First, yuck! Windows 10 is freaking $120 for Home? When are they going to jump on the $50 bandwagon?
Now to the PC question. Assuming around $400 left, I’d say you’re looking at a VERY barebones PC. I mean, it’ll work and be functional, but it won’t FEEL like a gaming PC that you’d recognize. It’ll feel like a kids gaming computer. I did roughly this price point for a PC for my kids (7 and 9), minus quite a bit of dough because of some leftover parts, and it feels cheap. I mean, it’s fine, sure. But I wouldn’t recommend it for a teen who needs to know the burgeoning love of the PC gaming hobby. :) Another $200 or $300 (I know, I know) and you really start to feel like a first-class citizen though. I usually put the sweet spot of price/performance around $750, but maybe that’s just because I have some mental model of that being the right price. Let’s look at builds.
Two resources which help answer your question:
This slick website (which sadly doesn’t get a cool preview box):
And then NeoGAF’s build a PC thread. The google doc link is dead but the embed is still there.
General recommendations at the ~$700 range (hopefully also apply at ~$400):
- For GPU, go with AMD (480 4GB or 470, or 460 for super cheap). Don’t do the 3GB Nvidia cards. FreeSync monitors are a cheap future upgrade. G-Sync is expensive. AMD is good at the low end.
- Favor 16GB of RAM, even if you need to cut somewhere else. 8GB really won’t feel like enough unless she’s only doing one thing at a time. 20 chrome tabs and a game and 8GB will choke. “Well, then don’t do that!” doesn’t work with a teen. Teens are busy multi-taskers and you can expect a lot of things happening.
- Spend some money on an SSD, even if it’s only 120GB. Pair it with a larger magnetic disk and put the OS on the SSD. Or just go with a 256GB SSD and add a HD as a birthday present later. Most everything is online now and you can share a folder with her to grant her disk space if she needs more.
- You don’t need to overclock the CPU. “But it’s so easy with Intel!” So what. The locked CPUs are cheaper and plenty fast.
- You don’t need a 750W PSU. What is with people these days? I had a 450W Thermaltake survive 4 or 5 different builds with various hardware, including power-hungry AMD CPUs along with power-hungry AMD video cards. It’s fine. Budget the power you need and then exceed it just a little.
Edit: Rearranged the links because NeoGAF is a little outdated. To highlight: http://www.logicalincrements.com/
Edit 2: This is the best site for building, suggesting, and sharing PC builds: https://pcpartpicker.com/
Edit 3: Apparently I forgot that pcpartpicker also allows for sharing and ranking builds, so from their list of builds I found this one for $550 right near the top: https://pcpartpicker.com/guide/jnFfrH/entry-level-gaming-build
With pcpartpicker, add some money if you don’t want to buy from like 5 different stores to get the cheapest price. :/