Building a gaming PC doesn't have to mean spending an arm and a leg. If you pick your parts well and cut the right corners, it's entirely possible to put together a great budget build that still performs excellently in the latest games. For this budget build guide, we're targeting a price of $750 (£600/AU$1,000), give or take, but with room to grow into a future higher performance rig.
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Sticking to a budget poses its own unique set of challenges. In the high-end realm, you can reasonably expect any expensive part to perform well. But at the budget end of the spectrum, a few dollars difference can sometimes mean a huge bump in performance. To hit our budget, we've left out optical storage and a large HDD, and we've skimped on components that have minimal impact on gaming performance, like the case, PSU, storage, and memory. Most of the budget gets poured into the graphics card, which is the most important element for a gaming PC.
That doesn't mean we're locked into a dead-end system. The CPU is at the low end of the Coffee Lake spectrum, but the Z370 motherboard will work with everything up to a full-fledged Core i7-8700K. Even without replacing the CPU, you can swap the GPU out for a more powerful card down the road if you want to bump your gaming visuals to the next level.
Performance-wise, you should expect this build to run games very well at 1080p with high or 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.
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. Current prices for the parts are shown in the above table and throughout the article, including prices for non-US locations where available.
CPU: Intel Core i3-8100
Good for gaming and normal tasks, not for streaming
Cores: 4 | Threads: 4 | Base Clock: 3.6GHz | Turbo Clock: 3.6GHz | Overclocking: No | L3 Cache: 6MB | TDP: 65W | PCIe 3.0 lanes: 16
Intel now has a true quad-core processor as a budget option, mostly thanks to AMD's Ryzen 3 processors and Ryzen 3 APU. 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 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 (£400/AU$700) higher than this budget build.
GPU: GeForce GTX 1060 6GB
A great graphics card for 1080p gaming
GPU Cores: 1,280 | Base Clock: 1,506MHz | Boost Clock: 1,708MHz | GFLOPS: 4,372 | Memory: 6GB GDDR5 | Memory Clock: 8Gbps | Memory Bandwidth: 192GB/s
The 1060 6GB is a good GPU, roughly matching the previous generation GTX 980 while using less power and typically costing half as much. The card averages over 60fps 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.
Cryptocurrency mining may no longer be as profitable, but the GTX 1060 6GB is still about $50 more than the original MSRP. Even so, we wouldn't go any lower, as the GTX 1060 3GB can run into performance limitations due to lack of VRAM. Then again, the difference between 2-3GB of high quality textures and 4-6GB of ultra quality textures is often negligible, so saving $50 and going with the 1060 3GB is a viable option.
Motherboard: MSI Z370-A Pro
A good budget Z370 board with upgrade potential
Chipset: Z370 | Memory: (4) DIMM, 64GB, DDR4-4000 | PCIe slots: x16, x16 (x4), (4) x1 | Video ports: D-Sub, DVI-D, DisplayPort | USB ports: (6) rear IO, (6) internal | Storage: (1) M.2, (6) SATA | Network: Ethernet | Lighting: None
MSI's Z370-A Pro provides 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.
There are other budget Z370 boards, as well H370 options, but using a Z370 board here allows for a future CPU upgrade to a midrange or high-end processor, with modest overclocking potential. For the Core i3-8100 you're safe with grabbing just about any cheap Z370/H370 board, but we like to keep our options a bit more open than that.
Memory: 8GB DDR4-2400
Plenty of memory for most games
Capacity: 2x4GB | Speed: 2400MT/s | Timings: 15-15-15-35 | Voltage: 1.2V
There’s no shortage of options when you’re shopping for memory, but the past year has wreaked havoc on DDR4 prices. Thankfully, 8GB of memory is generally fine for gaming, but high prices mean being less picky about RAM brands and speeds when building on a budget.
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. If two competing kits look similar in price, capacity, and speed, check the timings. CL15 shouldn't cost much more than CL17 RAM and is slightly faster.
SSD: Crucial MX500 250GB
Fast storage for your OS, apps, and a few games
Capacity: 250GB | Interface: SATA | Sequential IO: 560/510MB/s read/write | Random IO: 95K/90K IOPS read/write
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 MX500 SSD is one of the fastest SATA SSDs available, though it still pales in comparison to higher-end M.2 options. What it lacks in speed it makes up for in price and capacity. For around $75 (£55/AU$100), the 250GB model 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 250GB isn't enough for you, the 500GB model is slightly less than double the price. You might also consider using it as part of an SSD cache combined with a 1-2TB hard drive. The MX500 is also available in as an M.2 SATA drive for around the same price point—which our motherboard supports. It doesn't offer a performance increase, but it does potentially mean two fewer cables, which can make for a better system aesthetic.
Power supply: EVGA 450 BT
More than enough power for a budget PC
Output: 450W | Efficiency: 80 Plus Bronze | Connectors: 24-Pin ATX, (1) 8-Pin (4+4) EPS12V, (2) 8-Pin (6+2) PCIe, (4) SATA, (3) Molex, (1) Floppy | Modular: No
Like memory, most power supplies from major vendors tend to be of high quality, and we don’t recommend skimping on PSU quality. This non-modular EVGA 450W is 80+ Bronze certified and comes with a 3-year warranty. While we generally recommend going with a semi- or fully-modular power supply, this EVGA PSU routinely sells for just $25, and making the fixed cables easy to forgive.
If you're looking for alternatives, just aim for 80 Plus Bronze or higher efficiency and at least 400W and you should be fine. If you intend to upgrade in the future, especially if you plan on adding an overclockable CPU and a faster graphics card, you may want to invest in a more power 600W PSU.
- If you can't find the EVGA 450 BT in your region, two good alternatives are the Corsair CX450 or SilverStone Essential ET450-B – both of which are 80 Plus Bronze certified PSUs from well-reputed PC parts makers.
Case: Fractal Design Focus G
Understated and attractive
Type: ATX mid-tower | Motherboard Compatibility: ATX, Micro-ATX, Mini-ITX | Drive Bays: (2) 5.25" external, (2) 3.5" internal, (1) 2.5" SSD | Front Ports: (1) USB 3.0, (1) USB 2.0, Audio | Fan Options: Front: (2) 120/140mm - White LED fans included, Top: (2) 120/140mm, Rear: (1) 120mm, Bottom: (1) 120/140mm | Max GPU Length: 380mm | Dimensions: 444x205x464mm (HxWxD) | Weight: 4.51kg
The Fractal Design Focus G is a lovely looking box that's easy to work with and doesn't cost too much. Having said that, 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.
Also be sure to get the ATX version, if you're using our recommended ATX motherboard. There's a micro-ATX Focus G as well that obviously wouldn't work.
The ultra-budget alternative
The above build will give you a great gaming PC that can handle any current title at 1080p, typically with maxed out quality settings. But it still costs around $750 (£600/AU$1,000). Considering the graphics card is nearly half the total cost, and that you can play most games just at lower quality settings with a lesser GPU, for those that are looking to go even cheaper we offer these alternative components.
The SSD, case, and power supply remain as above, though you could opt for a micro-ATX case this time if you fancy. We've removed the dedicated GPU from the list as well, which is a future upgrade whenever you feel the time is right for something faster. The total cost for our ultra-cheap gaming build comes to less than $450 (£360/AU$700) at the time of writing, and sales can get you close to $400 (£330/AU$650) if you shop around. Here are the three component changes.
APU: AMD Ryzen 3 2200G
Decent CPU with faster integrated graphics
Cores: 4 | Threads: 4 | Base Clock: 3.5GHz | Turbo Clock: 3.7GHz | Overclocking: Yes, 3.9GHz typical | L3 Cache: 4MB | TDP: 65W | PCIe 3.0 lanes: 8
With a lower price plus integrated graphics that are more than twice as fast as Intel's HD Graphics 630 (found in the Core i3-8100), if you're really on a tight budget there's no better starting place than AMD's Ryzen 3 2200G APU. Packing Vega 8 Graphics, the processor handles the majority of modern games at 1080p and low to medium quality, and we haven't found a game that can't run acceptably at 720p in a pinch. The 2200G is also a solid foundation for an HTPC in your home entertainment center, should you choose to put it in the living room.
The CPU portion is no slouch either, coming in just a tad slower than the i3-8100. But at this end of the spectrum, no one should get overly concerned about 5-10 percent differences in CPU performance. You can make up a decent chunk of that via overclocking as well.
The only real caveat to going with a Ryzen APU and using the integrated Vega graphics is that you need better memory, which we've provided below. Using DDR4-2400 CL15 memory reduces gaming performance by around 15-20 percent, because the CPU and GPU portion of the chip are fighting for over bandwidth. Note also that only eight PCIe lanes are available from the CPU for graphics, not that the lack of a true x16 connection will really hinder most discrete graphics cards you're likely to pair with this processor.
AMD motherboard: Gigabyte AB350M-DSH3
Chipset: B350 | Memory: (4) DIMM, 64GB, DDR4-3200 | PCIe slots: x16, x16 (x4), x1 | Video ports: DVI-D, HDMI 1.4 | USB ports: (8) rear IO, (3) internal | Storage: (1) M.2, (4) SATA | Network: Ethernet | Lighting: (1) RGB
When you're going for a cheap Ryzen APU build, you'll generally want to stick with the B350 chipset, or perhaps the newer B450 that's coming down the pipe. Not only does that save you money, but many X370 and X470 motherboards don't include the necessary video ports to use the built-in graphics. Gigabytes AB350M-DSH3 provides everything you need, and a few minor extras as a bonus.
Cost is a major factor, but we chose a board with a better reputation. Some of the early B350 motherboards are still a bit flaky about memory choice, but the Gigabyte board should work well with up to DDR4-3200 memory kits. It also includes an M.2 slot, if you want to eliminate some cables, but there are no USB Type-C ports on the back. It's a minor omission, just like the lack of wi-fi, but for this price we can't complain.
AMD Memory: 8GB DDR4-3200
Faster memory to make your APU fly
Capacity: 2x4GB | Speed: 3200MT/s | Timings: 16-16-16-36 | Voltage: 1.35V
Normally upgrading to a higher performance kit of memory would be very low on our priority list, particularly for a budget system. However, with built-in processor graphics sharing system memory bandwidth, you can improve performance by up to 20 percent by going with DDR4-3200 instead of DDR4-2400 (and just say no to DDR4-2133).
The problem is that higher speed kits also cost about $25 more than basic kits, so consider looking for slightly lower speeds like DDR4-2800 to DDR4-3000. Plus, this is $25 on memory that could be put toward a faster dedicated GPU in the future.
Just about any DDR4 kit should work fine, though you might need to manually tweak or input some of the timings in your motherboard BIOS. Also, remember to set the A-XMP profile to enable the faster speeds, otherwise you're wasting money.
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