Cheap Gaming PC
Many people from all lines of gaming interests are still under the impression that building your own PC for gaming has to be an expensive and challenging undertaking. While it is true that experience and knowledge help, this counts primarily when it comes to choosing components. Assembly itself is actually not that hard, and there are countless guides and tutorials to be found on Youtube. But even without those, you would find all instructions you need in the installation notes that come with the products you bought. However, before we can assemble anything, we need to clear up the myth that a gaming PC needs to be expensive.
Now, more money obviously typically equals more performance, but how much performance do you actually really need? If you are a casual gamer you're probably going to be perfectly happy playing fluidly at 1080p resolution. While 30 fps have long been the standard, and do suffice for the human eye to perceive motion as fluid, 60 fps are considered the better target. Enthusiasts tend to go even higher with 144 Hz and higher refresh rate monitors becoming available for less money. However, since this IS a post about the cheapest gaming PC, we are going to assume that 1080p@60 with settings ranging from medium-high depending on the game, will be what you want to achieve. Chances are, if you are thinking about getting a cheap PC you are not going to have a super fancy full blown 4K HDR 240hz monitor.
So what to choose as a price limit? This is a bit of a tough one, since prices can be volatile and usually vary depending on where you live. We are going to try to have a limit of around $600 total price, using typical platforms like Newegg, PCPartspicker and the likes. If you're in the EU, this might well translate to an equal number of euros, or a bit more or (very rarely) even less. Also keep in mind that products might be cheaper or more expensive based on the current availability. All in all, however, prices are expected to go down as time passes, so if your budget is lower than the one we chose, you might find that simply waiting a couple of months might do the trick.
Should I wait because [insert-fancy-new-line-of-hardware-here] is coming out soon?
Yes, no, maybe - look, there's always an argument to be made to wait for the release of the next generation of CPUs or graphics cards, because prices will go even lower to clear out the storage and keep sales numbers up. But you are obviously thinking about upgrading now, and it is not a bad time to do so. If you decide to wait until late summer there might be something new from NVIDIA, which could push the price of the cards we chose down by 50 bucks. If after that, you decide to wait for AMD's new Navi cards, rumored to be a further step to close the gap with NVIDIA, performance-wise, you can wait another couple of months and the prices might go down by another $50...do you see the pattern here?
Alright, with that out of the way, let's get to the components we chose, and why. We do realize NVIDIA/Intel/AMD fanboyism is a thing, and there's always a point to be made for one or the other, but we are proposing an AMD build, since their products typically offer more bang-for-the-buck in this price-segment as compared to Intel/NVIDIA.
AMD launches the new AMD Ryzen 3 3300X in may 2020, and depending on when this article goes up, they might even already be available. Early benchmarks (always take these with a grain of salt) indicate, that this budget 4core/8thread CPU is going to at least equal Intel's go-to gaming CPU, the i7-7700k (which is still a great processor, albeit at a significantly higher price), in performance and efficiency. With CPUs you generally shouldn't just look at the sheer clock numbers. Due to differences in something called IPC (instructions per cycle), X GHz (said cycles) in one CPU are not usually directly comparable to another one when it comes to the resulting number of instructions the processor can perform. Thus, a CPU with less frequency can be quicker than a competitor with higher GHz numbers.
The 3300X has a base clock of 3.8 GHz with a boost clock of 4.3 GHz. For cooling we are going to stick with the boxed cooler that comes with it. The thermal paste usually is pre-applied on these, so you don't have to worry about how to apply it correctly.
It's estimated price is around $120-130.
AMD's CPUs have used the AM4 socket platform for years, and it looks like they are not intending to abandon the platform any time soon. With motherboards, extra money gets you more stability for overclocking, if that's your thing, along with extra features like WiFi, super fast M2 SSD slots and the likes. Since this is a budget build, we are recommending a board of the B450 chipset line, in the micro ATX format (this needs to be kept in mind when chosing the case, later).
We looked at the ASRock B450M Pro4-F µATX and found, that at ~$75, it should meet all the requirements for this build, while not leaving a huge dent in our budget. It features onboard 7.1 audio, plenty of USB 3.1 ports and even two M.2 SSD slots, should you think about getting one of these lightning fast hard disks in the future.
Nothing much to say here. As a base line you want 16GB (enthusiasts will usually go for 32GB) of 3200 MHz or faster DDR4 RAM. AMD's current CPUs support speeds of 3600 MHz and higher, and while this along with lower latency numbers (so CL15 is better than CL16, for example) will give you more performance, it will also increase cost and you won't have to worry about a RAM speed of 3200 MHz limiting your gaming experience for a long time.
Note that you should always go for two (or four) identical sticks of memory over a single one. The reason for this is a technology called dual (quad) channel which increases your performance if you use memory sticks in pairs of two.
We chose the G.SKILL Aegis 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4 3200 kit which you can get for ~$70.
At this point we are merely referring you to benchmarks (although not the ones on userbenchmark, they have a long history of tampering with testing methods to skewer the results) and let the price dictate the rest of the argument. An AMD RX590 offers good performance at 1080p@60 and 8GB of video RAM. The 8GB are what makes this card shine in a build like this, since texture sizes are ever growing and 6GB were just barely enough for the last and current generation of games. You should be able to get one for as cheap as ~$190 for example the XFX Radeon RX590 Fatboy 8GB. If you can't find one, you can try to get a Radeon RX5500 XT model with 8GB for only 20-30$ more, for a slight performance boost.
For all this to be merrily powered, a 550W PSU should be more than enough. At a price of ~50$ the Seasonic S12III 550W ATX comes with a surprisingly good and silent fan for a PSU in this segment, making it our recommendation in this build.
How much is enough? Sadly, this is something that's totally depending on what kind and how many different games you play at a time, whether you want to use the PC for other tasks like the editing of photos, videos or music, etc. Luckily, upgrading the storage is probably one of the easiest things to do yourself, should it be required, and disk space isn't expensive. That being said, we decided to go with a 500GB SATA SSD recommendation. NVME/M.2 SSDs would be even quicker but also more expensive, and if you are used to non-SSD or even console gaming, loading times are going to feel impressive enough as is. Keep in mind that some recent games like Call of Duty: Warzone have ridiculous installation sizes of over 100GB, so if those games are your thing, I'm afraid you're going to have to spend some extra bucks for a 1TB SSD. We do no longer recommend HDDs, since SSDs have just become so cheap in recent years, but if you don't mind the significantly lower speed, chance of audible vibrations and a certain risk of mechanical failure (after years of usage) you can get a couple of TBs dirt-cheap this way.
Our SSD of choice is the Crucial BX500 480GB model which should cost you around $60.
Any µATX case will do, as long as your graphics card fits in. The RX590 models usually have a length of about 240-260mm and a quick search couldn't find a µATX case that wouldn't fit one. If you have an old case lying around, see if you can find its documentation. It may well support a µATX mother board and our choice of graphics adapter.
We target a price of $30 here. Obviously this won't be an RGB quad-fan noise-dampening case made of airplane grade aluminium but it gets the job done. Just maybe don't try to use it as a spare seat and you'll be fine. There are plenty of different manufacturers and cases around, just check the $25-30 category on Newegg or the site of your choice and you'll find something. Just make sure the case comes with two pre-installed fans for getting air in and out of the case. A quick look for us turned up the DIYPC MA01-R Black SECC Micro ATX Mini for ~$30. The specifications page tells us that it supports a graphics cards up to a length of 315mm which more than enough room for the RX590 or 5500XT.
In total, this closely fits our budget with ~$600 and comes with all the hardware you need to get gaming.