When you’re planning a PC build, budget is the most important factor. But just how much do you need to spend to get a decent gaming experience and streaming experience? While it’s possible to build a very basic system that can do a little gaming for less than $500 or one that uses pre-owned / old parts for even less, $800 is the current sweet spot for building something that provides a solid mix of work and play, along with just enough oomph to stream PC titles to Twitch or YouTube.
To show just what kind of $800 PC build you can do these days, we gathered a list of parts, ordered them, put together the computer and tested it. Our goal was to build a desktop that’s not just good for playing games at 1080p, but one that’s great for multitasking and heavy productivity while providing enough room for all your games and data. This is a PC you can use all day for work and then employ for gaming and streaming in the evening.
At this price, you may not be able to get the very top performers from our lists of best gaming CPUs and best graphics cards, but you can get good performance and copious SSD storage, but you will have to make some compromises, particularly when it comes to lighting and cooling.
Components List: Sub-$800 PC Build for Gaming and Streaming
Here’s our part list and what each component cost at the time we bought them (in August 2020). Note that prices and stock for PC components changes rapidly so, at the time you read this, the total cost could be a little more than $800 or a little less and some of the parts could be at least temporarily unavailable. <strong>
|Component Type||Model||Cost at Build Time|
|CPU||AMD Ryzen 5 3600||$185|
|Graphics Card||Gigabyte GTX 1660 Super Gaming OC||$239|
|RAM||Patriot Viper Steel DDR4 3200 16GB (2x8GB)||$58|
|SSD||WD Blue SN550 1TB NVMe SSD||$105|
|Motherboard||Gigabyte B550M DS3H||$94|
|Case||Antec Dapper Dark Phantom DP310||$59|
|PSU||Thermaltake TR2 600||$54|
We didn’t include the cost of the operating system in our total, because there are many ways to get Windows 10 for Free or Cheap. Many builders may already own a key or may use an unactivated copy of Windows for an indefinite time.
The Ryzen 5 3600 offers 6 cores with 12 threads, which gives it an advantage for multitasking and highly-threaded productivity apps. It also boosts up all the way to 4.2 GHz while sporting a modest 65W TDP. This CPU doesn’t quite make the cut for our list of the Best CPUs for Gaming (the more-expensive Ryzen 5 3600X does), but it’s the best for this budget.
Like most other AMD chips, the Ryzen 5 3600 comes with a serviceable stock cooler in the box, in this case a Wraith Stealth. That saves us a good chunk of money over buying an aftermarket cooler. With this class of processor and this budget, we didn’t expect to try overclocking, so having a fantastic cooling system isn’t necessary.
The closest comparable Intel chip is the Core i5-10400, which has six cores, but no multi-threading and lesser-quality cooler and fan in the box. By choosing to go with AMD over Intel, we not only got a cooler and more threads for our money, but also support for PCIe 4.0 SSDs, which gives some level of future proofing should we want to upgrade later.
One of the best graphics cards on the market, the Nvidia GTX 1660 Super card gives us the best performance for our tight budget. If its price came down or we could spend another $40, we would have opted for the AMD Radeon RX 5600 XT, which is about 11 percent faster according to our GPU hierarchy. But overall the GTX 1660 Super is more than adequate for 1080p gaming at mid-range settings or getting 30 to 60 fps at high settings. It can also play games smoothly while streaming to Twitch.
At the time we bought it, Gigabyte’s GTX 1660 Super OC 6G was the least expensive GTX 1660 Super we could find that had outputs for four monitors. It also boasts a slightly-higher-than-stock clock speed of 1,830 MHz. Its dual fans were a little on the loud side during game benchmarks, but it is otherwise a solid card. At the time of writing, the price had shot up to $285, so we would definitely consider a different 1660 Super card if you find one for cheaper. We also ran into fan noise problems, which we’ll go into in more detail below. And we wish the card had some kind of lighting, but that’s a corner you need to cut at this price point.
We went with a motherboard with AMD’s B550 chipset because it is relatively inexpensive and offers support for PCIe 4.0 SSDs. Granted, our SSD for this build is not PCIe 4.0, but it’s always good to have options. There’s even a second M.2 slot on the motherboard so you can add a second SSD without getting a 2.5-inch SATA drive.
At the time we purchased it, we could have saved $15 or so by getting an ASRock B550M-HDV board with only two DIMM slots, but we also wanted to provide flexibility for future upgrades. The DS3H has four slots, which means that we could add more RAM at a future date without discarding the 2x8GB modules we started with.
Overall, the Gigabyte B550M DS3H seems solid, but you can certainly save money by getting an older AMD B450-powered board (we’ve seen them as low as $67) and forgoing the PCIe 4.0 support or RAM upgradeability. If you really want to skimp on features, a board with the older, cheaper A320 chipset can be had for as little as $55; these don’t support overclocking and it’s always possible that they will require a BIOS update to work with Ryzen 3000 series CPUs.
Deciding between 16 and 32GB of RAM was a tough choice. Ideally, we would have spent another $30 or $40 to get 32GB, because if you have a ton of tabs open while you are streaming and doing other tasks, you might actually need that much memory.
However, we went with 16GB and chose the Patriot Viper Steel, because it is a fantastic value. We’ve tested the 32GB version of this kit, which sits on our list of best RAM, and found its performance really excellent for the money. The main drawback to this RAM is that it doesn’t have RGB, so it’s not exciting to look at.
This PCIe NVMe storage drive is of the cheaper, DRAMless variety and it’s often available for less than $100, though we paid $105. However, despite its budget nature, the Western Digital SN550 offers really strong performance where it counts, loading games such as Final Fantasy XIV in times that were only 0.4 to 0.6 seconds below some of the fastest drives. Read and write transfer rates are middle of the pack, just below higher-end drives like the Adata XPG SX 8200 Pro. However, for its price, the SN550 is great, with the 250GB capacity making our list of the best SSDs.
We’re not loading this build full of extra drives and ridiculous cooling, so a simple micro ATX case makes sense. You can find a decent case for less than $50, but we were attracted to the Dapper Dark Phantom DP301M, because it comes with a tempered glass side panel, and some neat RGB lights on the front.
This micro ATX case was really easy to build in and provided plenty of cutouts for cable management / hiding unsightly wires behind the back panel. It comes standard with a single 120mm rear-exhaust fan, but also has room for either two 140mm or three 120mm fans beneath the front panel and two 120 or 140mm up top. There’s an easy-to-remove dust filter on the bottom and an even-easier-to-remove magnetic one on the top. The front panel has two USB 3.0 Type-A ports, along with headphone and mic jacks.
In this price range, Cooler Master MasterBox Q300L is another great choice, costing $10 less. We’ve built in the Q300L before and liked it, but it uses acrylic rather than tempered glass for its side panel and it has a blah-looking hexagon pattern on the front, rather than sleek RGB lights on the DP310. Either one is a strong choice in this price range.
The cost of power supplies is getting higher and higher and, when you’re on a budget, a PSU is the least exciting component to spend money on. The Thermaltake TR2 600 isn’t fancy enough to make our list of the best power supplies, but it outputs up to 600 watts for less than $60 and it’s from a reputable brand.
The biggest drawback is the TR2 600’s lack of modularity. This was a very simple build, with no SATA drives, no optical drives and few fans. But with all the power connectors permanently attached, we were left with a slew of extra wiring that we had to hide.
Our Gigabyte B550M DS3H motherboard comes with Ethernet built-in but I conducted our testing and building in a room in my home that was far from the router. Therefore, we spent an extra $37 on the Techkey 1750 Mbps Wi-Fi dongle.
We’re not including this device in the overall price of the build, as many readers plan to connect their PCs to the Internet via Ethernet. However, the inexpensive adapter delivered really strong performance, connecting to our 5-GHz band at -54 dbm which is far better than the -74 dbm we detected on a ThinkPad X1 Carbon laptop with integrated Intel Wireless AC 8265 Wi-Fi that was located about 6 feet away from it. If you need Wi-Fi for your desktop, we’d definitely recommend it — particularly if your board doesn’t have a Key E M.2 slot for installing an internal wireless module.
Buy vs Build? What’s Cheaper?
Any time you build a PC, it’s tempting to consider just what it would cost to skip the work and buy a prebuilt desktop. If money is no object and you prefer to save the time and stress, you can choose one of the best gaming PCs. However, for our $800 budget, you won’t find a system with as much storage, RAM or performance as we were able to put together.
At publication time, we looked through the product listings at several U.S. retailers, including Best Buy, Amazon and Dell.com. For $800 or less, most systems had an Intel Core i5-10400F CPU with GTX 1650 graphics, just 8GB of RAM and either a hard drive or an SSD that had less than 500GB of capacity. The best deal we saw was on the Dell G5 desktop, which was on sale for $779, and came with a GTX 1660 Super Card and a Core i5-10400 CPU, but with just 8GB of RAM and a 7,200 rpm hard drive.
Building the Sub-$800 Gaming and Streaming PC
As it’s not overloaded with parts or addressable RGB components,putting together this sub-$800 gaming and streaming PC was really easy, with few complications. We started by populating the motherboard with the CPU, CPU Fan, RAM and NVMe SSD.
Inserting the Ryzen CPU into the AM4 slot is extremely simple as it is on any modern AMD motherboard; you simply lift the tension bar, match the arrow on the corner of the CPU with the one on the socket, gently put the CPU in and slide the bar down, locking the CPU in place.
AMD’s stock Wraith Stealth cooler is a breeze to install and is great for beginners or anyone who doesn’t want to spend time fiddling with tubes of thermal paste or complex attachment mechanisms. Where some air coolers use retention clips that you have to carefully snap onto brackets that come preinstalled on the motherboard, the Wraith Stealth uses simple spring screws. So all I had to do was unscrew the plastic retention brackets, place the cooler on top of the processor and rotate it until its metal arms lined up with the screw holes connecting to the plate. Then I just had to screw in the arms and plug the fan’s power cable into a clearly-marked pin header on the motherboard.Thermal paste is pre-applied to the bottom of the cooler so there’s no need to worry about putting on too much or too little. An after-market cooler would undoubtedly provide more thermal headroom, but most are harder to install.
The Gigabyte B550M DS3H has four DIMM slots and supports dual channel memory. To take advantage of both channels, it’s important to put the two DIMMS into the A1 and B1 slots, which are both light gray colored and not adjacent to each other.
The NVMe SSD pops easily into an M.2 slot just above the first PCIe x16 slot; you’ll have to remove and replace a screw on the motherboard that holds it in place. There’s a second NVMe slot adjacent to the PCIe x1 slot. If you have a two-slot graphics card, as we did, this second drive will live behind your GPU cooler.
The next step was popping the IO shield that came with the motherboard into the case and then mounting the motherboard. The Antec Dapper Dark Phantom DP301M provides plenty of room for the motherboard, and its gunmetal-gray SPCC steel plate has smooth rounded edges that make it easy to avoid cutting yourself. The plate comes with some standoffs already installed for the motherboard, but I had to use two additional ones, which were located in a cardboard box in the drive cage under the PSU shroud.
Installing the power supply posed one small problem. The drive cage, which also sits under the PSU shroud, blocked the giant spaghetti mass of cables coming out the power supply. With a modular power supply, this might have been ok, but I had to remove the cage (which is screwed on to the bottom of the case) altogether in order to stow the extra wiring within the shroud. After that, I was able to route wires through a variety of helpfully-placed holes in the back of the motherboard plate, making sure that only necessary cables were visible on the motherboard side of the case.
After that, I inserted the graphics card and connected the power cables to it, but I noticed another small problem: There wasn’t enough room to fit my hand into the space between the top of the PSU shroud and the bottom of the card, the space where the motherboard’s pin headers are located. So I had to remove the graphics card, pop in cables for the front-panel USB 3.0 ports, the mic in / headphone out jacks and the power / hard drive lights and then put the graphics card back in again.
Unfortunately, the tight space between the PSU shroud and the graphics card led to a different problem, with the cables bumping up against the GPU fans. Using some zip ties to pull the header cables really taught solved the problem. But another graphics card issue remained.
Gigabyte’s Fan Noise Annoys
Though the system ran flawlessly, I noticed one very annoying problem right away once booting it up. The dual fans on the Gigabyte GTX 1660 Super Gaming OC card occasionally made a sound that reminded me of a mechanical hard drive reading data. At first, I thought that the header cables were bumping into the fans, but I checked repeatedly and that wasn’t the case. And, even when I turned the fans up to 100 percent manually, I couldn’t reliably reproduce the problem on demand.
Finally, after doing some research, I found out that many users report Gigabyte cards giving them these hard drive noises. The issue is apparently the way the fan vibrates, but only at certain speeds. In my case, I found that any fan speed between 75 and 85 percent produced the noise, but commenters reported other percentages.
I fixed the problem by using Gigabyte’s software to set the fan curves so that the device goes straight up to 90 percent when it passes a certain temperature. This is not an ideal solution, obviously. On our forums, users have suggested manually pushing the plastic that holds the fans further away from the card, something which I was loath to do during testing for fear of damaging something. Overall, this reflects poorly on the quality of Gigabyte’s dual-fan cards. Hopefully the company will fix this in its upcoming RTX 3000 models.
Lights, or Lack Thereof
One real drawback to our build is its complete lack of interior lighting. We have a tempered glass side panel, but none of our internal components lights up. Since the glass is tinted, it’s really difficult to see inside. However, this build definitely leaves open a lot of upgrade possibilities that could bring light to the dark world of the chassis.
The Gigabyte B550M DS3H motherboard has onboard support for RGB light strips that plug into its pin headers. And you could also add RGB case fans to improve cooling. Just make sure that whatever you get is compatible with Gigabyte’s RGB Fusion software.
The front of the Antec DP301M case has a pair of attractive RGB lights on it that change pattern when you hit a mode button on the top of the chassis. We really like the boomerang shape of the lights and mesh air intake. However, it appears that there’s no way to control the colors via software, so if you don’t like the dozen or so solid colors or multi-color animations, you’re out of luck.
Our sub-$800 PC build was powerful enough to play games at medium to high settings at 1080p resolution, but usually not with frame rates over 60 fps. When we ran Shadow of the Tomb Raider at the highest settings, we got an average of 56 fps. The less-demanding Grand Theft Auto V, at Very High Settings, ran at a strong 65.1 fps.
Red Dead Redemption 2 , a more modern and demanding title, only managed 39.3 fps while running at mostly Medium settings. Borderlands 3, when set to “Badass” settings, managed a playable 47.3 fps ,while Metro Exodus at Ultra settings hit 44.4 fps.
|Game||FPS||FPS Streaming (NVENC)||FPS Streaming (x264)|
|Red Dead Redemption 2||39.3||35.5||36.5|
|Shadow of the Tomb Raider||56||50||52|
Because we intended this build for streaming, we also tested the games streaming to Twitch.tv with a target 6,000 Kbps bitrate, a 1080p resolution and a max framerate of 60 fps. The same exact benchmarks run while streaming were anywhere from 7 to 11 percent lower, which makes sense, given that the computer has to compress and broadcast every frame in addition to just showing it to the user.
We tested with both Nvidia’s NVENC compression, which uses the GPU to compress the frames for broadcast, and with x264 compression, which sends that task to the CPU. Somewhat surprisingly, the x264 compression consistently yielded frame rates that were 1 to 2 fps higher. This suggests that NVENC is not that helpful, at least not on a GPU as modest as the GTX 1660 Super.
Even with a stock cooler on the CPU and a single case fan, our sub-$800 PC build managed to maintain consistent performance over time. When we ran the Metro Exodus benchmark 20 times in a row, a process that took about 40 minutes, the frame rates were remarkably consistent, ranging from 44.9 fps on the high end to 44.2 fps on the low end. The average CPU clock speed was 4,103 MHz, with a peak of 4,193 MHz, while the average GPU clock speed was 1,707 MHz with a peak of 1,920 MHz. The average CPU temperature was 64.5 degrees Celsius with a peak of 81 degrees, well below the 95-degree throttle-point for Ryzen chips.
What about overclocking? Unlike Intel, AMD leaves all of its chips unlocked for overclocking and the B550 chipset on our motherboard supports it. However, AMD chips don’t have a lot of overclocking headroom and we’re using a stock cooler so we didn’t really expect major benefits. However, to find out what was possible here, we used two different automated methods for overclocking, Precision Boost Overdrive, which attempts to maintain higher clock speeds for longer, and AutoOC, which tries to boost the CPU above its rated boost clock of 4.2 GHz.
|Speed||Geekbench 5 Multicore||Geekbench 5 Single Core|
On both modes, scores in Geekbench 5, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall performance, went up slightly. At stock settings, the system got a multicore score of 6,717. That number rose to 6,777 with PBO enabled but just 6,728 with AutoOC on. Interestingly, with AutoOC on, the system did achieve a boost clock of 4,292 for a short time. A better CPU cooler probably would have allowed us to get higher scores.
For less than $800, you can build a solid mainstream gaming PC that has plenty of storage for your games and applications. Pairing a Ryzen 5 3600 CPU with an Nvidia GTX 1660 Super graphics card gave us a system that’s good enough for game streaming and the budget headroom to go with a 1TB NVMe SSD and 16GB of RAM.
There’s no doubt that, to hit an $800 price point these days, you have to make sacrifices. In our case, we sacrificed RGB lighting and went with the bare minimum for cooling. If we had a slightly higher budget, however, we would have put it into improving performance first and foremost, which would have meant splurging on an AMD Radeon 5600 XT graphics card, which costs about $40 more than the GTX 1660 Super but offers 11 percent more performance, according to our GPU hierarchy.
We’d also consider getting a 32GB RAM kit instead of the 16GB we had. While most games won’t benefit from having more than 16GB, if you have dozens of browser tabs open while you work, you’ll likely notice a difference. On other hand, the Gigabyte B550M DS3H motherboard has two more RAM slots available, so you can always buy another 16GB kit later on.
No matter what specific parts you choose, it’s clear that you can build a really good PC for work and play, without breaking the bank. Just be prepared to make some tradeoffs, particularly when it comes to aesthetics and overclockability.