While I love building computers from scratch, it can be difficult to do that on a budget due to the ongoing chip shortage over the past few years. And, unfortunately, that chip shortage isn’t going to change anytime soon according to Intel. What that means is that GPUs can be extremely hard for consumers to snag at MSRP. Gaming ready PCs and configurable PCs become one of the most efficient ways to snag a current generation GPU without being price gouged.
What to Look For in a Budget Gaming PC
There are many different parts to to pay attention to when shopping for your budget gaming PC, but here are the basics.
Graphics Card (GPU)
For gaming, the GPU is a primary system. What GPU is included in a budget gaming PC can make or break your purchase. If it’s too weak, you won’t be able to play the games you want. If it’s overpowered, it’s likely pushing the cost of the PC up with little to no benefit to you.
To be specific, you’re going to want a GPU in the 30 series if it’s an NVIDIA GPU: 3050, 3060, 3070, or 3080. These are the current generation of NVIDIA GPUs and will be able to handle all modern games. If you’re looking at AMD, we’re in the Radeon 6000 series of GPUs—i.e. 6500, 6600, 6700. As a general rule, the higher the number the more powerful (and more expensive) the GPU.
RAM handles a lot of things, but to make it really simple, you want at least 8 gigs of RAM in your budget gaming PC no matter what. Most games will have an 8 gig minimum to run so anything less and you’re not going to be able to play many of your favorite games. As we go over later, an ideal amount of RAM for a gaming PC is 16 gigs, but 8 gigs will suffice.
Like the GPU, the CPU is going a critical part of your system. For power, it’s the same scheme as the GPUs: the higher the number the more powerful it is. Both Intel and AMD categorize their CPUs by number first— i3, i5, i7, and Ryzen 3, 5, 7, or 9—and then get into the specifics of generation and model. Just remember, the higher the number in all parts means the more powerful it is.
Storage is often an afterthought, but it’s an important thought to have. When you are adding in storage to your PC, take a moment to think about how much room you are going to need now and in the future. Many games these days can easily hit the 100 gigabyte mark just to install. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare takes up 231 gigs to install. Even single-player games, like Final Fantasy XV, require 100 gigs of free space to install. If you play multiple games at once that are all large, you may want to invest in a second hard drive. If you only play one game and don’t mind installing and uninstalling games, you may be able to get away with one hard drive.
The Best Gaming PCs On A Budget
Gaming RDY At $849
It may not look like much, but this AMD Ryzen 3 budget gaming PC can still pack a punch. Configured with 8 gigs of DDR4 RAM, a 500 gig M.2 hard drive, and a Radeon RX 6500XT GPU, this computer will be able to handle most games out there.
You won’t be able to push new games like Elden Ring to the limit graphically speaking, but it will still get the job done for most competitive games currently released. So, if you’re just out there to play Overwatch 2, League of Legends, Rocket League, and possibly Minecraft, this computer will more than suffice.
Gaming RDY Below $1300
Next up we have the AMD Ryzen 5 budget gaming PC that packs an even better punch than the below $849 PC. Why? The CPU upgrade is significant, but the real star of the show is the extra 8 gigs of RAM that this computer comes with.
That extra 8 gigs means you’ll be set for any game that comes out with ram to spare. That extra 8 gigs also means that this budget gaming PC will be able to handle more creative tasks without taking 10 hours to render things. So, if you want to game and maybe do a little video editing or motion graphics on the side, this computer is an excellent choice at the affordable price of $1049.
The last budget gaming pre-built we want to highlight is the Intel Core i5-12400F budget gaming PC. That’s a 12th generation processor paired with an NVIDIA RTX 3050 GPU.
Those two upgrades are well worth the jump in price point if you can afford it. The 3050 may be the budget GPU of the 30 series, but it’s still powerful and will be a colossal upgrade if you’re coming from a 10 series GPU. With it, you’ll be ready for RTX, video editing, and even VR gaming with this GPU.
BEST CONFIGURABLE GAMING PC OPTIONS
If you’re looking for a few more options than the pre-built offers, here are three more options for you to look at, with our own recommendations for upgrade points.
The AMD Ryzen Special B
The cheapest option is the $1099 AMD Ryzen Special B. When you jump in to configuring this computer the best options for upgrading it are around the RAM and the GPU. Bumping yourself up to the 16-gig mark is an excellent upgrade.
The GPU upgrade can be worth it on this configurable PC, but it depends on what your goals are since many of the available GPUs can add $500+ to your price point. Check them out if you want to do the latest games on the highest settings or creative work, otherwise, you’re likely fine without.
Intel Z690 DDR4 Gaming Starter
The Intel Z690 DDR4 Gaming Starter is another great option to start with at the starting price of $1159.
If you’ve been a fan of Intel CPUs and want to stick with them over AMD this is the option to go with from our list. It offers upgrades all the way up to the most powerful 12th gen Intel processors but upgrading to an i5-14200F is probably more than enough for most if you want to ensure a bit more longevity from your build without breaking the bank.
Once again, while I like the build, I’d prioritize an upgrade on the RAM to 16 gigs. It’s just going to make your computer last longer and be able to run more. Do it. It’s worth the price. GPU upgrades are along the same lines as the AMD Ryzen Special B. Just make sure if you upgrade to a top-of-the-line GPU that you upgrade your power supply.
Intel Z690 DDR Gaming
Lastly, we have the Intel Z690 DDR Gaming. Like the Z690 starter, it could do with an upgrade on the processor, especially if you’re going to do creative work with it, but the base version of this computer comes with the powerful RTX 3050 GPU.
Again, push the RAM to 16 gigs in this configuration. However, I’d also recommend upgrading your PSU to at least the 750W version so you have that extra bit of safety that you want in a PSU and allow you a bit more room for future upgrades.
Final Thoughts On Budget Gaming PCs
With all of these configurable options, it’s really easy to toy around with all parts of your PC to create a combination of parts you want along with a great aesthetic, so take some time to look through all the options before you purchase. You won’t regret it.
BUDGET GAMING PC FAQs
Is It Cheaper To Build Or Buy A Gaming PC?
The answer is a frustrating, it depends. For seasoned builders who can wait on parts to come in or go on sale, it likely is cheaper to build your own gaming PC as you can upcycle parts from your old PC that don’t need to be upgraded, saving you money.
However, you’ll still run into the chip shortage problem that has plagued the PC community since 2019. Because of this very specific problem, budget gaming pcs can be cheaper because the graphics cards aren’t being sold separately at 2x MSRP. You also don’t have to enter a raffle just to get the chance to purchase them like many retailers are doing.
Is a $500 Gaming PC Worth It?
Really cheap gaming PCs can be worth it in the short term. You’re not going to get a dedicated graphics card in most $500 gaming PCs, but the integrated graphics cards should be enough to handle plenty of games at medium to low settings.
These cheap gaming pcs are great for the younger crowd who may only need the PC for things like Minecraft that are a lot less intensive than modern games. However, a $500 PC is still a $500 PC and it’s not going to last forever. If the user graduates to more intensive games, you’ll run into problems very quickly. So, make sure you know what you’re buying the PC for before you buy a cheap $500 PC.