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Gaming PC build guide

Included in this guide:

Gaming PC build guide 2021
It's team red all the way with our Gaming PC build guide. (Image credit: Future)

This is our main gaming PC build guide; the set of components we'd recommend to anyone wanting to put together a new system that balances pricing and performance. Though I will admit that it can for slightly depressing reading right now, all thanks to the continuing GPU drought.

Things do seem to be improving and you can at least buy pretty much everything on this list for a normal price. But yeah, graphics cards are still horrendously over-priced whenever they're available. C'est la vie, I guess.

Despite all this, we're looking at a system with a target price of around $1,000, and that's where the rest of our build sits for the prospective $400 Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 Ti that we would recommend for this level of system. And while It's possible to pick up everything aside from the GPU today, the graphics card really is the beating heart of any gaming PC, and that makes it difficult to recommend a full build without basing your new rig around a GPU. 

The other part of the picture is the processor, and thankfully CPU stock is far better now. The Ryzen 5 5600X is a better price these days and, as stock dwindles for the old Ryzen 5 3600 chip, the newer 5000-series CPU is actually available for a better price. And it's a great gaming chip.

We've had our hands on all these parts at some point or another, and we only recommend the products that we'd want in our own gaming PCs. 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

CPU

Ryzen 5 5600X processor in box

(Image credit: AMD)

AMD's top affordable, and available, Zen 3 CPU today

Specifications
Cores: 6
Threads: 12
Base Clock: 3.7 GHz
Boost Clock: 4.6 GHz
Overclocking: Yes
L3 Cache: 32 MB
TDP: 65 W
PCIe 4.0 lanes: 20
Reasons to buy
+Awesome gaming performance+Great value for money+Decent overclocking potential+Wraith Stealth included
Reasons to avoid
-$50 more than 3600X-... 3600X came with a better cooler

When it comes to gaming, everything that's great about the 5900X rings true for this more affordable Zen 3 chip as well. There's nothing between any of the Ryzen 5000 chips in games, which means you'll hit the same frame rates with this chip as you will our number one pick. Which is incredible when you think about it—top-tier performance from the most affordable Zen 3 CPU? We'll say yes to that every single day.

This does have half the core count of that top chip, rolling in as it does with 6 cores and 12 threads. This is only an issue with those more serious workloads, though, and this is more than sufficient for more reasonable stuff. You could argue that gaming could go beyond the 12-threads we have here, but there's no evidence that is the case so far, and that's even though the next-gen consoles are rocking 8-cores and 16-threads. 

The Ryzen 5 5600X also bucks the Ryzen 5000 family's trend by shipping with a Wraith Stealth cooler, so you don't have to drop extra money on a third-party chiller. You don't need to, but if you do, you'll hit higher clocks for longer and also open up the wonderful world of overclocking, which could make it worthwhile. This is a decent little overclocker, and while it won't affect gaming much, it'll help in other areas nicely.

Read the full AMD Ryzen 5 5600X review.

Motherboard

Asus ROG Strix B550-E Gaming motherboard shot at an angle on a blank background

(Image credit: Asus)

The best B550 motherboard

Specifications
Form factor: ATX
Memory support: 4x DIMM, up to 128GB, up to DDR4-4600
Expansion slots: 2x PCIe 4.0 x16, 1x PCIe 3.0 x4
Storage: 2x M.2, 6x SATA 6Gbps
Networking: Intel WiFi 6, Intel 2.5Gb ethernet, Bluetooth 5.1
Rear USB: 3 x USB 3.2 Gen 2, 4 x USB 2.0
Reasons to buy
+Extensive feature set+Build quality+Top-end networking

Sure, the Asus ROG Strix B550-E isn't the cheapest motherboard for a Ryzen 5 3600 chip, but it offers a huge amount of potential room for your PC to grow in the future. You get the chance to upgrade to the newer Zen 3 CPUs, taking full advantage of all the goodness AMD has baked into them, and that means you have the opportunity to shift to PCIe 4.0 devices going forward.

It's a premium motherboard, with all the trappings you'd expect from Asus' Republic of Gamers stables, such as 14+2 power stage, M.2 heatsinks, and pre-installed backplates. You also get Wi-Fi 6 wireless networking as well as Intel 2.5Gb ethernet too. And RGB LEDs, of course.

Performance too is typically good for a high-end Asus board, matching X570 motherboards for gaming performance without issue. The Asus ROG Strix B550-E Gaming is the whole package then, and right now is our all-around pick for the best B550 motherboard. 

Please read our full Asus ROG Strix B550-E Gaming review.

GPU

Nvidia RTX 3060 Ti graphics card shot from above at an angle

(Image credit: Nvidia)

A GPU that can take on the RTX 2080 Super... and win

Specifications
GPU Cores: 4,865
Base Clock: 1,410MHz
Boost Clock: 1,665MHz
TFLOPS: 16.2
Memory: 8GB GDDR6
Memory Clock: 14 GT/s
Memory Bandwidth: 448GB/s
Reasons to buy
+4K performance+Decent ray tracing performance+Great cooler

The obvious problem is that it's borderline impossible to find a new RTX 3060 Ti right now, especially for anything near the $399 reference price of the mighty Founders Edition. But the RTX 3060 Ti is still the GeForce card that we would opt for, all things being equal.

It marks the same incredible generational leap in performance that has come to epitomise the Ampere architecture, up until the non-TI GeForce RTX 3060, that is. With performance that can often outpace the RTX 2080 Super, for a nominal $399 price tag, it's the mid-range card to beat. Something the RX 6700 will have to do now the Radeon RX 6700 XT has just missed the mark.

And, because of its RTX 2080 Super performance levels, that means you can nail 1080p and 1440p frame rates, but also that 4K at 60fps isn't beyond the realms of possibility for this GPU. The RTX 3060 Ti then delivers gaming performance that's rather stupendous when you look at generational gains over even the RTX 20-series—next to the 10-series it's quite frightening, actually.

Read our full Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 Ti review.

Memory

Two Corsair Vengeance LPX 8GB memory modules on top of each other

(Image credit: Corsair)

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

The best value RAM you can get

Specifications
Capacity: 2x 8GB
Speed: 3200MT/s
Timings: 15-17-17-35
Voltage: 1.35V
Reasons to buy
+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

Addlink S70 SSD shot at an angle on a blank background

(Image credit: Addlink)

Fast, reliable, and affordable storage

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+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

WD Black 1TB hard drive shot at an angle on a blank background

WD Black 1TB (Optional)

The quickest regular HDD, offering storage on a budget

Specifications
Capacity: 1TB
HDD speed: 7200RPM
Cache: 32GB
Connectivity: SATA 6Gb/s
Warranty: 5 years
Reasons to buy
+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

Corsair TX650M 650W power supply shot at an angle on a blank background

Corsair TX650M 650W

Highly reliable and efficient power without going overkill

Specifications
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
Reasons to buy
+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 chassis shot from the side on a blank background

(Image credit: NZXT)

NZXT H510

Clean design and great cable management

Specifications
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.
Reasons to buy
+Nice tempered glass side panel+Plenty of expansion options+USB-C front panel connector
Buy it now

Desktop PC with glass side panel

(Image credit: ABS)

Your best chance of getting hold of the best graphics cards and CPUs right now is to buy one of the best gaming PCs or best gaming laptops.

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

Dave James

Dave has been gaming since the days of Zaxxon and Lady Bug on the Colecovision, and code books for the Commodore Vic 20 (Death Race 2000!). He built his first gaming PC at the tender age of 16, and finally finished bug-fixing the Cyrix-based system around a year later. When he dropped it out of the window. He first started writing for Official PlayStation Magazine and Xbox World many decades ago, then moved onto PC Format full-time, then PC Gamer, TechRadar, and T3 among others. Now he's back, writing about the nightmarish graphics card market, CPUs with more cores than sense, gaming laptops hotter than the sun, and SSDs more capacious than a Cybertruck.