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Budget gaming PC build guide

Budget gaming PC build guide 2020
It's all about dollars and frames with our budget gaming PC build guide. (Image credit: Future)

Whether you're planning your first build or just looking to upgrade your old gaming set-up, embarking on a budget gaming PC build can be pretty daunting. Putting together a rig that can play the newest game at high specs while keeping the cost down is undoubtedly a challenge. And while it's generally quite effortless to find deals on many components, the tricky bit is knowing which parts will work well together to make the most out of your budget gaming PC build.

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Prefer to buy a prebuilt than build your own gaming PC? Check out our guide to the best gaming PCs. Or, if you're going portable, here are the best gaming laptops in 2020.

The budget for this build is $750, and we've tested it thoroughly to make sure it offers the best possible performance for your money. This machine should be able to run the majority of new games on high settings with 60fps at 1080p.

As with any PC build, research is vital. Grabbing a good deal on a typically pricey component is excellent, but just because it fits your budget, it doesn't necessarily mean it will work well with the rest of the machine. For this build, we've used most of the money on the CPU and GPU because these will make the most difference to the overall performance. That doesn't mean we've scraped the bottom of the barrel for other components, though. The motherboard we've chosen uses a Z-series chipset to support overclocking, and while we haven't used the best RAM for gaming, it still boasts a high base clock speed.

Like our other build guides, the $750 we've allowed for this budget gaming PC build doesn't include anything that lives outside of the case. If you're upgrading, this shouldn't be too much of an issue, but if you're starting from scratch, you'll need to make sure you set aside extra cash for a Windows license, a monitor, and a keyboard and mouse. If you're struggling with those additional expenses, you can opt for a smaller SSD or memory kit—both of which are easy to upgrade in the future when you have a bit more cash at your disposal.

CPU

(Image credit: Intel)

Intel Core i5-9400F

Good for gaming and regular tasks, but won't handle streaming

Cores: 6 | Threads: 6 | Base Clock: 2.9GHz | Turbo Clock: 4.1GHz | Overclocking: No | L3 Cache: 9MB | TDP: 65W | PCIe 3.0 lanes: 16

Typically runs at 3.9GHz
Includes a heatsink and fan
No overclocking
Requires a dedicated GPU

While we weren't able to upgrade to an unlocked CPU, we did manage to dial things up a few notches with the Intel Core i5-9400F. Intel's F-series of processors are reliable options for anyone on a budget so long as you have a dedicated GPU. While it does have a slower clock speed, an extra $20 gets you an extra pair of cores compared to the i3-8100, giving us a considerable increase in performance overall.

If you're looking for a modest upgrade, or want to try your hand at overclocking the i3-8350K offers that capability at a slightly higher price point. You'll need to buy a heatsink in that case, and you drop to a 4-core CPU. It doesn't get close to the kinds of speeds we see in the best CPUs for gaming, but this still gives us all the power we need and not waste any potential with our GPU.         

GPU

(Image credit: EVGA)

Nvidia GTX 1660 Super

A great graphics card for 1080p gaming

GPU Cores: 1,408 | Base Clock: 1,530MHz | Boost Clock: 1,785MHz | GFLOPS: 5,027 | Memory: 6GB GDDR6 | Memory Clock: 14Gbps | Memory Bandwidth: 336 GB/s

Excellent 1080p performance
Offers 1660 Ti performance but cheaper
No Ray-Tracing
No benefit over GTX 1070

While Nvidia has been quick to sing the praises of ray-tracing with its RTX cards, its line of GTX GPUs offers decent performance at a budget. The freshly minted Nvidia GTX 1660 Super offers similar performance at 1080p to the 1660 Ti but at a reduced price point. (While both cards share the same 6 GBs of VRAM, comparatively, the Super has fewer CUDA cores when stacked against the 1660 Ti and slightly lower clock speed, but far higher bandwidth.

While this card may come equipped with Nvidia's newer Turing architecture, users of any of the later 10-series of GPUs won't see much in the way of improvement and would be better off looking to Nvidia's 20-series of GPUs to upgrade their performance. The 1660 Super lacks any hardware ray tracing features, but it doesn't have the necessary power to take advantage of them.

The real spotlight here is the price; before the 1660 Super hit the streets, you'd have to pay for a 1660 Ti if you were looking to boost your performance, which at that point you were practically pennies away from an RTX 2060 anyway. In short, the 1660 Super gives you comparable performance to the 1660 Ti, just for around $60 less. If you're looking for a reliable 1080p card, the 1660 Super is one of the best graphics cards for gaming.

Motherboard

(Image credit: Gigabyte)

Gigabyte Z390 UD

A good budget Z390 board with upgrade potential

Chipset: Z390 | Memory: (4) DIMM, 128GB, DDR4-4266 | PCIe slots: x16 (x1), x4 (2), x1 (3) | Video ports: D-Sub, DVI-D, DisplayPort | USB ports: (6) rear IO, (2) internal | Storage: (1) M.2, (6) SATA | Network: Ethernet | Lighting: None

Affordable Z390 board
Does everything you need
Limited OC potential
No Wi-Fi or RGB, single M.2

This modest Z390 board from Gigabyte has everything we need for a baseline gaming PC build. While it only comes with a single M.2 slot, there are still six SATA ports if you need additional storage. However, moving up to a Z390 chipset gives us a ton of headroom for CPU upgrades with compatibility reaching up to the newly released 9900KS. This motherboard is about as simple and straightforward as it gets, and while it may lack some of the bells and whistles of the best motherboards for gaming, for a budget build, this will suit just fine. 

Memory

(Image credit: G.Skill)

G.Skill Aegis 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4-3000

Plenty of memory for most games

Capacity: 2x8GB | Speed: 3000MT/s | Timings: 16-18-18-38 | Voltage: 1.35V

Sufficient for most tasks
Relatively inexpensive
May need more RAM in the future

This slim, no-nonsense memory kit from G.Skill lets us double our RAM capacity from our previous pick and increases our clock speeds too without going off the deep end with our budget. While indeed not the fastest RAM available by any stretch, and it lacks the flair of many RGB RAM kits, it's practical and sensible, which is what we need for this build. 

There are, of course, tons of options when it comes to memory kits, and this is just a suggestion. While memory prices have steadied somewhat, there's always the potential for savings on higher quality RAM. You could technically get away with 8GB of RAM, but we'd recommend sticking to 16 and staying in the realm of 3000 MHz instead. Just make sure to pay attention to the frequency and timing, as well as the price. If you need some additional pointers when looking for memory, our guide to the best RAM for gaming can help point you in the right direction.

SSD

(Image credit: Intel)

4. Intel 660p 1TB

High capacity and low cost make the 660p a winner

Capacity: 2000GB | Interface: M.2 PCIe 3x4 | Sequential IO: 1800/1800MB/s read/write | Random IO: 220K/220K IOPS read/write

High Capacity
Solid Value
Easy installastion
Slows down as it fills up
Lower endurance

You can't have a PC without storage, and you're going to need space for your OS as well as whatever games you want to keep on hand. Thankfully, with memory and SSD prices dropping in pretty rapid order, we've finally found a way to slot an M.2 SSD into our budget build. Not only are M.2 SSDs easier to install, but they generally offer better performance than their SATA counterparts. What's better is we've managed to double the storage capacity from the previous iteration of our build.

The transfer speeds of the Intel 660p do tend to slow down considerably as it approaches capacity. This drive isn't exactly what anyone would call the top of the line performance, but if you're on a budget, this is still one of the best SSDs for gaming. Just try to keep at least 100-200GB free, and it should perform fine. Or at least, no worse than any budget SATA SSD.

Power Supply

(Image credit: EVGA)

EVGA GD 500W 80+ Gold

More than enough power for a budget PC

Output: 500W | Efficiency: 80 Plus Gold | Connectors: 24-Pin ATX, (1) 8-Pin (4+4) EPS12V, (2) 8-Pin (6+2) PCIe, (6) SATA, (3) Molex, (1) Floppy | Modular: No

Small, inexpensive, efficient
Can power most single GPUs
Fixed (non-modular) cables
Only bronze (up to 82 percent) efficiency

The various upgrades to our budget rig draw more power than our last build, so we've had to go with a slightly larger PSU. It's tough to go wrong with a power supply as long as you're sticking with a major vendor. This non-modular unit from EVGA has more than enough juice for our needs. The fixed cable design does limit you somewhat in terms of expansion, but unless you're planning to put a second GPU in your rig, there's still modest headroom for overclocking. However, you'll need to look at the best power supply units for PC gaming if you want to take your upgrades even further.   

Case

(Image credit: Phanteks)

Phanteks P300 ATX Mid Tower Case

Understated and attractive

Type: ATX mid-tower | Motherboard Compatibility: ATX, Micro-ATX, Mini-ITX | Drive Bays: (2) 3.5" internal, (2) 2.5" SSD | Front Ports: (2) USB 3.0, Audio | Fan Options: Front: (2) 120/140mm, Top: (2) 120/140mm, Rear: (1) 120mm, Bottom: N/A | Max GPU Length: 380mm | Dimensions: 450x200x400mm (HxWxD) | Weight: 6kg

Does what you need
Front-loading HDD trays
Simple and plain
More included fans might be nice

Cases can be extremely subjective, and while it's easy to spend more on an ex, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better one for less than $60. We've settled on this relatively spacious and inexpensive case from Phanteks. It lacks many of the bells and whistles that a more expensive case can provide, but it gets the job done without cutting too many corners.

There is a temptation to spend most of your budget on a pretty looking case, but it's important to remember that this piece of your build will have virtually no impact on performance when compared to the other stuff you should be spending money on. Buy something that works and is easy to work with. Or make a fashion statement, but don't expect higher framerates.

All Components

All the totals here are correct at the time of publishing, and we update this feature regularly. The widget below will always show the lowest component prices our engine is tracking, but be aware they go up and down.