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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 less expensive and 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. 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.

Getting High-End GPUs for Best PC Builds 

However, before we get to our recommendations, we have to talk about the state of the market right now and why this is a terrible time to buy a high-end graphics card and a very difficult time to build a high-end gaming PC. At the moment, Nvidia’s new RTX 3080, 3070 and 3090 cards are top-of-the-line, but nearly impossible to get (see how and where to buy an RTX 3080, 3090 or 3070 card for your best chance). And AMD’s new Radeon RX 6000 series cards won’t be out until later this month and, at that time, could also sell out quickly. 

So, while we will be recommending RTX 3000 series cards in our $1,500+ builds, know that you may have a difficult time finding one in stock right now. Your options are either to wait and keep trying, buy a prebuilt PC with the card inside or substitute in a cheaper, mid-range card, which we’ll offer some suggestions for. However, if you’re building a PC that’s about $1,250 or less, this is a perfectly good time to build as sub-$300 CPU and graphics cards aren’t getting replaced or lowering in price anytime soon.

Best PC Build Caveats 

We will update this best PC builds page on a regular basis to keep pace with the changing hardware marketplace. Because availability and price of components changes so frequently, we will not have tested every single component. Nor, unless otherwise stated, are we able to gather all the parts for each suggested build together and test for clearance issues or other potential compatibility issues. 

Note also that hardware prices change daily and vary by country, so the total cost for any given build may be slightly higher or lower when you read this than it was at publication time. 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: Cooler Master)

For around $500, you can build a brand new gaming PC that has a recent-generation Intel Core i3 processor, Nvidia’s entry-level GTX 1650 graphics and 512GB of speedy solid-state storage. At this price point, you can expect AAA games to run at low to mid settings at 1080p resolution, but you will be able to at least play them. Dropping down to 720p will allow you to turn on some more eye candy. 

For the best $500 PC build for gaming, we recommend a Core i3-9100F processor from Intel, which has a reasonable four cores and a max rated turbo boost of 4.2 GHz. The 9100F comes with a usable stock cooler in the box and, with a TDP of 65W, it’s not going to require a high-end power supply. 

Our graphics card is the GTX 1650, because it’s the most powerful card we could fit into this budget, though you’d be better off stretching another $30 or so and getting a 1650 Super Card of some kind. This card should allow you to play games like Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Borderlands 3 at around an 80 fps average at 1080p and normal settings. 

If you’re looking to save money on your $500 PC build, you can find chassis that are $10 to $20 cheaper than the Cooler Master MasterBox Q300L, but we’ve built in this case and found it has excellent build quality and an attractive clear side panel for the price. You can also find other B365M motherboards for around $10 less, but we went with the Gigabyte B365M DS3H because it is highly rated. 

Best $800 PC Build for Gaming and Productivity 

(Image credit: Antec)

If you can stretch your budget up to $800, you can build a very strong PC with the ability to play games, broadcast your gaming to Twitch (see how to stream PC games to Twitch) and even do some serious photo editing. We actually made the best $800 PC Build for Gaming a just a few weeks ago and were able to pack in a 6-core, 12-thread AMD Ryzen 5 3600 CPU, an Nvidia GTX 1660 Super graphics card and 1TB of speedy PCIe storage, all in a case with an attractive RGB front panel. 

For the best $800 PC build for gaming and productivity, we chose AMD’s Ryzen 5 3600 as our processor. For just $175 (at pub time), this CPU offers 6 cores and 12 threads with a maximum boost clock of 4.2 GHz and a competent Spectre Stealth cooler in the box. With that many threads, streaming games via OBS with x264 compression was really smooth, with a degradation of only about 10 percent in frame rates over playing the games alone.

At pub time, cards based on the Nvidia GTX 1660 Super graphics card were the best we could fit into our budget for the best $800 PC build. With this card, we were able to play games like Borderlands 3 at Badass settings and Shadow of the Tomb Raider at its highest settings while getting average frame rates in the high 40s and 50s at 1080p. Less demanding games such as Grand Theft Auto V pulled over 60 fps at very high settings.  

We picked the WD Blue SN550 SSD because it’s a speedy NVMe SSD for the money. Priced at $105 at pub time and often on sale for less, the 1TB capacity of this drive provides plenty of room for games and media files while offering sequential read and write speeds of 2,400 and 1,750 MBps, respectively. 

The Antec Dapper Dark Phantom DP301M case is a great value. While it’s not full-featured enough to make our list of the best PC cases, it is easy to build in and has excellent cable management, along with a tempered-glass side panel for under $60. It also has an attractive RGB light panel on its front, though you can only control it using a button and not via software.  

Best $1000 PC Build for Gaming 

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

With a $1,000 budget, our best PC build for gaming keeps the same solid Ryzen 5 3600 CPU but provides a much faster graphics card in the Nvidia RTX 2060, which is the cheapest card to support hardware ray tracing. It can also take advantage of Nvidia's Broadcast software for filtering out unwanted background noise and blurring the messy home office behind you during video calls. 

In addition to upgrading the graphics card from what we had on our $800 PC build, we doubled our RAM to 32GB, went with the speedy XPG SX8200 Pro drive, which tops our list of the best SSDs, and chose the very attractive NZXT H510 as our case.  

We also got a Bronze 80+ rated power supply, which should be more efficient and reliable over the long haul than some cheaper models that don’t make the Bronze designation. At this price point, you wont’ get one of the best power supplies, but the Cooler Master MWE 600 should be more than competent.

The MSI MPG B550 Gaming Plus is a nice upgrade over the Gigabyte B550M DS3H we chose for the $800 Build. MSI’s board has USB 3.1 Gen 2 on the board and some RGB lighting to boot. If any of these components are sold out or have gone up in price, you can cut costs by going with a cheaper SSD, a non-Bronze PSU or a lower-cost B550 motherboard

Best $1500 PC Build for Gaming

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

Jumping up to a $1,500 budget, our best PC build for gaming incorporates a 6-core, 12-thread Intel Core i5-10600K, the best CPU overall right now, and a speedy Nvidia RTX 3070 card. Now, as we stated above and elsewhere, you may have a hard time getting an RTX 3070 card at this time. The card listed above is just one of many that third-party RTX 3070s that’s out of stock; grab whatever one you can.

If you can’t get an RTX 3070 right away, your options are to delay your purchase, buy one of the best prebuilt gaming PCs,  or settle for a lower-end card like the AMD Radeon RX 5700 XT or, if you can find one, an RTX 2060 Super. If you need to build right now, your best bet might be to stick with integrated graphics for a few weeks or pop in an old video card you have on hand from a prior build.

We also have adequate cooling and power to do some overclocking (see how to overclock Intel processors) and push our CPU past its stock boost speed of 4.8 GHz. In our tests, we were able to get the Core i5-10600K up to 5-GHz and you should be able to do the same with the CoolerMaster MasterLiquid ML240L V2 240mm AIO cooler on board. However, spending another $50 on the Corsair H100i, our pick for best CPU cooler, might yield even better results. 

To accommodate the 10th Gen processor, we went with the MSI Pro Z490-A motherboard, which promises excellent passive cooling, including a built-in heatsink for the M.2 slot, great cable management for the SATA ports and support for both 2.5 Gbps Ethernet and USB 3.2.

We’ve stuck with the same RAM and SSD from our $1000 Build, simply because they offer the best combination of performance and value here. Available in black or white, the Lian Li Liancool II has plenty of room for our 240mm radiator and any extra case fans you’d like to add. We love the sleek DRGB lights on the front panel and the in-depth cable management options. This is one sleek looking case.  

Best $2000 PC Build for Gaming 

NZXT H510i

(Image credit: NZXT)

For the best $2000 PC build for gaming, there’s an elephant in the room that we can’t ignore. We’re recommending Nvidia’s brand new RTX 3080 (see our RTX 3080 review) as the GPU, because you can fit it into the $2,000 budget, if you can actually find one selling for the MSRP of $799. However, RTX 3080 cards are nearly impossible to buy right now (see where to buy an RTX 3080).

However, if you can’t get an RTX 3080 card today, you have the same choices that we mentioned with our $1,500 build. You can delay your build entirely, waiting for either more 3080 stock or a Radeon RX 6800 XT, you can buy a prebuilt PC with RTX 3080 inside or you can temporarily live with either integrated graphics or whatever old graphics card you have lying around from a prior build. 

To go along with the graphics card, we’ve chosen an Intel Core i7-10700K CPU. This unlocked chip has 8 cores, 16 threads and the ability to overclock up to 5 or 5.1 GHz when paired with an adequate AIO cooler like the NZXT Kraken X63. That makes the 10700K a much better value than the Core i9-10900K which currently costs $100 more.

Even though this is a $2,000 PC build, we still have to make some compromises to hit our price point. That means that we’re sticking with 32GB of RAM rather than 64GB and, instead of getting a speedy 2TB SSD, we’re using the fast XPG SX8200 Pro as our boot drive and pairing it with a cheap Team Group GX2 SATA drive for additional storage. 

If we had a higher budget, we could put some money into purchasing a more glamorous case, but instead we’ll go with the classy but affordable NZXT H510i, which provides plenty of space for fans in an elegant black or white design. You may, however, want to add a few dollars to buy your own front case fans.

  • tb75252
    Would it be possible to see the detailed BOMs for every build?
  • 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...
  • kep55
    Where were the builds for productivity? I only saw gaming builds.
  • 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?
  • 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?
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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.