When you’re laying out your PC parts list every dollar counts. If you’re like most people, you have an idea of how much you want to spend on your PC and you don’t want to go over that set amount.
Building your PC on a tight budget is an elaborate game of cutting back on certain components in order to spend more on others for maximum performance.
The thing is, a lot of the time we see people spending more on certain components than they need to. On r/buildapc users are constantly asking for reviews of their parts lists for “budget gaming rigs.”
We see parts lists all of the time that feature, say, a dual-channel 16GB 3200MHz C16 RAM kit that costs $120, when if they poked around on Amazon they’d find that there are identical kits (spec-wise) that are $40 or so less.
The other common way we see folks missing out on value is when they use something like a $50, 500GB NVMe that has a maximum read speed of 2000-odd MB/s. 2000MB/s is fast, but if there’s a faster drive at the same price (and there almost always is), there’s no good reason to buy the slower drive.
Of course there are other factors at play and this example is a slight oversimplification, but the fact remains that a lot of people pay more for their PC or get less bang for their buck because they simply didn’t know there was something better out there.
We’re creating this article to give you a nice list of some of the cheaper parts that perform extremely well for their price tags, and are among the best-priced components of their performance levels.
These are the parts we most often find ourselves recommending over the metaphorical $120 RAM kits and slower NVMe drives, listed as well as possible in ascending order of performance.
Table of Contents
- The Best Cheap RAM
- The Best Cheap CPUs
- The Best Cheap Graphics Cards
- The Best Cheap Motherboards
- The Best Cheap NVMe SSDs
The Best Cheap RAM
Let’s start off with RAM; it’s pretty cut-and-dry. All else being equal, a 3600MHz kit is always better than a 3200MHz kit and a C14 kit is better than a C18 one.
There are really only four factors that determine RAM performance: Clock speed, CAS latency, capacity, and module-count (because a dual-channel 2x8GB kit is usually preferable to a comparable single-channel 1x16GB kit).
Of course there’s also aesthetics (G.Skill Trident RAM doesn’t cost what it does because of its performance) and the presence or lack of a heatsink. While you typically won’t find ridiculously blinged-out RAM in the “budget” range, there’s plenty of cheap modules that look fine, and there are actually a handful of fairly affordable RGB kits.
If you’re trying to build on a budget, though, you’re probably best off not worrying about the way your RAM looks. Cheap RAM comes in a variety of colors and most DIMMs look fine. As for the heatsink, just about any mid-range RAM comes with an aluminum heat spreader, and they’re more of an added bonus than a necessity anyway.
With all of this in mind, let’s look at a couple of our favorite options for cheap RAM with great performance (16GB kits will be the cap, since we’re considering anything above that to be in the non-budget range).
Patriot Signature Premium 2x4GB 2666MHz C19 | Check Price
At 2666MHz, this isn’t the fastest RAM. If you have an 10th-gen Intel Core i3 or i5, or an older generation, your CPU only supports 2666MHz anyway.
This RAM also doesn’t have the tightest timings, but realistically you won’t be able to perceive the difference between C16 (which is pretty standard) and C19.
As aesthetics go, this kit has solid black heatsinks with the Patriot logo (a massive P) at one end of each module’s aluminum heatsink.
If your CPU only supports 2666MHz this kit may be your best bet. Otherwise, we recommend looking at some of the faster kits listed, as the price difference between this kit and others is only $5-10.
LEVEN SINBA 2x4GB 3000MHz C16 | Check Price
You’ve probably never heard of LEVEN unless you closely follow the budget RAM scene. Regardless, they have some of the cheapest 8GB kits on the market, and the specs are really solid.
The heatsinks have a questionable design in terms of appearance; there are cutouts at the top that give it a wavy look, the logo is printed in the dead center, and there’s something printed on the left end of each heatsink (a crying bird, perhaps?).
If you can overlook the iffy aesthetic design, this RAM’s performance is more than adequate.
Patriot Viper Steel 2x4GB 3200MHz C16
Patriot’s Viper line of RAM is top-notch. This dual-channel 3200MHz C16 kit is usually priced very fairly. It has a base clock of 2133MHz and can be boosted to 3200MHz with XMP (make sure you’ve got a Z-series or latest-gen B-series motherboard to take full advantage of this)
XPG Z1 2x8GB 3200MHz C16
The triangle-shaped heatsink might not be the most appealing look ever, but XPG’s Z1 RAM is dirt cheap. Its 3200MHz 16GB kit offers great value, and it comes equipped with an aluminum/copper heatsink for top-notch cooling.
OLOy Owl 2x8GB 3200MHz C16
OLOy RAM may not quite have achieved name-brand status, but it’s quickly making the climb. Its Owl line of RAM has a simplistic but appealing design, and it comes in a decent array of colors.
OLOy Warhawk RGB 2x8GB 3200MHz C16
The RGB “wing” design may be a little much for some buyers, but there’s no question this is one of the best cheap RGB RAM kits in existence; it’s priced to compete with vanilla modules, so if you’re a fan of the flashy heatsink you can snag this kit at virtually no upcharge.
Warhawk RAM is available in a variety of color schemes and capacities, but this dual-channel 16GB kit takes the cake in terms of price to performance.
TEAMGROUP T-Force Vulcan Z 2x8GB 3600MHz C18
Team sells great cheap RAM, and the pinnacle of this is their 3600MHz C18 Vulcan kit. If you want RGB, their T-Force Delta line is also a great choice.
The Best Cheap CPUs
In this section we’ll look at some of the best budget CPUs. We’re only including SKUs from the latest two generations (Ryzen 3000 and 5000-series and Intel 10th and 11th-gen), since these typically represent the best performance value.
We’ve listed the CPUs in rough performance-based ascending order, so CPUs higher up on the list should achieve higher in-game framerates and handle work tasks better.
Intel’s Core i5 and AMD’s Ryzen 5 are the highest-tier CPUs we’re including, since anything above that is out of the “budget range.”
Intel Core i3-10100F
Intel’s Core i3-10100F is perhaps the best budget gaming CPU that currently exists. It’s an incredibly affordable 4-core, 8-thread CPU that can manage 144FPS in the majority of modern titles.
In addition, it’s a great option as a productivity CPU. Just remember that you’ll need a discrete graphics card as it doesn’t have integrated graphics–or you can opt for the i3-10100, it’s graphics-enabled counterpart.
Regardless, we recommend checking the price of the i3-10100, as its price occasionally fluctuates below that of the 10100F. Both of these include a CPU cooler.
Ryzen 3 3300X
Ryzen’s 3300X is extremely similar to Intel’s i3-10100. Their performance is virtually identical. However, the 3300X has the advantage of PCIe gen 4 support (the 10100 only supports gen 3) and supports RAM frequencies of up to 3200MHz, versus the 10100’s 2666MHz cap.
Keep in mind that, as with the i3-10100F, you’ll need a discrete GPU to use this specific processor. AMD’s Wraith Stealth cooler is included, which is more than capable of keeping the 3300X in a healthy temperature range.
Intel Core i5-10400F
Intel’s i5-10400F is a 6-core 12-thread budget dream. With a capable graphics card you’ll be able to push 144FPS in almost any game, and 240FPS in many.
A cooler is included with the i5-10400F (or iGPU-equipped i5-10400), which is a nice bonus.
Ryzen 5 3600
The R5 3600 is AMD’s competitor to the i5-10400F. It’s ever-so-slightly better performance-wise, and PCIe gen 4 support is another nice bonus. If you’re picking between these two, we’d recommend getting whichever one is cheapest at the moment, with motherboard price factored in.
Intel Core i5-11400F
The i5-11400F is the generation-newer equivalent to the i5-10400F, and it’s a strong candidate for being the best budget gaming CPU. It’s markedly better than the Ryzen 5 3600, and improves upon the 10400F’s design with a more efficient architecture, PCIe gen 4 capabilities, and faster max memory speeds.
Like its predecessor, the 11400F is packaged with a stock cooler. If you plan on running all-core tasks frequently, we’d recommend getting a low-end cooler like the Hyper 212 EVO, as the stock cooler can’t quite keep pace at full throttle.
As with the i5-10400F, we recommend buying the i5-11400 if you don’t have a graphics card. Regardless, check the price of both, as sometimes the 11400 is cheaper.
Ryzen 5 5600G
AMD’s R5 5600G is one of their best value APUs, and its integrated Vega 7 GPU packs quite the punch, outperforming Intel’s UHD 750 graphics by a wide margin of around 50% in most games. This means that if you’re looking to go dedicated graphics-less during the GPU crisis, the 5600G is probably your best shot at decent framerates.
With chip shortages continuing, the price of Intel’s mid-range CPUs are ridiculously inflated, meaning the 5600G is actually cheaper than the i5-11400 and 11400F most places you look. Its price and performance are nearly identical to Intel’s competing i5-11600K, so its superior graphics capabilities make it the obvious choice between the two in the current market.
Add in savings on motherboard (AMD has cheaper and more functional motherboards, as its B-series generally costs less than Intel’s and supports overclocking) and the 5600G becomes one of the most affordable mid-range CPUs, graphics aside.
The Best Cheap Graphics Cards
The price of most PC components are inflated at the moment, but GPU costs are the most severe. As such, even “budget” graphics cards are going to cost more than most mid-range ones did a couple of years ago.
If you’re on a really tight budget, consider buying an APU (a processor with a decent built-in GPU) like the Ryzen 3 3200G. With this, you’ll be able to run most games at 60FPS in 1080p. Otherwise, here are some of the best-valued GPUs.
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 4GB
Nvidia’s GTX 1650 is 60FPS-capable in pretty much any game (we benchmarked it in several) and is the cheapest 16-series card in existence. It doesn’t require any extra power cables either, which is a nice addition and makes cable management significantly easier.
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Super
The 1660 Super is a solid step up from the 1650. Expect 144FPS performance in most games with this card.
Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti
Frankly, we’re not sure why Nvidia released the 1660 Ti and Super. They’re virtually identical, both in specifications and real-life performance. Either way, the 1660 Ti deserves a mention as well. If you can find it cheaper than the 1660 Super, we recommend it. If not, it’s probably not worth forking over the extra money.
The Best Cheap Motherboards
For the purpose of this section, we’ll be looking almost exclusively at B-series motherboards. This is because they offer the best value, by far. Newest-generation B560 and B550 boards offer XMP and PCIe gen 4 support, and while B560 motherboards don’t support CPU overclocking, Intel budget CPUs don’t either.
The Best Cheap Intel Motherboards
All boards listed below are compatible with both Intel 10th and 11th-gen CPUs.
Gigabyte B560M DS3H
Gigabyte’s B560M DS3H is a solid base-level motherboard. It packs only the necessities, but it’s a great option for 65W CPUs like the i5-11400. It packs a couple of PCIe x1 slots, as well as room for 2 M.2 drives and 4 DIMMs.
Asus Prime B560M-A
A well-rounded motherboard with two M.2 slots (one PCIe 4 and one 3 with heatsinks included), sufficient cooling, and plenty of connectivity, the B560M-A packs all of the necessities at a great price.
MSI B560M PRO
This micro-ATX board boasts many of the same features as the previous two motherboards, including a gen 4 M.2 slot and plenty of SATA ports. It only has room for two memory modules, but this shouldn’t be an issue unless you plan on having more than 64GB of RAM.
Two M.2 slots (one of them gen 4), 9 total USB ports, and an adequate two DIMM slots, combined with an exceptional price, make ASRock’s B560M-HDV a solid option for Comet or Rocket Lake CPUs.
The Best Cheap AMD Motherboards
All boards listed below are compatible with AMD’s 3000 and 5000-series of CPUs.
The AMD equivalent of ASRock’s B560M-HDV, you won’t find many motherboards cheaper than this. This low price comes with a caveat; its design is absolutely bare-bones. Low maximum RAM speeds (2400MHz) may make it a bit less desirable than other boards, but if you’re looking to spend as little as possible it’s a compelling option.
Gigabyte B550M DS3H
The B550M DS3H is an excellent motherboard that supports PCIe gen 4 and RAM speeds of up to 3600MHz. It comes with an extra PCIe x16 lane and four memory slots for maximum connectivity.
MSI Mag B550M Bazooka
For an affordable motherboard, MSI’s Mag B550M Bazooka is absolutely decked out with heatsinks. Two M.2 slots and supported RAM speeds of up to 4400MHz give the Bazooka an edge over most other boards in its price range. It’s also available renewed for a significant discount.
The Best Cheap NVMe SSDs
Next up, we have NVMe SSDs. These are the new standard for OS and game storage, as they allow faster load and boot times than traditional SATA SSDs, without all that much additional cost. Prices tend to swing pretty wildly within this category; a $100 SSD one week may be an $140 one the next week.
The below options are typically among the cheapest, and they still offer top-notch performance. Since PCIe gen 4 is rather costly, we’ve selected only gen 3 drives, but they all have maximum read speeds of over 3000 MB/s, putting them in the highest tier of gen 3, performance-wise.
Crucial’s P5 SSD offers respective read and write speeds of up to 3400 and 3000 MB/s, and they’re backed with a 5-year, 600TBW warranty (you’ll almost certainly reach 5 years first unless you’re plotting Chia).
ADATA XPG SX8200
Technically speaking, ADATA’s SX8200 one-ups the Crucial P5 with an 100MB/s faster maximum read speed, not that it makes all that much of a difference. ADATA is a lesser-known name in the memory market, but their products are of excellent quality. The SX8200 is no exception, and is typically really cheap.
PNY XLR8 CS3030
PNY’s CS3030 NVMe SSD perfectly mirrors the SX8200’s speeds: 3500 MB/s max read, 3000 MB/s max write. Their warranty/advertised TBW was recently reduced to 360 for the 1TB model, which is somewhat subpar. Even so, the CS3030 represents a competitively-priced, fast SSD, and you’re unlikely to burn out the memory cells anytime soon.
Sabrent Rocket Q
The Rocket Q is Sabrent’s slightly slower QLC counterpart to the standard TLC Rocket SSD; instead of read/write speeds of 3400/3000 MB/s, it’s rated for up to 3200/2000. For this reason, we recommend checking out the TLC model, as it’s priced very similarly. Typically, though, the Rocket Q is the cheaper one, and thus the one we chose for this list.
Another somewhat off-brand product, the Inland Platinum SSD is another NVMe with QLC NAND. Because of this, it has a somewhat low endurance rating of 225TBW for the 1TB model. Fast gen 3 speeds and its affordable price still make it a compelling option.