Building gaming PCs from scratch: The best components for budget, mid-range, and high-end gaming PC desktops & where to buy them
Building a PC from scratch is nowhere near as difficult as it used to be. Thanks to today’s simple, almost lego-like building process, most people can build their own rigs by reading a few how-to guides or watching a couple of YouTube videos.
These days, the hardest part of building a PC is probably picking the best components for a particular build and budget, especially as there’s a myriad of different options available. So, what are the most important parts when it comes to gaming PCs, and which ones give the most bang for your buck?
This article looks at three build budgets - $0 to $600, $600 to $1200 and over $1200 – selects the best gaming components you can purchase for each price range, and links to where you can buy them. It also includes some suggestions on how to get the best performance out of your build.
$0 - $600: Budget PC gaming build (1080p)
If you’re building a PC on a sub-$600 budget, it’s important to really prioritize the components which are most important. And as this is a going to be a computer focused on gaming, there’s nothing more important than the graphics card – it really is worth sacrificing other components to get the best GPU your budget will allow. This build will give you high-end performance with the majority of games at 1080p.
NZXT S340 Mid Tower Case
This is a gorgeous case (check out that side window) that boasts loads of interior space. Its simple yet clever interior design makes working inside it a joy. The S340 can fit even the largest GPUs, has great cable management options, and space for huge liquid radiators – should you ever want to expand into that area. And at this price the case is an absolute steal. Buy the NZXT S340 Mid Tower case here for $68.
Gigabyte LGA1151 Intel H110 Micro ATX DDR4 GA-H110M-A
Despite being the foundations of all systems, motherboards seem to be getting increasingly cheaper. Save money with this one from Gigabyte; it's one of the cheapest boards that can support both Intel’s latest 6th Generation Skylake processors and the latest DDR4 memory type. It’s a smaller, micro-ATX board that doesn’t have a whole lot of bells and whistles, but it’s all you’ll need for top quality 1080p gaming - and it’ll fit easily inside the KLO5 case. You can buy the GA-HA110M-A here for $56.
Intel Core i3-6100 processor
Skylake, Intel’s latest generation of processors, is proving to be a great piece of technology for budget gaming builds. It’s been shown to give better gaming performance when compared against both the AMD equivalent and Intel’s last generation of processors, Broadwell. This baseline dual-core, quad-thread i3 model offers great performance for the price. You can buy the Intel Core i3-6100 processor here for $125.
Crucial 8GB Kit (4GBx2) DDR4-2133
In systems where the processor acts as a performance bottleneck, such as in this particular gaming build, higher speed RAM can make a big difference to a game’s all important frames per second count. This RAM may not look flashy, but it’s fast and - being the latest generation - offers twice the bandwidth of the last-gen DDR3. Additionally, it's compatible with the suggested Gigabyte board. You can buy Crucial 8GB Kit (4GBx2) DDR4-2133 here for $48.
Gigabyte GeForce GTX 950 2GB
Nvidia’s GTX950 offers one of the best price to performance ratios of any graphics card on the market today. This GPU will give 60fps at 1080p on most games with the settings bumped up to high, and should even be able to go well beyond 30fps at ultra levels. This overclocked version from Gigabyte is one the best value 950s around, and is much cooler and quieter than the reference model. You can buy the Gigabyte GeForce GTX 950 2GB here for $155.99.
Power Supply Unit
EVGA 430 W1 80+
Not the most glamorous component in a PC, but PSU’s are important – especially considering they’re powering everything! The 430W unit from trusted brand EVGA can supply more than enough juice for this build, especially as one of Skylake’s best features is its efficiently low energy consumption. You can buy the EVGA 430 W1 80+ here for $37.
Crucial BX100 250GB
While it’s true that hard disk drives are cheaper and offer more GBs of space than their solid state cousins, SDD are a much, much better option – especially when it comes to gaming. Their speed and performance blow HDDs away; once you use one, you’ll never go back to drives with moving parts. SDD may not improve games’ framerates, but loading times almost disappear. And there’s few better feelings than having your OS boot up in under 8 seconds. This one from Crucial is a great price. And while its 250GB may fill up fast, adding extra SDDs at a later date is simple (I’ve got three in my rig). If you do follow this build and use the suggested Gigabyte motherboard, you’ll be able to add up to four drives in total. The Crucial BX100 250GB SSD is available here for $80.
Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO
One of the best CPU air coolers you can buy and at a ridiculously low cost. Cooler Master’s powerful Hyper 212 Evo will have no problems fitting in the Kublai case and keeping your CPU cool. Its robust build means it’ll probably outlast every other component you own. I'd like to point out that this cooler is compatible with Skylake's 1151 socket, even though the description has yet to be updated to reflect this. You can buy the Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO here for $29.
Total cost = $593
- Case - NZXT S340 Mid Tower Case
- Motherboard - Gigabyte LGA1151 Intel H110 Micro ATX DDR4 GA-H110M-A
- Processor - Intel Core i3-6100 processor
- RAM - Crucial 8GB Kit (4GBx2) DDR4-2133
- GPU - Gigabyte GeForce GTX 950 2GB
- Power Supply Unit - EVGA 430 W1 80+
- Storage - Crucial BX100 250GB
- CPU Cooler - Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO
A good way to squeeze some extra gaming performance out of this build is by using a graphics card overclocking utility such as MSI afterburner. This can boost your GPU and add up to 10 fps - sometimes more - to games. Just make sure you follow the instructions carefully so you don’t end up asking too much of your poor card; at best this can cause artifacts (visual glitches) to appear in your games, at worst it can totally fry your GPU.
$600 - $1200: Midrange gaming PC build (1440p)
At this price range, you can start thinking about going beyond standard 1080p. The hardware in this system will allow for things such as 1440p resolutions and super widescreen gaming – providing you have the right kind of monitor. If you do decide to stick with full HD, you’ll find that this build will easily pump out well over 60fps on every game with the settings totally maxed out. Try pairing this rig with a screen that has a high refresh rate and/or is capable of WQHD resolutions and prepare for an amazing gaming experience.
Silverstone Kublai KLO5
A sub $100 case doesn’t have to mean a crappy case. Silverstone’s Kublai KL05 features a massive 52-litre interior which making working inside it incredibly easy, something that those who aren’t used to building PCs will appreciate. It’s also got plenty of room for adding extra components - should you wish to do so at a later date - and great cable management options for creating a clean, tidy setup. You can buy the KL05 here for $74.
Asus Z170 Pro Gaming
Asus has a well-deserved reputation for making PC components aimed primarily at gamers, and it shows with this awesome Skylake MOBO. Cheaper than a lot of motherboards - which often offer a lot of flashy but slightly unnecessary features - the Z170 has everything you need for high-end gaming. It also features a ton of future-proofing, including two 10 Gb/s USB 3.1 ports and an M.2 port rated for PCIe x4 speed. Additionally, the board comes with a load of OC features for both the novice and expert overclocker. Buy the Asus z170 Pro gaming motherboard here for $185.
Intel Boxed Core i5-6600K 3.50 GHz
Intel’s i5 line of processors have always provided that perfect combination of power and price for gamers. Again, this is a 6th generation Skylake model which, although not offering a massive improvement over the last generation, will future-proof your system as well as use less power and run cooler - which is especially helpful when overclocking the chip. Buy the Intel Core i5 – 6600K 3.5 Ghz here for $252.
Crucial Ballistix Sport 8GB Kit (4GBx2) DDR4 2400 MT/s
With this kind of a system, spending an absolute fortune on RAM isn’t going to make a visible difference when gaming – better to spend the extra money on other components that are more game-focused. This set from Crucial is a bit faster than what is used in the budget system (as the Z170 board can handle high-speed DDR4), yet still retails at a very low price. It’s also a lot prettier to look at than the budget option, so it’ll go well with that side window on the Kublia. Buy the Crucial Ballistix Sport 8GB Kit here for $60.
Power Supply Unit
Corsair CX Series 600 Watt ATX/EPS Modular 80 PLUS Bronze
While 600 Watts may seem like overkill for these system specs, it’s all about what may get added at a later date. The Asus motherboard is capable of supporting a lot of hardware, and you’re going to want to make sure you’ve got enough juice - especially if you decide to use a dual GPU setup and add a load of storage drives at a future date. Buy the Corsair CX Series 600 Watt here for $65.
Crucial BX100 500GB / WD Black 1TB Performance Desktop Hard Disk Drive
Now you’re working with a bigger budget it’s time to consider a larger solid state drive combined with hard drive. Use the SSD for your OS/games/apps and the HDD for stuff like pictures, videos and anything else that doesn’t really benefit from super-fast read speeds. Cucial’s BX100 offers great performance, value and 500GB of space all for $160 from here. Western Digital’s 1TB Black drive is pretty fast for a HDD, and pretty cheap, too. Buy it here for $80.
ZOTAC GeForce GTX 970
The GTX 970 is simply the best price/performance graphics card on the market today. There was some controversy surrounding the amount of VRAM advertised in the card when first released, but unless you're trying to run the card at 4K with all the setting maxed – something it’s not capable of handling anyway – then you’re not going to notice any problems with its memory. As someone who owns one of these GPUs, I can testify that they are stunning. Easily overclockable, capable of handling ultra-setting 1080p/60+fps and able to hold its own at 1440p, the 970 is an amazing card. Get this one from ZOTAC on offer at $293 here.
Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO
Yes, this is the same CPU cooler as in the budget build, but there’s no need to spend extra when Cooler Master’s EVO can handle heavy overclocks, is dirt cheap and quiet. If you absolutely must have a closed-loop liquid cooler then go for the Corsair H75. Get the Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO here for $29.
Total Cost = $1198
- Case - Silverstone Kublai KLO5
- Motherboard - Asus Z170 Pro Gaming
- Processor - Intel Boxed Core i5-6600K 3.50 GHz
- RAM - Crucial Ballistix Sport 8GB Kit (4GBx2) DDR4 2400 MT/s
- GPU - ZOTAC GeForce GTX 970
- Power Supply Unit - Corsair CX Series 600 Watt ATX/EPS Modular 80 PLUS Bronze
- Storage - Crucial BX100 500GB / WD Black 1TB Performance Desktop Hard Disk Drive
- CPU Cooler - Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO
As with the budget build, using a GPU overclocking app such as MSI afterburner is a great way of squeezing extra performance out of your graphics card – and the GTX 970 can be squeezed pretty hard.
Additionally, as mentioned in its description, the Asus Z170 Pro Gaming has an incredible number of overclocking features, all of which can be adjusted in accordance with a user’s tech-savviness. Thanks to the great overclocking potential in the Skylake i5-6600K, you can really boost the processor's speed to the point where it gives a noticeable increase in system and gaming performance.
The over $1200 PC gaming build (4k)
Do you want a PC that can breeze through 1440p with a game’s settings maxed out? A PC that has no problems handling more than two monitors at once? A PC that can play games in 4K at an acceptable level? Me too! Unfortunately, I’m not loaded. But for those with deep pockets, here’s one of the best systems you can put together.
I’ve avoided going for stupidly-priced multi-GPU/multi-storage drive setups, or adding technically advanced watercooling components, but this is still a dream PC that would represent the pinnacle of gaming for years to come.
Corsair Obsidian 900D
Deciding the ‘best’ PC case is always going to be a contentious issue. More often than not it comes down to a personal choice between this beauty from Corsair, the Cooler Master Cosmos II and the Phanteks Enthoo Prime. Make no mistake about it, all three are absolute top-quality cases that would complement any system, but the Obsidian just comes out on top for me. This case oozes class, looks beautiful in a spartan yet bold kind of way, and is so cavernous you could climb inside it. The 900D will easily and happily hold anything you throw at it. So should you want to start experimenting with watercooling setups, chuck in up to 15 storage drives (with the optional expansions), or even use two power supply units, nothing beats Corsair’s monster. Buy it here for $334.
ASUS ROG MAXIMUS VIII HERO LGA1151
While there are some boards that cost more than double that of the Maximus VIII Hero, it’s pretty unlikely that you’d use most of the feature’s you’re paying so much extra for. Asus’ MOBO has everything a ultra-high spec PC needs: three x16 PCIe 3.0 slots, USB 3.1 ports, and an X4 PCIe M.2 slot for a super-speedy SSD. Like all ROG boards, it comes with a ton of overclocking features. Buy the ASUS MAXIMUS VIII HERO motherboard here for $229.
Intel Core i7-6700K
Again, with this Skylake i7 you’re looking more toward the future than anything else, although the chip has been shown to give a slight fps improvement in games when compared to a lot of the last generation of Intel i7s. This processor comes with a base clock of 4GHz that can be overclocked past 4.5GHz, and can run CPU-intensive games (like large-scale MMOs) with ease. Buy the Intel Core i7-6700K here for $350.
G.Skill Ripjaws V Series DDR4 2666 (16GB)
The difference between having 16GB and 8GB in the majority of builds won’t be obvious when it comes to games. So, putting 16GB in this build is, again, having one eye on the future; it’s likely that in a couple of years 16GB will become the standard. This set from G.Skill gives great performance for the price. G.Skill Ripjaws V Series DDR4 2666 here for $133.
EVGA SuperNOVA 1000 G2 80+ GOLD
Said to be the best 1000W PSU available today. The SuperNova 1000 from EVGA will supply enough power for all the extra hardware you’ll ever want to put in your machine, and retails at very reasonable price. It’s modular, highly efficient and so reliable that it comes with a ten-year warranty. Buy the EVGA SuperNOVA 1000 here for $162.
Samsung 950 PRO Series 512GB PCIe NVMe - M.2
Seeing as you have the budget and the compatible hardware, you may as well use a blisteringly-fast M.2. SSD in your system. The 512GB in this model should provide enough space for the average gamer for quite a while. Expect loading times in games to become a thing of the past and Windows to boot up in about a second with this baby. Buy the Samsung 950 PRO -Series 512GB here for $350.
ASUS STRIX GeForce GTX 980Ti Overclocked 6 GB
Nvidia’s GTX 980 Ti is the most powerful single-GPU card you can buy today. It’ll give astounding performance when gaming at 1440p or 144Hz, and can even play a great number of games super-smoothly in 4K. Out of all the 980Ti cards from various manufacturers, this STRIX model from Asus gives the best overall performance. It’s also easily overclocked and surprisingly quiet. It may cost an eye-watering $765, but this kind of gaming doesn’t come cheap. Buy the ASUS STRIX GeForce GTX 980TI Overclocked 6 GB here for $765.
While closed-loop liquid coolers like this beauty from Corsair won’t keep your CPU a lot cooler than the air variety, they are good at getting the processor down to idle temperatures fast. The H100i from corsair features a dual length 240mm radiator and two high-performance fans to keep that CPU nice and frosty. Buy the Corsair H100i here for $135.
Total cost = $2458
- Case - Corsair Obsidian 900D
- Motherboard - ASUS ROG MAXIMUS VIII HERO LGA1151
- Processor - Intel Core i7-6700K
- RAM - G.Skill Ripjaws V Series DDR4 2666 (16GB)
- GPU - ASUS STRIX GeForce GTX 980Ti Overclocked 6 GB
- Power Supply Unit - EVGA SuperNOVA 1000 G2 80+ GOLD
- Storage - Samsung 950 PRO Series 512GB PCIe NVMe - M.2
- CPU Cooler - Corsair H100i
So, that’s our top-end, dream PC. As with the other builds, using overclocking programs like afterburner and the OC options on the motherboard will help you get even more out of this beast. Some people may question whether using an Intel Core i7-5820K would be a better option for a top-end PC; and while it does have more cores, it’s really more of a better option for applications away from gaming. Additionally, the 6700K gets about a 20% better score over the more expensive 5820K in single thread benchmarks. Ultimately, they’re both fantastic CPUs, and there’s not a great deal to choose between them.
Feel free to mix and match components, or replace/add others as you feel fit. You may notice that none of these builds have optical drives, as I believe they're fairly redundant these days. Just make sure everything is compatible and never skimp on the graphics card.
If you're interested in some very cheap, pre-built PCs then check out The 6 best gaming computers under $1000. The articles a few months old, so they are pre-Skylake, but that means you can now get them even cheaper!
Finally, remember that PC component prices tend to vary constantly, so some of these items may be more/less expensive by the time you read this.