Your Guide to Cheap Gaming Computers
If you like to game, it’s just a matter of time before you come to a critical realization: You need a computer that’s meant for gaming. Regular computers are fine, and some of them can even handle light gaming duties, but for those moments when you need maximum responsiveness, and high frame-rates, only a gaming computer will do. Alas, if only your bank account matched your level of obsession with gaming -- then buying a capable gaming machine would be a simple as handing over your credit card at your local big-box retailer. No, you’ve got to stick to a budget, at least until your talents are recognized at the next esports tournament.
You’re going to have to figure out which components to spend your money on, and where you can save some cash. Will it be the CPU? Perhaps a smaller hard drive? How much RAM is really enough? In some ways, building a cheap gaming computer is just like leveling up in your favorite game -- it’s going to take research, patience, and a certain amount of strategy.
The best bang for your buck: A gaming laptop or gaming desktop?
Let’s get one thing out of the way right up front. Yes, gaming laptops are now totally capable of keeping up with gaming desktops, on all but the most crushingly demanding of loads. But make no mistake, you will pay considerably more for all that power packed into such a portable package, even if it still weighs a ton compared to lesser laptops.
A gaming desktop is still, for better or worse, the biggest gaming bang for your buck. And, as much as we love gaming laptops, there’s a lot to be said for a rig that lets you easily upgrade components as your needs change. It’s also the key reason why a gaming desktop can save you money over a gaming laptop: You can spend your money on the components that matter to you right now, knowing that you can always change your mind later. When it comes to future-proofing, nothing beats the architecture of a well-designed desktop PC.
Does that mean you should ignore gaming laptops? No, it just means you need to balance your desire for portability, with your need for gaming performance, and your budget limitations.
How to pick the parts you need
For the most part, gaming PCs have the same components as non-gaming PCs. The biggest difference is that the components in a gaming PC are chosen according to their ability to deliver a great gaming experience -- which usually means faster speeds, and larger capacities, wherever possible. But while bigger is better when it comes to gaming, it isn’t always a necessity. Depending on the kind of games you prefer, having a scorching, top-of-the-line CPU may be overkill. Why spend that extra money if it doesn’t result in a better gaming experience for the games you actually play?
At the same time, it’s all about balance: If you pick a low-to-mid range CPU, pairing it with a high-powered GPU will cause bottlenecking, in the same way that even the most expensive headphones will sound terrible if you use them to listen to scratchy vinyl, or low-quality MP3 files.
Whether you’re buying a gaming laptop, or desktop, these are the parts you’ll need, a how you can save money when choosing them.
There’s a tendency amongst all computer users -- not just gamers -- to get overly focused on the CPU in their machines. And while the latest Intel Core i9 is a fire-breathing monster, it’s also nearly $2,000 for the chip alone. Most gamers don’t need one. We recommend that you look up the minimum and recommended specs for your favorite games, before you configure your gaming PC. Many popular titles, like Skyrim, Fallout 4, World of Warcraft and the highly addictive Fortnite, will run on a budget-friendly Core i3 CPU, even without the support of discrete graphics. But to make these games really perform, the publishers recommend a machine with a Core i5, and a discrete graphics card.
It could be that it’s your non-gaming tasks that end up dictating which CPU you should get. Adobe Photoshop, for instance, can place very high demands on a CPU, most of which cannot be shared with the GPU.
For many gamers, the graphics card, and its attendant GPU, has become the be-all and end-all of components inside a gaming PC. There’s good reason for that: Assuming your CPU is sufficiently powerful, a GPU is the component that has the greatest effect on how your games look. Resolution, frame-rates, colors, and the number of polygons are all handled by the GPU. However, there’s no need to spring for a top-of-the-line graphics card to enjoy amazing looking games.
As with the CPU, your choice of game will be a strong indicator of the kind of GPU you should be considering. First-person shooters, like Crysis 3, or Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, with their fast and complex visuals, will benefit the most from a powerful graphics chip, while strategy titles need less help in this department. Your choice of display plays a role too. If you’re content to play your favorite games at lower resolutions (say 720p or 1080p, instead of 1440p or 2160p), with quality settings that won’t push your PC to the breaking point, a mid-level graphics card -- or a higher end card from a few years ago -- is a great way to save some money.
A PC’s memory, or RAM, might the most misunderstood component, from a performance point of view. There are two main factors that affect how memory helps or hinders computing performance: Size and speed. Size determines how much information the computer can work with at any given time, but speed determines how fast it can work with that information.
If you’re the type of person who likes to keep dozens of browser tabs open, while running an email client, word processor, spreadsheet, and a media server, all at the same time, more RAM can be very helpful -- but it doesn’t need to be super-fast RAM, as none of these applications will be placing a heavy computational burden on the CPU. But games are a different beast. They ask the CPU to do some seriously heavy lifting, and if your memory is too slow, it limits how fast your CPU can do that work. As long as you’re prepared to close some of those browser tabs while you game, a smaller amount of fast memory, can save you money while ensuring you get performance where you need it most.
Hard drives: SSD vs HDD
Every computer can benefit from a solid-state drive (SSD) -- these devices use a similar form of memory chip as RAM, but let you store information even after the computer shuts down. With much faster read and write speeds than a traditional hard disk drive (HDD), an SSD can deliver nearly instant boot times, and launch apps in a snap. These features make them perfect for gamers too, but they also carry a big price tag, when compared to HDDs. You’ll want to find a balance between having an SSD that’s large enough to store your OS, and your most intensive games, but not so big that you’re spending money to store programs or documents that won’t benefit from this faster drive. Instead, bulk up your storage using traditional HDDs, which are plenty fast enough for day-to-day computing, and cost way less per GB than SSDs.
Gaming laptops and desktops from Lenovo
Building your own gaming PC from scratch can save you money, but only if you do your homework. If you’ve never built a PC before, there’s a learning curve. It only takes one mistake when inserting a CPU or RAM module to erase any savings you may have found. Incompatibilities between components can waste your time, or worse, result in a cheap gaming computer that doesn’t perform as well as it should. Individual components may come with warranties, but if that part should fail, it will be up to you to pull it out, and figure out how to get a replacement or repair.
If that doesn’t sound like something you want to contend with, the good news is that we’ve got amazing gaming PCs that you can pre-configure online. Want to splurge on the CPU? Go for it. Don’t need a massive amount of RAM? No problem. Prefer a bigger SSD? We’ve got you covered.
Whether it’s one of our Lenovo Legion gaming desktops, or laptops, you can be assured that every available configuration has been evaluated to meet the needs of gamers first and foremost. For as little as $720 you can grab a Lenovo Legion Y520T tower desktop, with a quad-core Intel CPU, and NVIDIA GeForce GTX graphics. Where you go from there, is up to you.