Can You Build a PC for Less Than $100?

Sep 15, 2008
Updated • Nov 29, 2012

I was reading The Simple Dollar where there was an interesting post on the cheapest fully functional PC a person could use. The post was sparked by the author's own experience of building PCs for people and just where you can cut costs. He says you can get a computer for less than $100. Here's how:

Hardware: Trent (the author) suggests scouting around garage sales and social networks specializing in giveaways to find free or cheap hardware. This includes the CPU with a CD or DVD drive, a monitor, mouse, and keyboard. He also threw in speakers. His theory is that people are forever upgrading their computers and usually get rid of good quality equipment for free or at a throwaway price. According to him, this is the only step of the process that involves spending money.

Software: For the OS, Trent recommends the Linux distro Ubuntu. Like most Linux distros, this one is a free download or you can have the Ubuntu folks mail you an installation CD. Ubuntu comes with almost all the programs an average person needs on their PC.

My thoughts: While Trent's PC building post suggests that a cheap PC is possible, I'm not so convinced. For one thing, picking up hardware at a garage sale can score you a good deal, you also have no idea what you're getting. Not to mention the havoc someone can wreck with a hard disk that hasn't been wiped clean.

My other source of hesitation is the choice of Ubuntu. While I have no problems with it, I don't think it's effective for computer novices, who are the recipients of this kind of PC. Thirdly, old hardware components are notoriously power-hungry. There's no point in building a cheap PC if it's going to feast on your power bill.

Overall, I think it's possible to build a cheap PC but you may just get more than you bargained for. What do you think of these PC-building suggestions? Would you want to use a computer built this way? What's the cheapest you think a PC should cost for a novice user? Let me know in the comments.


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  1. emachines notebooks said on July 16, 2009 at 1:12 am

    I bought an emachines notebook recently and I find it quite reliable

  2. Emachine computer said on July 15, 2009 at 8:35 pm

    I bought an emachines notebook recently and I find it quite reliable

  3. Ben Beard said on November 21, 2008 at 1:12 am

    Well I install Ubuntu (and PCLInuxOS, and Knoppix (live) and especially Puppy Linux) on all kinds of stuff – and when I started doing it I was a beginner, obviously!
    Compared with an XP install it is often a lot easier imho. Depends on the hardware – and some flawless U/Xubuntu installations just work on ancient machines that cannot carry (even) XP. Surprised me.

    Equally some Microsoft users have been trapped by Vista because the shiny new hardware lacks XP drivers, so they end up stuck with Vista.

    @Fernando – greetings! Ubuntu rocks on P4, no error, we use Xubuntu on P3 laptops (3 of them) and it makes a sound system for a 6-year-old kid, with amazing _free_ kid software (try Gcompris) that is the envy of his teachers.

    Allowing a child of that age to surf using Win is hard work for the maintainer. Someone has to update the anti-virus, anti-spam, anti-malware, check that Windows Update is not trying to insert its latest nastiest ‘upgrade’ to Media Player or IE, or worse. And so on and on.
    Ubuntu just works, in our experience. Good Anti-Spam and Anti-Virus too. UNIX structure is a good basis for defence, and Linux with IPtables/SPI is the firewall of choice in so many ‘hardware firewall’ router boxes. Comes embedded to not frighten the likes of….
    @ Thinker – Hi there! must be confusing to see all these Linux advocates disturbing your preconceived ideas. It is a phenomenon called ‘Popularity’. You will get used to it one day.

    Did you notice that MS have so little respect for their source of funds that they blatantly name their (unsuccessful) attempt on the PC Security market ‘One-Care’ after their clients? Say it slow, or say it fast, it is not a polite word when spelled with a ‘W’. Tut tut. Naughty Microsoft.

  4. Dotan Cohen said on October 10, 2008 at 7:48 am

    How on earth do you install programs in Windows?!? In Ubuntu you just open the menu item Add/Remove Programs. 99% of the software you could want is right there.

    For that matter, you could have asked on the official Ubuntu mailing list. Where is the official mailing list for Windows?

  5. Nic Moon said on September 30, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    @Dotan Cohen:
    Dell does sell Pcs with Ubuntu, namely the Dell Mini 9.

    You odviously didn’t try very hard at all…Click on the Ubuntu “start” button-> Add/Remove Programs->Make sure it’s set to All Supported or All Applications-> Do a search or go through Categories to find the applications you want-> Enter root (main user) password when you want to install them. They will automatically be updated through this interface as well. If you can complain about anything in a Linux distro it is delinquent drivers. Installing them from source is a bit more difficult, but I would obviously not recommend that for a beginner.

  6. Brad said on September 30, 2008 at 7:02 pm

    I just recently installed ubuntu on my laptop, dual booting between it and vista. It was the first time Ive ever used Linux in any form. Im an IT professional, i do development work but my former positions have included infratructure support and DBA. The dealbreaker for me: how the hell do you install programs in ubuntu? Messed with it for an hour, couldnt figure it out, uninstalled it, moving on. My grandpa wouldve done worse with it (his limited experience is with xp.) Granted I havent figured out how to install programs on a mac yet either :).
    And building a pc for less than 100? Thats a little different than finding a pc at a garage sale…

  7. Dotan Cohen said on September 20, 2008 at 11:34 am

    I am using Ubuntu on a Dell Inspiron that I bought before there were even rumors of Dell selling Linux PCs. While I agree that laptops are sometimes problematic, desktops are easier to install Ubuntu on than Windows. With Windows, one has to go hunting for drivers for the motherboard, the CDROM, and even the mouse and monitor. Sure, they all work without the drivers, but not as well as they could. Ubuntu come with all that built in.

  8. John said on September 20, 2008 at 1:11 am

    I would hardly call Ubuntu good for beginners. Like many Linux distributions, the possibility that will work off the shelf is minimal, unless the computer itself was designed with Linux in mind.

    For example, I’ve used Ubuntu with a laptop from Dell and Gateway. It absolutely would not recognize the Dell wireless card no matter what I did. For the Gateway, I had to download a program that would allow you to use the Windows driver in Linux. I knew what I was doing and it still took quite a bit of time (there was an amount of trial and error to get the right driver up.) I could only imagine how long it would take for a newbie to figure that one out.

    I personally have no idea why it’s good for newbies. Getting things to work properly is a chore that requires heavy knowledge of the terminal. XP, on the other hand, works like a charm and is easy to use.

    I’m not saying Linux is bad, just that it’s not for new people. It’s for a “computer enthusiast”, so to speak. And even then, if they want to play games, they dual boot XP. :P

  9. Joe said on September 16, 2008 at 11:13 pm

    Regarding OS, try PClinuxOS and compare it with Ubuntu. Much more user friendly, if we talk about basic instalation and network connection for new users. (they call it radically simple, with a reason) Just a tip.

    Hardware is another story, as someone stated here theese days you need min. 1 gigs of ram and dual CPU.

  10. Dotan Cohen said on September 16, 2008 at 10:05 am

    While I agree with the first two steps (start with a throwaway PC and install Ubuntu), I recommend swapping out the motherboard, CPU, and memory to modern hardware. Used cases with working DVD drives, power supplies, and hard disks are a great place to save money. But a dual core processor and 1GB RAM is pretty much necessary today. Most old motherboards will not support them.

    Also, I find Ubuntu easier to use for computer novices than Windows XP (I don’t know about Vista, it is too expensive to toy with). The only people who I have seen have problems with Ubuntu are Windows Power Users. These are the users who know Windows inside and out, and of course they are most comfortable in that system. For everyone else, Ubuntu is more logical, requires less maintenance, and performs better.

  11. Diablo1123 said on September 16, 2008 at 3:08 am

    I agree that Ubuntu is nice, works well with older hardware, easy to install and update.

  12. Fernando said on September 16, 2008 at 3:01 am

    I have an old Pentium IV I just revived with Ubuntu, my mom uses it and has no problem with it even tho she can’t even turn off my Vista computer

  13. gm said on September 16, 2008 at 2:45 am

    By recycling an old computer your not leaving it to tossed in the landfill and your not purchasing something that had used up more petroleum (all that plastic) and the energy needed to produce it.

    Reduce, reuse, recycle!

    (And Ubuntu, or any type of linux, is great for newbies!)

    Lots of wins here.

  14. Thinker said on September 16, 2008 at 12:26 am

    Ubuntu is so great, that nobody uses it. Linux fanboys spam internet about it’s superiority :|

    And the question is, what can you do with your 100$ PC? And what about display?

  15. Nic Moon said on September 15, 2008 at 10:38 pm

    Yea Ubuntu is great, I actually prefer it over windows. It has a great interface that me a complete Linux novice can understand, and there’s almost no learning curve for an occasional windows user. It’s actually easier than windows.

  16. Gemini said on September 15, 2008 at 8:16 pm

    “My other source of hesitation is the choice of Ubuntu. While I have no problems with it, I don’t think it’s effective for computer novices, who are the recipients of this kind of PC.”

    Ubuntu is PERFECT for computer newbies, it has all they need to do with it (text editor etc), is completely free and has a full graphical user interface, just like windows

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