There’s this saying circulating around the Internet that PC gamers form some “master race.” Besides the obviously politically incorrect implications, it’s, in fact, a very good way to put it. Objectively speaking, there is no other type of gaming console that is as powerful and versatile as a PC. Whatever game a console can play, a gaming PC can play as well (with a little aid from an emulation software); whatever accessories you use on your Xbox or PS4, you can use on your PC too if necessary. Not to mention that a gaming PC can do a whole lot more than just gaming.
However, we stumble across a problem from the very first steps here. Consoles are expensive; there’s no denying it. Older models are cheaper, but you’re still paying a lot for something you only use for games. Gaming computers, on the other hand, are even more expensive. There’s no $5000 console unless it’s a gold-plated special collector’s edition or something like that, but a $5000 gaming PC is not something unseen. It is how it is: you pay a lot for components and a good build. Getting a gaming PC under $500 seems like an impossible dream, under these conditions. However, it’s not the time to despair. You can, in fact, get a basic gaming build for less than $500. You will have to get used to not playing the latest releases, or the ones from 2 years ago, that’s true, and it’ll get hot and laggy at some point. Consider this though: there’s an essential advantage to a gaming desktop PC, whether it’s cheap or expensive, that you will hardly get with a laptop and not at all with a console: customizability.
We prepared for you a list of the best gaming PC’s under $500 we could find. Remember: even if you find that the configuration is not powerful enough, there are always upgrades you could get for less money than you’d expect.
1. CybertronPC Electrum QS-RR7
Our top recommendation for the sub-$500 price range comes from CybertronPC and can be found on Amazon for the exact maximum budget. It’s a rather minimalistic mid-tower system, with a 500W power supply unit and plenty of possibilities for an upgrade. In fact, according to its reviews, there’s plenty of room inside for extra components, and the MSI motherboard is compatible with higher-end components such as Skylake-generation i7 CPU and so on. The ventilation system is pretty solid as well, and the overall build quality makes it the best-reviewed gaming PC under $500 on Amazon. As a nice extra feature, you can choose between red, blue, and green highlights for the tower design.
The processor available is an i3-6100U, dual-core, 3.7GHz, 3MB cache, paired with an AMD Radeon R7 240 graphics card, 2GB GDDR5. It’s fully DirectX 12 compatible, and it comes with the 64-bit version of Windows 10, to take full advantage of that. CybertronPC is also proud of adding exactly zero bloatware to the pre-installed OS, and you can’t appreciate that. There are also 8GB DDR4 RAM, which is nice considering you usually get DDR3 within the price range and a 1TB 7200RPM HDD. Overall, we think this is the best thing you can get for the price and the reviewers agree, although they also agree that a GPU upgrade is in order.
2. SkyTech Shadow AMD-730
The second one in our list looks, in all honesty, a lot more like a gaming PC than the Electrum QS-RR7 does. It’s based on an AMD 760G chipset, a low-cost motherboard which is compatible with DirectX 12 and offers a good range of expansion possibilities. Speaking of which, this is a full-tower PC – in other words, as far as actual, physical room inside the tower is concerned, this one beats our nr. 1 hands-down. The cooling also seems superior, but the 430W power unit appears to not quite make the cut, according to reviews.
This tower comes with an AMD FX-4300 CPU, quad-core, 3.8GHz, 4MB cache. It can be overclocked normally up to 4GHz and, under exceptionally good conditions, up to 4.7GHz and even, with good enough cooling, up to 5.1GHz. However, it doesn’t have the same per-core performance the i3-6100 boasts, which is a significant drawback when it comes to gaming, and it’s only compatible with DDR3 RAM. Its overall performance is, therefore, lower than that of the i3-6100, in spite of the higher clocking speed. The GPU is, surprisingly, a nVidia GeForce GT 730, with 2GB GDDR3. The benchmarks show it’s marginally better than the R7 240, which is good. You also get 8GB DDR3, as well as the token 1TB HDD.
3. CybertronPC Rhodium 240
Another model from CybertronPC (kinda like most of this list), the Rhodium 240 doesn’t look much different from the Electrum QS-RR7, and it isn’t all that different. It’s yet again a mid-tower and, in terms of sheer size, it’s somewhere in-between our top two models. It features the same AMD 760G base chipset and the very common 500W power supply. CybertronPC fares pretty well regarding post-purchase support: you benefit from a parts and labor warranty for one year and lifetime free tech support, which is pretty good for a PC under $500.
The configuration is a mixture between the two above and the only full-AMD on this list. It features the same AMD FX-4300 CPU as the SkyTech Shadow, although we would’ve honestly preferred the hexacore FX-6300, and the Radeon R7 240 GPU with 2GB GDDR5. The same 8GB DDR3 and 1TB HDD are included. It’s an overall OK setup, and it will allow for a couple of expansions, including storage, CPU, GPU, and memory. Unlike the SkyTech Shadow, it’ll be a bit difficult to upgrade the cooling system, but even that is possible with a bit of dedication.
4. CyberPowerPC Gamer Ultra GUA882
This CyberPower model has a bit of a different design from the rest, and it seems like it’s not a bad thing either. Size-wise, it’s exactly as big as the Rhodium 240, but it appears as it benefits from better cooling. In fact, as far as cooling capacity is concerned, it may very well compete with the SkyTech Shadow for the 1st place on the list. It also has a very interesting LED grid on the front cover, a lid for the DVD-RW and the main USB ports placed on the top instead of the front, which is a bit controversial comfort-wise.
This computer has an AMD-based configuration which is, in every respect, identical to the Rhodium 240 – the same CPU, GPU, RAM, and HDD. We have insufficient data as to its durability and overall performance, but there’s one great point about it: its superior cooling. This is particularly important when dealing with an AMD-based setup, as both the CPUs and GPUs from AMD are known for having heating issues.
5. CybertronPC Electrum QS-GT7
Our second Electrum model is rather similar in looks to the first one. It even has the same color scheme, and you can choose between red, green, and blue highlights for the black aluminum case. It’s a mid-tower setup based on a Gigabyte motherboard, with a standard 500W power supply.
Performance-wise, we have to say that it’s not exactly as good as our top 3. While the processor is the same AMD FX-4300 as above and the GPU is a nVidia GeForce GT 730, this PC only has 1GB GDDR3. It’s not quite sufficient for modern applications, although it should run some of the older games just fine. For best results, reviewers recommend replacing this graphics card with a newer version. As for the rest, it’s the same 8GB DDR3 and 1TB HDD you’ll see just about everywhere.
6. CybertronPC Borg-Q
It appears that Cybertron Inc. has a preference for mid-tower builds, and this model is no exception. To be completely honest, we don’t particularly fancy this design – it looks rather plasticky and not very solid. However, it does have some excellent reviews. It’s not as powerful as the others, and you can see that from the very start, as the power supply unit is only 450W as compared to the usual 500W. The upgrade possibilities are not all that amazing either, with fewer expansion bays than average. Then again, it is nonetheless a good setup for a gaming PC under $500.
This PC is powered by an AMD FX-4130, predecessor to the FX-4300. The difference between them is not all that big, though, with the FX-4300 being only marginally better performance-wise, while the FX-4130 is a bit better value for money. The GPU is a Nvidia GeForce GT 610, with 1GB GDDR3, which is not very impressive compared to the GT 730 and the R7 240 but will do its job when necessary. Just like the others, this computer has 8GB DDR3 and 1TB HDD.
You might not be able to find a spectacular gaming PC under $500, but you can get a basic one and then upgrade it when you have money. Is it a waste of money? Not at all. In fact, it’s cheaper and better to upgrade one component at a time than just ditch the whole thing and buy something new. Here’s what you should consider when purchasing such a basic kit:
We’ll have to be honest: you won’t find an Intel Core i5 under $500 unless it’s some amazing discount, and an i7 is an impossible dream. What you can find, from Intel, is mostly the i3-6100. It’s a 6th generation (Skylake) model and will do the job just as well as some mobile i5 and i7 versions.
AMD brings to the table a couple of other models as well. While their mobile CPUs are honestly lacking, their desktop models are faring a lot better. There’s a slight heating problem, very common in fact, but the cooling system of a gaming PC can mostly deal with it. On a $500 budget, you can find some FX-series models, like the FX-4130, FX-4300, or FX-6300, as well as some A-series ones. They are cheaper and perform just as well as their Intel counterparts, although with the aforementioned heating issue.
The graphics card
You can’t expect marvels from a gaming PC under $500, but you do need a discrete graphics card anyway. Otherwise, the games will put a strain on your CPU and RAM that will cause even more heating issues. And that’s IF you can play them at all.
For less than $500, you can get a nVidia GeForce GT 730. It’s not as amazing as the current GTX 1080, not by far, but it will be able to run Battlefield 4 and things like that no problem. You may also find an AMD Radeon R7 240, which is about equivalent in terms of power.
This is the first component we recommend that you upgrade, first thing when you get your hands on some cash.
In general, you will not find any gaming rig with more than 8GB DDR4 for that kind of money. However, the memory is one of the very easily upgradable components, and another 8GB should not set you back more than $50.
That being said, it’s likely that you will see both DDR3 and DDR4 memory cards. For the sake of gaming, make sure to pick DDR4. It’s faster and overall better than DDR3, not to mention that it’s the most modern current version of memory.
And, whatever you do, don’t be satisfied with 4GB. That’s just not enough for anything, ever.
It’s pretty impossible to get an SSD on such a cheap computer. You can get a 256GB SSD on a laptop for that kind of money, but not a desktop. That’s no problem, though. For gaming purposes, you don’t exactly need an SSD, and the 1TB HDD you will mostly get on a PC under $500 is more than enough for all practical purposes.
You may want to check the HDD rotation speed though. It’s likely that you will stumble upon a 7200RPM HDD, which is a little bit faster than the standard 5400RPM one, and that’s pretty neat.
The design and build
No, we’re not talking about how pretty it is. A gaming PC looks much like any other gaming PC. The important things, when it comes to design, are as follows:
1. Overall quality – make sure there’s no cheap plastic in there, otherwise, you may kick it and break it by accident
2. Cooling system – an essential component, especially for gamers. Unless you don’t care if your PC catches fire. Read the reviews before buying anything; this is really important.
3. Ports – Make sure you get as many, as diverse, and as accessible ports as possible. It’s really not ok when you just need that one extra USB, and you don’t have it.
4. Upgrade possibilities – make sure your motherboard will allow extra RAM, extra storage, a better CPU, and a better graphics card. Alternatively, make sure your tower can accommodate a better motherboard.
That’s about it, in a nutshell. Pay attention to these things, and you’ll be sure to get the best gaming PC under $500 on the market. Of course, if you happen to stumble upon a discount and get something with better components, that’s great.
As far as our research goes, the best gaming PC under $500 you can find on Amazon has to be one of the models on our list. This doesn’t mean, however, that there are no other good models you can find at other shops – if that’s the case, you can take the models on this list as a starting point and try to find something better. Remember, also, that a gaming PC is not only “what you see is what you get.” The upgrade and expansion possibilities are always great and, if you don’t like an original component, you can always swap it for a better one when you have the money to do it.