In a previous article, I documented my experience with a €55 PC based on a case, motherboard, CPU and PSU that someone in my city was throwing away as trash.
While some game tweaks allowed that device to play a variety of games there were obvious limitations to that setup, such as the Intel HD only being compatible with up to DirectX 10.
So I decided to upgrade but imposing an interesting limitation: I would not spend over €100 in total. How far can we go?
The first issue to tackle is RAM. While 4 GB is plenty of most modern tasks it is going to be an issue for some of the games I want to try. However, given the current RAM shortages, it would be impossible to get another 4 GB stick without blowing our budget.
As a compromise, I managed to find a 2 GB stick for around €10. Mixing RAM sticks from different brands, capacities and/or speeds is a bit of a gamble and it is usually up to the Motherboard, which limits speed to the slowest element in the chain. Lucky for us both sticks managed to work well together with no unexpected crashes or instability.
That leaves us with a budget of €35 for an external GPU which went towards a Radeon HD 5850 with an Accelero Twin Turbo PRO cooler.
The Radeon HD 5850 is a 1 GB VRAM GPU released on 2010. It originally retailed for around €255 but can nowadays be found used for anywhere between €30 and €100 depending on your luck and territory.
These two additions make a whole world of difference. Counter-Strike Global Offensive and Skyrim, two games that we managed to make work with some effort on the previous version are now run perfectly on the lowest settings with impeccable performance.
However, half of the point of an external GPU was being able to try games that require DirectX 11, so let's raise the bar.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a good place to start. This action stealth game from 2015 runs on the Fox Engine and is known for its high level of optimization both on CPU and GPU, achieving stable levels of performance on dual-core CPUs.
On Full 1080 and lowest settings, the game managed to reach between 35 and 45 FPS.
Since the CPU was the main limiter to the game's performance I was curious to see if we could play Overwatch on this machine.
Overwatch is an online team multiplayer shooter released in 2015 and one of the most popular modern multiplayer games.
Overwatch is relatively light, only asking for an Intel HD Graphics 4400.
In our current PC the GPU is perfectly able to open and run the game, and the dual-core CPU limits performance to 45 FPS while idle, and around 30 FPS in heavy combat. There were no freezes or other issues so the game is perfectly stable and playable when the game is set to a limit of 30 FPS.
A polar opposite of Overwatch is Nier: Automata. This 2017 Action RPG tends to perform relatively well on low-end CPU like our Pentium (with maybe some short freezes) but tends to have huge practical GPU requirements, easily maxing out modern dedicated GPUs on the lowest settings.
There is a fan made mod that allows users to change the resource-intensive method the game uses to calculate global illumination. Disabling global illumination completely allows the game to reach 40 fps on some of the open areas.
Finally, I wanted to try PlayerUnknown's Battleground, the recent release that kickstarted the current battle royale craze.
While this huge game received some important optimizations on its 1.0 release that makes the game mostly usable on an HD 5850 and most of the time the game seems to handle ok with framerates over 30 FPS. However, PUBG is still lacking in CPU optimization and a combination of low VRAM and CPU bottlenecks causes the game to freeze for several seconds when loading new parts of the map or the player inventory.
Even if we omit PUBG this is an amazing range of possible game experiences for a PC built initially from trash with some extra ram and a cheap used GPU. If you are willing to limit to 30 fps this PC is perfectly able to work on a lot of modern titles.
Not bad for something that cost less than 2 AAA PC games on release!