Building your own PC doesn't have to be ridiculously expensive, and building on a budget starts right from the heart. The CPU is what drives everything, and without a good one, your PC will suffer. Fortunately, there are good, low-cost options out there. We've rounded up the best, and they all have integrated graphics so you won't need to purchase an extra graphics card.
AMD's newest budget CPU uses the latest 7nm Zen 2 architecture with four cores and eight threads for a ton of performance without breaking the bank. This 65W chip has a 3.6 GHz base clock, is entirely unlocked and supports PCIe 4.0 for the latest in superfast SSDs. The included cooler keeps it cool while staying quiet, and it'll be best paired with some 3200MHz DDR4 RAM. The only thing to remember is it has no built-in graphics, so you will need a dedicated GPU to pair with it.
Even though it only has two cores, the Athlon 3000G is completely unlocked and has hyperthreading, which improves its multitasking performance. This little budget APU from AMD is based on the same Zen architecture as the early Ryzen chips and the same AM4 socket, so you have a pretty wide upgrade path down the road. The integrated Vega 3 graphics cores are incredibly strong, and it only has a 35W TDP, so it doesn't pull much power while running cool and quiet.
Intel's top budget CPU falls behind some of AMDs a little, but it's a strong shout for those who prefer team blue builds. With four cores and a base clock of 3.6 GHz, the i3-9100 has strong single and multi-core performance, while maintaining a fairly low 65W TDP. With support for dual-channel memory up to 64GB, you can build yourself a nice little workstation or budget gaming PC. The integrated graphics aren't as good as AMD's, but they're still capable of delivering a 4K output at 60 Hz.
Great for Gaming
With the Ryzen 5 3400G, you get four cores with eight threads, but you also get the Radeon Vega 11 integrated graphics made up of 11 GPU cores. What this means is you can build a pretty solid gaming PC with one of these without the need for a dedicated graphics card. Pair with some 2933 MHz DDR4 RAM in dual-channel for maximum performance, and both the CPU and GPU cores are unlocked for added free performance.
If a Core i is a little too rich for your Intel-based budget, the Pentium Gold G5400 is a worthy alternative and is a good basis for a range of different PCs. It's only a dual-core, but it has hyperthreading to help with multitasking performance and is clocked at 3.7 GHz. The integrated graphics are capable of pushing 4K video, and it doesn't suck a lot of power or generate a ton of heat, which would make it useful in an HTPC. You could even pop it in a budget gaming build, where it's performance isn't as far behind a Core i3 as you might expect.
The quad-core Ryzen 3 3200G is the slightly less powerful, but more affordable sibling to the Ryzen 5 3400G. It has no hyperthreading, and the Vega integrated graphics drops down to eight GPU cores, but it's still a really strong chip in its own right. The Stealth cooler in the box is excellent for a budget processor, it supports 2933 MHz DDR4 RAM and has a low 65W TDP. It's perfect for general use, a media PC, or even a bit of light gaming.
Building a PC can be fun and affordable
A lot of attention is spent on the super-expensive, high-end CPUs, but the truth is that for a lot of people, a good budget system will be all the PC they need. But choosing the right parts is essential. In the case of the budget PC builder, AMD's Ryzen 3 3100 is currently our top recommendation, thanks to its incredible performance while keeping its price firmly below $200. Its only downfall is that you can't use one without a graphics card, but for tighter budget gaming builds in particular, it's a champ.
If gaming is on your mind then you can also get going right away, no graphics card needed, with the Ryzen 5 3400G. This is a pretty beastly thing to have in a budget system, with a quad-core CPU portion and 11 Radeon Vega GPU cores. Integrated graphics have come a long way, and yes, it can play Fortnite.
Intel isn't completely out of the budget segment, though, even if AMD has more to choose from. For a truly budget build, the Pentium Gold G5400 is a good way to go. Don't let the name put you off; this is a capable CPU that would be right at home in an office-based PC, an HTPC, or even a budget gaming build.
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Richard Devine is a Managing Editor at Windows Central with over a decade of experience. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently, you'll find him steering the site's coverage of all manner of PC hardware and reviews. Find him on Mastodon at mstdn.social/@richdevine