Build it on a budget: A $500 workhorse PC

You may remember well over a year ago when we first introduced a budget build guide for DIY PC builders, and it’s long overdue for a refresh. Computer components have come a long way since then, and Intel recently launched their new 4th-generation Core Haswell chips.

As I mentioned in last year’s guide, not everyone needs an end-all tricked out custom PC with water cooling and all the bells and whistles. You most likely just want a computer that can get work done. This budget system will be great for most everyday tasks, as well as more slightly intensive activities like some gaming, streaming movies and music, and editing photos and home movies.

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This budget build assumes that you already have a mouse, keyboard, and a monitor lying around to use with your new system, and that you’ll only need the basic components to get up and running. I’ll also only be listing off my recommended parts, so if you don’t know how to build a computer but want to learn, Lifehacker has a great guide that’s perfect for the computer-building novice. With that said, let’s get to it.

Case and PSU

Thermaltake V3 Black Edition ATX Mid-Tower with 430W Power Supply – $60

We decided to go a bit more expensive with the case and power supply bundle this time around, and we think the upgrade is worth it. The Thermaltake case is way better looking than the Rosewell that we chose last time, and the 430W power supply should be more than enough to handle anything with this machine.

Motherboard

MSI B85M-P33 Motherboard – $65

It’s a low-cost motherboard, but it has all the bell and whistles that you’d need; SATA III, USB 3.0, six total USB ports, and both DVI and VGA connectors. Plus, MSI is a good brand that we trust.

Intel_i3_SB_2011Processor

Intel Core i3-4130 3.4GHz Dual-Core Processor – $130

This is Intel’s latest 4th-generation Haswell chip, and with 3.4GHz of dual-coreness, it’ll be speedy enough to breeze through most tasks you throw at it. The 4130 is one of Intel’s slowest Haswell chips, so it certainly won’t be as fast as other options, but for a budget build, this will be pretty solid.

Graphics

Intel HD Graphics 4400

We didn’t include a dedicated graphics card, mostly because we’re trying to keep this build around $500, but the 4400 integrated graphics that come with the Core i3 CPU are actually pretty solid. They won’t be able to play any of the more graphic-intensive AAA titles, but HD video playback will be flawless and casual gamers will still be able to enjoy their selection of games.

RAM

G.Skill Ripjaws Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3 1600 – $72

While we chose 4GB as the sweet spot with the last time we picked out a budget build, we feel that 8GB is now the new norm. Any more than that would be mostly unnecessary unless you plan on rendering a lot of HD video and such.

Hard Drive

Western Digital WD Blue 1TB SATA III Hard Drive – $75

WDC-Caviar-BlueHard drive prices have gone down tremendously since our last budget build, so we decided to go with a 1TB drive this time around. We feel that this is an ample amount of storage for those who have a lot of photos, music, movies, etc., but it’s also not too much storage that you wouldn’t know what to do with it.

Of course, you can never really have too much storage, so feel free to bump it up to 2TB if need be. You can usually find some pretty good deals on high-capacity hard drives.

Optical Drive

Asus 24x DVD Burner – $20

This one’s pretty simple and easy; find a 24x DVD burner and buy it. They’re stupidly cheap and there’s no reason not to get one.

Operating System

Windows 7 Home Premium – $100

Yeah, we know that Windows 8 has been out for almost a year, but we’re still sticklers for Windows 7. However, if you really want Windows 8, it’s the same price as its predecessor. You can also get a copy of Linux for free, allowing to spend that saved $100 on upgrading other components.

Total Cost: $522

That final price doesn’t account for shipping, so you’ll want to make sure you set aside some cash for the guys at UPS or FedEx, but if you can find the parts at an online store with free shipping, then all the more power to you.

Obviously, don’t take my word for everything I suggested here. I know everyone has their own opinions on components. If you have any questions about your own budget build, you can leave a comment below or you can visit the many online resources available to you. Tom’s Hardware Forums is just one place that can provide you with a lot helpful feedback.

Image Credit: kodomut

Gaming on a budget: An exhaustive guide

Gaming is expensive, plain and simple. With the price of a new game being around $60, it’s hard to justify spending that kind of money on a new title that you really want when your budget can’t compete with it. However, with a few tips and simple methods that you can keep in mind, you’ll soon be doing some hardcore gaming with only a fraction of the cash it normally takes.

Note: When I refer to any kind of console gaming throughout this guide, I’m referring to the Xbox 360, since that’s what I use and have the most experience with. However, most of the tips that you’ll read about are easily transferable to any console.

The Number One Tip

Before I dive any deeper into this guide, the number one tip that you must remember when gaming on a budget (or doing anything on a budget) is to never pay full price for anything. If there’s one thing that you learn from this guide, I hope it’s this. There’s no reason to pay full price for something, even if it’s brand new. This might seem obvious in a way, but too many gamers will go ahead and pay $60 for a game when they easily could have gone online or waited a few weeks and bought it for less.

Find a console (or computer) for cheap

Image Credit: YuMaNuMa

First thing’s first: You need a console (or a computer) to do your gaming on. If you already have either one of these things, skip to the next section. However, if you’re just getting into gaming for the first time (either console gaming or computer gaming) and don’t have a machine where you can stick game discs into, then you’ll want to stick around.

Gaming Consoles

There are tons of places where you can buy used gaming consoles, and some of these places I cover later in this guide, but I’ll give you a quick overview. eBay, Craigslist, and even Gamestop offer used gaming consoles. You can sometimes even buy brand-new gaming consoles at a discounted price. All you really have to do is wait for a seller who’s desperate for cash that needs to sell his just-purchased console because his car broke down. I’ve seen plenty of never-been-opened Xbox 360 Kinect bundles sell for around $250 on eBay (retails for $300), and I’ve even spotted one for $200 brand new on Craigslist.

Computers

Just like gaming consoles, there are tons of places to find used computers or even used computer parts to build your own custom rig. I’ve had great luck with eBay finding used parts for my gaming rig, and I probably spent half the cash it would’ve taken to build it brand new. However, some computer builders get nervous buying used parts from random strangers on the internet. The only solution to this is to either buy from a trusted friend, or wait for a sale at a reputable e-tailer and either buy brand new, or refurbished for an even bigger discount.

Be willing to compromise

I can tell you really want to play Forza 4, and it’s old enough now that you can get it used for around $30. But do you really need Forza 4 or could you get by with Forza 3? It would still be an excellent game and you can grab it for as low as $5 on eBay or Half.com. One of the biggest things that you must do in order to game on a budget is to be willing to compromise. You probably don’t need the latest and greatest sequel that’s out, especially for a series that releases a new title every year. Go with a game in a series that’s a year or two old in order to save some major cash.

Be patient

This sort of goes along with compromising, but to save yourself a lot of dough, be willing to wait a few months or even a year before buying that new release — it allows time for the used copies of a new game to start appearing on eBay and such. I can’t even tell you how much money I could have saved if I just waited to buy Call of Duty: Black Ops once Modern Warfare 3 came out. Usually when a sequel to a game comes out, you can get the prequel for a lot cheaper.

I’ve been finding a lot of great games for under $10 on eBay and Half.com recently. Titles like Forza Motorsports 3, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11, Grand Theft Auto IV, Mass Effect 2Halo 3: ODST, and Batman: Arkham Asylum all were under $10 each at various online spots and stores. Sure, they’re older games that might have lost their hype, but that doesn’t mean that they’ve lost their appeal.

Places to find cheap games and gear

eBay

eBay is easily one the best place to get cheap used games and gear. However, the best things to buy on eBay are huge lots of stuff.  You’ve probably heard the saying that it’s much cheaper to buy in bulk, and the same concept applies for big bundles of stuff on eBay. A lot of sellers simply throw all of their games and accessories in one listing and sell it at a single price. This is what we bargain hunters refer to as a “jackpot.” It’s much cheaper to buy a ton of games at once than to buy ten or twelve single game. Plus, whatever games you don’t want out of the lot, you can simply put back on eBay to make back a few dollars.

Half.com

Half.com is another awesome place to find cheap games. However, I would only recommend it if you couldn’t wait for an eBay auction to end. Half.com allows you buy cheap games right away, but sometimes you can find it cheaper on eBay if you just wait a few days for the auction to come to a close.

Amazon Marketplace

The Amazon Marketplace is a great alternative to Half.com. Prices of used games and gear are very competitive, so if you prefer doing business the Amazon way, there’s nothing to lose. You can still find some great deals through Amazon’s offering as you would with Half.com.

Gamestop

Gamestop wouldn’t be my first choice for looking for cheap stuff, but it’s at least worth a mention. Most pre-owned games they have can usually be found for a few bucks cheaper online, so I tend not to go to Gamestop too often. However, don’t cross it off your list completely. They do have a plethora of games under $10 and even a few for as little as $3. You can even find great deals on pre-owned gaming consoles. During my last trip to Gamestop, I spotted a used Xbox 360 Slim with a wireless controller for $130.

Steam

If you’re a PC gamer, Steam is pretty much your go-to place for awesome, cheap games. They have numerous free-to-play titles, as well as tons of games under $10. You can also find crazy sales going on year-round on A-list titles, especially during the holidays.

Humble Bundle

This is also another computer-only option for budget gamers. The Humble Bundle offers an assortment of 5-8 indie games for a price that you choose. That’s right. Pay whatever you want for a bundle of games. Only thing is, the Humble Bundle comes around only a few times a year.

Craigslist

Just like Gamestop, Craigslist isn’t my first choice to look for used gaming stuff, but you can get lucky at times by finding a good seller who’s selling his gaming gear for cheap. And like I mentioned earlier, a lot of Craigslist users get desperate and need money fast. Thus, you can grab some great deals.

Garage Sales

Garage Sales are a hit or miss when it comes to used gaming gear. Actually, I should be more specific. Garage sales are a hit or miss when it comes to good-quality, used gaming gear. Sure, you might find a couple of beat-up gaming systems bundled with a few B-list games, but you’ll have to look a little harder to find the good stuff. However, when that time comes — that time when some ignorant old lady is selling all of her grandson’s unused gaming gear for really cheap — that’s when you pounce.

Auctions

Same thing goes for auctions as with garage sales. It’ll be a little bit more difficult to find the good stuff, but once you do, you’ll be the proud new owner of some awesome gaming gear that you bought for mere dollars.

Conclusion

Gaming on a budget certainly takes a little bit of effort. It’s not as easy as just going to your nearest store and simply purchasing a game off the shelves. In order to save a lot of money, you have to be patient and be willing to compromise in order to get not only the good deals, but the best deals. Hopefully this guide will help you for your future budget-gaming endeavors, and if you have any of your own tips or tricks for saving money on gaming gear, let’s hear them in the comments!

Build it on a Budget: A sub-$500 get-work-done rig

Look, not every computer you build has to be a tricked-out gaming rig with flashing LEDs and a complete water-cooling system. Some of us just need a machine that we can use to get work done in an efficient manner. This is where my heavily thought-out budget build comes into play. And we’re not talking about really cheap APU crap — we’re going all-out Intel 2nd-gen Core i3 that will even have enough room for some expandability in the future, all for under $500.

This budget system will serve you well for most everyday tasks, as well as other more slightly intensive activities like some gaming, streaming movies and music from the web, and even bigger projects like editing photos and home movies.

This build assumes that you already have a mouse, keyboard, and monitor lying around to use with your new system and that you’ll only need the basic components to get up and running. Also, I’m assuming off-the-bat that you already know how to build a computer from scratch, but if you don’t (and there’s no need to be ashamed), Lifehacker has a great guide that’s perfect for the computer-building novice.

So without further ado, let’s take a look at the components that will make up this sub-$500 workhorse.

The Case and Power Supply: Rosewill R103A Mid-Tower Case w/ 350W Power Supply – $39.99

The R103A isn’t an Antec Twelve Hundred by any means, but it certainly will get the job done, and the included 350-watt power supply will give us more than enough juice to power our budget build.

The Motherboard: ASUS P8H61-M LE/CSM Micro ATX Motherboard – $70.99

Asus is certainly a trusted name in motherboards and the P8H61-M is no exception. It’s a budget board that will serve you well throughout the life of your machine. It sports six USB ports, four SATA ports, a PCI Express slot (for a future graphics card), and DVI and VGA ports for the integrated graphics.

The Processor: Intel Core i3-2105 3.1GHz Dual-Core Processor – $134.99

I went with Intel for this budget build, but you’re free to substitute in AMD if you choose. However, the Core i3-2105 is quite a bang for the buck. The 3.1GHz dual-core chip is a solid processor that will certainly be able to keep up with most tasks you throw at it, and the HD 3000 integrated graphics will play most basic games that you’ll want (From my experience, the HD 3000 graphics play Portal 2 without a hiccup).

The RAM: Crucial 4GB DDR3 1333 Dual Channel RAM – $27.99

4GB is the sweet spot for memory in most budget builds, but it’s so cheap nowadays that you’re free to upgrade to 8GB if you so choose, just be aware that the motherboard I chose only has two DIMM slots, which shouldn’t be too much of a problem here — 2x4GB memory kits are very common.

The Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar Blue 320GB Hard Drive – $74.99

Unlike RAM, hard drives are ridiculously expensive right now, but prices should go back down to normal before year’s end. I obviously would have gone with a larger hard drive if the budget was a little higher, but 320GB is enough room for the main system files, all of your programs, and a selection of media files.

The Optical Drive: Samsung 22x DVD Burner – $16.99

Selecting an optical drive is pretty simple and they’re really cheap: Just select something that works for your needs, but because of the low prices, there’s no reason not to go for an all-out DVD burner just ’cause.

The OS: Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit – $99.99

A bulk of the price for the budget build is from the operating system. I chose Windows 7 by default since that’s what most of you will probably run, but feel free to save yourself $100 and use Linux or try your hands at a Hackintosh with a $30-copy of Mac OS X Lion.

Total price of the budget build: $465.93

Conclusion

As you can see, we have a bit of room to work with as far as our $500 budget. There’s $34.07 left over. That’s not a lot of money, but you could use it to upgrade the hard drive to a higher capacity or double the amount of RAM like I mentioned earlier.

Obviously, don’t take my word for everything I suggested here. I know everyone has their own opinions on what should have been included and excluded. Also, don’t feel obligated to use only Newegg/Amazon to buy your components. Feel free to use another e-tailer, especially if you can find the components cheaper there.

If you have any questions about your own budget build, you can leave a comment below or you can visit the many online resources available to you. Tom’s Hardware Forums is just one place that can provide you with a lot helpful feedback.

Image Credit: Iwan Gabovitch

Holiday Gift Guide 2011: Shopping on a Budget Edition

In case you haven’t been following the news over the past few years, the economies of most countries around the world are failing. This means a lot of people will be tightening their belts this year as they seek to hold onto what little they have left in the way of assets.

This means those extravagant, expensive gifts such as televisions and laptops bought in previous years may be out of the question this holiday season. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still buy a gadget which will brighten the heart of any geek you have in your family. It’s all about choosing your gift wisely in order to remain under your budget.

Headphones & Speakers

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An expensive desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone, or MP3 player is pointless without the right audio equipment. Buying a set of headphones or speakers can make all the difference to the geek in your life. And you don’t have to spend a fortune to do so.

High-end speakers and headphones are fantastic, granted, but who has $100-and-up to spend on the latest ‘Beats by Dr. Dre’ or Altec Lansing speaker systems? Logitech and Creative are recommended for budget 2.1 systems, while capsule speakers outperform for their size and stature. Sony, Sennheiser, and JVC all come highly recommended for affordable but classy headphones.

Smartphone Cases & Covers

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You may not be able to afford to buy your loved ones the latest smartphone such as the iPhone 4S or Samsung Galaxy Nexus, but you can help them deck their handset out in style. Covers for smartphones cost just a few dollars but can help make them stand out from the crowd in a big, bold way.

The options available are virtually limitless. Classic one-color designs which give a smartphone a classy look and glossy feel; pink, shiny, sequined affairs for the most glamorous girls; retro covers to make a modern-day phone look like it belongs in the 1980s; a design for the zeitgeist, from Angry Birds to fashion labels.

USB Flash Drives

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OK, so a USB flash drive isn’t exactly the most inspiring or exciting gift someone could open on Christmas day. But it beats socks and toiletries. It’s also an essential weapon in any computer user’s arsenal. Most people will be able to back up their most important data – photos, documents, bookmarks – to a flash drive without any problems. And doing so regularly could save a great deal of anguish should their hard drive ever fail.

Prices of USB flash drives have dropped so much that you now need only spend a few dollars to get 8GB, and doubling the price will pretty much double the amount of memory.

Tablet/eBook Reader Accessories

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An iPad or Android-based alternative is an expensive item by anyone’s standards. A Kindle or eBook Reader is more affordable, but still possibly out of range for most people in these times of austerity. Thankfully there are accessories aplenty available for this hardware. All of which cost just a few dollars but which make great gifts.

These range from covers and cases, through sleeves and skins, to reading lights and power adapters. Oh, and wireless keyboards which gives tablet owners the option of turning their device into a notebook. All completely unnecessary but desirable additions for these mobile form factors.

Video Games

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Gamers come in all shapes and sizes these days, and more importantly, in all age groups. Which makes video games a worthy purchase for all who like to spend time staring at a screen for hours at a time. Assuming they actually own a console or high-end PC, of course.

The latest releases on PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii retail at anywhere between $30 and $60 from new. Which is relatively cheap for an item that can literally provide hours of entertainment. But there are bargains to be had by buying older games. All three home consoles have now matured, so there are classic games released around launch that can be picked up for just a few dollars. Or you can buy pre-owned software and lower the price even more.

Blu-rays

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Blu-ray players are still relatively expensive to buy. Unless you’re also a gamer and have the luxury of one being built into your PS3, which, incidentally, is one of the cheapest top-end Blu-ray players you can buy right now. But the actual Blu-ray movies themselves have come down in price considerably, meaning they’re a viable gift idea for anyone on a tight budget.

Even the latest Blu-ray releases are highly affordable, retailing at around $20. Box-sets can be more expensive, but classic and highly watchable series such as The Lord Of The Rings, Star Wars, and Harry Potter are all available for under $100. Just check that the recipient actually has the hardware in place before you start updating their movie collection for them.

Conclusion

As you can see, you don’t have to spend a fortune in order to give someone a present from the technology category. So what if none of the above compete with a new 50-inch LED TV or iPad 2, I’d be ecstatic to receive any of them wrapped up and sitting under the Christmas tree. And your bank manager will stay nicely contented as well.

Image Credits: TheDarkThing, kaeru.my, emilydickinsonridesabmx, Nedko, bfishadow, Rad Jose, Michael_Spencer.