The parts you need to build a PC can be purchased individually, usually online. Here's your building-a-computer checklist:
Do you like to code? Do you know what "defrag" means? Have you ever said to yourself, "Wow, I'd love to make my own computer!"? Are you completely undaunted by the acronyms SSD, RAM, GPU, and OS? In other words, are you a computer nerd?
You don't need chunky glasses and a pocket protector to want to learn how to save up money for a gaming PC, how to code, where to get free, open-source software, or how to save on all of your computing-related pursuits! Here is our ultimate savings guide for the computer nerd inside of all of us.
PC-Building Tips: Buying Parts, Saving Money, and Avoiding Mistakes
If you've been telling yourself, "I will build my own PC!" for years but are nervous about spending too much, use our short computer-building guide to learn how to cut back on costs. We've got plenty of tips for learning how to build your PC without breaking the bank, including deals, refurbished options, coupons, and strategies.
First, let's answer the question, "What do you need to build a computer?" Then, we'll go into how much each part usually costs. Lastly, we'll show you how to build your computer with deals so that you can create something completely custom for a fraction of the normal price.
What Parts Do You Need to Build a PC?
- Memory (RAM)
- Graphics card (GPU)
- Hard drive or solid-state drive (SSD)
- Computer case
- Power supply (and optional extra fans)
How Much Does Building a PC Cost?
The cost to build a PC can range anywhere between $300 and $2,000 or even more. The average cost to build a PC is typically between $750 and $1,000 if you're building for gaming purposes. Some can pull together an excellent build for about $500, but most people would need to be very strict with their budgets. For people who are new to building their own PCs, it can be easier and cheaper to buy a fairly cheap computer and swap out some of the most important parts (like the RAM or GPU) themselves. Here's a quick breakdown of the cost of each PC part:
- Processor: $100-$500
- Motherboard: $50-$200
- Memory (RAM): $60-$90
- Graphics card (GPU): $60-$500
- Hard drive or solid-state drive (SSD): $30-$300
- Computer Case: $50-$300
- Power Supply: $40-$200
- Mouse: $5-$75
- Keyboard: $15-$200
- Monitor: $30-$300
How Can You Get More Affordable PC Parts?
Now that you're no longer wondering what parts to buy when building a PC, how can you cut costs on those parts? Here are a handful of the best strategies:
- Get Deals on New Parts: Trying to figure out where to buy cheap PC parts? Try popular stores famous for giving the best PC parts deals like Newegg, Amazon, Circuit City, Micro Center, Superbizz, Fry's Electronics, or Tiger Direct.
- Shop for Refurbished Options: Any of the stores listed above may have refurbished parts, which can mean different things to different retailers. Typically, items can be factory-refurbished (aka manufacturer-refurbished), which means that the product might have been opened or changed at the factory, or simply refurbished, which means it may have been tampered with by a third party. Either way, the part should be in "like-new" condition. Avoid buying refurbished power supplies, motherboards, and GPUs.
- Find and Buy Used PC Parts: You can also hunt for used parts locally on sites like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and eBay, which is risky but sometimes worth it. Some computer builders like to amass their friends' old computers and scrap them for parts. Another odd place to find parts may be your local scrapyard. If you feel like digging, you can find amazing parts from old PCs and only be charged for the metal inside them. This is, of course, a lot of work and fairly dirty work at that.
- Plan Ahead for Clearance Days and Cyber Monday: Newegg typically has quarter-end clearance days, Amazon has Prime Days, and then there are the country-wide Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping days. Often, you can get the best PC parts, deals on accessories, and more of the cutting-edge tech that you need for less.
- Purchase a Pre-Built, Low-End Computer Model and Upgrade It: Sometimes, it's a fairly reasonable tactic to get a cheap new computer on a special clearance day like Cyber Monday, then buy the fancy new part you care about, like a GPU, RAM, or processor. After that, assuming everything fits together, you'll be able to replace it yourself and have a $1,000 computer for perhaps even $700 or less. This is an especially good plan for those who don't care about certain aesthetics like the computer case.
- Buy Computer Parts in Bulk: If your friends have been also asking you to build a PC, deals can be found by bundling orders together on sites like Alibaba. Frequently, there's a 10- or 100-piece minimum. Sometimes, even despite having to buy a bunch, it can be worth it!
- Find and Use Coupons: If you're wondering how to get cheap PC parts without buying in bulk or bundling, the best way to get started is to use coupons you find with CouponFollow.com!
What Sort of Mistakes Do People Make When Building a Computer?
Definitely do your research, as frequently, those new to building computers will buy parts that don't fit, need to return them, and lose a lot of money in the process. Frequently, the problem will be matching the CPU to the motherboard. Also, remember that your powerful PC needs to stay cool, so be sure your build has a good power supply and enough fans. Check your PC part compatibility by reading all of the fine print in the descriptions for each item. If you don't know an acronym, look it up. Note that you can also use a computer parts compatibility checker to double-check your work!
Open-Source Software List: Free Programs for Your New Computer
Now that you have the hardware together, what about the software? You definitely don't have to splurge on an OS, Office 365, Adobe products, or any of the other really expensive programs that have been around for more than a decade. Often, you can find open-source or free software that will fill your needs without bloatware or spam attached to it.
A Free and Open-Source Operating System
Luckily, we don't live in a world that demands that you run expensive operating systems like Windows or MacOS; there's always Linux, which is a family of operating systems based on open-source code and happens to be completely free. There are numerous options within that system, like Ubuntu and Debian. The best free operating system for gamers tends to be SteamOS. If you're looking to shave an extra few hundred dollars off of your total computer-build price tag, leaning how to use one of the Linux systems may be the way to go!
The Best Open-Source Software
Open-source programs are programs with source code that people can modify and change, rather than a team tightening their grip and protecting proprietary code. Here's some of the best free software that would be most useful while building your PC, but note that this isn't everything: Check out this open-source software list with hundreds of different options!
- For Internet
- For Email
For Office Tools
- OpenOffice: Essentially a free version of Microsoft Office, the free software offers a pretty helpful text editor, spreadsheet editor, presentation creator, database creator, equation editor, and illustrator.
- LibreOffice: This is also a free version of Office, with a text editor, spreadsheet editor, presentation creator, database creator, and diagram creator.
- PDFCreator: Those familiar with using free programs know how difficult Adobe can be with their software and products. This is an open-source PDF converter that can help you read those documents your friends inevitably send you.
For Photos/Drawing/Graphic Design
- GIMP: The GNU Image Manipulation Program (or GIMP) is essentially a free version of Photoshop with simple image editing and doodling capabilities.
- Inkscape: This vector-design graphics editor is a good replacement for Illustrator.
- Scribus: A helpful tool for publishers, this tool can be considered a replacement for InDesign.
- Audacity: Need to edit audio? Audacity is an easy solution that works on most operating systems.
- For Video
- VLC Media Player: Get a free media player that can play DVDs, CDs, and most codecs.
- Media Player Classic-Home Cinema: The open-source media player supports most media formats in Windows.
- HandBrake: Play back DVDs and most video codecs easily.
- musikcube: This tool essentially replaces iTunes, allowing you to play back and stream your music and audio.
- Juice: Listen to and organize your podcasts outside of iTunes.
- Notepad++: This is essentially a version of Notepad, only it helpfully highlights different colors depending on your tags. It's a great help for when you're learning how to code.
- Visual Studio Code: An increasingly popular tool among open-source coders, this coding editor is technically owned by Microsoft.
- For Security
- Pidgin: Chat with your friends using AIM, Google Talk, Bonjour, and other chat programs all from one program.
- Calibre: Read eBooks without stuffing your hard-earned dollars into Jeff Bezos's pocket.
- GnuCash: This personal finance tool is helpful to small business owners and allows you to do everything from creating graphs to balancing the books to tracking investments.
- 7-Zip: An alternative to Winzip, this utility can help archive or unzip files.
There are also plenty of other free options that are not open-source! Definitely do your research and look at their background processes, though.
Other Ways to Save Money on Your Computer Obsession
If you're really passionate about computers, there are many different other things you can do to cut back while still keeping all of the same levels of enthusiasm. Learning coding can be fun, often free, and at times even profitable, for instance. Here are some ways to earn more and spend less on your computer obsession!
Free Places to Learn to Code
Having your own computer that you built yourself is great, but chances are good that if you're a computer nerd, you'll like want to use it for more than writing emails. Explore and learn new skills; you don't have to pay a school to learn the basics! For instance, you could learn to code for free on one of these websites.
- Codewars: Learn "kata," or lessons, and challenge yourself with community-created tests. This interactive, game-like course even allows you to earn ranks (like in martial arts).
- Courses: Note that you can also find affordable or even free coding classes from popular course providers like Coursera, Udemy, edX, MIT OpenCourseWare, Khan Academy, Skillshare, and Udacity.
The Silent Dollar-Killer: Saving on Energy
While you're shopping for computer parts or even setting up your system, don't forget that computers can be a huge draw for power. Energy costs in your home might spike suddenly, creating more costs. Even if they somehow don't, being energy-conscious may be a good opportunity to do better for the planet. Here are some ways to cut back on energy usage from your powerful computer:
- Look for Energy Star Equipment: Energy Star, which is the government's official program, recognizes energy-efficient products, such as flat-panel monitors, and better cases.
- Change Your Power Management Options: Make it so your computer goes into hibernate and standby mode more often. Also, turn your computer fully off as much as you can. Remember that certain parts themselves, like the power supply, might have their own defaults for saving energy that can be changed.
- Get a Voltmeter: See and track your voltage from the outlet.
- Consider More Energy-Efficient Parts: For instance, solid state drives (SSDs) are not only better hard drive solutions but frequently use less power. Flat screens tend to be good on energy. You can also consider looking into a more energy-efficient power supply.
Make Your Obsession More Profitable
In addition to saving money, you could also make money! While saving on computers with coupons might be a good idea, it also might be a good idea to profit from your hobby. For instance, if you enjoyed making your own computer, you can also offer to do so for friends for a $50 or $100 profit. You could also take the programming you learned and do some freelance work or even get a job with it! Note that you could also volunteer your unique skills with DoSomething.org or VolunteerMatch.org. They are plenty of ways to help the world with your new skills!