How old does a budget PC have to be?

How did we get here?

The term budget PC can actually be a bit misleading. It’s very possible to have an extremely high budget, where financial constraints don’t matter, but most of us think of budget as spending less money. Budgets are typically associated with financial management, and living within your means. Corporations and Governments also have to adhere to budgets, though the latter doesn’t seem to think they have to. (Different subject, altogether).

If you are a PC enthusiast at all, you are typically trying to get the best performance for the lowest price. This may come in the form of buying a part used, or in some cases, refurbished. It may also come in the form of buying a less expensive part, seeking to upgrade later. This works well for newer parts, but it becomes more difficult with older ones. But what if your PC has a mix of both?

Can a new graphics card do well with an older processor. Is it even practical? In some cases, yes. Pairing a newer RX 6400 graphics card with a sixth generation Intel i5 in a PC sold as ‘broken or parts only’ is an example. I planned to put a mid tier graphics card in it, but the case was small, and I needed a low profile option. Older low profile cards just don’t do the trick, but I took the risk and was able to fix it. With a graphics card and a few other things, we had a two hundred dollars gaming PC. I used both newer and older parts.

Well, there’s your answer. New and Old.

Well, yes and no. Obviously mixing the age of components isn’t our only option. Using a different case, allows for a better graphics card and for a bit more, we can have a better PC. Our challenge there is to have the money we spend, show in the performance. Does going from spending two hundred to three, give us at least fifty percent better gaming? Chances are that it won’t.

Now, in most cases, one of the easiest upgrades will be to use a solid state drive instead of the hard disk drive, so yes we are mixing old and new. The memory modules can be new, but built on the older technology, reliable, but for this argument, old. There is also an influx of remanufactured older technology emerge in graphics cards and motherboards. That’s a harder one to call, but I have to group that with the memory, old.

What about our budget PC?

It actually gets more complicated. Some newer platform parts are available for the same prices as newer remanufactured ones. Both Intel and AMD have options for CPUs and motherboards for a hundred USD or less, each. That makes the core of the platform not too much more expensive than older systems, with better performance. So, maybe the way to go is new parts.

The honest truth is, older parts don’t give much of an upgrade path, but finding an old workstation or a PC that is ‘broken or parts only’, could be a great find, if you are careful. In my case, I saw a few things in the photos that helped me diagnose the issue before I bought it, and a twenty dollar SSD made my starting price 60 USD. If the case were bigger, the whole gaming PC could have been less than 175 USD, and done quite well. The only problem I have now is what to do with it.

I am finding the more I buy to tinker with, the less shelf room I have. I don’t seem to sell them as quickly as I buy, test and shelve them. Maybe that’s a different blog. We are getting to a point where PCs from even a few years ago, though, might outlive their operating systems, presenting a different problem. These systems are still solid and can perform well. I guess to answer this question, we may have to wait to see how long the software itself is supported.

The video that prompted all of this is here, but here are others and I will have to make a playlist.

There is also more written on the 40 dollar PC here.

Can a Forty Dollar Bust become a great gaming PC

How did we get here?

In recent weeks I purchased a forty dollar, non-working PC from eBay, then cleaned it up and fixed it. That was actually the easy part. The more difficult part is to see if that can’t become a budget gaming pc. It is a sixth generation i5 6500 with four cores and four threads, which is solid, but the case doesn’t leave room for a graphics card. It also has a low wattage power supply, so the graphics solution has to be efficient.

A low power, low profile card is the best choice, but that leaves us only a few options. Low profile cards are expensive even if they are older and not great. Cards with no external power also retain their value, and getting one with good performance is a challenge. We do get left with a few choices, but some are better than others for our use case.

Nvidia makes a great option with the RTX A2000. It’s not actually a mainstream gaming card, but it’s power efficient and low profile. The pairing of that and the i5 6500 is a bit unbalanced, but definitely a gaming PC. The problem? It cost 150% more than the budget for this project. At three hundred to three hundred fifty dollars, it’s just not a good choice.

Likewise, with the older GTX 1050 low profile. Believe it or not, this card, though older, still goes sometimes for around two hundred fifty dollars. Yes, you read that right, 250. It’s not because it’s an outstanding product, (though it is solid), it’s because it is a product that remains in demand. To go cheaper in this generation of graphics cards, you have to settle for a GT1030.

Isn’t there anything cheaper?

As mentioned a moment ago, you can go with a GT1030, but that also has problems, and a twist. The 1030 comes with half of the memory of the 1050 models AND there are two different models, one with DDR4 instead of DDR5 memory. This combination actually makes it worse than integrated graphics on more modern CPUs. Yes, worse.

AMD does have a pair of options in a similar price range (less than $80). The RX550 and RX560 can be found very reasonably, but they suffer from the same problem the GT1030 does. They lack memory and they just aren’t high performers, at all. They are usually a bit easier to find, though, with the RX550 still available brand new.

There isn’t going to be a forty dollar graphics card to match with the deal found on the PC. One of the main reasons is that it is much easier to diagnose a PC with a set of pictures and tell what doesn’t work than its components. At best, you may be able to find something described as ‘running hot’ and take a chance on replacing thermal paste. With a PC, if they post pictures, there are things to look for that give an indication of the problem may be.

What about my forty dollar investment?

It’s in great shape. It may be a slim line PC, but there is at least one option to keep the total investment under two bills. The AMD RX6400 low profile has entered the chat.

Originally sold for around two hundred fifty dollars, the same price as the Arc A750, this card has come down and can be found used for about one thirty. It sells for a bit more brand new, but we are on a budget, here. A budget that sees us spend twenty bucks for a 256 GB SSD and twelve dollars for another stick of memory. That gives us a total of two hundred, two dollars. The price is slightly more using a site for a discount windows key, but sacrificing the additional 8GB of memory keeps the price at 200.

How does it perform, though? Actually, quite well, for what it is. Or, more accurately, what it was, broken. Benchmarks will be in the YouTube video coming up, but 60 fames per second can be hit in many triple A titles at 1080p. One issue is that the PCI bus speed is 3.0 instead of 4.0 . That’s important because the card uses the same number of lanes as an NVMe drive. Most cards use sixteen lanes instead of the four that the RX6400 has. It is an impact to performance, but it still outperforms other options. That means on a newer platform, performance is better. Still, we are on a budget.

So, can you build a gaming PC for two hundred dollars? Yes. Will it be enough to rival spending only one hundred more? That will be the next subject. Next we look at a two hundred dollar build versus a three hundred dollar. Come back soon to find out.

The video for this is live here.

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Make The Most Of 40 Bucks: Waste Or Treasure?

How did we get here?

How do you spend 40 bucks? Gas, a meal out? The water bill? If you are lucky enough, you may be able to find a broken PC on eBay. Or, a non-working PC that isn’t broken. Technically, the listing was non-working, for parts, final sale, so I took a chance.

This started when I was looking for an ultra cheap alternative to building a PC and ended up with a server and a 300 budget PC, both. I decided to build the cheapest full system I could, and ended up scoring free accessories. A keyboard and monitor came from a corporate IT department, so I set my sights on the PC.

My goal was to find a non working prebuilt with an identifiable issue. After a bit of digging, I found one. For sale on eBay, a 5040MT Dell Optiplex, non-working, for parts. The pics showed a missing HDD or SSD, and a decent i5 with memory, so for 46 dollars, including the tax, I bought it. It even came with free shipping. Deal.

40 bucks Non-working, no returns

I was sure I knew what the problem was and it would be an easy fix. SSD’s are cheap, with a 500Gb going for around twenty eight dollars. A have a mouse and free accessories, so if the SSD worked, it would mean I now had a working computer, although a filthy one, for about 80. After a clean up, it will handle most tasks well, but I want more.

I have to admit, this PC, though non-working, came well packed like a new unit. Both happy and surprised, I have set to work cleaning it up and will test the ‘base’ model when that’s done. The video for the PC itself is here, but that’s not where it ends. This needs to be an ultra budget gamer; this is just the start.

The next part will be finding a video card that fits in the slim case and more memory. A few non traditional upgrades, and this thing will have a whole new life playing games. It may also see a renewed life as an office PC, but a month ago it was trash. Not a bad turn for the old Optiplex.

So, What’s next?

I will finish a good cleaning, and testing, then put the extra memory and SSD in with a fresh install of windows. I have two choices of video cards that fit, so I will try them both. Then I will test it against the $300 budget build that I didn’t get a chance to write about, so I will cover that in the next blog. It promises to be fun.

After that, I’m not sure. New homes are an option, or I can sell it to a small business on a budget. I almost always have at least one office computer around just for that reason. Come to think of it, I almost always have at least one spare older laptop. There’s a video in there somewhere. Later, but not too much later.

With care and a good eye, you can find a great deal that most people will miss. Getting the free accessories from the IT department was as easy as asking. The accessories came from the e-waste stack, and have a new home and even the monitor is a great find at 24 inches with a built in webcam. All because I asked for an older keyboard. You just never know. Now, I have to get back to cleaning this thing. It was a good 40 bucks.

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My new network server, is my old Optiplex? Seriously?

How did we get here?

To begin with, why would anyone need a network server? There can be several answers, including file storage, a plex server, or even a game server. Different uses means different ways of creating and storing data. There is no wrong way and virtually, no wrong equipment There are limitations, however, as to what you can do with what equipment.

In my case, I have a YouTube channel and keep not only raw footage, but finished videos. I do have a back up, of sorts, but it’s poorly done and not an elegant solution. There are duplicate files on two computers, and I use of a back up USB, and Western Digital cloud device. A device that needs to be reconfigured to be more efficient. Long story, short, I have no reliable, streamlined solution. I may not lose data, but it would be a pain to retrieve some of it.

Enter the HP FrankenDell. This computer has a Xeon E3 12700 v3 four core/ eight thread CPU on a Dell motherboard. It came from an Optiplex 9020, and has 16GB of memory tucked very creatively in an HP case from 2008. I’m looking for reliable file storage with something that runs efficiently, and the Xeon fits the bill. Originally, this a sleeper gaming PC, but the extra drive bays make it perfect. There is still the execution to tackle, though.

Setting up the network server?

One of the easier ways is simply create a new file on a hard drive and make it shareable. Doing this will give you an address of sorts that other computers on your network can find. The drive needs plenty of room and to stay connected to the network. The second step is to go to the next PC and find that drive location.

Click on ‘This PC’ in the file explorer. That presents you with a few options across the top, but it may require you right click on ‘This PC’ and chose ‘map network drive’. Select a drive letter you aren’t already using, and put in the address from the first PC. You need to use a double backslash ‘\\’ for this, so don’t forget. In my case, I also copied it to the desktop and changed the icon.

A simple test making sure anything going into that folder gets ‘dropped’ in the other PC’s shared folder and we were in business. It doesn’t solve all of my issues, but it’s a start. A start I can build on and improve. After ordering some new sleds for the additional dives, I have room for at least four or five drives and I can start the next step.

What is that, you ask? redundant storage, a raid solution to make sure I don’t lose data, and creating something I can access from anywhere. Those are some pretty lofty steps, but the first one was to get the ball rolling. Mission accomplished. The drive bays came in, so it’s time to add more storage, but very soon, we begin the next part, and of course, I’ll share the story.

The latest video on it is here, and to go back to the blog page, go here.

Was it actually an upgrade? Xeon in an Optiplex.

How did we get here?

So, the most recent upgrade to the Dell Optiplex was the addition of an Intel Xeon E3-1270v3. A four core, eight thread CPU built on the Haswell platform similar to the i5 4670 that came with the rig. There had already been a few upgrades, each bringing this modest office PC closer to being an actual budget Gaming rig. The video is found here.

The idea was simple enough, a more powerful CPU without spending a lot of money had the chance to turn it into a bit of a powerhouse. It didn’t work out that way. By all accounts, doubling the amount of cores on the CPU should have made many jobs much easier. Instead we reached a different issue, the Graphics Card.

I tested both CPUs on games and benchmarks at 1080p. It’s the most common resolution in games and should have relieved the GPU of stress. It didn’t. It didn’t actually create any advantage at all. Most tests showed similar results for each processor, leaving no clear winner. But why?

What went wrong?

The biggest limitation is the size of the case. Only certain GPUs will fit in the small form factor, and even the best available isn’t adequate. I say the best available, but I should clarify, the best available at that budget. There are better GPUs, but at a much higher cost, and the difference may not be worth it. The fact is, you can build a cheaper, better performing, new PC for what it would cost.

Heat seemed to be another issue. The set up didn’t overheat, but it did get warm and that wasn’t a help. Incidently, any PC built from new parts will most certainly have better airflow. Temps on the CPU averaged about ten degrees more and the GPU was the same. Heat in small areas is always a problem and this set up is no exception. More, slightly faster threads, work harder and the heat has nowhere to go.

So, is the Xeon a failure?

Failure? Absolutely not. The small form factor has reached a point of dimishing returns, and although the Xeon didn’t improve things, it’s not a loss. The i5 4670 works great in the system, and I’ve ordered a different motherboard for the better processor. I can pair it with a much better GPU in a case with more airflow and give it a chance to “let it’s hair down”. If there is no improvement at that point, maybe we can call it a learned experience, but most cetainly not a failure.

The replacement motherboard is on it’s way. I already have a case, (which was also a bit of a challenge), and memory, etc., so it won’t be hard to set up, Then, we’ll just see how it the CPU does in a better situation. It will be interesting to see the improvement, assuming there is one. Obviously, there will be a video, and a blog, so stay tuned. It promises to be interesting.

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