This beginner's guide does not require any prior PC building experience and will let you forge a rig capable of handling 60 fps at 1080p resolution across most esports titles.
Can it handle more modern titles? Although competitive gaming is the heart of this budget war machine, you can still dive into more demanding modern games but expect rougher graphics at 720p resolution.
What you'll need for the build
- A USB stick with at least 4 GB for the Windows install (can be skipped if the Dell PC you are buying will have a copy pre-installed)
- A cross screwdriver
The three core components for the build
The trick to getting this high-performance low-cost ratio machine is to buy a used, pre-built Dell office PC and upgrade it with a pre-owned GPU and fresh PSU (power supply unit).
1. Picking the Dell PC (around £100 of the budget)
Important tip: Ask sellers for a detailed breakdown on the PC’s specifications, this can sometimes be found as a photo of the PC’s bios on the product listing.
- OptiPlex model and form factor
For the Dell pre-built, the OptiPlex models such as the 3020, 7020 and 9020 are ideal options as they include newer CPUs for better performance and most preferable internal layout. Out of the three, 3020 is the least upgradeable and should be the backup option.
For the computer form factor, the mini-tower (MT) option is your only friend as the others will be too small. The next things to compare between your available OptiPlex market options are the included CPU, RAM and hard drive storage.
Buy a pre-owned Dell PC first
For CPU, you only want the Intel i5 series chips as i3 chips will bottleneck the machine’s performance and whilst i7 chips should provide better speeds, their price will overshoot our budget.
An example CPU that you should pick would be i5 4590, note that the higher the model number after the i5 classification usually means both higher performance and price tag. The i5 3470 CPU a more common and another great option.
An example of a CPU
Look for 8 GB OptiPlexes as this is the sweet spot for modern gaming. If there is a good deal for a 4 GB machine, don’t be afraid to upgrade it yourself as it is a simple process.
A stick of 4 GB RAM should cost around £10 and make sure they are not the laptop variant and should ideally be at 1600 MHz speed for the best gaming experience.
Lastly, some older OptiPlexes will only have two RAM slots and will prevent you from adding additional sticks of RAM – so make sure to ask if you the seller if you are unsure.
Get yourself a stick of RAM
- Hard drive storage (HDD)
500 GB of storage is ideal but if there is a sweet deal, don’t be afraid to add your own hard drive later. A pre-owned 500 GB drive should cost around £10 and make sure the HDD is not a laptop variant.
Make sure it's not a laptop variant
When it comes to buying your Dell, the nature of pre-owned markets makes it difficult to highlight specific offers, although ebay will have the best prices and options with seller guarantees. Gumtree isn't a bad alternative if you are happy to collect the PC in person too.
2. The pre-owned GPU (around £30 of the budget)
Nvidia’s GTX 650 or GTX 650 Ti are our targets for this build. The Ti will have slightly better performance but might be less common. Ebay and Aliexpress are both great routes for getting your GPU.
Target the pre-owned market for affordable parts
3. The brand-new PSU (around £30 of the budget)
EVGA’s 430 watts PSU is perfect for our build, but as its stocks are getting more limited, you can also opt for any other PSU between the range of 430 and 450 watts.
It might be tempting to buy a cheap, PSU, but they will pose a great risk for a fire, don’t try your luck on this one and spend the full £30 budget!
Buy a brand new PSU
Now all the parts purchased, give yourself a good pat on the back for your all research and patients, the easy assembly is last remaining level before you esports career begins.
1. Remove the back panel of the OptiPlex, older models will have two thumbscrews and newer Dells will have a simple latch handle to release the panel.
Where you need to unscrew
- (Optional) Using a can of compressed air to remove dirt and dust from the OptiPlex’s interior.
- (Optional) It’s highly recommended to replace the old thermal paste on the CPU chip as it is now hardened and will no longer cool the CPU. To access the CPU, use a cross screwdriver to remove the four screws on the corners of CPU fan, try and remove the screws as a cross pattern to prevent physically straining the motherboard that is holding all the components together. Wipe away the old paste using cleaning alcohol and apply about a 2-3 cm of new paste and screw the fan back on.
2. The silver metallic box at the bottom or the top of the OptiPlex is the PSU, unplug the leads connected to the optical drive (Molex); hard drive (SATA), CPU fan (4 pin) and the ATX power (24 pin).
Guide to the PC guts
3. Unscrew the four cross screws on the OptiPlex PSU from the back of the OptiPlex case, some OptiPlex models will also have a metal lever marked in blue for you push down from within the case to free the PSU unit. Remove the old PSU once it’s freed
4. Slide the new PSU into the PSU slot and fasten it to the back of the case with four cross screws, reattach the new PSU’s to the optical drive (Molex); hard drive (SATA), CPU fan (4 pin) and the ATX power (24 pin)
5. To install the GPU, the back-bottom section of the case is a latch and can be unlocked by pressing a nearby blue secure lock like the PSU
6. The metal grills (PCI brackets) on the back of the case can now be removed, you will want to remove the highest bracket. Some GTX 650 models might need you to remove an additional bracket to fit
7. Slide in the GPU in the PCI-Express x16 slot, gently apply pressure until the card is secured. Fasten two screws on the metal bracket of the GPU to the case
8. Close the latch for the PCI brackets
9. Connect the GPU power cable (6 pin) from the PSU to the GPU
10. Reattach the back panel of the PC and the assembly is complete!
Boot up your new (or old) war machine and install Windows if needed, and you are now good to roll out on to the PC esports arena!