Let’s talk about building a gaming PC. It’s a topic that’s close to our hearts at Newegg, and it’s also one that is constantly evolving. With new hardware releases every single year shaking things up, information that might have been true a year or two ago might not be relevant today. On our very own YouTube channel, we have several different generations of PC building guides, and some of the earlier ones spend time talking about things like CD-ROM drives!
In this article we’re going to take a look at some of the big decisions you need to make when deciding on parts for a gaming PC in 2020. And we also want to let you know that if you’re looking to configure a build of your own, you can now do that right on Newegg, using our new PC Builder tool. We’ll have more information on that at the end of the article.
Prices and availability of products discussed were accurate at time of publication, but are subject to change.
Your first big choice when it comes to a gaming PC is often what CPU brand to go with, and here in 2020 that choice is more difficult than it has been in a long time. But that’s not a bad thing! For most of the past decade, the standard wisdom when it came to gaming CPUs was that you could usually get an AMD processor for a lower price – but your performance would be lower, too. That made Intel a really popular choice for gamers, since even though you might pay a little bit more, it was usually worth it for the better gaming experience.
But these days? That conventional thinking doesn’t really hold up like it once did. With the latest generation of CPUs from both AMD and Intel, performance gaps have been narrowed, erased, and sometimes even flip-flopped, depending on what you are going to do with your rig. And while you can still pick up some fantastic budget CPU options from AMD, they also have higher-end processors that stand toe to toe with the best Intel can bring to the table.
One interesting thing that has happened with CPUs over the past couple of years is that they’ve gotten better and better…but games haven’t gotten that much more demanding, CPU-wise. Sure, you’ll still see much better results with a more modern and more powerful processor in your system, but unless you have some really extreme gaming needs, you probably don’t need to be breaking the bank on your CPU purchase – and you can save those dollars to put elsewhere in your build.
Starting at the budget level, good recommendations right now include the Intel Core i5-9400F and the i7-9700K. Those will cost you under $200 and under $400 respectively, and should do a rock solid job running your PC games – though if you mostly play CPU-demanding titles, you should go with that i7.
From AMD at around this same budget level, it’s hard to go wrong with the Ryzen 7 3700X, for eight cores and 16 threads of power, all for under $300. It can go head to head with the pricier i7-9700K, and while the Intel option will often give you slightly better performance in games, the Ryzen will come out ahead if you’re doing a lot that will benefit from multi-threading, like streaming or video rendering.
Of course if you’re the kind of person who just needs to have the best of the best, both Intel and AMD have higher-priced, higher-performance options to consider. From Intel, you have a couple of options that have been branded “the world’s fastest gaming processor”, including the i9-9900K and the brand new 10th gen i9-10900K. If you want the very best for gaming and aren’t planning on running other applications at the same time that might slow you down, then these options, which will cost you north of $500 a piece, are the way to go – though it’s important to note that as of this video being released, stock on that 10th gen CPU is very limited, and can be hard to find.
On the AMD side, the Ryzen 9 3900X is going to cost you just over $400, for gaming performance that’s very close to on-par with the i9 9900K. The Ryzen is going to come in a little slower in certain gaming situations – this will be most notable when you’re pushing for the absolute max frame rates possible and you aren’t caring about game resolution – but it’s going to be faster than the Intel offering in, once again, multi-threaded situations like streaming and video editing.
Check that out if you’re really starting from scratch on this subject. For this video, let’s just cover the basics. If you’ve started by picking out your CPU, then you’ll need to pick up a motherboard that’s compatible. Google will be your friend here, for a list of compatible motherboard sockets and chipsets, or if you’re using a tool like the Newegg PC Builder, it’ll be handled automatically.
As a general recommendation, if there are older and newer motherboard generations that support your CPU choice, going with the newer option will mean you get more features and possibly even better performance. But this is also a place where you can save some money, if you are willing to compromise a bit and go with a previous-gen board.
When choosing a motherboard specifically for gaming, you’ll find that most of the major manufacturers make it clear which options are designed with gamers in mind. From ASUS you have things like the ROG or TUF Gaming lines, while MSI has options like the Gaming Carbon and Gaming Edge.
The right motherboard for you depends on your needs, but for most gaming builds, you’re going to be looking to spend between $150 and $500 for your motherboard. You can usually go a little under $150 if you’re okay with a few modest compromises, but if you find yourself looking at a motherboard that’s more than $500, you should know that it’s probably made for extreme overclocking and watercooling builds. If options like the MSI Godlike or Aorus Xtreme boards are right for you, that’s awesome – but you’re probably doing a build that’s going to be for more than just regular gaming.
The best GPU for PC gaming
The last major decision you’ll need to make when it comes to gaming PC components is your GPU. And while AMD has caught up to Intel on the CPU side, the high-end gaming GPU landscape isn’t quite as competitive – just yet. If you’re looking to push gaming resolutions to the max, then an NVIDIA card is likely the right choice for you. The RTX 2080 Ti is a pricey GPU that’ll cost you at least $1000 right now, but it also produces incredible results. 4K gaming, virtual reality, and ray-tracing – the 2080 Ti can really do it all when it comes to gaming, so if you have the cash, it’s a compelling choice.
Stepping down a little bit in terms of cost, you’ll find the RTX 2070 Super and 2080 Super cards, coming in at between $500 and $1000, depending on which particular option you go with. For almost anything high-end gaming, these cards will knock it out of the park – and you’ll be all set to take advantage of the continuing improvements to NVIDIA’s real-time ray tracing features and enhancements like DLSS 2.0, the company’s AI-powered upscaling algorithm.
So where does AMD enter the mix? Well, if your gaming aspirations are a little more modest, and you’re fine with 1080 or 1440p resolutions, without ray-tracing bells and whistles, then AMD’s Radeon RX 5600 XT and RX 5700 are appealing options that can save you money compared to their NVIDIA counterparts. These cards are going to be several hundred dollars cheaper than those higher-end NVIDIA options we just mentioned, and around the same price or a little bit cheaper than comparable NVIDIA options, like the 2060 and the 1660 Super.
How much RAM for PC gaming?
Okay, so we have our CPU, motherboard, and GPU figured out – now we’re on to some quicker decisions to make for our gaming PC. When it comes to RAM, you’re probably going to want to go with 16 gigs – maybe 32 if you want some future-proofing built in. You definitely don’t want to go any lower than 8 gigs for gaming, and 64 and above is overkill.
In 2020 you should be going with DDR4 RAM, but it comes to the actual specific RAM you pick up, you’ll want to pay attention to what works best with your motherboard and CPU. That will determine the maximum RAM speed you can actually take advantage of, so don’t waste money paying for RAM that could go faster than your motherboard will actually support.
A lot of what makes different RAM different really comes down to the style you’re looking for. RGB lighting and elaborate heat spreaders are mostly just a cosmetic choice, for gaming builds.
If you’re just looking for an easy answer to the RAM question, then go with 16 gigs of RAM in a two-stick configuration, from a big name like Corsair or G.Skill. Match up your speed with what the rest of your system supports, and you’re good to go.
How about storage? Well if you’ve been in the PC building game for a while, you probably remember how SSDs gradually replaced traditional hard drives in terms of the storage option of choice. Well in 2020, we’re basically in the midst of another, similar transition – one in which NVMe-based SSD M.2 drives that work via the PCIe interface are replacing older SATA SSDs. The prices of these super tiny NVMe drives have come down so much in the past couple of years that there’s not a strong argument to be made to get anything else, provided your motherboard supports it.
For most gamers, it’s going to be a slam dunk to go with a 1 TB M.2 drive as your primary storage option. And if you need even more than, then a SATA SSD can be a fine choice as a secondary drive.
Case and form factor
One of the final decisions you need to make to complete your gaming PC build is your case, and that’s a choice that’s going to be driven largely by your personal style. There are some functionality differences between cases, to be sure, and you need to pay attention to size constraints too. If you’ve picked up a particularly bulky motherboard and GPU, then getting a case with a little more space inside, or even fully removable side panels, can help with building and cable management.
And we haven’t even touched on the subject of form factor yet. If you’re thinking about a gaming PC build that needs to fit in a compact space, then you might need to go back and reconsider your motherboard. A Micro ATX or Mini-ITX system can be the right choice if you’re looking for something that needs to go in a living room entertainment center, for example, but you’re going to have to make some compromises in terms of connectivity and features – and your case options are going to be limited by that form factor, as well.
A power supply is a good thing to choose last, because the right option for you will depend on the total wattage required by the other components in your system. This is where using a tool like the Newegg PC Builder can come in handy – because as you add components to your build, you can see the total wattage required.
Pick up a power supply with plenty of headroom above and beyond what your build requires, just to be safe, and to be ready for future upgrades. Then look for a PSU with an 80-Plus rating, which means it’ll deliver at least 80% efficiency at turning the AC power from your wall socket into the DC power that your system’s components require. Higher ratings – like 80-Plus Gold or Platinum – indicate even greater efficiency, which can save you money on power in the longer run.
Got all that? It’s a lot, we know – and this article didn’t even dive too deeply into some of the discussion that can be had about building a gaming PC. If you’ve got tips or opinions – and I’ll bet you do! – go ahead and drop them in the comments below this article.
And if you’re looking for a tool to make putting together your next PC build easier, check the description box below for a link to the Newegg PC Builder! With this new tool you can walk through your build step by step, adding components and only seeing components that are compatible with what you have already selected. You can keep an eye on the price and total wattage as you assemble the right build to meet your needs, knowing that the Newegg PC Builder will take care of the compatibility question.
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