How to Build a Capable Gaming PC on an Insanely Low Budget
We know why you're here. You've decided to build yourself a gaming PC, and you started hyperventilating, worried that it will be insanely difficult, stressful, and expensive. Then you googled "building a gaming PC on a budget" as your heart rate steadily rose. It's okay. Breathe. We're here for you.
The truth is that depending on what you already have, you can build a PC that can run modern games at respectable settings for around 600 bucks. "But Sam!" I hear you cry. "Didn't Bitcoin ruin all of this because now you need more money than God to buy a decent graphics card?" Well, yes and no. Sure, graphics cards are a whole lot more expensive now because high-end ones are used to mine cryptocurrency. But that doesn't mean there aren't still tools and hacks you can use to find yourself a decent graphics card at face value.
Building a Gaming PC on a Budget
The first thing you'll need to do is set your budget, though this is a bit more complicated than you might think. Most PC building guides do not include the price of necessary accessories like keyboards, mice, and monitors in the total build cost. If you don't have any of those lying around, you'll want to be aware that this is going to be an added cost down the line. You'll also likely need a CD drive in order to install your operating system (which you'll also need to snag somehow). Be aware that all these costs do add up. When I built my first PC, all together, I ended up spending an additional $250 on all of these components.
Of course, if you already have your operating system and a monitor you want to use, you don't really need to worry about this, but for a first-time build, this really bears mentioning.
Now, once you've identified the additional costs, you can drill down a bit. The next, most helpful step is to get a sense of what exactly you'll need for your build, especially if this is your first time building a PC. My favorite tool for this is Logical Increments.
If you've never used it before, it really is an incredibly useful site. In short, it lists recommended builds and their total price point. It's a great place to start for something like this so that you can pinpoint everything you'll need and get a sense of how much it'll hurt your wallet. As an added bonus, every build that Logical Increments lists is fully compatible as long as you're on the same horizontal line.
In this use case, we'll be splitting the difference between the Good and Fair tiers. Don't worry, we're really not sacrificing much in terms of quality here. You'll be just fine running modern games in 1080p at medium-to-high settings.
CPU, Motherboards, and RAM
Though the CPU is ostensibly the core of your computer (and, admittedly, a place where you'll want to invest pretty heavily), it's actually fairly easy to upgrade your central processing unit. The same goes for RAM.
The only tricky part is pairing each of these components with a motherboard that will be compatible with each. Logical Increments' recommendations for motherboards are usually fairly future-proof up to about three or four years, and their recommendation of the MSI B350 PC MATE has an AM4 socket for your processor and room for 4 DDR4 RAM sticks for $90. This might seem steep for a motherboard, but trust me, this is one part of your computer you will not want to replace anytime soon. This means you'll want to make sure it'll last and be able to accommodate upgraded CPUs and additional RAM upgrades as well, making the AM4 sockets and DDR4 compatibility a must.
In terms of your CPU, AMD's RYZEN series has been absolutely killing it, packing a whole lot of power into a budget-friendly chip. We love the R5 1500x, which, as of writing, is on sale for only $135.
In terms of RAM, you might want to go all out right now and buy 16 gigs, but trust us when we say you really don't need to. For now, start off with 8 gigs of DDR4 RAM, then if you notice you really need more, buy another stick and slot it in later. It's really super easy. Plus, RAM is expensive at $83/8gb.
Ok, so that's about half our budget gone, with a total cost so far of $308. Let's talk about graphics cards.
Picking a Graphics Card
Our own Ty Arthur put together a pretty great guide that runs down a few tools that are incredibly helpful in terms of making sure you're getting the best price no matter what graphics card you pick. You really should read it.
Personally, for a build that's around $600, I think that AMD is the better choice for budget-friendly GPUs. The Radeon RX 560 isn't just our recommendation for a great, cheap card, it's pretty much everyone's. And as an added bonus? As of writing, Newegg has it right now for the MSRP of $155.
Hard drives are now cheap enough that for any build, you should be using two: a solid-state drive that holds your operating system, and a standard hard drive that can hold all of your pro Fortnite replays.
For $95, you can snag yourself both a 128GB solid state drive to hold your system files, as well as a 2TB internal hard drive. Installing your OS to a solid-state drive might sound unnecessary, but it really does increase performance across the board on your computer. You'll be booting your system in a second or two, installation speeds will be slashed, and at the same time, since SSDs are much more reliable than HDDs, your mission critical files are much more safe. Just make sure that once you close everything up and install your OS that you choose the right drive!
Power Supply, Case, and Heat Management
Of course, you gotta plug your rig in. The EVGA 500 B1 ($45 as of writing) should handle anything you throw at it; this PC won't be a monster, so you don't need any super heavy-duty power supply to deal with that.
In terms of your case, feel free to shop around on Amazon and Newegg to find something you find attractive. We like this Corsair Carbide series case (now on sale for just $50!) because of its front-mounted USB and audio ports, as well as its convenient side window. If that's not your speed, find something else! There are plenty of case options out there, with front-mounted HDMI ports and all sorts of odds and ends, so think about where you'll put the computer and let that guide your thinking.
For heat management on your budget build, we recommend just using the heat sink included with your CPU if you don't plan on overclocking. If you do, you can absolutely drop $25 on a fancier heat sink, but it really shouldn't be necessary for a rig like this.
Final Cost: $638
This build should give you everything you need out of a gaming PC. It'll be relatively future-proof, easily upgradeable, and will, out of the box, be able to play modern games at respectable settings.
Notes on Upgrading and Changing the Build
Looking to upgrade further, or to cut corners and bring the build down under that all-important $600 mark? There's a very important tool over at PCPartPicker that can help you with that. In fact, it's a must for every build.
The site allows you to, essentially, create a complete list of parts for your build. It will then check everything for you and alert you to any compatibility issues that have been found. In addition, after you've built your PC, it will allow you to confidently upgrade parts using recommendations based on the components you've already installed. So if you're a fan of this build but want an Nvidia card, or want to use an Intel chipset instead of an AMD one, the site can guide your purchase decisions in a very helpful way.
Phew. Isn't that better? Like we said, building a decent PC doesn't really have to break the bank. And once you get all the parts, we promise, it'll be a whole lot of fun to put everything together. It's like adult Legos, except at the end, you get to play Overwatch with texture quality set to high.