Computer Newbies forum


Can my 14 year old son build a decent pc on a budget?

by michaelrush01 / November 25, 2011 9:22 AM PST

My 14 year old son is studying computer engineering in high school, (a 'charter' school here in Delaware). Centuries ago I built pc's for family and friends and my son grew up in this environment. The last pc I built featured a state-of-the-art AMD 900 Tbird cpu, giving you some idea of how long it has been. His birthday and Christmas are 12 days apart and the only thing he wants for both is a 'budget' to build his own pc. So my questions are: Is it reasonable to expect a successful build and is $500 a reasonable budget. Keep in mind that currently he's using an aging Dell Dimension 521 so anything will be a step up. My son has been on the honor roll since conception and he is very tech savy and mechanically inclined. I am a single father on a budget.....

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All Answers

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I continue to cheat.
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / November 25, 2011 9:31 AM PST

Since Windows on it's own can take up 20% of the budget, I wonder what we can do to get a fair gamer machine for 500 what if we take a nice enough desktop and add a nice enough card.

As to the display, do you have that?

Here's a refurb, ready to use for gamers at 499.


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Why is a title required?
by michaelrush01 / November 26, 2011 12:59 AM PST
In reply to: I continue to cheat.

Thanks for the reply.
We are not necessarily building this for 'gaming'. In fact the only game he play is World of Warcraft. I plan on reusing all my current peripherals. Thanks for the link on the refurb but that totally misses the point. My son is studying computer engineering and wants to build his first pc. We use to build model rockets together but he's a teenager now, models are for kids!

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Sadly we are missing that point too.
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / November 26, 2011 1:23 AM PST

I know some folk are thinking they would be learning something about computer engineering by building a desktop but if you see the current workplace you find laptops. And where I travel (US, Canada, Taiwan) it is 90% laptops with the desktops pulling duty in hand me down situations.

The desktop is very dead except for heavy duty work like gaming and in about a year that may be over.

The 499 buck unit I noted had 8GB RAM, big HDD, Windows 7, a decent video card and multicore CPU for the budget given.

Computer engineers of the future should look at things like Arduino and more.

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I see your point, Thanks!
by michaelrush01 / November 26, 2011 1:34 AM PST

You're saying, buy the boy a laptop....
Makes sense!

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I wish I could find a laptop with that much gamer cred for $
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / November 26, 2011 1:37 AM PST

I think the desktop is a fine thing for gamers. You can swap out video cards and blow hundreds of Watts with almost reckless abandon to get the performance.

Laptops run 2X that or more for the same performance and repairs run 2X or more too.

Glad you see the conundrum.

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(NT) PS. And it was a powerhouse of a machine.
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / November 26, 2011 1:24 AM PST
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Check this out...
by VAPCMD / November 25, 2011 1:27 PM PST

Great Father/Son/Daughter experience if the child is so inclined.

Maybe relatives can pitch in with $$ vice traditional gifts toward the effort.

Hard drives are really high right now due to the flood in Thailand and you also need an OS.

One option .... I've seen some external hard drives that are 2TB for $70....the downside is most are lower RPM drives (maybe 5,400 or 5,900 RPM hard drives vice 7,200 RPM) and you'd probably void the warranty removing the drive from the external enclosure.

You could also see the options for new systems over at

Let us know how it works out.

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Thanks for the reply!
by michaelrush01 / November 26, 2011 1:03 AM PST
In reply to: Check this out...

Great idea on relatives pitching in, Thanks!
Hard to believe that we need 2TB of hard drive capacity...... My first pc had a 21mb hard drive!!! (yes, I am an old person)

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by sunwatcher / November 25, 2011 11:47 PM PST
1) Is it reasonable to expect a successful (first) build? That's a bit hard to answer without knowing more. Previous experience with PC maintenance is essential. I'm not sure I'd fully trust a 14 year old without some close supervision on the build, but that's more of a personal matter.

2) Is $500 a reasonable budget? Possibly, if you can find some way to reuse what you already have and stick with purchasing low end items. Don't expect to be able to build a powerhouse.
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Thanks for the reply sunwatcher
by michaelrush01 / November 26, 2011 1:29 AM PST
In reply to: Parts

1) No boasting here but my son is not your typical 14 year-old. Sky high IQ, excellent grades w/o trying, wants to take everything apart and put it back together again and he grew up in an environment that allowed him to do so. I use to have my own home based auto repair business so I could raise my kids while my ex-wife pursued a medical career. My son's play pen was out in the garage with me. At night I built and repaired pc's for fun/relaxation and he was right there with me. I blew up my fair share of over-clocked machines trying to play the ulimate game of Quake 3. Somewhere I have a photo of my son wearing a necklace he made by soldering heavy gauge wire to a damaged motherboard. He attends a charter school that requires a B average and has chosen Computer Engineering Technology as his major. I do plan on contacting his instructor for some guidance as well.
2) Can't afford to build a powerhouse. I plan on reusing all the peripherals and I have an unused copy of Windows Vista. (I'm guessing there are limitations with Vista that may force me to rethink that?) Maybe I can reuse the 2g of ram I installed a couple of years ago but other than that, I don't think I can salvage much of this Dimension E521....
Is it possible to buy a 'kit'?
Thanks for you help!

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RE: "Is it possible to buy a kit?"
by Edward ODaniel / November 26, 2011 7:23 AM PST

sure is and what you can get may surprise you. Look through these I am linking you to but take some time to note the power supplies they come with (you may well want to add a better one than the 400W or 450W most come with) as well as doing some research on the motherboards that come with each.

Processors range from Intel i3 to AMD Phenom II X6 and RAM ranges from 2 GB to 12 GB and size and speed of the hard drive should be looked at too.

Link to barebone kits

Newegg also has kits for sale as do several other places. A Google search for "barebone computer kits" (include the quotes) should get you several links.

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Have you tried YouTube
by TWB404 / November 26, 2011 1:19 AM PST
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Here a good start but it will not be a power house
by TWB404 / November 26, 2011 1:53 AM PST
In reply to: Have you tried YouTube

What I would do is just let him put one together. This will give him a good understanding of what it takes and how every thing works. It will give him a chance to install Windows and the pitfalls that comes with getting the up to date drivers. I can assure you that the drivers that comes on the CD that are ship with the components will be put of date and he will have to go online and download the most current ones. The AMD list below has the new AMD APU that has the CPU and GPU in the same chip. All he will have to do is mount the motherboard in the tower then insert the APU in its socket and attach the cooler for it. This should be about as simple of a build you can get. The links below list a tower with 460 watt power supply, mobo, APU, hard drive, memory and Windows. Total should be $515 plus shipping. All you need now is to choose CD\DVD, keyboard, mouse, monitor and you good to go.

I would double check me on the computability on the components. I did this in a hurry. Also it will give him the experience on matching his components





Hard Drive

Windows Home Premium

While the future is going to have a lot of Laptops in it the power user are still going to need desktop to get things done. I think going this route is going to be good experience for him and will give him a very good understanding of what is involved in a system design and build.

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IMHO, it depends
by Willy / November 26, 2011 1:30 AM PST

You will find a budget hard to maintain once he dives into what's available. In no time what may have been decent as a budget, will certainly become less so. It's not that it can't be done, but at least some insight in what is good vs bad and/or what really delivers depends on experience. You will notice all too often here on the forums, asking if this or that will work in what they currently have or plan to build. Since this is also a learning experience, only the hard knocks make any impact, just give the $500 away and allow it to work or not. Stand firm for requests of more until next birthday or Xmas. Sorry, budget PCs tend to become more than expected. Generally speaking for $500, you can buy a OEM type PC that will deliver far more than the Dell 521 and have all the goodies. At this time of the yr. just keep an open eye for any deals for "turnkey PCs" otherwise, buy separate for that possible $500 budget PC. I believe more in the $700-800 range is more practical.

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(NT) Thanks Willy
by michaelrush01 / November 26, 2011 1:46 AM PST
In reply to: IMHO, it depends
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