The cheapest PC revisited – March 2016

Early in January, I wrote about the cheapest PC I could build. It came to just under £200. Since then, time moves on, new products come onto the market, and older ones are discontinued and retired. Surely though, not much can have changed in 10 weeks? Using, who are my goto place for computer supplies, I decided to find out. Last time I specified two machines – the first being the very cheapest thing you could build, the next being something that you could possibly live with. What we’ll do this time is attempt to duplicate these setups, making substitutions where the item has been discontinued, or a better option is available.

Case and Power Supply

Last time out we looked at the CiT 1018 mid tower with an included 500W PSU. This cost you £19.42 in January but the price has now gone up to £19.99. There is a new case in the form of the CiT 1021 which is almost identical, and is yours for £19.58. This case looks a bit better than the old case, but it’s still likely to be the biggest compromise in terms of build quality over a better case and power supply. If you have a cheap case with an included power supply, leave a comment below with your thoughts on it.

CiT 1021 Mid Tower Case with 500W PSU

CiT 1021 Mid Tower Case with 500W PSU

Motherboard and Processor

If we’re going for the cheapest PC, that rules Intel out of the running for the CPU. This brings us to the subject of AMD. I personally wouldn’t recommend AMD at the moment, their hardware is so far behind Intel, and the power consumption is worse enough, that I would always aim to use Intel’s chips. Last time we picked an AMD Sempron 2650 on the AM1 socket. Previously you could get it for £20.71, but it has since increased in price to £21.22.

AMD Sempron 2650

AMD Sempron 2650 Dual Core @ 1.45GHz

Onto the motherboard. Scan have the choice of one – The Asus AM1M-A Micro ATX board, with the price unchanged since January at £28.76. As with previously, this remains a good capable board.

ASUS AM1M-A Motherboard

ASUS AM1M-A Motherboard

Memory and Storage

The 2GB of Corsair DDR3 1333MHz Value Select RAM specified previously at £11.83 has decreased to £10.45. We asked whether 2GB is enough? The question still stands, but having used my laptop for longer which has 2GB of RAM and Windows 10 doing its best to use it, I would say the answer on Linux is yes.

2GB Corsair DDR3 1333MHz Value Select RAM

2GB Corsair DDR3 1333MHz Value Select RAM

Storage is an interesting one. Since I wrote the article back in January, Scan have stopped selling SSDs with a capacity of under 120GB. This does come with a slight price increase – up from £25.92 to £30.68, but it does double the capacity. The brand is still a Patriot, I still have reservations about the speed and quality of the drive, but at this price and given what the computer will be used for, it’s not likely to be too much of an issue.

120GB Patriot Blast SSD

120GB Patriot Blast SSD

Monitor and Peripherals

To complete our cheapest PC possible, we need a screen, speakers, keyboard and mouse. The cheapest screen in January was this 19.5 inch Acer running at 1600 x 900 using an LED backlit TN panel. It comes with VGA only and remains priced at £61.43.

Acer K202HQL

Acer K202HQL 19.5″ Screen @ 1600 x 900

Sound comes courtesy of this Creative 2.0 set of speakers for £5.98, up from £4.78 previously. My experience of Creative speakers is that they’re solidly built, although at this price, you’re not going to get much sonically.

Creative A35 2.0 Speakers

Creative A35 2.0 Speakers

Finally for the Keyboard and Mouse, The LMS Data keyboard and mouse specified previously has come down from £6.59 to £5.98, but you can now get an MSI keyboard and mouse bundle, admittedly in white for £4.96.

MSI Keyboard and Mouse Bundle

MSI Keyboard and Mouse Bundle

The Cheapest PC: Conclusion

Shipping drops from £19.97 to £9.58. This means that the computer, with the substituted components is now yours for £194.56, down from £199.40 in January. This is a drop of just under 2.5%, despite the actual cost of the hardware increasing. This assumes that we run Linux Mint on it, which will also make better use of what limited processor power is available. The following table highlights the component costs:

Component Was Now Substituted
Case £19.42 £19.99 £19.58
Motherboard £28.76 £28.76
Processor £20.71 £21.22
RAM £11.83 £10.45
SSD £25.92 £30.68
Monitor £61.43 £61.43
Speakers £4.78 £5.98
Keyboard & Mouse £6.59 £5.98 £4.96
Delivery £19.97 £9.58
Total £199.40  £195.98

Given the object of this exercise is to look at the cheapest PC possible, why am I saying the costs have gone down when the hardware cost has increased? This is because anybody wanting to build this will have to pay the delivery cost too, meaning it forms part of the system. In the next article, I will look at graphing the cost of these systems, with and without the delivery. While the price of the components has come down and the storage capacity has increased, the quality of the end product hasn’t really increased, meaning this is still going to be a very slow computer. Last time the methodology below was to change the minimal number of components needed to build a faster and more reliable system. Using the same components as last time, with the exception of the SSD which has been discontinued, we see a small drop in the component price, from £281.83, to £278.60.

Component Old New
Case £26.99 £26.99
PSU £23.99 £27.98
Motherboard £28.76 £28.76
Processor £36.64 £35.44
RAM £16.99 £15.89
SSD £38.54 £35.90 (Substituted)
Monitor £74.48 £74.66
Speakers £4.78 £5.98
Keyboard & Mouse £19.16 £17.51
Delivery £11.50 £9.58
Total £281.83  £278.60

The changes add an extra £84 to the cost of the system, up from £80 in January. This is because the cost of the cheapest system has fell faster than the cost of this upgraded system. Notable changes are that the power supply has risen in cost by a decent amount, while there are smaller rises for the screen and speakers. The CPU, memory, and keyboard and mouse have all fallen, as has the delivery cost.

Does any of this change my conclusion from back in January? No – I still couldn’t recommend this as a system unless it really is all you could afford. The Intel Pentium K (G3258) on a Z97 motherboard would be significantly more powerful for an additional £50-70. Another consideration is a machine that goes even cheaper than the £194.56 above. It uses a motherboard with a 1GHz AMD dual core embedded process costing a little over £30. This would save £20 over the cost of the separate motherboard and CPU above. The reason for not recommending this system however is that it is likely to be too slow, even for a very light use system. Where I would be interested in using it is as a pfSense router or for a kiosk computer.

Final Component List

  • Case: Silverstone PS08B
  • PSU: Corsair VS350
  • Motherboard: ASUS AM1M-A
  • CPU: AMD Athlon 5350
  • Memory: 4GB Corsair DDR3 (1600)
  • SSD: 120GB Kingston ssdNOW v300
  • Screen: 21.5″ Iiyama Prolite
  • Speakers: Creative A35 2.0
  • Keyboard and Mouse: Microsoft Wired Desktop 600

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