Gaming PC build guide: the best parts for a custom gaming PC

You don't have to spend a ton of money to get a great gaming PC. Choosing your own parts is the best way to build a gaming PC that suits your needs, and our build guide is here to help you assemble an awesome custom gaming PC that will be future proof. It should still be able to play games at high settings two or three years from now.

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

This custom gaming PC is meant to play the best PC games with no compromises at 1080p or 1440p, hitting framerates of 60 fps and up. We have other gaming PC build guides if you're on more of a budget, want to play games at 4K, or need to crush even the most demanding games at 100+ fps. This is the balanced option: powerful enough to still run games in a few years, but still reasonably affordable. 

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.

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 and part descriptions below.  At the time of writing, the total comes to just $1,250 / £1,050, and there are plenty of options if you want to opt for a faster CPU, GPU, better cooling, etc. We'll mention several potential upgrades below.

Components

CPU: Intel Core i5-8400

Great performance and a great price

Cores: 6 | Threads: 6 | Base Clock: 3.8GHz | Turbo Clock: 4.0GHz | Overclocking: No | L3 Cache: 9MB | TDP: 65W | PCIe 3.0 lanes: 16

Fast enough for any single GPU
No aftermarket cooler required
Might bottleneck future GPUs
No overclocking

Intel's Coffee Lake processors pushed the Core i5 from 4-core to 6-core territory, and the Core i5-8400 matches 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, with higher turbo clocks on 8th gen processors.

In our testing, even with a GTX 1080 Ti, the i7-8700K, is only about six percent faster in games at 1080p. At 1440p the CPU isn't even really a factor. 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—and 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. If you want overclocking and more threads, look to the Core i7-8700K as a $200 step up.

Motherboard: Gigabyte Z370P D3

A capable board with all the required features

Chipset: Z370 | Memory: (4) DIMM, 64GB, DDR4-4000 | PCIe slots: (1) x16, (2) x16 (x4), (3) x1 | USB ports: (6) rear IO, (6) internal | Storage: (1) M.2, (6) SATA | Network: Ethernet | Lighting: Full RGB, (1) RGB header

Good performance and features
No crazy bling or lighting
Cuts out extras (wi-fi, second M.2)
Budget audio and network

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 wi-fi 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.

GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 Ti

Excellent performance for up to 1440p

GPU Cores: 2,432 | Base Clock: 1,607MHz | Boost Clock: 1,683MHz | GFLOPS: 8.186 | Memory: 8GB GDDR5 | Memory Clock: 8GT/s | Memory Bandwidth: 256GB/s

Great fps at 1080p and 1440p
Decent price and overclocking
Turing GPUs are coming
DX12 performance

The GTX 1070 and newer GTX 1070 Ti have been continual favorites for our overall graphics card picks since 2016. The 1070 Ti is about 10 percent faster and also 10 percent more expensive, but in terms of total system cost it only increases the price by about five percent. In fact, now that graphics card prices have returned to normal, and the new RTX 2080 cards are starting to trickle out—thus driving last-gen card prices down—the GTX 1080 might be worth a look.

Overall, the 1070 Ti remains the sweet spot between price and performance, and it's still very efficient. It 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 Ti 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.

Memory: 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4-2400

Capacity: 2x8GB | Speed: 2400MT/s | Timings: 15-15-15-36 | Voltage: 1.2V

Negligible benefit to faster RAM
Can be overclocked
DDR4 prices remain high

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 slightly with faster RAM. Unfortunately, DDR4 prices are high right now, so we went with the least expensive pick we could find from a reliable memory manufacturer.

Our main goal for gaming memory is DDR4-2400 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. You can often find 16GB DDR4-2400 kits on sale for $140, but if the step up to DDR4-2666 and DDR4-3200 isn't too much, those are worth considering.

Storage: Samsung 970 Evo 500GB M.2 SSD

Capacity: 500GB | Interface: M.2 PCIe | Sequential IO: 3,400/2,300MB/s read/write | Random IO: 370K/450K IOPS read/write

Good performance and price
Fewer wires in your build
Far higher cost per GB than SATA

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.

For this build, you have a couple of choices. If you want to save money, the Crucial MX500 500GB 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.

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. Or you could just grab a 1TB SATA SSD for twice the capacity and still plenty of performance, if you don't mind the slight drop in speed and the additional wires in your overall aesthetic.

PSU: Corsair TX650M 650W

Highly reliable and efficient power without going overkill

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

Good efficiency and price
Sane output rating
All Japanese capacitors
'Only' gold efficiency

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 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 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

Clean design shows off your build without being garish

Type: ATX mid-tower | Motherboard Compatibility: EATX, ATX, Micro-ATX, Mini-ITX | Drive Bays: (Up to 6) 3.5/2.5-inch internal (2 included), (2) 2.5-inch SSD | Front Ports: (2) USB 3.0, Headphone, Mic | Fan Options: Front: (3) 120mm (1 included) or (2) 140mm, Top: (2) 140/120mm, Rear: (1) 120mm (included) | Max GPU Length: 395mm | Dimensions: 465x211x470mm (HxWxD) | Weight: 7.0kg

Nice tempered glass side panel
Plenty of expansion options
Not a lot of drive bays
Only comes with two fans

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."

CPU Cooler: Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo (Optional)

Better cooling and less noise than the stock Intel cooler, at a great price

Size: 120mm | Fan speed: 600-2,000rpm | Noise level: 9-36 dB(A) | Dimensions: 120x159x51mm | Socket support: LGA115x/1366/2011/2066, FM1/2, AM2/3, AM4

Good and affordable cooling
Compatible with most sockets
Not needed for i5-8400
A bit finicky to install

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. If you're serious about overclocking an 8700K, though, we recommend moving up to AIO liquid coolers like the NZXT Kraken X62, which is a substantial jump in price.

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