Black Friday 2020 deals: Build a FreeSync-ready gaming PC for $250
This year's cheap gaming build sets you back just a little over $250—including the Windows license. But it looks a little different than expected...
By Alaina Yee
PCWorldNov 27, 2020 11:30 pm PST
Image: Gordon Mah Ung
Black Friday deals may be mostly fluff, but don’t count them out for PC builds. November’s unique mix of loss leaders, sale variety, and combo discounts mean you can net some serious savings.
In fact, as an annual tradition, I’ve challenged myself to see just how cheap you can build a gaming PC using Black Friday deals. As you’ll see in the results for 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019, the systems got better steadily while also dropping in price nearly every year.
For 2020, though, you’ll see a regression in the quality of parts with some upward creep in price. The sales just aren’t as good this Black Friday for a number of reasons: available supply, recent launches of CPUs and GPUs, demand, economic strain.
Still, you can cobble together a modest gaming system for $256 (including a Windows 10 license) and an upgraded version for $329. Given what we’ve got to work with, it’s pretty decent.
Because Black Friday deals began trickling out early, the first version of this article listed relevant component deals (as best as I could). That way, if something was particularly cheap, you could buy it while it was still available. Now that everything is known, I’ve assembled the build lists. Most parts are still available; if not, I’ve added alternatives in the footnotes when possible.
If you would like monitor suggestions to go with one of these systems, skip to this article’s final notes.
Does this build seem familiar? It should if you read my feature on how to build a $300 gaming PC earlier this year! That project revolved around the humble 3000G, too.
This Black Friday version is more pared to the bone, purely to illustrate the baseline for how cheap it can get without overly sacrificing on quality or the ability to upgrade the system. The motherboard in particular is a win, as it supports four sticks of RAM, overclocking, and even AMD’s new Ryzen 5000 series chips. You can start with this modest setup and then later supercharge it down the road.
In terms of performance, this machine as configured works best for indie games and lightweight titles like League of Legends, DOTA 2, and Fortnite. It lacks a discrete graphics card and thus relies solely on 3000G’s integrated Vega cores to pump out frames, and the 128GB SSD will struggle to accommodate the huge installs for blockbuster games.
If you upgrade the storage, expect to play games on lower graphical settings at 720p. However, you can cheat that restriction by signing up for GeForce Now, which will offload the strain of playing today’s AAA titles onto Nvidia’s cloud-based hardware. It’s a smarter route than upgrading to a discrete video card right now, due to a ruinous landscape where your best budget options (four-year old Polaris GPUs!) cost 20-30% more than a year ago.
Speaking of recommended upgrades: I advise going with a 500GB SSD (+$27) as your boot drive. It’s cheaper than adding in a separate 1TB hard-disk drive (+$40), and you’ll get the advantage of playing games off a faster drive. Going up to 16GB RAM (+$15) will also give you more cushion, as modern browsers can balloon into memory hogs.
On a tight budget? This year’s cheap gaming build uses an excellent deal on a Windows 10 key (available through PCWorld’s very own software store), but if you’re able to get by on Linux—or you qualify for a free Win 10 Education key through a school—you can hang onto that cash.
Even with the cost of Windows 10 included and any upgrades, the price of this machine is still low: $256 as shown above, and $298 if you move up to a 500GB SSD and 16GB RAM. Regardless of which way you go, you’re well-positioned for upgrades down the road. It’ll be trivial to drop in a faster Ryzen processor, additional storage, more RAM, and/or a discrete GPU at a later date.
The Athlon 3000G performs well for its class, but a dual-core processor will show its age much faster than a four-core chip. And while the Ryzen 3 3200G is not on sale, it is at least available at MSRP—or about the best you can do right now for budget processors. Demand has been very high during the pandemic, causing a rise in prices.
Making this jump will net better performance for gaming as well, since the 3200G packs in more Vega cores. You can play at higher graphical settings or with higher framerates, though for punishing titles, you’ll still do better by leaning on GeForce Now. I recommend that over popping in a discrete graphics card, because the options are abysmal right now and likely won’t get better until spring or even summer of next year.
For this build, the lone upgrade I would do is an increase to 16GB RAM (+$15). Depending on how often I use the machine, I might also throw in a 1TB hard-disk drive (+$40), just to give myself some space for video files, games I’ve downloaded but don’t play regularly, etc.
I’ve included this build purely to show just how tough this year is for buying computer parts, much less getting them at a deep discount. Despite being a year older, the Ryzen 2600 cost $20 more this Black Friday than in 2019. The GTX 1650 also required shelling out $10 to $15 more than a few months ago. Incredibly, the discounts on these key components in the build still expired quickly.
No good alternatives exist: You could step down to a 3200G or 3400G, but the former is relatively puny while the latter (also weaker) increases the price by another $10 to $20. The only viable choice is the 3600, which adds another $50 to the build’s cost. On the GPU side, you’d have to spend an extra $25 for a 4GB RX 570—a frankly terrible option. You could get a similar RX 570 for $100 in early 2020; dropping $150 for such old tech is ludicrous.
Overall, as this build stands, you’re already paying almost $90 more than last year’s 1080p build—with less RAM and storage included. The actual cost difference between 2019 and 2020 is a sizable $144, which would have covered a tangible graphics card upgrade last year.
As for a 1440p build, imagine this PC but with a $350 Radeon 5700XT swapped in. Seem too strange for a cheapo system? Well, that was the only discounted 1440p card actually worth your money. Trying for a cheap 1440p rig this year just doesn’t feel worth it, between the lack of GPU options in the budget range and the CPU downgrade from the Ryzen 7 2700X in last year’s system.
Build #4: The posh Intel-based 1440p PC (Micro Center only)
Since I’ve already shared one build to make a point, I’m tossing in another for good measure. This 9700K-based system is the first Intel one I’ve featured due to the unprecedented discount on that CPU (how the tides have turned)—but it’s still not a cheap build.
Rather, this PC is a great example of how shopping for component deals during Black Friday can yield good savings, even if you’re not rolling little scrappers (e.g., Build #1 and #2). I compared the prices listed here against the best in the last six months, and you come out ahead about $80 to $90 depending on your preferences for cases and power supplies.
Those who argue against waiting to shop during Black Friday repeatedly say that you’ll find better deals during the rest of the year—which is true for one-offs. That strategy works best when you’re upgrading select parts in a complete system you already own, or you’ve got your heart set on a specific build list and want to score big on the most expensive component. But if you’re flexible and putting together a whole system from scratch, you can do pretty well by waiting until this big sales period. Otherwise, you have to spread out your buying period over months to really get all the best prices.
That said, this build comes with one fat caveat: You are most certainly buying older tech. Intel’s motherboard compatibility remains a narrow dead end, and the RX 5700XT will almost certainly get superseded by newer graphics cards in its class.
But we are in a period where getting computer components can be hard as heck, with new GPUs the most difficult. This system reflects the best you can get at this moment.
Build #1, #2, and #4 are compatible with FreeSync, so you can take advantage of that support for variable refresh rates with one of the gaming monitors on sale this weekend. An affordable option is the Samsung T350, a 24-inch 75Hz IPS FreeSync display available at Best Buy for $90.
Some component deals involve mail-in rebates. Be sure to file those and track them until they arrive, otherwise you’ll pay $30 or more for these PCs.
These builds don’t factor in sales tax or shipping. Depending on where you live, you may have to pay up to an additional 10 percent for parts.
To get Amazon’s faster two-day shipping for free, you can sign up for a 30-day Prime membership if you haven’t already done so in the past.