For the first time in a long time, you’re able to build a compelling 4-core, 8-thread gaming PC that’s overclockable without spending a small fortune, thanks to AMD’s Ryzen 5 CPUs.
In recent memory, the only way to tick all the performances boxes was to spring for Intel’s highest-end Core i7 processors, and they aren’t cheap. (Don’t come at me, AMD FX users. Those aged chips are great for budget builds but that’s it.) Intel’s current quad-core flagship, the Core i7-7700K, costs a cool $346. Add in the cost of a premium motherboard with the Z270 chipset—which is required for overclocking Intel chips—and you’re looking at damn near $500 for your CPU and motherboard alone.
Enter the $190 Ryzen 5 1500X.
AMD’s quad-core champion costs $156 less than the 7700K. Toss in the fact that all Ryzen chips can be overclocked, even on mainstream AM4 motherboards, and that AMD includes a Wraith cooler with the 1500X (unlike Intel’s fanless K-chips) and suddenly 8-thread gaming is a lot more affordable than it used to be.
To prove it we’re going to build a solid all-AMD gaming PC that costs $850 and delivers a top-notch 1080p gaming experience. And you can go even cheaper if you want! We’ll discuss tweaks you can make to drive the overall cost of the build down by another $150.
This is going to be fun.
What’s inside the Ryzen 5 1500X PC
This Ryzen 5 1500X build doesn’t include any of the indulgences found in our Ryzen 7 1800X PC build—a liquid-cooled, fire-breathing apex of AMD power. Nor will it include the balanced-out niceties of PCWorld’s versatile Ryzen 5 1600X PC build. This PC is laser-focused on delivering great 1080p gaming performance at an affordable price. Bonus: It’s even VR-ready.
Here’s what’s inside:
Processor: Surprise! We’re using the 4-core, 8-thread Ryzen 5 1500X. This 65-watt TDP chip has a 3.5GHz base clock and 3.7GHz boost clock, a fairly tight frequency spread. The “X” designation indicates the chip can exceed that 3.7GHz boost clock using AMD’s eXtended Frequency Range (XFR) technology if you pair it with a beefy cooling solution. But whereas that tech only boosts the $250 Ryzen 5 1600X, $400 Ryzen 7 1700X, and $500 Ryzen 7 1800X by an extra 100MHz, XFR can crank the Ryzen 5 1500X’s max speeds by up to 200MHz. Handy!
[ Further reading: Ryzen 7 1800X and Ryzen 7 1700 review: AMD is back ]
CPU cooler: Don’t expect to reach those lofty XFR heights with the RGB-less Wraith Spire stock cooler that AMD ships with the Ryzen 5 1500X, though. It’s attractive and silent, but not exceptionally chilly.
We’re rolling with the Wraith Spire to keep costs down on this build because hey, free is free. If you want to delve into the dark art of overclocking, consider snagging a third-party cooler like the Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo ($30 on Amazon) or the Noctua NH-D15 ($90 on Amazon). Both are highly recommended CPU coolers that support Ryzen motherboards if you ask the manufacturer to send you AM4-compatible mounting hardware.
Motherboard: We’re going to avoid pricey X370 motherboards for this build and instead base it on a more affordable board with the B350 chipset—specifically, a Gigabyte AB350 Gaming 3 ($110 on Newegg) that AMD sent us for testing.
B350 motherboards don’t have as many USB 3 ports, PCIe lanes, or SATA connections as X370 boards, nor do they offer official support for multi-graphics card setups, as detailed in PCWorld’s Ryzen motherboard explainer. But they still support overclocking and are more than capable for a straightforward single-GPU gaming rig like this one—for $75 to $100 less than most X370 motherboards.
Gigabyte’s AB350 Gaming 3 packs some particularly nice touches despite its affordable price. It includes an M.2 SSD slot, tasteful RGB lighting, the same BIOS-based RGB Fusion and Smart Fan 5 technologies found in the company’s swanky X370 boards, and solid audio hardware you don’t often find in this price range. And while AM4 motherboards have proven a bit rough around the edges in these early days for the platform, Gigabyte’s boards have been solid as a rock in our experience, both in stability and memory support—a trend the Gaming 3 continues.
Plus, the black and red aesthetic fits right in with the theme of this build. Giggity.
Graphics: Black and red, you say? MSI’s 8GB Radeon RX 480 Gaming X nails that vibe. It’s one hell of a customized version of the best mainstream graphics card you can buy, running cool and quiet despite rocking a sizable overclock over the reference RX 480.
But, er, you can’t buy it anymore, as I discovered after building and testing this PC. The 8GB Asus Strix RX 480 OC Edition ($240 on Amazon) would be a fine stand-in, with a similar factory overclock to the Gaming X and a just-as-fancy triple-fan custom cooling solution.
Memory: Corsair’s memory performance has been notably consistent on AM4 motherboards, to the extent that AMD sent it in review kits for the high-end Ryzen 7 chips. PCWorld purchased an 8GB Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4 RAM kit ($70 on Amazon) for this build, split into two 4GB modules to best accommodate Ryzen’s preference for dual-channel memory. We had no problem hitting its rated 3,000MHz speed out of the box after entering the timing details in the BIOS, and the low-profile black design looks right at home in this build.
Side note: Ouch, memory prices suck these days, and it’s only going to get worse as the year goes on. Ryzen requires DDR4, so be sure to factor RAM into your budget if you’re upgrading from an older system.
Case: Corsair’s white-and-red Spec-Alpha ($80 on Amazon) doesn’t include some of the nicer touches found in more premium cases, but it’s got plenty of elbow room and the price sure is right. It’s not totally bereft of features, either, with a front-panel fan controller, space for up to four SSDs with tool-free installation, and tie-downs for cable routing behind the motherboard tray.
The angular, aggressive “gamer-y” design’s a love-it-or-hate-it thing, but I dig it. Not to sound like a broken record, but the Spec-Alpha’s look fits the overall theme of this build nicely, and it even includes a pair of front-panel fans that glow with red lights. I’m a sucker for lights.
Storage: This rig relies on a single 256GB Intel SSD 600p Series M.2 NVMe SSD ($100 on Newegg) for storage. It’s not the fastest NVMe SSD in the world, but it’s as fast or slightly faster than traditional SATA-based SSDs, and you can’t find a 256GB SSD from a reputable manufacturer for much less than this drive’s price at the time of writing. Going with an NVMe drive also means you don’t need to fiddle with SATA and power connectors like you do with traditional SSDs. You just slap it in your motherboard and rock and roll.
Given all that—and the fact that I already had the Intel SSD 600p on hand—we’re using it here. SSDs and gaming rigs go together like peanut butter and jelly.
Power supply: There’s no need to get fancy here, and modern mainstream gaming rigs don’t demand much power. We wanted to go with an 80 Plus Bronze-rated power supply from a reputable manufacturer, and the Corsair CX550M ($63 on Amazon) fits the bill without costing an arm and a leg.
Grand total: Add it all up and you’re looking at a grand total of $853 at the time of writing. That assumes you have a monitor, Windows license, keyboard, and mouse you can reuse from another PC, which is typical for build guides like this. If you don’t, the overall cost will obviously go up, though you can purchase basic keyboards and mice for next to nothing on Amazon, and Windows 10 product keys for under $30 on Kinguin, which is sort of like an eBay for software.
On the other hand, if you’re looking to upgrade your peripherals alongside the rest of your rig, PCWorld’s guides to the best gaming mice and best gaming keyboard can help.