Been wanting to build your own gaming PC, but worried that you'll have to shell out upwards of $600? Worry no more!
Building a solid gaming PC is cheaper than ever now - in fact, you can build an awesome gaming PC for $400. Yeah, that's less than the price of a new console - and you can actually manage 1080P and 60FPS with this PC!
If you're wondering how you can get started with your own $400 dollar gaming PC build, don't worry - I'll cover that (And much more) below, in detail.
First, I just want to provide a bit of introductory information for those of you who are brand new to PC building, and PC gaming in general. If you've already done prior research, feel free to skip ahead - I won't be offended, I promise!
This Build Is Perfect For Beginners
If you're completely new to PC gaming, you can jump right into this build with no prior knowledge and minimal investment up front.
But what will this build actually do for you? What kind of games can you run with it?
With this epic gaming PC build under $400 dollars, you can easily run older games (Such as Skyrim, Mount & Blade: Warband, Dishonored, etc.) on medium-high settings, and newer games on lower settings at a smooth 50-60FPS. For less than the price of a console, you really can't beat that!
Having said that, I want to stress the importance of understanding that this build will not carry you all the way through 2017, destroying all the games in your wake. Game performance requirements go up every generation, and a $400 rig just isn't future-proof enough to meet them consistently. That's why this is a beginner's build!
If you're a more experienced PC gamer looking to upgrade from an old PC, or simply a newbie looking for a more powerful starting point, you will probably benefit more from a $500 gaming PC build than this one - but the choice is yours.
Common Misconceptions About PC Gaming
I've seen too many people look into PC gaming with misconceptions about how much it would cost, how much time they'd have to invest, and how complicated the process is.
Let's clear all 3 of those up right now.
First, let's address the money issue. As evidenced by this post, being a PC gamer does NOT automatically mean you're going to have to shell out $800+ dollars for your rig - that's just ridiculous! While some people do choose to go that route due to wanting to maximize FPS and performance down the road, it is not at all essential for a beginner.
The great thing about PC gaming is that you can simply upgrade your components later on down the line - when your budget allows for it. Consoles don't have that ability!
Next, let's talk about time expenditure. Understandably, this is a mental block that a lot of people struggle to get past. People have families, jobs, and other obligations that demand the vast majority of their time. Spending days working on a gaming PC build would be a massive inconvenience! People (Myself included) would much rather spend their free time relaxing, not stressing about how to put together a PC.
Fortunately, building a gaming PC does not take anywhere near that long! My first ever gaming PC build took me a total of 3 hours to assemble - with no prior knowledge, assistance, or experience.
Yup - 3 hours. Not days! It's a much quicker process than you might think.
Finally, isn't building a gaming PC a tech-y, complex process? Nope! Not really. Remember, you aren't actually physically engineering and creating the components - you're simply sticking 'em all together, while following super easy instructions.
Part manufacturers would never make any money if building a gaming PC was an extremely niche, difficult task! They need people of all backgrounds and technological knowledge levels to be able to understand the process to make their profits.
If you're completely new to PC building and have no idea what you're doing, no worries - I'll provide super easy to follow information below that will go over the entire process step-by-step.
How To Build A Budget Gaming PC Under $400 Dollars
If you're wondering how the heck you actually assemble the PC itself, I've got you covered there, too. All you need to get started is a good guide!
There's plenty of options out there to suit that purpose, but I'm going to save you some time and frustration by just giving you the guide I personally use and recommend to all new PC builders.
Before I do that, though, you're going to need some basic equipment - don't worry, it's both cheap and super common (You probably have it lying around your house already). In fact, if you plan on upgrading your PC down the line, you could consider this your own personal computer building kit!
Tools Of The Trade
- Anti-static wrist band (Optional - Helps to avoid damaging components. I recommend this one from Rosewill)
- Needle-nose pliers (Optional - For more easily maneuvering within the case. Here's my recommendation)
- Some form of lighting (A phone flashlight will do)
- A screwdriver (I recommend this one)
- A safe, sturdy place to work.
How To Build A PC - Video Guide (Newegg)
This is the video guide I (And dozens of others) have used for years - the awesome guys over at Newegg have a super in-depth video series that goes over every single step in a lighthearted, easy-to-follow manner.
They take all potential stress and anxiety about building a PC and toss it out the window! Just a quick reminder - a lot of the earlier portions of the video go over choosing components, etc. That won't be important for you, as this very article has a full $400 gaming PC part list! Just scroll down and check it out.
How To Build A PC - Written Guide
If you're not much of a visual learner, or you just need a quick refresher, feel free to read my written guide on building a gaming PC using the link below. If you have any questions, just drop a comment below and I'll get back to you as soon as possible!
Simply watch the video series above, or read the written guide while you assemble your system, and you're good to go!
Best Part List For A $400 Gaming PC
Okay, so you know HOW to build a gaming PC (Or, at the very least, you'll learn along the way), but that information is basically useless without the components to take advantage of it!
If you want a few more details on what each component is, and what it does, click the drop down below. Otherwise, simply check out the part list. If you can't afford all of the parts now, you can always buy them over time - that's what I do!
What Makes Up A Gaming PC?
If you didn't already know, a gaming PC is comprised of a few major components.
- A GPU/Video Card. This is what gives your PC its gaming performance, and allows things to be displayed on screen!
- A CPU. Think of the CPU as the brain of the computer. It governs how well the rest of the PC runs, and it has the power to make or break your video card's performance (If your CPU is too weak to handle the video card, it spends all its resources trying to power that one component - which isn't a good thing!)
- A Motherboard. I won't go into details on how this works, but this is what you plug all your other components into - it lets everything communicate with eachother.
- Memory/RAM. Your RAM (Or memory) is what allows you to multitask, and run more demanding games for long periods of time. Low memory results in system lag, crashes, and other undesirable situations.
- Hard Drive/SSD (Storage). Your computer's storage is where all of your data is kept! Your files, music, videos, and games are all stored on your PC's hard drive or solid state drive.
Total Cost: $393-$415
Quick(Ish) Build Overview
If you want to get a basic look into my reasoning behind picking the specific components for this build that I did, here's a quick overview of some of the most important part picks - and my reasoning behind choosing them!
If you want a more detailed breakdown of every single component in the rig, check out the drop down box below for that.
GPU - Expanding upon my reasoning behind opting for the GTX 1050 SC (SC means Super Clocked, by the way - a fancy term for overclocked), let's talk about the major alternative - AMD's Radeon RX 470. The RX 470 is a fine video card with pretty similar performance to the GTX 1050 (Non-SC), according to GPUBoss.
However, the RX 470 is significantly more expensive (By about $30-$40), and the overclocked version even more so. So, if you're just a huge fan of AMD, feel free to swap the GTX 1050 for the 470, but I personally advise against it. Budget is critical for this build, and the more you can save the better.
CPU - As stated in the overview, the major concern with a CPU is whether or not it can handle your video card - but what does that mean, exactly? Well, a bottleneck results when your CPU is using all of its resources to keep up with the video card.
This is common when you have, say, a GTX 1080 (An extremely high end video card) paired with a 6-year-old CPU. If your PC doesn't just crash outright, you're going to experience some serious system lag and drastically reduced FPS and overall gaming performance.
It's especially important to understand bottlenecks further on down the line, if you choose to upgrade your video card. The last thing you want to do is make the mistake I just mentioned - buying an expensive video card, only to realize your CPU is a piece of junk!
Memory - This will be a short bit, because I just wanted to go into a few more details about what's considered the "standard" in terms of gaming memory. In our $400 gaming PC build, 8GB of DDR4 memory is just fine. That being said, games are starting to have higher and higher memory requirements, so that standard may not be in place for much longer.
Dishonored 2, for example, requires 16GB of RAM to run at a decent FPS! Granted, it had other optimization problems, but it's still worth noting that the overall trend is going towards having more RAM. This isn't too much of a problem, though, since RAM is insanely cheap compared to the other components!
Storage - I really wish I could have included an SSD in this build, because they have such huge implications on gaming performance and overall system speeds. I wrote an entire article comparing SSDs to Hard Drives, if you're interested, but trust me - the lower capacity and higher price is a worthy sacrifice compared to the benefits.
But sticking strictly around a $400 budget, it's important to avoid traps like that - so I did just that, and instead included an excellent 1TB HDD option instead.
Case - This is one aspect of the rig that is entirely up to you! The only critical factor here is that you absolutely must choose a case that supports Micro ATX motherboards - unless you're also willing to swap out the motherboard I listed above (I don't recommend doing that unless you know what you're doing).
If you want to focus exclusively on Micro ATX cases, I wrote a list of the top 10 best Micro ATX cases for gaming - all of the cases on that list rock, and will work with this build. Check 'em out and let me know which one you pick.
PSU - The PSU (Or Power Supply Unit) is what gives your computer its power! To find out how much wattage your system needs, you typically just enter all your potential components into an online calculator, and it'll estimate the power output.
The more expensive the build (and more powerful), the more wattage it'll eat up. Since our $400 build is much weaker than, say, our $700 build, the EVGA 100-N1 400W power supply is perfectly adequate for our needs. If you did ever need to upgrade down the line, power supplies are cheap, and come with insanely wonderful warranties.
Motherboard - There isn't really all that much to say here. It had plenty of built-in USB 3.0 ports (2 rear, 2 front), it's compatible with all of our other components, and it's a sturdy unit. Nothing else really matters for now!
CD Drive - It's a CD drive. You put CDs into it. Not much to say here. 😛 I consider these optional nowadays, though, since you can boot off of a USB in an emergency, and any needed drivers for your system can just be downloaded elsewhere and installed the same way. But it's up to you! I know a lot of people prefer traditional CD drives, and I totally respect that choice.
Let's get started!
So, the most important performance-affecting components in any rig are going to be your video card, your CPU, your memory, and your storage device. The storage device is a little less important than the other 3, but I'll explain why I mentioned it in just a moment.
First, the video card. Honestly, this was a no brainer - a freakin' GTX 1050 in a $400 gaming PC build?! That will give you insane gaming performance throughout 2017 - and possibly even beyond.
Of course, you won't be maxing out GTA V or Dishonored 2 with it, but it will absolutely hold its on at medium settings in many modern games. It will get weaker over time, of course, and you'll eventually want to upgrade it, but it's good enough for now.
Next, the CPU. All I really care about here is that the CPU is compatible with our motherboard, and it won't bottleneck our video card. CPUs otherwise have very little direct impact on gaming performance - they really just serve to let the GPU do its job better (Or the opposite, in the case of a bad CPU pick).
Being that it is compatible with the H110M-HDS, and it's powerful enough to handle the GTX 1050, we're in the clear!
Now for the memory. I went with a single 8GB stick of RAM from Corsair's Vengeance series, because it was the right size for the motherboard, and 8GB is basically the standard for entry level gaming PCs.a
Fortunately, DDR4, 2400Mhz RAM is the new norm for modern gaming PCs of ALL budgets! 8GB of DDR4 RAM costs the same as 8GB of DDR3 RAM a few years ago. There's definitely a notable difference in speed and multitasking efficiency between the two RAM types.
Finally, the storage device - in this case, the HDD. I briefly considered trying to work a low-capacity SSD into the mix, but decided against it. It would bump up our price too much, and we'd be sacrificing a LOT of storage space for it.
1TB of 7200RPM HDD storage has been the standard for most gaming PC builds for years now - and I don't see that changing anytime soon. Not until more people opt for SSDs, thus leading to economies of scale and SSDs becoming cheaper.
Other Important Stuff
We're not quite done yet - but we're close.
Obviously, to even use your PC, you need a few extra components. These range from free to dirt cheap, so don't stress too much if you don't have them already (You probably do).
The most important extras you need are a mouse & keyboard, a solid monitor, a way to connect to the internet, and an operating system. All of these peripherals can be found in their most basic forms at your local Goodwill or PC hardware store for cheap. You can always upgrade later!
Having said that, I'll list my top recommendations below. I've also written several articles covering various peripherals for various price points. I'll link to a few of those below as well.
More Budget Mouse Options: Top 5 Budget Gaming Mice of 2017
The only hair in the soup is the operating system. Windwos 10 costs nearly $100 currently, which can be tough to stomach for new PC gamers. The major alternative is to simply start off by using Linux (Which is completely free) and get Windows 10 when you can afford it.
Sure, your game selection will be more limited, but you can play the basics until your budget allows for an upgrade. Read more about setting up Linux for free here.
Building a Gaming PC Vs. Buying a Pre Built
I've already stated my opinion on the topic of pre built gaming PCs in the past, but companies like CyberpowerPC have changed my mind - I used to think all pre built PC companies were utter crap, and were only out to get your money without offering enough value in return.
And, unfortunately, that's mostly been true until recently. CyberpowerPC makes pretty decent pre built rigs that closely match the performance you can achieve with a custom build.
However... That doesn't apply to the $400 budget range. There aren't any pre built gaming PCs out there that fit into our $400 budget - not even close. The best you can do is a $500 pre built like the GUA3120A, which is an awesome choice.
So, if you want to stretch your budget up to $500 and still want to go the pre built route, there's nothing wrong with that! Still check out my article on building a $500 gaming PC, though, because I list a few awesome pre built options at the bottom.
But, on the subject of actually comparing the two - first of all, I understand that building a gaming PC can be a daunting process. And really, there's no reason for me to try to convince you to build a rig when you can get a decent (Not quite as good, though) level of performance out of a pre built all the same.
However, I do want to list a couple facts, just so you're aware of them.
- Pre built gaming PCs (Even CyberpowerPC) have warranties that prevent you from tweaking any of the components whatsoever. That means no adding additional memory, no upgrading video cards, and no swapping cases. Custom built PCs have per-part warranties, meaning you'll have no such issues.
- You can always get better performance by building your own gaming PC - that's just a fact. This is because you're able to min-max every aspect of your budget, without worrying about a company's bottom line!
- Building your own gaming PC is fun! Okay, this one's a bit subjective, but still.
All things considered, you'll simply get more bang for your buck if you build your own rig. But if you're okay with that, there's nothing wrong with grabbing a pre built rig instead. 🙂 There's no denying the convenience of pre built machines!
To end things, I just want to congratulate you for making it this far! Whether you've chosen to build your own gaming PC, buy a prebuilt, or go some other route (Like buying a gaming laptop), you've officially joined the ranks of PC gamers all over the world!
That alone is worth celebrating.
This build is the absolute best gaming PC build under $400 that you can assemble right now, and if your parts are already on their way, I wish you the best of luck! Remember that I'm always available for questions - just drop a comment below any of my articles and I'll get back to you as soon as I possibly can.
Enjoy getting more immersed in your games than you've ever been before! I'll see you all next time.