How To Build A Gaming PC For Under $1,200

How To Build A Gaming PC For Under $1,200
Image: iStock/gorodenkoff
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Building a custom gaming rig is a rite of passage for PC gamers. However, starting your build from scratch can feel a little bit daunting if you don’t know what you should or shouldn’t be doing. And don’t forget the financial factor when it comes to buying you parts.

So, how do you build a gaming PC that’s cutting-edge enough that it can run recent releases, but economical enough that you don’t need to take out a considerable loan just to afford all of it?

It is very, very easy to spend an absurd amount of money putting a gaming PC together. The latest, top of the line GPUs alone can consume a considerable chunk of your budget. Add in processors, storage and memory, and I honestly wouldn’t blame you for having a little cry as you read out those prices. Oh, and don’t forget you still have to consider things like monitors, a keyboard and game controllers.

There is hope, as a budget-centric gaming PC is achievable. For around $1,200 you can put together a VR-ready rig that, despite some visual limitations, can make all of your gaming dreams come true.

How? Well, I’m glad you asked. First up, here are a few things you should you consider when trying to build a gaming PC on a budget.

This article has been updated since its original publication.

Image: iStock/SergeyIT

Starting From Scratch?

So let’s say that you already own a PC, and that you’re looking to upgrade it. The good news is, you may be able to save yourself some cash if your current components are good enough. The bad news is, sticking with what you’ve got may be more trouble than it’s worth.  For example, an older power supply unit might not be capable of powering your new setup. Or maybe your current PC case won’t be able to fit these new parts.

You can probably keep most of your older peripherals, like your keyboard, mouse or game controllers, but, depending on how old it is, you should definitely consider upgrading your monitor. If you’re spending all this money on a PC that lets you play all of these good looking games, you’re not doing yourself any favours by having it run through a crappy display.

Budget For Your OS

Picture this: you’ve bought all of those brand-spanking new parts that you wanted, completely exhausting your budget. You let out a long sigh of relief, only to realise that you forgot one, crucial detail — you didn’t factor in the cost of your operating system licence. Cue frustrated screaming.

Check For Compatibility First

Older motherboards may not be compatible with newer parts, and the last thing you want to do is drop three-figures on a processor only to learn it doesn’t run properly. Before you commit to buying a part you need to carefully check motherboard and processor roadmaps to make sure that those parts are compatible.

Which Processor: Intel or AMD?

There isn’t a clear answer here as both firms have made a strong effort to appeal to the gamer market. AMD’s line of Ryzen processors do run cheaper than Intel’s Core equivalents, but Intel’s CPUs are usually better for top end gaming tasks. If you’re set on sticking to a budget, go with AMD — but if you’re willing to drop a few extra dollars on performance, go Intel.

SSD Forever

If you’re faced with choosing between an SSD or a mechanical drive, always go with a SSD. It might be tempting to pick up a mechanical hard drive for cheaper, but while you’ll save yourself a few dollars you’ll be sacrificing your PC’s performance. If you’re the kind of person who installs everything that they buy, you’re better off getting a SSD to avoid your computer slowing to a crawl even during the simplest task.

Patience Is A Virtue

Now this might sound like a somewhat counter-productive suggestion, but you shouldn’t buy everything you need all at once. If there are specific parts that you’re keen on, waiting for a price drop will be more beneficial in the long run. You’ll save a few dollars on a sale part that you can later spend on a component that you’re dead set on having, but, for whatever reason, just won’t drop in price.

Example Build: Total Cost: ~$1,200

Image: iStock/golubovy

To help you on your journey to build a budget gaming PC, we’ve put together one that comes in around $1,200. Sure, it will probably be out-dated by this time next year, as is the unfortunate nature of PC parts. At the time of writing, however, this is a decently specified gaming PC.

Just keep in mind, this list only includes desktop case components. You’ll have to spend a little bit extra on peripherals and your OS.

CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 2600 ~$220

Just because you’re building on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t get quality parts. The 6-core AMD Ryzen 5 2600 is a good choice for budget buyers, and will only set you back around $200 or so. We’d recommend the newer Ryzen 3100 and 3300X CPUs as solid choices. They may not be top of the line CPUs, but they also don’t disappoint.

GPU: Radeon RX 580 8GB ~$345

Underselling yourself when picking a graphics cards will harm your PC’s performance in the long run. If you want something that will last for awhile, we recommend picking up the Radeon RX 580. A decent price and good performance.

Motherboard: MSI B450 Gaming Plus ~$200

As far as value for money goes, you can’t go past the MSI B450 Gaming Plus. It supports memory speeds up to DDR4-3466, SLI/Crossfire compatibility and M.2 support for quicker SSD compatibility. You can get cheaper AM4 socket motherboards, but the MSI model gives you plenty of features for the price.

Memory: 16GB DDR4-3000 (or better) ~$150

When it comes to memory, you want a quality DDR4 with a decent speed rating. The last thing you need is a memory strain on your CPU or GPU. The market for memory is pretty vast and prices vary a lot, but there are a lot of good choices out there. 16GB is a good place to start, but you should keep an eye out on any deals on 32GB.

Storage: 512GB M.2 NVMe SSD ~$150

Trying to lock down a new SSD can be difficult, because the product range is constantly improving. The newer the SSD, the more it will cost you, but you can easily save a few dollars by picking up a slightly older model. A M.2 NVMe SSD is a good choice, as it will maximise the speed of your primary drive and 512GB gives you plenty of room to work with. Having a secondary storage drive isn’t a bad idea either, but that really depends on how much budget you’re working with.

Case: $50-$100

You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to picking up a case for under $100. We recommend brands like Corsair, Cooler Master or Thermaltake. You can also repurpose your pre-existing case and save a little there. Just make sure you’re able to install your new components in it.

We know that fancy RGB lighting cases are all the rage at the moment, but depending on how much budget you’ve got to work with, you might be better off saving your money to spend on more essential components.

Power Supply Unit: $50-$100

It’s very easy to pick up a good power supply unit for a decent price. You just need to make sure that it can meet the power needs of your gaming PC. The same goes for if you decide to use one you already have. The older your PSU is, the higher chance that it has worn out and won’t be able to handle it.

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  • Definitely choose the 3100 over the 2600 –
    It’s cheaper, has a higher base clock, higher all core boost, newer architecture, better PCI support, supports faster and more memory.
    The only draw back is that it has 2 less cores but it shouldn’t matter in a set up like this.

    • I went the 3600 as the rest are mediocre and it kicks their asses.. Rx 580 for now as the rtx 3080 is where I’m actually heading in a few months..

    • The caveat is probably singleplayer gaming you can get away with on Linux, but MP is a mess.

      Still, as evidenced by my latest dual boot shens, Linux desktop is still a mess.

  • Good timing of this article, I’m looking for a budget-ish gaming monitor, wondering if you’ve got any recommendations?

    Ideally QHD or higher, 27″ or bigger, and 120hz or faster, for $500 or lower!!

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