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Gaming PC build guide

Gaming PC build guide 2020
It's team red all the way with our Gaming PC build guide. (Image credit: Future)

If you have aspirations of building your very own humble gaming PC, then look no further than our gaming PC build guide before you today. 

For around $1,000, we've put together a quality mid-tier build that provides excellent 1080p performance at high graphics settings in most games, and it can even manage 1440p gaming with some tinkering. If you need a build that's more suitable 4K gaming, our high-end gaming PC build guide is a great place to start.

Buy it now

Want to buy a prebuilt instead of building your own PC? Check out our guide to the best gaming PCs and gaming laptops.

To keep costs down, we opted to go with AMD over Intel for now. The AMD Ryzen processor we're going with offers great value for money for the time being, with plenty of speedy cores to handle your multi-threaded apps and the latest games.

AMD's Ryzen 5000 chips are just on the horizon, however, so you may want to weigh up your options before hitting purchase. The new chips are faster in gaming than their Ryzen 3000 counterparts, but they're also more expensive.

If this isn't quite what you're looking for, also check out our budget PC build guide and high-end PC build guide. Or even get someone else to build it for you with a cheap gaming PC deal

Once you've booted up your new awesome gaming PC, check out our list of the best PC games you can play right now.

PSA: Before you start building, the video below is a short refresher course and the dos and don'ts of PC building from a couple of PC Gamer alum, Jarred and Bo.

If you're not in a massive rush with your gaming PC build, it's well worth looking around for deals. 

There are deals every day for components on sites like Newegg and Amazon. If you're tight on cash, you can always go with less RAM or a smaller SSD. Neither of these should overly impact performance, and you can easily upgrade further down the line when you can. Keep in mind that our build is just for components only and doesn't include things like the case, monitors, or other gaming peripherals, which will add to your overall cost.

CPU

AMD Ryzen 5 3600

(Image credit: AMD)

AMD Ryzen 5 3600

A reliable mid-range CPU.

Cores: 6 | Threads: 12 | Base Clock: 3.6GHz | Turbo Clock: 4.2GHz | Overclocking: Yes, 4.2GHz typical | L3 Cache: 32MB | TDP: 65W | PCIe 4.0 lanes: 16

Low price for 6 core/12 thread CPU
Very secure and reliable
Good pairing with AMD GPU

The Ryzen 5 3600 is an excellent candidate for mid-range gaming. It outclasses our previous pick for this build, the Intel Core i5 8400, and offers superior performance, overclocking and a slick-looking stock cooler all around the same price point. 

Alternatively, you could go with the previous generation Ryzen 5 2600 for a small drop in price, and while it may not be quite as fast as the 3600, it still has all the same features and matches the i5 8400 almost pound for pound. If you're looking for a little more juice, though, the Ryzen 5 3600X can give it to you for about $40 more.

Soon you'll also be able to pick up one of AMD's Ryzen 5000 processors, such as the Ryzen 5 5600X. This chip looks like it's going to be fantastic for gaming, but it is a little more expensive out of the gate at $299. 

Ultimately we went with the 3600 because it gave us the best bang for our buck and some additional room to expand into more powerful 3rd gen AMD CPUs down the line.

If you're looking for a little extra power in your next build, check out our guide to the best CPU for gaming in 2020.

Motherboard

(Image credit: MSI)

MSI B450 Gaming Plus

A good all rounder with Ryzen 3rd gen compatibility.

Chipset: B450 | Memory: 4x DIMM, 64GB, DDR4-3466 | Expansion slots: 1x PCIe 3.0 x16, 1x PCIe 3.0 x16 (x4), 4x PCIe 3.0 x1 | USB ports: 6x rear IO, 6x internal | Storage: 1x M.2, 6x SATA | Network: Ethernet | Lighting: Full RGB

Good performance and features
Great starter

The MSI B450 Gaming Plus is a reliable motherboard that will deliver everything needed to run the Ryzen 5 3600. It may not necessarily be pretty or pack in a ton of extras, but it gets the job done—you won't really see it under your components, anyways.

The B450 Gaming Plus supports memory speeds up to DDR4-3466 and includes an M.2 slot for fast SSDs. This motherboard can potentially handle SLI or Crossfire dual-card configurations as well.

Motherboard compatibility for Ryzen's 3rd gen processors is pretty prolific, but make sure to check the compatibility on the manufacturer's site if you're committing to something with more options. But if you're after something better than this MSI board, you're probably also looking at a higher-end build, and perhaps one of the best gaming motherboards would be a better fit.

GPU

(Image credit: ©AMD)

AMD Radeon RX 5700 XT

An excellent red team alternative to an Nvidia Super.

GPU Cores: 2,560 | Base Clock: 1,605MHz | Boost Clock: 1,905MHz | GFLOPS: 9,754 | Memory: 8GB GDDR6 | Memory Clock: 14 GT/s | Memory Bandwidth: 448GB/s

Outperforms the 2060 Super for the same price
Efficient RDNA architecture
Strong 1080p performance

It may look like a piece of modern art, but the 5700 XT was a relatively easy pick for this level of build and a solid replacement for the Nvidia 2060 Super. Our build is mostly looking to push 60fps at 1080p, which is where this particular GPU excels, and at a lower price point than the 2060 Super, the choice was clear.

The 5700 XT does lack dedicated hardware for ray tracing and DLSS, but in terms of actual in-game performance, it just edges out the 2060 Super. Additionally, these extra features only tend to matter once you start reaching the edge of the performance envelope. For that, I recommend you check out our extreme gaming PC build guide.

For our mid-range build, the 5700 XT hit that sweet spot of cost versus performance and is suitable so long as you aren't trying to push 4K resolutions (and don't mind its funky looking dent).

However, the GPU market is currently midway through a major upheaval. Nvidia's RTX 30-series isn't quite in our price bracket, with the cheapest, the RTX 3070, at $499, nor is AMD's RX 6000-series, starting at $579. But you can be sure that soon enough these two GPU goliaths will turn their attention to the mainstream mid-range market, and that will certainly see the RX 5700 XT shifted out of this build guide.

Memory

(Image credit: Corsair)

Corsair Vengeance LPX 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4-3200

The best value RAM you can get.

Capacity: 2x 8GB | Speed: 3200MT/s | Timings: 15-17-17-35 | Voltage: 1.35V

High frequencies on a budget

Memory is pretty straightforward these days, though if the price isn't much higher you can improve performance slightly with faster RAM. DDR4 prices have thankfully galvanized somewhat, with typical costs for 16GB often falling well below $100. There are many options to choose from: Adata, Ballistix, Corsair, Crucial, G.Skill, GeIL, Gigabyte, Hynix, HyperX, Micron, Mushkin, Patriot, PNY, Samsung, Team, and XPG are all good brands as far as we're concerned.

Our main goal for gaming memory is DDR4-3000 or higher, with as low a CAS latency as possible, but at a good price. It doesn't make a lot of sense to buy extreme memory for a mainstream build, but with DDR4-3200 only costing $10 more than basic DDR4 kits, it's worth paying a little extra for AMD builds.

For more information, check out our guide to the best gaming DDR4 RAM options in 2020.

Primary Storage

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(Image credit: Crucial)
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(Image credit: Crucial)
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(Image credit: Crucial)

Fast, reliable, and affordable storage.

Capacity: 512GB | Interface: M.2 PCIe 3.0 x4 | Sequential IO: 3,400/2,000MB/s read/write | Random IO: 510K/500K IOPS read/write

Great for OS and applications
Snappy performance
Great value

An NVMe M.2 SSD offers swift access to your data, and the Addlink S70 delivers that snappy response at an exceptionally agreeable price. Fitted with 512GB worth of NAND flash, there's enough space for your operating system, applications, and a handful of games, too.

A single M.2 SSD offers flexibility when it comes to future upgrades, such as a SATA drive, second NVMe SSD, or high-capacity HDD—that's why we recommend picking up a capable one from the get-go and planning ahead to your next storage upgrade for a little more freedom with upcoming game installs.

If you're looking for other SSD options, then be sure to check out our guide on the best SSD for gaming.

Additional Storage

HDD: WD Black 1TB

WD Black 1TB (Optional)

The quickest regular HDD, offering storage on a budget.

Capacity: 1TB | HDD speed: 7200RPM | Cache: 32GB | Connectivity: SATA 6Gb/s | Warranty: 5 years

A cheaper storage option
Great reliability for a HDD
High capacity for files less often accessed

Given the install sizes of most modern PC games, it's probably a good idea to get yourself a new drive for your gaming PC. While SATA SSDs are almost cheap enough to recommend as secondary storage (what a world we're living in), you'll probably look to a regular HDD to keep the cost down when you hit multiple terabyte demands.

We recommend the WD Black drive because it's a 7,200RPM drive with a respectable 32GB cache, which offers 1TB of storage for about $70 or less. While you could get a WD Blue or Seagate Barracuda for less, the WD Black offers speed and reliability over capacity. Realistically, you'll appreciate that speed if you're planning to keep your HDD inside a gaming PC for more than a couple of years, as we already see load times creep up for the biggest games of 2020. 

PSU

PSU: Corsair TX650M 650W

Corsair TX650M 650W

Highly reliable and efficient power without going overkill.

Output: 650W | Efficiency: 80 Plus Gold | Connectors: 1x 24-Pin ATX, 1x 8-Pin (4+4) EPS12V, 4x 8-Pin (6+2) PCIe, 6x SATA, 4x Molex, 1x Floppy | Modular: Partial

Good efficiency and price
Sane output rating
All Japanese capacitors

Power supplies are not the most exciting part of a gaming PC build. After all, it can be hard to tell them apart in terms of features. Even so, you don't want to skimp on your PSU. Corsair has an excellent and well-deserved reputation for its power supplies, and the TX650M comes at a reasonable price and delivers 80 Plus Gold efficiency.

Most power supplies from the bigger names are generally good, but we wouldn’t recommend that you put your money in anything with a warranty of fewer than five years or an efficiency rating below 80 Plus Gold (maybe Bronze in a pinch). The $10 or $20 saved often isn't worth the risk.

We also tend to go with modular PSUs where possible. It means less cable mess inside the case since you don’t have to stash unused cables somewhere. Instead, the remaining wires have to find a home in your closet.

Here's our guide to the best power supplies for PC gaming.

Case

NZXT H510

(Image credit: NZXT)

NZXT H510

Clean design and great cable management.

Type: ATX mid-tower | Motherboard Compatibility: ATX, Micro-ATX, Mini-ITX | Drive Bays: (Up to 7) 3.5/2.5-inch internal , 2x 2.5-inch SSD | Front Ports: 1x USB-C, 1x USB 3.0, Headphone, Mic | Fan Options: Front: 2x 120mm or 2x 140mm, Top: 120mm (included) or 140mm, Rear: 120mm (included) | Max GPU Length: 381mm | Dimensions: 460 x 210 x 428mm | Weight: 6.6 kgs.

Nice tempered glass side panel
Plenty of expansion options
USB-C front panel connector

Cases can be as stylish or boring as you want. We're going to go for the former rather than the latter, with the NZXT H510, a slick, tempered glass case available in white or black. The NZXT H510 is also reasonably priced, which is always a bonus. 

If you want other options, check our guide to the best mid-tower cases. The clean look goes well on any desk and doesn't stand out like many so-called 'gaming cases.' There's also the pricier H510i that integrates some smart features if you like the look of the H510 but want a few more bells and whistles.

Picking a case can be an entirely personal choice, so for more options, here are the best PC cases you can buy right now.

Components

Hey folks, beloved mascot Coconut Monkey here representing the collective PC Gamer editorial team, who worked together to write this article!