Moving on up from the $1000 gaming PC build where we recommend the excellent value i5-8400 and GTX 1070 processor and graphics card pairing (for non-overclockers at least), the following recommended custom setup shows how we would add to that build with a slightly higher budget of around $1200-$1250.
The next logical step up in CPU as a gamer to crank out the most frames per dollar would be the 8400's bigger brother, the i5-9600K, which we've paired with an affordable yet effective aftermarket cooler to keep this setup cool and quiet for years to come, and we've upgraded the motherboard from the previous $1000 rig to a slightly higher-quality, overclocking-friendly model.
In terms of graphics, we simply improve from a GTX 1070 to a GTX 1070 Ti which is the best bang for your buck buy in the current $350 to $450 GPU market. To top off the $1200 custom rig we have the usual high-quality, value for money selections of supporting components as we always include for our recommended desktop builds, with the highlight being an excellent value, classic NZXT case and a nicely-sized SSD for super-fast loading of your operating system and other programs.
Let's break down the current recommended $1200 gaming PC build in more detail, including exactly why each part was chosen, full specs and features, performance estimates including specific FPS for popular titles, and everything else you need to know stretching a 1200 dollar setup primarily with gaming performance in mind.
Note that this parts-list is strategically designed for maximum gaming performance first and foremost, as well as overall build balance, component reliability, airflow/cooling, lastability, and aesthetics as well.
If you have other more specific needs such as building a workstation PC for things like high-end video editing, streaming, 3D rendering/animation, etc, make sure to do further research on your requirements. We have guides on all these topics (see the menu up top) which can aid you in this process.
Heck, even if you're just building for gaming purposes, still do your own research to ensure this sort of build is what you want and need.
Don't ever just blindly take someone's opinion on a build on the internet without doing your own investigating; that obviously applies to any of our builds as this is simply our objective opinion based on our own experience and analysis of the current market.
Anyway, spiel aside, you can rest assured that we do thorough due diligence on all of our recommended monthly builds though, to bring to you the very best bang for your buck, balanced PC builds that we possibly can to better help you navigate the current market. Alright, let's get into the current best high-end gaming computer build where the aim is to maximize a budget of around 1200/1250 dollars.
Best Gaming PC Build for $1200 (December 2018)
|Graphics Card||Zotac GeForce GTX 1070 Ti 8GB AMP Edition|
|CPU||Intel Core i5-9600K (3.7GHz, 9th Gen, 6 Cores, 6 Threads, Unlocked)|
|CPU Cooler||Cryorig H7
Cooler Master 212 Evo
|Motherboard||ASUS Prime Z390-A (Intel 9th Gen, ATX, 4 DDR4 Slots)|
|RAM||Corsair Vengeance LPX 16GB (2x8GB, DDR4, 3000MHz)|
|SSD (system drive)||Kingston A400 240GB|
|HDD (secondary drive)||Western Digital 1TB (7200 RPM, 64MB Cache)|
|Power Supply||EVGA 650 SuperNOVA G3 (80+ Gold, 650 Watts, Fully Modular)|
|Case||NZXT H500 ATX Mid Tower
NZXT H500i Mid Tower
Estimated Total: *
$1180 - $1220 (US Dollars)
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Noteworthy Features Cheatsheet
|Estimated Wattage (Power Draw)||81W - 329W|
|RAM Slots||4 (2 slots free)|
|Max RAM Support||64GB|
|Built-in WiFi?||No (buy internal/external adaptor or upgrade to Z-390-E motherboard)|
|Hard Drives Supported||6 x SATA 6Gb/s Drives, 2 x m.2 SSD|
|Front Panel USB Ports||2 x USB 3.0 + 2 x USB 2.0 (+ tons more on rear of case)|
|Optical Drive Support?||Yes (3 x 5.25" drive bays)|
|Case Fans||Included: 1 x 120mm (Top), 1 x 120mm (Rear)|
Extra Fan Support: 2 x 120mm OR 2 x 140mm (Front)
|Case Dimensions||210mm x 460mm x 428mm with Feet Attached (W x H x D)|
|Max GPU/PCI-E Card Length||381mm|
|Max CPU Cooler Height||165mm|
|AMD CrossFire Support||Yes (up to 3-way)|
|NVidia SLI Support||Yes (up to 2-way)|
|Full Motherboard & Case Specs||ASUS Prime Z390-A | NZXT H500|
* Total estimated price range was only correct at time of writing and may change at any time as hardware prices fluctuate often.
VR and 4K:
Confused? Above is the average expected performance of this parts-list at different resolutions and refresh-rates when playing a typical, graphically-demanding modern PC game on high/ultra/maxed settings. If you're not sure what refresh-rate your gaming monitor is, chances are it's a standard 60Hz screen. Learn more here: what is the best refresh rate for PC gaming.
In terms of pure gaming performance, Intel still marginally holds the crown in the high-end tier even despite AMD's latest Ryzen Gen 2 offerings. Although don't get me wrong, as a Ryzen 5 (or Ryzen 7 although 5 is the better bang for buck for gaming in this tier) will provide almost the exact same gaming performance and is in fact likely the better choice if you're also building a PC for heavy workstation use (depends on the specific application though).
But we've given the nod for the very latest Intel i5, the 9600K, for this quarter's best high-end gaming PC build under $1200, as in most gaming situations it ends up slightly as the winner and these recommended builds are focused fire and foremost on squeezing out the highest frame-rate possible in most gaming situations.
The 9600K is the latest 9th gen processor only just having been released and it builds upon the previous, very similar 8600K (which we recommended in last month's high-end gaming computer build) and offers slightly improved performance. It's an unlocked, overclockable CPU, meaning you can tweak it to run quite a bit faster than its intended speeds, but if you're perhaps a first-time builder or you're just not interested in overclocking at all, you can save some dollars by opting for a locked, non-overclockable i5 such as the i5-8400 recommended in our current best $1000 gaming computer build, which would be a better overall bang for your buck CPU selection for non-overclockers. Plus, you could save a little more by going for a locked i5 such as the 8400 'cause you don't need to buy your own CPU cooler, as locked CPUs like the 8400 come with their own stock cooler.
A good i5 processor is a true gaming powerhouse and all you need for a flawless 1440p PC build
However, the 9600K does run faster at stock speeds than the 8400 (or the newer soon to be announced 9400; more on that in a bit), so even if you're absolutely sure you won't want to overclock your CPU later on to get a nice performance boost, the 9600K is still a good option and like mentioned will provide faster performance out of the box anyway.
But for the non-overclocking beginner, whether you spend the little extra on the slightly faster (a few extra FPS here and there) and more flexible 9600K rather than a 8400 will come down to personal preference. Oh, and if you're wondering about the next edition of the locked 8400 in the 9400 - we haven't heard anything about the 9400 yet and so we don't know when it'll be released. Perhaps at the start of next year would be my best guess.
As for the whole issue of getting an i5 vs i7 for a custom high-end gaming computer under/around 1200/1250 dollars or so, the truth is you absolutely do NOT need an i7 to maximize gaming performance despite what anyone tells you, even in high resolutions. You're best off putting your money towards your GPU instead of kinda wasting it on getting an i7 over an i5.
See this i5-8600K vs i7-8700K benchmark as just one of endless examples where an i7 has proven to give diminishing returns in the majority of gaming contexts. Note that comparison is from the previous 8th gen processors, but it'll make no difference for the latest 9th gen (ie 9600K and 9700K) as these new gaming CPUs are the same albeit a tad faster.
If you have more to spend than $1200, then sure by all means get an i7 if you want the best of the best (or Ryzen 7 if you wanna go AMD), but if you're looking to be as cost-effective and smart with your money as possible when building or upgrading your rig, which is what these recommended gaming PC builds are all about - an i5 is genuinely all the processing power you need to achieve flawless gaming in 1440p (assuming your GPU is good enough of course).
Heck, even for 4K an i5-9600K is still absolutely fine when paired with a high-end GPU, and yes even with a 1080 Ti or RTX 2080. You're not going to get bottlenecked by an i5 in the majority of instances, unless you're aiming for abnormally high frame rates in really CPU-intensive games for use with high refresh rate displays (ie 144Hz monitors like pro eSports players mostly use). In that case, an i7 may be needed to crack your high FPS aims (and especially so for extreme gamers using 240Hz screens), but for most gamers you're just not going to encounter many (if any) situations where an i5 would hold you back.
Only reason to get an i7/Ryzen 7 for a gaming build - besides having a larger $1500-$2000+ budget for your rig and you just want the absolute best CPU possible even if it's not the best overall value (that would be the i7-9700K) - is if you're putting together a more serious gaming/workstation hybrid setup such as a custom video editing computer that would actually benefit from the extra processing power and higher core/thread count.
When getting an unlocked "k" model Intel CPU such as the 9600K we've gone for, you NEED to get a CPU cooler as they don't come with one (for good reason as Intel's stock coolers are not too flash performance and looks-wise). The Cryorig H7 is a trusty choice to keep your 9600K real cool and quiet even during demanding gaming and other applications, and is even suitable for mild overclocking as well. You really don't need a better, more expensive aftermarket cooler unless you'll be doing more intense overclocking, as even a low-cost cooling solution like the H7 is going to work really well for the majority of gamers and semi-enthusiasts.
If you will be overclocking your 9600K quite a lot though, that's when investing in a better cooler makes practical sense, and you also have the option of water cooling (All-in-One CPU liquid coolers, not custom water cooling which is a whole different beast) although a high-quality air cooler is still all you need for overclocking.
Speaking of water cooling, you could of course still go for a closed-loop liquid cooler (different way of saying All-in-One/AiO liquid cooler) if you're not overclocking, or not overclocking too intensly, but keep in mind this option would be more to spruce up the look of your build and isn't necessary to keep an 9600K super cool and quiet under normal circumstances.
Cheap yet definitely not nasty, Cryorig air coolers are great value and make worthy sidekicks to mid/high-end gaming CPUs like the i5-9600K
Another excellent value for money, effective cooler for an i5/i7
The Cryorig coolers also look good and fit well with the other components in this parts-list (aesthetically speaking), but there are other great value picks out there such as the ever-popular Cooler Master 212 Evo which will do as good a job at cooling your 9600K and is essentially the same price.
Cryorigs are a safe bet though, and just as popular as the 212 Evo, so I would simply pick whichever cooler you like the look of most (again, unless you plan to really push your CPU to the max in which case you should probably invest in a more high-end cooler such as the Noctua DH-14 or Corsair H60/H100i just to name a few good ones).
The Cooler Master 212 Evo also comes in many different variations, including pretty awesome-looking LED ones, so keep that in mind too on your hunt if you want to spice up your setup even more. But yeah, overall a $30-50 cooler is all you need for an i5-9600K (or i7) if you're not overclocking (or even for light overclocking).
New RTX graphics cards have been released in the high-end market, with the RTX 2080 Ti holding down the extreme market, the RTX 2080 now the best option in the market below that (as the 1080 Ti is now semi impossible to find in stock let alone at a good price), and the RTX 2070 now being the better buy over a GTX 1080 (unless you find a 1080 for considerably less than MSRP).
But for best $1200 gaming PC build right now, you're looking at a card in the $350 to $450 range, and at this point in time (and for a while longer) the GTX 1070 Ti still reigns supreme in this bracket as the best value for money buy. There's no competing card that comes close, and if you find a 1070 Ti at a decent price under its $449 MSRP, it'll be slightly better value for money (read: frames per dollar) than the RTX 2070 which is the best value of the new RTX cards.
A GTX 1070 Ti is essentially the perfect GPU for flawless 1440p, and will get 60FPS on high/ultra settings in even the more demanding games. If you're gaming in 1440p resolution, which most of you will be for this type of build, you don't need a stronger video card such as the RTX 2070 (or GTX 1080) to get a flawless 60FPS in the majority of AAA games on high/ultra settings. Only reason you'd need those better cards is if you want to absolutely guarantee never dipping below 60FPS in 1440p on ultra settings in the most demanding titles.
A GTX 1070 Ti, when paired with a very capable gaming processor such as the included 8600K, will also provide very good 1080p 144Hz performance for those of you looking to crank out 144FPS using a 144Hz gaming monitor. You absolutely can get playable performance in 4K with a 1070 Ti as well, although if you want the very best performance for that resolution you're better off investing in an RTX 2070 or higher. It's also a VR-ready GPU, so if you're building a PC for virtual reality as well, you're good to go.
As for which specific model to get, simply grab the cheapest model that you can find at the time of buying your components (so long as it's still a good model). Yes, mini ITX models are just fine too. At the time of writing this update to the $1200 high-end gaming PC build for December 2018, the Zotac AMP edition is well-priced and a solid choice.
Asus along with Gigabyte would have to be your best bet when putting together a high-end gaming computer as they generally produce the most reliable, high-quality boards on the planet (it does depend on the specific model, though). The Asus Prime Z390-A is an excellent, popular selection for a gaming build of this nature with sturdy quality and a great design, not to mention many expansion options and a solid feature set. If you want built-in WiFi in your gaming computer, get the Rog Strix WiFi edition instead which is a little more expensive. Otherwise you can just get an internal wireless card or external USB dongle if you want WiFi capabilities on your new battle station.
For a high-end gaming build you may as well go for a fairly high speed set of memory modules such as 3000MHz or 3200MHz (assuming your motherboard supports this which our Asus pick does) because whilst the performance difference between 2400MHz, 2666Mhz, 3000Mhz and 3200Mhz (or even higher) won't make a noticeable difference when it comes to gaming, the price difference between 2400 and 3000 is not huge.
Therefore, you might as well get 3000Mhz and be done with it, because in some cases it will make a slight difference overall (especially if you'll be doing demanding non-gaming stuff). But if you do find a great deal for 16GB of RAM at a slower speed, don't fret and feel free to include it instead of a super speedy 3000MHz kit if you want to cut costs on your high-end build.
As for the amount of memory, which I logically should have mentioned first as it's much more important that speed when selecting the best memory for your gaming computer, 16GB is a no-brainer in this price tier and the ideal amount for high-end gaming. 8GB is the sweet spot in terms of value for builds under $800-$1000 or so, but 16GB makes a whole lot of sense for top-tier builds. Any more than 16 is overkill for gaming though, and 24 or 32GB is not going to make any difference whatsoever. Only reason to go higher than 16GB is for things like high-quality video editing, 3D rendering/animation, high-quality streaming of demanding games, and so on.
Corsair Vengeance RAM is also very safe bet and hugely popular for a reason; great reliability and quality from a top memory manufacturer. Crucial, GSkill and Patriot are also great brands too. The particular model chosen for this month's best high-end gaming computer is the "LPX" version which is at a solid price and has a nice design that'll fit with your motherboard and overall build design nicely (although these modules will look great in pretty much any setup to be honest). They're also not huge sticks like some others which can interfere with larger CPU coolers etc, so they're versatile and will fit most setups without issues.
When assembling a top-tier, powerful high-end gaming system you really want to get a high-quality power supply, and the 80-Plus Gold EVGA unit included in this setup is definitely that. EVGA produce some of the best value PSUs around these days, and the G3 unit we've picked is no exception. It's also a fully modular PSU which means less messy cabling and better cable management when it comes time to build.
NZXT produce some solid value for money cases with the H500 being one of their absolute best
650 watts, when coming from a reliable good-quality unit like the G3 EVGA, is actually plenty for a build like this packing powerful parts like the 1070 Ti and 9600K and still has room for more upgrades later believe it or not.
However, not that we recommend SLI (doesn't scale well) to 99% of gamers, in the odd case that you're considering that as a potentiality for your build down the track - get a bit more power such as 750 watts. Otherwise, even with upgrades, 650 watts of good power is fine.
As for storage, not much to say there except a 1TB standard 7200RPM HDD from Seagate, and a nicely sized well-priced SSD for super fast loading of your OS and other frequently used programs and games you put on there. Feel free to get a larger SSD if you value storage/loading speed and want to stack a whole heap of stuff on there.
Last but definitely not least is the excellent value (at its current price of $70) NZXT case, the classic best-selling H500 which has stood the test of time as one of the absolute best cases out there for gaming computer builds. It's got the look and features of a high-end case, but for a mid-range price tag, and will not let you down if you like its minimalist, clean design. As with all the gaming computer cases we recommend and the ones we specifically include in these monthly build write-ups, it's a case that's easy to work with for beginner builders - we try to avoid complicated cases as much as possible (there definitely are some out there).
See our top value for money picks of the best mice, keyboards, screens, headsets, etc, in our peripheral buying guides (see the top menu) should you need to buy these new and you're not reusing old ones. These parts will all come down to personal preference, and of course how much more you have to spend on top of your core components.
As for the operating system, as with all our recommended PC builds 64 bit Windows 10 Home/Pro is what we recommend for this 1200 dollar setup unless you have a seriously good reason to get another operating system like Linux. You have a few options with buying and installing Windows for your new PC:
Option A: Windows 10 Home 64-Bit (Flash Drive Edition)
Option B: Windows 10 Home 64-Bit (DVD Disc Edition) (buy if you're getting an optical drive for your gaming build)
Option C: Buy Windows from Microsoft and download it to an existing computer/laptop, then put it on a flash drive, then use that flash drive when booting up your PC.
Option D: Reuse your copy of Windows if your edition is eligible for this.
That wraps up our best $1200 gaming PC build based on careful analysis of the current December 2018 hardware market mixed with our own subjective opinion based on years of designing gaming systems. We hope it serves you well as-is or as a base for your ongoing build research.
If you're putting together your first PC, fear not as it's very simple to do these days no matter whether you're building a super cheap budget rig or a higher-end computer like this one, and in 2018 if you can build Lego you really can build a PC no problems if you simply follow one step at a time and take your time. See our first-time gaming PC builder's guide for all the steps, which also includes additional info on planning your rig and cutting costs. Enjoy and happy gaming ;)
(Orders Parts on Amazon, Our #1 Recommended Store)
- NZXT H500 Case Review | Thermals, Noise, & Cable Management
- ASUS Prime Z390-A ATX Motherboard Specifications
- Intel Core i5 9600K Processor Specifications
- Kingston A400 240GB Solid State Drive Specifications
- CRYORIG H7 Cooler Specifications
- Zotac GeForce GTX 1070 Ti 8GB AMP Edition Graphics Card Specifications
- Corsair Vengeance LPX 16GB (2x8GB) 3000MHz DDR4 C15 Memory Kit Specifications
- Western Digital Blue 1TB 7200RPM Desktop Hard Drive Specifications
- EVGA SuperNOVA 650 G3 80 Plus Gold 650W Fully Modular PSU Specifications
- NZXT H500 Compact Mid-Tower Case with Tempered Glass Specifications
A hobbyist game programmer turned hardware enthusiast, Julien "cyberjulz" is the founder of BGC and has kept a keen eye on the latest in DIY gaming ever since starting BGC back in '06 as an almost laughably-basic and brief 20 page site with the aim to make building PCs more accessible to the average gamer since most resources weren't too noob friendly. Over countless reinventions and reiterations to the quality, depth and usefulness of the content over many years the site has steadily grown into the expansive, comprehensive and ever-updated first-time PC builder resource that it is today that now reaches and helps thousands of gamers and power users each month to more easily plan optimal setups for their exact needs. You can learn more about the BGC mission and ways to support it here.
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