Building a cheap PC, and why it still beats tablets and laptops for value

I thought the Google Nexus tablet was good value, and compared to an Apple iPad or most other tablets out there it is, but for sheer capability on a budget a desktop PC has it beat.

Needing a cheap desktop I went along to Ebuyer and purchased the following:

  • Asus P8H61-MX SI Motherboard bundled with Intel Pentium G620 and 2GB DD3 RAM
  • Extra Value Micro ATX case with 500w PSU (unbranded)
  • Additional 2GB RAM

The total cost was £128.54 with free delivery. I then plucked a Sata DVD drive and a 200GB hard drive from a dead server, and put it all together, which took less than an hour. Next installed Windows 7 64-bit, for which fortunately I have a subscription license. Plugged in spare keyboard, mouse and monitor.

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I was impressed by the Windows Experience Index of 4.9, and Gaming graphics of 5.6 achieved by Intel’s integrated graphics. The board has VGA and DVI ports and supports dual displays. It also has HD audio and of course ethernet networking.

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What would it cost if I had not had spare DVD and hard drives? A 500GB drive is £42.70 and a DVD drive £11.94 currently, making £183.18, or £152.65 without the VAT.

Need Windows? You are a system builder, so you can get Windows Home Premium with SP1 64-bit for £75.99, or Professional for £104.98. Total cost with the cheaper option is £259.17, now more than a Google Nexus tablet (£159.00 for the 8GB version).

Add a screen, keyboard and mouse for £65.97 (BenQ LCD 18.5” 1366 x 768), and the complete system is £325.14, or £249.15 if you stick Ubuntu on in place of Windows 7.

Still, I’d bet that the average household has at least some reusable bits lying around.

The real point is how capable even a budget box like this turns out to be. The RAM is upgradeable to 16GB.

The dark side to all this is that the value of your old PC has plummeted since you bought it three or four years ago, and faults beyond the trivial are hardly worth repairing.

Finally, I should mention Raspberry Pi. The board complete with CPU, networking and graphics is £25.92. Add case, 4GB storage, power, keyboard, mouse, and HDMI monitor though, and my quick price for the complete system is £147.81, mostly for the monitor (Benq 21.5” HDMI). Of course there are many creative uses for a Raspberry Pi without buying a monitor.

My vote still goes to the PC for the best productivity on a budget.

PS let’s not forget the cheapest Mac, currently a Mac mini at £529. OS comes with it, but only 2GB RAM, no mouse, keyboard or monitor. Add those and it is over £600.

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  4. Keyboards, consoles and living rooms: Trust Thinity reviewed

4 thoughts on “Building a cheap PC, and why it still beats tablets and laptops for value

  1. Andy

    I completely agree that even a basic desktop like this is sufficient for most users but then so would a tablet like the Google Nexus. Also if someone is actually worried about productivity rather than just general web browsing etc then I would argue they should spend the extra on a laptop (or the same on netbook) instead as most people seem to want the space and flexibility that a laptop gives them rather than a bulky desktop.

    Finally as well all know value is a hard thing to define but again I would say a tablet would offer more value over this basic desktop as the user(s) would be learning up to date skills (how to use touch screens, apps, online cloud storage etc) whilst most tablets also double up as a great portable games / media device for other members of the family i.e. kids. I don’t think you can place a value on the the skills kids are learning from swiping apps and games etc or at least that helps me sleep easier at night anyway when they have had mine for hours!

    1. Tim Post author

      Sure, value is hard to pin down and if you have no desk, for example, a desktop is little use. In this context I meant the computing power you get from your purchase.

      Tim

      1. Andy

        Oh right well in terms of computing power then something like this laptop with 4GB memory, 500GB hard disk and ATI HD 6470M Graphics with a 2 year guarantee + 90 days free software support for £329.95 is much better value than the full £325.14 price of yours including OS etc.

        I honestly think that unless you are a geek / gamer and can cannibalise parts from your existing old machines etc then unfortunately there is no benefit in building computers yourself in today’s ultra competitive computing world.

        1. Tim Post author

          That is more than double what I actually spent and less powerful, but I agree in general, self-build does not save money unless you can reuse existing parts.

          Tim

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