldn’t discount having their PC built by a shop, as many offer prices that include assembly, testing or even overclocking, for no more than the individual items would cost.

For those looking for an affordable way to avoid frame tearing, Viewsonic’s FreeSyncequipped 75Hz VX57 series monitors are worth a look.

For those looking for an affordable way to avoid frame tearing, Viewsonic’s FreeSyncequipped 75Hz VX57 series monitors are worth a look.

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WARRANTIES

An often overlooked aspect to getting a great value PC is the warranty. Consider what the manufacturer offers in terms of warranty, but don’t forget that Australia has excellent consumer guarantees and the retailer must sort the problem — not just tell you to contact the manufacturer. For example, your GPU might only have a 1 year warranty, but under Australian law, it must last a ‘reasonable time’, which is certainly longer than one year. Don’t be afraid to get the ACCC (www.accc.gov.au) involved if a retailer claims otherwise. Make sure to take digital copies of your receipts, and lodge warranties online if available.

Windows 10 is still the go-to for most new builds, and it’s still possible to upgrade older versions for free.

Windows 10 is still the go-to for most new builds, and it’s still possible to upgrade older versions for free.

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SECOND HAND

Websites such as eBay and Gumtree, as well as the overclockers.com.au forums, can be gold mines for picking up second-hand bargains.

While buying new is great, second hand typically gives much better bang for buck, especially if you can get the original receipt for warranty. Likewise, sell off any old hardware when upgrading.

One of the best tech price comparison websites, Staticice also has a great mobile app for Android and iOS.

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THE OS CONUNDRUM

Consider free alternatives such as Linux or even Chrome OS, but most PC builders will be using Windows. If you have Windows 7 or 8, Microsoft still provides a free upgrade to Windows 10 if you tick the box saying you use ‘assertive technologies’ without defining (or checking) what they actually are. It’s not without some risk and effort, but it’s possible to buy a cheap copy of Win 7 or 8 online and use that to upgrade to 10.

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