Since I often get questions and requests related to selecting components for different types of desktop PCs, I thought I would put together a few build guides for some different categories of machines at different price points. To start with, here is my $1500 AMD Gaming PC Build Guide.
Eight Core Components
Any desktop machine is going to need these eight core components as listed below.
- CPU cooler
- Power supply
At certain price points, you may be able save some money by getting components that combine extra functionality into a single component. A good example is a CPU with integrated graphics that also has a decent CPU cooler included. Because of ongoing competition between Intel and AMD, combined with falling RAM and NAND SSD prices, you can build a very capable system for a lot less money than you might expect.
Usually, I don’t recommend trying to reuse old components from an existing system in a new PC build. Depending on the age of your existing system, many of the parts simply won’t work in a new system. Even if they do, they probably won’t work as well as new parts. Finally, I find it to be much less stressful to build a new system before tearing the old system down. That way, if you have any issues with the new build, you still have a working system.
I really like the AMD Ryzen 5 3600 CPU for a machine in this price range. This 7nm Zen 2 processor has 6C/12T with a base clock of 3.6 GHz and a boost clock of up to 4.2 GHz. It supports PCIe 4.0 (in the appropriate motherboard), and comes with a decent Wraith Stealth CPU cooler.
This CPU has enough ST performance for gaming and enough MT performance for productivity tasks. It is a real bargain compared to the more expensive AMD Ryzen 5 3600X and the AMD Ryzen 5 3600XT. This processor would be a substantial upgrade compared to older Intel 4C/8T processors that many people still have.
Even though the AMD Ryzen 5 3600 comes with a Wraith Stealth CPU cooler in the box, I think you should use an aftermarket CPU cooler at this price point. A very good mid-range CPU air cooler is the ARCTIC Freezer 34 eSports DUO. This cooler has done very well in several CPU cooler roundups, and I have used this cooler in a couple of my Folding@Home systems.
The reason you want an aftermarket CPU cooler is that you will get better CPU boost clock speeds if the CPU is running at a lower temperature. If your CPU is quite hot (above 80-85C), you are not going to see your CPU cores boosting to the maximum boost clock speed very often or for very long. With an AMD Ryzen 5 3600, this usually means a loss of anywhere from 100 to 300 MHz.
In order to have a well-rounded motherboard with a good upgrade path, I like the new AMD B550 motherboards. After much delay, these are finally starting to become available. They are more expensive (on average) than the older B450 motherboards. In my mind, this is justified by the much higher quality components on most B550 motherboards. You will see much better voltage regulator modules (VRMs), better networking and onboard sound, better USB connectivity, and PCI 4.0 support.
A good choice is the MSI MPG B550 Gaming Edge WiFi motherboard. This board has good quality components and is not too expensive. It has good VRMs with large heatsinks, 2.5 GbE LAN and Wi-Fi 6, and two M.2 slots.
A good rule of thumb for a gaming machine is to try to spend at least 50% of your budget on your GPU. I didn’t quite do that here, because I did not want to jump up to an RTX 2080 Super.
I like the Gigabyte GeForce RTX 2070 Super Gaming OC 8G (N207SGAMING OC-8GD) video card. It has triple, contra-rotating cooling fans and is factory overclocked.
G.SKILL is my favorite memory vendor, followed by Corsair. Personally, I have had very good luck with both G.SKILL and Corsair memory. G.SKILL is widely held in high regard for good reason.
I think the minimum amount of RAM for a new system is 16GB (2 x 8GB), but with RAM prices being quite low, 32GB (2 x 16GB) is a reasonable amount to start with. With Zen 2 Ryzen processors, you should try to get DDR4 3600, with relatively low CAS latency and timings.
For this system, I chose a G.SKILL 32GB (2 x 16GB) Ripjaws V Series DDR4 PC4-28800 3600MHz kit (F4-3600C19D-32GVRB). The Ripjaws 5 series is more affordable than some of G.SKILL’s other product lines, which is why I picked it here. Because of that, it does also have higher latency than the more expensive lines.
I really think that any new PC build in 2020 should use an M.2 PCIe NVMe storage card for the boot drive. The price difference between roughly equivalent M.2 NVMe storage and older technology SATA AHCI storage is usually about $20-30, depending on the size.
For example, a 500GB Samsung 970 EVO Plus M.2 NVMe storage card is $99.99 while a 500GB Samsung 860 EVO SATA SSD is $77.99 on Amazon right now. For me, the huge difference in sequential performance, random IOPS and latency makes the M.2 drive an easy choice.
It is also nice to reduce your build time and cable clutter by using an M.2 drive. It just goes directly into the M.2 slot on the motherboard, with no data or power cable required.
I chose a 500GB Samsung 970 EVO Plus M.2 NVMe storage card for this build. I am a very loyal Samsung SSD customer, and I am willing to pay the small price premium over other consumer SSD storage vendors.
PC cases can be quite subjective, and some people have very strong opinions about how they want their case to look. There are many available choices, in many different sizes. Noise levels are also important to many people. Despite all of the case choices, if you value thermal performance over noise levels or aesthetics, then you need to do some basic research.
You can save a lot of time and angst by just going to the GamersNexus YouTube channel. Steve Burke and his crew do the most exhaustive and comprehensive PC case testing that I am aware of. If you care about choosing a “good” PC case they are an incredible resource.
For this build, I chose a Phanteks Eclipse P400A Digital ATX case. This is an affordable case that looks pretty decent, and does very well in GamersNexus testing. This case comes with three 120mm intake fans in the front, so I would consider adding an additional 120mm exhaust fan in the back.
Your power supply is not a good place to economize. High quality power supplies deliver reliable power to your system and they last longer. Higher efficiency (80 Plus Gold or better) will also reduce your electrical usage. Many people buy a larger capacity power supply than they actually need, which wastes money and makes the power supply less efficient under a light load.
For this build, I chose a Seasonic PRIME Fanless PX-500 80 Plus Titanium power supply. This is an extremely high quality fully modular power supply with a twelve year warranty. It is a little pricey for a 500W power supply, but I think it is worth it.
Here are the parts that I recommend for this build.
- CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 3600 processor on Amazon
- CPU Cooler: ARCTIC Freezer 34 eSports DUO on Amazon
- Motherboard: MSI MPG B550 Gaming Edge WiFi on Amazon
- GPU: Gigabyte GeForce RTX 2070 Super Gaming OC on Amazon
- Memory: G.SKILL 32GB (2 x 16GB) Ripjaws V Series DDR4 PC4-28800 3600MHz on Amazon
- Storage: 500GB Samsung 970 Plus EVO M.2 NVMe storage card on Amazon
- Case: Phanteks Eclipse P400A on Amazon
- Power supply: Seasonic PRIME Fanless PX-500 on Amazon
Note: Links to Amazon and Newegg are typically monetized on my blog (affiliate links) and may return a commission of sales to me from the retailer. This is unrelated to the product manufacturer and does not increase the price you pay.
I have written a number of other posts related to this subject that you might find interesting:
- T-SQL Tuesday #128 – Learning From Mistakes
- Building a B550 Aorus Master System
- Should You Buy an AMD Ryzen 3000XT?
- Avoiding Common DIY PC Building Mistakes
- Replacing My Wife’s Computer
- Checking Your Memory Speed
- How Do You Orient Case Fans?
- Building an AMD Ryzen 9 3950X System
- Gaming PC Component Choices
- How to Tell if You Have XMP Enabled
- Seven Setup Tips for a New AMD Ryzen 3000 System
- Ways to Save Money on a New Desktop System
There are several ways to reduce the cost of this system, depending on what tradeoffs you want to make. You could use the stock CPU cooler, and a less expensive B450 motherboard. Stepping down to 16GB of RAM and using a less expensive, non-Samsung SATA SSD would also save some money. You could also get a less expensive power supply and case.
If you are only playing older games at 1080P resolution, you could move down to a less expensive graphics card, such as an RTX 2060 Super or even a GTX 1660 Super.
If you have read this far, don’t be afraid to ask me questions in the comments or on Twitter (where I am @GlennAlanBerry). One thing I really like doing is “sanity checks” for people BEFORE they buy their components. Don’t hesitate to send me a PCPartPicker build list, and I will tell you what I think of your choices! I really do hate to see people make bad choices on components.
One way you can thank me for my content is to buy your components (when it makes sense) from my affiliate links.
Please let me know your thoughts in the comments!