Building your own gaming PC isn’t rocket science, but it’s not the easiest thing in the world, either. We understand if you’d rather not take on the headache.
Not all that long ago, pre-built gaming PCs generally sucked. Until about the early 2010s, there wasn’t a huge market for them, so it was hard to find a quality PC for a reasonable price.
But as demand rose, supply eventually caught up. Nowadays, you’ll still pay a markup on a pre-built rig, but it’s not always a huge one.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through a meticulous process for sizing up pre-built gaming PCs. There’s a lot to consider, some of which isn’t immediately obvious; we’ll do our best to cover all the essentials so that you can buy with confidence.
At the end, we’ve got short reviews of our seven favorite pre-built rigs currently on the market, ranging from $700 to a whopping $3,500.
How to Classify and Evaluate Gaming PCs
It can be tricky to tell if the price tag on any given gaming PC accurately reflects what’s inside, and it’s even trickier to gauge its real-world performance based solely on a list of parts.
Still, having some basic knowledge about the various tiers of PC hardware is helpful in making an informed buying decision.
Gaming PCs and their constituent parts fall into one of four (very) broad categories: budget ($800 or less), mid-range ($800 to $1,200), high-end ($1,200 to $1,600), and premium ($1,600 or more).
Of course, everyone’s budget is different, as are their opinions about the cutoffs between these various tiers, but these numbers serve as good starting points.
The simplest and quickest way to gauge whether a pre-built rig is fairly priced is to add up the current market value of all its parts and then add another 10–20%. What about its performance, though?
Let’s briefly deconstruct a modern mid-tier gaming PC to give you a reference point.
A pre-built rig priced around $1,200 should contain parts roughly comparable to these.
|NVIDIA GPU||GTX 1070, GTX 2060|
|AMD GPU||Radeon Vega 64, Vega 7|
|Intel CPU||i5-9600, i7-7700|
|AMD CPU||Ryzen 5 3600, Ryzen 7 2700|
|Motherboard||MSI AM4/B450, ASUS ROG B450-F|
|RAM||8GB, 16GB, or 24GB DDR4 RAM|
|Hard drive||Any solid-state drive|
It’s important to note that a mid-range pre-built PC may not contain all mid-range parts. It may contain a high-end GPU that accounts for 60% of the overall price, with a more budget-friendly CPU or hard drive to compensate.
Be sure to research each individual part carefully with respect to your budget and gaming priorities—more on that below.
Pre-Built Gaming PC Buying Guide
Alright, let’s dive into the details of inspecting a pre-built gaming rig. One of the biggest challenges in shopping for pre-built rigs is judging its price tag relative to its hardware.
To an extent, it’s perfectly reasonable for a pre-built PC to cost more than one you build yourself—someone else put in the work for you and they should be compensated for their time.
But some pre-built models are marked up way beyond what most people would be willing to pay if they priced out each individual component.
Identify and Compare Each Component
PC parts are almost always confusingly named. What’s the difference between a GTX 1080 and a GTX 1080 Ti? What do all the jumbled letters and numbers mean? Fortunately, the logic behind the naming of most PC components is fairly easy to understand once you break it down and take it one piece at a time.
GPU naming schemes are most easily explained with a pair of lists, one each for NVIDIA and AMD GPUs.
NVIDIA GPU Nomenclature
- GTX: Standard-tier cards
- RTX: Premium cards with enhanced lighting, shadow, and reflection capabilities. NVIDIA cards with RTX prefixes are capable of ray tracing and deep learning super sampling (DLSS), both of which go a long way toward making your games prettier.Simply put, ray tracing is an advanced rendering technique that can produce gorgeous lighting effects, and DLSS is a set of machine learning algorithms that can dynamically render images to appear as though they’re a higher resolution than they actually are, with minimal increased load on your GPU.
- Four-digit number, e.g. 1080: Generation (first two numbers), followed by the model number (last two numbers). In both cases, higher numbers indicate that the unit is newer and better. NVIDIA card model numbers almost always end in 60, 70, or 80, in order of increasing quality.
- “Ti” designation: Indicates that the card is better than the equivalent non-Ti model, but inferior to the next highest non-Ti model. A 2070 Ti is better than a regular 2070, but not as good as a 2080.
- “Super” and “OC” designations: Similar to “Ti” branding. Indicates that the GPU is in some way better than an otherwise identical non-Super or non-OC model.
- VRAM (dedicated video RAM): Expressed as a gigabyte value followed by a GDDR classification, such as “8GB GDDR5.” (Note that the “G” doesn’t always appear in product descriptions.) This describes the type and amount of VRAM in the GPU. For the most part, you only need to care about the two numbers. More VRAM is better than less, and later generations of GDDR RAM (that is, those with higher numbers) are superior to previous generations.
With all that in mind, let’s quickly evaluate a particular GPU: the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti 11GB GDDR5X.
The “GTX” tells us that it’s a standard model; the “1080 Ti” tells us that it’s the best model of the previous generation (currently, the 2000 series is the newest); and it’s got a lot of high-end VRAM (8GB or more is considered “a lot,” and GDDR5 is the fourth-newest generation of VRAM, which is still quite powerful).
AMD GPU Nomenclature
AMD’s naming scheme isn’t as consistent as NVIDIA’s, so it’s a little more confusing. Stick with us here.
- RX XXXX, e.g. RX 5700: AMD’s newest line of GPUs are named “RX,” followed by a four-digit number. Here, the convention follows NVIDIA’s; the first two numbers indicate the generation and the last two are the model number. Higher numbers indicate newer and more powerful units in both cases.
- “XT” designation: AMD’s equivalent of “Ti.” This indicates that the card is better than an otherwise identical non-XT model.
- “Vega” line: AMD’s second-oldest line of GPUs have the prefix “Vega.” There are three models: the Vega 7, the Vega 64, and the Vega 56, from high-end to low-end.
- RX XXX, e.g. RX 590: AMD GPUs with a three-digit suffix after the “RX” are the third-oldest generation. Otherwise, the naming rules are the same, so an RX 590 is better than an RX 580, both of which are better than an RX 480.
AMD and Intel are the two major manufacturers of CPUs for gaming PCs, but like AMD and NVIDIA GPUs, they each follow different naming conventions.
Intel CPU Nomenclature
- “Core i” series designation: Intel CPUs are currently available in i3, i5, i7, and i9 variants, from least to most powerful.
- Generation numbers: This is the first digit of a four-digit number that follows the series designation—in this case, the “6” in “i7-6700.” A higher number indicates a more powerful processor.
- SKU code: This is a three-digit number that immediately follows the generation number—in this case, the “700” in “i7-6700.” Higher numbers indicate a more powerful processor.
- Product line suffix: A one- or two-digit letter code that follows the SKU code. There are quite a few:
- T, U, or Y: Low-power processors with low clock speeds. Not good for gaming.
- M/MQ: Mobile processors designed for inexpensive laptops. Not designed for gaming.
- K: Unlocked, meaning it can be overclocked.
- G: High-performance processors designed for gaming. These are only compatible with AMD GPUs.
- H/HK/HQ: High-performance processors designed for gaming. These are only compatible with NVIDIA GPUs.
- X: Intel’s most expensive line of processors, compatible with both AMD and NVIDIA GPUs. Designed for 4K gaming, 4K video editing, and other resource-intensive tasks.
AMD CPU Nomenclature
AMD CPUs are named similarly to Intel models, with only a few key differences.
- “Phenom” or “Ryzen” designations: These are the two newest brands, with Ryzen being the newer and more powerful family of processors.
- Segment designation: The numbers 3, 5, 7, or 9, which are suitable for budget-friendly, medium-tier, high-end, and ultra-premium gaming PCs, respectively. There is also the “Threadripper” tier, which is even more powerful than 9-series versions.
- Generation number: This is the first digit of the four-digit number following the segment. Higher numbers indicate newer and better generations.
- Performance tier: This is the second digit of the four-digit number following the segment. A 4, 5, or 6 indicates suitability for gaming PCs, whereas a 7 or 8 is ideal for enthusiasts with lots of extra money to spend.
- Model number: This is the last two digits of the four-digit number following the segment. Higher numbers indicate marginally better performance, all other factors being equal.
- Suffix: This is a single letter (or no letter at all) at the end of the product name.
- X: High-performance, ideal for gamers
- G: High-performance, inferior to “X” models but still great for gaming PCs.
- T, S, H, U, M, or no suffix: These are less powerful desktop or laptop processors not suitable for gaming.
We won’t go into as much detail about evaluating motherboards, RAM, power supplies, and hard drives, because for the most part, those decisions will be governed by your choice of GPU and CPU.
In a pre-built PC, you don’t need to worry about compatibility, but you should still research each part through the lens of its upgrade potential (see the “Evaluate Upgradability” section below).
Of these other parts, RAM is generally the one you’ll want to pay the most attention to. Broadly speaking, 8GB of DDR4, DDR5, or DDR6 RAM is sufficient to run most modern games on medium or high settings.
16GB is enough to handle most anything on high settings, and 32GB is getting into “future-proof” territory.
Compare Virtual Benchmarks
Of course, you can’t run an actual benchmark on hardware you don’t have in front of you, but you can take advantage of data submitted by others who have tested the parts you’re considering.
Check out UserBenchmark for amazingly helpful tools for running virtual benchmarks on any combination of parts you can imagine.
If you’re buying a pre-built gaming PC, you’re already spending more than you would to spend it yourself, so it’s extra important to know how long you can expect the rig to last.
Most PC gamers only completely replace their systems every 5 years or so; in the meantime, they replace individual parts as needed.
Not every part is compatible with every other part, though. Compatibility is extra important if you’re buying or upgrading a PC as new generations of GPUs or CPUs are rolling out.
Here are a few important tips to keep in mind when evaluating the upgrade potential of a pre-built gaming rig:
- All motherboards have a socket type and a chipset.
These must match your CPU, and the number of PCI lanes must match your GPU. All CPU and GPU product pages will list these specifications.
If you want to be able to upgrade your prebuilt rig in the future, ensure that its motherboard isn’t more than one or two generations old.
- If possible, buy a bigger case than you need. Not only is this one of the best ways to increase airflow and thus keep your temps low, it ensures that you’ll have room for bigger, more powerful parts in the future.
- Buy a case that supports all three major motherboard sizes (ATX, Micro-ATX, and Mini-ATX). If you must choose one size, go with ATX; it has the greatest compatibility with other parts and is likely to retain that status well into the future.
- Spring for the best CPU that you can afford.
CPUs are most commonly responsible for bottlenecks (a reduction in overall system performance due to the inability of one component to keep up with the rest). Investing in a high-end CPU now will make it more likely that you’ll be able to take full advantage of a more powerful GPU later.
- If you plan to upgrade your prebuilt rig with a more powerful GPU or CPU later on, ensure that the power supply you get now will be able to handle the increased demand for power. To be extra safe, buy a power supply with 50% more wattage than you need today.
- Sites like PCPartPicker are great for checking compatibility between parts.
Read the Fine Print
Once you’ve selected your parts, carefully read the terms and conditions of the site you’re on before you hit that “Buy” button.
Every site is different, particularly when it comes to the warranties they offer. For instance, you’ll want to know if the warranty covers all parts equally or if different parts are covered for different lengths of time or under different circumstances. There’s a lot of nuance here, so we can’t tell you everything to watch out for.
It’s best to just read all of the terms carefully and make sure you’re okay with everything in there.
Best Gaming PCs of 2020: Our Top 7 Picks
Without further ado, let’s jump right into our seven favorite pre-built gaming PCs of 2020.
Best Entry-Level Gaming PC: HP Pavilion AMD Ryzen 5 2400G/Radeon RX 580/8GB DDR4
- Good ratio of price to performance
- Includes DVD-RW drive and 3-in-1 SD card slot
- No included SSD
- May struggle to run some modern games
If you don’t have more than $700 to spend, this HP rig deserves your attention.
Unlike many minimalistic gaming rigs that don’t include anything not essential to gaming, this one has a CD/DVD-RW drive and an SD card slot, so it’ll function well as a general-use PC when you aren’t gaming.
Of course, if you’re buying a budget-friendly gaming PC, you need to be aware of the possibility that it may not be able to run some of your favorite games at high settings, and that the RX 580 isn’t especially future-proof as of 2020.
If you mostly play older games, or if you’re fine with running modern games on low settings, then this could be the rig for you.
One further caveat: Its included 1TB hard drive is an older HDD. If you want to run your operating system or games from a solid-state drive, you’ll need to buy and install one yourself.
Overall, though, this HP Pavilion is a solid and perfectly serviceable entry-level rig for gamers on a tight budget.
- Great value for its components
- SSD included
- Includes DVD-RW drive and 3-in-1 SD card slot
– Lacks storage space
This is almost exactly the same PC as our previous pick, with two key differences: It comes with an SSD, and it’s got an Intel/NVIDIA CPU/GPU combo as opposed to the AMD/AMD pairing in the other version.
The i5-9400F CPU is significantly more powerful than the Ryzen 5 2400G in the other model; you’ll notice big in-game improvements, and should you decide to upgrade the GPU in the future, bottlenecks will be less of a problem.
Solid-state drives are far superior to HDDs for gaming purposes, but this one is almost prohibitively small. The operating system takes up nearly 100GB, leaving just 150GB for games.
By today’s standards, that could be as few as two. Compared to the other HP Pavilion, you’re giving up a huge amount of storage space for big performance gains—we leave it to you to decide which is more important.
As for the CPU/GPU differences, this rig is, overall, moderately more powerful than the previous one. You may not reach max settings in some games, but high settings should be no problem in most cases.
Best Mid-Range Gaming PC: CYBERPOWER Gamer Xtreme Intel Core i5-9400F/RTX 2060 Super/8GB DDR4
- Exceptional performance relative to its price tag
- Comes with 1TB HDD and 240GB SSD
- Lots of USB ports
– Included mouse and keyboard are so-so
If our two budget-friendly picks aren’t quite powerful enough for you, consider the CYBERPOWER Gamer Xtreme, which costs 50% more but offers significantly better performance.
Its i5-9400 and RTX 2060 Super are more than capable of running most games on medium or high settings, and it can even handle VR to some extent.
As a nice extra bonus, this rig comes with two hard drives: a 240GB SSD for your system files and a handful of your most-played games, and a 1TB HDD for general storage or for games in which speedy loading times aren’t as crucial.
The PC also has a total of eight USB ports, six of which are high-speed, so you’ll (probably) never run out of places to plug things in.
Our only real gripe here concerns the quality of the included mouse and keyboard, both of which feel a bit flimsy and don’t have some of the features you’re likely to want if you’re shopping for gaming hardware in this price range, such as easily programmable macros.
Still, it’s always nice to have backups.
Best High-End Gaming PCs: iBUYPOWER Pro Intel i9-9900K/RTX 2070 Super/16GB DDR4 and iBUYPOWER Elite Intel i9-9900K/RTX 2080 Super/16GB DDR4
- Excellent overall performance
- Liquid cooling ensures overheating will never be a problem
- Included mouse and keyboard are of reasonably good quality
– Liquid cooling is risky, even when done properly
For $1,699 (or $1,929 in the case of the beefier 2080 version), you can get a gaming PC that’s almost as future-proof as they come.
We included both of these models in the same section because they’re virtually identical aside from their GPUs.
Both are NVIDIA “super” models, and both are top-of-the-line video cards. The 2070 version will serve most enthusiasts perfectly well, whereas the 2080 will offer slightly improved performance and may be the better choice if you want your next gaming PC to remain viable as long as possible.
Both versions of this rig are VR-ready and come with 1TB solid-state hard drives and a mid-tier mouse and keyboard.
Both have pre-installed liquid cooling systems, ensuring that you’ll never have to worry about (or even monitor) your temps.
Liquid cooling isn’t for everyone, though; even when it’s properly installed, there’s always a very small chance that it could malfunction and drown your expensive components.
Although this rarely happens, the severity of the consequences if it does happen may outweigh the benefits of liquid cooling for some gamers.
Overall, both of these rigs deserve serious consideration. Either would serve you well for many years into the future.
Best Ultra-High-End Gaming PC: Skytech Omega Intel i7 9700K/RTX 2080 Ti/16GB DDR4
- Ridiculously powerful
- Sleek and sexy design
- Plenty of room for upgrade and expansion
– Not cheap
– Liquid cooling is risky, even when done properly
Sample benchmark video for i7-9700K/RTX 2080 Ti (note that this is a 1440p benchmark—1080p results should be significantly better)
If money is no object, why not spring for the best gaming PC out there? As far as premium rigs go, few single-GPU models are better than the Skytech Omega, and those that are cost significantly more.
Its i7-9700 CPU and 2080 Ti GPU should be able to run virtually any game at maximum settings for at least five years.
The extra-large case leaves plenty of room for future upgrades and helps to maintain adequate airflow, although the latter is less important in light of the rig’s pre-installed liquid cooling system.
Overall, the Skytech Omega is an excellent, if expensive high-end prebuilt.
Best Premium Small Form Factor Gaming PC: Corsair One i164 Intel i9-9900K/RTX 2080 Ti/32GB DDR4
- Ultra-premium hardware is 4K- and VR-ready
- Tons of RAM
- Ideal for small spaces
- Little to no upgrade potential
- Ludicrously expensive
- No SSD
At just 19.5 x 13.5 x 11.5 inches, the wonderfully powerful Corsair One i164 is ideal for high-end enthusiasts who have big budgets but little available space.
Short of the Titan-series models—which cost nearly as much as this entire computer—the 2080 Ti is the best consumer-grade GPU that money can currently buy.
Coupled with the top-tier Intel CPU and the 32GB of RAM, you won’t need to upgrade for a very long time.
That’s just as well, because, as is the case with most small form factor PCs, there’s virtually no room inside to add anything. GPUs tend to get bigger over time, so replacing one will also be tricky.
It’s probably best to ensure that, by the time you’re ready for your next round of upgrades, you’ll have the cash for an entirely new PC.
Given this rig’s price tag, it’s downright bizarre that it only comes with a single HDD. These days, even 1TB solid-state drives don’t cost that much more than equivalent optical drives; surely, Corsair could have included a gaming-ready hard drive with this beast of a gaming PC.
This is our only major complaint, though—the Corsair One i164 is otherwise fantastic.
2020 is the best year ever to buy a pre-built gaming PC. There are thousands to choose from, no matter your budget or preferences, and even a mid-tier rig can easily last five years if well-cared for.
We hope this guide has given you some valuable tools and clarified the buying process for you.
Did we forget something important about pre-built gaming PCs, or have you recently bought one that you’d like to tell others about?
Leave us a comment, and feel free to ask questions too. We’ll help if we can!