Breaking into the PC gaming world can be expensive. If you’ve got friends with gaming PCs, you might have heard about their sweet new liquid cooling system that “only” costs a few hundred dollars.
At those prices, it must cost an absolute fortune to build a gaming PC, right?
It can if you build a bleeding-edge rig that’s meant to run games at max settings for years. But you can build an affordable budget PC for just $400. See the build down below.
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The Best Cheap $400 Gaming PC Build For 2020
Updated: November 29, 2020
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To make this system work as well as possible, we had to set some ground rules. Before we take a closer look at all the parts, let’s talk about what we’re trying to achieve with our $400 gaming PC.
Now, it’s important to mention that by this we mean the Xbox One and the PS4 as the latest-gen consoles promise to be mind-blowing, but also quite a bit more expensive.
If you were to buy one of the abovementioned consoles, or one of their variants, $400 is about as much as you would have to spend, so we were looking to hit a comparable baseline performance with this PC.
Hardware-wise, this PC checks out many boxes, although it will struggle more than these consoles at 1080p simply because games are optimized for console hardware, so you do get more for less. But you will be able to run most games at 1080p on low-medium settings with a 30-ish FPS. If not, 900p and 720p are always an option.
We’ll talk about this in more detail when we get to the GPU and RAM sections of the article. But while this performance discrepancy is unfortunate, you’re making a significant trade-off in terms of the upgradeability.
Easy To Upgrade
The main benefit of buying a PC as opposed to a console is upgradability. Dollar for dollar, a game console is going to give you better performance out of the box than any gaming PC. But once you buy it, you’re locked in. If you want to upgrade, you have to wait for the next generation, and buy a whole new system.
With a PC, you can upgrade as you go.
Want to buy a new game, but need better graphics? Upgrade your graphics card. Want faster load times? Install an SSD or more RAM. Want to improve performance in games with lots of NPCs or bots? Get yourself a new processor.
We built everything around AMD architecture and their latest AM4 socket, so you can upgrade any single part without having to replace half your machine.
The motherboard and the integrated graphics card are both VR ready. You’re not going to play VR games on a $400 PC; that’s for sure, but if you ever decide that this is something you want, you can upgrade your way towards a VR capable machine without having to swap out the motherboard.
Dedicated Gaming PC
Let’s not beat around the bush here; we’re building a $400 PC. To get a PC to run modern games at that price, it will have to be optimized for gaming, meaning it won’t do other things as well as you might like.
For example, this PC doesn’t have a disc drive. Since most PC gamers download their games on Steam or another online marketplace, it didn’t seem like a smart way to spend a chunk of our limited budget.
Another thing we skipped was a wireless card. These can be nice to have, but an integrated wireless card drives up the cost of your motherboard without doing anything to boost your gaming performance.
It’s not that we don’t like these features. It’s just that they aren’t really necessary for gaming.
Because everyone’s needs are different – and because you might want to add features later – we’ve included a large peripherals section at the end of this review that covers all the add-ons you might want to collect over the next few months.
The PC Build
Now that we’ve set some expectations, let’s go over our parts one by one and talk about alternative parts when applicable. Here’s everything you need to know about our components for the best $400 gaming PC build.
The Ryzen 5 3400G is AMD’s middle-tier APU. It has a maximum clock speed of 4.2 GHz, which is a slight upgrade over Ryzen 3’s 3.9 GHz.
Where AMD really improved the Ryzen 5 over the Ryzen 3 was the addition of multi-threading to make this quad-core CPU simulate an 8-core unit. It also has an improved integrated graphics chip, but we’ll talk about that in a minute. Plus, it uses AMD’s AM4 chipset, which makes it pretty future-proof.
Granted, the B450 line of AM4 motherboards won’t be able to support the Ryzen 5000 series of processors without updating your BIOS (which will be a pain, and according to AMD also irreversible), but choose anything from their 3rd-gen lineup, and you’ll be good to go!
The base clock for this processor is a solid 3.7 GHz, but it comes unlocked out of the box.
We’ll leave it to your discretion as to whether or not you want to overclock it, but pushing it past 4.2 GHz is likely to overheat it, and will void your warranty. Even if you’re only overclocking to 4.0 GHz, it would be a good idea to use an aftermarket cooler.
As we’ve mentioned, this processor includes an integrated graphics card, which we think is amazing, especially for this price range.
If you absolutely must have a dedicated GPU, your system is going to cost more than $400. That’s why we opted for a processor with integrated graphics in the first place.
Cooler: Wraith Spire Cooler
Another great thing about this CPU is that it comes with its own cooler. The AMD Ryzen-line of CPUs is well known for its excellent stock coolers, and the Wraith Spire is among the best of them. You might call it the Wraith Prism’s little brother, and that’s saying something.
This stock cooler works wonders and is more than you’ll ever need for this PC.
However, if you’re dead set on overclocking, you’ll want to look at some aftermarket solutions, but this isn’t necessary for this build. It’s not fancy in any way, but it gets the job done, which should be the main priority when working with a budget like this.
GPU: Radeon RX Vega 11
The Radeon RX Vega 11 isn’t a separate graphics card. As we’ve discussed, it’s integrated into the Ryzen 5 processor in our build, so you won’t have to make a separate purchase. This has its advantages and disadvantages.
On the downside, an integrated graphics card doesn’t have dedicated video RAM. This puts it at a disadvantage compared to dedicated GPUs, which have their own onboard RAM for storing graphics assets. An integrated card has to rely on your PC’s RAM, which can slow it down, particularly while playing more demanding games.
On the other hand, an integrated card is much, much more affordable.
A basic dedicated graphics card will cost you almost as much as a second processor, while the more mid-range and high-end ones go for hundreds of dollars.
An integrated graphics card, however, will only add a fraction to your processor’s cost, and a card with 11 cores operating on 1400MHz such as this one is definitely worth every penny.
Secondly, higher-end graphics cards can often get bottlenecked by your processor or RAM. If either of those components is slower than your graphics card, you can waste a lot of money installing an expensive GPU that does nothing for you.
Now, as for RAM, we have to emphasize that when using integrated graphics, RAM plays a pivotal role in the level of performance you’re getting since a portion of it is being used as VRAM.
What’s cooler about VRAM is that it generally uses faster memory with higher bandwidth. At the moment, most GPUs use DDR5 memory, while some bleeding-edge GPUs like the new RTX ones use the newer DDR6. Meanwhile, regular RAM sticks still stick to DDR4.
So how can you get your DDR4 performance at least a bit more in line with what you would get from a dedicated graphics card with DDR5 RAM?
Two things help with this:
- Dual-channel memory
- Faster memory
To elaborate on the first point, dual-channel memory is paramount when you’re dealing with integrated graphics because it essentially doubles your bandwidth.
The performance increase will depend on many things (the game in question, the CPU, etc.), but there will be a performance increase in the form of a higher FPS count.
And faster memory takes this a step further. So for this build, we’ve chosen the 8GB of dual-channel Corsair Vengeance LPX RAM clocked at 3000MHz. There’s no better option for RAM out there if you’re looking to get the most out of your integrated graphics.
Now, 8GB of RAM may not be ideal for this kind of a PC, but it’s the most we could include considering the budget. That said, we highly recommend upgrading your RAM to 16GB at some point as that is the cheapest way of improving your PC’s performance without having to buy a dedicated GPU.
As for the speed, the difference in performance that faster RAM will have will vary from game to game, but overall, you should expect to get around 10FPS more with than you would with, say, 2133MHz RAM, which is a significant improvement.
We chose the Gigabyte B450 AORUS Mbecause it provided a nice balance between performance, quality, and price.
This motherboard not only has 6x USB 3.1 gen-1, 2x USB 3.1 gen-2 ports. and 6x USB 2.0, but it also features thermal guards for your M.2 slots which will be incredibly helpful if you ever decide to upgrade to an NVMe, as well as high-end audio capacitors and 2 RGB headers if you wish to spice up your rig.
The Gigabyte B450 AORUS M uses an AM4 socket, so upgradability is good on that front as it will support all Ryzen processors from the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generation. It does lack a WiFi card, but we prefer a good wired connection when gaming anyway, so this shouldn’t be too big of an issue.
What most people worry about, even with more high-end motherboards, is the BIOS. Well, you needn’t worry about it here. The AORUS M has a dual BIOS that’s overclocking-friendly and features a modern and intuitive interface with numerous fine-tuning options.
To get the most out of your motherboard, proper cooling is paramount. The AORUS M features a solid heat sink, and enough fan headers for the chosen case, as well as future upgrades.
So all in all, this is definitely a top-notch mid-range motherboard and one that should be good enough to last through several incarnations of this PC as you upgrade it.
As for storage, nowadays, SSDs are the norm, so naturally, we went with it over an HDD. While you would get more storage out of an HDD for the same, or even lower price, the advantages of SSDs are just too great to pass up.
Once you experience it, you’ll see what we mean.
The ADATA SU635 offers 480 GB of storage, which should be more than enough for any regular gamer. However, if you end up needing more, you can always add a regular HDD or even an additional SSD to your rig without breaking the bank.
Power supplies and cases are the trickiest components to shop for when building on a budget.
Your instinct is telling you to pour all your resources into pieces of hardware that impact in-game performance in a meaningful way, which these don’t. But having a low-quality PSU from a shady manufacturer carries more risk than anyone should accept.
What’s great about the Thermaltake Smart 500W is that it is a well-made PSU that you won’t ever have to worry about. It has standard wattage that will be enough to support even a dedicated graphics card, a quiet fan, heavy-duty protections, Bronze reliability, a 5-year warranty, and a reasonable price, which all make it a perfect fit for this build.
It should come as no surprise that most sub-$50 cases are bad. At best, they’re just very inconvenient to build in or have sharp edges, but at worst, they can block the airflow quite heavily and basically function as an oven (not to mention that many feature long outdated exterior designs).
Related: How To Choose A PC Case
However, there are some diamonds in the rough to be found amidst all the rubble. And one such diamond is the Cooler Master Q300L.
We certainly could have included a more expensive case in this build, but that would have meant cutting the budget for other performance-related components such as the APU or RAM. Instead, we decided to go with a decent, cost-efficient case that has the potential to turn into a good mid-tier case with just another external fan upgrade or two.
First of all, Q300L is one of those few budget cases that don’t look cheap. It offers a decent amount of room for cable management. The airflow isn’t excellent, seeing as it only comes with a single 120mm pre-installed fan, but it isn’t stilted either. Out of the box, it’s just fine, add just a single fan on the front, and it’ll be great.
The case also has 2x USB 3.0 ports and has room for four additional fans in the top and front.
All dust filters (top, front, and bottom) are magnetic and easily removable. All in all, it’s a decent mATX case with suitable upgradeability options that fit in this build perfectly.
One last thing that we have to mention about cases when building on a budget is that it’s always good to keep your eyes peeled for hefty discounts.
We didn’t want to feature a case that was on any sort of discount for this build just because we wanted to always have a good baseline solution. Still, if you can get a case that normally costs $60 or $70 for almost half the price, then you should definitely consider that as an option.
Congratulations! You’ve now built a fully functional computer tower for $400. Of course, a tower by itself is just an expensive doorstop. If you want to do anything with it, you’re going to need a few more things.
In this section, we’ll cover the basics: a monitor, a mouse, a keyboard, and, of course, an operating system. Since you may already have some of these things, we’ve listed them separately from the PC itself.
That said, you won’t be using your new PC without them, so make sure you’ve got room in your budget for at least the basic versions of these peripherals.
We chose the Home Edition of Windows 10 because the Professional Edition doesn’t offer any extra perks to gamers. If you do a lot of office-type work on your PC, you might want to consider an upgrade, but otherwise, the Home Edition of Windows 10 does everything you need.
We chose the 64-bit operating system over the 32-bit version since the latter wouldn’t get the most out of our hardware.
We’ve linked to the USB drive install of Windows because it’s compatible with our build and doesn’t require a disc drive. If you’re adding a disc drive to your PC, you can also buy the DVD install, but there’s really no benefit to not using the flash drive.
You may be asking yourself why you’re buying an expensive operating system for your $400 gaming PC. There are two reasons to choose Microsoft Windows:
- It works. You install it, and your computer runs. You don’t have to run a C++ compiler every time you install a program. You don’t have to configure every last setting manually.
- Everyone writes software for it. All your favorite PC games run on Windows, and other apps are easy to find as well.
If you’re considering a Linux build, keep in mind that Linux is a lot harder to use than Windows. You’ll need to take the time to learn how to use a UNIX command prompt and install programs using a C++ compiler. You’ll also be limited mostly to indie games since most mainstream games won’t run in Linux.
If your budget is already stretched to the maximum and you need to install Linux to get yourself up and running, we strongly recommend SteamOS.
Like most Linux distributions, it’s free. It’s also designed by Valve, specifically for running games on Steam. It’s not made to use office programs, watch YouTube videos, or do anything else you’d expect to do with your PC. To install it, you’ll need access to a PC with a USB drive to download the install files and transfer them to your new rig.
Now, as for the monitor, we’ve decided to go with the Acer SB220Q bi.
And there are several reasons why this monitor simply stood out for this particular build:
we knew we wanted a 1080p monitor (even though you’ll be playing some games in 720p or 900p), but finding the right Size took some consideration. In most cases, 24-inches is considered the ideal size for 1080p monitors, but this didn’t fly for this build since the aliasing could prove quite problematic.
However, anything smaller than 20-inches would just be disappointing and the furthest thing from future proof. So we’ve settled on this 21.5-inch monitor that should serve you well both in 720p and 1080p.
Since you won’t be reaching astronomical framerates with an integrated graphics card, we figured getting an IPS panel would be ideal so that you could at least get the best image quality possible.
Do note, however, that this particular monitor does have a 75Hz refresh rate, so you can still get that extra bit of performance out of it when you do get a dedicated GPU.
IPS panel monitors are generally more expensive than TN ones, but this managed to pack everything we’ve mentioned so far plus a 4ms response time for less than $100 – that’s just insane value right there!
If you’re looking for a decent keyboard and mouse and you’re on a budget, the Havit mechanical gaming keyboard and mouse combo is a great place to start.
Since this is a budget build, we thought a bundle would be the best choice since they are often cheaper, and you get two items for the price of one, more or less.
Shopping for bundles can be tricky since oftentimes one of the items in the bundle is decent, and the other is there just for show. However, there are some surprisingly good-quality options out there, and the Havit bundle is definitely one of them.
For under $40 you get a full-size mechanical keyboard with a sturdy aluminum casing and blue switches that offer the feel, sound, and performance of a much higher-end product. It’s also equipped with some dashing RGB with 21 different lighting modes, and adjustable brightness and speed.
With the keyboard comes an equally impressive MS733 mouse that fits nicely in your hand, has 7 RGB lighting modes, and adjustable DPI of up to 4800. This might seem very little compared to what many other mice offer these days, but it’s actually more than enough for an average gamer, as most people don’t usually go above 3200 even if they have a mouse than can go higher.
This, of course, varies depending on your monitor’s resolution, the type of games you’re playing, and personal preference, but generally speaking, for the type of build $400 can buy, this mouse should do a marvelous job.
Now, this was our primary pick, but in case you want more options, there’s always the Redragon S113 bundle which is pretty similar except that the keyboard comes without the Numpad.
And if you are ready to spend a little more money, we recommend the Redragon K552 mechanical keyboard in combination with the Redragon M711 Cobra mouse for example. These two items are not a bundle, and they are slightly more expensive, but it’s good to be aware of different options.
Redragon is a budget brand, but despite their fairly cheap prices, they offer some excellent value products like the ones mentioned above.
These were a few of our favorite picks for this price range, but if you want more choices we encourage you to check out Amazon for some discounts or you can take a look at the links provided above where we’ve compiled lists of some of the best keyboards and mice that the market currently has to offer.
Finally, we’re going to talk about some additional peripherals that can improve your gaming experience. These are all purely optional, so you can skip this section if your budget is already stretched.
If you’re looking for some affordable bells and whistles, though, look no further. We’ve got you covered.
We’re not going to oversell these. The Cyber Acoustics CA-2012 speakers are a basic, no-frills pair of desktop speakers. So why did we pick them?
Simply put, these are the highest recommended speakers online in their price range. They’re adjustable, and they have a separate headphone input, so you won’t have to mess with your computer’s settings when you have to quiet down.
If you’re looking for more options, there are plenty of computer speakers that have separate subwoofers, or that make enough noise to require their own power outlet. This isn’t one of these speakers. We’re building a budget gaming rig here, so we’ve recommended some basic options.
For space-conscious customers, Creative Pebble makes some smaller speakers. If you’re looking for true surround sound, Creative PlayWorks has a surround sound system that’s not totally outrageous.
Still, if you’re in the $400 range, the Cyber Acoustics speakers should be more than sufficient to fill a room.
For the multiplayer gamers among us, a headset isn’t optional – it’s a must. And for those of you who are on a budget, we have the Corsair HS35.
This is a cost-effective multi-platform headset compatible with Xbox One, PS4 Nintendo Switch, and PC, as well as your mobile phone. It is an ‘on-ear’ headset, but it’s quite lightweight and has adjustable ear cups with memory foam which will make your long gaming sessions comfortable and pain-free.
The Corsair HS35 also features a detachable microphone, as well as volume and mute controls on the headset itself, which is always a phenomenal feature to have. The sound quality is decent, but don’t expect any outstanding bass or being able to hear light footsteps in games, this is, after all, an entry-level headset.
All things considered though, it offers excellent value for the price.
Now to the last peripheral and one that you probably didn’t expect – a wrist rest.
A wrist rest is very important to have though and you won’t find a better option than the incredibly comfortable, gel-infused memory foam HyperX Wrist Rest.
Its looks are rather plain, but that only means that it fits any gaming environment. It has a rubbery bottom, so it won’t slip and slide with your every movement, and it’s large enough to fit any full-sized keyboard. It has everything you need, and you don’t have to spend a fortune.
For $400, you can build a solid gaming rig with nearly endless upgradability. Now, don’t get too excited. You won’t be running any recent games at max settings with this PC. You’ll be running most games in 720p at around 30-40 FPS, though, which is quite good for a budget system.
Over time, you can install a dedicated GPU to give the graphics a boost, upgrade the processor, or add any of the many peripherals we covered.
No matter what, this rig will get you playing today’s games from the get-go. For $400, that’s not bad.