Building your own £100 PC

Computing enthusiasts like to claim that building your own system is more affordable than buying a pre-built machine, but I knew this challenge would be difficult.

I wasn’t going to resort to eBay’s cesspit of secondhand parts, so I investigated Scan, Amazon and Aria’s component departments, setting the pricing filters to start at the bottom of the silicon barrel.

The tiny budget made most of my choices for me. Decent Intel chips were out of my price range, as were Intel’s motherboards, and I’d have to rely on integrated graphics rather than a discrete GPU. There was no budget for an SSD, or a good-quality case.

The best choice for processing and graphics power was an AMD APU; the only alternative was a low-end Intel Celeron chip with an awful integrated graphics core. AMD’s latest APUs, codenamed Richland, are better all-round performers thanks to Radeon GPUs. I picked up the cheapest Richland chip I could find, the A4-4000, which set me back £33.

I paired the A4-4000 with the cheapest socket FM2 motherboard, an MSI micro-ATX board, and added it to my basket for £40. Both parts came from Scan, but my total already sat at £77.

Scan also provided my case and power supply. They’re both made by budget specialist CiT, and the set cost a ludicrously low £21. It shows, too: the case weighs less than 4kg, the panels feel like they’re made from tinfoil, and the interior is an assault course of sharp edges.

Mike's PC

This brought my total to £98, and also meant that – technically – I had to buy a hard disk and memory with the remaining £2. That wasn’t going to happen, but I got the remaining bits as cheaply as possible: I found a 320GB Western Digital hard disk from Aria for £25, and I hunted down a stick of 2GB DDR3 memory from Amazon for £10.

The total came to £133, but it’s impossible to get much lower when buying new parts. Savings on marginally cheaper Intel processors were offset by slightly pricier motherboards and a big drop in all-round performance, and I couldn’t find the case, PSU, hard disk or memory for any less.

My build doesn’t include an OS either, but a copy of Windows 8 would swallow up more than half of my budget. That’s why I’ve installed Ubuntu instead – with a machine this low-end, I don’t need anything more.
While I’ve spent more than I was supposed to, I’ve built a capable desktop machine.

Its application benchmark score of 0.49 trounces everything else here, and the modern graphics core is capable of low-end gaming – something none of the other machines in this challenge can really claim.

The best part is, it’s ready for modern upgrades: I’m not stuck with these parts. If my budget expands, it can easily evolve into a better PC.

Editor Barry Collins’ verdict: 3/6 stars

Sitting opposite Mike, watching him dither over which components he could squeeze into his budget was torturous. The poor soul felt the pain of every compromise he was forced to make, yet he’s ended up with a perfectly respectable PC.

The case is a potboiler, nothing more, but it’s entirely inoffensive. There’s plenty of free slots for upgrades on the motherboard, but the AMD A4-4000, 2GB of RAM and 320GB hard disk are just about good enough to be getting on with. The optical drive blanking plate is a tease, with nothing sitting behind it, and Mike’s was the only PC to arrive without a Windows installation.

I’m marking him down further for blowing his budget by more than 30%.

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