How to Build a Cheap Gaming Computer for Esports
Building a gaming computer from scratch may or may not present a serious challenge. If you have experience then, it’s a thrilling journey from start to finish, but if you’re a newbie when it comes to deciding which components to buy (and why), then it might be a bit daunting.
The majority of today’s most popular games aren’t that hardware intensive, so building a gaming computer that can run esports titles isn’t that hard – especially not in 2018.
I’ve been playing esports games almost exclusively over the last decade or so. I do dabble in a couple of triple-A titles now and then, but only when it’s something extraordinary – like the new God of War or something similar. Other than that, single-player games simply don’t have the “pull” that’s necessary for me to sit for hours on end.
Whether that’s just me getting old, or the games being made from the same mold doesn’t matter. If it doesn’t have online, and if I can’t play with friends then it doesn’t attract me.
But to bring things back to our topic, almost all esports games are incredibly well optimized, and they can run on almost any hardware – if you dial down the settings, that is. You can play them on a mid-tier laptop, or on a machine that’s a couple of years old even.
So if you’re looking to build an affordable PC that will be able to play all modern esports titles, then this is the right place to start. By building this configuration, you’ll be getting very respectable framerates while playing at 1080p. Now you mostly won’t play at the highest possible settings, but somewhere between Medium and High is to be expected.
Fortunately, the process is pretty simple and enjoyable even though it might seem overly complicated at first glance.
First of all, let’s deconstruct a computer to see which parts you’ll need:
This is where things got very interesting over the last year.
Processors with built-in graphics “cards” aren’t anything new. AMD processors had them – but they weren’t that good, Intel has their HD series as well, and while they’re not exactly abysmal, they’re far from great. At best, they can get the job done for some very light gaming.
However, AMD changed everything this year with their second-generation Ryzen processors. Not only did they continue the trend of offering insane value for a small amount of money, but they created an integrated graphics solution that doesn’t suck.
The right term for this is APU or Accelerated Processing Unit. You get a central processing unit (CPU, or colloquially processor) as well as a graphics accelerator unit (GPU, or graphics card) on the same component. Now, APU’s always had great value, but you couldn’t game on them.
With the second generation Ryzen processors, you not only get a quad-core, four-thread processor but also an integrated Vega graphics chip that’s capable of running every single esports title with very satisfying results.
So we’re going with the AMD – Ryzen 3 2200G 3.5GHz Quad-Core Processor, it’s absolutely the best “bang for your buck” option right now on the market. The sheer fact that you essentially get a GPU included as well is insane.
You’re generating less heat, you’re not drawing any additional power (the 2200G requires only 65W), and it’s ridiculously cheap – around $100.
Because you’re going to be overclocking your processor, and there’s an integrated GPU that you’ll be overclocking as well, you’re going to need a solid cooler to keep the temperatures low. While gaming, your CPU is going to be doing a lot of work, so you need to keep it as cool as possible.
The Deepcool Gammaxx 200T is a fantastic aftermarket cooler that has incredibly good value – it’s currently on sale on Amazon for $15, but even for its full retail price at $19.99, it’s a steal.
It keeps the idle temperatures of your CPU very low but most importantly, when under full load your CPU won’t go over 60°C which is phenomenal. It has a big 120mm fan on the side, and when under full load it’s far from loud.
Next up, you’re going to need an AM4 motherboard. AM4 stands for the CPU socket on the motherboard, and Ryzen motherboards can have three chipsets – A320, B350 (sometimes presented as AB350) and X370. Now while this might seem a bit confusing, we’re not going to delve any deeper right now. The important thing to note is that A320 motherboards are the cheapest of the bunch but you can’t overclock your Ryzen processor, whereas with a B350 chipset you can.
Because overclocking is a fantastic thing, and all Ryzen processors come “unlocked” out of the box, we’re going for a B350, AM4 motherboard.
Now you can get a motherboard in three sizes. ATX, microATX, and mini-ITX. To simplify things, ATX has the biggest form factor and the most ports – it’s also the most widespread format. MicroATX is smaller and still has pretty solid prices, whereas mini-ITX motherboards are the smallest in size but are the most expensive of the bunch.
Going the mini-ITX route can result in some really small and compact computers, but if you’re focused on spending the least amount of money possible, then it’s best to go for an ATX or micro-ATX motherboard instead.
Do note that older AM4 models don’t support the second generation of Ryzen processors out of the box, so before buying check with your seller if you’re looking at a compatible model.
Buying the right motherboard will cost you between $60-$90, depending on the model, format (ATX or micro-ATX) and manufacturer. In general, there are no bad choices as long as it’s a B350 but you can check for user reviews on NewEgg just to make sure.
Furthermore, the AM4 socket is still fairly new, and AMD isn’t going to create a new socket until 2019. AMD also reassured buyers that they plan on supporting AM4 all the way through 2020, so you’re buying something that not only has fantastic value right now but will continue being a great socket for years to come.
Next up, we have RAM. Getting fast (and a lot of) RAM is of the utmost importance, especially for a Ryzen APU build. Unfortunately, the latest DDR4 memory costs a lot. It was only a couple of years ago that you could have bought the same amount of RAM for half the price.
You’re going to need 8GB of RAM, that’s the bare minimum for a gaming PC, and it’s still more than enough for everyday use. Now the most important thing here is the fact that Ryzen works best with really fast RAM, so you’ll need two sticks that run on at least 3000Mhz or 3200Mhz.
The faster the RAM, the better your GPU will perform – it’s as simple as that. Do note that this applies only for integrated APU solutions like the one on the 2200G, not with regular graphics cards.
And why two sticks? Because it’s better to have two sticks of 4GB of RAM (totaling out at 8GB), and then running them in dual-channel mode. By doing so, you’re doubling the maximum bandwidth of the memory. Now while we won’t get into the nitty-gritty here, having fast RAM that runs in dual-channel will seriously improve the performance of your APU – and computer in general.
You can get very decent dual-channel DDR4 RAM running at 3000Mhz for around $90-$110.
Next up, you have to get some storage. You should, by all means, get a Solid State Drive (SSD) as once you feel the blazing speed that’s present in both Windows boot times as well as daily tasks, you can never go back to regular mechanical hard disk drives. Also, game load times will be insane, especially when compared to an HDD.
You can get the Western Digital Blue 250GB SSD for around $70, or the Samsung 860 EVO 250GB for around $80. Both options are great, and 250 gigs of storage will be more than enough to accommodate your operating system and multiple games.
Since your SSD will be reserved for system files and the games you’re going to be playing the most, you can also buy an additional HDD for storage. They’re a lot cheaper, and you can get a 1TB Western Digital Blue HDD that spins at 7200RPM (rotations per minute) for around $50 which is a really good deal.
Of course, if that’s too much additional storage for your needs, you can always get a 500GB drive instead.
PSU (Power Supply Unit)
As for your power supply, you shouldn’t go below 400W. Anything above is good, but anything above 500W is overkill.
PSU prices vary in general, but you can find some really good deals. As an example, the EVGA 450W Bronze Certified PSU is on sale for $29.99 at the time of this writing. You can also find some solid Corsair and EVGA power supplies for around $40-$60, and you really shouldn’t be spending more than that.
This whole system at full load requires way less than 400W.
PC Case & Peripherals
When you have all the components you need, the last thing that’s left is finding a PC enclosure you like – for the motherboard format that you have, and buying a nice mouse and keyboard!
You will be overclocking your CPU (or in this case APU), and luckily it’s an incredibly simple process from start to finish. By doing so, you’re going to be getting over 20% better performance in almost all games you’ll be playing.
You can read a thorough tutorial on overclocking the 2200G here.
How Does It Perform?
The games we will be looking at are League of Legends, Overwatch, DOTA2, Fortnite, Realm Royale, Heroes of the Storm and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
With an overclocked 2200G (CPU clocked at 3.80Ghz or 3.90Ghz, GPU clocked at 1,600Mhz), you can expect the following frame rates:
- League of Legends – over 100fps on Very High.
- Overwatch – around 60fps on Medium, and 100% render scale.
- DOTA 2 – you can get DOTA 2 to run silky smooth even at the highest settings. You might have to pull up your sleeves a bit and configure everything to your liking, but achieving 60fps is fairly easy.
- Fortnite – up to 80fps on Medium, but you do have to tinker a bit with the settings until you reach the desired frame rate, and disabling shadows will seriously improve the results. In any case, playing at 60fps at 1080p is easily achievable.
- Realm Royale – well over 100fps in most cases, with the majority of settings on High.
- Heroes of the Storm – over 60fps on Medium.
- Counter-Strike: Global Offensive – over 100fps on average, with maxed out settings.
The fact that you’re able to play all of these popular titles at such high frame rates – with an integrated graphics card is insane.
Upgrading in The Future
The beauty of this build isn’t just the fact that it’s relatively cheap, but rather that you can upgrade your gaming computer later down the line and still not lose any value from the components you previously purchased.
Look at it this way; you’re building a very solid foundation on which you can build upon if you want to. All these parts are “future-proof,” and you’re not buying anything that’s older than a year, so you’re good to go for the foreseeable future.
If you want a bit more horsepower, you can always just get a full-fledged graphics card and slot it right in.
But even if you don’t upgrade anything, you’ll still be able to play every single esports game out there and still have a blast.