We've all been there. You start with a modest budget for your next gaming PC, and then make a few tweaks to take performance to the next level, and then a few more, and suddenly you're starting at a build that costs several times more than your original budget. Back to the drawing board.
But putting together a gaming PC that you can be proud of doesn't need to require a second mortgage. Most games will run well and look great even when you're on a budget. If you're prudent about part choices, you can put together an impressive PC that will run today's games great and upgrade well in the future.
PC build guides
The best cheap gaming PC (<$500/£500) - Our alternative to buying a console.
The best budget gaming PC (~$750/£750) - A good entry-level system.
The best gaming PC (~$1,250/£1,250) - Our recommended midrange build for most gamers.
The best high-end gaming PC (~$2,000/£2,000) - Everything a gamer could want.
The best extreme gaming PC (>$3,000/£3,000) - You won the lotto and are going all-in on gaming.
Building a budget gaming rig often poses more challenges than one with a budget of $1,500 or more. Budget builds can be easier to assemble, but picking parts can be a bit of a nightmare when you're trying to stretch every dollar as far as it will go. This guide is here to give you a bit of insight if you’re looking for a rig that won't break the bank.
This build is designed with an $750 price point in mind, cutting out extras such as an optical drive or a large HDD. We'll skimp on superfluous components, like the case, storage, and memory, instead putting more of the budget into the graphics card. Having said that, this build offers a nice backbone for a system that will upgrade well in the future—and if you can stretch the budget to $850, the graphics card should be your first stop down that path.
Performance-wise, you should expect this build to run games very well at 1080p with close to maximum settings. 1440p at medium to high settings should also be viable, depending on the game, but 4k isn't really a consideration. We've also upgraded the CPU (and motherboard) to a far more potent option than we've used previously, thanks to Intel's Coffee Lake launch.
The price point also doesn't account for the operating system or any peripherals. Check out our buying guides on the best mouse, keyboard, and gaming monitor for our favorite picks to pair with your new rig.
We based this build on prices we could find at the time we updated this article, but prices do change. You will find current prices for the parts in the above table, including prices for non-US locations. With the holiday shopping spree upon us, keep an eye out for sales as well, because there will inevitably be some awesome bargains.
CPU: Intel Core i3-8100
We've been going truly budget on the CPU side for a while, because it was difficult to justify moving beyond the Pentium G4560 we recommend in our ultra-cheap build. With the launch of Intel's Coffee Lake processors, however, the temptation to move to Core i3 was too much to resist. The new Core i3-8100 is basically the same as the old Core i5-7400, with a slight bump in clockspeed as a bonus.
For the first time ever, Intel is offering a true quad-core processor as a budget option. And if you weren't aware, that's basically thanks to AMD's Ryzen 3 processors. We're basically doubling the price of our CPU, and increasing the motherboard costs as well (for the time being, the only chipset for Coffee Lake is the more expensive Z370), but long-term we feel this is the right choice. The Hyper-Threaded Pentium chips are generally okay for gaming, and they're really inexpensive, but the i3-8100 is a big step up, and allows GPUs up through the GTX 1080 to mostly reach their performance potential.
For gaming purposes, Intel's quad-core CPUs have been our go-to option for several years. It's awesome that Core i5 parts now have six cores, but for more modest gaming needs the 4-core parts are still more than capable. Just be careful of running too many background tasks while gaming (like Twitch streaming, Discord, etc.) or you may get some stuttering in more demanding games.
You could go higher up the CPU ladder with an i5-8400, which we recommend over the overclocking-friendly i3-8350K, but that's a slippery slope that quickly leads to our best overall gaming PC and a price that's $500 higher than this budget build.
GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 6GB
This budget build has been through a number of GPUs over its lifetime, and with the upgrade to Core i3-8100 we've actually had to downgrade our GPU choice. Previously we used a GeForce GTX 1070, which is an awesome GPU, and it was probably more than the G4560 CPU warranted. Having blown an extra $100 on the CPU and motherboard upgrades, unfortunately, we can't fit the faster GPU into our $750 budget. The next step down is the GTX 1060 6GB, or AMD's RX 580 8GB, and we've opted for the 1060 6GB because pricing is still typically lower and the GPU uses about 75W less power.
You can find the GTX 1060 6GB for $250 or so quite easily, and we'll likely see short-term sales over the holidays where it will drop well below that mark. Keep an eye on our Black Friday graphics card deals hub, as that's where we'll track all the sales. Performance from the 1060 6GB is good, roughly matching the previous generation GTX 980 while using less power and costing half as much. The card averages over 60 fps at 1080p maximum quality in our test suite, though there are a few games where you'll want to tweak the settings a bit. The RX 580 8GB is just a hair faster overall, so if you can find that at a lower price it's a worthy alternative.
The next real step up in gaming performance is the GTX 1070, which costs about 65 percent more but also delivers about 40 percent better performance. Where's the GTX 1060 Ti when we need it? If you're running or thinking about buying a 1440p display, that's really the GPU you'll want, but then you're definitely not building a budget gaming PC.
Motherboard: MSI Z370-A Pro / MSI Z370 PC Pro
Finding a good budget motherboard for Coffee Lake processors is currently difficult. The only chipset right now is Intel's Z370, with lower cost H370 and B360 slated for early 2018. But an inexpensive Z370 board should provide be better features and upgrade options than the future B360 boards at least. We've selected MSI's Z370-A Pro motherboard as our primary choice, but finding that specific model in some areas is difficult, so we've included the very similar Z370 PC Pro as an alternative.
MSI's board provided everything you'll need, plus a lot of extra stuff you may never use. The M.2 slot for example means you can go with a higher performance SSD, but the impact on gaming is pretty minimal and the cost can be quite a bit higher. Four DIMM slots means you can upgrade from two to four sticks if you want more RAM in the future. MSI also lists up to DDR4-4000 memory support, which is far beyond what anyone should run in a budget build.
The MSI PC Pro is a higher spec board, with RGB lighting, two M.2 slots, and even a Type-C USB 3.1 Gen2 port. It costs a bit more in the US, so it's mostly for people that can't find the Z370-A Pro. There are other budget Z370 boards as well, and for the Core i3-8100 you're probably safe just grabbing whatever Z370 board costs the least right now. Overclocking support might be more limited with an unlocked CPU, but that's not a primary concern here.
Memory: 8GB DDR4-2400 (2x4GB)
There’s no shortage of options when you’re shopping for memory, but the past year has wreaked havoc on DDR4 prices. 18 months ago, you could find a kit of 2x8GB DDR4-2400 for around $60. These days, the absolute cheapest 2x4GB DDR4 kits cost around $80 now. It's bad enough that we've had to move from using 16GB RAM in our budget build to cutting down to 8GB. Ouch. If you're willing to stretch your budget and double down on memory, it's a viable option, though for gaming purposes 8GB generally remains sufficient.
We're not recommending a specific brand of DDR4 memory right now, as prices and availability fluctuate a lot. Our primary recommendation is to get an 8GB DDR4-2400 kit, though if you can find DDR4-2666 or DDR4-3000 without spending too much more that's not a bad idea.
The reality is that memory in this price bracket—and several rungs higher—is highly commoditized, so the buying advice is basically to find a reputable brand and find the capacity and speed you’re looking for. If two competing kits look similar in price, capacity, and speed, check the timings. Finally, choose a kit that matches the aesthetic you want in your case. (That sometimes means paying a little extra for a different color, though.)
SSD: Crucial MX300 275GB
Storage is a tough thing to recommend, as the amount people think they need is very subjective. But no matter how much storage you need, using an SSD for your boot drive is essential. The speed difference between SSD and HDD when starting up your system is massive, and with current prices even a moderate SSD has room for a few games, which will also load faster.
Crucial's MX300 SSD isn't the fastest SSD available, especially compared to higher-end M.2 options. But what it lacks in speed it makes up for in price and capacity. For around $80, this 275GB SSD is cheap enough to fit our budget while providing enough storage to serve as a solo primary drive for our build. (It's also our top pick for best budget SSD.) Sure, you won't be able to store a massive game library loaded at once, but it's enough for a handful of games on top of your OS.
If 275GB isn't enough for you, you can jump up to a 525GB model for around double the price, or pair it with a Western Digital Black 1TB HDD for roughly the same price increase.
The MX300 is also available in an M.2 form factor around the same price point—which our motherboard supports. While it doesn't offer a performance increase (this is a SATA M.2 drive and not PCIe based), the compact form factor of M.2 means less cables to deal with, which can make for a better system aesthetic.
Power supply: EVGA 450W 80+ Bronze PSU
Like memory, most power supplies from major vendors tend to be of high quality, and we don’t recommend skimping on PSU quality. This semi-modular EVGA 450W is 80+ Bronze certified and comes with a 3-year warranty.
Unless we're building in a really, really tight case, we generally recommend going with a semi- or fully-modular power supply. With detachable cables, you can ensure that you only use the cables you need. (For example, we rarely use Molex connectors these days). You can keep the spares tucked away for future upgrades, or replace a cable if it becomes damaged. This can greatly improve airflow and will aid in cable management.
Case: Fractal Design Focus G
We've used mini-ITX and micro-ATX cases in the past, but we felt our money was better spent on an ATX case and motherboard this time. Unlike other components, motherboards can actually cost more for a smaller form factor, particularly when we're using a new platform like Z370. That means we had to change our case, since we previously used a micro-ATX option, and the Fractal Design Focus G is a lovely looking box that's easy to work with and doesn't cost too much.
Cases can be extremely subjective, and what one person loves another may find boring or gaudy. If you're looking for other options, the NZXT S340 from our best mid-tower ATX case guide is another great choice.
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