How I Built My Frankenstein Budget Gaming PC

A little inside baseball with Sheesh Forreal: My gaming desktop’s motherboard fried and I was left to play games on a decaying laptop. A lot of you might be thinking that my next step should be to replace the mobo and you’d be right! However I didn’t. Instead I let this PC age in a closet at my Mom’s place for nearly two years. Never fear, as my limited options granted me patience to learned a lot about older games I might not have given as much attention.

Building a new AMD powered gaming PC was in the cards for this summer but suddenly my full-time hours became part-time hours and — what do you know, I’m using my savings to pay rent. Fueled by the frustration of this and my laptop just randomly dying when utilizing its video card, I decided that I needed a better PC immediately. A gaming PC that used every salvageable part from my old rig, slapped inside of any husk that would harbor them. One that’s far from a beast but fast enough to at least run these games from 2013 in at least 1080p.

My salvageable parts were:
1 – Gigabyte GeForce GTX 960 (2GB)
1 – 8GB DDR3 1600mhz
2 – 240GB SanDisk SSDs
1 – 450W Power Supply

I also still had a MicroATX case and an AMD Athlon x4 860k (4 cores @ 3.5GHz) but the case was way to small and a huge pain in the ass to work inside of. The CPU isn’t inherently awful but I was really hoping to find a basic, stripped down PC that included a CPU.

First two places I hit up were Best Buy and Walmart. I was hoping that one of these stores sold a grandma/grandpa type PC with basic everything for around $200 dollars. For some reason, both outlets had $400-$500 ‘tolerable’ all-around builds and of course all of them game with junky accessories to hike up the price. I was safe to assuming that department stores weren’t going to do me any good in this situation.

Online was my next bet. Looking for new and refurbished office rigs was pretty easy on Amazon and NewEgg but that problem of them coming with a bunch of *eh* fluff was a real turn off. I watched a few of those ‘BUILD A $30 GAMING PC POWERFUL ENOUGH TO CRACK THE EARTH A SECOND BUTTHOLE’ vids but some of those guys have way more patience than me. They scoured eBay and craigslist like pros and that wasn’t something I was confident enough in doing. Also, when buying used parts, I would have to invest in a Windows 10 license which would hike up the price to levels I wasn’t comfortable with.

Next, I dropped by a local PC shop and asked what I should do. Thankfully, the guys were cool inside, didn’t try to sell me anything and informed me that the owner of their shop buys a lot of used parts from the state surplus store on the other side of town (thankfully, I live in a capital city of Kansas.) I bought a super nice (and very inexpensive) desk chair for my GF to use from the state surplus maybe just a few months before there so I was pretty eager to find out that places weird hours of business and take a look.

A few days later, I hit up state surplus with my cousin (shouts to Grimey) and we immediately found some really great stuff. There were only two different model of desktop they were selling and the $145 one was the clear winner. Under the hood, we were looking at an i7-3770, 4GB DDR3 RAM, 500GB HDD, 4 x USB3.0 ports, 6 x USB 2.0 ports and an already installed Win10 Pro license. According to specs about the mobo online, there shouldn’t be any bottle necking with any of the buses, though it did only support up to PCI-E (x16) v1. My existing video card was built for PCI-E v2 but according to the bus speeds, I shouldn’t experience any bottlenecking.

Bought the desktop and picked up a Dell monitor for $20 to go with it. It only had DV-I and DisplayPort on the back but it was rocking a super nice IPS display (better contrast than my gaming TN panel gaming monitor) and only 5ms response time (couldn’t find the input delay, tho.)

Spoilers: I got it up and running lol

Took everything home and cracked it open later that night. Installing my scrap parts were as easy as you’d expect but I did experience one hiccup: I failed to take into consideration the power supply Watt size when buying the desktop. Thankfully, I did have the power supply from my old case though it was a physical size too small. Thankfully I was able to get two screws in the dang thing, securing it to my case despite a book sized gap where it isn’t flush. Time to boot this thing up!

Side note: When I hooked my mouse/keyboard/monitor up the first time and pressed the power switch, nothing happened. The builder in my immediately rationalized that I had done something wrong in the building process and boy did I get a good chortle to myself when I realized that I actually just hadn’t plugged the power in :pog:

The next day, I installed all the drivers needed and seriously had the most painless setup of my life. First stress-test of the new rig was to play Left 4 Dead 2 with the partner and kill zombies we did! She’s been gaming in 1080p ultra this whole time so boy did it feel good to see exactly what she has been seeing. Shouts to Hamachi, btw, you guys are awesome for establishing a local connection when my router can’t seem to realize that we’re sitting right next to each other. My god, I never realized how many particle effects that game has.

L4D2 is pretty old though and I wanted to test out something more modern: FARCRY5. After the million year download time that these new games have, I booted up New Game+. The last time I played this was in 720p ultra low settings on my laptop before it would shut down when graphics got too intense, so I was eager to see how it looked.

That piece of shit on the right won’t actually talk to me ever after I rescue him. #gamebreaking

The screen above was taken from about 5 seconds into my new save file. To achieve a constant 60fps without any stuttering, I had to set everything to low and put my 1080p resolution on 0.9 scaling (which I think means a different res is upscaled to 1080p?) Everything is super snappy and that 3rd gen i7 processor is really doing a number on keeping everything running smoothly.

Shouts to newer games that feature a VRAM meter inside the graphics options. I was able to tweak everything so I sat right at 1.96GB/1.96GB used and it shows. If I were Digital Foundry, I might be able to point out when I’m not getting a true 60fps but playing that game casually is slick like new slacks.

Doom 2016 ran exceptionally well, too — it’s the only other big game I’ve really tested this rig with. I locked the game into 1080p medium settings using the Vulkan API and never looked back. That game looks and performs the best I’ve ever had the chance to play it at and really shows to me how big of a difference a CPU can make on graphics — this was the last game I played on my gaming rig before my mobo blew out and I was getting a chunky frame rate at anything other than 900p low on Vulkan. I could be remembering that wrong, however, as I also have a memory of cranking that game up to 120fps just to see if I noticed a difference on my 144hz monitor.

Now, back to the building: it seems like you could make a similar rig to this for about $350 assuming you found a stacked refurbished skeleton like I did and bought new parts after that. The $150 CPU/mobo/case/os is absolutely where I got the luckiest but I would be surprised if someone else could find something similar with a little elbos grease. 2GB graphics cards are as cheap as $89.99 according to a quick search and DDR3 is dropping in price thanks to DDR4 taking its place in the modern rig. The power supply could be optional, but even so, an OP supply is as cheap as $40 brand new.

Talking about the OS a little more, I just ventured into the Linux realm and it’s pretty adaptable if you’re comfortable working in a foreign environment. Wrapping my head around anything besides Windows isn’t something that comes naturally to me and it’s especially daunting knowing that if I don’t figure this stuff out, I just won’t have a computer to use. To use gaming as a comparison, adapting to Linux felt like using a mod manager that requires a few manually installed patches before you can dig to it’s convenience. I going to leave it at that generality because if I got anymore detailed I might convey the wrong message, but if you want to get gaming on Linux, find out if your favorite games/applications are available on the software first, then make a bootable USB of Manjaro or PopOS and test the waters.

I’d also like to stress just how easy it was to get a great skeleton rig locally. I could have found it sooner, too, if I would have asked the locals who scavenge for parts professionally. I live in Topeka, Kansas and other than having quite a few local offices here we are the opposite of a tech climate. Heck, if you’re reading this and from a bigger city, chances are I’m not even covering 1/10th of the options you have when finding a solid, affordable local PC. So don’t give up!

Follow me on Twitter, @SheeshFr