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 your parts.
It is very, very easy to spend an absurd amount of money putting a gaming PC together if you don’t have a budget. 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 a mouse.
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?
For around $1,200 you can put together a budget-centric PC that, despite some visual limitations, can make all of your gaming dreams come true.
First up, here are a few things you should consider when trying to build a gaming PC while on a budget.
This article has been updated since its original publication.
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 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.
If you’re faced with choosing between an SSD or a mechanical drive, always go with an 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 an 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
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 outdated by this time next year, as is the unfortunate nature of PC parts.
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.
If you’re putting together a PC from scratch, dropping $1,200 all at once can be a bit of a commitment. If you don’t have the money to spare but want to nab a bargain, you can make Amazon purchases with buy-now pay later services like Zip Pay*, which will let you can pay it back over time, interest-free.
Just because you’re building on a budget doesn’t mean you can’t get quality parts. The 6-core AMD Ryzen 5 3600 is a good choice for budget buyers, and will only set you back around $300 or so.
If you want something a bit cheaper, we’d also recommend the Ryzen 3100 and 3300X CPUs as solid choices. They may not be top-of-the-line CPUs, but they also don’t disappoint.
Unfortunately, due to a global parts shortage, being able to pick up a cheap GPU is a lot easier said than done at the moment. Things probably won’t be getting better any time soon, so if you do manage to find a cheap GPU I’d suggest you buy it ASAP.
Underselling yourself when picking a graphics card will harm your PC’s performance in the long run. If you want something that will last for a while, we recommend picking up the Radeon RX 580. You can usually pick it up for a decent price and has good performance for its price.
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.
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, like the Corsair Vengeance LPX. 16GB is a good place to start, but you should keep an eye out on any deals on 32GB.
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.
Sabrent’s Rocket 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.
You just need to make sure that it can meet the power needs of your budget 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.
To make sure your new rig will be running at an appropriate temperature, it’s wise to invest in a cooling unit. For a budget build like this, an air cooler like Corsair’s ML120 should be enough to keep your processor’s temperature under control.
It’s not hard to find fan multi-packs at a good price, so it’s worth looking around for a deal if you think you’ll need the extra coolers. Just make sure the cooler you pick up is compatible with your motherboard and processor, and that there’s enough space to fit it in your case beforehand.
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.