Gaming PC build guide
(Image credit: Future)
There’s no easy way to say this, but our gaming PC build guide is going to make for some depressing reading right now. Such is the way of the current PC market that, while it’s easier than ever to physically build a gaming PC, it’s never been harder to actually find the componet parts themselves.
The biggest issue is the graphics card drought, where GPUs are almost impossible to find right now, from the lowliest pixel pusher to the most powerful graphics monster. Whether it’s Covid-19 related supply chain issues, or the resurgence of cryptocurrency mining with GPUs, they’re either all out of stock or only available for many times their MSRP.
This then has become more of a fantasy list of the gaming hardware that we would recommend you build an affordable gaming PC from today… were the kit actually out there. It’s possible you could pick up everything aside from the GPU today and either use your current card until such time as a new upgrade becomes available—maybe late summer at best—or simply wait until it does.
The graphics card, however, really is the beating heart of any gaming PC, and that makes it difficult to recommend a full build without basing your new rig around the GPU. But we’re looking at a system with a target price of around $1,000, and that’s where the rest of our build sits for the prospective $400 Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 Ti that we would recommend for this level of system.
Despite the release of the excellent AMD Ryzen 5000 series we’re still recommending a last-gen chip as the best price/performance option. The Ryzen 5 3600 offers impressive six-core CPU chops for around half the price of the newer Ryzen 5 5600X, and means we can spend more on that ephemeral graphics card purchase.
AMD Ryzen 5 3600
A reliable mid-range CPU.
Cores: 6 | Threads: 12 | Base Clock: 3.6GHz | Turbo Clock: 4.2GHz | Overclocking: Yes, 4.2GHz typical | L3 Cache: 32MB | TDP: 65W | PCIe 4.0 lanes: 16
Low price for 6 core/12 thread CPU
Very secure and reliable
Good pairing with AMD GPU
The Ryzen 5 3600 is an excellent candidate for mid-range gaming. It outclasses our previous pick for this build, the Intel Core i5 8400, and offers superior performance, overclocking and a slick-looking stock cooler all around the same price point.
There is going to be the question of whether we should have gone for the Ryzen 5 5600X given our love of the six-core, 12-thread Zen 3 chip. But while that CPU is now actually available, it’s still pretty much double the price of the older Ryzen 5 3600. It will be the quicker chip, but if we’re just talking about a gaming-focused machine with a tight $1,000 budget, taking that extra $200 and ploughing it into the promise of a graphics card purchase will yield greater performance.
Ultimately we went with the Ryzen 5 3600 because it gives us the best bang for our buck, and some additional room to expand into more powerful 3rd gen AMD CPUs down the line. If you’re looking for a little extra power in your next build, check out our guide to the best CPU for gaming in 2021.
The best B550 motherboard
Form factor: ATX | Memory support: 4x DIMM, up to 128GB, up to DDR4-4600 | Expansion slots: 2x PCIe 4.0 x16, 1x PCIe 3.0 x4 | Storage: 2x M.2, 6x SATA 6Gbps | Networking: Intel WiFi 6, Intel 2.5Gb ethernet, Bluetooth 5.1 | Rear USB: 3 x USB 3.2 Gen 2, 4 x USB 2.0
Extensive feature set
Sure, the Asus ROG Strix B550-E isn’t the cheapest motherboard for a Ryzen 5 3600 chip, but it offers a huge amount of potential room for your PC to grow in the future. You get the chance to upgrade to the newer Zen 3 CPUs, taking full advantage of all the goodness AMD has baked into them, and that means you have the opportunity to shift to PCIe 4.0 devices going forward.
It’s a premium motherboard, with all the trappings you’d expect from Asus’ Republic of Gamers stables, such as 14+2 power stage, M.2 heatsinks, and pre-installed backplates. You also get Wi-Fi 6 wireless networking as well as Intel 2.5Gb ethernet too. And RGB LEDs, of course.
Performance too is typically good for a high-end Asus board, matching X570 motherboards for gaming performance without issue. The Asus ROG Strix B550-E Gaming is the whole package then, and right now is our all-around pick for the best B550 motherboard.
Please read our full Asus ROG Strix B550-E Gaming review.
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A GPU that can take on the RTX 2080 Super… and win.
GPU Cores: 4,865 | Base Clock: 1,410MHz | Boost Clock: 1,665MHz | TFLOPS: 16.2 | Memory: 8GB GDDR6 | Memory Clock: 14 GT/s | Memory Bandwidth: 448GB/s
Decent ray tracing performance
The obvious problem is that it’s borderline impossible to find a new RTX 3060 Ti right now, especially for anything near the $399 reference price of the mighty Founders Edition. But the RTX 3060 Ti is still the GeForce card that we would opt for, all things being equal.
It marks the same incredible generational leap in performance that has come to epitomise the Ampere architecture, up until the non-TI GeForce RTX 3060, that is. With performance that can often outpace the RTX 2080 Super, for a nominal $399 price tag, it’s the mid-range card to beat. Something the RX 6700 will have to do now the Radeon RX 6700 XT has just missed the mark.
And, because of its RTX 2080 Super performance levels, that means you can nail 1080p and 1440p frame rates, but also that 4K at 60fps isn’t beyond the realms of possibility for this GPU. The RTX 3060 Ti then delivers gaming performance that’s rather stupendous when you look at generational gains over even the RTX 20-series—next to the 10-series it’s quite frightening, actually.
Read our full Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 Ti review.
Corsair Vengeance LPX 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4-3200
The best value RAM you can get.
Capacity: 2x 8GB | Speed: 3200MT/s | Timings: 15-17-17-35 | Voltage: 1.35V
High frequencies on a budget
Memory is pretty straightforward these days, though if the price isn’t much higher you can improve performance slightly with faster RAM. DDR4 prices have thankfully galvanized somewhat, with typical costs for 16GB often falling well below $100. There are many options to choose from: Adata, Ballistix, Corsair, Crucial, G.Skill, GeIL, Gigabyte, Hynix, HyperX, Micron, Mushkin, Patriot, PNY, Samsung, Team, and XPG are all good brands as far as we’re concerned.
Our main goal for gaming memory is DDR4-3000 or higher, with as low a CAS latency as possible, but at a good price. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to buy extreme memory for a mainstream build, but with DDR4-3200 only costing $10 more than basic DDR4 kits, it’s worth paying a little extra for AMD builds.
For more information, check out our guide to the best gaming DDR4 RAM options in 2020.
Addlink S70 512GB NVMe SSD
Fast, reliable, and affordable storage.
Capacity: 512GB | Interface: M.2 PCIe 3.0 x4 | Sequential IO: 3,400/2,000MB/s read/write | Random IO: 510K/500K IOPS read/write
Great for OS and applications
An NVMe M.2 SSD offers swift access to your data, and the Addlink S70 delivers that snappy response at an exceptionally agreeable price. Fitted with 512GB worth of NAND flash, there’s enough space for your operating system, applications, and a handful of games, too.
A single M.2 SSD offers flexibility when it comes to future upgrades, such as a SATA drive, second NVMe SSD, or high-capacity HDD—that’s why we recommend picking up a capable one from the get-go and planning ahead to your next storage upgrade for a little more freedom with upcoming game installs.
If you’re looking for other SSD options, then be sure to check out our guide on the best SSD for gaming.
WD Black 1TB (Optional)
The quickest regular HDD, offering storage on a budget.
Capacity: 1TB | HDD speed: 7200RPM | Cache: 32GB | Connectivity: SATA 6Gb/s | Warranty: 5 years
A cheaper storage option
Great reliability for a HDD
High capacity for files less often accessed
Given the install sizes of most modern PC games, it’s probably a good idea to get yourself a new drive for your gaming PC. While SATA SSDs are almost cheap enough to recommend as secondary storage (what a world we’re living in), you’ll probably look to a regular HDD to keep the cost down when you hit multiple terabyte demands.
We recommend the WD Black drive because it’s a 7,200RPM drive with a respectable 32GB cache, which offers 1TB of storage for about $70 or less. While you could get a WD Blue or Seagate Barracuda for less, the WD Black offers speed and reliability over capacity. Realistically, you’ll appreciate that speed if you’re planning to keep your HDD inside a gaming PC for more than a couple of years, as we already see load times creep up for the biggest games of 2020.
Corsair TX650M 650W
Highly reliable and efficient power without going overkill.
Output: 650W | Efficiency: 80 Plus Gold | Connectors: 1x 24-Pin ATX, 1x 8-Pin (4+4) EPS12V, 4x 8-Pin (6+2) PCIe, 6x SATA, 4x Molex, 1x Floppy | Modular: Partial
Good efficiency and price
Sane output rating
All Japanese capacitors
Power supplies are not the most exciting part of a gaming PC build. After all, it can be hard to tell them apart in terms of features. Even so, you don’t want to skimp on your PSU. Corsair has an excellent and well-deserved reputation for its power supplies, and the TX650M comes at a reasonable price and delivers 80 Plus Gold efficiency.
Most power supplies from the bigger names are generally good, but we wouldn’t recommend that you put your money in anything with a warranty of fewer than five years or an efficiency rating below 80 Plus Gold (maybe Bronze in a pinch). The $10 or $20 saved often isn’t worth the risk.
We also tend to go with modular PSUs where possible. It means less cable mess inside the case since you don’t have to stash unused cables somewhere. Instead, the remaining wires have to find a home in your closet.
Here’s our guide to the best power supplies for PC gaming.
Clean design and great cable management.
Type: ATX mid-tower | Motherboard Compatibility: ATX, Micro-ATX, Mini-ITX | Drive Bays: (Up to 7) 3.5/2.5-inch internal , 2x 2.5-inch SSD | Front Ports: 1x USB-C, 1x USB 3.0, Headphone, Mic | Fan Options: Front: 2x 120mm or 2x 140mm, Top: 120mm (included) or 140mm, Rear: 120mm (included) | Max GPU Length: 381mm | Dimensions: 460 x 210 x 428mm | Weight: 6.6 kgs.
Nice tempered glass side panel
Plenty of expansion options
USB-C front panel connector
Cases can be as stylish or boring as you want. We’re going to go for the former rather than the latter, with the NZXT H510, a slick, tempered glass case available in white or black. The NZXT H510 is also reasonably priced, which is always a bonus.
If you want other options, check our guide to the best mid-tower cases. The clean look goes well on any desk and doesn’t stand out like many so-called ‘gaming cases.’ There’s also the pricier H510i that integrates some smart features if you like the look of the H510 but want a few more bells and whistles.
Picking a case can be an entirely personal choice, so for more options, here are the best PC cases you can buy right now.
Dave has been obsessed with gaming since the days of Zaxxon on the Colecovision, and code books for the Commodore Vic 20 (Death Race 2000!). He built his first gaming PC at the tender age of 16, and finally finished bug-fixing the Cyrix-based system around a year later. When he dropped it out of the window. Thankfully it’s a lot easier to build a gaming rig now there are no motherboard jumper switches, though he has been breaking technology ever since… at least he gets paid for it now.