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Sample builds—budget to mid-range
Here's where the rubber meets the road. We have parts lists that span a range of budget options. We did our best effort to present balanced rigs at various price points, but the whole point of building a PC is that you can customize it as you see fit. Feel free to swap parts around as needed to fit your budget and performance needs.

Econobox

  Component Price Buy (prices may vary)
Processor Pentium G4620 $91.99
Cooler

Intel stock cooler

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Motherboard MSI B250 Pro-VDH $64.99
Memory G. Skill Aegis 8GB (2x4GB) DDR4-2400 $94.99
Graphics MSI GeForce GT 1030 2GH LP OC $71.99
Storage WD Blue 1TB 7200 RPM $49.00
Enclosure Thermaltake Versa H15 $34.19
PSU Seasonic S12II 430B $39.99
Total   $448.94

The Econobox offers a stepping stone into the world of a balanced desktop PC. The Intel Pentium G4620 offers plenty of general-purpose processing power for a mere $92, thanks to its swiftly-clocked two cores and four threads. That processor plays along with a Nvidia GeForce GT 1030 graphics card. Despite its sub-$100 price, this card should still be capable of playing games like Minecraft, Rocket League, and Dota 2 at reasonable frame rates with plenty of eye candy. While this card won't dazzle you with fantastic visuals or furious frame rates in the latest AAA titles, it can offer at least a playable experience on a number of them, provided you keep graphics options and resolutions modest. Our MSI pick is fanless for quiet operation, too.

In case the 1TB hard drive in this build feels too pokey for your tastes, you can always pair it or swap it with a Crucial MX300 275 GB SSD for $90 or so (an extra outlay of $40). If you're wondering why we're not recommending Optane Memory for this build, the reason is simple: it's not cost-effective. Intel's requirements for Optane mean that we'd have to use the Core i3-7100 or Core i3-8100 (around $120), plus at least a 16 GB Optane Memory device ($50). That's a lot of cash when you can just buy an SSD. Should Intel ease its policy on what systems can use Optane, we'll gladly revisit this particular topic.

Econobox Plus

  Component Price Buy (prices may vary)
Processor Ryzen 3 1300X $129.99
Cooler

AMD Wraith Stealth cooler

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Motherboard ASRock AB350M Pro4 $74.99
Memory G. Skill Ripjaws V (2x4GB) DDR4-2666 $103.99
Graphics Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1050 Ti $162.99
Storage WD Blue 250 GB SSD $84.99
Enclosure Fractal Design Core 1100 $46.99
PSU Seasonic S12II 430B $39.99
Total   $638.93

Here's a budget-conscious machine that's not quite as trimmed-down as the regular Econobox. The choice of CPU for this build is AMD's Ryzen 3 1300X. While we could pick the Intel Core i3-8100 for this spot, prices for an accompanying Z370 motherboard start at around $120, compared to $60 for basic Ryzen mobos. The Ryzen 3 1300X is somewhat beefier than the Pentium G4620 in the build above, particularly in multi-threaded tasks and games that can make good use of four CPU cores. The unlocked multiplier and nice stock CPU cooler of the Ryzen 3 1300X mean enthusiasts can have a go at boosting its performance through tweaking, too.

The graphics card choice for the Econobox Plus steps up to the evergreen GeForce GTX 1050 Ti, a card that's quite good for its $160-odd price bracket. It should let you play most AAA titles at 1920x1080 with relatively high detal settings. Finally, the WD Blue 250 GB SSD will give you snappy system responsiveness. If that capacity is a little too tight, you can upgrade to a Crucial MX300 525 GB for another $60 or so, or add in the WD Blue 1TB hard drive from the Econobox for bulk storage.

Middle Ground

  Component Price Buy (prices may vary)
Processor Core i3-8100 $129.99
Cooler

Intel stock cooler

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Motherboard Gigabyte Z370 HD3 $124.99
Memory G.Skill Ripjaws V (2x4GB) DDR4-3200 $108.99
Graphics EVGA GTX 1060 6 GB ACX 2.0 SC $274.99
Storage Crucial MX300 525 GB $149.54
Toshiba P300 3 TB $74.17
Enclosure NZXT S340 $69.99
PSU Seasonic S12II 430B $39.99
Total   $969.96

The Middle Ground is where we get our first jolt of Coffee Lake. We picked out the Intel Core i3-8100 CPU, a fantastic all-rounder that's more than suited to the task of feeding our GeForce GTX 1060 6 GB graphics card. (If you're wondering about the Radeon RX 580 8 GB as an alternative, those cards start at around $300 thanks to mining-mad pricing). The combo is powerful enough for 60-FPS-or-better gaming at 1920x1080. Some AAA titles should also play easily at 2560x1440 on this box, too.

A Crucial MX300 525 GB solid-state drive has more than enough room for a handful of top-tier games, and those that don't fit can easily go in the Toshiba P300 3 TB hard drive that we've paired with it. The NZXT S340 case we picked is a cut above the more affordable choices in the cheaper builds, too.

Sweet Spot

  Component Price Buy (prices may vary)
Processor Ryzen 5 1600 $199.99
Cooler

AMD Wraith Spire cooler

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Motherboard Gigabyte GA-AB350 Gaming 3 $109.99
Memory G. Skill Ripjaws V (2x4GB) DDR4-3200 $201.99
Graphics Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1070 Ti WF $449.99
Storage Crucial MX300 525 GB $149.54
Toshiba P300 3 TB $74.17
Enclosure Fractal Design Define C $89.99
PSU Seasonic Focus Plus 650 $79.90
Total   $1,362.84

This is probably the system with the best overall value in this System Guide. For this build, we're going with AMD's six-core, twelve-thread Ryzen 5 1600 processor. Its 3.6 GHz turbo clock is a healthy figure for the Zen architecture, and budding overclockers can get more juice out of it using the excellent Wraith Spire cooler that's included in the box. Intel's Core i5-8400 offers performance on par with, if not better than, the Ryzen 5 1600, but that processor is hard to find in stock right now, and we don't think pairing a locked CPU with a relatively expensive Z370 motherboard makes a lot of sense at this price.

The Ryzen 5 1600 powers the excellent GeForce GTX 1070 Ti. This card wasn't the best value when it originally arrived, but it's a pretty good choice now. GTX 1070s are no cheaper, GTX 1080s are substantially more expensive, and Radeon RX Vega 56 cards are basically unavailable, making the GTX 1070 Ti the best value in high-end gaming at the moment. This combination of CPU and graphics card ought to be good for smooth and fluid running in the vast majority of games at 2560x1440 with high detail levels. We also step up to 16 GB of RAM to give productivity work some more breathing room. The Fractal Design Define C case is one of our favorites, and it's pretty compact considering it can take in ATX motherboards. A Gold-rated Seasonic Focus Plus 650 W power supply caps off the build.