Updated on 2/18/2016. Our recommended components for this build remain the same, but have dropped in price about $40.
Looking to build a cheap gaming PC that lets you play today’s games on a tight budget? Want a PC that rivals the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One consoles without spending a ton of money? Today, you can build a
great gaming PC without cutting corners for $700.
This is PC Gamer’s guide to building the best budget PC money can buy. That doesn’t mean it’s the cheapest PC you can build. You could build a gaming PC for under $500, and there are some good guides out there if that’s your budget. But I think it’s worth spending a bit more to build a much better PC. The parts in this build were chosen for being affordable without sacrificing quality or reliability. You could forego an SSD for a cheaper hard drive, for example, but SSDs make a dramatic impact on the speed of your PC. They’re worth the extra money. You could choose a cheaper graphics card, but this one has enough memory to play modern games at high settings without chugging.
This rig will offer you great gaming performance, despite being
$500 cheaper than our recommended PC. It’ll offer you an upgrade path to a more powerful CPU and GPU down the road, without being trapped by the limitations of cheap hardware. No, you’re not going to be playing the most demanding AAA games at 1440p or 4K, but you’ll be able to handle the likes of The Witcher 3 and GTA5 at 1080p no problem.
Here are the parts I recommend for a budget PC build.
Scroll down below the chart for the reasoning behind each choice and a few case recommendations for different sizes, styles and prices.
Processor: Intel Core i3-6100
$125 on Amazon
My previous recommendation was the Pentium G3258, which was an incredible bargain at $70 and could overclock close to 5GHz. It’s still a great CPU for many games, but its dual core design will start being more of a hindrance with games on 2016 and beyond. For a budget CPU now, I’m recommending something cutting edge: the new
Though the $120 i3-6100 is still a dual-core chip, it uses virtual cores and hyperthreading to deliver good performance in games that can take advantage of quad core CPUs. And it’s been well-reviewed.
Digital Foundry wrote “the Skylake Core i3 6100 is an accomplished product bearing in mind its price-tag…in our testing, the Core i3 6100 is best in class.” They found that the i3-6100 was able to deliver over 70 fps in The Witcher 3 on Ultra and over 100 fps in Battlefield 4. That performance compares strongly 57 fps in The Witcher 3 for the last-gen Core i3-4130 and 64 fps for AMD’s FX-6300. Those CPUs scored 84 and 87 fps in Battlefield 4, respectively.
There are two primary alternatives to the i3-6100: the Devil’s Canyon i3-4170 (which is a faster-clocked version of the i3-4130 referenced above), and AMD’s budget processors, like the FX-6300 and X4 860K. AMD’s chips offer strong performance for their price, but it’s hard to recommend them for a couple reasons. A big one is upgrade viability. With the Skylake i3 CPU, you’re getting in on the ground floor of a new platform and Intel socket. You can easily buy a new i5 or i7 CPU in 2-3 years, retain the same motherboard, and supercharge your current rig. The AMD chips are on a much older platform, limiting their upgrade viability and access to newer technology like M.2 SSDs.
Because any PC we recommend will come paired with a dedicated graphics card, we don’t care much about the integrated graphics on-board some Intel CPUs and AMD’s APUs. It is possible for an AMD APU and GPU to be used together to improve framerates with what AMD calls Dual Graphics, but the results of that pairing often aren’t beneficial, as
Tom’s Hardware and others have shown.
i3-6100 processor costs basically the same price as the i3-4170, but with one significant caveat: the newer Skylake motherboards are more expensive. This whole build is a bit costlier than the last version because we’re upgrading to newer technology, but the serious performance bump and long-term upgrade viability will be worth it.
Motherboard: AsRock Z170M Pro4S
$100 on Newegg
Most budget build you see will opt for cheapo H- and B-series motherboards. You could definitely pair your new Skylake CPU with an H170 board and save $50 or so. Here’s why I’m recommending the
AsRock Z170M Pro4S instead: it’s only $100, and it supports DDR4 RAM speeds beyond 2133 MHz, which H170 boards can’t do. And in their i3-6100 review, Digital Foundry saw that DDR4 2666 RAM speeds made a significant performance difference in some games, which were bottlenecking at 2133 MHz.
Even though you can’t overclock the i3-6100, there are advantages of the move up to Z170. You can use faster RAM. It has an M.2 SSD slot. It uses a fast Intel LAN adapter. And again, it offers a viable upgrade path. If you buy a faster ‘K-series’ unlocked processor for this socket in the future, you’ll be able to overclock past 4GHz on the board. The
AsRock Z710M Pro4S is still a budget board, but it’s worth spending a bit more for the features you don’t get on the rock-bottom cheapos.
Memory: Kingston HyperX Fury DDR4 2666 (8GB)
$50 on Newegg
As mentioned in the last section, there are
some real performance gains to be found by stepping up from 2133 MHz DDR4 to 2666. RAM speed isn’t nearly as important as CPU or GPU power, and in the past I’ve said it doesn’t matter too much for gaming. In a lot of games that still holds true, but as the link above demonstrates, it can make a big impact in (often poorly optimized) games.
Do you actually need 8GB? We say yes: while most games today don’t need that amount of RAM, add in your OS overhead and running a few other programs, and 4GB feels pretty thin for a new gaming rig. 8GB is the new minimum, and Kingston is reliable. This is just about as cheap as you can currently find DDR4 at this speed, and we consider it a happy medium between price and performance (don’t skimp out and get 2133 MHz).
Graphics card: AMD Radeon R9 380 4GB
$200 on Newegg
AMD’s 300 series graphics cards are running on some older technology, but that technology has been polished up and squeezed for all its worth to wring out some extra performance. Clock speeds are higher and firmware is better.
The R9 380 is a perfect budget (butting up against mid-range) graphics card, and equals or outperforms the GTX 960 in just about any game you throw at it. It’s definitely a more power-hungry card, but the PSU in this build can handle it just fine.
Thanks to AMD’s price drops, you can nab a 4GB model of the R9 380 for a hair under $200. That’s absolutely worth the dough, because 2GB graphics cards are starting to exhibit real problems with today’s demanding games. Digital Foundry
compared the 2GB and 4GB versions of the R9 380 and found much more stutter in demanding games on only 2GB of VRAM. The 4GB cards offer a smoother experience.
For a budget build, you could go cheaper and buy a graphics card at $150 or lower, but you’re going to run into that 2GB problem sooner or later. You won’t have that problem with a 4GB R9 380, so it’s worth the small upgrade now—in two years, you may have to dial down some settings, but you’ll still be able to game at 1080p without running critically low on VRAM.
Power supply: EVGA 500W 80PLUS Certified ATX12V/EPS12V
$35 on Amazon
Power supplies are a tricky business, because most of the companies that sell power supplies don’t make power supplies: they’re just rebranded from other manufacturers. For a budget rig, you just need something reliable and cheap, with enough power to support a dedicated video card (and leave a bit of overhead for overclocking or future upgrades). This
EVGA 500W 80PLUS Certified ticks all those boxes, with near-unanimously positive reviews from hundreds of buyers. It’s extremely cheap at under $40.
Primary storage: Crucial BX100 250GB
$70 on Amazon
If you’re building a PC today, it should run on an SSD. Full stop. There’s no bigger upgrade you can make to your everyday experience of using your PC, and it’s worth every dollar you spend.
Crucial managed to beat out its class-leading performance-per-dollar MX100 with the slightly cheaper
Crucial BX100 250GB despite being a budget SSD. To save a few bucks, I’d recommend it over slightly faster drives.
Now, do you really need 250GB of SSD storage? That’s your call-you can opt for a smaller, cheaper SSD if you want. But I think 250GB is the right size. It gives you ample room for a Windows install and a whole bunch of smaller PC games, alongside a couple chunky 30-50GB games. On a 120GB SSD, you’ll find that you run out of space very quickly.
Secondary storage: Western Digital Blue HDD 1TB
$52 on Amazon
This is an optional addition to your primary SSD, but it’s one I expect most modern PC owners will want. Unless your PC is for games, and nothing but games, you’re probably going to want storage space for music, personal photos, movies, PC Gamer fan letter drafts, and all sorts of other files. You should grab a secondary HDD to put that stuff on, and for a budget build, a
$52 1TB Western Digital Blue HDD should suit you just fine. Western Digital is consistently reliable, and the Blue drives are faster than mass storage Green drives, while cheaper than the premiere Black Drives.
You can run games and programs off this drive without issue, though obviously installing to the SSD is ideal.
Disc Drive: N/A
For a budget build, save yourself $20 and skip out on the disc drive. You don’t need it anyway, right?
Since we’re using a micro ATX motherboard for this build, you can buy a small, micro-sized case, or a more spacious mid-tower. Here are a few case choices we’d recommend in the budget price range:
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