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Build It: Picking Parts For Your Kid's Entry-Level Gaming PC

Build It: Picking Parts For Your Kid's Entry-Level Gaming PC
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Does your child always want to use your PC? Is it time to build him his own? If you don't trust the tier-one vendors to sell you a well-balanced machine, you'll be happy to know that you can piece together your own entry-level box for less than $450.

Your kid nags you about wanting to use your computer, and because you read Tom's Hardware, you're probably proud to see him or her walking in your footsteps. Maybe you don't mind your child jumping into your office chair and taking the family's workstation for a spin. Then again, though, when you sit back and really think about the important information on that system's hard drive, the hassle of reformatting and reinstalling software, and the cost of the components inside, perhaps unfettered access isn't the best idea after all.

How about building your little one a starter system of his own? Of course, that's easy for us to say, right? We're not the ones paying for it! But take a quick glance around the product pages of many top-tier builders. You'll likely notice a number of poorly-balanced systems at prices that aren't particularly compelling. We can at least help you save a little money and do the job right, right? You already know about the advantages of building your own machine, and those benefits apply to an entry-level configuration as well: lower cost, better-quality components, and more flexibility for upgrades down the road. We've seen too many inexpensive branded machines lacking even basic expansion, like a PCI Express x16 slot; talk about cutting corners.

Then again, you're probably used to building enthusiast-oriented PCs. Where do you even start with a budget-minded box? Today, we're looking at the hardware that goes into a starter system for a young one, focusing on good-enough performance that won't break your bank account.

Two Performance Levels

We asked a handful of friends who are tech-savvy parents how they approached technology for their kids, and ended up with some interesting feedback (including a type of build that we don’t usually cover). We’ll design our computer around two different goals: first, to handle learning- and productivity-related tasks, plus a little light gaming, and second, in a more advanced configuration armed with extras like discrete graphics to enable more demanding games. Use those upgrades as motivators to incentivise good grades or disciplined allowance savings, giving your kids the sense that they're building their own machine, piece by piece.

It's certainly possible to build both our basic and higher-end systems without breaking the bank. But, there are a lot of choices you'll need to help make in laying the foundation for respectable baseline performance that scales well with additional hardware upgrades. For example, should you build an AMD APU-based machine, or use an Intel CPU with its integrated graphics component? Tough call. We'll help with the analysis to make it easier.

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  • 26 Hide
    velocityg4 , July 11, 2012 4:30 AM
    Interesting, but I'm assuming most parents that build there own computers, game and read toms hardware would be better suited just giving their kids their old gaming PC's. Since many this enthusiastic will already be replacing them every couple of years. Now they have another excuse to replace them and their kids get computers made from former high end and quality parts that are still very fast and more than capable of playing any kids games and edutacational/edutainment software.

    Although I say just give them an Apple IIe so they can learn on what we learned on in school.
  • 23 Hide
    s3anister , July 11, 2012 4:51 AM
    velocityg4Interesting, but I'm assuming most parents that build there own computers, game and read toms hardware would be better suited just giving their kids their old gaming PC's.

    I see the reasoning in this, however, for someone like myself I found this an interesting article; as I'm actually about to build a computer for my nieces and they do not need a fully featured gaming rig. It doesn't make sense to give them a machine that doesn't suit their needs and I'm sure many other parents/uncles/aunts are in the same boat.
  • 22 Hide
    bliq00 , July 11, 2012 7:15 AM
    why didn't the author post the stock cooling solution temps. Personally I've always found that the stock intel cooling was both quiet and sufficient, even in mini itx cases. I'm curious how big the difference is. if the diff is just 10-15%, I don't think it's worth spending extra on a 3rd party cooler for a kids computer.
Other Comments
  • 26 Hide
    velocityg4 , July 11, 2012 4:30 AM
    Interesting, but I'm assuming most parents that build there own computers, game and read toms hardware would be better suited just giving their kids their old gaming PC's. Since many this enthusiastic will already be replacing them every couple of years. Now they have another excuse to replace them and their kids get computers made from former high end and quality parts that are still very fast and more than capable of playing any kids games and edutacational/edutainment software.

    Although I say just give them an Apple IIe so they can learn on what we learned on in school.
  • 23 Hide
    s3anister , July 11, 2012 4:51 AM
    velocityg4Interesting, but I'm assuming most parents that build there own computers, game and read toms hardware would be better suited just giving their kids their old gaming PC's.

    I see the reasoning in this, however, for someone like myself I found this an interesting article; as I'm actually about to build a computer for my nieces and they do not need a fully featured gaming rig. It doesn't make sense to give them a machine that doesn't suit their needs and I'm sure many other parents/uncles/aunts are in the same boat.
  • 17 Hide
    Maximus_Delta , July 11, 2012 6:20 AM
    iCrap (something for the fashion victims & super creative types to show off whilst sipping their skinny lattes in starbucks whilst facebooking their friends about the fact that are in starbucks, having lattes, and got a new iPad / macbook)
  • 13 Hide
    belardo , July 11, 2012 6:23 AM
    What *YOU* do is hand your kid the OLD computer when you upgrade. But yeah, since about the age of 1 and a half, my son has had his own PC... keeps if off ours. He did damage his CRT monitor with paint - which was somewhat cleaned up. Fine. His first was a client's out-dated Pentium III-1Ghz which he paid $2500 when it was NEW. Then he got a compaq handme down from mom.

    Today, age 7: AMD X4 CPU, 4GB RAM, ATI 4670 card I built from various parts. I use it for background work since its so powerful. He does his educational and game software on it.

    When I was age 7, the Apple II was just released and most people didn't know what one was. It wasn't until 1980 that we started seeing these $1200~3000 computers... usually in the school library with 1 or 2 units. My 1985 PC: 1-2Mhz 128k RAM, 360k floppy drive system with a monitor was $900+. I still have it and it works. I forgot how to use it.

    Suggestions when building a PC for 3~8 year olds: buy a logitech notebook mouse ($15~20) as these are smaller but perfect for little hands. Use a cheap keyboard as kids tend to be messy and destroy them. if they are real young (1~3yrs old) try to get your hands on a CRT. Harder to knock over, costs $0~5 if you can find one.

    Also, a $200~250 netbook makes a good "notebook" for young kids (4~9 years old). Or give your kid your old notebook. My kid was given a 17" notebook a friend gave away when he upgraded.
  • 14 Hide
    acerace , July 11, 2012 6:23 AM
    Quote:
    So show me a top of the line Android tablet that costs less than the "overpriced" iPad...


    You're feeding the troll, genius. :heink: 
  • 2 Hide
    JohnnyLucky , July 11, 2012 6:41 AM
    Leave out the bling and dedicated video card for a basic pc for grandma and grandpa! I've already built a couple for senior citizens who are not gamers.

    BTW - there is an option to dedicate some of the memory to the integrated graphics. I installed inexpensive 8GB memory and dedicated 2GB to the graphics. What I don't know is if it makes a real difference. Would that help gamers?
  • 1 Hide
    amdfangirl , July 11, 2012 6:58 AM
    JohnnyLuckyLeave out the bling and dedicated video card for a basic pc for grandma and grandpa! I've already built a couple for senior citizens who are not gamers. BTW - there is an option to dedicate some of the memory to the integrated graphics. I installed inexpensive 8GB memory and dedicated 2GB to the graphics. What I don't know is if it makes a real difference. Would that help gamers?

    More or less dependant on the speed of the RAM.
  • 2 Hide
    Proximon , July 11, 2012 7:11 AM
    After all that build up a cheap PSU is used based entirely on claims written on the box. No reviews exist and apparently Cooler Master knows it's junk because they haven't bothered to get it certified by 80plus.
  • 22 Hide
    bliq00 , July 11, 2012 7:15 AM
    why didn't the author post the stock cooling solution temps. Personally I've always found that the stock intel cooling was both quiet and sufficient, even in mini itx cases. I'm curious how big the difference is. if the diff is just 10-15%, I don't think it's worth spending extra on a 3rd party cooler for a kids computer.
  • 4 Hide
    amdfangirl , July 11, 2012 7:15 AM
    Quote:
    After all that build up a cheap PSU is used based entirely on claims written on the box. No reviews exist and apparently Cooler Master knows it's junk because they haven't bothered to get it certified by 80plus.


    I'd just go with the Antec Earthwatts series.
  • 3 Hide
    killeeeeer , July 11, 2012 7:49 AM
    Its funny how its PC for kids and they benchmarked Gta IV, the 3850 seems the way to go better than buying and i3 or g someing and buying like GT520 as the 3850 beats the 520 in benchmarks
  • 0 Hide
    FormatC , July 11, 2012 8:01 AM
    The GT 520 is slower than A8-3850. Take a look at the Charts 2011 :) 
  • 4 Hide
    killeeeeer , July 11, 2012 8:03 AM
    FormatCThe GT 520 is slower than A8-3850. Take a look at the Charts 2011
    "as the 3850 beats the 520 in benchmarks " read carefully
  • -7 Hide
    FormatC , July 11, 2012 8:15 AM
    At first: sorry
    English is for me nothing more than one foreign language and if I read over this posts quickly once...

    I found GTA (Vice City, San Andreas and/or GTA IV / EFLC) on each childs computer (boys, 10 years and older) and this old game is a good example for benchmarks, not more. Other older games are running on each toaster, if you oc'ed him from 110 to 230 Volt :D 
  • 3 Hide
    de5_Roy , July 11, 2012 8:24 AM
    nice read. :) 
    interesting choice, benching gta iv for a kid's pc...lol i know it was to test platform strength.. i hope it wasn't in the pc when it was handed to him. 7750 was a very good choice.
    some people might argue why the amd apus were not overclocked so that they could outperform pentiums for gaming and the apus' higher performance in 3d rendering and pov ray tracing.. :D 
    i am a bit skeptical about cm gx psu... overall good performance for money from both intel and amd builds.
  • -5 Hide
    emad_ramlawi , July 11, 2012 8:25 AM
    This is Cooler Master advertisement ...

    Tough Times huh Tom ...
  • 9 Hide
    FormatC , July 11, 2012 8:31 AM
    Quote:
    This is Cooler Master advertisement ...
    Tough Times huh Tom ...


    No, this is what I had on matching components in my lab here, because we have recently tested these parts. This is a so-called recycling :D 
  • 8 Hide
    daglesj , July 11, 2012 9:55 AM
    Once finished building your 'kids' PC I'd recommend cloning the finished build to another HDD and putting it away on a shelf......for a week or two later when they have messed it all up.
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