It’s a bleak time for enthusiasts looking to put together a new gaming PC. Silicon shortages have made parts scarce and driven up prices. Fear not, there are alternatives, and prebuilt companies are leveraging the situation to your benefit.
There are two pathways to getting your hands on a gaming PC: DIY and a prebuilt. In both scenarios, the components you choose affect the gaming PC cost. Fortunately for decision-making, starting small in either category still provides room to expand and upgrade without losing much, if any, of the initial investment.
Getting the best system for your money is a bit tricky as there are a ton of options and knowing exactly what each component does, and what you even need, takes some research.
Gaming PC Cost Guide
The following expresses the general cost range for each of the main components along a high to low range.
When going the DIY route and building by component, you can select from the ranges with an eye towards the future. For a prebuilt situation, you’ll know what range the system falls in.
Read through and then test your acumen by checking this list of gaming PC deals and accessories.
In shopping for a gaming computer, the two most important components are the CPU and the GPU. Expect to spend more on the GPU but don’t undercut yourself on a low CPU and a high GPU or you’ll risk bottlenecking performance.
When talking CPUs you’ll be looking at either Intel or AMD chipsets. The cost to performance ratio is higher on AMD chips but Intel is still the top performer for a little while longer.
The price range in CPUs goes up with the number of cores and base/turbo clock speeds. For gaming PCs, raw power and speed need to see some balance.
On the high end look for Intel Core i9 10900K and i7 10700K. For AMD the Ryzen 9 5900x or 7 5800x series.
These processors run $500+ in the current part shortage but offer an excellent blend of power and speed to keep a range of games performing and loading well.
For math-heavy games like RTS and sims, the power of these offers the best performance.
On the middle side are the Core i5 and Ryzen 5 series. Though listed as mid-range in price and brute force, these chips outstrip their bigger brothers in speed and frame rate on faster-paced games.
This is owed to the lower overall power pull and roomier overclocks. Mid-range CPUs top out in the $500s but you sometimes can nab one on a sale for as little as $300.
Finally, the Core i3 and Ryzen 3 series of chips offer an entry point for a lower cost of $300 or below. Last generation Ryzen 3 2200Gs can be picked up for as little as $150 and even have onboard graphics (though they aren’t great).
Picking up a low-end CPU isn’t the worst choice as upgrading chips is relatively easy and unless you go several stages above on a GPU, bottlenecking is much of a risk.
This is the category where you’ll find yourself camping out on waitlists and lottery systems to try and get the newest and biggest. Older GPUs have inflated prices, though not as bad as the Etherium issues from 2017/18.
Given the difficulties of finding quality GPUs even close to their market price, finding a prebuilt with the card you want is the best cash saver currently. Big companies have parts pipelines that enable them to include GPUs at a cost that actually undercuts the DIY parts market in some places.
At the top end are the new AMD RX 6900-XT and the Nvidia RTX 3090. These are pricy pieces that market for $1,000 and $1,500 respectively (don’t expect to see them for that low).
They offer way more VRAM than you even need with as much as 24GB in some models. Getting one of these is certainly going to let you game on ultra settings for years to come.
The midrange of GPUs is basically the last generation of still feels like new cards. This includes the Radeon VII and 5700-XT on the AMD side. For the Nvidia crowd, you’re looking at the RTX 2080 and 2070.
All of these retail in the $700 range and are, again, hard to find for close to that. Even so, these will run most games on Ultra and will likely be usable for another few years.
They boast upwards of 12GB of VRAM and a lot of different sizes.
On the low end, you have budget options such as the Nvidia RTX 1660 or the AMD RX 590. These cards offer solid performance and are more affordable at $300-200 retail. You might even find these at those prices.
In a pinch, if you’re not wary of refurbished electronics, check out mid-range refurbished cards. These drop a category in cost while still giving you the same performance. They have more limited warranties and you might have to deal with acoustic cosmetics like coil whine, but it’s not the worst in the current part-ocalypse.
Motherboards cost less than the other core components in the mid and low ranges. The difference between these groups is sometimes as low as $20-50. The high range can double the price going up as much as $700 for boards loaded with expansion possibilities and future-proof constuction.
Motherboards are a place to be slightly wary in buying a prebuilt system and then upgrading. Motherboards and power supplies are sometimes proprietary and not compatible with the larger body of DIY components. This isn’t much of an issue because a solid replacement motherboard for gaming will run you $300 unless you need a half-dozen M.2 slots and an army of USB-C ports.
In selecting a motherboard pay attention to the number of PCIe x16 slots for GPUs (you need at least one). From there micro-ATX, mini-ATX, ATX, and Extended ATX are sizes of boards. The bigger the board, the more slots available and the larger case that you will need.
Bottom line, any motherboard is good as long as it fits your chipset and fits in your case. On the high-end, you might notice some differences but they’ve become standardized in features to the point it’s hard to parse the differences.
The price difference in RAM is flatter than other components but noticeable. For gaming purposes, you are looking for 8GB on the small side and 16GB at max. Current gen RAM is DDR4, if you see DDR3 you are a generation ago and it won’t fit your motherboard.
High-end RAM runs faster in terms of MHz (up to 4400) but will be throttled by the CPU. The sweet spot for RAM is 3200 – 3400 Mhz.
More expensive RAM is about CAS Latency. Shoot for something in the 14 – 16 range to see your performance tick up.
Mid-range RAM sometimes has RGB, sometimes not. Look for CAS Latency in the 18-16 area and speeds of 2888 – 3000 MHz. You can easily pick up 16GB of mid-range RAM for $80-100.
Even on the low end of 8GB of ram, shoot for 2x4GB sticks over a single 8. This allows dual-channel performance. CAS latency is 18-19 and you’ll probably settle at the 2888 MHz floor of DDR4.
Expect to pay as much as $50 for low-end RAM options.
The range of costs on storage options is about speed, volatility, and especially size.
For a top-tier gaming setup, you want NVME M.2 storage. This new type of solid-state storage runs faster than SATA and suffers fewer errors over time.
With a higher-end motherboard, you will see 2+ slots for this. Look at getting 1-2 TB of storage in the $200 range.
A hybrid setup saves money and still offers a lot of performance. Pick up a 500 GB M.2 for $80-100 and couple that with a 2TB+ HDD to have all the storage and performance for the same $200 you could spend on a single 2TB M.2.
It’s not worth it to only have an HDD, so even for a low-end gaming rig, you want at least a 256GB SSD for loading a game and the OS onto. This will drastically lower load speeds and limit read/writer errors.
You still want a sizeable storage drive to keep the important things on the faster SSD, but a 2TB HDD is $40 or so from many outlets.
When choosing a case, look for something that offers high airflow and good workable space. Spending $50 on a case that you don’t shred your knuckles poking around in when doing upgrades is well worth it.
Really, high-range cases fall into the custom jobs with assignable RBG everything and even decals and etchings. You get what you pay for on those.
Mid-range cases cost in the $400-200 range and offer some useful gimmicks like dual chambers to keep your PSU heat outside of the CPU/GPU areas.
On the lower end, you can get a budget mid-tower for $50 and it will suffice, if not be a bit loud and higher on thermals.
Finally, cooling options for a gaming PC fall only into two groups. You can use the stock cooler that comes with your CPU or pick up an aftermarket cooler.
Air cooling is better than water cooling in most tests. That said, AIOs look great and save space on your overall clearance.
This guide to understanding gaming PC cost ranges broad-strokes and provides categoric information.
The best way to proceed is to start with a game in mind and then read up on recommended specs for your ultra, high, or mid-performance and then shop accordingly.
This information will change as the summer hits and DIY shortages start to ease up. Stay up to date by checking back here for the latest in tech news.