Build a budget Ryzen gaming PC for $550 or less

With Ryzen 3, you can build a console-beating, quad-core gaming PC for under $550—or even $500.

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Cheap Ryzen gaming PC performance

Well, most of it.

After using an SSD for years, returning to a 7,200rpm hard drive is painful. Installing Windows 10 took hours and hours. Installing our suite of games to benchmark took overnight. Heck, even just allocating disk space for those games took Steam around 10 minutes a pop. Boot times and overall system responsiveness are noticeably slower than what you’d get with an SSD. I’m not used to living the spinning-platter storage life anymore.

It’s worthwhile at this price point though. The games ran just fine once they were installed, and you could only get a 120GB SSD or so for the same price as the $550 Ryzen 3 rig’s 1TB hard drive. The four games we installed and tested on the system were roughly 20GB, 38GB, 60GB, and 70GB, or about 188GB in total. That’s already far more than you could fit on a comparably priced SSD, because games are too damned big these days.

ryzen 3 1200 gaming pc 71 Brad Chacos/IDG

But upgrading the storage should be your first priority for future upgrades. If you wind up with a bit of cash in your pocket at some point, pick up a tiny SSD for Windows and your most-used programs to supercharge the day-to-day feel of this rig.

We’re here for the games, though. I tested four of them on the $550 Ryzen 3 PC: Hitman, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Grand Theft Auto V, and Ghost Recon: Wildlands. None overly stresses the CPU (as this isn’t a review of the Ryzen 3 1200) but they were all picked for specific reasons.

Rise of the Tomb Raider received a Ryzen-specific performance update shortly after AMD’s chips launched. We tested it in DirectX 11.

One quirk we noticed? While running the benchmark, the initial platforms and trees in the Geothermal Valley portion loaded very slowly, only popping into place as you neared their location. We didn’t notice the issue during standard gameplay, though. The GTX 1050’s limited 2GB RAM caused some stuttering at the High graphics preset, which could be eliminated by dropping the game’s Texture Quality setting to Medium.

rotr 2 Brad Chacos/IDG

Trees and platforms popping in in Rise of the Tomb Raider.

Hitman won’t let you enable some features if your graphics card is memory limited, and the 2GB GTX 1050 definitely is. When reviewers tested it on Ryzen 7 alongside Intel’s high-end Core i7-7700K chip at 1080p resolution with powerful graphics cards, the Intel chip took the clear lead, so we wanted to see how it held up in a more balanced build. We tested with a high level of detail, FXAA enabled, SSAO disabled. Since our card has just 2GB of RAM, Hitman restricted texture quality to low, with shadow maps and shadow resolution maxing out at medium.

Grand Theft Auto V is another game that benchmarked better on Core i7 systems than Ryzen 7 systems, so we included it for a real-world reality check. It’s still incredibly popular, too.

Here are the graphics settings we used, which the game set by default after auto-detecting the system’s hardware configuration.

gtav 1 Brad Chacos/IDG
gtav 2 Brad Chacos/IDG
gtav 5 Brad Chacos/IDG

Ghost Recon: Wildlands isn’t very popular, but it’s so damned gorgeous that it brings all but the most powerful graphics cards to their knees. What better game to test a budget gaming rig with? In fact, the only way this game will even run is if you set the texture quality to low. (Protip: Disable the ambient occlusion graphics setting while you’re at it, as doing so barely impacts the visuals but added about five frames per second of performance in our testing.)

Here’s how the $550 Ryzen PC held up. All tests were done at 1080p resolution at High graphics presets, along with any necessary options tweaks mentioned in the prior notes. Ghost Recon only hung around 30fps at High, so the results below use the Medium graphics setting instead.

ryzen 3 gaming pc benchmarks Brad Chacos/IDG

That’s pretty good, with every game except Ghost Recon: Wildlands hitting a damned playable 50fps or more. And you can get Ghost Recon closer by enabling the Medium graphics preset, turning down texture quality, and disabling ambient occlusion. After those tweaks the game averaged a healthy 49.5 frames per second. For comparison, both the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 struggle to maintain 30fps in the game.

And even on this modest hardware the games still looked pretty damned good.

rotr 3 Brad Chacos/IDG

Next page: Overclocking and final thoughts

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