The great PC question

I’ve been threatening to do it for a while, and now I’m actually going to follow through. I’m going to (gulp) get a Windows machine for the sake of having access to the vast library of games that platform enjoys. Consoles have become increasingly stagnant and conservative, and all the medium’s creativity is happening down in the cracks of independently developed PC gaming. There’s nothing to be done for it, I’m afraid.

So my question, then, is: Is it possible to build a gaming-capable rig (ideally one able to handle current AAA stuff, though not necessarily at max settings) for less than $1000? Does that include a monitor? Give me your wisdom, O nerds. Lend me your knowledge of optimal mid-range PC specs.

41 thoughts on “The great PC question

  1. You can definitely get in under $1000 and play most games on minimal settings with an okay monitor. The great things about a PC is that you can upgrade ANYTHING later.

  2. I recently built my first PC, and I used build recommendations from hardware-revolution.

    The nice thing about their builds is that the give tiers of price vs power, and alternatives even within them.

  3. I’m not here for specs, but as far as a monitor: If you already have an HDTV, you might be able to plug the computer into that via HDMI. My four-year-old Office Depot Special laptop (not top of the line by any consideration) even has an HDMI port. Since I don’t know gaming so well, though, maybe someone else should weigh in on whether that’s a decent video method. It works fine for streaming movies.

    Both TVs in my house have a VGA input, but that’s probably not ideal either.

  4. Over the last year, I’ve built up a pretty decent (i.e. basic) machine for about $500. That includes monitor, peripherals, and operating system (though I did get a student discount on the operating system). It doesn’t include speakers or headphones (for that, I used some unused speakers and an amp I had lying around, and recently built my own sub woofer for ~$100). It can play new AAA titles on low settings. The video card is the weakest component in my build, so if I’d spent another $100 I could probably get medium to high settings on most new AAA titles. I used a combination of newegg, Amazon, Tiger Direct and even craigslist. So with some planning, a decent gaming pc can be built for well under $1000.

  5. I just installed BootCamp in my MacBook Pro. My mid 2013 is robust enough to play AAA releases. I know it won’t be able to play the Witcher 3 at max settings, but it can run Saints Row IV in high and that’s more than enough.

  6. Here is a cheapish more or less already built thing.
    $217 Tower,Keyboard,Mouse minus videocard

    $139 750TI Videocard

    If you do not mind using the keyboard and mouse that came with it and got a tv to hook it up too. Then your set. If not there are decent monitors you can get for around $100 to $150.

    • And it is gone :( good deal. Only downside was the 300watt powersupply but with a 750ti you would not be pulling more then 150 watts at full load using something like furmark aka not real world load. But there are deals like this one all the time if you keep a eye out.

      And this is a at your own risk because it may not fit but if you want a better video card you can always buy a more powerful powersupply and swap it in. But that is a case by case thing, so not responsible ;P

  7. You can build a great gaming PC for 1000 dollars. You can build a fine one for 600-700.

    Figure 100-200 for motherboard, 100-200 for CPU, 200-300 for video card, 100 for case/power supply, 100 for HDD (+100 if you want an SSD too), 100 for RAM. I usually don’t count monitors/mouse/keyboard/speakers, but you get a monitor for 100-150 and the rest for like 50 bucks together.

    My recommendation: spend more on your video card than on your CPU, make sure you’re getting quality parts, and try to budget for an SSD if at all possible. They’re great.

    • Also, for a controller, I highly recommend the Dualshock 4. It’s great all around, and here’s a good program to get the most out of it:

      My personal experience: I put together a 1000 dollar PC over 4 years ago. It was operating at 1080p Highest Settings for most games during that period. Last year, Shadows of Mordor and DA Inquisition both forced low settings, so I upgraded to a GTX 970 (great deal for ~270). Now I probably have another four years or so, though I’ll likely try to upgrade my mobo and CPU sometime during that period.

  8. And if that tower I picked does not work because of location try places like newegg, heck even craigslist might be worth a glance. People that upgrade a lot will sell there “old” stuff for a song compared to what it was new.

    You do not need much these days to play at 1080p on a computer with setting better then a console. Only if you want to dial it past 11 do you need to start spending the cash. But sadly there are very few games games that scale good lately. To many buggy unoptimized pieces.

    The computer I posted above should be able to play most games at 1080p on very high settings if you disable or lower the super demanding settings. AA and the like. General graphics settings you can max out and get 95+% of the graphic fidelity.

  9. I keep reading that AMD’s A10, a chip that contains both CPU and graphics, gives decent gaming performance for a very low price. It’s a less-powerful relative relative of the chips in the PS4 and Xbox One.

  10. Not sure if this matters, but if you plan to do your video editing or graphic design work on this PC, you can’t skimp on memory or processor.

    Also, if you only plan on indie titles, then low specs machines will do fine. It is the “I want to play AAA” that will send your system price skyrocketing above $1000.

    It is a shame you don’t live in the bay area anymore. I just had the best experience at Central Computer, which a local chain. They put together an insane workstation for me for around $3000. But their staff basically walks you through every component and assemble it all for under $100.

  11. When I built mine, I used Logical Increments ( to plan how much and why should I spend my money. It’s worth looking into, since it tries to range the PCs and show you more or less how much you will spend in total. For my monitor, I got a Benq with low lag to play fighting games, but that’s not a requirement for everybody;

  12. Jeremy, you seem like a really busy guy. Do you want to add to that schedule putting together a PC and then troubleshooting any problems you might have from the build? I’d just wait for a decent Lenovo desktop or tower to go on sale and pick up one of those. I got a great gaming PC for $1100 during a recent sale and I don’t have to worry about anything.

    • With all the security flaws Lenovo has been including in their hardware, you MUST at least reinstall Windows.

  13. I used the Tech Report Guide to build my decent machine.

    neogaf has a topic too “I need a new PC”

    Might want to make sure your motherboard has an open PCIe slot for a video capture card. You can use OBS to record direct PC footage and run programs through Steam’s overlay to take screen shots (disable Steam’s snapshot sfx when recording video at the same time).

  14. Great advice all around in this thread. I would add that is one of those “Damn I wish this site had existed when I first started building computers” sites; it’ll allow you to configure a machine right on-site (and check your work to prevent you from, say, buying a processor that won’t work in that motherboard, or a power supply that’s too low-wattage for that graphics card) and help you find the cheapest site to buy each individual part. It’s probably a good idea on principle to do some background research on any site you order parts from, but I haven’t had any trouble with any of the sites PC Part Picker has sent me to before. Amazon and NewEgg are my two biggest sources for parts, but PC Part Picker can often find you a better deal.

    If you’re worried about budget, you might want to stick with platter drives for now and wait until later on down the line to upgrade to SSD’s. That said, the best setup is probably to have one (small, 64GB or 128GB) SSD for the OS, another (larger, probably 500GB) for games, and a platter drive for the Users directory. (Something to keep in mind about Steam: unlike most Windows programs it’s actually completely trivial to move your Steam installation and all your games to a new hard drive; just drag and drop. So if you want to set up Steam on a platter drive now and plan on moving it to an SSD at a later date, you can easily do that, without worrying about having to re-download hundreds of gigabytes of games.)

    I bought my monitor at . They use the same panel as Apple does, but sell it for cheaper by, well, cheaping out on everything else but the panel. The stand is shoddy, the controls are awkward, and it’s got noticeable light bleed at the edges. But it’s also a 27″ 2560×1440 monitor with DisplayPort, DVI, HDMI, and VGA ports that I got for under $500. (Which still may be too much for your budget, but the version that’s only got VGA and DVI is only $325. Of course, for a gaming machine, there’s actually an advantage to going lower-res and sticking to 1080p; if you want to play games at 2560×1440 at reasonable framerates that’s going to jack up the price of your graphics card too.)

    Also worth asking: is this your first time building a PC? If so, it’s probably a good idea to have somebody who does it on the regular who can check your work if something goes wrong. I’ve been building PC’s for half my life and I still find myself getting snagged on some trivial mistake partway through the process. (I keep meaning to open my case up and see if I can figure out why my USB3 ports aren’t working…) On the other hand, it’s not that tough; if you don’t have anybody onhand to help you in person, you can probably get by with online forums and the occasional YouTube video.

  15. I’ll probably get hammered for suggesting this but have you looked at getting something from Dell or Lenovo instead of building your own? I just helped my brother in law out who was in a similar situation. He had a mid 2011 iMac that could not keep up with this flight simulator (he’s training to be a pilot) and it was too expensive to buy a new iMac.

    We weighed the pros and cons of building a gaming PC or buying something from an OEM. Sure building lets you get exactly what you want but unless you know what you are doing it can be daunting to pick out all the parts.

    In the end he ended up getting a Dell XPS 8700 for around $600 and replaced the stock card with a NVidia GTX 960 for another $200. Now he’s got a pretty decent PC that can run most games with good graphics settings and he doesn’t have to worry about getting support if he needs it.

  16. Vega those are not really worth it for the best bang for the buck sadly. You would need to get faster speed main system memory to get the most out of a A10, 1333mhz vs 1800mhz/2100mhz. Considering how expensive memory has gotten the last two years that can hurt. Your best bet is just to get something like a AMD 860k for $80 without graphics and 750ti or better from nvidia or equivalent from amd side for videocard. You’ll get like 3x the performance in games vs the best A10 by it self.

    Cpu with the graphics onboard only make sense at the low end if your not gaming, There are several options that are dirt cheap, that would make decent types of cheap servers for some tasks or web surfing boxes.

  17. I built my first PC last year, the front headphone jack on my case doesn’t work but otherwise it works well. the most intimidating thing is all the choices available.

    I spent more on the processor than the graphics card, but since I have a 720p TV games run at 100+fps until I upgrade the monitor.

    I used a local microcenter in NYC-(the one in yonkers) it’s pretty helpful to research and then pick out parts in person, also the combo deals there are crazy if buy alot of parts.

    If your okay with medium/low settings or less than 60fps you can easily do under 1000 dollars.

    Also I had Lifehacker’s guide on my ipad to help me build

    Enjoy it, there’s as many games to play as there computer parts.

  18. Yeah, all good advice there. You can get by with a $500-600 budget for a decent gaming PC, so $1000 is luxurious. The critical parts for performance are the GPU and CPU, so I’d allocate about half the budget there, with a GeForce GTX 970 for around $300 and a mid-range Core i5 in the $200 range. That combination will blow away consoles and let you play everything for the next few years at high settings with smooth framerates.

    The rest of the budget should be enough for a small SSD just for the OS, a 1TB hard drive for games, 8GB RAM, 500W+ PSU, and case, as long as you look around for decent deals. For example, I just went to and was able to configure a full PC with those specs for $966, taking advantage of current deals for a free 1TB HDD with purchase of any SSD, and free upgrade from GTX 960 to 970. You could probably do even better with shopping around more and watching for sales on each individual component, but that’s obviously more time and hassle that might not be worth it for you.

    As for a monitor, I generally look at that separately, as I don’t know what you already have. If you have a 1080p TV, you can just plug in the HDMI to the PC and it’ll work great. Or possibly if you have an older Mac that you’re not using, you can use its display. Monitor technology had been stable for quite a while before starting to shake up in the past couple of years, so if you just want to stick with a standard 1080p 24″ 60Hz screen, they’re basically a commodity and should be available for a little over $100. This is a somewhat frustrating time to buy a monitor, as there are several significant developments (IPS panels for better color reproduction, resolutions above 1080p for additional sharpness, refresh rates above 60Hz and G-Sync for more smoothness) making their way into more models, but it’s prohibitively expensive to combine them. If you can get by with what you have for now, I’d recommend doing that, and then in a year or so plan to spend a few hundred on a fantastic monitor that will last you a decade.

    Whatever you decide to go with, welcome! I’ve been reading/listening to you for a long time now, and have often thought that with your tastes it’s a shame that you didn’t play on PC, as there’s a lot of great stuff that would be right up your alley.

  19. As it happens, I put together a build last month; If you have a MicroCenter near you it drastically simplifies things as they will price match against Amazon and Newegg on top of running sales of their own and their prices on Intel CPUs are very difficult to beat. Price came to a bit over $1100 once tax was tallied, including 8.25% tax. One thing to be noted in particular: Don’t cheap out on the PSU. You will regret it later.

  20. It’s super easy to get a great PC gaming rig for under 1000$. If you don’t even want to work hard on it, you can get Alienware Alpha systems for 550$ or 850$ that are more then capable systems. And they’re upgradable, so you can still put in a beefier video card or something later on if so desired.

  21. I agree w/ Thraeg’s comments.

    My experience from building a new rig this past September and updating an older computer.
    1. AMD is a little more plug n’ play friendly. Gfx behaves more like consoles… mostly because consoles currently both sport AMD graphics chipsets…
    2. NVIDIA has more of the fancy-pants bells and whistles. That being said, the GTX 970 is a ridonculous price point while being relatively future-proofed with a good sized ram, especially at 1080p. (Arkham City w/ PhysX is a nice sight)
    3. For gaming, for now, stick w/ a decent i5. Don’t bother overclocking (usually variants that end w/ -K) for this first build; plus they’re cheaper for the locked multipliers. If you want to stream on Twitch like a maniac, consider a reasonable i7. Devs don’t utilize powerful CPUs since the PS4 and XB1 are more like high-powered tablets with a mid-ranged graphics card stuck on them… kind of a shame, and likely the reason why AC-Unity runs like garbage since the simulation bottlenecks everything to death. My 6yr old first generation i7 is not the bottleneck when paired with a Radeon 280 for instance, this computer is functionally 1.5x the power of a ps4.
    4. I wholly agree w/ a small SSD boot drive (128gb) for OS and a high-density (1-2GB) HDD to store games. Once again, hampered by devs that have to stream off of blu-ray or at least vanilla console HDDs’ low speed. A 7200rpm high density drive will give you great read speeds (see Eurogamer Digital Foundry articles on harddrives).

    If you want a starting point of parts collections, I read Tom’s Hardware system builder marathons to get an idea of the types of parts I need, as well as a reasonable price-point to performance to expect. (case type, case size, mother board size, power supply ideas, etc.) The build marathons have stagnated of the last few years, but I feel like we’re at kind of a performance plateau gaming-wise due to the l-o-n-g last gen and frankly incremental advance in this gen.


  22. After all that verbosity. One of the best things about PC gaming is the ability to customize. Hard to play Shadows of Mordor on a lower frame rate when I’m able to push to 60fps.

    Of course, I unfortunately get headaches if the framerate is low/choppy. Mileages vary.

    • You might want to look into getting a freesync or gsync monitor this year as more come out at more reasonable prices.

      Both work more or less the same, no major end user visible difference, just ones for nvidia and ones AMD cards and supporting monitor.

  23. I dunno what kind of (Mac?) hardware you have, but all the best PC-exclusive games can be played running Windows via Bootcamp. Most PC game that require beefier specs are probably available for consoles too.

  24. You have gotten a lot of good advice so far, but it tends to lean a bit more to the power build side. I am one of those people, but I have learned a lot about what is over kill in building a PC for someone like you.

    My humble recommendations are a bit generalized, but go as follows:

    1) Get an Intel i5 CPU, unless you plan on the CPU doubling as an encoder for video work like you do for GB world. If you are only gaming an i7 is overkill.

    2) Asus, Gigabyte, and MSI make good motherboards. In my opinion that same order is the ranking I would use for ranking the manufacturers. You dont need much from a motherboard, you want dual channel memory, 3 PCI slots minumum, with one being a PCI 3.0 slot for your motherboard.

    3) Think of those PCI slots as HDMI ports on a receiver. You can never have too many. These are your means of “future proofing”, either by being able to buy a $30 card to have “usb 5.0” support, or a new soundcard, or a tv capture card or whatever.

    4) A good quality SSD is the most important part of a build for what you are trying to do. I took a big plunge with my last build 4 years ago (a watercooled overclocking monster) and went only with a single 120GB SSD. I later added a second, and I have yet to regret it. I got around the storage issue by buying and setting up a NAS thus finding a use for all my old hard drives lying around. Streaming your music or PDFs or movies from your own personal cloud is almost seamless and you can keep games, programs, and operating systems solely on your SSD for max speed.

    5) 16 gigs ram minimum. Dont skimp.

    6) Anything over a 650-700 watt power supply for what you are doing is overkill. Corsair makes pretty good power supplies even if you pay the premium. If you are going to go crazy about your wires being every where, spend thr extra $20 to get a modular supply so you can minimize clutter.

    7) I prefer NVidia for my graphics cards, so if you prefer AMD, find the equivalent version card and apply this advice: I would recommend a GTX 960 for you, but spend a little more for the EVGA version with 4 GB video memory. At the price point you are aiming for, the additional memory will give you better results at 1920×1080 for less money than taking the jump to a 970.

    Gimme a bit to play on newegg and i will post a quick list

  25. Alright here goes:

    Mobo: Asus Z97-A $139.99
    CPU: Intel i5 4460 $189.99
    PSU: Corsair CS550M (modular) 84.99
    SSD: Samsung 850 evoseries 120 GB 69.99
    Ram: Corsair Vengance DD3 1600 2×4 GB $64 99
    GPU: EVGA Gtx 960 2966-KR $204.99
    Case: Silverstone PS10B (nid atx tower) $46.99
    OS: Your choice, windows 8.1 home 64 bit $119.99
    24″ Monitor: Planar PLL2410W $129.99 (Planar isnt a no name, they do a lot of work for industry monitors and are some of the best I have ever owned. The value you get from these monitors are way more than they sell for)
    Keyboard/Mouse: Logitech MK550 $59.99

    Sadly that puts you at roughly $1112 subtotal and roughly $1190 with tax. I didnt realize how hard it really is now to build a sub $1k computer with everything included.

    Upgrades to my full recommended build add about $150 to the subtotal and are listed in order of importance

    Upgrade from 2×4 GB ram to 4×4 GB ram +$75

    Upgrade from 2966-kr to 3966-kr +$35 (extra video memory is really nice, but more system memory affects everything and continues to benefit your build even if you switch GPUs)

    Upgrade to 250 GB SSD +$40 Trust me, with a bit of discipline you can get by just fine with a 120 GB hard drive. Thumb drives are cheap and plentiful and can hold modest MP3 collections.

    With all upgrades, $1350 which is rapidly escaping your desired budget.

    You can easily save $150-$200 by looking into buying refurbs from someone reputable like newegg. A refurbed monitor, motherboard, or especially video card can save you a lot of money.

  26. Oh and last thing and I will shut up. Look into sites like Anandtech and guru3d at the bench marking of the Intel integrated HD drivers. An integrated GPU is a dirty word amongst PC gamers, but if you can live with the benchmarks listed at places like that for the CPU you choose (expect mid 20 fps for most mildly taxing games), you can take $150-230 off your initial buy in cost. On many games at resolutions under 1600×1200 your frame rate will be determined by your CPU anyways. Looking at benchmarking charts on sites like that, you will see that even having Triple SLI’d GTX980s doesnt change your FPS if you are at a low enough resolution.

    People will scoff, but you really might want to give the internal GPU in the haswell chips a consideration, and if you decide on using an internal CPU for your graphical needs, adjust your budget for a CPU accordingly.

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