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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 often less expensive and 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. 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

However, 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 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 at least $800 for an RTX 3060 card that should cost $329.

While GPUs are the worst offenders, the Ryzen 5000 series CPUs are out of stock or selling at jacked-up prices everywhere too. However, on any given day, you may find one for sale. 

So where does this leave our build recommendations? The market is too unstable for us to use current GPU street prices to calculate our build prices and we wouldn’t want to recommend anyone build a high-end gaming PC with a low-end GTX 1650 card, just because it’s one of the best GPUs in stock as we write this. So we are going to recommend GPUs based on their MSRPs. 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 

Cooler Master MasterBox Lite 3.1 TG (Image credit: Cooler Master)

We hate to say it, but with recent price spikes on GPUs, it’s pretty much 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 and that would be on an AMD Ryzen 3 3200G CPU or, if you can stretch up a little higher, the Ryzen 5 3400G. The Ryzen 3 boasts AMD Radeon Vega 8 graphics, 4 cores and a boost clock of 4-GHz while the Ryzen 5 ups the ante with Radeon RX Vega 11 graphics, 4 cores with 8 threads and a boost clock of 4.2 GHz. Either CPU comes with a fan.

We don’t expect fantastic frame rates with either chip, 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.

For a motherboard, any budget B550 board should do, but we’ve chosen the ASRock B550M, because of its relatively affordable price, more so than any feature. 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 G.Skill's 16GB (8x2) Ripjaws, the least expensive DDR4-3200 kit we could find 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, but we like the Cooler Master MasterBox Lite 3.1 TG because it provides a tempered glass side panel and customizable color trim. We only need a 400W power supply so we opted for the inexpensive EVGA 400 N1.

Best $800 PC Build for Gaming and Productivity 

Antec Dapper Dark Phantom DP301M (Image credit: Antec)

If you can stretch your budget up to $800, you can build a 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.

For the best $800 PC build for gaming and productivity, we chose Intel's Core i5-11400. 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. This Rocket Lake processor easily beats AMD's now-dated Ryzen 5 3600 (see Intel Core i5-11400 vs AMD Ryzen 5 3600) in gaming and productivity. 

For GPU, we recommend the Nvidia GTX 1660 Super, which retailed for around $249 before the current shortage. With this card and the Core i5-11400, you should be able to play mid-range games at high settings and even high-end games should look decent at 1080p.

The Asus Prime H570M-Plus motherboard is a feature-rich, but affordable choice that has such extras as USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports, Thunderbolt 4 headers and dual M.2 ports. 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. 

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 

NZXT H510 (Image credit: NZXT)

With a $1,000 budget, our best PC build for gaming keeps the same solid Intel Core i5-11400 and Asus H570M motherboard, but provides a much faster graphics card in the Nvidia RTX 3060 Ti, which carries a $399 MSRP, making it  the cheapest current-gen card to support RTX 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. 

Our case is the NZXT H510, which has a beautiful, understated pure white shell and comes with two 120mm case fans and room for a 280mm cooler up top. It has a USB 3.1 Gen 2 USB-C connector on the top front for use with high-speed external SSDs.

We also got a Bronze 80+ rated power supply, which should be more efficient 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.

To stay in the neighborhood of our $1,000 budget, we stuck with the same affordable G.Skill Ripjaws V Series RAM and WD Blue SN550 1TB SSD we used in the $800 build. 

Best $1500 PC Build for Gaming

Phanteks P360A Case

(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 i5-11600K, which tops our list of best CPUs and costs only around $270. It provides excellent gaming performance and strong multi-threaded productivity speeds. It can boost up to 4.9-GHz on two cores or 4.6-GHz on all cores and it's unlocked for overclocking. 

Our GPU is a speedy AMD Radeon RX 6800 card, which bests its direct competitor, the Nvidia RTX 3070, in our GPU benchmarks hierarchy. The RX 6800 had a launch price of $579, but it’s hard to come now at any price. If you can’t find one but can get your hands on an RTX 3070, which has a Founder’s Edition MSRP of $499, instead, go right ahead.

The 11600K doesn't come with a stock cooler and we want strong performance so we're going 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 11th Gen processor, we went with an Asus Prime Z590-P motherboard, which has 11 power stages for overclocking, 3 M.2 ports, dual USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports, 2.5 Gb Ethernet, Thunderbolt 4 support and support for PCIe 4.0 drives. 

We’ve upgraded our storage from the $1,500 model, opting for an sk Hynix Gold P31 1TB SSD. It’s the same capacity as the WD Blue SN550 we use on cheaper builds, but it offers noticeably faster speeds, promising sequential reads and writes of 3,500 and 3,200 MBps, compared to the DRAMless WD’s  2,400 / 1,750 MBps.  We also doubled our RAM to 32GB, going with TeamGroup's T-Force Vulcan Z (2x16GB) DDR4-PC3200 RAM.

For our case, we're going with the Phanteks Eclipse P360A, which is a strong budget choice, because of its strong thermal performance. It also provides a colorful light show with two RGB fans included. Our PSU is Cooler Master's MWE Gold 750 V2, which at a current price of $111, gives you Gold-level efficiency and a modular design.

Best $2000 PC Build for Gaming 

NZXT H510i

NZXT H510i (Image credit: NZXT)

For the best $2000 PC build for gaming, we’re stepping up to the Intel Core i7-11700K CPU. This unlocked chip has 8 cores, 16 threads and the ability to boost up  to 5 GHz when paired with an adequate AIO cooler like the NZXT Kraken X63. That makes the 10700K a much better value than the Core i9-11900K which currently costs $220 more.

For GPU, we’re recommending Nvidia’s 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 anywhere near the MSRP of $699 (or even $799). If you can’t get an RTX 3080 but can find a Radeon RX 6800 XT, which has a $649 launch price, that’s your closest alternative.

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 TeamGroup RAM rather than jumping to 64GB and, instead of upgrading to a single, M.2 PCIe 2TB SSD, we’re sticking with the sk Hynix Gold P31 1TB boot drive and adding an inexpensive Team Group GX2 1TB SATA SSD for 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.

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 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?
  • 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.
  • 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?