I get the chance to review a lot of pre-built gaming desktops and gaming laptops, many of which are not in my usual price range. Though there are plenty of affordable pre-built rigs that can deliver a satisfying gaming experience, the beauty of building your own machine lies in the extensive customization and the ability to cut costs by buying everything separately and putting it together yourself. I recently did just that, and the end result is a $1,000 mid-range gaming PC that can easily handle modern AAA games, if not with settings maxed out. I've collected all parts used and have included some performance results below to help you get an idea of what this rig can do.
- MicroATX PC case: NZXT H400 case
- Motherboard for Ryzen: GIGABYTE B450 Aorus M motherboard
- Unreal CPU value: AMD Ryzen 5 2600 CPU
- Dual-channel DDR4 RAM: Corsair Vengeance LPX 16 GB RAM
- RTX NVIDIA GPU: MSI Ventus OC RTX 2060 GPU
- M.2 PCIe storage: Crucial P1 500 GB SSD
- Bulk storage: Seagate BarraCuda 2 TB HDD
- Don't forget power: Corsair CX650M PSU
The NZXT H400 is a relatively simple MicroATX case that nevertheless provides excellent cable management, three fans, dust screens, and a tempered-glass side panel that shows off your hardware. If you'd like to go down the route, it's also ready for water cooling.
GIGABYTE's B450 Aorus M MicroATX motherboard is a budget option that supports the Ryzen 5 2600 processor (CPU) out of the box. It handles dual-channel DDR4 RAM, it has a PCIe 3.0 x16 slot for the GPU, and there's an M.2 slot for a speedy SSD alongside SATA connections for bulk storage.
If you're putting together a new PC and you're after an AMD Ryzen CPU, the Ryzen 5 2600 truly offers the best bang for your buck. It has six cores, a 3.4 GHz clock, and it can be overclocked for increased performance.
Corsair's Vengeance LPX 2666 MHz DDR4 RAM comes in a dual 8 GB configuration and will fit the Aorus M motherboard without interfering with any other parts. Each stick is covered in an aluminum heat spreader for better dissipation, and it's black to match the rest of the hardware.
MSI's Ventus RTX 2060 isn't flashy, but it runs cool and delivers ray tracing and deep learning super sampling (DLSS) perks that are main selling points of the RTX cards. It has 6 GB of GDDR6 VRAM, dual fans, and for outputs it offers three DisplayPort 1.4 and one HDMI 2.0b.
Having an M.2 PCIe solid-state drive (SSD) on board means crazy fast Windows 10 boots and otherwise outstanding performance (read speeds up to 2,000 MB/s) when loading apps and playing games. Crucial offers 500 GB and 1 TB options for its P1 SSD, both of which are relatively affordable and come with a five-year warranty.
While having an M.2 PCIe SSD on board for superior performance is recommended, adding an enormous HDD for bulk storage is also a great choice. M.2 SSDs quickly get expensive as you add more space, and for a lot of games, it just isn't necessary. This 2 TB HDD from Seagate costs just $60 and is hidden out of sight by the NZXT H400 case design.
Putting all this PC hardware together without a proper power supply unit (PSU) is unwise. Too little power means you won't be able to run at full speed, and cheaping out often leads to damaged goods. Corsairs CX650M brings a semi-modular design and 650 watts, which is enough to keep every part listed here happy.
What kind of performance can you expect from this PC?
I've been using this PC steadily for about three weeks, and have had no issues whatsoever. It turned on first try after the build, the processor runs cool, and the GPU, other than a bit of noise that I quickly got used to, has been rock solid. I didn't build this PC to handle 4K gaming or maxed-out AAA settings, as I'm perfectly satisfied sticking with 1440p and don't mind turning things down a bit to hit a higher framerate. I ran some synthetic benchmarks to give an idea of where performance sits without any overclocking.
In 3DMark's Time Spy test, this PC hit a combined score of 7,205, with CPU scoring 5,827 and GPU scoring 7,520. To put that into perspective, compared to the NVIDIA GTX 1080 with a Ryzen 5 2600, 3DMark's top score recorded is 8,212. The best score recorded from a PC running the same RTX 2060 and Ryzen 5 2600 I have here? 3DMark has it pegged at 8,307. Performance sits around the range of a GTX 1070, but you get the benefit of ray tracing and DLSS that's only available with an RTX card.
In 3DMark's Fire Strike test, this PC hit a score of 15,702. For some perspective, the best score recorded in 3DMark from a PC using a Ryzen 5 2600 and RTX 2060 is 18,294. The best score posted on 3DMark from a PC with the same Ryzen 2 2600 CPU but a GTX 1080 GPU is 19,731.
Metro Exodus averaged 85.3 FPS (170 maximum and 47 minimum) during a lengthy play session, and this was without ray tracing and DLSS enabled. Settings were on Medium preset and I ran it at 1440p. With High ray tracing and DLSS enabled, I got back an average of 70.8 FPS (54 minimum and 104 maximum) at 1440p with the Medium preset.
Battlefield V averaged 104 FPS (72 minimum and 144 maximum) on the Medium preset at 1440p without ray tracing or DLSS enabled. With ray tracing and DLSS enabled, I got back an average of 71.5 FPS (58 minimum and 84 maximum) at 1440p on the same Medium preset.
Tom Clancy's The Division 2 can't take advantage of ray tracing or DLSS, but it is still one of the most detailed games seen to date. Running at High settings preset at 1440p, I got back an average of 81.9 FPS, with 63 minimum and 108 maximum.
Not quite the performance you're looking for? Don't want to build a PC on your own? Be sure to have a look at our roundup of the best pre-built desktop PCs that come assembled and ready to tackle a life of performance gaming.
Alternative and additional hardware options
With the hardware listed above, you get a capable gaming PC for about $1,000. Everything is compatible and should work together without any extra effort on your part, and there's room for improvement in the future. However, there are some alternatives and additions that you might be interested in trying out.
Case with RGB lighting
Add some personal flair
The NZXT H400i brings everything I love about the H400, including easy cable management, tempered glass window, and overall premium quality, as well as built-in RGB lighting.
The NZXT H400 case does not include any RGB lighting, but you can upgrade to the NZXT H400i instead. It costs about $70 more than the standard H400, but it brings programmable lighting. Like the H400, the H400i supports MicroATX and Mini ITX motherboards.
Extra CPU cooling
Alternative to water cooling
This is a cooler that will allow you to boost your clock speeds a little while running almost silent at idle and low loads. The new BioniX F120 fan and thermal coating combination unlock support for CPUs with a TDP of up to 200W.
The AMD Ryzen 5 2600 CPU can be overclocked, and if you're pushing it to its limits, you'll probably want to invest in a third-party cooler. The stock option that comes with the CPU is fine for regular usage, but this one from ARCTIC will be much better suited for handling elevated temps and should run much quieter.
2.5-inch SATA SSD
Speedy bulk storage
A good middle ground between a SATA HDD and an M.2 PCIe SSD is a 2.5-inch SATA SSD. It delivers read speeds up to 550 MB/s, it's available in plenty of sizes, and it remains cheaper than the smaller and faster M.2 options.
If a 7,200 RPM HDD just doesn't quite live up to the performance you're looking for when it comes to bulk storage, investing in a 2.5-inch SATA SSD is your next best bet. The NZXT H400 case has a mount on the front, so you can show off a bit with Samsung hardware.
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