Tech

7 Red Flags When Choosing Cheap PC Components

Building your own gaming PC is once again possible, even if your budget is low, after a year of inflated graphics card prices. If you read our CPU reviews comparing modern CPUs using high quality motherboards, memory and power supplies, you might conclude that only the graphics card matters when playing at the appropriate resolutions, and the best gaming PC is the one that includes the cheapest modern options in all other categories.

This couldn’t be much further from the truth. While the graphics card is the most important component for gaming performance, skimping on components like the motherboard, storage, power supply, and even the case can lead to an inconsistent and frustrating experience. In this article, we will look at 7 types of parts to avoid when building or buying a budget PC.

Dual Core Processors

With modern architectures supporting up to 24 or 32 threads, processors that only offer 2 or 4 of them fall far behind even the mainstream offerings with 8 or 12 threads. Modern games aren’t built with them in mind, and we don’t even bother including them in our review performance comparisons.

Many new games will not run on the Intel Celeron G6900, and components such as the AMD Athlon 3000G and Intel Pentium G7400 will also offer very inconsistent performance: 1% low FPS is about half of the average FPS, indicating stutters that continue for long time. part of a second.

Currently, the cheapest way to get consistent performance in today’s games is with an 8-thread processor. Core i3-10100F or i3-10105F. If you can’t go that high, you should rethink your budget, perhaps opting for a used graphics card or a Ryzen 5 5600G with a powerful graphics unit built in instead of a standalone card. On the other hand, if you can spend a little more, the newer Core i3-12100F (and matching motherboard) will be a worthwhile investment.

Single channel RAM

In the era of DDR4/DDR5, memory speed matters. When using a single stick of memory with a CPU with a dual-channel memory controller, the memory speed is halved. This may not always be your system’s bottleneck, but sometimes it will, especially if you’re relying on the CPU’s onboard graphics rather than a graphics card with its own video memory.

With memory sticks as large as 4GB, our advice is also to rule out getting anything less than 8GB of RAM, which is the bare minimum for older games or multi-tab web browsing. Even for these tasks, and especially for new games, we highly recommend at least 2 x 8GB kits. Single memory cards are not much cheaper than sets of two cards with the same total capacity, and the only reason to buy one memory card is if you already have an identical one.

Slow storage

HDDs still offer several times more storage space per dollar than SSDs, but when you factor in speed, modern SSDs actually offer good value these days. However, you may decide that you don’t care about load times at all and just want to keep all your games and data as cheap as possible. Will a hard drive serve you in this case? We wouldn’t count on it.

Because the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S use SSD by default, game developers can no longer consider putting game files on the hard drive and develop games that require many small files to be downloaded at the same time. spinning discs are naturally bad while playing.

If you choose an HDD because of its capacity, you should at least add a cheap SSD like this Kingston A400 (240 GB) it will cost you only $28. This SSD does not have its own DRAM, so game loading times can increase by a few seconds as it fills up, and when transferring large files, it may not be better than an HDD, but it will work as intended during game play.

If you can get by with 500 GB, Critical MX500 – A great option with remarkably consistent performance ($57). If you can up your budget a bit, 1TB Samsung 970 Evo Plus currently offers the best value for money.

Balding motherboards

If your choice of compact and affordable Micro-ATX motherboard has a lot of free space, it is usually due to the lack of useful features.

If your board only has two RAM slots and you (correctly) bought a set of two sticks, you won’t be able to add another pair of sticks in the future. If the board does not have a heatsink on the VRMs (Voltage Regulator Modules) near the CPU socket, then the board’s thermal performance is likely poor and severely limits CPU upgrades.

Two other features often missing on cheap boards are PCIe 4.0 and a second (or whatever) M.2 slot, so if you add another drive in the future, it must be SATA and file transfers between drives will be difficult. several times slower than between two PCIe drives.

If you are looking for a power efficient processor and want the cheapest motherboard with decent upgrade options, you should look into the Gigabyte DS3H AC series: B450M for AMD Ryzen 5 offerings, B560M for Intel Core i3-10100/10105 and B660M for Core i3-12100F, unless a faster MSI About B660-A close to it in price.

Inconvenient cases

Cases tend to get overlooked when you’re trying to maximize performance per dollar, even though some great cases only cost a few tens of dollars more than the cheapest ones.

A key problem with almost all cheap cases is the quality of the materials: the metal is thin and will vibrate to the beat of system fans or hard drives, the side windows are made of acrylic rather than tempered glass, and dust filters, if they even exist, may not even have plastic. frames so that they do not bend.

Replacing a case that’s bent or broken is not only a lot of work, but it’s no cheaper in the long run than buying a more durable case.

Another problem with the cheapest models is that some of them are about ten years old. While they include goodies rare in today’s cases, such as 5.25″ bays (which are more useful than you might think), they will make you wonder why people say building a PC is so easy. .

With no dedicated cable management space, the cables will either force you to waste one or more drive bays, block the system’s front fan, or simply get in the way every time you open the case to clean or replace parts. The motherboard tray can be completely solid, so good luck replacing your CPU cooler with a backplate without taking everything apart. Expansion slot covers often need to be pryed out rather than unscrewed if you want to install any kind of internal card.

In addition, the top-mounted power supply right above the processor is a holdover from an era when processors didn’t even need active cooling. In such cases, the power supply will either compete for air with the system’s rear fan, or simply take all the air heated by the processor. Some cheap cases don’t even have USB 3.0 on the front!

If you can’t spend more than $50 on a case, Cooler Master N200 currently a good choice. If you can spend a little more Stream NZXT H510 will cost an upgrade.

PSUs with a lot of “watts per dollar”

Imagine this scenario: you ordered parts that should draw about 300 watts, and you are looking for the cheapest power supply that will do the job. You see a $17 480W PSU and immediately order it, thinking it’s a steal. When your parts arrive, you’re wondering where the power supply’s video card connector is.

It turned out that they are not, and for good reason: on average, the power supply can only deliver 330 watts, of which only 130 watts through the +12 V rail that connects to the most powerful components of the system. Without an 80+ efficiency rating, who knows how many watts you need to draw from the wall just to bring out those bad numbers. The cables are not braided, let alone detachable, and the fan is small.

At the time of writing, 430W Thermaltake Smart is one of the cheapest power supplies that does what it’s supposed to. If you want a more efficient (and quieter) component with modular cables, check out EVGA. 500 BC.

Wrong video card

If you’re going to spend hundreds of dollars on a graphics card, you can do it right. In a reasonable market, the cheapest graphics cards would be good for the cheapest systems, but the graphics card market in the last couple of years has been anything but reasonable.

Currently, the two cheapest modern GPUs, namely the AMD Radeon RX 6400 and RX 6500 XT, only use four PCIe lanes rather than eight or 16, which noticeably reduces performance when used in a system with available PCIe 3.0 components such as Intel Core i3-10105F. or AMD B450 motherboards. If you have the money for a Core i3-12100F and a B660 motherboard, you can buy a Radeon RX 6600 instead.

When you find a card with a GPU suitable for your system, you should pay attention to the number of fans it uses. Single fan cards are often the cheapest option for a particular GPU and the only option for very small cases, but that single fan must spin much faster than two of the same fan to keep the same GPU cool. For very little money, you can get a much quieter gaming system.


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