Recently, someone reached out to me asking for assistance with a build list for a gaming PC that he wanted to build with his son. The general idea was that they would build it together as a fun learning experience, and then his son would have a nice gaming PC as a result. His budget range was $1200-$1700. This type of budget opens up a lot of possibilities for a capable and well-rounded system.
Personally, I love helping people in this situation, where a parent is doing an activity like this with their child. Before I got started on a build list, I asked a few clarifying questions. These are the questions and the answers that I got:
- Do you have a strong preference for AMD vs. Intel?
- No preference, but previous experience with Intel
- Are you near a Micro Center?
- What games does your son plan on playing?
- The Legend of Zelda, Minecraft, and Genshin Impact
- What resolution and refresh rate is your monitor?
- 1920×1080, 75Hz
Armed with this information, my takeaway was that it would be less graphically demanding games (at least to start with) on a 1080P monitor with a 75Hz refresh rate.
Not having a strong preference regarding AMD vs. Intel gave me more freedom in my recommendations. Being near a Micro Center meant that I could recommend parts that they carried, and that they might save quite a bit of money as a result.
Building a DIY System
A modern desktop system requires eight main components. These include:
- CPU cooler
- Primary storage
- Power supply
When you are selecting parts for a gaming system, you really need to understand the requirements (and budget) of the gamer who will be using the system. There is a big difference between a system for someone who wants to casually play eSports games at 1080P on a 60hz monitor compared a system that will be playing brand new AAA games at 4K on a 165Hz monitor.
If someone wants to play games at both high resolution and high refresh rates, you are more likely to be GPU-bound (unless you spend more on your GPU). The GPU and CPU that you select will drive the power supply choice, while the cooling requirements will affect the case choice.
For each of these components, I list my recommendations, and with links to Micro Center and Amazon. The Amazon links are affiliate links.
The CPU choice helps determine the motherboard choice, since they have to be compatible. The sweet spot for gaming right now (with most games) is typically a 6C/12T or 8C/16T CPU. Having eight physical cores instead of six physical cores gives you some extra CPU capacity that can be used if you are gaming and doing something else at the same time.
In this case, I recommended an 8C/16T AMD Ryzen 7 5800X. The Ryzen 7 5800X is significantly more affordable than the Ryzen 7 5800X3D, and it actually performs slightly better for non-gaming tasks because of its higher clock speeds.
The AMD Ryzen 7 5800X does not come with a stock CPU cooler, so this system needs an aftermarket CPU cooler of some sort. Fortunately, the Ryzen 7 5800X is pretty easy to cool, so this system does not need an expensive, high-end air cooler or AIO liquid cooler.
Lately, I have started using Deep Cool air coolers for quite a few mid-range systems. One reason why is the good RAM clearance. I recommended the Deep Cool AS500 Plus White CPU cooler for this system. It performs well and looks pretty nice too.
The motherboard is the heart of a desktop system. The first requirement is that the motherboard must be compatible with the processor in the system. After that, it comes down to what features you want and how much you want to spend.
For example, perhaps Wi-Fi 6E is a requirement, or maybe you want a certain number and type of USB ports. I tend to favor ATX motherboards, since they have more space for useful features.
I recommended an ASUS B550-F ROG Strix Gaming WiFi II for this system. The main reason that I recommended this particular ASUS motherboard was because it was part of a great CPU/motherboard bundle deal at Micro Center. The deal was this motherboard and an AMD Ryzen 7 5800X processor for only $299.99.
I think the bare minimum amount of RAM you want for a gaming system in 2023 is 16GB. Since DDR4-3600 RAM is quite affordable now, I think it makes sense to go up to 32GB, using two 16GB DIMMs, if your budget allows.
My preferred RAM vendor is G.SKILL. For this system, I recommended 32GB of G.SKILL Trident Z Neo DDR4-3600 CL16 RAM (Model F4-3600C16D-32GTZNC).
G.SKILL RAM just works, and this model also has RGB, which I thought would be a plus for the intended owner. The motherboard has some LED lighting, as does the case and CPU cooler.
You need at least one storage drive of some sort, for the operating system. In 2023, there is little remaining reason to use anything for a boot drive that is not a fast, large capacity M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD. The cost delta vs. 2.5″ AHCI SATA SSDs is very small now.
The bare minimum size (for a new system in 2023) is 1TB. This is because 500GB models actually cost more/GB and have lower performance.
What PCIe version you want depends on what your CPU supports. An AMD Ryzen 7 5800X CPU supports PCIe 4.0 from the CPU. Most B550 motherboards (including the one I recommended) have one PCIe 4.0 M.2 slot (connected to the CPU) and one PCIe 3.0 M.2 slot (connected to the B550 chipset).
Because of current pricing, I recommended a 2TB Samsung 980 PRO M.2 NVMe PCIe 4.0 SSD. BTW, Samsung has had some bad press lately, but if you use Samsung Magician and keep your firmware up to date (like you should), I think you will be fine.
Cases are a tricky recommendation. They need to be big enough for your motherboard and your cooling solution. I believe that thermal performance is the most important metric, followed by build quality, and acoustic performance. Gamer’s Nexus is my go-to for case reviews and recommendations.
A relatively new model that Gamer’s Nexus really liked is the Lian Li Lancool 216, which is what I recommended for this system. It has great thermal performance with no modifications and it is pretty affordable.
Your power supply is not a place to scrimp on quality and features. I tend to prefer fully-modular models that are at least 80 Plus Gold (or better). Most systems also don’t need a 1000W or larger capacity power supply (unless you have a very high-end GPU and CPU).
You need to properly size the power supply based on the GPU and CPU you will be using. It can be a good idea to go a little larger on the capacity if you plan on upgrading your GPU in the future.
For this system, I recommended an EVGA SuperNOVA 650 GT 650 watt 80 Plus Gold fully modular power supply. I have built several systems with this power supply recently, and it works very well.
Finally, we have the GPU recommendation! This is another sensitive subject, with a lot of potential emotion involved. Compared to the last couple of years, the GPU availability and pricing situation is a huge improvement.
I can vividly remember seeing the Denver Micro Center having zero discrete GPUs in stock, with people lining up hours before they opened (or camping outside overnight) to get any GPU. This was mostly caused by crypto mining and GPU scalpers. That is in the past now.
At the same time, there is a lot of anger directed at NVIDIA and AMD for the very high prices they are charging for their latest generation flagship models. Despite all of that, there are some good values available right now on GPUs from AMD and Intel.
For this system, I pitched several different choices, including and MSI AMD Radeon RX 6750 XT MECH OC and an Intel ARC A770. Any of these will be more than enough for 1080P 75Hz with pretty much any game. AMD RDNA 2 GPUs give you the best bang for the buck at present. The Intel ARC A770 and A750 are also very good values and their drivers are MUCH better now. An NVIDIA RTX 3xxx GPU will be the worst value, and they are also in shorter supply.
The father/son team ended up choosing the MSI Radeon RX 6750 XT.
Avoiding Common Build Mistakes
I made a couple of YouTube Shorts videos today showing some common build mistakes with desktop systems. They are each less than a minute long. I would be honored if you watched them and gave me me your feedback.
This very capable system can easily handle 1440P gaming and it comes in at the low range of the requested budget. It is a good base set of components that could easily be upgraded in the future. This system can also run for years with no upgrades at all.
If your budget is more modest, it would be pretty easy to trim down many of the components here and still have a fairly similar level of gaming performance.
A few days after I sent the parts list, I received a photo of the completed system, along with a note with how happy the son was. That was a very nice surprise!
I would love to hear any comments or suggestions you might have about this build list. Thanks for reading!