It's both a good and a bad time to build a budget desktop computer in 2018. On the one hand, we've got more capable mid-range processors than we've had in years. On the other, we've got a GPU market that's unstable because of the cryptocurrency trend. Ram prices are also an issue.
A $600 budget is still enough to make a great gaming PC.
After finishing up our rival console $500 build, I feel like $600 to $700 is that mainstream sweet spot for building a computer in 2018. This allows you to have the kind of graphics card and CPU combination that can last for several years to come. Anything lower, and I'd have to question the PC's longevity.
As there are two good options from Intel and AMD in the $100 to $130 CPU range, I'll go through two builds you can choose from. If you're questioning your ability to build a custom PC by yourself, I'd tell you to go for it. It's not hard. Order the parts, grab a friend, and most of it will be plug and play.
AMD Ryzen 3 1200 vs Intel Coffee Lake i3 8100
Just last year, I would have recommended a $180 CPU solution for this PC build. That would have left less room for other options.
However, in 2018, I like the budget $100 to $130 CPUs in the Ryzen 3 1200 and the Intel i3 8100. The Intel i3 8100 gives you nearly identical performance when compared to the i5-7500 of last year.
Both the i3-8100 and the Ryzen 3 1200 are 4 core and 4 thread processors. The Intel Coffee Lake CPU is the better IPC and single core performer. Because of that, it's a much better gaming CPU.
Yet, there's one thing missing. A cheap 300 series motherboard. You'll pay at least $110 for the least expensive Z370 chipset motherboard around. B and H 300 series motherboards should be available soon. In the meantime, it opens up the door a bit for AMD who has many boards available in the $50 price range.
Considering how tight our budget is, this is a big deal. And since the Ryzen 3 1200 is a very capable CPU, you might get more gaming performance overall out of your system here by affording a better graphics card.
Buying a Graphics Card in an Uncertain Market
We've got around $200 for our graphics card in this build. With current prices, you'll have to work to get something decent in this price range.
Our price range should house the likes of the RX 580 4GB and the GTX 1060 3GB. However, the GTX 1060 3GB is the most likely option you'll be able to find at a reasonable price.
For performance, we're getting more at this price range than ever before. All of these graphics cards do an amazing job in 1080p and even work with many titles in 1440p. We've done a few comparisons of graphics cards in this price range as of late. If you're wanting additional information, our review of graphics cards for Battlefield 1 and budget CPU GPU combos taught us a lot about the performance of these mainstream cards.
Overall, I like the GTX 1060 3GB. While I do see the RX 580 as having a bit of a leg up on DX12 games, the performance differential just hasn't been there as of yet. For DX11, the GTX 1060 has a clear advantage.
Unfortunately, I don't think we'll need to worry about DirectX 12 and graphics cards until the next generation comes out. Games like BF1 still give us zero reasons to think about it and performance improvements will only truly show once games are built from the ground up with the API.
Which GTX 1060 3GB?
The one from a decent manufacturer you can find for a normal price. That may sound like a general statement, but it's one that's true right now.
I like the idea of going with a single fan version of the EVGA GTX 1060 if it saves you money.
If you can afford the 6GB version, or find it for a similar price, it's a better performer overall. There are many modern titles that use more than 3GB of VRAM at this point in time. So, you'll get more performance out of it.
Ultimately, this will be the hardest piece of the puzzle to shop for. Don't be afraid to build a new machine, keep your current GPU, and be patient in finding the right price.
Finding a Compatible Motherboard
I've already spoken quite a bit about motherboard pricing for Intel and AMD. For compatibility, the AMD Ryzen system will need an AM4 motherboard while the Intel system needs an 1151 300 series motherboard. Right now, only Z370 motherboards are available for Intel; however, you should notice B and H chipset boards soon.
AMD AM4 Motherboards
For AMD, I'd recommend an inexpensive AM4 motherboard like the MSI B350 Tomahawk. It's an inexpensive board that has quite a few features. It also regularly comes on a rebate, so look for that if you care about saving $20.
The Tomahawk has support for up to DDR 3200, allows for some reasonable overclocking of your Ryzen 3, and comes with quite a few features as well. This is a full-sized motherboard as well so be aware of that when looking for a small form factor case. If you want a micro ATX board, go with something inexpensive like MSI's Pro-VD series. Saving money on your motherboard here will give you options elsewhere.
Intel Coffee Lake Z370 Motherboards
For the i3-8100 Coffee Lake build, you'll have to go with a Z370 motherboard at this point in time. H370 boards should be released within the next couple of months, so additional options are coming soon.
Still, the board we're recommending in the MSI Z370-A Pro is available for as little as $100 after rebate. It also includes modern features like support for up to DDR4 4000, steel armor PCI-e slots, turbo M.2, DDR4 boost, audio boost, and 4 USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A ports.
A Mid Tower Case Under $30
I recently wrapped up my post on the best mid tower gaming cases and that knowledge really extends to this selection. Basically, we're trying to spend as little as we can as our case won't have a big impact on performance. Still, we want something that looks decent enough and doesn't sound like a helicopter.
Right now, the Thermaltake Versa H23 fits what we need perfectly. It looks great on the outside, is sturdy, and even has a window so you can see all of your awesome parts. It is a mid tower so our motherboard will appear kind of small in it. That being said you could go with the Fractal Design 1000 here if you care about that sort of thing.
The H23 comes with tool-free installation and is about all you can expect for $30 after rebate. It comes with a decent 120mm rear exhaust fan which should be enough for our low TDP build.
For an option that's micro atx and always under $30, you could go with the XION mATX case here. It does the job, includes a fan, and can be customized.
What Kind of DDR4 Memory is Best for Our Budget?
Right now, DDR4 RAM / memory is expensive. The price between 2133MHz and 3000MHz memory is minimal and can net you significant performance gains. So, I'd recommend that in a 4x2GB kit.
The Corsair Vengeance LPX series is probably my favorite at this point in time. Its XMP profiles are regularly available, speeds are accurate, and it's from a reliable manufacturer.
You can check out other good budget DDR4 memory options here.
In terms of whether you'll need more than 8GB in the future, you can always upgrade. Yes, there are games that need more than 8GB; however, I haven't seen the huge performance upgrades of going beyond 8GB that justify the additional $100 it would take to get there. So, I recommend you spend that money elsewhere.
An Inexpensive Bronze Certified Power Supply
We're going with a bronze certified power supply in the EVGA 500 W1. This power supply should give us good efficiency and decent quality as well. If we were building a budget $1,000 or more build, I might recommend you go with something like EVGA's SuperNova series instead. Still, at this price point, I'm comfortable that this PSU will do a good job.
It's relatively quiet with EVGA's intelligent auto fan, has a well-done paint job and great looking braided cables, and even comes with a three year warranty.
250GB Solid State Drive vs 1TB Hard Drive
I no longer recommend building any PC without a solid state drive. Seriously, it has that big of an impact. For that reason I'm recommending you take our $60 storage budget and allocate towards a solid state drive.
If you need more room, grab an old hard drive, use an external one, or save up and add a new one. For now, managing your space efficiently and going with a solid state drive instead will give you a huge speed boost.
2 Best Under $600 Intel and AMD Desktop Computer Builds for 2018
|*Intel Build||*AMD Build|
Ryzen 3 1200
MSI Z370-A PRO
MSI B350 Tomahawk
Corsair Vengeance LPX 2x4GB 3000 MHz
Corsair Vengeance LPX 2x4GB 3000 MHz
Crucial MX300 275GB SSD
Crucial MX300 275GB SSD
EVGA GTX 1060
EVGA GTX 1060
Thermaltake Versa H21
Thermaltake Versa H21
EVGA 430W or 500W
EVGA 430W or 500W
There you have it - a $600 to $650 (if you go with the GTX 1060 6GB) gaming PC build with major performance. I'd like to see more and more builds go this direction as I feel they give the best bang for your buck.
This PC will play the likes of Battlefield 1, the Witcher 3, Civilization 6, or just about anything you want to throw at it in 1080p. Even 1440p shouldn't be a problem as long as you're willing to switch to medium or high settings.
What are your thoughts on it? Leave us a comment with any questions or suggestions you may have.
More PC Builds
- Best Budget $500 Gaming PC Build Vs Console 2018
Looking for a good $500 Gaming PC? Why not build your own computer? Here's a look at the parts we'd recommend for a custom $500 Gaming PC.
- Build a $400 Witcher 3 Blood and Wine Gaming PC 2018
A well-built $400 gaming computer can play even today's most graphically intensive video games. This optimized build should give you a good idea of the performance you can get from a budget gaming PC.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Budget $600 PC Build Discussion
Oof on December 13, 2017:
Could've tried for a 2600k . Ebay used I foun done for 90 bucks .
Steven on April 24, 2017:
Hey does the mobo bios need to be updated to fit with the processor?
DarkRaven13 on April 06, 2017:
So will any SSD or hard drive work with this.
Jasmina on July 12, 2014:
Quinn: If you need Windows, yes, this will unfortunately add quite a bit to the cost. :(
But Linux is free, as is FreeBSD.
Recent versions of Linux are vastly more user-friendly and easy-to-learn than old ones were.
And Linux can run many Windows games and other programs, by way of a program called Wine (also free).
If you're interested, you can download Linux, burn it to DVD or a USB stick, and boot your current computer from it to try it out. :) No need to install.
If you like it, you can install it onto your new computer, and that's $80 or so saved! (or whatever Windows is selling for these days)
Sam on July 05, 2014:
How come your YouTube video has different parts to this page.
Quinn on June 28, 2014:
Do I need to buy an OS? If I do, this will take me way over my budget
Brandon Hart (author) from The Game on January 08, 2014:
CPUs come with stock coolers so unless you're overclocking you don't have to have one.
Danny on January 06, 2014:
How would this build play crisis 3?
Jake on January 01, 2014:
I'm not very good with computers so I find your guides very helpful, but as Emanuel asked, if I follow your instructions and but all the parts you recommend, I will not need a fan to cool it down?
escobar on December 18, 2013:
could you add an ssd to this build?
Jojo on December 16, 2013:
Is it worth it to use sli for this build or should I just get a better gpu?
Jake C on December 14, 2013:
What about a sound card?
Brandon Hart (author) from The Game on November 03, 2013:
You don't have to have a cooling system unless you plan on overclocking. CPUs come with stock coolers that work well enough for the average user.
Emanuel on November 02, 2013:
I was curious whether or not a cooling system could be used/would be necessary and if so do you have any suggestions? Im not very computer saavy, so could you also suggest an economical monitor.