At the end of the day, it comes down to how you spend your money rather than how much money you spend.
Moving to a new computer is never an easy task, especially if you’re not well-versed in the world of PC components. However, it’s important that you make the right choices; otherwise, you’ll be wasting your hard-earned money and you’ll be frustrated with your underperforming PC.
Before you buy a new computer, you should ask yourself the following questions:
- How much are you willing to spend on your new computer?
- Should you build the machine yourself, or would it be better to buy a pre-built machine off the shelf?
Both of these questions can be answered by understanding what you’re looking to do with your computer. Irrespective of whether you’re building the machine yourself or buying a pre-built system, you should select the sub-system components based on how much performance you need out of your PC to get the job done.
Sure, you could go ahead and buy a monster PC complete with an overclocked i9 CPU, 64 GB of RAM, and a powerful graphics card, but if you’re just going to be using the rig to update your Facebook status, then you’d be wasting your money.
Conversely, let’s say that you want to build a gaming computer but you only have a few hundred dollars to spend, so you buy an old, cheap desktop. Unfortunately, a slow CPU, 4 GB of RAM, and integrated graphics isn’t going to cut it for gaming these days.
As you can probably tell, there’s more to PC building (or pre-built buying) than meets the eye. In this guide, we’re going to be talking about what to look for in your next machine so that you can get the most bang for your PC-buying buck.
Web-browsing PC (basic usage): ~$300 to $500
If you’re only going to use your new computer to surf the web, stream videos online, and perform some basic text editing, you can get away with an ultra-cheap PC that costs only a few hundred dollars.
Above all else, make sure that your new machine has a solid-state drive (SSD) as opposed to a traditional hard-disk drive (HDD). An SSD is going to make your PC far more responsive, even if the rest of the PC isn’t very powerful. Seriously, including an SSD makes a big difference.
On a low-end budget like this, you can get away with the following:
- An Intel Celeron/Pentium or AMD A6/A8 CPU
- Integrated graphics
- 4 GB of RAM
- An SSD
Keep in mind that this is the bare minimum for a computer, and you can expect to experience occasional lags/slowdowns, as performance isn’t going to be amazing in this price range. Nevertheless, for only $300 to $500, this machine will get the job done, which is all you can really ask for.
Gaming PC (AAA titles, high settings): ~$500 to $1,000
If you’re interested in PC gaming, you’re going to have to spend a bit more to get the kind of performance you’re looking for.
The amount of money that you spend on a gaming PC is going to have a direct impact on your in-game performance. Still, at the end of the day, it comes down to how you spend your money rather than how much money you spend.
You can build a $600 gaming PC that’s capable of gaming in 1080p with ultra settings and even run some games in 1440p as well.
If you’d like to spend more — say, about $1,000 — that’s fine, too, as long as you intend to play intensive games in 1440p with your audio and graphics options set to the max. Otherwise, there’s no sense in spending that much on a gaming PC, as you’d be spending a lot of money without seeing a return on your investment.
Here’s a good list of specs to look out for if you’re building a 1080p gaming machine:
- An Intel i5 or Ryzen 5 CPU
- A GTX 1060 or an RX 570 GPU
- At least 8 GB to 16 GB of DDR4 RAM (running at least 2.4 GHz)
- An SSD and a mass-storage drive
These specs would be suitable for a mid-range build. A PC with these (or similar) specs will be able to handle almost all games in 1080p with high-ultra settings. Some games will even be playable in 1440p if you’re willing to turn down your settings a bit.
Of course, you could always spend a bit less if you don’t need as much performance, or you could spend much more if you want to build a monster gaming machine.
Lastly, if you want to build a killer gaming PC but you’re on an extreme budget, consider buying used parts. Back in high school, I told all of my (broke) friends to buy an old desktop on eBay with a decent CPU, RAM, and storage, after which they just had to buy a GPU and pop it into their desktop, and voila — a gaming PC on an extreme budget!
Workstation PC (high performance for video editing, Photoshop, etc.): ~$1,200
When it comes to PCs, video editing provides a unique workflow because it’s demanding on most aspects of the computer. In addition, the software that you choose in combination with the parts that you’re using is going to have a significant impact on the efficiency of your workflow.
First, consider the amount of RAM that’s going to be in your PC because this plays a huge role in the overall power/performance of your system, especially when it comes to video editing. In this situation, the more, the merrier.
Not only will RAM help your rendering and export times, but it will also help to ensure that your editing workflow is smooth and seamless, even when you have other applications running in the background at the same time.
For example, having Adobe After Effects, Premier, and Photoshop open all at once isn’t unheard of among editors but will have a big impact on your PC, especially if you don’t have sufficient RAM for the job.
Furthermore, it’s not just about the amount of RAM but also the speed. Make sure that you’re getting quality RAM that’s not too slow!
You’re also going to want to consider storage space. It would probably be best to have a high-speed drive such as an SSD or an M.2 for your operating system (OS), drivers, and applications and another cheap mass-storage mechanical/HDD for your data (photos and videos).
The CPU also plays a huge role here, so you’re going to want to make sure that you have a heavy-duty CPU that’s fit for the task. Check your editing software to see what the software will utilize inside of the CPU.
You’ve got the number of cores, the size of the on-chip cache, the clock speed, etc., and the impact of all of these things on your software is going to be determined by the software you’re using. It would be wise to know this ahead of time so that you can make a more informed decision. Ryzen has great CPUs for gaming, but as far as video-editing performance is concerned, Intel seems to be the victor.
Lastly, your video card plays a massive role in video editing. High-end video-editing applications will harness the GPU for color correction and other rendering tasks as opposed to using the CPU to perform the heavy lifting.
Having a GPU provides a much faster way to process those effects, which, in turn, speeds up the entire editing process. Again, the amount of work offloaded to your GPU is going to be determined by the editing software that you choose, so be sure to check beforehand.
However, you don’t need to go all out on a GPU for video editing. Stick with a middle-of-the-pack card with decent clock speeds and sufficient VRAM and you’ll be fine.
For an editing/workstation PC, you’re going to want the following:
- At least 16 GB of fast RAM (32 GB recommended)
- Multiple drives (at least one high-speed and one mass-storage)
- At least an i5 CPU (i7 recommended)
- At least a GTX 1060 (1080 recommended)
Remember that all of these components are held together by your motherboard, which needs to be able to support high-end CPUs, lots of high-performance RAM, multiple (and fast) storage drives, etc.
Cryptocurrency mining: ~$1,500+
If you’re building a cryptocurrency-mining rig, you technically don’t need to spend $1,500, but the more that you invest, the higher will be your return on investment (ROI).
Believe it or not, you don’t need a fast CPU or a ton of RAM to mine cryptocurrency. In addition to a single 4-GB or 8-GB stick of RAM, any standard four-core CPU (even an Intel Celeron, for example) will do.
In this case, it all comes down to your GPUs because cryptocurrency mining is handled by graphics cards. If you’re serious about mining, you’re going to need high-end GPUs (think GTX 1080 Ti-level cards) to mine profitably, and a single card isn’t going to cut it.
Huge mining operations have hundreds to thousands of GPUs (or custom ASICs) running all at once. Most people are probably not going to need (or, at least, be able to afford) hundreds of graphics cards, so the majority of home mining operations employ four to six GPUs, all running at the same time.
All of this means that you’re going to need the following:
- Any standard CPU
- A single stick of RAM
- A motherboard capable of supporting multiple GPUs (with PCIe risers)
- A mining rig frame (different than a standard case; it promotes airflow and is spacious)
- Plenty of fast GPUs
- A power supply capable of providing enough wattage for the build**
Mining profitability is primarily determined by your hash rate/power consumption ratio. This means that you’re going to want to buy GPUs with a lot of hashing power that draw relatively low power in comparison.
At the end of the day, you’re paying for the electricity that you use, so you’re going to need to be mining more cryptocurrency than the amount of money that you’re spending on electricity. The best way to do this is by purchasing plenty of powerful yet efficient mining GPUs. This is going to depend heavily on the cryptocurrency’s mining algorithm and block difficulty. If you are interested in delving deeper into this topic, you can use this mining profitability calculator to check how profitable your rig will be. Meanwhile, I welcome any questions and comments.