Best budget gaming PC: Build guide 2018

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. 

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.

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 quite well. But at the budget end of the spectrum, a few dollars difference can sometimes mean a huge bump in performance.  

This build is designed with an $750 price point in mind, cutting out extras such as an optical drive or a large HDD. It opts for a cheap case, and skimps on components that have minimal impact on gaming perfomance, like storage and memory. That budget instead is poured into the graphics card.

Having said that, this build offers a nice template for a system that will upgrade well in the future. The CPU itself is at the low end of the Coffee Lake spectrum, but it sits in a Z370 motherboard that 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.

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 respectable midrange card, the Nvidia GTX 1060 6GB. 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 building on a budget. On the flipside, you can also downgrade the GPU to the cheaper GTX 1060 3GB or GTX 1050 Ti, both of which are still a bit overpriced but fit better with our original budget.

Components

We based this build on prices we could find at the time we updated this article, but prices do change. You will find current prices for the parts in the above table, including prices for non-US locations. 

Budget Pc Intel Core I3-6100

CPU: Intel Core i3-8100

For the first time ever, Intel is offering a true quad-core processor as a budget option. And if you weren't aware, that's basically thanks to AMD's Ryzen 3 processors. 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 higher than this budget build.

EVGA GeForce GTX 1060

GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 6GB

As we mentioned up top, GPU prices are out of control right now because of demand caused by cryptocurrency miners. As such, our chosen GTX 1060 6GB is overpriced by about $100 these days, selling for around $350 instead of $250 or below. 

Performance-wise, the 1060 6GB is good, roughly matching the previous generation GTX 980 while using less power and usually costing half as much. The card averages over 60 fps 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.

Until cryptocurrency demands let up, you'll have to do some digging to find a graphics card at or near MSRP. Our best advice is to bookmark this page and check daily to see if you can snag a card directly from Nvidia. Similarly, this Reddit thread has links to check for in-stock cards across the web.

If you don't feel like waiting, you can drop the GPU down to the GTX 1060 3GB, which doesn't have quite as much staying power but still performs well at 1080p high settings in most games. It can generally be found in stock for around $280, which is still about $80 overpriced but closer to our original target budget.

Motherboard: MSI Z370-A Pro

There aren't too many budget options for Intel's Coffee Lake CPUs, but that actually serves us better in the long run. By using a Z370 board here, this build is set up to receive a CPU upgrade in the future to a more mid or high-end processor like the i5-8400 or the i7-8700K.

Sticking to this board though, MSI's offering 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, and for the Core i3-8100 you're probably safe just grabbing whatever Z370 board costs the least right now. Overclocking support might be more limited with an unlocked CPU, but that's not a primary concern here.

Memory: 8GB DDR4-2400 (2x4GB)

There’s no shortage of options when you’re shopping for memory, but the past year has wreaked havoc on DDR4 prices. Thankfully, for gaming, 8GB of memory is generally fine, 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.

Crucial MX300 275GB

SSD: Crucial MX300 275GB 

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 MX300 SSD isn't the fastest SSD available, especially compared to higher-end M.2 options. But what it lacks in speed it makes up for in price and capacity. For around $80, this 275GB SSD 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 275GB isn't enough for you, you can jump up to a 525GB model for around double the price, or pair it with a Western Digital Black 1TB HDD for roughly the same price increase.

The MX300 is also available in an M.2 form factor around the same price point—which our motherboard supports. While it doesn't offer a performance increase (this is a SATA M.2 drive and not PCIe based), the compact form factor of M.2 means less cables to deal with, which can make for a better system aesthetic.

EVGA 450W 80+ Bronze PSU

Power supply: EVGA 450W 80+ Bronze PSU 

Like memory, most power supplies from major vendors tend to be of high quality, and we don’t recommend skimping on PSU quality. This semi-modular EVGA 450W is 80+ Bronze certified and comes with a 3-year warranty. 

Unless we're building in a really, really tight case, we generally recommend going with a semi- or fully-modular power supply. With detachable cables, you can ensure that you only use the cables you need. (For example, we rarely use Molex connectors these days). You can keep the spares tucked away for future upgrades, or replace a cable if it becomes damaged. This can greatly improve airflow and will aid in cable management.

Case: Fractal Design Focus G

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.

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