Breaking into the PC gaming world can be expensive. If you’ve got friends with gaming PCs, you might have heard them about their sweet new liquid cooling system that “only” cost 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 $400 Gaming PC Build For 2020
Updated: February 16, 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.
If you were to buy a current-gen console, $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 current-gen 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 medium/low 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 big trade-off in terms of 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.
CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 3400G
The Ryzen 5 3400G is AMD’s middle-tier CPU. It has a maximum rated clock speed of 4.2 GHz, which is a slight upgrade over the earlier Ryzen 3’s maximum rating of 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 a better-integrated graphics chip, but we’ll talk about that in a minute. Plus, it uses AMD’s newest socket, the AM4, which makes it as future-proof of an option as you can choose.
Related: Best Ryzen CPU For Gaming
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 liable 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, positively 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.
Related: Best CPU’s For Gaming
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 telling 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.
Related: Best CPU Cooler
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.
Related: Best Graphics Card For Gaming
RAM: Corsair Vengeance LPX 16G (2 x 8 GB)
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 even use 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 this will merit 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 16GB 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.
Corsair is one of the most reliable manufacturers on the market, and 16GB of dual-channel memory is more than enough for both the CPU and the GPU. Not to mention that this is generally considered as excellent RAM even for much higher-budget PCs. This means that even if you decide to upgrade your PC in the future, changing your RAM isn’t something you’ll have to worry about, at least for a while.
Once again, 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 isn’t a negligible amount of FPS.
Related: Best RAM For Gaming
Motherboard: MSI B450M PRO-VDH MAX
We chose the MSI B450M PRO-VDH MAX because it provided a nice balance between a future-proof machine and one that will also support your old peripherals. Seriously. This motherboard not only has 4x USB 3.2 ports and 3x USB 2.0 and HDMI ports, but it also has a PS/2 port for your 10-year-old keyboard and mouse.
The MSI B450M PRO-VDH MAX uses an AM4 socket, so upgradability is good on that front. 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 MSI B450M PRO-VDH MAX’s BIOS is 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 MSI B450M PRO-VDH MAX features a solid heatsink, and enough fan headers for the chosen case, as well as for future upgrades. MSI even made sure to include PCI-E Steel Armor for your VGA card slot.
So all in all, this is definitely a top-notch motherboard and one that should be good enough to last through several incarnations of this PC as you upgrade it.
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SSD: ADATA SU635 480 GB
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 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 by any chance end up needing more, you can always add a regular HDD or even an additional SSD to your rig for very little money.
Related: Best HDD For Gaming
Power Supply: EVGA 500 BR
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 with it more risks than anyone should accept.
What’s great about the EVGA 500 BR 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, and a decent price which all make it a perfect fit for this build.
Related: How To Choose A Power Supply
Case: Cooler Master Q300L
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 impede 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 decent upgradeability options that fits in this build perfectly.
Now one other 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, but 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.
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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.
Operating System: Windows
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 manually configure every last setting.
- 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.
Related: What Is The Best OS For Gaming?
Monitor: Acer SC220Q bi
Now as for the monitor, we’ve decided to go with the Acer SB220Q bi. And there are a number of reasons why this monitor simply stood out for this particular build:
- The Size – we knew we wanted a 1080p monitor (despite the fact that 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 disappoint 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.
- The Panel – 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 in when you do get a dedicated GPU.
- The Price – 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!
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Mouse: Rii Professional 7 Colors LED Optical Gaming Mouse
Wow! You’re not going to see another quality gaming mouse anywhere near this price. This mouse has 7 buttons, which leaves four customizable buttons once you factor out the three regular mouse buttons. It also has adjustable sensitivity, with settings at 1,000 DPI, 1,600 DPI, 2,400 DPI and 3,200 DPI.
On the one hand, this mouse is much more sensitive than your average mouse from Staples, at around the same price. On the other hand, it’s nowhere near as sensitive as some other gaming mice.
It’s also wired. We think this is a good thing for a desktop mouse. Wireless mice are great for laptops, when you need to pack up your computer every day. Wired mice don’t require batteries, so they won’t suddenly crap out on you in the middle of a multiplayer match.
If you’re a diehard fan of wireless mice, we have a couple of good options for you. For a few more dollars than the Riii Professional, you can buy the J-Tech Digital Scroll Endurance Wireless Mouse. This puppy is not only wireless, it’s ergonomic. You hold it in your fist, vertically, like you’d hold a cup, instead of having a traditional mouse grip.
On the other hand, the J-Tech isn’t a gaming mouse. It has no extra buttons, and while its sensitivity is adjustable, it has a maximum DPI of 1,600 DPI, which might just get you killed in some FPS games.
Finally, we have the Corsair Dark Core SE, a wireless gaming mouse that comes at a hefty price. If your budget is running low, consider a different option. Still, this mouse has nine programmable buttons, and a super-low 1 millisecond of latency. That’s impressive, although it’s expensive for our build.
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Keyboard: Lookatool LED Rainbow Color Backlight Gaming Keyboard
If you’re looking for a gaming keyboard at a budget price, the Lookatool LED Rainbow Color Backlight Gaming Keyboard is a great place to start. For people who are really in a crunch, this keyboard includes a mouse, although we’d recommend avoiding it unless you’re rooting change out of your couch to pay for your rig.
This keyboard has a soft touch, customizable backlights, and has suspension style keycaps. That means that these keys are spring-supported, so you won’t have as much sticking as you’ll get on a standard keyboard. Other than those features, this is basically a standard wired keyboard.
If you want a true gaming keyboard, you’d be well served by paying a few dollars more for a VicTsing All-Metal Keyboard. This is a true gaming keyboard, with a tough metal skin. On top of that, you can remap your WASD keys to the arrow keys – and map them back again – with a simple shortcut button.
The last keyboard we’ll mention is more of a wish-list item than a must, considering our PC is budgeted at $400. Still, it deserves an honorable mention if you’re contemplating future upgrades.
The Razer Ornata Chroma has all the features of the VicTsing, plus a cushy ergonomic wrist-rest. It also features a whopping 1,000 Hz response time. Unless you can hit 1,000 keys in a minute, you’ll never fat-finger a combo again with this keyboard. The keys also respond with an audible “click” when you hit them, so you won’t be left wondering whether you actually hit the ctrl key or not.
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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.
Fan Cable Splitter: PWM Fan Cable
As we mentioned when we were going over the Rosewill Challenger S, you don’t really need all three case fans, but you’ll also only be able to power two of them using the Asus TUF B450’s fan heads. Not to repeat ourselves, but that’s plenty of cooling power for this build.
If you decide to upgrade or overclock your CPU, though, it would be a good idea to get that third fan up and running. This fan cable splitter can attach to either of the case fan heads, powering both of them. The only downside is that you’ll only be able to control those fans as a pair, not individually.
Speakers: Cyber Acoustics CA-2012 2.0 Desktop PC Computer Speakers
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.
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Headphones: Livoty Surround Stereo Gaming Headset
For the multiplayer gamers among us, a headset isn’t optional – it’s a must. And for those gamers, we have the Livoty Surround Stereo Gaming Headset. This costs less than a comparable console headset, and lets you talk to your teammates as you listen.
Related: Headset vs Headphones
It connects via USB and has fancy LEDs that light up when you’re chatting. If your girlfriend is never sure when you’re in a party chat, this headset is a great choice. It also has an in-line volume selector so your loudest teammates will never be too loud.
SSD Drive: WD Blue 1TB SSD Drive
We designed this rig with a slower SSD to save money. That is not to say that the ADATA SU635 is slow, far from it. But let’s suppose you’ve had your homemade PC for a year, and you’re looking for more storage space or faster load times?
In this case, consider adding a WD Blue 1TB SSD Drive to your build. It’s not the fastest SSD on the market, nor is it the largest.
It is, on the other hand, highly recommended and extremely reliable. If you’re looking for a relatively inexpensive SSD to boost your load times, the WD Blue is a good choice.
If you, on the other hand want something faster to replace your current game-dedicated storage, but aren’t quite ready to sell a kidney for a NVMe, we highly recommend the Samsung 860 Evo. It is definitely on the pricey side, but it is also one of, if not the fastest 2.5 SSD currently on the market.
Of course, if you only need more raw storage, a reliable HDD is always an option. In that case we recommend the Seagate BarraCuda 1TB or 3TB depending on your needs.
Related: Best SSD For Gaming
WiFi Adapter: KingFuture USB WiFi Adapter 1200 Mmpbs USB 3.0
One area where we’ll freely admit our build is lacking is connectivity. Specifically, it doesn’t have a WiFi card. That’s fine for many people, but many others are also left wondering how they’re going to play their favorite games without a WiFi card.
Enter the KingFuture USB WiFi adapter. This adapter plugs into your USB drive, rather than connecting via a PCI-E connection or SATA cable. It’s about as non-demanding as a WiFi adapter gets. Just plug it into your USB drive, and you’ll be up and running in no time.
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Blu-ray Drive: HL Desktop Internal 12X BluRay Combo Drive
One of the main things we left out of our basic build was any kind of disc drive. Overall, this is a good choice for a $400 gaming PC. After all, nobody wants to spend 1/8th of their PC costs on a disc rive if they’re downloading all of their games.
On the other hand, a disc drive is more or less a must if you want to watch movies. Moreover, it’s useful for install discs for newer games, as well as for older games you may not want to sacrifice disc drive space for.
This drive has a read/write speed of 12x, which isn’t very fast if you’re burning a ton of media discs. Then again, that’s not what you’re building this system for, is it? For game installs, this drive is more than fast enough.
Wrist Rest: HyperX Wrist Rest
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 can’t find a better wrist rest than the very comfortable HyperX Wrist Rest set for keyboard and mouse.
It features some nice memory foam (gel-based) and it just feels great.
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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.