Mid-Range $750 Gaming PC Build for Fortnite & Streaming (Cyber Monday)
Posted on November 25, 2018
Fortnite has exploded onto the scene this year and, even if you’re not a fan of the game, it’s good for the hardware economy: Fortnite is bringing more newcomers into the PC gaming space, which spurs growth for the industry as a whole. With demand burgeoning for budget gaming PCs for Fortnite, we decided to put together a mid-range gaming PC build for playing and streaming Fortnite, like to Twitch. The budget for our Fortnite gaming & streaming PC build was about $700-$750, which will fluctuate depending on Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. Although it is possible to play Fortnite for much cheaper, we have to highlight that the ultimate goal of this content is to assemble a machine capable of both playing and streaming the game. This is for the startup – someone who’s just starting with streaming and isn’t ready to invest into taking it too seriously. The build will still permit good quality livestreaming via OBS without many sacrifices (again, while playing Fortnite simultaneously), but could benefit from some manual tuning by the user. Overall, you get a fully capable machine that is also a good vessel for learning about computer hardware tuning, overclocking, and upgrading.
Although commenters always like to post their version of a build list that is cheaper, and therefore evidently “superior,” we must point out one critical fact: Every part selected has gone through our lab this year, has gone through exhaustive testing, and is something we generally trust to not be a garbage-tier component. As we’re recommending parts to thousands of people, we have to be sure they all work well together, and this build does. The memory, for instance, works well with the B450 Aorus Pro motherboard, and tertiary/secondary timings have largely been pre-tuned for you. This reduces a lot of work that is often faced with lower-end boards. The VRM has been looked at by GN’s resident liquid nitrogen overclocker and has been given a pass as “good enough for a 6-core,” which is exactly what we’re using. The BIOS features and VRM will struggle to push an 8-core, but do perfectly fine with a 6-core, as we’ve validated here. The PSU is also a near-perfect fit, as total system power consumption lands at about 50% load for the PSU, which peaks on the efficiency curve.
We recently gave the R5 2600 our annual award for Best Overall Value, which it receives for a new price-point of about $160 and versatility in gaming, streaming, and some lightweight production applications. Intel does compete with AMD, and fiercely so, but simply not at this price-point. If you wanted a last-gen product, the R7 1700X can be had for around $170-$180, although we’d recommend a better motherboard for a stronger VRM to support those extra 2 cores.
Fortnite could be played on a cheaper CPU, but the idea here is that you get a mid-range PC capable of a few other things in addition to just Fortnite – like lower-quality streaming while gaming. For Fortnite performance without any active streaming, we found the R5 2600 stock CPU and GTX 1060 6GB GPU to output a framerate averaging 126FPS when set to 1080p/High, which ties our 1440p/High results with the same components. This indicates that we’re starting to bottleneck on the CPU. At 1080p/Epic, we could sustain 88FPS AVG, which is completely playable, it’s just bound to 1080p. At 1440p/Epic, we’re just below 60FPS. A mix of high and epic settings could be used to sustain in the 60s and 70s, if desired, although this game is more about fluid frame throughput than it is about graphics quality.
With an active stream, we found that Faster H264 encoding settings at 10Mbps were too abusive, leading to our YouTube stream output suffering. The viewer-side experience results in dropped frames, which is a poor experience for the viewer (the most important part of the equation). Streamer-side experience and playback is perfectly acceptable, but it’s more important to have consistently good viewer-side playback with minimal dropped frames. Reducing our quality settings to 1080p/High for the game, setting a 120FPS cap for the game, and configuring OBS to encode with the still-acceptable veryfast H264 preset, we found that we had a decent stream going. Video examples of the stream can be found in the video embedded above.
We used Twitch-style settings: the veryfast encoding preset and 6Mbps bitrate, yielding 100% encoded frame throughput on the CPU. We did end up dropping 10% of our frames from rendering stalls, unfortunately, leading to an average FPS of 54 instead of 60 to the viewer, but that can be resolved with a mild overclock or some more settings tweaking. This is completely acceptable as a streaming machine for Fortnite if using these settings, and we’d strongly encourage overclocking the CPU to 3.9GHz or higher, as that’d fully resolve any dropped frames at higher settings, while a mild GPU overclock would resolve rendering stalls.
Additional support can be provided via process lasso or process prioritization for OBS, and a harder limit (e.g. through third-party software) on FPS, like to ~80FPS, would free-up more resources for OBS to encode the stream. The R5 2600 is perfectly capable of streaming these lighter games and makes it suitable for a startup streamer who isn’t yet making money, but is just interested in playing around. Just note that you’ll run out of resource headroom on more intensive games.
The EVGA SC GTX 1060 6GB was selected for the GPU, as it’s available between $200 and $220, depending on the sales that are live when you check this video. List price is closer to $240 or $250, but it’s regularly marked down right now and is a good deal. To go through some benchmarks, here’s how the GTX 1060 and R5 2600 combination perform in our standard CPU review test suite:
At 1080p and High settings, our system runs F1 2018 at 120FPS AVG, with 1% lows at 59FPS across multiple passes. 0.1% always drags in this specific game, but is also not dismal. Not bad for an R5 2600 and GTX 1060 6GB with both devices fully stock.
Far Cry 5 at Normal settings and 1080p operates at 82FPS AVG, with lows tightly behind at 62FPS and 55FPS. This 1% low frametime performance is indicative of an overall consistent frame delivery time and we don’t see any stutters during gameplay.
GTA V under Very High and Ultra settings – effectively max, except for FXAA and the advanced graphics options – runs at 98FPS AVG and 63FPS for the 1% lows. This is strong performance for GTA V, and perfectly acceptable for our build.
Finally, Total War: Warhammer under High settings is fairly CPU-intensive, but we still manage over 100FPS in this RTS and grand strategy game. That’s completely acceptable.
1440p is also fairly playable, if you wanted to capitalize on the recent price reductions in 1440p monitors: We’re at 80FPS AVG for F1 2018, 55FPS AVG for Far Cry 5 with normal settings, and 72FPS AVG for GTA V under nearly maxed settings. This is completely playable at 1440p and 1080p alike, although 1080p allows more headroom for graphics setting increases.
Memory has finally come down a bit in price and is fortunately unimpacted by the impending tariff hike on January 1st. For memory, we chose the $75 kit of Corsair 3000MHz LPX Vengeance RAM and elected to just run it at XMP, as the CL15 timings are good overall. You can find other 3000MHz kits for around $70, but we previously validated that this kit works well with the Gigabyte B450 Aorus Pro that we’re using, and so chose to stick with what we know works. It’s an extra $5-$10, but that’s not going to break the bank. You’ll want to avoid the 2400MHz kits that may tempt you at $60, as the speed difference is actually tangible in many use cases, as we’ve previously demonstrated in Ryzen 2000 series release content.
We gave NZXT an award for its H500 this year, which manages to perform surprisingly well in its negative pressure configuration. The NZXT H500’s biggest contributions are its quality of life and ease-of-installation features, which make it trivial to work with and easy to make a good-looking system. Cable management has predefined paths laid-out, the pre-installed fans are actually pretty good, and dust filters are pre-installed where they’d make sense for a negative pressure system. At roughly $70, this one is a good buy for a mid-range gaming PC. If you wanted to spend less, although it’s getting old and stale, the Corsair 270R is still a good deal: It’s about $40 with rebates these days, and we’ve been recommending it going on 3 years now. We prefer the H500, but that price difference may matter for some. Cooling is acceptable in this one and can be easily expanded on.
For the PSU, we’ll use the EVGA 450W BT 80 Plus Bronze PSU. This is non-modular, but its power rating is perfect for our system. If you’re concerned that 450W doesn’t sound like enough, we ran some total system power consumption tests and found the following:
Under a heavy workload of Fortnite with live encoding via OBS, we measured power consumption at an average peak of 230W, with non-streamed Fortnite gameplay at 200W. Blender on the CPU only ran 140W, and GTA V ran 200W, with Total War at 205W.
A 450W PSU is perfect, as it puts us right at the peak efficiency point in the efficiency curve. This one is currently about $40 after discounts, making it a good fit for our lower-tier system. If you wanted to step up to something a bit higher quality, the SuperNOVA 750 G1+ is currently on sale for $60, though that discount ends in the next few days. That’s an 80 Plus Gold unit, for the record, though is completely overkill.
For the motherboard, we chose the Gigabyte B450 Pro WiFi. This choice was entirely dictated by what we had available; as you’ll see in our upcoming Best AM4 round-up by Buildzoid, we’d actually prefer something similar to the B450 Tomahawk for an affordable low-end board, but going with the B450 Pro saves us some money and its VRM is still completely sufficient for a 6-core CPU. If you do jump on one of the R7s instead of the R5, though, we’d recommend upgrading the motherboard for something with a stronger VRM to better handle the thermal requirements of an 8-core. The B450 Pro is about $100 right now, making it a good financial fit for the build.
Given the unrelenting downward trend in Flash pricing, SSD prices have continually fallen leading into 2019. That hasn't stopped the usual onslaught of sales, either, with 500GB SSDs now available for under $80 (albeit fleeting for the sales, presumably). We'd strongly encourage a boot drive SSD at a minimum, at this point, and the 860 EVO at 500GB means enough extra space for basic games and documents in addition to Windows. If you require further archival or bigger game storage, a 1TB HDD would be worthwhile and relatively inexpensive.
What We Might Change
If you have some money to play with, our most immediate considerations for upgrade would be the motherboard (alternative: MSI X470 Gaming Plus) for better overclocking capabilities and stronger support for an 8-core. The 1700X is also a worthy consideration if it remains on sale; although “old,” the R7 1700X with an overclock would enable higher stream encoding presets than the R5 2600. A cooler of some sort would also be advisable for anyone trying to drive higher overclocks, like this cheaper air cooler or higher-end liquid cooler (review here).
If going with the initially recommended system, we’d also encourage playing around with overclocking. A quick 4.0GHz all-core OC isn’t hard, although it does become difficult to push much higher without a cooling system improvement (we can do 4.2GHz on our 2600 when coupled with an aftermarket cooler). Once stable, the overclock will aid significantly in improving consistency of the stream’s framerate. A quick GPU overclock would also benefit the user, particularly if Fortnite is the primary game being played. Process Lasso or process prioritization on OBS would aid in ensuring that frame throughput remains consistent, as would instituting an artificial framerate cap on the game (e.g. 80FPS or 100FPS).
We may be doing more PC builds like this in the future – it’s a bit of a return to form for GN.
Editorial, Testing: Steve Burke Video: Andrew Coleman