Building a budget gaming PC is like playing with LEGOs—for adults. A lot of people think that trying to build the best budget gaming PC possible is a daunting task, but this is not true at all. All the components in modern computers are more or less meant to fit together in an easy to figure out format. That said, many people need a little help when getting started with building computers. I know I did.
How to build the best budget gaming PC
Before we begin building a budget gaming PC, you will need to think about the requirements of the computer you want to build and the budget you can allocate to the project. Throughout the duration of this guide, I will show you how to figure out the requirements that you need for your budget PC. I will show you where to source your parts from, how to check compatibility of the parts you have chosen, and how to actually assemble your computer so that everything works. I will even briefly cover how to get your computer setup to run games.
Step 1: Figure out your needs
The very first step of building the best budget gaming PC possible is figuring out what exactly you need. This will vary from person to person, so you will need to think about what you personally want to be able to do with your machine. If high frame rates, blistering speed, and ultra graphics is your top priority, you probably won’t want to use the build we are listing here today. You will have to budget more than $1,000 USD for that type of computer. If playing most games on decent settings sounds great, then let’s continue!
Assuming that you have a more constrained budget, start with a price point around $500. Does this mean that you can’t expect great performance, the ability to play high end games, and multitask without slowing down significantly? No! At this price point, you will be able to do most of what the $1,000 build can. The only thing you will notice is it is not quite as snappy, and you will want to play games at 1080p instead of 4K. If you don’t even know what that last part is, then don’t worry about it! You won’t be missing anything by going with the build in this guide.
Again, if you decide that gaming is not your top priority, then this guide really isn’t targeted towards you. For the same amount of money, you could build a machine that better fits your targeted purpose. This is all about getting the max gaming performance for the money
For an entry level budget gaming PC, I always recommend going for the $500 mark. This will ensure that you get a great PC, some future proofing, and the ability to play current AAA titles at a reasonable level. For the purposes of this guide, I will assume that you already have a monitor and a keyboard and mouse. If you don’t have these things, then you will want to budget a little extra to purchase them along with your machine. A decent monitor can cost you about $150, while you can pick up a decent keyboard and mouse combo for around $40.
Step 2: Figuring out where to get your parts
One of the most important steps in building your PC is figuring out where you will buy the parts for your computer. Service after the sale is especially important if you received a bad component or an incorrect part. If you have plenty of time to dedicate to this task, you can get some really good deals on things, saving potentially hundreds. Unfortunately, this can also mean waiting a very long time and checking a lot of different sites. For the purposes of this guide, I will use baseline prices from Amazon. Amazon gives a pretty fair price and is usually one of the cheapest anyways.
Of course, Amazon is not the only game in town. There are sites like Newegg, NCIX, TigerDirect, and much more that cater to the PC market. You should also check out your local computer store (if you have one) to see if they have better deals than those online. These guys often have a lot of experience, and can really help if you have a hiccup. Ultimately, you should do a little research before going out and buying all your parts. An extra $100 in your pocket can go a long way to upgrading your system. If you have the patience to wait for some deals, you could end up with a much better system for the same amount of money.
Step 3: Parts Needed
The main parts for building a system will be a processor and matching motherboard, a graphics card (here is our list of the best budget graphics cards to buy), RAM, hard drive, power supply, and a case. Also, a version of Microsoft Windows 10 might be preferred as well if you plan to get most games.
For the CPU, you will need to decide if you want an AMD or Intel chip. The motherboard will then have to support this specific processor family. If you’re not sure which one to buy, check reviews for info about reliability, speed, ease of use, etc . . . Check the stars or equivalent ratings as well. If a board has 4.5 stars with 1000 reviews, it’s probably a great board! Be careful if there are only 2 or 3 reviews with a 5-star product, since it may not be actually representative of the product’s reliability and performance. It is unfortunately not uncommon for some companies to hire reviewers for the first few reviews on big websites.
Next, decide what graphics card you might want. Most Graphics cards have at least 4 Gigabytes or more of VRAM, and either uses AMD or NVIDIA chipsets. It can be confusing, so checking a site like Logical Increments for info can be a real help.
A quick note about RAM and VRAM. RAM is used by the Operating System (OS) to run the system and the running program, while VRAM handles the graphics rendering and performance issues. A lot of work of running a game at optimal levels is handled by the video card now, which is why having one separate from the one built-in on the processor gives a big performance boost.
Nowadays I would recommend at least 8GB of RAM. You will need 4 GB at a minimum, so it is possible to upgrade this a little later if a little short on cash. Your video card should have at least 8 GB of VRAM, whether Nvidia or AMD and the more the merrier.
Go to PCPartPicker.com, this is the website that many professional computer builders use to determine with great ease if your individual parts are compatible with each other. Don’t skip this step, because buying an AMD processor for use with an Intel motherboard just won’t work, no matter how great the deal!
The parts I will be using for this reference build will be the following:
OS: Windows 10 Home USB
CPU: Intel Pentium G4560
Motherboard: MSI B150 BAZOOKA
RAM: Kingston FURY 8GB (x1)
Storage: WD 500GB drive
Video Card: XFX Radeon RX 480 8GB XXX OC Video Card
Case: Cooler Master N200 MicroATX Mini Tower
Power Supply Unit: EVGA 450W 80+ Bronze Certified ATX Power Supply
Price before Operating System: $530.49
Step 4: Build The Actual Computer
Make sure all packaging is intact and undamaged. If any parts or boxes look damaged, document the damage with a cell phone or camera in case you need to file a claim later. The work surface should be clean and brightly lit. It also helps greatly if an antistatic mat or strap is available.
The first step when building your computer is to lay all the parts out in front of you. It sounds obvious, but it will really help with visualizing what the final build should be. I recommend looking at the photos I’m attaching for an idea of what each step should look like. Once you have all the parts laid out, you can start the next step—actually unboxing everything. I recommend unboxing the case first. You should keep all packaging for at least a month or two in case a part fails. Many manufacturers require shipping products in original packages for warranty work or returns.
For this build I will be using the Cooler Master N200. You will then want to take your power supply unit (PSU), and put it in your case with the provided screws. You can worry about all the cable mess later.
Your PSU is the thing that will bring power from the wall to all the components in your machine. That is the reason why I never recommend going with a really cheap manufacturer. You want to make sure this part is very reliable with a decent warranty. That’s not to say go out and buy the most expensive PSU you can find, just look at reviews online to find a solid choice. A few extra well-spent dollars can prevent a burning smell from parts signaling the death of your computer.
Once you have securely fastened your PSU in the case, unbox the rest of your pieces. Your next step is to take the motherboard out and set it on its box. This is assuming you don’t have an antistatic mat. If you do, then make sure to put it on there. Remember to keep your anti-static bag! Your motherboard is like your computer’s body. It is what everything attaches to. Every part will in some way plug into the motherboard, so choose a decent one from a reliable manufacturer. The one I have chosen for this build is the MSI B150M BAZOOKA. You will want to go ahead install your CPU onto the motherboard.
The CPU is essentially the brain of your computer. It is the part that converts all the ones and zeros into commands that your computer can use. Simply put, it is what your computer uses to make everything work. You want a decent processor to help the system stay usable as long as possible down the road as well. Spending a little more on a processor can give it a longer usable life of a year or two more.
You must make absolutely sure that you do NOT bend the pins on the CPU. This can render it useless. Take a small pair of needle nose pliers and GENTLY bend a bent pin back straight in case of a mistake. Not good! The CPU is essentially the brain of your computer. The CPU is the part that converts all the ones and zeros into commands that your computer can use. Simply put, it is what your computer uses to make everything work. To insert the CPU, just sit it in the CPU tray on the motherboard. A little tip is to pay attention to the little gold triangle at the bottom corner. You will want to match up this triangle to the bottom left of the CPU tray. Usually, the box will contain illustrated instructions for seating the processor, so make sure to carefully read the manual if in the slightest doubt! Processors are expensive.
Once you have placed it in (don’t force it down), you will close the retaining arm. Lock it into place or latch it, and you have successfully placed your CPU into your motherboard! This is also when you put your CPU cooler onto your board or processor. Pay attention to the instructions that came with your cooler (in this case we will use the included cooler, but aftermarket coolers may be different). Many coolers use some sort of adhering paste, so if you’ve been handling your CPU a lot you may want to wipe the top with a damp cotton ball with pure rubbing alcohol to remove oils and help the paste stick better.
Your next step will be to insert the RAM. This will be very easy, as long as you pay attention to how it looks and purchased the correct RAM type for your motherboard. You will see that it fits in the RAM slots only one way, so press it gently into place just until it clicks or latches. This is important because if the RAM is not seated properly you will get a startup error. For this build we are using the Kingston Fury 8GB (x1) kit, so there is only one slot taken up. If you decide to go with a different kit, then you may need to alternate slots. Follow your motherboard manufacturer’s instructions, you’ll thank yourself later!
Once you have installed the RAM and CPU into your motherboard, you are ready to put it into the case. You will find that there are holes that line up perfectly with the screw positions in your case. See the pictures for the specific layout for the case we use in this build. Again, if you decided to go with another case/motherboard you may find your experience to be different.
Once your motherboard is inside your case, it is time to add your hard drive. You will find the mount for it in the manual for the case. Each case differs in how hard drive mounting works. For this build, you will need to mount it in the 3.5-inch drive slot. Go ahead and screw it down or latch it, and you will be able to install the rest of the hardware.
Your last step before completing the hardware setup is to plug in your graphics card. For this build, I chose the XFX Radeon RX 480 8GB XXX OC video card. This is an exceptionally powerful card and will be able to run most modern games at 60 frames per second at 1080p. For most budget game builds, this is more than enough power. This specific card will give you some future-proofing. Simply plug this card into the top PCIE slot (the slot on your motherboard that fits the card). Push it down gently until it clicks. It must be seated fully! Now that your graphics card is in place, you will be able to start plugging everything else in.
When plugging all the cables into the components inside your computer, you MUST read the manual that came with the motherboard. This will show you exactly how everything must be plugged in. This is incredibly important because it varies from board to board. Since this step varies so widely, it is impossible to adequately describe the process using just words. Most cables will only plug into one type of connector with some sort of connector guide or pin header, so just visually checking can help some if a cable doesn’t seem to be fitting where it should. Also, make sure all cables are plugged in fully. Loose cables can cause intermittent issues that can be a pain to track down.
Step 5: Finishing Touches
Now that you have everything plugged in, you should do some cable management. This means to tidy up the cabling inside your computer. This step is completely optional, but you may find you would like to do some for aesthetics. It can also help airflow in smaller cases, which can help the CPU and GPU run cooler.
Heat is never good for electronic components. It may even be a good idea to buy another cheap small fan if your case supports it. Regardless, you will want to keep the heat under the recommended levels for your setup.
Step 6: Installing Operating System
Your final step for this build will be to choose your Operating System. This is personal preference. Many gamers will go with Windows. You will have to budget at least an extra $50 – $100 for Windows if you want to install it. If you want to install a distribution of Linux then you can get most for free, but they will not all support gaming. I will assume that you bought a USB stick containing a retail version of Windows, which can be found here. You will simply boot your computer up, and select the USB as your boot device. Windows will walk you through the setup process, so you can get it up and running quickly.
Xbox One owners will want to use the Home version of Windows for some cool connectivity and cross-platform gaming with the console and Xbox Live network. Business users will want Pro for some connectivity and security features, as well as Remote Desktop which can be a great tool for support. If you need the Enterprise version, then you probably are already receiving it from your company.
Go ahead and download Steam, and you will be ready to start gaming on your new computer!
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