You’re a gamer on a budget. An extremely tight budget as a matter of fact. You’re wondering if you can even pull off a quality build for under $400, and truth be told, your worries are justified. Cryptocurrency mining, flash memory shortages, and even alleged price fixing have all caused computer components to absolutely skyrocket in price; but there is hope. Follow this build guide and check out the hardware that will help you achieve your Ultra-Low-Budget PC dream.
Before we kick things off, we’re going to have to make a few concessions. This guide won’t include a monitor, keyboard, or mouse. These items are very easy to find cheaply in the used market and if you are like me, you’ve probably got a few lying around anyway. The goal of this guide is to focus solely on the computer, so that’s what we’re going to do.
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Component #1 – The Processor
For the processor, we’re going to take AMD’s new RYZEN 5 2400G.
AMD’s second generation of Ryzen products have come just in time for the budget-conscious gamer. Featuring 4 unlocked cores, 8 threads, Simultaneous Multi-Tasking, a 3.6Ghz base clock and a 3.9Ghz turbo clock, and Radeon VEGA 11 Graphics, the Ryzen 5 2400G is an excellent choice to get the ball rolling on this build. The included Wraith Stealth cooler is more than sufficient for keeping your build cool and might even be enough for a very mild overclock.
The RYZEN 5 2400G features Radeon VEGA 11 Graphics integrated into the CPU. You may recognize the VEGA name from AMD’s lineup of VEGA 56 and VEGA 64 graphics cards. That’s right, cores from these cards have actually been adapted for use right on the die of the RYZEN 5 2400G, so we actually don’t even need a graphics card for this build!
The onboard VEGA 11 graphics will easily handle games like League of Legends and Fortnite at 1080p with respectable framerates and settings, and can even handle well optimized games like Wolfenstein II and Doom with low to medium settings.
Streamers will enjoy the plentiful real estate of 4 cores and 8 threads that make the 2400G a heavy hitter in the multitasking department of playing games and simultaneously uploading to Twitch.
Two minor things of note: This build guide contains a motherboard that may require a BIOS flash. (More on that in a minute.) The RYZEN 5 2400G is absolutely compatible, but you may need either a first-generation Ryzen chip or an AMD upgrade kit to flash the BIOS.
Additionally, keep an eye out for bundles featuring this product and current generation motherboards. If your timing is right, you might be able to save a few bucks!
Component #2 – The Motherboard
We’re going to take the GIGABYTE GA-AB350M-DS3H for our motherboard. This board is a MicroATX board, which means it has a smaller footprint than an ATX or even an mATX motherboard. This doesn’t mean, however, that it is lacking any important features. It’s also not the flashiest board in the market, but it does have a few nice features that may come in handy later down the line if you decide to upgrade. The board features M.2 with NvME and SATA support, RGB headers, USB 3.1, and something Gigabyte calls “High Quality Audio Capacitors.” Customer reviews indicate Gigabyte may be onto something there- as several reviewers have praised the audio quality.
The main draw to this board however, is the built-in video outputs. Since we are only going to be using the onboard VEGA 11 graphics on our Ryzen 2400G, and not a dedicated graphics card, the HDMI and DVI outputs will be our main source for a video connection to your monitor.
I mentioned earlier that this board may require a BIOS flash. As of March 13, 2018, sellers on Amazon have indicated that this board is now being shipped with the latest BIOS, so your mileage may vary.
In addition, this board makes use of DDR4 memory. Don’t worry, we’ve included DDR4 memory in this guide, but take note that any old sticks of DDR3 memory you might have lying around are absolutely not compatible and you will damage your motherboard and RAM if you attempt to insert DDR3 memory into a DDR4 slot. You should also know that you will have to configure your memory speed in this motherboard’s BIOS to take the full advantage of your RAM’s capability. More on that in a minute.
Component #3 – The RAM
Currently, the price of RAM is at an all time high, but patient buyers who act quickly may be able to score a few sticks during the occasional price drop. For now, we’re going to use just a single stick of Crucial Ballistix Sport LT 8GB DDR4-2666 memory. We’re going to lose the benefit of dual-channel here, but unless you are willing to fork over another $82 for 8 more gigabytes, (Or about $40 for another 4) we’re going to have to make do. After installing your RAM, be sure to enter your motherboard’s BIOS and locate the RAM section. Here, you will need to select the proper RAM speed, which in this case is 2666Mhz. You can also tweak the latency timings from this menu if necessary.
8GB is enough for most modern applications and the relatively quick speed of 2666Mhz means we won’t be sacrificing that much in terms of performance. Despite the staggering cost of over $10 per gigabyte, we’re at least getting a heat sink and a speedy CL16 latency.
It feels a little bit wrong to leave all of those RAM slots unoccupied, but hopefully when the price of RAM descends back from the high heavens we will be able to add a few more sticks.
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Component #4 – Storage
Storage is another area where we’re going to have to make another compromise. Although the lightning fast speeds of SSD’s are highly desirable, SSD’s and M.2 NvME drives are still prohibitively expensive for low-budget builds. There’s good news though: The price of standard 1 terabyte 3.5” drives is at an all time low, and continues to drop. That’s why we’re going to select the ol’ reliable Western Digital Caviar Blue 1TB SATA III hard drive.
The Caviar Blue’s 7200RPM platter puts it among the fastest commercially available “spinning disk” drives, and the 64MB of cache means you should have no issues accessing your data in a timely fashion. Western Digital cites the Blue Line of products as being the perfect solution for standard desktops that need to store a variety of photos, videos, games, and documents, and they stand by their product with a 2-year warranty. The 1TB size will be more than enough for your operating system and favorite games, but the good news doesn’t stop there. At only $44, you can easily grab another Caviar blue in the future if you run out of space on your first one. On the other hand, if you decide you would rather have an extremely fast boot drive, there is still room on our motherboard in the form of spare SATA ports and an unoccupied M.2 slot to fill out in a later upgrade.
Component #5 – The Case
We’re going to need a good case to put all of these components in, and there literally hundreds of fantastic options in the entry-level price range. Many of these options come from a company called Rosewill, and we’re going to select their SRM-01 MicroATX Mini Tower for our machine.
The SRM-01 has a small, very spartan footprint- perfect for a low-budget build. We’re also using the SRM-01 in this guide because it is a MicroATX MIni Tower, which is the proper fit for our MicroATX AM4 motherboard. Some of the cable routing may get a bit tight, but I believe the overall space savings on your desk or on your floor are worth it. There may not be any flashy built-in RGB LEDs, but there is an included 80mm exhaust fan, plenty of options for cable management, and the two drive bays offer ample room for our hard drive and another accessory of your choice, such as a fan controller or DVD drive. The car-door style side panel has ventilation holes, and the top-mount for the power supply means air flow will not be an issue in this case.
Finally, the SRM-01 just looks like it means business. It’s simple, elegant design seems to indicate that it knows its purpose: To provide an affordable platform for the budget-conscious gamer and look good doing it.
Component #6 – The Power Supply
So far, our build uses just 150 watts of (estimated) power, but that doesn’t mean you should skimp out when considering which power supply to buy. A cheaply-made or off-brand power supply can easily ruin your entire system if it fails, but the good news is you don’t have to spend an insane amount of dough to get a reliable product.
EVGA power supplies are renowned for their durability, reliability, and most importantly, affordability. That’s why we’re going to select the EVGA 400 N1 for our Ultra-Low-Budget PC build.
Rated for 400 watts, the EVGA 400 N1 has more than twice the power we will need for our build right now, but gamers who wish to add a dedicated graphics card in the future will be thankful for the extra power headroom. It may not be fully modular, but the EVGA 400 N1 does feature Over-Voltage Protection, Over-Power Protection, and Short-Circuit Protection. Failing that, EVGA also includes a 2 year warranty.
Component #7 – The Graphics Card
As I mentioned earlier, we are not going to use a graphics card in this particular build because we have onboard VEGA 11 graphics capability in our Ryzen 5 2400G and our motherboard has the proper video outputs. If you are looking to add more horsepower to your build, there’s no getting around the fact that you are going to have to spend a few more bucks in this department. Extremely cheap video cards such as the Nvidia 1030GT or the Radeon 540 are not going to add much, if any benefit at all to your performance and may actually hurt your performance in some areas. I recommend avoiding these extremely cheap cards altogether and investing in something more substantial. Despite the current high market costs, there are some graphics cards that are still affordable. Check out some of our other build guides if you’re ready to take the plunge and pick out some affordable graphics cards.
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It was tricky, and we had to make a few sacrifices, but we did it. This build isn’t the flashiest, most powerful computer on the block, but it’s going to do what we want reliably and we didn’t have to spend thousands doing it. Additionally, this build also offers a fantastic upgrade path for gamers who are willing to spend a few more bucks in the future. The AM4 socket in the motherboard is compatible with all RYZEN CPU’s, so upgrading to a model with more horsepower is no trouble at all. We’ve also left an open space for a GPU as well. Patient gamers who are willing to wait for a drop in graphics card prices may find themselves pleasantly surprised by the performance increase of adding a discrete graphics card in the future. Since we’ve got the power headroom with our EVGA 400 N1, we won’t have to worry about upgrading the power supply to accommodate a new graphics card. The potential also exists to add faster storage in the form of either a SATA or M.2 SSD.
Thanks for reading this build guide! All of the parts mentioned in this article can be found on Amazon and other retailers. Happy building!
Guide Written By Roman De Simone