• Korrupt Ronin

PC Gaming on a Budget in 2021



Setting Expectations


So you got that “huge” stimulus check and you’re looking to get into the PC Gaming scene. Problem is, you’ve never built a PC in your life and maybe you’ve convinced yourself that it was something only smart people can do. But the fact that you’re here reading this means you’ve got spirit, I like that. But when it comes to building a gaming PC on a budget in 2021, I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is that building a PC isn’t as hard as you might think and I’ll be happy to put you on the right track. The bad news- the coronavirus and scalpers have hit supplies hard which has made PC components more expensive than usual due to low supply. You know, supply and demand, Economics 101 stuff. To put it simply, building a Gaming PC in 2021 is going to require time, patience and maybe a fatter wallet than you were hoping. If you can manage all of that, read on. Also if you already have an understanding of what PC components are required, skip to the “Setting a Budget” section.




What every PC needs


In order to build a PC, we have to have a thorough understanding of what every PC needs to make it tick. Brace yourself, I’m about to lift the veil off of what many consider to be one of the scariest parts of building a PC. There are a number of components that are mandatory for getting a PC up and running. Gaming or otherwise and non-negotiable.


These are

:

  • PC Case (Also called a PC “Tower”)

  • Motherboard

  • CPU

  • RAM

  • HDD/SSD (Hard Drive)

  • Power Supply

  • GPU (Mandatory for a Gaming PC)


Now I could sit here and try to break down each one of those for you to help you understand what they are and how they work. But instead of doing that, let’s try something fun. This should also help you identify what these components are and/or what you need. Take a look at this motherboard. Motherboards are probably the most terrifying thing to look at for first time builders. The listing says “Asus Z390-A Motherboard LGA1151 (Intel 8th And 9th Gen) ATX DDR4 DP HDMI M.2 USB 3.1 Gen2 Gigabit LAN”. For first time builders this may as well be another language, but I’m going to break down each and every part of this listing and how it relates to the components you need to build a PC. To put it simply, the title of this listing basically tells you everything it has and needs. Let’s break it down for you. “Asus Z390-A” refers to the brand and model of the motherboard. Brand being “Asus” and model being “Z390-A”. You already know it's a motherboard so that part is self explanatory. LGA1151 refers to the CPU socket that it supports. What does this mean? Well let's talk CPUs for a moment.


There are two competing manufacturers of CPUs on the market- Intel and AMD. When searching Intel CPUs you’ll see things like LGA1151 or LGA1200. These are the socket technologies that they use. AMD CPUs aren’t quite as complicated. AMD’s new Ryzen CPUs generally use an AM4 socket. And this is pretty universal across their new CPUs. Our motherboard example lists an LGA1151 socket. So take a wild guess which brand of CPU it’s compatible with. If you guess Intel, you’re correct. Which isn’t hard seeing as how it says that in the listing. For first time builders, you don’t need to worry so much about what these terms mean so much as what they stand for and what motherboards are asking for when you see them in the listings.


There are different models of CPUs from each brand, for example you may see things like “Intel i5” or “Intel i7” or on the AMD side “Ryzen 5” or “Ryzen 7”. Another thing of note is that some CPUs come with coolers or heatsinks. These are used to keep the CPU from overheating when the PC is in use. The packaging will usually tell you if it has a cooler with it, but if it doesn’t you’ll need to buy one separately. Then there’s thermal paste which is used as an adhesive to bond the CPU and heatsink together and helps dissipate heat from the CPU. The reason why I didn’t list these as requirements is that sometimes CPUs will come with coolers and thermal paste pre-applied. But I do recommend buying thermal paste regardless, just to be prepared.


Next up “ATX”. This refers to the size of the motherboard itself and is also related to the size of the PC Case or Tower. When looking at PC Cases you’ll see 3 recurring terms. ATX, Micro ATX or mATX and ITX. These refer to the size of the PC case itself. ATX being large, Micro ATX being medium and ITX being small. These sizes are important in relation to the components that go inside of it. In this case, the motherboard. Motherboard sizes are handled the same way- ATX, Micro ATX and ITX. Let me make it simple, you don’t want to put an ATX motherboard in an ITX case. It’d be like trying to fit a school bus in a garage made for a car. It won’t end well. The price of motherboards are reflected in the sizes as well. An ATX motherboard will be more expensive than a Micro ATX board because it has more slots and/or features hence its size. However, ITX motherboards can be more expensive than Micro ATX boards due to aesthetic reasons and lets be real hear, trying to cram features in something small takes work.


DDR4 is referring to the RAM technology it supports. Yep this is where we get into RAM. When looking to purchase RAM you’ll run into terms such as “4GB”, “8GB” or in many cases “2x4GB”. Since this is your first time building a PC, I won’t go into the specifics about these numbers outside of the fact that more is indeed better, but take note that the price will reflect that as well. Most modern PC games require at least 4GB of RAM, but if you want to be on the safe side 8-16GB is recommended. 32GB and more is for those that want to get into high quality video editing. Installing RAM on a motherboard is rather simple, they’re usually long parallel slots located next to or near the CPU socket. These can be 4 slots or 2 slots as they are based on the size of the motherboard. Most listings will specify this and if they include images, you’ll be able to spot it.


Lets knock out the DP and HDMI terms. Some of you may have already heard of HDMI. Especially if you have video game consoles and flatscreen tvs or projectors. The motherboard also has an HDMI port which can connect to a display. That can be a TV or a Monitor with an HDMI port as well. Yes, you can hook your PC up to your tv if you want. As for DP, I promise you it’s not a euphemism for something dirty, but instead stands for “Display Port”. This is an alternative to HDMI that users can choose to hook up to a display instead. You can find monitors that support both HDMI and DP. The difference between the two is related to the sending of video and audio data to the display. HDMI tends to have issues with this due to needing a “handshake” or “permission” from both the display and the device to send a picture. Hence why HDMI devices take a moment to show something on screen. DP side steps that handshake and is much quicker to display. But it really comes down to what your display supports. Just make sure you have the appropriate cables for them.


Now we get to the good stuff. M.2 is a relatively new hard drive technology made for SSDs. For a long while PC’s only used HDDs or Hard Disk Drives which were used to store files, images, video, etc. Every application you use on your PC is installed to the Hard Drive. The more space you have, the files and applications you can store. The storage on hard drives is measured in GB and TB. 1TB is roughly 1000GB. SSDs or Solid State Drives are the new hotness when it comes to storage on PC’s due to their incredible speed and have been slowly phasing out HDDs. M.2 drives are essentially faster SSDs in a much smaller form factor. Don’t get these confused with RAM sticks as they are similar in size but don’t connect to the same ports on the motherboard. M.2 drives are preferred due to their speed even over regular SSDs. This speed affects how long it takes to get on your PC, how long it takes applications to load and even loading screens in games. So when you see a motherboard listing with an M.2 then it is compatible for these super fast drives.


Now the simple stuff. I imagine most of you reading this have seen USB ports somewhere in their daily lives. USB 3.1 as you see in this listing is basically a more advanced form of those USB ports you’ve used before. USB 3.1 has the capability of higher speeds over your typical USB port that you normally use. You can still put in your everyday USB device like your phone, camera, etc. But they may benefit from faster transfer speeds due to the higher bandwidth of USB 3.1. And Gen 2 just refers to the latest iteration of the technology. The 2nd Generation of it, if you will.


Lastly, Gigabit Lan is the Network card built into the motherboard. This is what is used to get you onto the internet on your PC. Because it's a Lan interface that means there’s no wifi capabilities. With this motherboard you’d need to either buy a separate wifi network card or use an ethernet cable instead. And honestly, if you plan on playing competitively online, you should really try to avoid wifi as much as you can. Unless you have a guaranteed stable signal in whatever part of the home your PC will be located. But getting online with a PC in general is actually very simple. So not much work is required in this regard. And with that we’ve broken down every part of this Motherboard listing. Keep in mind that not every motherboard will have this stuff in the title itself, you may need to dig deeper to find the specs of the board to see what it's compatible with. A little bit of research goes a long way.


You might be thinking, what about the Power Supply and GPU? Power Supply’s and GPUs are designed to be universal when it comes to building a PC. The only thing you should take into account is the amount of Watts a power supply has. For most PCs anything in the 700-800watt range is enough to get by just fine. Popular brands for Power supplies come from Corsair or Evga for example. If you’re looking to keep the inside of your PC as aesthetically pleasing as possible, I would suggest looking into Modular Power Supplies. GPUs connect to the PCIe slots on the motherboard. Most motherboards will have these slots labeled but if you’re still unsure, a quick look at the manual or even a google search will show you what it looks like. They are the driving force behind the graphics and speed of the games you play. The thing to consider with GPUs are how powerful they are and their size. Over the past decade GPUs have gotten significantly larger as they became more powerful. So if you’re trying to cram the latest Nvidia GPU into a small ITX case… you might be out of luck or you may need to work some magic to make that happen. Lastly, there are many brands of GPUs that you can buy but only two manufacturers that make the technology behind them- Nvidia and AMD. AMD GPUs tend to be more budget friendly while Nvidia’s are more premium due to the extra technologies packed into them. It’ll be up to you to decide which one works best for your budget.

Setting a Budget


When it comes to building a PC on a budget in 2021, time and patience are absolute requirements. As I mentioned earlier, supply for PC components was hit due to the coronavirus and prices have certainly reflected that. But let's throw out a couple of budget ranges to get things going. Lowest budget that I’d recommend coming in at the time of this article is around $1200. Yes it’s a lot but that is the unfortunate reality that the PC market is in right now due to supply shortages. This also takes into consideration things like a Display Monitor, keyboard and mouse, things you need to actually use your PC after you’ve assembled it. I’ll show you an example to give you an idea of why I recommend this budget for an “Entry Level” gaming pc build:


$1200 Budget


  1. PC Case/Tower - “NZXT H510” - $69.99

  2. Motherboard - “Gigabyte B365” - $69.99

  3. CPU - “Intel Core i3-9100F” - $129.25

  4. RAM - “HyperX Fury 8GB” - $46.20

  5. HDD/SSD - “Samsung 970 EVO 500GB M.2 SSD” - $61.69

  6. GPU - “Zotac GTX 1660 6GB GDDR5” - $399.99

  7. Power Supply - “EVGA 750w” - $62.99

  8. Monitor - “BenQ 24 Inch IPS Monitor” - $109.95

  9. Keyboard - “Logitech G213 Prodigy” - $46.99

  10. Mouse - “Logitech G502 Hero” - $48.48


Total = $1045.62

This is an Entry Level “Intel Build”. The reason for this is because of the Intel CPU. When building a PC, the CPU can dictate the type of motherboard you buy to stay true to compatibility. If I wanted to buy an AMD CPU instead, I would also have to swap out the motherboard to accommodate it and because everything connects to the motherboard. You also have to make sure it has support for the other components on the list. Here’s an example of an AMD Build with that same budget:


$1200 Budget


  1. PC Case/Tower - “NZXT H510” - $69.99

  2. Motherboard - “Gigabyte GA-A320M” - $54.99

  3. CPU - “AMD Ryzen 3600” - $199.99

  4. RAM - “HyperX Fury 8GB” - $46.20

  5. HDD/SSD - “Samsung 970 EVO 500GB M.2 SSD” - $61.69

  6. GPU - “Zotac GTX 1660 6GB GDDR5” - $399.99

  7. Power Supply - “EVGA 750w” - $62.99

  8. Monitor - “BenQ 24 Inch IPS Monitor” - $109.95

  9. Keyboard - “Logitech G213 Prodigy” - $46.99

  10. Mouse - “Logitech G502 Hero” - $48.48


Total = $1101.36


As you can see, because I swapped the CPU I had to also change the motherboard to support it. The end result is that the CPU is a bit more expensive than the Intel build, but the motherboard is actually cheaper. The benefit to this is that you end up getting a much better CPU than the intel build for a slightly higher price and still within that $1200 budget. That is the beauty of building your own PC. You are able to swap in and out parts as you will to suit your budget and work to get the most bang for your buck. Keep in mind, these are not the latest and greatest components on the market, but for first timers, these will do a great job of allowing you to get a feel of what building a PC is like. For both of these builds, I included a Monitor, keyboard and mouse as you’re going to want to use your PC after you build it and to do that those 3 items are needed. However, if you’re looking to just build the PC first, you can omit those 3 and lower your overall cost.


Let’s try a build with a slightly higher budget and without the peripherals. Say you have about $1600 to spend in total. This opens up the door to a more powerful PC than the previous ones I’ve listed. Let's take a look at a build that accommodates this cost. Keep in mind that these are examples and you don’t need to follow them to the letter.


$1600 Budget


  1. PC Case/Tower - “Corsair ICUE 465X RGB” - $154.99

  2. Motherboard - “ASRock B365M” - $83.99

  3. CPU - “Intel i9 9900k” - $339.99

  4. RAM - “Corsair Vengeance 32GB” - $132.99

  5. HDD/SSD - “Samsung 970 EVO 1TB” - $136.99

  6. GPU - “EVGA GTX 1660” - $419.99

  7. Power Supply - “Corsair RM 750w” - $124.99

Total = $1425.92


This is also an Intel build as you can clearly see from the CPU, but it is a more powerful build than previous ones. Saving up a bit more money lends to a few premium parts, however even these aren’t the best parts on the market. Remember that thing I said about expectations and having patience? This does give you a little more wiggle room for the kinds of games you want to play. You’d probably experience more stable frame rates due to the extra power from the better CPU and you could probably record that gameplay and make some cool videos to upload to youtube now that you have all that extra RAM for video editing. Even livestreaming is on the table with this build. Again, you don’t have to purchase these components specifically, this is just an example of what saving a little extra money can get you. But don’t forget that you still need those peripherals if you want to USE the PC. So factor those in to your expenses when trying to buy those items. Let's try a more powerful AMD Build next with that same budget.


$1600 Budget


  1. PC Case/Tower - “Corsair ICUE 465X RGB” - $154.99

  2. Motherboard - “ASRock AM4 X570M” - $177.99

  3. CPU - “AMD Ryzen 7 3700X” - $329.99

  4. RAM - “Corsair Vengeance 32GB” - $132.99

  5. HDD/SSD - “Samsung 970 EVO 1TB” - $136.99

  6. GPU - “EVGA GTX 1660” - $419.99

  7. Power Supply - “Corsair RM 750w” - $124.99


Total = $1509.92


As with the previous two builds with a lower budget, the AMD build comes a bit more expensive, but the CPU is actually more powerful. And just like with the lower budget builds, using an AMD CPU required a motherboard change to stay within compatibility limits. No one likes getting parts for something only to realize they don’t go together. The benefits still apply: better frame rates in games, extra RAM is great for video editing and yes, you can still livestream. And i'll stress once again to make sure you keep in mind the items you need to use the PC when planning this out. But this segues into my next subject.


Tips/Things to Consider


Building a PC for the first time is a terrifying experience. Everything is going to feel very alien due to your unfamiliarity of what you’re getting into. But what I can assure is that once you’ve done it the first time, you’ll be itching to do it again. Just make sure your wallet is up to the task. For some of you, seeing that price tag for an entry build will be a huge turn off, but take this to heart- if you have the patience and the willpower, I fully recommend staggering your purchases for PC components. There are large benefits to taking this approach such allowing time to pass to see if prices for certain components drop due to an increase in stock. You’ll also be able to save more money and buy the more powerful or premium components. In 2021 this truly is the way to go about building a PC whether you're an enthusiast builder or a first timer.


You’ll also need to have Windows 10 installation software somewhere, whether it be on a disc or a USB Drive. I recommend a USB drive as a disc will require you to purchase and install an optical disc drive for your PC. Lastly, there’s a good chance that when you assemble your PC and hit the power button, that you’ll run into a few problems. The PC may not turn on or it may not boot to windows. Don’t panic and resign yourself to the idea that you broke something. Most of the issues that first timers run into are due to components simply not being installed correctly. Make sure that all components have a snug fit. Nothing should look or feel loose.


Another thing to note is that if you’re still not feeling up to the task of building the PC yourself, there are resources in which you can buy the parts and have experts assemble it for you. Consider websites like ibuypower.com where they let you design your PC and build it for you. You’ll eat an extra cost for the labor of course. If you’re still struggling to keep up with compatibility of components or even price trends to make sure you’re not getting robbed, websites like pcpartpicker.com are very popular resources for this. You can even find guides made by everyday people like yourself if you’re looking to build a very specific kind of PC. This is your best resource for making sure you’re getting parts for the lowest prices while also making sure components are compatible with one another. Pcpartpicker handles all of this for you and warns you if there’s a problem with your choices. So feel free to play around with a few builds on the site just to get an understanding of what shopping around for PC parts is like, especially in 2021. In fact, here’s an example list I made following one of the builds listed in this article.


Finally, when it comes to assembling a PC, I fully recommend a video visual aid to give you an idea of which components go where and how they should fit. This one from Newegg’s official channel is a great start. Every PC build is different but the method of assembling PCs holds many similarities. Looking up video guides on PC building websites or even youtube is the absolute way to go for first time builders. Anyway, that’s all from me. I know this one is a bit long in the tooth so feel free to refer back to it when you need help or are looking for advice.



If you need further help or have questions you can catch me on twitter:. Check me out on youtube for video game reviews, think pieces and more at https://youtube.com/korruptronin. I also stream on Twitch every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at: https://twitch.tv/korruptronin88. You can find further links and become part of a great community of nerds there. Good luck and godspeed!


The writer may receive monetary kickback from the websites referred to and linked in this article should readers choose to purchase from them.


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