I Used a Budget Gaming PC for Almost 10 Years and This Is What It Was Like

A close up of a full-tower gaming PC.

I Used a Budget Gaming PC for Almost 10 Years and This Is What It Was Like

Key Points

  • The cost of building a budget gaming PC in 2012 was around $650, with parts including a CPU, motherboard, graphics card, PSU, RAM, and hard drive.
  • Budget gaming PCs are suitable for playing low-processing-intensity indie games and older PC titles, but not for the newest games at the highest settings.
  • Budget CPUs and GPUs are available, but they come with limitations in terms of processing power and graphical capabilities.
  • Using budget RAM and PSU for a gaming PC is feasible, but it may not offer the same performance and longevity as higher-end components.
  • The cost of building a budget gaming PC has increased, with the base cost of GPUs and CPUs doubling since 2012, making it challenging to build a powerful gaming PC for $650.

Way back in 2012, I built my first computer, a sleek budget gaming PC with a mid-tower case that looked a bit like Darth Vader. That PC carried me all the way until 2020 with just one minor upgrade to the storage capacity. Now, my thoughts are definitely colored differently than others since I built my own PC; I had agency over each part choice. However, I still feel free to speak my truth. Here’s what it was like to use a budget gaming PC.

How Much Did I Pay for My Budget Gaming PC? What Parts Did I Use?

The whole shebang cost me about $650. I bought my parts from Microcenter because I was a wee babe at 16 years old and couldn’t wait for them to ship; I “needed” them immediately. Luckily, Microcenter carried all the parts I wanted to use.

The parts list contained the following:

You’ll have to excuse me for not remembering the exact models of some parts. It’s been around six years since I replaced the thing. Regarding a cost breakdown, the CPU cost about $180, and the motherboard was another $115. The graphics card ran me about $150, the PSU was about $75, and finally, the RAM came in at about $50. The hard drive was around $25. All that plus taxes and fees was around $650 and some change.

Does a Budget Gaming PC Actually Work?

A gaming PC with the side open, featuring RGB lighting.
Many PC towers have transparent sides to show off the internal, decorative lighting.

The answer to this question depends on what game you want to play and what gaming experience you want. If you want to play the newest games at the highest possible settings, the answer is probably a “no.” However, a budget gaming PC is perfect for playing many low-processing-intensity indie games and older PC titles that don’t require emulation.

Budget gaming PCs are precisely what they sound like: low-cost entry points to the gaming community. As with any hobby, you’ll get out of it what you put into it. If you only put in $650, you can’t expect to be able to play games that cost millions of dollars to produce.

Additionally, gaming is an all-around expensive hobby. You’ll need to purchase the machine you’ll be playing games on, every title you want to experience, and any downloadable content (DLC) packs that can provide you with additional levels or cosmetics you want. 

There are many free-to-play games, but they often come with microtransactions that you can partake in. Many free-to-play games will also wall meaningful experiences or features behind microtransactions. While it may seem kind of scummy to advertise a game as “free” but still require the player to purchase in-game items to enjoy the game entirely, this model is relatively standard in the modern day; a game needs money behind it to pay developers, testers, and other employees.

Budget CPUs: Are They Good for Gaming PCs?

Many budget CPUs exist, getting your PC up and running for a fraction of the cost of a high-end processor. However, they come with a variety of advantages and disadvantages you should consider before you decide to install one on your motherboard.

Computer parts are a pay-for-power model. The more you spend on your PC parts, the greater the tasks they’ll be able to perform. Budget computer parts always sacrifice power to lower the manufacturing cost of the components. So, paying less will get you a component with lower ability.

Lower-powered CPUs can be a huge deal for people who want to play games. Video games require immense logic processing, which the CPU handles. The CPU must perform calculations on every movement and action the player executes.

Your CPU also controls the speed at which your GPU can process graphics. If your central processor can’t handle the maximum data transfer speeds that your graphics card needs, it will artificially lower the speed of your graphics chipset (bottlenecking).

Did I Use a Budget CPU?

The CPU is actually the one component in my computer that I did not cheap out on. Thus, I don’t know what using a budget CPU in a dedicated gaming PC is like. However, I’ve used budget CPUs in non-gaming PCs, and I can say that you will notice a difference if you’re a gamer.

When gaming on a budget CPU, you will notice that the game runs slower, and there are many games you just can’t play. Games with higher processing requirements won’t be able to process movement and actions fluidly. While you can typically run games on lower CPU speeds than are technically necessary, the game will run slower for however much slower than the required speed your CPU is.

In single-player games, lower game speed can be frustrating but workable. In multiplayer games, you’ll just get annihilated by players whose computers meet or exceed the system requirements since their games just physically move faster, allowing them to react and input information more quickly. 

Budget GPUs: Are They Good for Gaming PCs?

I used a Budget PC
Genshin Impact is a fun, low-intensity game that budget PCs can play easily.

You do not want to cheap out on your GPU if max-resolution 4K gaming is your goal. The loftier your graphical goals, the more power your video card will need behind it. However, it’s also essential to consider the constraints of your CPU. If your central processor is too slow, it will artificially lower the speed of your graphics chipset and waste all that money you spent on it.

However, if you don’t have high visual quality standards (you should always have high graphical fidelity), you can easily get away with a more affordable GPU, as I did for many years. My measly GTX 650 Ti carried me through over eight years of gaming before it needed to be replaced.

What’s It Like Using a Budget GPU?

I had to set my expectations low with my GPU, especially in its later years. Even out of the box, many of the newest and most graphically intensive games couldn’t run at max settings. I didn’t mind that too much. However, I had reasonable expectations of my graphics card. I wasn’t aiming for the latest and greatest when I picked it out.

In more recent years, I would never be able to get by with a budget GPU. My computer is up for an upgrade, although it’s more of a rebuild than an upgrade, honestly. This build has received just one upgrade to the GPU, from a 1080 Ti to an RTX 2080 Ti a few years ago. However, that upgrade was borne more out of necessity, as my 1080 had started overheating on minimal tasks, rendering my PC unusable.

The most significant difference between the me who was happy with a budget GPU and the me who isn’t is the games I play. In 2012, I mostly played retro games, League of Legends, and games running on modified versions of Valve’s Source engine. My gaming library and tastes didn’t require the latest and greatest because the games I liked could be played on toasters if necessary.

However, in recent years, I have picked up more graphically intensive games and titles that suffer from a bug known as poor optimization. Unfortunately, my change in taste meant I also needed to change my hardware. My eight-year-old, budget-when-new GPU was no longer adequate for playing the games I wanted.

Overall, if you plan to buy a budget GPU, you must adjust your expectations accordingly. The latest and greatest games will not run at the highest possible settings. You need to rip that Band-Aid off and come to terms with it. Toaster-tier games will run like butter, but you’ll need to lower the settings for smooth gameplay on more graphically intensive tasks.

Budget RAM: Is It Good for Gaming PCs?

Kingston RAM is widely regarded as one of the best budget memory brands you can get for your PC. They package reliability and cost-efficiency into one sleek bundle. I bought Kingston HyperX RAM in a kit of two 4GB sticks. If it matters to you, it was the blue ones because my motherboard had blue RAM slots, and I wanted them to match.

I did lower the amount of RAM I had on my PC to save money. At the time, the high-end amount was around 16GB, with 32GB being the super-high-end. I went with two 4GB sticks, totaling 8GB, which was standard for the time.

Truthfully, using budget RAM will not make or break your PC build. While, yes, you’ll get more reliable and cooler-looking RAM if you pay more, you can find accessible and reliable RAM for cheap from brands like Kingston and Crucial.

What Is Using Budget RAM Like?

I now have “high-end” gamer-trademarked RAM, and I honestly don’t feel the difference. When I upgrade my PC, I’m probably going back to Kingston Fury RAM because it’s half the price, and they now make rainbow LED RAM. 

I only bought the super expensive gaming RAM because I wanted it to light up with a rainbow. I can now get that for less money, and mark my words: I will pay less for it next time.

Budget PSU: Is It Good for a Gaming PC?

Do not buy a budget power supply. When I say that, I mean that if you buy a $12 PSU from a company you’ve never heard of, you will get exactly what you paid for. Invest in a decent power supply because your entire computer cannot even turn without it.

You need to buy a PSU that can handle your components’ electrical load and one made with materials that will last. Luckily, a failed power supply isn’t extremely hard to fix, but you don’t want to replace it yearly, do you?

The PSU I bought for my first PC was by no means “budget.” Corsair power supplies are not considered budget. The lowest tier of their PSUs is generally considered a mid-range investment, while their highest tier is considered relatively expensive.

If you need a cheap PSU, consider shopping for EVGA. Their power supplies are more affordable than those of a bigger brand but still offer a competitive and reliable build. Of course, if you buy a pre-built PC, you won’t have any agency over the PSU.

Would I Recommend a Budget Gaming PC?

A top down view of a full-tower gaming PC.
Many gaming PCs feature RGB lighting.

Having used both a cute budget gaming PC and a state-of-the-art machine with the latest and greatest parts, they both have merits. The one for you depends entirely on what games you want to play and your expectations regarding graphical quality.

If having a million frames and 4K graphics doesn’t matter to you, then go for a budget model. Just ensure that you’re getting parts from the most recent generations. That way, you can get the most power possible for the lowest cost possible. Getting the most recent possible parts in your tier will also give you the most longevity, allowing you to use the computer you bought for the longest time.

Can I Still Get a Budget Gaming PC for $650?

Probably not. The base cost of GPUs has doubled since I built my first computer, with the lowest power models running around $300 now. The cost of CPUs has also doubled. So, ultimately, you will have to spend at least $800 for a decently powerful gaming PC, even if you buy the cheapest possible budget parts.

Frequently Asked Questions

What makes a gaming PC different from a standard one?

A gaming PC has more powerful components than a standard computer, allowing for more significant logic and graphics processing taskloads.

How much should a gaming PC cost?

At the time of this article’s publishing, a decent gaming PC will cost around $1,200. At the very least it will cost around $800 if you buy the cheapest possible budget parts.

How are budget gaming PCs different from more expensive models?

Budget gaming PCs use less powerful parts that cost less to manufacture, making them more accessible and affordable.

Are budget gaming PCs worth it?

A budget gaming PC can be an excellent way to save money if you don’t like modern AAA games or don’t care if you can’t play them at the highest settings.

Did you like using a budget gaming PC?

I had a great experience with my budget gaming PC. However, my experience was definitely different because I built the PC myself. Having agency over the parts used in your PC colors the experience and gives you more freedom to determine how much power you need.

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