By S.G. Howe/March 18, 2023 8:52 pm EST
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So you want to build your first gaming computer. It’s no doubt an exciting undertaking, but can also be an expensive one. It’s one of those many hobbies, like hobby cars and photography, that has enough gadgets, bells, and whistles attached to siphon your free cash up in the blink of an eye. The best way to approach building your first PC is with a definitive budget and shopping list. The latter will be dictated by the former, but the good news is that you don’t need thousands upon thousands of free dollars floating around to build a decent gaming setup.
We rounded up a couple of affordable, yet quality recommendations for each of these major gaming computer components: Central processing units, graphics processing units, power supply units, motherboards, and RAM kits. These parts don’t necessarily make a cohesive build together, but what we’ve listed here can contribute to a sweet new setup without breaking the bank.
CPU: Intel Core i5 12400
Keeping the costs of your CPU down is generally a good strategy when building a PC on a budget because your free cash could be applied to graphics and memory. For affordable gaming CPUs, we recommend starting with Intel’s Core i5-12400. This 12th-generation processor is a fantastic value with its integrated GPU, the UHD Graphics 730. While not enough of a powerhouse for the graphics of today’s AAA games, it still beefs up the CPU nicely. The i5-12400 contains six performance cores, but some preferred higher-end CPU features are withheld at this price point.
This processor features a preferred Intel stock cooler, the Laminar RM1. Perhaps the most attractive feature of this processor for gamers is its memory capabilities; the Intel i5-12400 supports 4800 MHz DDR5 memory, and 3200 MHz DDr4 memory. The memory can also be overlocked on the i5-12400 if that’s something you’re interested in doing. This cache-rich processor is available on Amazon for $182.99 as of this writing.
CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 5600G
The AMD Ryzen 5 5600G and the AMD Ryzen 5 5600X run a close race in terms of the best Ryzen CPU to support a budget build. In fact, the Ryzen 5 5600 is a worthwhile consideration, too, but all three of these models sit in a short price range with negligible $10-15 jumps between each one at the time of this article’s posting). The 5600G is your most affordable option at $128.55 on Amazon, but this CPU, like the i5 also included on our list, comes with an onboard graphics unit. Gamers looking to put any amount of strain on the CPU and GPU with modern games like “Hogwarts Legacy,” “Modern Warfare II,” and “Dead Space Remake” will find the built-in Radeon graphics card to be, by and large, useless.
If you’re willing to invest a tiny bit more, check out the Ryzen 5 5600 for $139.79 on Amazon. This appealing CPU is built with a Wraith Stealth cooler, but is slightly slower than our preferred option, the Ryzen 5 5600X, on the memory clock. The 5600 maxes out at 3500 MHz on its base clock, while the 5600X is capable of about 200 MHz more. The 5600X is the priciest of these three wallet-friendly options at $156.63 on Amazon (this is a 50% off sale price as of this article’s publishing).
GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060
The Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 is a fantastic graphics processing unit for a reasonable graphics processing unit price. It’s not as budget as budget gets, but if you’re willing to make a few sacrifices in other areas of your build, this is worth it. It’s a mid-tier GPU, replacing the Geforce GTX 1060, that touches on ray-tracing (despite having the smallest core roster of any GPU in the RTX lineup) being that it’s a member of Nvidia’s RTX family, the first GPU to voyage into real-time ray tracing. This GPU is a heavy hitter at 2080p play, but if you are hell-bent on getting into the 4K space, you’ll have to settle for playing at 30 frames per second to pull it off on the RTX 2060.
In any case, though, this workhorse of a GPU will deliver excellent full HD results in the 60 frames per second range, and it’s a sound investment if you’re curious but not fully sold on the graphic phenomenon of ray tracing. There are many options to choose from on Amazon between ASUS, MSI, and EVGA builds.
GPU: Intel Arc A750
Don’t let snobbish gamers tell you that there’s no point in buying a 1080p graphics card. The Intel Arc A750 is a great GPU option if you’re not all that concerned with keeping up with the Jones’ 4K gaming obsessions. The price of the Intel Arc A750 GPU is falling, so you best get it while it’s hot. You won’t find many options that match the Arc A750 in price and value for price; this unit doesn’t pack quite as much power as the other GPU included in our list, but it’s a solid choice for 1080p gaming. You could get away with 1440p displays with the A750, too, if you’re willing to scale back your frames per second expectations.
For new, casual, and budget-strained gamers, the A750 is not an option to pass up — and right now you can get it for $249.99 on B&H Photo. You lose four cores in this price-unoffensive Intel model, sure, plus a reduced memory capacity and clock speed, but if you really need 16GB of RAM, the Intel Arc A770 is available for an extra $100.
PSU: XPG Core Reactor Modular PSU
A great power supply unit to invest in is the XPG Core Reactor. There are cheaper ones out there, but the XPG is a well-built choice that’ll give you tons of use. This PSU offers protection from power surges, short circuits, over and under voltage, and overheating. The Core Reactor comes in 650, 750, and 850 Watt max power output models, and is capable of continuous full load operation from 32 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s a quiet power supply, too.
If you’re looking for a modular power supply with exceptional performance, a solid and quality build, plus Cybenetics approval for noise and efficiency, the XPG Core Reactor is a strong contender. If you’re on the tight side for funds, the 650-watt version will run you just $109.99 on Amazon. The 750-watt version, though, is nominally more expensive at $119.99, followed by the 850-watt version at $139.99.
PSU: Corsair CX650M
Corsair has a number of affordable options for power supply units. An older model for beginners or tight-budget gamers is the Corsair CX 450, a low-cost PSU that protects against over and under voltage, overheating, short circuits, and surges. It’s not a modular PSU and not the quietest you can find, but refurbished models can be found on eBay for as little as $50.
For wallet-friendly Corsair power supply units, we recommend the CX650M. It’s a semi-modular PSU that offers 650 watts of power with all of the expected strengths and protections — low noise, Dual EPS12V cables and eight-pin power connectors, full operation at high temperatures, and a compact design for diverse builds. This is a super affordable unit at just $79.99 through Best Buy. Other lower-wattage options from Corsair include the CX550F RGB, a great modular option for less than $100, and the VS500 80 Plus, the most budget-friendly power supply at $48.81.
Motherboard: ASUS ROG Strix B550-A Gaming
Of course, the best budget-friendly motherboard option will be largely dependent on what’s already been purchased for your build — the compatibility of motherboards is quite specific. One that we recommend is the ASUS ROG Strix B550-A Gaming motherboard. The ROG Strix isn’t the cheapest line out there, but it packs tons of value. There is a wi-fi version of the ASUS ROG Strix B550-A Gaming motherboard, but the non-wi-fi is the easier option for budget PC builders. The details of this board closely resemble those of another popular non-wi-fi ASUS board, the ROG STRIX B550-F. It includes a pair of sizable contact M.2 heatsinks, features high-speed DDR4 memory, and includes stellar audio capacitors and noise-canceling technology.
Plus, the silver and white accents of this motherboard will surely add some interest to your build. If the ROG Strix B550-A is compatible with your build, it’s available for $159.99 refurbished on Amazon.
Motherboard: ASRock Intel B365M-HDV Phantom Gaming 4
The ASRock B365M-HDV is a great budget motherboard for Intel builds. There is a lot of performance to be reaped in this motherboard for less than $100. It is lacking in a few features compared to the higher-end ASRock B360 chipset boards. Most notably, the B365M doesn’t include any integrated wireless capability or onboard USB 3.1 support, and the motherboard is made with an older generation of silicon, although this difference will likely be negligible to most gamers and extra USB 3.1. hardware can probably be purchased.
All of the other expected motherboard features are included: two M.2 drives and cooling fans, a dedicated M.2 port for wi-fi, and aesthetic RGB lighting. The M365M also features Intel UHD onboard graphics (usable with compatible CPUs). This motherboard is available for $69.99 on Amazon.
RAM kit: Corsair Vengeance LPX
Since RAM kits can be purchased across a spectrum of different sizes, there’s a lot of flexibility in terms of price. The Corsair Vengeance LPX 32GB delivers tons of memory power and quickly becoming the new standard for PC gaming, but there are more affordable options. This kit can be purchased as low as 8GB for just $25, but you’re likely to be severely hindered for most modern games. The 16GB (pack of two 8GB) is currently on sale for $47.98 through Amazon, and can handle the needs of a large subset of casual gamers.
We use Vengeance LPX 16s and haven’t encountered any significant issues even when playing heavy-handed, graphics-intensive AAA games. It stays quite cool even under intense use, too. This part features a slim, low-profile design that makes it compatible with a number of builds. It’s not the absolute cheapest RAM kit on the market, but one of the best values, in our opinion.
RAM kit: G.Skill RipJaws V Series
You won’t find a decent RAM kit at a more unbeatable price than the G. Skill Ripjaws V DDR4-3200. The 16GB version of this kit costs just $44.99 on Amazon as of this writing. It’s got a no-nonsense appearance (no jazzy RGB lighting for that aesthetic-hungry crowd), but the cost-to-XMP capability ratio is impressive. The heatsinks regulate temperatures nicely even under high loads. It’s not the kit for overclocking fans, but remains stable at base settings up to 3200 MHz.
The Ripjaws are optimized for Intel builds, but can be used in Ryzen PCs, too — you might have to agree to sacrifice some MHz performance. If your need and budget are both big enough, the Ripjaws V Series’ 32GB model is currently on sale for $74.99 – another decent price for modern standard memory at 3200 MHz.