You can save a lot of money building your computer rather than buying from, say, Dell. This is especially true nowadays, when shipping for computer parts is often free. Your primary savings come from:
- No price markup for the brand
- No price market for hardware upgrades (e.g. more memory)
- No price markup for a warranty (you only get factory parts warranties)
- No price market for software (especially if you can get it elsewhere, cheaper. e.g.: buy it from your school or company)
For less than $300, you can get a fairly fast desktop computer. Certainly it will perform better than many $1000 computers of a couple years ago.
The key components are:
- A motherboard
- A processor that is compatible with the motherboard
- Memory that is compatible with the motherboard
- A hard-drive (typically SATA III these days). For much better performance, you should get an SSD hard drive. You can optionally get an additional standard hard drive for more storage
- A wireless card or usb stick, if wifi is needed.
- A case and power supply. The power supply requirements may differ if you need a powerful graphics card or you plan on adding many many hard drives.
- Optionally, an optical drive, such as DVD RW
- Optionally, a separate graphics card, for hardcore gamers and graphic artists. Most motherboards and CPUs today do not require a separate graphics card for basic use.
- Optionally, a separate audio card, for hi-definition music, gaming, or audio production
- A keyboard and mouse, if you don’t have extras
- A monitor and speakers, if you don’t have extras.
- An operating system, such as Windows or Linux. Students can get windows at steep discounts (sometimes free!)
Lists are of no use without examples. A student recently asked me to help him build a computer. Here’s my recommendations:
- Start with the CPU. Pick either Intel or AMD. I’m more familiar with Intel, but they have very similar processors.
- The best bargain CPU from Intel is the G630, for $66. We’ll go with that ( http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819116406&Tpk=g630 ). It’s slightly slower than a Core i3, but the i3 costs $120. The G630 and i3 are based on the same SandyBridge architecture, so they’re leagues ahead of our old core2duo’s, and even more recent processors are outclassed.
- Because we picked the G630, we need to pick a motherboard that supports “LGA 1155”. LGA 1155 is the socket (or plug) that the G630 plugs into. Different CPUs require different sockets, and motherboards typically only support 1 type of socket. Here’s how to sort them by price on newegg: link. We’ll pick the cheapest motherboard: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813138332 BIOSTAR H61MGC. (Biostar is a reasonable brand)
- The next step is memory. Our motherboard supports DDR3 1333 memory 2×240 pins. This means it support 2 pieces of memory, each with 240 pins. The memory should be DDR3 1333, which specifies the type and speed. Our motherboard also supports other speeds, but it will only accept 240 pin DDR3. We can find a list here. I’d pick the cheapest one: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=9SIA0ST0CY7892 AVEXIR Budget Series 8GB
- On to the hard drive. I recommend a SATA III SSD, but any SATA hard drive will do. You can get a decent 128GB one for $90 (link). I’d recommend something smaller, like the OCZ Solid 3: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820227728 . OCZ doesn’t have the best reputation for reliability, but newegg has great warranties for DMA, and the OCZ Solid’s performance is not bad at all.
- A case and power supply. For sake of simplicity, you may want to get these together. If you want to do powerful graphics, then you will probably want to buy them separately. Your motherboard needs to fit in your case, and we picked an ATX motherboard. This is the cheapest mid-sized ATX case with powersupply : http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811148047 LOGISYS Computer CS301BK
- So far so good! Processor: $66, motherboard: $40. Memory: $30, SSD: $60, case: $28. Total: $224 . Everything after this is optional.
- Wifi Adapter. There are lots to choose from. Some are internal, some are external. I recommend this external USB adapter: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16833704046 for $14. The TP-LINK TL-WN422G might be big, but it has great range.
- DVD Drive. Any SATA drive will do. This $17 LG DVD Burner 24X works fine: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16827136247
- Pixxo USB Keyboard for $7: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16823664009
- Rosewill USB Mouse for $6: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16826193042
- Speakers. I’d never buy speakers this cheap for personal use, but a 2.1 set like the $11 Cyber Acoustics CA3001WB will be tolerable for a while: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16836150041
- Monitor. The $80 Acer G185HVb 18.5″ Monitor should be fine: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16824009350 . I’ve had several Acer’s, with good results.
- Okay, so many people keyboards, mice, and even monitors lying around. For the computer + Wifi + DVD + Keyboard + Mouse + Speakers + monitor, you’re at $359, much of that being the monitor.
- I’ve leave Windows or Linux up to you, but Linux Mint: http://linuxmint.com/ or Ubuntu: http://www.ubuntu.com/download/desktop are good free choices.
- Lastly, if you absolutely need decent 3d graphics. I’d recommend a Radeon 6670 (list) for most modern games, such as this $70 one: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814161421