The Short Answer:
A high-end gaming PC will cost you well over $1000 dollars if you need top-end processing power and want to splurge on luxuries like liquid cooling. But you can build a good gaming PC for less than $1,000 that can handle most modern games at medium settings.
How do you find out how much a gaming PC will cost you? Step one is determining how much money you have to spend and what kind of performance you expect from the system. Based on those guidelines, you can begin buying parts and putting everything together.
We’ll cover some common questions about the cost of building a gaming PC along, compare the pros and cons of building your own vs. buying a prebuilt gaming PC, and throw in some pointers on buying parts for a custom build.
Better Question: How Much Can You Spend?
Step one is setting a budget and a certain level of performance. Maybe you have $1,000 to spend and want to play new PC games at 1080p – that’s certainly feasible. The less money you have and the more performance you desire, the harder it will be to find components for your build.
Trade-offs are necessary to complete a build at most budgets. For instance, you might skimp on processing power in exchange for a faster graphics card, or maybe a lower quality case for a higher quality power supply, or opt for using the audio that is integrated on your motherboard instead of buying a dedicated sound card.
The higher your budget is, the more flexibility you have to focus on luxuries such as custom water cooling loops and aesthetics.
Is it cheaper to build your own computer?
Money-wise, yes. Time-wise, no. You’ll save money if you choose all the parts and build the PC yourself. Not only because you’re eliminating the overhead of a company assembling the system for you and supporting it, but also because you can be more selective with the components you buy, which will make it easier to meet a certain budget.
For all the perks of building your own PC, buying a prebuilt computer from a company like MAINGEAR has various benefits. You’ll never have to pick up a screwdriver, the whole process is hands-off, and your PC will be backed by a support team.
Compared to the days or even weeks researching and building a PC, you might spend an hour or two picking parts on the company’s site, then you’ll get an estimated build or delivery date. You’ll also usually pay a premium for that service.
So, Should You Build or Buy a Gaming PC?
Build your own gaming PC if you want more customization and a better overall value. If none of that matters as much as the convenience and safety that comes with buying a prebuilt gaming PC, then have your system built by a company that specializes in doing that. Check out our guide on the best custom PC builders for some great options.
“Budget” vs. High-End Gaming PCs
Since most gaming PCs are “budget” builds in the sense that they are built around a certain budget, here are some tips on how to prioritize your money when building a gaming PC.
Building yourself is a great start if you’re super cash-strapped while taking advantage of discounts (sales, coupon codes, combo deals) is a given. But reusing parts from an old gaming PC in your new build might save more money than any of that since you’d have to buy fewer components.
Your new gaming PC will surely have a fresh processor, motherboard, graphics card, but maybe you already have a case, power supply, storage drives, peripherals that can be used in the new build. Unless you’re getting some of these parts from elsewhere, you will have to buy everything.
We put together a table with all the parts you’ll need to build a gaming PC from scratch, including peripherals. To help you navigate the different tiers of components, our table also has suggestions on what you might want to buy at various prices, followed by more in-depth advice about shopping for each component below.
|Budget PC||High-End PC|
|Component||Purchase||Price Range||Purchase||Price Range|
|Motherboard||mATX or budget ATX board||$50-$110||Feature-rich full-size ATX board||$150-$350+|
|CPU||4-6 core chips (non-K for Intel)||$75-$150||6-16 core chips (+overclocking)||$200-$350+|
|CPU Cooler||Bundled with CPU||$0||Aftermarket air or liquid cooling||$30-$300+|
|RAM||8GB to 16GB of DDR4 (fastest you can afford)||$40-$60||16GB to 32GB+ of DDR4 (3200MHz+)||$75-$150+|
|GPU||Lower-tier Nvidia or AMD card (or used/integrated)||$125-$175||Higher-tier Nvidia or AMD card||$200-$500+|
|Storage||One medium capacity SSD (ideally M.2, NVMe if possible)||$40-$70||A combo of M.2 (NVMe), 2.5" and 3.5" storage drives||$150-$300+|
|PSU||500W or so with a strong +12v rail (Bronze-rated)||$50-$75||Upwards of 500W and modular (Gold-rated)||$100-$300+|
|Case||Find a case with at least two fans (or no case at all)||$30-$60||Better materials, features & design||$100-$300+|
|Monitor||24" 1080p 75/76Hz or 144Hz||$100-$200||27" 1440p 144Hz or 165Hz (IPS panel)||$225-$500+|
|Keyboard||Membrane board or budget mechanical board||$10-$60||Higher-tier mechanical keyboard||$75-$300+|
|Mouse||Less DPI settings, buttons etc.||$10-$40||Better sensor, more options including lighting||$60-$100+|
|Audio||Integrated except maybe budget speakers or headphones||$0-$60||Better speakers or headphones with a dedicated sound card||$100-$500+|
|Total:||$530 - $1060||Total:||$1465 - $3950+|
- The starting price for “Budget PC” is what you can expect to pay for decent quality budget gaming PC parts, just with less features.
- The upper side of the price on “Budget PC” is beginning to exit “budget” territory and approach more enthusiast-grade pricing.
- The starting price for “High-End PC” should be enough to buy an average mid-range gaming PC with more than just “budget” features.
- The upper price for “High-End PC” is starting to exceed the point where you would be buying parts based on value (price doesn’t matter).
Motherboard Price Differences
Although there are some great micro ATX (mATX) motherboards available for less than $100, full-size ATX boards that are worth buying tend to start around $100, while $150 or $200 buys extra features such as more ports and better onboard chips.
The board that you buy should ideally have at least one slot for a PCIe x16 graphics card and one slot for M.2 storage (much faster than SATA-based drives). Then start considering other features like support for USB-C.
Although you may sacrifice a couple of RAM slots or SATA/USB ports by purchasing an mATX board like the ASRock B460M, it will generally have everything you need to build a budget gaming PC. They’re often cheaper than ATX boards and still have desired features like USB-C or integrated Wi-Fi.
Read our full guide on how to choose a motherboard to learn more about selecting what might be the most crucial part of your gaming PC. Or if all this motherboard talk is already overwhelming you, choose from our curated list of the best motherboard CPU combos.
CPU Price Differences
Some games like Civilization benefit from more general compute power for the number of different characters and all the calculations going on, but having lots of graphics power tends to be more important for playing PC games. If necessary, skew your budget toward a better GPU than CPU.
Budget CPUs in the $100-$150 price range should suffice for most gaming PCs. Few gamers would benefit from buying processor models beyond the $200-$300 enthusiast-grade chips.
CPU Cooler Price Differences
Choosing a processor that comes bundled with a heatsink will save you money on an aftermarket cooler, which becomes more worthwhile to buy as you scale up in processing power. We have a full guide on aftermarket coolers if you aren’t sure whether your new build should have air or liquid cooling.
Upgrading to a decent aftermarket air cooler will cost somewhere around $30 to $60, while premium air coolers and all-in-one liquid coolers are likely to set you back somewhere around $100 to $200.
GPU Price Differences
You may be tempted to buy the best graphics card you can afford, and for a gaming PC that might not be the worst idea. But again, you should have an ideal amount of performance in mind for the final build, and you only need to buy enough graphics power for that level of performance.
There’s also the issue of bottlenecking to consider. Besides being bottlenecked by your CPU if you skimp there, your GPU might be limited by the level of performance that your monitor can deliver. Check out our GPU & monitor pairing guide to learn more about that.
Generally speaking, relatively modern GPUs in the $125-$175 range allow you to comfortably play less demanding games, $225-$500 gets you into 1080p-1440p high refresh rate gaming, and the options beyond that enable more hardcore titles and display setups.
If you have less than $100 to spend on a GPU, sometimes you can save a few bucks buying used on sites like eBay, while super budget builds should consider integrated graphics.
RAM Price Differences
How much your RAM will cost depends on how much memory you want. Although you could certainly build a budget gaming PC with 8GB of RAM, 16GB has become the standard recommended capacity. 32GB may be overkill for most people now but is “future proof” if you plan to keep the system for a few years.
Buy RAM that will tap your motherboard’s fastest supported speeds. Avoid fancy heat spreaders and RGB lighting if budget is a priority. If your motherboard has four RAM slots, buying a kit with two 8GB modules will put you at the 16GB sweet spot and leave two slots empty for 32GB later. Running single-channel RAM comes with a slight performance impact in games.
Most motherboard manufacturers provide a “Qualified Vendor List” (QVL) that lists specific RAM modules known to be compatible with that board, though you shouldn’t typically have to check this if you’re buying RAM in the right format and speed for your board. Total incompatibility is less likely than your RAM running at a lower than desired frequency, though this shouldn’t matter much for budget builds.
Storage Drives Price Differences
Budget builders may only want to buy one drive, and that drive should be a decent capacity M.2 SSD, or a 2.5″ SATA SSD if your motherboard lacks an M.2 slot (bummer). That drive should have enough space for Windows and everything you plan to install on the machine, including your games.
Assuming you have Windows installed on an M.2 SSD and need more space, 2.5″ SATA SSDs are great for storing games that you are actively playing, while 3.5″ hard drives are ideal for cheap bulk storage on media files and games that you aren’t playing or that aren’t load-heavy. You may have storage drives from an old PC that would be great for this.
Computer Case Price Differences
Budget-conscious builders should find a case that comes with all the fans you’ll need (probably at least one on intake and one on exhaust) so you don’t have to buy them separately.
Most cases will support the various hardware standards for motherboards, so you mostly just have to make sure the other components you buy have the proper clearance. For instance, your graphics card might block your drive cages.
There are exceptions, but cases bundled with a power supply usually aren’t worth buying (the PSU is typically poor quality). If you know that one of these bundles has a good PSU then that might save you a few bucks.
Decent quality cases begin around $30 to $50, while premium models go for upwards of $150. Higher-end cases generally have cable management features, dust filters, RGB lighting, glass panels, sound insulation, and refined aesthetics.
Recommended reading: The 15 Most Unique PC Cases You Can Buy in 2021
Power Supply Unit Price Differences
Unless there’s a good deal around, a reliable power supply will probably cost somewhere between $50 and $100, with units that are modular or higher wattage costing upwards of $150. You only need enough total wattage to power everything in your system (plus a little bit to be safe). New system builders commonly waste money buying excess power capacity.
At peak load, a budget gaming PC is unlikely to require a PSU capable of delivering more than 500 watts. Perhaps more important than the overall wattage rating on budget PSUs is ensuring that the one you buy can deliver enough amps on the +12v rail for your GPU. Also, modular power supplies are nice to have if you can afford them.
Monitor Price Differences
If you only have around $100 or $200 to spare for a gaming monitor, consider a 1080p monitor with a refresh rate of 75/76Hz or 144Hz if that’s within budget. Beyond that, you start approaching larger display sizes, higher resolutions, faster refresh rates, and premium IPS panels.
For high-end builds with more resources to spare, a 1440p 144Hz or 165Hz IPS monitor is maybe the best all-around display you can buy unless you need a 244Hz refresh rate or some other specification that favors TN panels.
Recommended reading: 60Hz vs. 144Hz and Beyond: Why High Refresh Rates Are Worth It
Keyboard Price Differences
You can play games with any keyboard and there’s nothing particularly wrong with standard membrane keyboards that you can buy for $10 or $20. More expensive keyboards will include features such as macro and media keys, backlit keys, and mechanical switches.
Basic mechanical keyboards are now available for $50 or less and unless you really know what you’re buying and why, the value drop-off for prebuilt mechanical keyboards is probably around $150-$200.
The world of DIY mechanical keyboards is too much to get into for this article, but check out our “Mechanical Keyboards” tab in our gallery for an idea of how crazy (and expensive) these typing instruments can get.
Budget gaming mice tend to either have lots of features with cheap build quality, or fewer features with better build quality. You can technically play games with any mouse, though having more buttons can help a lot and most $10 mice don’t have many.
Budget gaming mice from brands like Logitech start around $30 or $40 and they are worth buying for a gaming PC. If not for ergonomics, DPI settings, and software customization, then again, because you’ll have more buttons for gaming.
The motherboard that you buy will surely have onboard audio processing, so if you already have a pair of headphones or speakers, or if you buy a monitor with integrated speakers (not recommended), then you’ll be able to hear sound from your new gaming PC.
Integrated audio has improved over the years. However, you’ll usually pay extra for a monitor that has speakers built-in (maybe $10 more), while buying speakers separately for say $20 will result in much greater sound.
Upgrading from your motherboard’s onboard audio to a dedicated sound card is probably only worthwhile if you have great speakers or headphones.
How Much Will It All Cost Again?
Unless you’re playing the most demanding games around and/or care deeply about aesthetic features like RGB lighting, you can probably expect to spend somewhere approaching $1,000 for more affordable builds (especially after shipping and sales tax) and upwards of $1,500 on builds with more relaxed budgets. Spending less than $1,000 is certainly feasible for mid-range performance if you budget accordingly.