If you don’t have a lot of cash, PC gaming may sound like it’s not for you, especially when supposedly-cheaper-for-gaming consoles are on the market.
If you follow this guide, however, we can get you console-class performance at a console-class price: with the added ability to upgrade your system over time
Our Requirements For The $300 Gaming PC
While the budget nature of this build required a number of compromises, we still did our best to ensure this build could be improved upon in the future. Even if you never upgrade, it should still provide the best gaming performance you can get in this price range for the time being!
Plenty of room to upgrade. While some may go for an AMD budget build in this range with old components, we opted to stick with a recent Intel CPU socket and architecture so you still have room to upgrade to current-gen components, such as an i5 or a GTX 1070.
The ability to upgrade is a key advantage of the PC platform, and not one we wanted to leave out with this build to make the price work. This build isn’t a console killer at this price, unfortunately, but if you opt for our upgrades or hop to a higher-end build, it can be.
Great performance-per-dollar. Unfortunately, the rising prices of CPUs and GPUs means you can’t kill current-gen consoles for $300 anymore. However, you can still make a build with some console parity- and the upgradeability that will allow you to far surpass them once you’ve saved up some extra cash. Can’t boost the graphical power of an Xbox One.
Components of The Thrifty Triplet Update:
Intel Pentium G4400
A great budget CPU that should get the job done in most games, and leaves room for a few bumps up in GPU power.
XFX AMD Radeon R7 360
A great entry-level GPU with performance comparable to that of the Xbox One.
MSI B150M PRO-VD Micro ATX Motherboard
An entry-level motherboard offering from MSI that gets the job done.
A budget case with great cooling, suitable for an entry-level build with future upgrades in mind.
Estimated $302.39 at Amazon
(Price are accurate as of November 16, 2017)
The Thrifty Triplet is our tight, budget-oriented gaming system designed to be the best budget build. It’s not going to blow any new games out of the water, but should give you a perfectly enjoyable gaming experience overall, especially for eSports titles.
Due to the current situation in GPU pricing on the market (hint: there was a shortage), the CPU is actually the stronger component of this build. The Pentium G4400 is a strong budget CPU and should allow room for a much better GPU. By the time you have a GTX 1060, you’ll start to experience CPU bottlenecking, so we wouldn’t recommend upgrading past that.
The R7 360 is an entry-level GPU that approaches console-level performance. In the past, we’d be able to recommend a higher-end GPU in this price range, but due to the 2017 GPU shortage, we’ve had to dial back the GPU power in this build a bit in favor of CPU power.
The R7 360 is still a very solid GPU, though. For 720p and 1080p gaming, you should be able to get acceptable framerates at medium-to-high settings. If you’re playing last-gen titles, you may even be able to push those games to max settings at 1080p.
If you’re aching for extra performance, even an extra $45 can get you a console killing GPU in the GTX 1050.
We opted for entry-level DDR4 RAM and a motherboard to support it to allow you room to upgrade in the future. 4GB of RAM will do you fine for basic multitasking, but it won’t be enough for gaming and multitasking simultaneously.
If you want to do that, double up on this and buy two sticks instead of just one.
That being said, Crucial’s 4GB RAM offering here is pretty nice. It’s cheap and no-frills, but it performs reliably and as advertised- all you can really ask for with a build like this.
Fortunately, storage has gotten a bit cheaper than it was the last time we upgraded this build. This time around, we can afford to stuff a full-speed 1TB hard drive in it, ensuring you have plenty of space to store your games and media in your PC! While it won’t have the speed of an SSD or the sheer capacity of a 2TB drive, this is a pretty great place to start.
While this power supply doesn’t offer much in power efficiency or modularity, it will provide the raw power that you need in a build like this. Because of its lack of those features, however, it will run a little hotter (something our dual case fans should offset), use a little more power, and be a good bit more difficult to install and configure in the case due to the mass of cables you’ll be dealing with.
Despite being a very cheap option, however, this one is still reliable. EVGA is a trustworthy company for GPUs and PSUs, so we feel safe recommending it. No-name power supplies are something we’ll never recommend, though, since those can translate to a house fire.
The MSI H110M PRO-VD PLUS is an entry-level motherboard that does its job well at this price range. MSI is also a generally reliable manufacturer that will help you out if this board happens to arrive with any issues out of the box.
The only real downside of this motherboard is that you’ll need to perform a BIOS upgrade if you want to upgrade your CPU to a newer Kaby Lake in the future.
The FBM-X1 isn’t going to win any awards for top-of-the-line case manufacturing, but for a budget case it has quite a lot to offer.
First and foremost, let’s talk about its cooling: it boasts two included fans, one for intake and one for exhaust. This means that you’ll have full-fledged airflow without needing to shell out for an extra fan, as most cases only provide an exhaust fan.
Secondly, it’s a compact case with a refined aesthetic. It even features a side panel window if you’d like to show off your cable management and the inside of your build! You can’t ask much more from a budget case offering.
Finally, it’s just cheap. You aren’t gonna find a better case than this at this price range.
NOTE: These will raise the price of the build!
The ADATA SU800 Ultimate 256GB SSD is a great entry-level SSD. We recommend either using this to replace your hard drive entirely, or to supplement a larger HDD.
An SSD can be used to hold your OS and your programs to ensure they all have rapid-fire loading times. When used alongside an HDD, however, you’ll want to store most of your games and media on the slower HDD.
We hate recommending HDDs below 2TB, due to the poor value proposition that they offer. This Seagate Barracuda drive is amazing for storage/price, and we highly recommend replacing the hard drive in your build with this if you can afford the extra squeeze.
Just outside of the price range of this build is the 1050 Ti, which completely trounces the RX 460. For an extra $40 or so, you can enjoy a whopping 34% performance boost!
The EVGA GTX 1050 Ti provided here is also low-profile and very well-built for its price. Due to EVGA’s great build quality and excellent customer service, we highly recommend this card as an upgrade to your build.
Due to the lack of an intake fan with the case, we highly recommend you buy one of these to use as an intake for your PC. Good airflow will ensure optimal performance and a long life for your components!
Noctua’s NF-F12 fans may be a little expensive, to be fair, but they’re also whisper-quiet and great performers in their own right. That’s why we recommend them here.
For an easier building process, buying this semi-modular PSU should save you some cable management stress. While this isn’t a strictly necessary part of building and will cost you extra, it’s much easier than dealing with a fixed, bulky set of cables that come with non-modular PSUs.
In addition to the convenience aspect, the Corsair CXM 450W is a well-built PSU in general. We recommend it in a lot of later builds for this reason.
OS Options and Recommended Peripherals
Most build articles assume that you have these down on your own, but in case you don’t, we have you covered.
Note: These will raise the price of your build!
For the best gaming performance and general compatibility, Windows 10 is your best option. If you already have a retail-bought Windows license on another PC, you should be able to transfer over your installation with little-to-no issues.
If you don’t, however, you may need to shell for the cost of a brand new Windows 10 installation.
If you can’t afford that, Linux distributions are free and getting better all the time. Out of them, we most highly recommend Ubuntu Linux and Linux Mint for usability and dev support.
Linux, however, will have quite the learning curve compared to what you’re used to with Windows.
If you don’t have any basic input devices around, don’t worry. These will serve the best gaming desktop under $300 fine.
For Starters: ($15)
The Logitech MK120 Kit is an amazing set of budget hardware, including a quality-built mouse and keyboard for a low $15 price. The only real downside is that these obviously won’t give you a competitive edge in games, but a new mouse and keyboard for $15 will certainly get you started.
Common in office and school environments, this kit is well-tested and should last you awhile for the cheap entry price. If you want something more gaming-oriented, though, maybe you can opt for one of these below.
For Advanced Users: ($100)
The Logitech G502 has long been regarded as one of the best gaming mice on the market, and we aren’t here to contest that claim. It retails for $60 on most days and should serve you perfectly for an edge in aiming and reliability over a generic office mouse.
Meanwhile, the Redragon K551 is a surprisingly-solid entry level mechanical keyboard that won’t break the bank. If you can only choose one of these peripherals, we’d recommend this one: mechanical keys greatly enhance your gaming and typing experience, and once you start using this you won’t want to go back.
If you don’t have a monitor or HDTV laying around, here are some display options.
For Starters: ($100)
The Asus VH238H is a solid entry-level 1080p monitor. With a 2ms response time and 23-inch size, it should also serve you perfectly fine in your desktop browsing and gaming experience.
In fact, with this build, you aren’t likely to make much usage of the monitors recommended below.
For Advanced Users: ($180+)
But, in case you decide to upgrade your PC later down the line and would like to start with a better monitor, we’ll include these anyways.
The Acer GN246HL and Acer XF240H are both high-quality, gaming-oriented 144hz monitors that will provide a competitive edge in supported titles…if your PC can push the frames to allow it.
This PC likely won’t in most titles, but with a few upgrades- namely our recommended CPU and GPU upgrades- it can in well-optimized, eSports-oriented games.
No point in shelling out for the 300 dollars gaming PC build if you’re going to use crappy monitor speakers or iPhone earbuds. Make sure you grab one of these if you’re serious about a good gaming experience.
The Logitech Z130 Speakers come in cheap, but provide an entry-level audio experience at a low price and high quality. While you’ll need to pay extra for surround sound and other features, the Z130 is a perfectly fine place to start for most gamers and consumers.
If you’re on the go a lot or need Wi-Fi access, the TP-Link Archer T4U will serve you well. It’s relatively cheap but will provide you about as good a Wi-Fi experience as you’re going to get on your PC.
Last but not least, here are some building tips in case you’re new to all this.
Invest In Antistatic Equipment
Static discharge is a real risk to your components, so buy an anti-static wristband if you don’t want to risk zapping and ruining your shiny new GPU. The peace of mind is more than worth the extra few dollars.
An anti-static mat can also help by giving you a nice, safe place to rest your components when you aren’t holding them, too.
Watch Building Guides
Tek Syndicate’s building guide is our favorite on the topic. Be sure to consult the manuals that come with your gear during the building process, and you shouldn’t have a problem putting together your PC for the first time!
Install OS Via USB
First, grab a 4GB USB stick.
Now, if you’re going to do with Windows 10, use the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool and follow the in-program instructions to create a Windows installer that can fit in your pocket.
For Ubuntu or Linux Mint, just use UNetbootin or Rufus instead. Same instructions apply there.
And that’s it. The Thrifty Triplet certainly required a lot of penny-pinching, but it will be worth it in the end.
By opting for a PC instead of a console, you can enjoy all the benefits of the PC platform. This includes great upgradeability, hardware you can use for more than just playing games, and, perhaps most importantly, a cheaper overall gaming experience.
Through platforms like Steam and GOG, you can save a lot on your favorite titles, even the latest AAA games. This is because the PC platform isn’t locked down to one publisher or storefront (like consoles are), so there’s real competition and that leads to a better end-consumer experience.