Last Updated: October 1, 2020
Does building a computer save you money over buying one? If you are strategic about choosing the best value parts for your needs - almost always. This is fairly common knowledge within the PC gaming community, and one of the key reasons why you should build a PC.
But if you don't do a little research into how to choose the right parts for your custom computer, and tweak them for your particular needs, it's easy for newcomers to DIY to overspend on their parts-list in various ways, potentially limiting the savings you get when building a PC (and in the worst case, eliminating them to the point where you don't even save money over buying a prebuilt gaming PC.
The more aware you are of the hardware market, graphics technology, and PC gaming in general, the savvier a shopper you will be and you'll be able to save more money when building PCs, fully maximizing the returns you get from this great hobby. But just how much money can you save when building a PC? The larger your build budget, the more potential there is to save compared to buying a desktop. With decent component selections you could easily save a few hundred bucks when building a top of the range $3000 gaming PC for instance, whereas you might only be able to squeeze out $50 to $150 in savings when putting together a $500 budget build.
But beyond PC building 101 - strategically selecting the right combination of parts for your exact needs, combined with pinpointing where the value is in the hardware market at any given time as is the aim of our best custom gaming PC builds for the money series - there are a bunch of other money saving strategies to consider that can ease the strain on your wallet without lowering your overall experience all that much (if at all). If you're building on a budget, or just want to shave off some extra dollars on that parts-list you're currently weighing up, here are some handy tips to know if you're building that first or second gaming PC and you haven't (yet) cracked that code to a money tree.
Not all games are created equal - not just in how good of a game they are, but in terms of their hardware requirements. Building a PC for League of Legends and building one for the latest graphically-demanding AAA blockbusters like Red Dead Redemption 2 - those are two completely different tasks. Game requirements can vary greatly, with less graphically-intensive titles only requiring a fairly cheap, basic modern PC for good performance, while more demanding games needing a fair bit more in terms of CPU and GPU firepower if you seek super smooth performance. When building a PC to save money, you want to tailor and tweak your hardware component selections for the task at hand, which means looking into the requirements of the games you will be playing.
Of course, the ideal thing to do when building a computer is to get a little bit more firepower than you need right now in order to be as "future proof" as possible (so you won't need to upgrade for a long time), but there are a lot of gamers out there who unknowingly spend way too much money on a gaming PC with so much power that they likely will never even fully utilize. To learn how demanding a certain game is and what sort of parts you'll need, see our game requirement guides in the main menu above that lists what exact specs you'll need for in order to get great performance. We create new guides all the time so check our PC building blog for the latest game-specific build guides.
When building a PC to save money, what's just as important as the actual games you'll be playing is the resolution of the monitor you will use (and its refresh rate, but we'll explain that next to avoid confusion). The difference in hardware requirements can vary greatly between different screen resolutions like 1080p, 1440p, and 4K (the 3 most popular PC gaming resolutions right now).
The higher the resolution of your monitor, the more pixels need to be rendered on screen, which is more taxing on your graphics card. This isn't immediately apparent to beginners who may be just getting into PC gaming, because when you go to check out a particular game's official system requirements (listed by the game developer on Steam etc), they only list a very generalized set of minimum and/or requirements that don't take into account the resolution you'll be playing at (nor the refresh rate). To save money on your PC build, we recommend the standard resolution of 1080p, which is still the most common used today (and likely will be for the foreseeable future).
Getting good performance at 1080p doesn't require spending much money on a graphics card (or other parts), unless it's an abnormally demanding game like Witcher 3 or Red Dead Redemption 2 (and you want to get 60FPS+ on high/ultra settings). Perhaps even more importantly, 1080p is still a high-enough pixel count for a high-quality experience that'll please most people.
Put another way, there's really no huge need for a higher resolution to fully enjoy your games. 1440p displays are becoming more popular these days, but they not only mean spending more on a 1440p monitor (which cost more than 1080p models), but also on a better graphics card to push that higher pixel count. You could argue that the higher quality, more-detailed graphics of 1440p gaming vs 1080p gaming isn't a big enough gap to justify the added cost (for most gamers). The difference between 1080p and 4K is more substantial, as 4K shows a massive amount of pixels compared to 1080p, but 4K monitors and 4k-capable graphics cards are expensive and so isn't relevant here in an article all about saving money.
The most common resolutions; don't get sucked in thinking you NEED higher than 1080p
As for those on a really tight budget, you may even want to consider dropping down below 1080p to 720p, which was previously the most common gaming resolution (a few years back). Definitely stick to 1080p if you can, but it's worth considering if you don't mind the lower image quality and are playing games that really aren't about the graphics (think CSGO, League of Legends, Minecraft, and even Fortnite). But 1080p is so accessible these days, and doesn't require much power from a PC, so you might as well stick to that unless you perhaps find an amazing deal on a 720p monitor and want to build the cheapest gaming PC humanly possible.
Whatever you do, to avoid spending more money on your computer than you need (a first world problem but it does happen unknowingly, even to those who think they're being cost-effective with their purchase), tweak your component selections for the resolution you'll be using. No point building a monster i7 9700K and 2080 Super build for over 1.5K if all you're doing is playing on a cheap 1080p 60Hz display where you could have done nicely on a budget build well under 1K. By the same token, it would be a letdown to build a super cheap gaming PC with mediocre components and pair it with a high-end 4K display, only to barely achieve a console-level 30FPS in your favorite game.
See Also: How to Choose the Best Gaming Monitor
If you're unaware of PC gaming refresh rates like 60Hz, 75Hz, 144Hz, 240Hz, and the crazy new kid on the block 360Hz aimed at professional gamers, the one you choose also makes a difference in the parts you should choose for your new gaming PC build. 60Hz monitors have been the norm for an eternity, and allow you to "see" up to 60 FPS (Frames Per Second). 75Hz monitors (75FPS) are also quite common, and are essentially the same thing (as in, the same ballpark of image speed and hardware requirements).
Getting 60FPS and 75FPS to take full advantage of a 60Hz or 75Hz monitor doesn't require very beefy hardware (at least in most games), and that level of image "speed" is really all most people need to experience a super smooth, super fast gaming experience. Sure, if you can afford it, getting a higher refresh rate monitor like 144Hz is indeed worth it for FPS/shooter titles like CSGO, Overwatch, Tarkov, and so on (and you could argue Fortnite, PUBG, and Apex too). But the reality is, most gamers, who fall into the "casual" category (and aren't playing competitively or trying to) would actually have a hard time noticing the difference between "standard" screens like 60Hz and super-fast 144Hz+ displays if they took a blind test.
So to build the most cost-effective gaming computer, skip on the more expensive 144Hz displays (or faster ones like 240Hz which can be really expensive) and find a good-quality 1080p 60Hz/75Hz screen (ideally IPS for the best quality). That means you also won't need to spend as much on a graphics card (since 60FPS is way easier to achieve than 144FPS), as well as on your CPU - getting high frame rates of 144FPS or higher not only requires a beefy graphics card (unless it's an older game like CSGO or LoL which don't require much graphics power), but also depends on your CPU as well. And in more CPU-intensive games, getting 144FPS+ can actually be more dependent on your CPU (than your GPU). But getting 60FPS on a 1080p 60Hz monitor? Even the most basic of cheap CPUs can get the job done.
If all you play is fast-paced shooters, do consider 144Hz screens as you can find some inexpensive ones that won't cost much more than 60Hz displays, but give the expensive 240Hz screens a miss - the difference from 60Hz to 144Hz is noticeable for competitive players, but the 144Hz to 240Hz gap isn't as widely appreciated as all that noticeable (at least to most people). And getting 240FPS to take advantage of a 240Hz screen in the first place - that's no easy task (in most games) and will require a beefy CPU and GPU.
See Also: How to Choose CPU for Gaming
So now we've covered the games you're playing, and the resolution and refresh rate of your monitor - the most important factors that determine how powerful of a PC you need. But there's one more factor to consider; graphics settings. If you're new to PC, most PC games have in-game video settings you can change that affects the quality of the image and special effects. For example, you can alter the quality of the rendered shadows, fog, explosions, textures, and so on. Most games also have a few different preset options to make things easy, such as low, medium, high and ultra (the most common presets that games typically have).
So what's this got to do with saving money on a PC build? Some games perform quite a lot differently on different settings, and playing on low vs higher/maxed out settings can make quite a noticeable difference on performance, and therefore on what hardware you'll require to get a good frame rate. If you play a game on low or medium settings, you can get away with a cheaper PC compared to higher graphics settings, and in many games, especially titles that are more about the gameplay rather than immersive/realistic graphics, gaming on lower settings isn't going to make much (if any) difference to many players. For example, let's take one of the most popular games on the planet right now; Fortnite. The game is all about gameplay, and much less about its visuals (which are cartoon-like), so playing on lower settings is hardly going to make a difference to the experience (for most people anyway).
Plus, in some games it's actually more desirable to play on lower settings than higher ones. Take fast-paced shooters like CSGO and Overwatch for instance (and even PUBG, Fortnite, and Apex) - in these titles where every millisecond counts, getting the highest frame rate your system can is more desirable than getting higher graphics quality, in to avoid ever dropping under your refresh rate (ie 144FPS) during firefights and to also minimize input lag which is, believe it or not, related to your FPS (as NVIDIA has openly revealed to the eSports community recently with their release of NVIDIA Reflex).
So to keep costs low when building a gaming PC, when researching what parts you need for the games you play, don't forget to take into account the graphics settings you'll likely be playing at (and also perhaps look into whether higher settings in a particular title is worth it or not). Also keep in mind that not every game is the same in terms of how settings affect performance; one game may have a huge performance hit on higher presets, whilst another game may not perform much different at all on low vs higher settings.
If you already have a desktop computer then you might be able to salvage some scraps and include some of its parts in your new PC build. Anything is fair game, assuming that it's going to be compatible with the new components you'll be buying, all the way from your previous graphics card (perhaps it's still decent and your new build is mostly about getting a new CPU and motherboard) down to little things like reusing the case fans or cable ties from within your previous case. We wrote a full guide on how to reuse parts for a PC build where you can learn handy tips on reusing any of your old parts.
Keeping your old accessories is another obvious way to save money on your new gaming computer build as many people will have an old keyboard or mouse lying around somewhere, and if not you're bound to know someone who does. Most gamers don't mind using basic no-frills accessories for gaming as only pro, aspiring pro, or cashed-up gamers have any real business using fancy, high-end devices with all the bells and whistles like RGB lighting, programmable buttons and macro keys, high-end tracking performance, etc. For the average casual gamer busting out a session of Fortnite or DOTA2, you're not going to see a difference, so don't rule out that dusty 10 dollar keyboard lying around the house unless you've dreams to become the next pro gaming Ninja (in which case you'll need a good gaming mouse for pinpoint accuracy, control and comfort).
Not only can you reuse hardware and accessories, but your operating system may also be something you can keep from your previous system which could be really helpful in saving money on your gaming PC build as buying a new copy of Windows will cost you around 100 bucks minimum. The bad news though is that not everyone is going to be able to reuse Windows and it'll depend on your edition/version that you have on your previous setup. Learn whether you can or can't reuse Windows for your build in our reusing PC parts guide.
To save the most money possible when building a gaming computer, keeping an eye out for deals is one of the best ways, and especially if you wait for a big sales event like Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or Amazon Prime Day, (the latter of which is getting better with time, but still isn't as big as the first 2 overall in terms of tech sales (but that could change any year so I wouldn't count out Amazon Prime Day as a potential for grabbing a great discount on hardware or accessories). If you're not building a PC near to a big sales event, you might still want to keep an eye out for them to potentially grab a great bargain on an accessory upgrade. Black Friday seems to always have good deals on gaming mice, keyboards, headsets, monitors, and so on.
Of course, hardware deals aren't just restricted to big sales events, and you could see discounts at any time throughout the year. To get your deal-hunt on, handy places to check out are Reddit BuildAPCSales (USA), BAPCSalesCanada (for Maple Leaf Master Race enthusiasts), BAPCSalesAustralia (for fellow lit 1337 gamers in 'straya), and BuildAPCSalesUK (I'm out of lame one-liners). People on there list some good deals when they pop up, and people also sometimes helpfully chime in on whether it's actually a good deal or not, but obviously not all deals will be posted there so sometimes it's a matter of luck when trawling through online stores like Amazon or wherever you like to shop for your tech. Some stores have their own dedicated sales/deals area, so look out for that in the main menu. For example, in Australia the popular hardware store Umart has a separate deals page.
Pro Tip: Use a site called CamelCamelCamel to check the price history of a product on Amazon to get a sense of whether it's a good time to buy a particular product, or whether it's currently overpriced (perhaps due to low availability).
A fairly large chunk of people who buy tech online these days buy from Amazon due to their super competitive prices and vast range of all the leading brands. They really have completely taken over online shopping in a big way with no end in sight, but their monopoly of online Ecommerce doesn't seem to be such a bad thing due to their super convenient service and their seemingly genuine focus on consistently good customer experience.
But while Amazon is a good bet to find the best price (at least in the US), if you want to maximize the money you save on your custom PC then you'll want to consider comparing with other popular online stores for PC parts in your particular region. In our best gaming desktop builds series we try to include alternative stores where possible, but you can also use the PCPartPicker tool to compare prices from different stores for your particular region.
If you don't mind not having the latest and greatest graphics card or CPU, you can save a stack of cash by opting for a slightly older model, and if you choose wisely you won't be sacrificing on performance all that much. Despite the hype that inevitably surrounds new releases, CPUs and GPUs don't often leap that far forward when a new generation comes out, and the common misconception that the previous generation is automatically obsolete overnight and worth avoiding like the plaque once that new tech is out - it's mostly just smokes and mirrors created by clever marketing, over-emotional fanboys who think anything new is the greatest thing to grace the market, overly-enthusiastic sponsored "reviewers", and of course the general idea that newer must mean better (usually true, but not always).
Sure; not everyone thinks this way (that brand spankin' new tech is the ONLY thing you should ever buy), but I would say it's accurate to say that most less tech-savvy people (most general consumers, ie the masses) underestimate just how good older tech can still be. You don't always need the latest and greatest. Of course, don't buy an older part if it's truly objectively bad in the modern day and has considerably fallen behind performance-wise compared to newer offerings. And also don't buy too old so that you miss out on modern features and/or future upgrade-ability. Furthermore, be aware that older parts can sometimes be even MORE expensive than the current-gen due to low availability (low supply means higher prices). Just don't be afraid of considering older, supposedly "obsolete" hardware is all I'm saying. It could be where the current best value is for a particular component, and especially if you buy used, which leads to the next, and possibly most effective way to save money when building your next computer.
Buying second hand hardware components (or accessories) is another obvious and easy way to save money when building a new PC, especially if you buy a used graphics card or another component that takes up a large chunk of your overall build budget (eg the CPU, or accessories like your monitor). This path isn't for everyone, as there are obviously risks to buying somebody else's hardware that could have led an interesting life (that may or may not be disclosed in the ad, and that also unfortunately may or may not be disclosed by a seller if you ask them). Plus, a used part may not be under warranty anymore, and even if it is, depending on your region and its laws, you might not even be able to claim it if something goes wrong with the product (but most of the time you should be safe).
But there certainly are parts you really want to avoid buying used, such as motherboards which have many different potential points of failure, and all sorts of things that could go wrong. Traditional hard drives (HDDs) are another thing you should probably just buy new, as they have finite lifespans due to the moving parts inside (SSDs are much better as there are no moving parts). Power supplies are also not worth the risk to buy used in my opinion, as a dodgy PSU that dies on you could spell the end of your system, possibly damaging other parts along with it.
This isn't going to be applicable to most people, but another option in your arsenal to save money on a gaming PC build is to consider buying a barebone kit. Wait, what? Barebone kits may mean a combo of parts that are unassembled, but they also come in the form of semi-assembled desktops that come with a few parts already installed, with the buyer needing to add other parts of their choosing to finish off the system and make a working PC.
For example, you can sometimes come across a barebones PC that has the case, motherboard, fans, and maybe something else, all pre-installed and (almost) ready to go, and then you go in and add whatever CPU, RAM, storage, GPU, etc that you want. Barebone systems and kits can save you money, as well as time and effort, but they aren't all that common nowadays so it really depends on what's available at the time. You never know though; see our complete guide to the best barebone gaming PCs and kits to learn more which includes any relevant recommendations of our own.
Remember brick-and-mortar stores? You know, those physical locations in your town where you actually walk in to browse products on things called shelves? I kid you not, such ancient relics still exist in the modern digital era we're firmly entrenched in. Seriously though, while online shopping has now become the norm in society across most industries (not just tech) due to convenience and better prices (primarily due to the low overheads of online stores), you never know what you'll find at a local PC store.
If you have one nearby, it's worth checking out in case they have some deals, though you should check the website first. Nope, you can't escape digital life no matter what. For example, Micro Center in the US have long been known for their occasional CPU deals, and Fry's have had decent deals in the past on various parts too.
Picking the current best value parts on the market right now to save the most money can be confusing, but thankfully you don't have to do it all yourself and there are various resources out there to help you pick great parts and better spend your hard-earned (or begged-for) money. Our very own best custom gaming PC builds for the money series lists a bunch of continually-updated sample builds at different price points as examples of how to stretch any type of spending budget based on the current market, but while we do genuinely believe our builds are a good base to start your research as a beginner you can find a horde of other build ideas online such as PCPartPicker's user builds and the (usually, but not always) helpful BuildAPC Subreddit.
This one's probably one of the more obvious money saving tips, as it's fairly common knowledge that SSDs are more expensive than traditional hard drives, so if you're looking to cut costs on a PC build then just go with a regular HDD if you need a lot of storage space (for tons of games, videos, photos, etc) as you'll get much more storage for the price.
SSDs are quite a bit more affordable nowadays, so getting a small to medium sized one as your main system/boot drive to speed up Windows (and load speeds of a handful of programs and games you can fit on there) isn't going to hurt your wallet too much and is HUGELY worth it. Just don't go including a 1TB - 2TB SSD in your setup and wonder why you haven't much left for your other more important parts (like the CPU and GPU).
See Also: The SSD Buyer's Guide for Gamers
Contrary to popular belief, RGB does not increase your FPS. Sad, I know. PCMR memes aside, if your aim is to save money on your PC build, the primary focus should be function over form. Strategically choose parts that perform the best for the price - not that look the best. Passing on that awesome case with the fancy see-through side panels and super-cool RGB lighting will free up your budget for more important matters like your CPU, GPU and RAM.
It should also go without saying that you should skip on other cool features like custom PC water cooling (even closed-loop ones as air coolers are better value) and RGB peripherals if you want to cut costs as much as possible. To be fair though, even a cheap PC build can look great from the outside as there are plenty of very affordable yet good-looking gaming computer cases out there. Just don't waste 120 bucks on a fancy case when you could get something just as practical for half the price, leaving 60 extra bucks to put towards something more important like your GPU.
Not something I can recommend to beginner builders or those who aren't too tech-savvy, of I'm being totally honest not something I can recommend to anyone really (unless they have a good reason to), using a Linux operating system such as Ubuntu (there are many different Linux distributions) is an option, and, it's 100% Free. Windows is going to be the simpler way, as Linux is more technical and you'll be more on your own, but it's there as an option and there are certain benefits over Windows. But for most people, Windows has much better and far wider support for modern games.
If you're still reading this, chances are you have higher levels of patience than the average instant-gratification filled gamer, and such a virtue lends itself well when planning and building computers. If you don't need a new system right this second, by holding off on pulling the trigger on your parts-list you can wait it out in case one or two of your components drops in price a little or goes on sale. Or you can wait for that big upcoming product launch that could lower current generation prices (as RTX 3000 has just recently done to the used GPU market).
By resisting that natural (and likely also partly conditioned) trigger-happy urge to impulse buy, you not only can strike at the right time to score a deal (well, maybe), but you also give yourself more time to research, weigh up your options, shop around, and generally build a better PC for your needs.
But it must also be said that in some cases, Yoda-like zen patience may actually backfire when building a PC because you never know when components could do the opposite of what you'd hope and increase in price. The hardware game can be a yo-yo, and if you wait too long on pulling the trigger on that super-duper bang-for-buck parts-list you so cleverly conjured, you might never see those combination of parts at that same attractive price again (or for a long time). But of course, in general patience will go a long way.
The green dude himself reading a holographic version of The Gaming Build Blueprint for some reason; not sure why when you can overclock with your mind
The retailers I recommend most, for the regions that make up the majority of my readers.
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VPNs are fast becoming must-have software these days to improve the security and privacy of your PC when online. There's lots of VPNs but NordVPN is objectively one of the best and the one I use. VPNs also help for online gaming as explained here.
Indie game programmer currently working on my first official game release (after years of hobby projects), an atmospheric story-driven VR FPS built with Unreal Engine (to be announced once I'm ready here and here for anyone into VR FPS's). Also likes writing these articles about tech, which helps to fund development of the game (bringing on help from talented artists and modelers is not cheap).
My favs of all time are OOT, Perfect Dark, MGS1 and 2, GE007, DKC2, THPS3, HL1, WC3, Vice City, and KOTOR, with the most recent addition to my list of immortals being the VR masterpiece Half Life Alyx. Thanks for visiting, hope the site helps, and if you want a second opinion on your PC build feel free to ask a question over on the main PC builds guide. I try to respond to every comment. - Julz