What to build when you can’t build? – Two PCs you can build right now for under $800 that will let you game straight away.
The GPU crisis has been in full flood for months now, with a near perfect storm of production issues, supply shortages and peak demand meaning that graphics cards are almost impossible to purchase at anywhere near sane prices. In turn this means that if you’re looking to build a PC now, you might be put off because this key component is out of reach.
But there are options.
In this article we’ll show you a couple of builds that don’t need a graphics card for general use and basic gaming. We’ll also explain how you can use them to play high end titles right now, without a graphics card so you can get gaming without paying outrageous prices. As an added bonus, they form a fantastic basis for a PC without compromises, meaning that when the market corrects itself you can slot a graphics card right in and enjoy all the advantages a GPU brings to a true gaming PC.
Sit tight for the Premiumbuilds guide to beating the GPU crisis!
Why do you need graphics anyway?
A PC needs some form of graphics adaptor to process a video signal and output it. A discreet graphics card does this job for you in a standard gaming PC, but of course, we’re in a situation where they’re exceptionally hard to buy and vastly inflated in price. Most motherboards have an HDMI and sometimes a Displayport video output but this is driven by the CPU itself, via an integrated graphics processor or ‘iGPU’. This small section of the CPU allows for basic display output but lacks the power and versatility to render game graphics with anything like the performance of even a basic of dedicated GPU. Most AMD CPUs lack an integrated graphics processor, whilst Intel CPUs have traditionally only been capable of the most basic office desktop output and cannot run games.
However, things have changed a little recently. AMD pioneered 3D Capable CPU’s, or ‘APU’s’ as they are known with their Zen+ CPUs and the Ryzen 2200G and 2400G. They were later refreshed to as the 3200G and 3400G but these are still Zen+ designs. They incorporate 8 or 11 ‘Vega’ graphics cores respectively and offered surprisingly capable gaming performance, particularly when paired with fast RAM and a motherboard flexible enough to allow overclocking of the memory and iGPU core. But that isn’t the end of the Ryzen APU story as you’ll discover in our build guide below.
Intel have also enhanced the capabilities of their CPUs, with the most recent ‘Rocket Lake’ 11th Generation CPUs incorporating the updated Intel Xe graphics architectures into UHD750 graphics. These aren’t as capable as the Vega units found in AMD CPUs, but they do allow passable gaming performance in some more basic games.
Importantly, either of these solutions enables you to build a viable PC with no graphics card at all, and that in turn lets you exploit a service to get gaming in high fidelity right now.
GeForce Now – is now the time?
Of course, we’ve long been advocates of building a stand-alone gaming PC. However the joy of PCs is their flexibility, and it’s that versatility we’re leveraging to get you gaming without a GPU. Nvidia launched its ‘GeForce Now’ service several years ago, but this is a golden opportunity to revisit it. It is a subscription-based service, where for $10 a month you can run games on their data centre, streaming to your PC. It connects to a number of game stores including Steam, Epic Games, and Ubisoft so if you own a game already, you’ll be able to play it without re-purchasing it. There’s also a huge library of free-to-play titles. All the favourites are covered –CS:GO, Rocketleague, Fortnite, CyberPunk 2077, Tomb Raider, Watchdogs:Legion – Enough top-tier titles are available so that you can game in high fidelity on a PC without a GPU for months, whilst you wait for the opportunity to get the GPU of your dreams.
Given the performance and cost, we consider this the best way to keep PC gaming through this crisis, whilst still enjoying the benefits of your own PC for general use, media consumption and more. $10 per month is an easier price to bear when a GPU capable of an equivalent experience would be $500 or more and take a great deal of heartache to obtain. The fact that you can buy games on Steam or other platforms to experience offline for as long as you want, and are not locked into purchases within GeForce now is an important factor. The primary downsides are the requirement for a high-quality internet connection and very light latency penalty of having the game rendered remotely and streamed back to your PC. We’d call those acceptable trade-offs in the circumstances.
So, with that ‘one weird trick’ revealed, let’s look at a couple of PC’s you can build right now and get gaming on both offline and via GeForce now. Both of these builds have been uploaded into our PC builder tool, which can be found here.
1. AMD Ryzen ‘Renoir’ APU build
AMD CPUs seem to be at a major disadvantage in this market owing to their lack of integrated graphics. Only a select few options suffixed with a ‘G’ have integrated GPUs, allowing you to get graphics output from the CPU itself. Earlier we mentioned the Ryzen 3200G and 3400G, but these 4 core parts lack the performance and versatility we strive for as the basis for a strong PC.
AMD have another option though – so long as you’re prepared to go off the beaten path. The Ryzen 4650G and 4750G are 6 and 8 core CPUs that are available to OEMs only. However, they’re available to buy via sites such as Aliexpress for around $250/$350 respectively. Just be mindful of longer shipping times and the lack of a direct warranty, as these parts are not meant to be sold to consumers directly. Keep an eye out also for the higher performance 5600G and 5700G – the more recent versions of these CPUs that have yet to land with OEMs but will no doubt trickle onto the grey market soon.
|APU Cores||7 x Vega||8 x Vega||8 x Vega|
|APU clock speed|
|Architecture||Zen 2||Zen 2||Zen+|
These ‘Renoir’ APU’s are really special bits of kit. They pair Zen 2 architecture with Vega Graphics cores, essentially making them a Ryzen 5 3600 or 3700 with an entry-level graphics card built-in. Whilst you can’t expect miracles, the 7 or 8 Vega cores do a great job of rendering 3D graphics, and many games are playable at lower settings and resolutions. Meanwhile, the underlying 6/12 or 8/16 core CPU specification makes them powerful and versatile all-rounders capable of all normal tasks including basic video editing and productivity work.
|CPU||AMD Ryzen 4650G w/ Vega 7 iGPU
AMD Ryzen 4750G w/ Vega 8 iGPU
|CPU Cooler||ID-COOLING SE-224-XT|
|Motherboard||MSI B550M Pro-VDH WiFi|
|RAM||Crucial Ballistix 16 GB (2 x 8 GB) DDR4-3600 CL16|
|Storage||ADATA Swordfish 1 TB M.2 NVME SSD|
|Case||Cooler Master MasterBox MB311L|
|Power Supply||Cooler Master MasterWatt 650W 80+ Bronze|
This build pairs the Renoir APU of your choice with the MSI B550M PRO-VDH WiFi motherboard. This board has a BIOS flashback button that allows you to flash the most recent AMD BIOS even without a compatible CPU. This ensures it will accept the Renoir CPU as old BIOS revisions may not recognise it. It’s a full-featured but good value B550 motherboard with HDMI and Displayport out, integrated WiFi, 4 RAM slots and 2 M.2 slots. It’s fully compatible with the high-performance Zen 3 CPUs for future upgrades. The 4650G is the better value of the two potential CPU options, offering 6 cores, 12 threads and solid underlying gaming performance. If you have a more varied workload, the 4750G offers 8 cores, one more VEGA GPU core, and slightly higher iGPU speeds for better graphics performance, but it is more expensive.
RAM speed is really important to help the APU perform: It is used as both system and video RAM. For that reason, we’ve opted for this 3600MHz CL16 kit from Crucial. Using their E-Die Integrated circuits, this RAM has high speed and tight timings, and it’s receptive to overclocking so you can boost performance further if you like to optimise manually. The two stick kit allows operation in dual channel mode, essential for performance, whilst 16GB is ample for both system memory and video memory and forms the basis of a versatile PC. This RAM helps you get the most from your APU in the meantime, for just a few dollars more than slower kits.
For storage we’ve opted for the Adata Swordfish. This entry level NVMe drive gives good performance and 1Tb of space at just over $100. It’s a great starting point and since this system doesn’t force you to download large AAA titles to be able to play them, it’ll go a long way. It fits in the primary M.2 slot with no additional cables required.
For the case, we’ve chosen the great value Cooler Master MB311L. This compact mATX case comes with a mesh front panel and two large RGB fans, reducing the cost if you want a bit of bling. It has a good balance of airflow, build quality and looks and is a cost-effective case. You can of course choose any case you like for this build including the non-RGB version of this one.
To further aid cooling and because the Ryzen APU’s are generally sold without a bundled cooler, we’ve opted for the great value and high-performance ID-Cooling SE-224 XT. This four-heat pipe cooler keeps noise to a minimum and by cooling the APU effectively you can get maximum performance without thermal throttling.
Finally, we’ve selected the Cooler Master MasterWatt 650W 80+ Bronze PSU for the build. This power supply has ample power to add a GPU later and is a lower cost but good quality option. It has zero fan mode so at light loads the fan does not spin meaning it’s silent. The semi-modular design lets you keep the build really clean and simple with no superfluous cables and it comes with a 5-year warranty so you can expect long and trouble-free service.
This AMD ‘Renoir’ APU build will get you gaming straight away. You can play lighter weight titles at reduced settings and 1080p without a problem as well as ‘desktop’ games. You’ll be able to use the GeForce Now service to play more demanding titles right away. When you can get a GPU, this system is capable of gaming in the most demanding games at moderate to high frame rates and is an excellent all-rounder with equivalent performance to a Ryzen 5 3600. For $750, we think this represents the best possible value at the moment.
2. Intel i5 Rocket Lake UHD 750 build
Intel’s 11th Generation ‘Rocket Lake’ CPUs have brought the capability of the inbuilt GPU a long way. Using their newer ‘Xe’ architecture, these iGPUs are particularly adept at accelerating transcoding and some video manipulation tasks, but they’ll also turn their hand to light gaming. Performance still isn’t close to matching the Ryzen APU, with UHD 750 graphics about half as capable as AMD’s Vega 8 iGPU – but it will work to an extent. It will of course also allow you to access the Geforce Now service, giving you a PC that will punch well above its weight whilst the stock shortages persist.
|Clock speeds (base/Boost)||2.6/4.4GHz||2.7/4.6GHz||2.8/4.8GHz|
|iGPU||UHD 730||UHD 750||UHD 750|
|APU clock speed||1.30 GHz||1.30GHz||1.30GHz|
You can choose between the i5-11400, i5-11500 or i5-11600, and even the i5-11600K if you aim to make a very high-performance machine once you can get a GPU. The i5-11400 makes do with UHD 730 graphics, so if you do intend on running games we’d certainly recommend the 11500 or 11600 both of which include UHD750 graphics, a markedly more powerful iGPU owing to 32 execution units instead of 24. The small lift to clock speeds in the higher tier parts will also aid general performance. If you intend on doing more demanding work, you could also consider the 8 core i7-11700 or i7-11700K. Just make sure whichever CPU you choose it isn’t the ‘F’ version – these lack any iGPU at all so the PC won’t be functional!
|CPU Options||Intel Core i5-11500
Intel Core i5-11600
Intel Core i5-11400
|CPU Cooler||ID-COOLING SE-224-XT|
|Motherboard||Asus TUF GAMING B560M-PLUS WiFi|
|Memory||Team T-FORCE VULCAN TUF Gaming Alliance 16 GB (2 x 8 GB) DDR4-3000 CL16|
|Storage||Western Digital Blue SN550 1 TB M.2 NVMe SSD|
|Case||Cooler Master MasterBox MB311L ARGB|
|Power Supply||be quiet! Pure Power 11 CM 600 W 80+ Gold|
For the motherboard, we’ve chosen the Asus TUF Gaming B560M WiFi. This compact but full-featured motherboard allows memory overclocking even on non-K series CPUs boosting the performance of both the CPU and iGPU. There’s inbuilt Wifi, HDMI and Displayport outputs, and good USB connectivity. You can use the 2.5Gb Ethernet or Wifi 6 for connection to online services.
We’ve opted for the Adata Swordfish 1Tb NVMe SSD for storage for its great value and decent entry-level performance, but you could spend a little more on the Western Digital SN550 or Kingston A2000 if you prefer.
For RAM, we’ve chosen the matching ‘TUF’ branded memory from Team Alliance, 16Gb in a 2x8Gb 3000MHz configuration. It’s fast enough to let the iGPU perform and can be set to the XMP profile with one click in BIOS, simplifying the setup.
For the case the Cooler Master MB311 ARGB shines through as the best value offering although it does lack USB 3.2×2 on the front panel, you can still access this via the motherboard IO panel. It has good airflow, is supplied with two fans and is easy to build in. We’ve partnered it with the be quiet! Pure Power 11 Gold-rated 600W PSU, an efficient unit with a low noise profile. Again, we’ve ensured there’s ample power to run a GPU when you’re able to obtain one without further upgrades.
We’ve partnered it with the be quiet! Pure Power 11 Gold-rated 600W PSU, an efficient unit with a low noise profile. Again, we’ve ensured there’s ample power to run a GPU when you’re able to obtain one without further upgrades.
Finally, we’ve added an ID-Cooling SE224-XT Tower CPU cooler, for both lower noise and lower running temperatures, letting the CPU perform to its full potential.
This PC will be an excellent general-purpose PC, capable of office work, photo manipulation, media browsing and even light video editing. It will play more basic games and will allow some simple 3D games to run acceptably well at lowered settings. As with the AMD system, we’d recommend making use of Geforce Now for demanding games until such time as you can find your own dedicated GPU – at which point this $750 starter PC becomes a gaming champ and a great way to bridge the gap until you get your own GPU.
So, there we have it: A choice of two PCs that give you a pathway to gaming and all-round use without breaking the bank, or forcing you to pay over the odds for GPU. Enjoy!
*This article is not sponsored by Nvidia GeForce Now and was written independently of any influence from Nvidia*