Building a cheap gaming PC – Part 1

Recently, I decided I might want to get back in to PC gaming. The last time I built a PC or really played any (at the time…) modern titles was in 2007/8 when I was rocking an Athlon 64 x2 5600+ with a Geforce 8800GT, needless to say my MacBook Pro with its shitty Intel graphics would probably be faster than that machine ever was! Unfortunately the MacBook Pro sucks for playing anything modern my 2018 standards so I would need something with a little more oomph in the graphics department!

With his little foray back in to PC gaming, I decided I didn’t want to spend too much money, in case I got bored of it again. So inspired by ‘Scrapyard Wars‘ and from doing some research (e.g watching lots of YouTube videos),  I figured anything supporting Intel’s LGA1155 CPUs would be a good, cheap base. LGA1155 includes Intel’s second and third generation Core i7 CPUs, which are still decent even today. With that in mind the cheapest and easiest option seemed to be; find an old office machine or workstation and throw a decent graphics card in it. So off to eBay I went!

I ended up placing bids on two Dell machines, Optiplex 9010 and Optiplex 7010. Both pretty low spec, with 2GB RAM, Pentium G645 CPUs and no hard disks. As is the way when you bid on more than one item, you win both. I got the 9010 for £35 and the 7010 for £36, which actually was a pretty decent price! But now I had two machines… so I figured I’d build two rigs, one ‘high end’ (9010) and one ‘low end’ (7010) see how they go for price/performance and probably get rid of the ‘low end’ machine when I was finished with it.

Both the systems are very similar, both supporting using a Q77 express chipset and having 2x PCIe x16 (one at x4) slots, with the 9010 also having RAID support. The next thing I needed was graphics cards for the machines. My research told me that probably one of the best price/performance cards on the used market was the Geforce GTX970 4Gb (well.. 3.5Gb). Thanks to crypto miners, graphics cards are still fairly expensive, though not as bad as they were earlier in the year. I ended up getting a Geforce GTX580 for a good price for the 7010 (more on that in the next post!)

Getting ready to build

So lets run through the Optiplex 9010 build.

I ended up finding a Gigabyte GTX970 designed for Mini-ITX machines (perfect for me as the dell’s case’s aren’t huge) for £120. A bit pricey, but not really more than these cards go for on average. Next up I needed memory, as 2gb was not going to cut it! I had a look at new memory but I was looking at £39/stick for 8GB DDR3 1600MHz, so back to eBay I want. Prices on there weren’t much better, so out of curiosity I checked out CEX (a second hand ‘entertainment’ store in the UK) and found they had the memory I wanted for £25/stick, so I ordered two of them. No, they aren’t matched pairs and yes they are used but given the ‘budget’ theme of this, who cares. CEX also offer a 2 year waranty on nearly everything they sell, which I unfortunately had to make use of.

One of the sticks arrived DOA, so I took it into the local store and they swapped it out, no questions asked! The new stick worked just fine so it was time to turn my attention to the CPU. The highest CPU that the 9010 officially supports is an Intel Core i7 3770, so I had a look for one of those. Once again I tried eBay but the best price I found was actually at CEX (£85) again, so I ordered it from them, once again having a warranty on a used part.

The machine was coming together now, but I still needed a few items; storage and a power supply, as the 240W power supply that came with the Optiplex would definitely not cut it trying to run an i7 and a dedicated GPU and the hard disk was non-existent! The power supply was a part that I wanted to try and buy new, as if it goes wrong it can wreck the entire system! I ended up going with a Coolermaster Masterwatt 650W Modular PSU (that I bought at a stupid price from Currys, simply because I had some money left on a voucher to use up). This PSU goes for £64 from SCAN, however If I didn’t have the voucher I would have gone with something cheaper, like this refurbished VS650 from corsair.

For a boot drive I wanted to have an SSD, luckily I already had a 240GB PNY SSD that I was using in an old laptop, however these are worth about £34 new. For game/file storage I decided to go for the super cheap option, so I bought two 500GB mechanical drives from CEX for the princely sum of £16 and ran them in RAID0, because why the hell not!

I installed windows 10 pro on the machine, and much to my happiness it activated automatically. The machine didn’t come with a COA, but it would have come with a digital license for Windows 8 Pro when it was new, which seemed to carry across to Windows 10, so I was sorted for an OS.

The complete 9010 build

Unfortunately cable management options are limited in this case, as baring one, the panels are riveted on, so unfortunately I couldn’t hide cables behind motherboard as I would have liked. I think it’s an OK job given the limitations and shouldn’t impede airflow. I am also limited to the size of GPU I can use, with about 22cm (9in) of space to play with, unless I want to mod the case… see below for more on that.

So here is the final spec of the machine, and the cost of each item.

Item Price From
Dell Optiplex 9010 £35 eBay
Intel Core i7 3770 £85 CEX
2x8GB DDR3 1600MHZ RAM £50 CEX
Gigabyte Mini ITX GTX970 4GB GDDR5 £120 eBay
PNY 250GB SSD (£34) Owned
2x 500GB SATA HDD £16 CEX
650W PSU (£68) Currys
Total £306  (£408)

Not including the items I either owned, or had a voucher for, the total cost for the 9010 build was £306, if you include the SSD and PSU it comes up to £408, however I probably would have gone for a cheaper, non-modular PSU if I was buying it with cash.

So far I have been running this setup for about a month and I am very happy with it. It has had no issues whatsoever and runs modern games on high graphics at 1080p very well, actually much better than I thought it would. Stay tuned for the next instalments when we talk a look at what I did with the Optiplex 7010 and then how these machines stack up in terms of price/performance!

 

 

One thought on “Building a cheap gaming PC – Part 1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *