Build guide: The best gaming PC - April 2018

The best gaming PC isn't one you buy: it's one you build. Choosing your own parts is the best way to build a gaming PC that suits your needs, and our guide to the best gaming PC aims to help you assemble a rig that will be future proof. It should still be able to play games at high settings two or three years from now.

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.

This midrange gaming PC is meant to play anything you throw at it with no compromises at 1080p or 1440p, hitting framerates of 60 fps and up. You can check out our other build guides listed in the box to the right—if you're on more of a budget, or want to play games at 4K or run even the most demanding games at 100+ fps, there are options there for you. This is the balanced option: powerful enough to still run games in a few years, but still reasonably affordable. 

One note: due to the demands of cryptocurrency miners, it's hard to find a graphics card for a reasonable price. Instead of downgrading our recommendation to a much cheaper card, we're still recommending a powerful midrange card, the Nvidia GTX 1070 Ti (you could go with a 1070 as well). To find one in stock (and without a crazy markup), you may have to shop around, but falling crypto prices hopefully mean demand will ease up in the near future. In the meantime, if you factor in the price of the GPU, this build may be a bit more expensive than usual, but we're confident the rest of the components are the best for most gamers.

The price point also doesn't account for the operating system or any peripherals. Check out our buying guides for the best mouse, keyboard, and gaming monitor for our favorite picks to pair with your new rig. 

Components

We based this build on prices we could find at the time we updated this article, but prices do change. You'll find real-time prices for the parts in the list above and the part descriptions below. 

CPU: Intel Core i5-8400

Intel's new Coffee Lake processors deliver the biggest boost to mainstream Intel platform performance in more than a decade. The key benefit is the move from 4-cores as the base configuration to 6-core parts. While Intel has had 6-core processors for a while, they've been confined to the enthusiast platforms and were priced accordingly. The new Core i5-8400 changes that, delivering 50 percent more cores than the previous generation. The result is performance that typically matches that of the i7-7700K, at a substantially lower price. And unlike the enthusiast K-series parts, you get a cooler in the box.

It's not just core counts that have improved, the turbo clocks on Coffee Lake are also higher than on Kaby Lake. In our testing, even with a GTX 1080 Ti, the only CPUs that beat the i5-8400 in gaming performance are the faster Coffee Lake chips: the i5-8600K, i7-8700, and i7-8700K. And even the fastest of those, the i7-8700K, is only about six percent faster in games at 1080p. 

What about for non-gaming purposes? The extra cores still keep the i5-8400 basically tied with the i7-7700K, though chips like AMD's Ryzen 7 and Intel's i7-8700K and i7-7820X (not to mention Core i9 and Threadripper) are all substantially faster. They're also substantially more expensive.

The only real drawback to the 8400 is that it's not an unlocked "K" chip, meaning you can't overclock it. But you won't really need to—this CPU will be great for gaming for years to come. Bottom line is that for most gamers, the Core i5-8400 is currently the best option.

GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 Ti

For a long time, this build recommended Nvidia's GeForce GTX 1070 GPU. It's an outstanding card, and well worth consideration if you want to shave another $50 or so off your build, but the newer 1070 Ti offers just a bit more and we've given it the nod here. If prices on graphics cards return to normal, the GTX 1080 might even be worth a look, but 'normal' would mean $500 or less. Since we're doing a complete system, we feel it's worth putting as much money as you can reasonably afford into the GPU.

The GTX 1070 Ti officially launched at $449 last November, just before the cryptocurrency rush caused many GPUs to more than double in price. Right now, it typically sells for $550-$600, which is quite a lot but at least it's no longer $1000 or more. The 1070 Ti typically matches or slightly beats the RX Vega 56, at a lower price and while using less power, making it the easy choice.

As for which GTX 1070 Ti to buy, the modest factory overclocks don't make a huge difference, so we recommend buying whichever 1070 is cheapest. If you want to overclock on your own, most cards will hit similar speeds, though larger coolers can help a bit and aren't as noisy as blower fans.

Motherboard: Gigabyte Z370P D3

The Gigabyte Z370P D3 is a mainstream motherboard that will deliver everything needed to run the i5-8400. The board is capable of overclocking, if you have a K-series chip, though if you're going that route you might want something geared more toward enthusiasts.

Not that there's anything wrong with the Z370P D3. It supports memory speeds up to DDR4-4000 and includes an M.2 slot for a fast SSD or Optane Memory. About the only thing missing is USB 3.1 Type-C support, and there's also no WiFi or extra accouterments, so for example SLI isn't supported (though CrossFireX is).

If you're interested in those extras, there are tons of 300-series boards for Coffee Lake processors, including new H370 and B360 options. But if you're after something better than this Gigabyte board, you're probably also looking at a higher-end build, which we cover in our best high-end PC.

Memory: 16GB (2x8GB) G.Skill Ripjaws V DDR4-3200

Memory is one of the toughest components to make recommendations for, since it is especially susceptible to diminishing returns. You really just want a solid choice that will get the job done, though if the price isn't much higher you can improve performance a bit with faster RAM. Unfortunately, a bit like graphics cards, DDR4 prices are high right now, so we went with the least expensive pick we could find from a reliable memory maker: G.Skill.

Our main goal for gaming memory is DDR4-2666 or higher, with as low a CAS latency as possible, but at a good price. There's not much benefit to sky-high RAM clocks, particularly with the i5-8400, so really it's about finding a good balance. By the same token, the difference in prices between DDR4-2400 and DDR4-3200 isn't that great either, so we've opted for the higher clockspeed.

Storage: Samsung 960 Evo 500GB M.2 SSD 

At PC Gamer, we've reached a point where spinning disc drives are simply not worth our time. If you’ve never used an SSD-powered system before, the difference between running on an SSD and HDD is like night and day. We consider it an essential part of any gaming PC—as such, even our super-cheap sub-$500 build uses an SSD.

For this build, you have a couple of choices. If you want to save money, the Crucial MX300 525GB is a slower SATA drive that's still more than fast enough for gaming—it's our pick for the best budget SSD. But SATA is old school, and with a new build we felt it was time to step up to a higher performance M.2 NVMe drive. While we previously recommended the 512GB Intel 600p, the price is close enough now that we feel the faster Samsung 960 Evo is the better buy. Both drives show up in our best budget NVMe SSDs guide, so you can't go wrong.

If you want more capacity, an alternative would be to drop down to a 240-256GB SSD and then grab a larger 1-3TB HDD ($50~$75). With some games now hitting the 100GB mark, even a 500GB SSD can get full fast, so a larger HDD picks up the slack in that regard. Unfortunately, any games installed there will load on the slower side of things. 

CPU Cooler: Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo (Optional)

The Core i5-8400 includes a cooler, and it will be more than sufficient. But in case you're looking at the i5-8600K or i7-8700K as a higher performance option, or you want something quieter, we felt it would be worth mentioning our old standby cooler, the Hyper 212 Evo. It's something to always keep as an option with system builds.

If you're willing to spend a bit more, a nice AIO liquid cooler is another option worth considering, especially if you're planning on overclocking a K-series CPU. Corsair's H60 is a nice entry-level pick on that front, or the H110i if you want to go one step further.

PSU: Corsair CS650M 650W

Power supplies are one of the least sexy parts of any 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 CS650M 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 less than five years or an efficiency rating below 80 Plus Gold. The $10 or $20 saved just 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 unused cables have to find a home in your closet. If you’re looking for more details, check out our article on what to look for in a PSU.

Case: Phanteks Eclipse P400

Cases can be as sexy or boring as you want. We're going to go for the former rather than the latter, with the Phanteks Eclipse P400, a sweet tempered glass case. It's available in white or black, and there are also variants that skip the tempered glass and go with a windowed side panel instead. The Phanteks Eclipse P400 is also reasonably priced, which is always a bonus.

If you want other options, check our guide to the best ATX mid-tower cases. The NZXT S340 was our previous pick, and it's still highly recommended. The clean look goes well on any desk and doesn't obnoxiously stand out like many so-called "gaming cases."

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