The return to school or college has many reasons to be a bit stressful, but getting the right tech for you needs shouldn’t be one of them. That’s why we’ve put together this list of the best back to school PC upgrades and accessories.
While many students will opt for a laptop or tablet for most such needs, a dorm-room or home PC can be a low-cost way to get the performance you need for certain tasks, and allow a bit of after-school gaming.
Below you’ll find our pick for the best budget components to build a great PC and the most cost-effective and useful peripherals to complete your setup.
Best back to school mouse
Productivity mice like the Logitech MX Master 3 are fantastic for work thanks to their sideways scroll wheel and easy ability to switch between different devices. However, the MX Master 3 is very expensive and can’t double for gaming duties. Instead, a comfortable, capable and affordable gaming mouse is the way to go. There are many good options but the NZXT Lift is our go-to budget option, available not for just $30. See our NZXT Lift review for more details.
Razer Viper Ultimate
If you want wireless convenience and gaming performance, there are plenty of options out there but few are as feature rich and reasonably priced as the Razer Viper Ultimate. With its convenient charging dock, side buttons for left and right-handed users (you can program the spare buttons for extra functions too) and great overall shape and performance, it’s a super capable mouse. It was really expensive at launch but is now regularly just $90, which is great value for what it offers. Check our Razer Viper Ultimate review for more details.
Best back to school keyboard
SteelSeries Apex 3 TKL
The best way to save money when it comes to keyboards is not to go the popular route of getting fancy mechanical keyswitches. Those that use rubber membrane switches are far cheaper but still offer a decent typing experience, at least for a year or two. That’s why SteelSeries Apex 3 TKL is a great option. It’s compact, looks great, has a few multimedia controls, RGB lighting and it has a decent typing feel. All for just $30. Check our SteelSeries Apex 3 TKL review for more details.
Royal Kludge RK68
If you really want the typing feel and key endurance of a mechanical keyboard but can’t afford a fancy brand or full-size keyboard, opting for a 65 percent keyboard with fewer keys is a great option. The Royal Kludge RK68 may have an intriguing name but it also offers good build quality, hot-swappable switches, and Bluetooth and comes in a range of colors. It’s a great buy for $68.
If shrinking your keyboard size all the way to 65 percent is too few keys for you, the next best option is a TKL, or tenkeyless, keyboard. For those doing math or science courses, you may miss the numpad of full-size keyboards but for general typing, a TKL board covers most needs. The NZXT Function is a nice-looking, well-made option for a decent price of $99. Check our NZXT Function review for more details.
For more keyboard options, check out our best gaming keyboard guide.
Best back to school PC speakers
The Creative T20 are ancient as far as PC tech goes but they still hold their own. Relatively compact but with great sound quality, they’re a fantastic option if you’re on a budget but still want something that sounds decent, and if you don’t mind the lack of huge booming bass. Also note they’re analog only, so need a headphone jack to get signal to them. For just under $100, they’re your best bet. Check our Creative T20 review for more details.
A step up in size, power, features, performance, and price, the Edifier R1280DB are the best computer speakers you can get for under $150. They have loads of power and include Bluetooth, USB, and analog inputs, plus you even get a remote control!
For more speaker recommendations, check out our best computer speakers guide.
Best back to school PC graphics card
AMD Radeon RX 7600
Assuming any back to school PC build would be somewhat budget-conscious, there really are very few graphics cards that fit the bill – they’re all expensive these days! However, the AMD Radeon RX 7600 is the closest thing to a graphics card bargain. For just under $270 you can get great performance for gaming at 1080p resolutions in any modern game and it’ll hold its own in most games at 1440p too. Nvidia may have a ray tracing and DLSS advantage but these are pie in the sky considerations for a budget college PC build. See our AMD Radeon RX 7600 review for more details.
Nvidia GeForce RTX 4070
The RTX 4070 is by no means a budget graphics card but it’s balance of performance and price is the best Nvidia currently has to offer. For its $600 price you get superb performance in any modern game at 1440p and can play plenty of game in 4k too. It also holds its own when ray tracing is enabled and has access to DLSS 3 for a serious frame rate boost in some games. See our Nvidia GeForce RTX 4070 review for more details.
For more graphics card options, check out our best graphics card guide.
Best back to school PC CPU
Intel Core i5-13400F
There really is only one option for a brand new CPU for a budget system right now. AMD’s Ryzen 7000 CPUs are just a little pricey (the AMD Ryzen 7600 is a decent option but is slower than the 13400F in games) while it doesn’t make sense to buy an older AMD AM4 Ryzen 5000 CPU for a new system. So, the Intel Core i5-13400F is the way to go. Available for just $200, it will deal with anything school or college throws at you and has decent gaming performance too. Moreover, compatible motherboards are nice and cheap too, with DDR4 B760 models available for just $110. Check out our Intel Core i5-13400F review for more details.
Find out more CPU upgrade options in our best CPU for gaming guide.
Best back to school PC motherboard
Gigabyte B760M DS3H
Available for just $110, this motherboard offers all the basic features you need and most importantly is compatible with our choice of CPU above. Its micro-ATX size also means it fits in our recommended case below.
Best back to school PC case
Thermaltake Versa H18
The Thermaltake Versa H18 is not a fancy PC case. However, its micro-ATX form factor makes it reasonably small for stowing away under small dormitory desks. Plus, it’s cheap and offers perfectly adequate cooling performance, all while looking reasonably smart. Budget back to school builds aren’t the place to start splashing your cash on fancy cases so a modest micro-ATX option is the way to go. This one’s just $50.
For some more exotic case options, check out our best pc case guide for some recommendations.
Best back to school PC memory
Patriot Viper DDR4
One of the key advantages of Intel’s current CPUs is they don’t rely hugely on fast memory for peak performance. Plus, they’re compatible with older, cheaper DDR4 memory. This means you can pick up a 16GB (2 x 8GB) memory kit for just $35. More and faster memory will be a nice upgrade in the future but for now this kit will serve you well.
Check out our best gaming memory for more DDR4 and DDR5 memory options.
Best back to school PC monitor
Asus TUF Gaming VG27AQ
There are cheaper gaming monitors available than the VG27AQ. However, they tend to only include a 1080p resolution, which can be not ideal for work duties, even if it’s fine for most gaming. The extra resolution makes it easier to fit more information on screen, making it easier to read larger documents and multi-task. Meanwhile, when it comes to gaming, this 165Hz IPS screen is nice and fast with great image quality too. All for $300.
Ok, so the VG27AQ is a little pricey for you. Well, step down to the 27G2SPU and you still get a 27in screen but with a 1080p resolution. That can be a little limiting for work but at just $170 it offers great image quality and gaming performance for when your work time is done. See our full AOC 27G2SPU review for more details.
You can find out many more gaming monitor options in our best gaming monitor guide.
So there we have it. That’s our current recommendations for the best low-cost PC components and peripherals for building a budget back to school PC. They’re a little gaming-focussed but, let’s face it, if you’re not interested in gaming you’re probably better off with just a laptop anyway!
Are there any other components or extras that you’d recommend? If so, let us know your thoughts on the Custom PC Facebook page, via Twitter, or join our Custom PC and Gaming Setup Facebook group and tap into the knowledge of our 400,000+ members.