A Gaming PC Build for $800 or Less?

Luke Summersgill writes:

Chris,

I’ve been looking into purchasing a gaming computer for my birthday in February, but my budget’s always a little restricted with it falling so close to Christmas. My old laptop’s unsuitable for newer games that I’d like to play (like PlanetSide 2 and even Dota 2, which I struggle to run on my current PC). I was wondering if you could recommend a cheap, low-end gaming PC build (around $800), whether it be an established, refurbished model or a budget custom build? I won’t mind if you end up telling me my budget is simply too restricted to merit investing in a gaming PC; I’m sure I can find a cheap device to satisfy my geeky, gadgety needs if that’s the case!

An $800 Gaming PC Build?

An $800 gaming PC?

There are plenty of options with regards to gaming PC builds under $1,000. While $800 may be seen by some gamers as not enough to get you a decent, low-end machine, I would reckon that you could get a fairly decent computer for that kind of money. Building your own gaming PC will likely be your cheapest option up front, but then you’re responsible for every component inside; if you’re not experienced with repairing computers and replacing parts, then going with something from Dell (as an example) may be a wiser investment (though its gaming-specific Alienware builds may be a little rich for your blood, I know people who game more than adequately on its Inspiron and XPS systems). The HP Pavilion and Envy series look pretty good, too. The main thing that you need to be mindful of are your RPGs: RAM, Processor, and Graphics. When examining specs for potential gaming PC builds — whether you’re shopping Dell, Best Buy, HP, or elsewhere — these are what I’d recommend.

RAM for a Gaming PC Build

You can probably get by just fine (for now) with 6 GB of RAM. I wouldn’t go lower than that to start with, and I would make sure that your machine has slots open for expansion so that you can add more RAM as your budget affords. Games not yet released will tax your existing RAM, so being prepared for this eventuality will increase the longevity of your gaming PC build.

Processor for a Gaming PC Build

An “Ivy Bridge” Core i3, i5, or i7 from Intel should do the trick for your CPU (central processing unit) needs. The higher the number, the better — but also the more expensive. This is really the backbone of your system’s overall performance, so try not to skimp on this component if at all possible. If you keep your eyes open, you can usually find tremendous deals — even on the nice stuff.

Reader Steve Edinger doesn’t rule out AMD as an option, either: “Using AMD makes this easy. Look for the free motherboard when purchasing processor deals that are out there.”

Graphics for a Gaming PC Build

The choices in graphics cards can be pretty overwhelming (and the brand-new ones will be jaw-droppingly costly) when you’re assembling a gaming PC build, but I think an Nvidia GTX 550 Ti or above should be able to run PlanetSide 2 or Dota 2 without much of a struggle. Various forums can be a great place to lurk and ask questions about what video cards work well with the games you like to play. There are so many variables in this department that trying to address them all would be impossible in the context of this answer, but never be afraid to ask about the experiences that others have had with their graphics cards.

I know of many gamers and power users who will spend $3,000+ on a high-end powerhouse, but you shouldn’t let the deep wallets of people who can afford to spend top dollar intimidate you (today’s $3,000 system will be tomorrow’s $800 system, after all). Your $800 can be well spent with just a little research and land you something that will last you for years to come.

Most gamers will be happy to tell you about the pros and cons of their gaming PC build — which will help you decide what to get now and what to keep an eye on for the future. Hope this helps!

Image: Vice (City) by CJ Isherwood via Flickr

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Chris has consistently expressed his convictions and visions outright, supplying practical information to targeted audiences: media agencies, business owners, technology consumers, software and hardware professionals, et al. He remains a passionate personality in the tech community-at-large. He's a geek.