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Best PC Builds for Gaming, Streaming and Productivity

Best PC Builds
(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

While you can buy one of the best gaming PCs and resolve your dilemma about whether to buy or build a PC that way, putting together your own system is sometimes less expensive and (almost) always more rewarding. When you build a system yourself, you get total control of everything from the exact make and model of motherboard to aesthetics of the chassis and how many RGB fans you want.

Depending on what type of computer you create, you may also be saving a few hundred dollars over the cost of buying a prebuilt system, though in today’s market that’s not always the case. Some people are buying prebuilt PCs to get the GPU they want. To help you assemble the best PC build for gaming or productivity on your budget, we've created a set of recommended parts lists below, organized by total price.

A Time of Shortages

Before we get to our recommendations, we have to talk about the state of the PC component market right now. Due to a perfect storm of production problems and high-demand, it’s often difficult to find some of the key PC components in stock. All of the best graphics cards and even many of the worst ones are out of stock. You can find pretty much any card for sale by scalpers on eBay and, according to our up-to-date GPU Price Index, that means spending almost $700 for an RTX 3060 card that should theoretically cost $329.

So where does this leave our build recommendations? Here, we're going to be realistic based and put in rough prices for GPUs based on what we've seen from eBay resellers, which appears to be the most reliable way to get a GPU. Whether or not you want to reward scalpers is up to you. Hopefully, you’ll be able to find the parts you need at reasonable prices at the time you’re ready to do your next build.

Also note that we don't include the cost of an operating system, because you can get Windows 10 for Free or Cheap. Nor do we include the price of peripherals such as the best gaming monitors, best gaming keyboards or best gaming mouse.

Best $500 PC Build for Gaming 

(Image credit: Phanteks)

We hate to say it, but with recent price spikes on GPUs, it’s impossible to fit a discrete graphics card into a $500 build. Because of that, we’re recommending that you go with the best possible integrated graphics you can afford. On the CPU side, that means an AMD Ryzen 5 5600G . The Ryzen 5 boasts AMD Radeon Vega 7 graphics, 6 CPU cores and a boost clock of 4.4 GHz. That APU also comes with AMD's Wraith cooler in the box, so that's one place where we'll save some money.

We don’t expect fantastic frame rates in games, but you should be able to game at 720p and perhaps step up to 1080p with low-to-medium settings on some less-demanding games. You can always save your pennies for a future GPU upgrade.

(Image credit: AMD)

For the motherboard, any budget B550 board should do, but we’ve chosen the ASRock B550M Pro 4 because of its relatively affordable price more than any of its features. To milk the maximum performance out of our integrated GPU, which relies on system RAM, we need relatively-fast, but inexpensive RAM so we’re going with a Corsair Vengeance 16GB (8x2) kit. It's a decently priced DDR4-3200 kit from a reputable brand. We can only afford 500GB of SSD storage, so we’ve chosen the reliable WD Blue SN550 as our boot drive.

There are a lot of decent budget case options. Here, we have the Phanteks Eclipse P300, an ATX mid-tower with a tempered glass window that is affordable at $50, and even more so after an extra $15 rebate as of this writing. For the PSU, we went with a 500W EVGA 500 BQ, a semi-modular bronze-rated option. Without a discrete GPU, this will be plenty.

Best $800 PC Build for Gaming and Productivity 

If you can stretch your budget up to $800, you can build a PC with the ability to play pretty much every game, albeit perhaps at low or medium settings. To get a discrete GPU in here, you're going to have to go with something low-end and possibly even used. Thanks, component shortage!

For the best $800 PC build for gaming and productivity, we chose Intel's Core i5-11400F (we're saving a few bucks here by ditching the integrated graphics). For less than $200, this CPU offers 6 cores and 12 threads with a maximum boost clock of 4.4 GHz and a competent cooler in the box.

For graphics, we were able to squeeze in an Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti, which we've seen for around $225 on eBay, often used. It's not a powerful GPU, and buying a used GPU does come with some risk, but it's slow enough that it's unlikely anyone was mining on it 24/7 for a few years. The 1050 Ti retailed for around $150 before the current shortage. With this card and the Core i5-11400, you should be able to play most games at medium to high settings and 1080p,  though you may need to turn some settings down.

(Image credit: Gigabyte)

Again, we picked the Gigabyte B560M motherboard for its price, but it offers a nice selection of ports, including USB 3.2 Gen 1 and USB Type-C. And it supports PCIe 4.0 so you can get a super high-end SSD like the Samsung 980 Pro at a later date.

We picked the WD Blue SN550 SSD again, but jumped up to 1TB capacity, which provides plenty of room for games and media files while offering sequential read and write speeds of 2,400 and 1,750 MBps, respectively.

For the case, we've boosted up slightly to the Phanteks Eclipse P400, which also features tempered glass and a partially steel construction. Right now, a $10 rebate takes a slice off the price. To power it all, we're recommending a 550W 80 Plus Gold PSU from SeaSonic.

An alternative would be to stick with integrated graphics, like we did in our $500 build. That's hard to swallow at this point, but with the GPU market as it is, it's something to consider. You could upgrade to a Ryzen 7 5700G and spend some of the money you would on a GPU on a nicer case, more storage or other nice-to-haves until you have room to add a discrete GPU. Note that even the relatively weak GTX 1050 Ti is about twice as fast as the 5700G's integrated Vega 8 Graphics.

Best $1,000 PC Build for Gaming 

With a $1,000 budget, our best PC build for gaming sees serious improvements. At this price, we can jump to a 6-core/12-thread AMD Ryzen 5 5600X in an AsRock B550 Phantom Gaming 4 AC motherboard.

For graphics, we've opted for the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Super, which we've seen going for around $325 on eBay. Again, this isn't ideal, but we have to be realistic in the chip shortage. Performance based on our testing is about 75% faster than the GTX 1050 Ti, and 1080p at medium to high settings shouldn't be a problem even in more recent releases.

(Image credit: Zotac)

Our case is the Corsair 4000D, an attractive steel and plastic ATX mid-tower with a tempered glass window. It includes two 120mm case fans and can fit a 360mm radiator in front or a 280 mmcooler up top. We're opting to use the included cooler that comes with the CPU to land closer to $1,000, but this case leaves room to upgrade that later.

To stay in the neighborhood of our $1,000 budget, we stuck with the same affordable WD Blue SN550 1TB SSD we used in the $800 build and the Corsair Vengeance RAM from our $500 configuration. We also got an 80 Plus Gold rated semi-modular power supply, thanks to a $10 rebate.

Best $1,500 PC Build for Gaming

Jumping up to a $1,500 budget, our best PC build for gaming incorporates an Intel Core i5-12600K with 6 performance cores and 4 efficiency cores, which tops our list of the best CPUs for gaming and costs around $300. It provides excellent gaming performance and strong multi-threaded productivity speeds. It can boost up to 4.9GHz on its P-cores or 3.6GHz on the E-cores, and it's unlocked for overclocking.

The 12600K doesn't come with a stock cooler and we want strong performance so we're going with the Noctua NH-U12S Redux, a reliable $50 air cooler. (You could consider the U14S, though that cooler is massive and more expensive.)

(Image credit: Intel)

Our GPU is an AMD Radeon RX 6600 card, which we found at Newegg's eBay store for $559.99 as of this writing. That's definitely higher than the $329 MSRP, but it’s hard to find right now at any price south of $600. At least you should be reasonably safe buying from the Newegg store. Performance is about 75% faster than the GTX 1650 Super, and you get 8GB of VRAM, so 1080p ultra and 1440p medium-to-high gaming are viable.

To accommodate the 11th Gen processor, we went with an MSI Pro Z690-A motherboard. This board supports DDR4 RAM as opposed to DDR5, which is both very expensive and nearly impossible to find right now. The Pro Z690-A has an extended PWM heatsink, support for PCIe 5.0, and a built-in USB 3.2 Gen 2 2x2 port. There's also room for three M.2 SSDs on board.

For memory, we've boosted our Corsair Vengeance selection up to 32GB (2x16GB) of DDR4-3200 RAM. We're still sticking with the WD Blue SN550 1TB SSD we used at the previous price point for storage.

(Image credit: NZXT)

Our case is the NZXT H510, a popular mid-tower case that comes in multiple colors and has a tempered glass side panel. It also includes USB Type-C on the front-panel I/O. This case, currently running for $75, comes with two 120mm fans. We've also bumped the PSU up to a 750W, gold-rated EVGA SuperNova that's fully modular and boasts a 10-year warranty. You can get it for under $100 with the $15 mail-in rebate as of this writing.

Best $2,500+ PC Build for Gaming 

With a budget of $2,500 or more for our gaming PC build, we’re stepping up to the Intel Core i9-12900K CPU. This unlocked chip has eight performance cores, eight efficiency cores, and goes up to 5.2GHz before overclocking. We've paired it with Corsair's chunky H150i Capellix, though note that you'll need to contact Corsair support for the (free) LGA1700 adapter kit.

For the GPU, we’re recommending AMD's Radeon RX 6700 XT, which you can find for about $950 on eBay. The 12GB of memory is a nice touch and performance often beats the competing RTX 3070 with a slightly lower price. By the numbers, our testing puts the RTX 6700 XT about 50% ahead of the RX 6600, and just a few percent behind the 3070. For a PC build this expensive, we'd usually recommend something like the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080, but good luck finding one for less than $1,500.

(Image credit: AMD)

Frankly, we've gone a bit over $2,500 even with some compromises to hit our price point. That means that we’re sticking with 32GB of G.Skill RAM rather than jumping to 64GB. We've also stuck with DDR4 memory rather than upgrading to DDR5, which is still massively expensive and difficult to find.

Here, we've upgraded to a single M.2 PCIe 4.0 2TB SSD in the form of the Crucial P5 Plus. To save some money, you could consider a 1TB SSD for your OS with a separate mass-storage drive.

We've selected the sleek Fractal Design Meshify C for $100, but with a higher budget, you might consider the Meshify 2, which is one of the best PC cases. The Meshify C is easy to build in and has good looks and airflow (a great combination!), though mounting the large 360mm radiator at the front of the case can be a bit unwieldy.

Finding Discounts on the Best PC Components

With massive shortages of key components and prices on the rise, locating discounts on everything from cases to RAM is more important than ever. To find savings on components of all types, check out our lists of the best PC hardware deals, along with the latest Newegg promo codes, Corsair coupon codes, Best Buy promo codes, and Micro Center coupons.

Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch is Tom's Hardware's editor-in-chief. When he's not playing with the latest gadgets at work or putting on VR helmets at trade shows, you'll find him rooting his phone, taking apart his PC or coding plugins. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram developed many real-world benchmarks, including our laptop battery test.
  • tb75252
    Would it be possible to see the detailed BOMs for every build?
    Reply
  • mdd1963
    At even the lowest budget end, I'd never recommend the 9100F, as a 4c/4t CPUs frame rates often struggle for maintaining minimum FPS..; the R3/3300X is a $120 budget beast, with it's 4c/8t CPU often nearly matching the R5-3600 in many games...
    Reply
  • kep55
    Where were the builds for productivity? I only saw gaming builds.
    Reply
  • vinaysb14
    The z490-Pro has this in the specifications - Supports 1R 2133/2666/2933 MHz - And you seem to be recommending a 3200 Mhz DDR4?
    Reply
  • danlw
    Wow, the $500 and $2000 PCs don't even need a power supply! Are those both using Intel's new Zero Point Energy chipset, the ZPE000?
    Reply
  • aberchonbie
    vinaysb14 said:
    The z490-Pro has this in the specifications - Supports 1R 2133/2666/2933 MHz - And you seem to be recommending a 3200 Mhz DDR4?

    Those are "officially" supported speeds. They're basically guaranteed speeds the motherboard will run, but you can easily run higher speed RAM (especially on Intel-based platforms) with overclocking profiles that are embedded within RAM kits you buy (aka XMP profiles).
    Reply
  • murpes
    This is a horrible article. Every build inconsistently lists components, sometimes giving specifics, sometimes being general, and other times skipping over components altogether. The $1500 build says "We’ve stuck with the same RAM ... from our $1000 build" yet the $1,000 build doesn't list any RAM. A 500 GB SSD drive is listed as 1 TB.
    Reply
  • JfromNucleon
    kep55 said:
    Where were the builds for productivity? I only saw gaming builds.
    Exactly, that's probably the only reason I'm probably gonna build a pc in the coming year........... probably
    Reply
  • svliegen
    Tom's Hardware seems to be focusing more and more on gaming. That is bad. There is a myriad of gaming oriented websites already. I'm a business user, focused on productivity. I couldn't care less about gaming.
    Reply
  • jbo5112
    What's the point of suggestions with imaginary GPU prices that don't exist? None of the builds even meet their price points anymore (if they ever did), even with their fictitiously low GPU prices. The only exception is the $500 machine. It at least fits with its fictional pricing.

    Came for the productivity builds. Stayed for the disaster show.

    P.S. Why does the article say it's from "2 days ago", with comments from 5 months ago?
    Reply