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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 Ryzen 5 2400G $154.99
Cooler

AMD Wraith Spire (included)

-
Motherboard Gigabyte B450M DS3H $72.99
Memory G. Skill Ripjaws V 8 GB (2x4GB) DDR4-3200 $76.99
Graphics

Radeon Vega 11 IGP

-

Storage Crucial MX500 500 GB $67.99
Enclosure Cooler Master N200 $44.56
PSU Seasonic S12II 520 W $46.71
Total $464.23

The Econobox offers a stepping stone into the world of a balanced desktop PC. Last year's arrival of AMD's Vega-infused Ryzen APUs ensured that buyers perusing the low end of the CPU market are now spoiled for choice. Ryzen APUs include four Zen cores and a pretty competent IGP that can offer most of the performance of a low-end GeForce GT 1030. That's a recipe for success if we ever saw one, and the choices for our most affordable build reflect that.

The Ryzen 5 2400G we have in this machine packs enough general-purpose processing punch to handily beat the Core i3-8100 in most day-to-day tasks, and its Vega graphics processor should handle light gaming with aplomb. Games like Minecraft, Rocket League, and Dota 2 as good examples of what you can expect to easily play on the Ryzen 5 2400G. Just don't expect 1920x1080 gaming in AAA titles or too much graphical detail. The included AMD Wraith Spire cooler is plenty adequate for cooling this chip, and you can expect the fan atop it to be pretty quiet most of the time.

Although this build's main components are roughly the same as in the previous System Guide, the drop in SSD pricing means we can upgrade the unit in this build to Crucial's MX500 500-GB drive. Suffice to say that half a terabyte of sweet, speedy NAND storage on a budget machine was nothing but a pipe dream not that long ago. It's always easy to add a hard drive if you need for more storage, too.

Econobox Gamer

Component Price Buy (prices may vary)
Processor Ryzen 5 2600 $164.99
Cooler

AMD Wraith Spire (included)

-
Motherboard Gigabyte B450M DS3H $72.99
Memory G. Skill Ripjaws V 8 GB (2x4GB) DDR4-3200 $76.99
Graphics Gigabyte RX 570 4 GB $149.99
Storage Crucial MX500 500 GB $67.99
Enclosure Cooler Master N200 $44.56
PSU Seasonic S12II 520 W $46.71
Total $624.22

Here's a take on the Econobox that's still affordable but has a little added oomph to make it a bit more suitable for moderate gaming. The choice of CPU for this build is AMD's Ryzen 5 2600. This chip's price of late is just way too good to pass up, and we made it this build's cornerstone. Its six cores and 12 threads make it by far the finest choice for both gaming and productivity in its price bracket.

Last time around, we went with Intel's Core i3-8100 and a GeForce GT 1030, but the price shifts since then mean that it now makes more sense to spend a few bucks more to bring in Gigabyte's RX 570 4 GB to play with our Ryzen 5 2600. This combo is more than capable of handling most heavy-hitting titles at 1920x1080 with high detail levels and smooth frame rates, and should acquit itself well enough at 2560x1440 on some games, so long as you don't go overboard on the image quality settings. If you can swing an extra $50 or so, however, the Radeon RX 580 8 GB is a very worthwhile upgrade.

Much like with the standard Econobox, we went with 500 GB of SSD storage, which should be more than enough room for a meaty collection of games. We figure that this build in particular punches far above its weight class, and its $630-or-so price belies its capabilities for smooth, high visual-quality gaming at moderate resolutions. If you were looking for a modest machine that can leave consoles in the dust, this one is it.

Middle Ground

Component Price Buy (prices may vary)
Processor Ryzen 5 2600X $219.99
Cooler

AMD Wraith Spire (included)

-
Motherboard Gigabyte B450 Aorus Pro WiFi $119.99
Memory G.Skill Ripjaws V 16 GB (2 x 8 GB) DDR4-3200 $129.99
Graphics

Sapphire Radeon Nitro+ RX 590 8 GB

$259.99
Storage Crucial MX500 500 GB M.2 $67.99
Seagate Barracuda 3 TB $84.99
Enclosure Fractal Design Define C $86.99
PSU Seasonic S12II 520 W $46.71
Total $1,016.64

If the Econobox Gamer above marks the first few steps into high-performance machines, then the Middle Ground is the proverbial jog. We picked out the AMD Ryzen 5 2600X, a fantastic all-rounder that's more than suited to the task of feeding our Sapphire Radeon Nitro+ RX 590 8 GB graphics card. The combo is powerful enough for 60 FPS or better gaming at 1920x1080 with detail levels turned up. A number of AAA titles should also play easily at 2560x1440 with the visuals turned up on this box, too. As a bonus, the 2600X will prove equally competent at productivity tasks.

Given the affordable price of RAM these days, this build uses 16 GB, an amount that ensures smooth Windows sailing by letting the operating system (and some games) keep most of the data cached in memory. We picked out an appropriate mid-range mobo, the Gigabyte B450 Aorus Pro Wifi. This board includes Intel-powered Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 4.2. It has a souped-up Realtek ALC1220-VB chip handling audio duties, and additional accoutrements include an integrated I/O shield and two M.2 PCIe x4 slots.

Over in the storage department, a Crucial MX500 500-GB SSD has more than enough room for a handful of top-tier games, and those that don't fit can easily go in the Seagate Barracuda 7200-RPM 3-TB hard drive that we've paired with it. The Fractal Design Define C case is one of our top picks, and it's rather compact considering it can handle ATX motherboards.

Sweet Spot

Component Price Buy (prices may vary)
Processor Ryzen 5 2700X $304.79
Cooler

Noctua NH-U14S

$63.75
Motherboard Gigabyte X470 Aorus Ultra Gaming $119.99
Memory G.Skill Ripjaws V 16 GB (2 x 8 GB) DDR4-3200 $129.99
Graphics Gigabyte GeForce RTX 2060 $369.99
Storage Samsung 970 EVO 500 GB $127.93
Toshiba X300 4 TB $118.95
Enclosure Fractal Design Define C $86.99
PSU EVGA SuperNova 650 G3 $79.99
Total $1,402.37

We called the Sweet Spot the build with the best value, and thanks to price shifts, the current version is better than it's ever been. The major upgrades in the latest iteration are the Ryzen 7 2700X processor and the first appearance of the letters "RTX" in a build, in the form of the GeForce RTX 2060. The processor's eight cores, 16 threads, and 4.3-GHz boost clock are a potent concoction, and the super-quiet Noctua NH-U14S cooler should let the chip run at its top speed bin more often than not.

The GeForce RTX 2060 is our current pick for this build's price bracket. After some deliberation, we elected to go with it over the RTX 2070, seeing as the bigger card's $500 price simply doesn't have quite the same value appeal. This combination of CPU and graphics card ought to be good for smooth and fluid gameplay in the vast majority of titles at 2560x1440 with high detail levels. You can even probably partake in high refresh-rate (over 60 FPS) gaming at that resolution if you keep the image quality sliders in check, too. Those who want a little more graphics horsepower can spend the extra $150 for the RTX 2070. It's not a bad choice by any stretch, and it does have 8 GB onboard for any gigantic texture packs.

Over in the storage section, we step up the SSD to Samsung's 970 EVO NVMe unit, which is one of the fastest ones you can get under $150 with a capacity of 500 GB. A 4-TB hard drive stands ready to stash any data that doesn't fit in that precious NAND space, and an 80 Plus Gold-rated EVGA SuperNova 650 G3 PSU caps off the build.