What Can Your Budget Buy? (Part 1)

1/10/2013 6:11:32 PM

Stretching budgets is the name of the game when it comes to buying any computer, so what’s the economic difference between buying a PC and customizing one yourself?

When the time comes to buy a new PC, there’s often a level of disconnect between the kind of system we want and the kind of system we can actually afford. No-one likes to compromise, but working within a budget is the unfortunate reality for most of us. That doesn’t mean you can’t get a good deal, or that your money is going to be wasted. In many ways, the art of building a PC is the art of balancing your budget.

buy a new PC in your budget

Buy a new PC in your budget

Broadly speaking, if you want to buy a new PC you have two options: buy one that someone else has built, or put one together yourself. Neither course of action is inherently better, and both options have their own advantages and disadvantages -especially when it comes to making use of your budget.

Pre-build PCs, for example, tend to be well-balanced and priced for demand, which means buyers can get fantastic discounts on low-end systems. High street retailers even like to throw in free extras like printers and webcams in, to ‘sweeten’ deals for casual users. However, such systems often keep their prices price low by containing technology that’s heading rapidly towards obsolescence, and chain retailers in particular sell systems that are infuriatingly cluttered with unnecessary software. Convenience often ends up being traded against inefficiency.

By contrast, a bespoke, custom-build system will contain only and exactly the parts you want. They may take a little longer to be put together, and you’ll pay a labour premium which might mean it’s still not as cheap as buying the components yourself, but your ability to tweak the budget and contents means that whatever you end up with will be more appropriate for your needs.

With those factors in mind, we’ve trawled the internet looking for some of the best pre-build systems out there and compared them against those you can construct using the Computer Planet’s system builder. The question we hope to answer is just how good a computer you can get for your money, and does it make more sense to buy one someone else has put together or choose the parts yourself. And maybe, along the way, we’ll convince you that buying from big retailers isn’t the only option worth pursuing…

Budget: Approx. $564

Budget systems work on two levels. On the one hand, you can approach them as a cheap, self-contained machine that’ll allow you to do the online basics for the smallest possible expense. Or, alternatively, you can treat them as a base on which future upgrades and enhancements can be applied as, piece by piece, you construct the system you’ve always wanted as and when you can afford to. Either way, you get a capable computer - even if you’re only spending $483 or less!

Aria Technology Gladiator Pronto G530

Aria Technology Gladiator Pronto G530

If you want a budget pre-build that can meet the standards you’d expect of a retail desktop machine, the Gladiator Pronto G530 from Aria PC Technology is one such example. Building it around a dual-core Celeron G530 (2.4GHz) means it’s never going to impress with its speed, but the fact that it sits in a Sandy Bridge (Socket LGA1155) motherboard means that you could - potentially - upgrade it as far as a Core i7 in the future. This makes the G530 a good choice if you want a base for future improvements.

4GB of memory is more than adequate for this price range, although note that it’s a single 4GB module, which is slightly worse (but cheaper) than a 2GB pair. A 500GB SATA 6Gbps hard drive offers a more than reasonable amount of storage. Too much, if anything, for an entry level system (you won’t hear us complaining, mind you).

The Cooler Master Micro-ATX Tower case means there’s not a huge amount of space inside, so future upgrades are limited, but it does mean that you save space on housing the system itself. Graphics come from Sandy Bridge’s on-board Intel HD Graphics 2000, which should be able to play simple or older games, but it’s not going to offer spectacular visuals on modern 3D titles. A wireless network adaptor is also notable in its omission.

As is usual for pre-builds, there’s no monitor, mouse or keyboard included, so remember to tack another $112-$128 onto the price to get the true cost of buying this system if you don’t have those already. Even so, this is a fairly competitive PC for the price point. A few tweaks and it could’ve been perfect.


·         Pre-build: Aria Technology Gladiator Pronto G530

·         Price: $496

·         CPU: Intel Celeron G530 (2 x 2.40GHz)

·         RAM: 1 x 4GB Corsair DDR3 1066MHz

·         Storage: 500GB SATA 6Gbps Hard Drive

·         Case: Cooler Master Black Micro-ATX Chassis

·         Graphics: Intel HD Graphics (Sandy Bridge)

·         Optical Drive: DVD +/- RW Drive w/m-Disk Support

·         Power Supply: 430W Corsair Builder

·         Series 80PLUS Bronze

·         CPU Cooling: Standard Intel CPU Fan

·         Motherboard: Gigabyte Intel H61

·         Sound: 7.1 HD Sound (on-board)

·         Wireless: None

·         Operating System: Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium


GX250 Gaming PC

GX250 Gaming PC

Starting with the standard base, we’ve customized Computer Planet’s GX250 into something resembling Aria’s system. If nothing else, the results show that when you’re shopping at the low-end of the market, the superior economies of a pre-build mean you can get a much better system than if you try and customise one yourself. Even though the G530’s power isn’t necessarily greater than the GX250’s, the specs are generally higher, the hardware more modern, and it’s really hard to love a system with an 80GB hard drive and only 2GB of RAM.

A big problem was the lack of an operating system in the price. Computer Planet’s typical user is likely to have access to one already, but for this entry-level system, it seemed unfair to assume that of everyone. Unfortunately, the most reasonable OS on offer was a retail copy of Windows 8 Standard, costing $104, which meant a lot of cuts to fit the budget – a fifth of the cost goes on OS alone!

To save money, we swapped out the fancy-looking X-Blade ‘gaming’ case for a visually unimposing but functionally identical ATX tower, which shaved $22.5 off the Pre-V AT total. Low-power machines don’t benefit from sophisticated cases like high-end ones might, so it’s purely an aesthetic (and financial) choice. At the same time, we dropped down the frankly unnecessary 700W PSU to a 350W PSU, saving a further $14.5.

350W is still more than powerful enough for a system like this - we checked, and despite a separate graphics card, online calculators suggest it’ll requires no more than 200 watts to run. Even an inefficient 350W supply can deliver comfortably more than that. Dropping the GeForce GT610 to a GeForce 210 (still equivalent to the Intel HD 2000 graphics in Aria’s Gladiator Pronto G530) saves a whopping $3.2.

These savings allow us to squeeze an operating system into the budget and the system just about meets the minimum specs to run it. If you’ve already got an operating system to install, you can put together a much better PC within the same budget, but what we’ve mainly learned from this experience is that customisation isn’t a process that favours entry-level buyers and to be honest, we knew that anyway.


·         Custom-Build: Computer Planet

·         Customised GX250 Gaming PC

·         Price: $527

·         CPU: AMD Athlon II X2 250 (2 x 3.0GHz)

·         RAM: 1 x 2GB Generic DDR3 1066MHz

·         Storage: 80 GB SATA 3GB/s Hard Drive

·         Case: Standard ATX Tower

·         Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce 210 1GB

·         Optical Drive: Samsung 24x DVD Rewriter

·         Power Supply: Standard 350W PSU

·         CPU Cooling: Standard AMD CPU Fan

·         Motherboard: Gigabyte 78LMT-S2P

·         Sound: 7.1 HD Sound (on-board)

·         Wireless: None

·         Operating System: Windows 8 Standard

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