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Gaming remains one of the biggest drivers of PC hardware, pushing forward everything from processor speeds to storage performance and, of course, graphics card technology. This bleeding edge reputation makes many people think the price for entry is too high to even consider. Let's debunk that.
Of course, gaming PCs can be extremely expensive. Graphics cards alone can cost around $1,000 MSRP on a normal basis. With the ongoing chip shortages, and the once-again-ascendant battle with crypto miners devastating supply chains, graphics cards are currently selling for twice their MSRP, or more, even on the used market.
With all of this in mind, it probably seems like an impossible task to build a gaming PC right now for anything like a reasonable price. Certain companies like NZXT are out there trying to make the path to building your own gaming PC a little more visible by creating customizable kits. These are a great option for building your first gaming PC, or building one with your kids, thanks to simplified instructions, easy configuration options, and a guarantee that all of the components selected by the company will work well together. However, the prices for these kits start at $1,499, putting them out of the budget for many shoppers.
Luckily, it is possible to build a gaming PC for not only less than $1,000, but less than $600. All you need to do is select the right parts, prioritize your budget correctly, and shop around for the best deals. Or, if that sounds like too much work, you can just read the rest of this guide. That's probably easier. You should do that...
It's important to get some things straight going into this. First, gaming PCs are not like consoles when it comes to being compatible with every game. A PlayStation 5 game will, of course, run on every PlayStation 5 in the world. The same is true for Switch games. Xbox games can be a little murkier with their various Series, but that's a story for another day. The important point here is that PC games all have a set of minimum system requirements that must be met in order for your PC to be able to handle the demands of delivering them.
Minimum system requirements, and the higher "recommended" system requirements that usually come along with them, are designed to ensure that the components of your system are adequate for the statistical needs of the game. Storage capacity requirements will tell you how much hard drive space is required, while memory requirements will tell you the RAM needed, and graphics or GPU requirements will let you know the supported graphics processing platforms.
The budget for this build, as well as the aforementioned impact of the dumpster fire that is the current GPU market, mean that we'll be selecting a CPU with integrated graphics. This is a cost-effective, attainable option that will run many casual games, and even some of the most popular titles around. The configuration I'll be recommending can handily run Minecraft and League of Legends at respectable settings, and even Fortnite with some graphical settings turned down. Thousands and thousands of retro, indie, 2D, and lighter-weight 3D games will also run perfectly on it. It will not, however, be able to run more demanding games like the latest Call of Duty or Battlefield well, nor will it handle high-end single player games like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
If you're looking to play titles like those for less than $600, a console may be your best option. But, keep in mind, consoles are great at playing games and using streaming apps. They don't, however, have anywhere near the same versatility a solid gaming PC will offer. The PC system you game and watch streaming content on can also help you get work or homework done, store your important documents, use social media, communicate with family and friends, and do everything else your laptop, tablet, smartphone, and several other devices can do. It's a worthwhile consideration when comparing the merits of spending your $600 on this build, or venturing out on the often months-long quest of trying to buy a modern gaming console.
How did I choose the components?
I have built every desktop PC I, my family, and many of my friends of have owned since I was in high school. The depressingly long span of time has seen me build, rebuild, upgrade, sidegrade, and repair dozens and dozens of PCs. I've built everything from water-cooled systems costing over $3,000, to cobbled together media PCs that can play 4K video using leftover parts from older builds. Every step of that history was a learning experience that's left me with a deep understanding of what it takes to put together the ideal PC for a given purpose...as well as some heavily banged up knuckles from digging around in PC cases.
Thankfully, technologies like M.2 connectors, modular power supplies, and improved PC case design make things much easier than they used to be. But, you still have to select the right components. For our build here, that meant choosing the most cost-effective options for each part and balancing how much of the budget is being eaten up by each part versus how much performance is being offered by it. Each component represents the best combination of value and performance that was available within its product category at the time of writing.
Of course, the more adventurous among you are more than welcome to tweak some of our options here. Relatively cost-effective upgrades are available in a few categories, while optional extras are also a good idea for some. In most cases, these alterations will push your budget beyond our $600 goal, but the choice of whether or not that's worth it is up to you. At the end of our guide, we'll also cover a few optional extras that we think might be worth considering for a few dollars more.
Pricing and availability change daily, and while I've made sure that everything is correct and available at the time of writing, that can change. This is also why I've included average prices for components, based on recent fluctuations. I've also not included deals or special offers, as they can skew things.
This complete build will provide you with a fully functional, complete PC. All monitors, peripherals, and software will need to be selected separately.
This chip will serve as both the standard processing core of your system, and its graphics processor. Unlike systems that use a discrete GPU, you'll be using integrated graphics to save money, and avoid the hassles of the GPU market we've already mentioned multiple times.
For this purpose, we've selected an entry in AMD's popular Ryzen 5 line. The Ryzen line has been around a few years, and has been a darling of the PC builder community since day one. Almost the entire line represents a cost-effective alternative to competing models from Intel, while also achieving performance metrics that meet or exceed those competitors.
The AMD Ryzen 5 3400G offers solid processing specs, RX Vega 11 graphics, and unlocked cores that will let the more daring out there dabble with overlocking it to get the most performance from their system. While we wouldn't necessarily recommend pushing it too far past its stock speeds using the included fan, the packed-in cooler is more than adequate to handle the most demanding tasks at its factory settings.
MSI is one of the most respected names in the motherboard market, and this model is one of its most popular in recent years thanks to its combination of excellent port selection, solid construction, and attractive aesthetics.
For our purposes, it supports not only the required socket and chipset needed by our Ryzen 5 CPU, but also provides plenty of headroom should you want to expand your $600 build down the road. Space for two NVME M.2 drives means you can easily add a speedy SSD for your primary drive, while dual PCI-E 3.0 slots leave room to upgrade to a discrete graphics card when the market finally stabilizes. Ample SATA ports also mean adding bulk storage drives will be a breeze.
Many gaming PCs, even higher end models, can still do fine with just 8GB of RAM. Luckily, RAM is one of the few components that has held up relatively well under current global supply chain constraints, with prices for many models staying stable, or at least within the realm of sanity.
The G.Skill RipJaws line has been a favorite among gaming PC builders for years thanks to its moderate pricing, excellent cooling shrouds, and gamer-focused aesthetic. We've selected a kit that provides 16GB via two 8GB units. This leaves two slots open on our chosen motherboard for additional expansion to 32GB down the road. While 32GB definitely isn't necessary for the games we'll be running, it might come in handy for tasks like photo and video editing, or if you decide to upgrade your entire system to a more high-end build with the headroom we're leaving to future-proof our design.
Storage is an area with dueling priorities. Would you rather have more capacity? Or, would you rather have faster read/write times and better overall performance? On the capacity side of things, the venerable spinning hard disk drive (HDD) remains king thanks to its dollar per gigabyte ratio still being much, much better than the solid state drive (SSD) alternatives.
Meanwhile, the performance of SSD drives is vastly superior to their HDD counterpart due to their reliance on solid state chips rather than a spinning platter. Their ability to write and retrieve data in less time means you can load game levels, open large files, and perform basically any tasks that uses your system's storage more quickly. Installing your operating system on one will boost its performance as well.
Even with all of this in mind, we're still recommending an HDD storage solution for most users. The reason is that most modern games can easily skew north of 10GB, with many now regularly topping 50GB. Add this to the 15GB of space Windows 10 takes up, at a minimum, or the 64GB of required space for Windows 11, and you've already eaten up a significant portion of the 250GB a $55 SSD would provide. Meanwhile, for almost $10 less, you can have eight times as much storage by choosing a 2TB HDD. An SSD of that size would run you around $230 on its own, for reference.
The HDD we chose is a well-loved Seagate BarraCuda model that offers ample storage for your games, photos, videos, and more, all while providing excellent read/write times and longevity metrics for a budget-minded HDD.
We've chosen a power supply that offers an excellent combination of power efficiency, available wattage, and extra features. While it won't necessarily power a high-end, discrete GPU, should you add one down the road, it has more than enough juice in it to provide the necessary wattage for our build.
Even better, it can provide it via modular cabling. Any PC building veteran like me will have horror stories about trying to hide the thick, inflexible, and unmanageable bundles of cables that used to come hardwired into all power supplies. When modular supplies came along, it was like a gift from the PC gods, allowing you to only connect the power cables you actually need, without adding any bulk from wires that were designed to power components that didn't even exist within your system. While this started out as a feature exclusive to high-end power supplies, it has thankfully made its way to more affordable options like the EVGA 550B5 we chose here.
Now that we've chosen all of main our components, we'll need somewhere to put them. Corsair has been one of my favorite case builders for over a decade. Their designs almost universally feature excellent build quality, clean but exciting aesthetics, and excellent cooling profiles thanks to sensible and attractive ventilation.
The 110R Tempered Glass Mid-Tower ATV Case is no exception. It provides ample space and compatible screw profiles for our selected motherboard, while also including a glass door to show off the internals' designs. The internal layout makes installation easy, and the provided front panel I/O offers access to 2 USB 3.1 ports and a combo headphone/microphone jack to easily connect your peripherals and headset. Clever hidden mounts for SSD drives means you won't have to clutter up your visuals with extra wires should you upgrade down the road.
The Corsair case we've chosen comes with a single cooling fan. However, we recommend using at least one intake and one exhaust fan on your case for adequate airflow. Poor cooling will not only degrade the performance of your system, but will shorten the lifespan of your components. It's much wiser, then, to use the headroom we have left in our budget to add a couple of powerful, quiet fans from the aptly named "be quiet!" brand.
While they may not be able to match the airflow and noise stats of far more expensive options from companies like Noctua, be quiet! fans have made a name for themselves as inexpensive options for gamers more interested in being able to hear the audio their games are outputting than in adding extra flare to their systems. Slightly more expensive options are available from Corsair and other reputable brands that add RGB light rings to their design, but their actual performance may not be as good as the Pure Wings 2. Ideally, we'd recommend picking up a pair of these to add to your Corsair case, with one serving as an intake and one as an exhaust.
An SSD: As we mentioned above, one of the most cost-effective and wide-reaching upgrades you can add to your system is an SSD. It will speed up not only your game performance, but your system's performance in general. Unfortunately, the current dollar per GB cost makes it hard to recommend one as part of our main build, but it is definitely the first upgrade we'd suggest making if you find yourself with a slightly larger budget. Samsung's EVO line continues to be our favorite option, with the 970 EVO Plus 500GB earning our recommendation here. Installing this as a primary alongside the 2TB Seagate HDD in a secondary role will provide you enough room to store all of your games within its speedy confines, while also giving you 2TB of storage to archive things that don't need so much read/write speed, like photos and movies.
An upgraded CPU cooler: If you do plan on overclocking your CPU, we'd definitely recommend upgrading your cooler to something with a little more power. Noctua has earned a well-deserved reputation for building air cooling options that often outperform far more expensive water cooling rigs. The NH-D9L is one of its best yet for value, providing a single-fan solution in a not-too-bulky heatsink that should more than handle any sane overclocks you might throw at it. Some might find Noctua's commitment to its shades of brown aesthetic a bit of a turn off, but we think that tiny bit of beige is more than worth the technical benefits this unit provides.
An upgraded mass storage solution: If you choose to use an SSD from the get go, or you just outgrow the 2TB drive we suggested, the Seagate BarraCuda line offers larger options for an equally excellent price. Our recommendation for the best value is their 8TB model. It's the largest option available before the price per GB ratio starts skewing higher, and its offers more than enough space for all but the worst data hoarders.