The words ‘PC gaming’ and ‘budget’ don’t always go together well. The reality is that if you want a gaming rig that has graphical parity with an Xbox One or PS4, then most of the time you’ll have to spend around double the amount these consoles sell for.
If you’re really looking to push the boat out and want to experience the magnificence of features such as 1440p or even 4K gaming, then you can expect to shell out upwards of $2000.
But not everyone wants to spend a small fortune on a gaming computer.
Many are happy playing games on consoles, but may also like to own a cheaper gaming PC as well; perhaps to experience some of the undemanding MMOs and MOBAs the platform has to offer, or to play some of the PC exclusive titles that these rigs can handle. There’s also the immense PC back-catalog, most of which requires very little graphical muscle. Both Steam and GOG offer an abundance of these classic titles - games like the X-Wing series and the original Dues Ex never stop being fun to play.
There are, however, occasional exceptions to the good gaming PC = expensive PC rule. And the rigs on this list are proof of that.
While many may point out the benefits and satisfaction of building a PC from components, for some people, building their own PC is a no-go area. They’d be much happier forking out the cash for a pre-built rig, safe in the knowledge that most of these computers come with a long warranty, pre-installed software, and typically cost only a little more than self-builds.
So for those folks not looking to spend a fortune and who simply don’t want the hassle of having to build a computer themselves, here are the 5 best gaming PCs on the market under $500. Each entry includes a breakdown of the most important gaming-related components, a link to the retailer, and my opinion on what makes it a viable option when it comes to PC gaming on a budget.
This competitively priced, AMD-powered rig comes with 8GB DDR3 RAM, a spacious 1TB hard drive and a 3.4GHz A4-5300 Dual-Core processor. The Aerocool Strike-X One Gaming Mid-Tower chassis the Patriot is packed into is particularly impressive for a PC in this price range; it has plenty of ventilation, three fans, and plenty of room inside - should you want to upgrade components at a later date. It’s even got a 802.11b/g/n wireless (WiFi) network adapter, DVD-RW drive, a fairly beefy 450 Watt power supply and comes with a keyboard and mouse! Plus, it looks pretty damn sexy.
Graphically, the Patriot uses an AMD Radeon HD 7480D integrated into the APU. It’s not going to play the Witcher 3, but it’ll get you about 70 fps in 720p on Dirt Rally and will rise above 30fps on many less-demanding games at this resolution. Luckily, the Patriot's large case means sticking a dedicated graphics card inside at a later date shouldn't prove much of a problem.
Processor: 3.40 GHz AMD A4-5300 Dual-Core
Memory: 8GB DDR 3
Storage: 1TB Serial ATA Hard Drive (7200 RPM, 6 GB/s)
GPU: AMD Radeon HD 7480D (integrated APU)
PSU: 450 Watt
Extras: Keyboard, Mouse, Windows 8.1 64-bit OS, Wireless 802.11bgn Adaptor, Dual-layer DVD±RW drive, 1 Year Parts and Labor Warranty
The CybertronPC Patriot TGM1293D is available here
The Gamer Ultra desktop from CyberPowerPC comes with one of the nicest cases you will find in this price range. The chassis’ hinged front cover, blue lighting and side window make it the prettiest gaming PC on the list, if not the best.
A quad-core AMD FX 4300 processor and 8GB of 1600MHz RAM moves this system along at a quick pace. It comes with a DVD-RW optical drive, a very nice gaming keyboard and mouse, and a 500GB hard drive. Graphically, the Ultra packs an AMD Radeon R7 240 2GB graphics card; while more powerful than the Patriot’s integrated GPU, the 240 will struggle with most modern games once the resolution is jacked up above 720p. If you are tempted by the Ultra, I’d recommend saving up for a better GPU to go into that fancy case.
Processor: AMD FX 4300 quad-core
Memory: 8GB DDR3 1600MHz
Storage: 500GB HDD
GPU: AMD Radeon R7 240 2GB
Extras: Windows 10, gaming keyboard, gaming mouse, 6 months Kaspersky subscription, Dual-layer DVD±RW drive, 12 months for parts and 12 months labor limited warranty.
The CyberPowerPC Gamer Ultra Desktop is available here
The Syber Vapor Gaming PC is the first example on this list of a PC which is aimed squarely at those looking for a console-esque computer. Syber have smartly cut back on the RAM and the hard drive space in order to include a GTX 750 graphics card; a much more gaming-focused GFX card than the previous entries.
The AMD Athlon X4 740 Trinity Quad-Core 3.2 GHz provides an impressive amount of processing power, while the 4GB of DDR3 SDRAM and 500GB hard drive provides enough memory and storage space for your average gamer. The Syber also comes with Wi-Fi connectivity, Windows 8.1 64-bit, a wireless keyboard and a game pad - although it doesn’t specify what kind.
Overall, the Syber is a good choice for those looking for a cheap gaming PC in a stylish, mini-ITX case. It should have no problem with the majority of modern games running at 1080p with medium to high settings.
Processor: AMD Athlon X4 740 Trinity Quad-Core 3.2 GHz
Memory: 4GB DDR3 SDRAM
Storage: 500GB HDD
GPU: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 750 - 1GB GDDR5 SDRAM
Extras: Build in 802.11ac/g/n WLAN, Windows 8.1 64-bit, wireless keyboard, gamepad, 12 months for parts and 12 months labor limited warranty.
The Syber Vapor Gaming Desktop is available here
CyberPower’s ultra small form factor PC, the Fang Mini R9 SE, may be lacking in some areas, but its gaming components are top notch. Boasting a speedy, AMD quad-core processor, the Fang sacrifices memory (2GB DDR3) and storage space (120GB, although it is in the form of a fast solid state drive) for the Radeon R9 M275X, a middle-class-level graphics card.
The Fang will play most 1080p games at an acceptable level, providing the settings are adjusted accordingly. Some modern titles may not always rise above 30 fps, but it’s still the best budget gaming PC so far. That SSD is a godsend for those who hate waiting for Windows to boot up, and it can make loading times between levels a thing of the past. The tiny chassis gives it that console feel, and it comes with built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. My only concern would be the 2GB memory and 135W PSU.
The Fang's more powerful graphics card and solid state drive lift it above the Syber, and it's only the fantastic machine at number one that keeps this gaming PC off the top of the list.
Processor: AMD A8-5557M 2.10GHz Quad-Core Processor
Memory: 2GB (2GBx1) DDR3-1333 SODIMM Memory
Storage: 120GB Kingston SSDNow V300 Series SATA-III 6.0Gb/s SSD
GPU: AMD Radeon R9 M275X GDDR5 2GB
PSU: 135W power adapter with power cord Input
Extras: Build in 802.11b/g/n,/ac 2.4 - 5Ghz bands + Bluetooth v4.0, Windows 8.1, standard 3-year warranty [3 year labor, 1 year parts], limited warranty plus life time technical support
You can buy the Fang Mini R9 SE here
If you want the absolute best gaming PC available for under $500, then the Alienware Alpha ASM100-1580 Console is for you.
The memory and processor on this PC can be customized, meaning the only way to get the cost of this rig under $500 is by selecting the cheapest options for both. Doing this, however, still results in a truly amazing budget PC that blows its competitors out of the water.
Alienware have never been known as the best company for the frugal PC gamer, but with this cheap PC they've concentrated on what’s important for great gaming: the graphics chip. It uses a modified NVIDIA GeForce GTX 860M, the kind used in gaming laptops, and it has a performance comparable to the excellent, mid-range GTX 750Ti desktop graphics card. As someone who has 750Ti in one of my PCs, I can vouch for its performance.
As well as this custom graphics chip, the $474 version of this machine gets you a 2.9 GHz Intel i3 dual-core processor, 4GB DDR3 memory, 500GB SATA HD, Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3160 1x1 and Bluetooth 4.0. It also comes with an Xbox 360 wireless controller, which shows how much Alienware are pushing this as a gaming machine.
Alienware’s tiny, console-like PC is touted as being a Steam machine, meaning it allows people to use the company’s own Steam-based, games-focused operating system. There’s also the option to alternate between this OS and Windows, should you feel like it.
Getting down to the bare bones of things, here are the all important gaming benchmarks:
(average frames per second)
Bioshock Infinite (1080p, Ultra): 44 fps; (1080p, Low): 99 fps,
Metro: Last Light (1080p, Ultra): 16 fps; (1080p, Low): 48 fps
Shadow of Mordor (1080p, High) 43 fps
Battlefield 4 (1080p, Ultra) 36.2 fps
Far Cry 3 (1080p, High) 40.7 fps
These are insane numbers for a PC that costs under $500. By cutting back on the processor and the RAM, Alienware have been able to concentrated on the components that matters most to gamers. If you want a budget gaming PC, I cannot recommend this highly enough, absolutely stunning.
Processor: 2.9GHz Intel Core i3-4130T (dual-core, 3MB cache)
Memory: 4GB DDR3 (1600Mhz)
Storage: 500GB SATA (6Gb/s)
GPU: AMD: Nvidia GeForce GTX 860M (custom, 2GB GDDR5)
PSU: 450 Watt
Extras: Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 3160 1x1; Bluetooth 4.0, Wireless XBOX 360 controller 1-year Alienware Limited Hardware warranty, Microsoft Windows 8.1 (64‐bit)
The Alienware Alpha ASM100-1580 Console is available here