Whenever someone asks us how much money they’d need to build a decent gaming PC – meaning one that can run all the newest titles at admirable settings with good framerates and still be viable for a couple of years – we say $500.
This is not a random number, and it’s not an estimate.
We’ve made PC builds on tighter budgets – ones we’re still proud of – but no matter how much you skimp on certain pieces of hardware, a sub-$500 budget will simply not allow for a dedicated graphics card.
This also means that the performance difference between a $400 PC and a $500 PC is larger than any $100 performance different thereafter. So if you want a budget PC that can still kick ass you’ll need to cough up half a grand.
And if you want to make sure that this money is spent in the most efficient way possible then read on because in this article we’ll explain precisely why this build is the very best that money can buy today.
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The Best $500 Gaming PC Build For 2020
Updated: February 16, 2020
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So, how exactly should you tailor your expectations for this rig?
The thing we’d like to emphasize the most here is that this PC is a tried and true console-killer. $500 is more expensive than your average console, but you’re definitely getting the performance boost to justify this price. We won’t use teraflops to gauge the power of this rig since the advent of new architectures is soundly making this unit irrelevant, but for all intents and purposes, this PC does everything a console can, only better.
You’ll get to play all AAA games in 60FPS if you so desire, and even if this means not playing in the highest settings, you’ll still be enjoying better graphics than you would on, say, a PS4. If, on the other hand, you wish to immerse yourself in a more cinematic experience and play with a 30FPS cap, you’ll bear witness to levels of eye-candy that console folk can only dream of.
In order to deliver the best performance imaginable at this price, we had to forgo some upgradability concerns. However, there are still clear upgrade paths that this build facilitates, all of which will be discussed as we go through each individual piece of hardware.
So without any further ado, we present to you the parts that make this the best affordable $500 gaming PC ever.
CPU: Ryzen 5 2600x
An interesting thing about the Ryzen 5 2600x is that was a $200 CPU when it first launched. And even though its price dropped significantly after the release of 3rd gen Ryzen CPUs, its performance value didn’t. Sure, the new $200 outing by AMD – the Ryzen 5 3600x – is a lot more powerful, but the 2600x still beats anything close to the $120 range without breaking a sweat.
The 2600x is a 6 core, 12-thread CPU clocks in at 3.6GHz and has a maximum boost clock of 4.2GHz. Even without overclocking, these are some great specs.
Related: Best Ryzen CPU For Gaming
The downside, of course, is the absence of the new Zen 2 architecture. But we like to think that the fact we’re considering the absence of the latest and greatest achievement from AMD as the only ‘flaw’ in a $500 build is a very good sign.
All in all this CPU has both the performance to shine in CPU-oriented games and the capacity to support GPUs much more powerful than the one included in this build, giving it relevance both at the moment of purchase and longevity to endure many upgrades to the build.
Related: Best CPU’s For Gaming
Cooler: Wraith Spire
Another cool thing about the Ryzen 5 2600x is that it comes with a great stock cooler. The AMD Wraith Spire is a diamond in the rough. It’s not the best-looking CPU cooler, and it doesn’t have the so widely coveted RGB, but performance-wise it is definitely a giant step up from the Wraith Stealth, and noticeably quieter too.
We couldn’t really ask for a more cost-effective solution for this build, as the Wraith Spire will cost you a grand total of $0. So, if you want to maximize performance you shouldn’t look for any alternatives.
Related: Best CPU Cooler
GPU: Sapphire Pulse Radeon RX 570 4GB
As we’ve already mentioned, the thing that makes this $500 so exponentially better than any $400 is the fact that it can afford a graphics card instead of relying on an APU or integrated graphics. And what a godsend the Radeon RX 570 is!
This GPU is able to get the most out of 1080p gaming and it cost less than $150. Just two years ago this would’ve been unimaginable, but as things stand there are effectively no graphics cards that offer a middle ground between integrated graphics and full 1080p mastery. At the very least, they’re not worth buying.
The RX 570 comes with 4GB of VRAM which is just the right amount for maxing out this resolution (provided that the games you’re running are reasonably optimized, of course). So if you’re looking to build a $500 gaming PC that can handle any game in 1080p at decent graphics, there truly is no better alternative at this price point.
And the Sapphire Pulse Radeon RX 570 embodies the best this GPU has to offer. It doesn’t have any fancy features like RGB lighting, but in terms of practical features, it is stacked.
This sturdy graphics card with a solid metal backplate, big heat sink, 2 heat pipes and dual ball bearing fans has all the components necessary to ensure longevity even after years of hard work.
As for the actual in-game FPS, as we’ve said, you should have no trouble reaching the desired 60 FPS in any and all games, although expect to play certain games at possibly even medium settings. We know that falling this short of the ideal mark which would be 60FPS at highest settings sound a bit disappointing, but remember that this is still only one tier of performance beyond integrated graphics.
Of course, this ‘ideal mark’ is still easily achievable with a slightly expanded budget. A Radeon RX 580 graphics card should have no trouble maxing out 1080p whatsoever, and even the 8GB version of the RX 570 would help. However, we wanted to strictly meet the budget, so the Sapphire Pulse version of the 4GB RX 570 remains the best option.
Related: Best Graphics Card For Gaming
RAM: Corsair Vengeance LPX 8GB
Attempting to game with fewer than 8GB of RAM is an uphill battle that we wouldn’t wish upon anyone. However, even 8GB can prove a bit stifling, despite the fact that most games require between 6 and 8GB of RAM for optimal performance. The thing is, every program running in the background wants to get a piece of that sweet RAM pie, including the operating system, so games never really get to have access to the full 8GB.
They will still very much be playable, although you will want to get into the habit of turning off all programs you’re not actively using. This is why many builders place acquiring 16GB of RAM as one of the top priorities, which is why we have to cater to two types of audiences from this point onward.
Our RAM of choice for this build is Corsair Vengeance LPX. And even though we couldn’t make room in the budget for 16GB of RAM, we’ve made sure that these 8GB are well-stacked, with a 3000MHz clock. Now as for the recommended RAM configuration, that’s where you need to do a little deliberation:
If you want to pay $500 and be done with the PC then you should get two 4GB RAM sticks. This will allow for a dual-channel memory configuration, which, for the purposes of increasing FPS, can end up mattering a lot in certain games. However, if you can see yourself upgrading this build over time, then you may want to buy a single 8GB stick now and another one down the line to pair it up with.
You could technically double down on 4GB sticks, with a grand total of four to get you up to 16GB of RAM, however, this is far from ideal. Since this is an AMD build, you will be locked into dual-channel memory even with four sticks of RAM, but you will be spending more power because of the two additional physical units. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but it is a situation best avoided if possible.
Related: Best RAM For Gaming
Motherboard: Gigabyte B450M DS3H
As for the motherboard, we decided to go with the MSI B450M PRO-VDH MAX.
This micro ATX motherboard is just the pick for a PC at this budget. For starters, the micro ATX form factor strikes the best balance between affordability and performance. And even though the PRO-VDH MAX is among the lower-priced offerings with this chipset, it still has all the features you need for a quality build.
What’s also great is that the motherboard supports RAM clock speeds up to 3866MHz, and it supports Ryzen 3000 out of the box, so you can rest assured that you’ll get some decent mileage out of this motherboard.
There are newer motherboards out there and there are flashier motherboards out there, but if you want the most cost-effective solution that will fit a $500 PC like a glove, then the PRO-VDH MAX is the perfect choice.
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Storage: Crucial MX500 500G SSD
In this day and age when SSDs have become so affordable, choosing an HDD, even as a budget solution just won’t cut it. With that in mind, we give you the Crucial MX500 with 500 GB of storage space – ample room for all the games and media you’ll need.
Yes, we are aware that most people nowadays shoot for at least 1TB, but for a $500 budget PC it’s either a 500 GB SSD, or a 1TB HDD right now. Having said that, we firmly believe that sacrificing that additional 500 GB that most people like to know they have, but never really use for the supreme speeds of solid-state drives is definitely worth it. Plus, coughing up another $40 for an additional 1TB of HDD in the future if you really need it seems pretty achievable.
However, if you don’t want to make an upgrade soon and want to get the most mileage out of the initial $500 investment, then you can either tough it out with 500GB of storage (albeit SSD), or you can get a 1TB Western Digital Black HDD. The Western Digital Black is a gaming-oriented HDD with 7200RPM that will give you the best gaming experience HDDs can offer.
Related: Best HDD For Gaming
Power Supply: Thermaltake Smart 600W
One of the most common (and most dangerous) mistakes novice builds are tempted to make is skimp on the power supply. It’s understandable – power supplies don’t really influence performance in any way – either a PSU can power the PC or it can’t.
But the thing about poorly-made PSUs is that they can literally fry your entire system. The difference between a $20 600W PSU and a $50 600W PSU is that the latter does not put your hardware at risk.
The 80+ rating system is a good indicator of quality. The Thermaltake Smart 600W has only the lowest 80+ ranking, but this is still way better than having an unrated power supply.
The rating means that less than 20% of the power drawn from your wall is going to be wasted. All that wasted power has got to go somewhere, and it isn’t going into the PC. Instead, it ends up heating up the power supply. With even a base 80+ ranked PSU, you know that your power supply adheres to some standard of efficiency.
Another good indicator of quality is the warranty. You’ll, of course, want to purchase a PSU made by a reputable manufacturer so that you know the warranty isn’t a bunch of baloney. But shady power supplies tend to have a 2-year warranty plastered onto them if that. So the fact that the Thermaltake Smart 600W comes with a 5-year warranty should put your mind at ease.
A bronze or gold-rated PSU would be even better if you can snag one on a discount!
Related: How To Choose A Power Supply
Case: Thermaltake Versa H17
We knew from the get-go that we would need a sub-$50 case if we were to ensure all the hardware was up to snuff. Now, this may seem like a lot of cash for some of you first-time builders out there, but this is pretty much the minimum price required in order ensure you get a sturdy, breathable, and manageable case – and even then you should still expect the case to have some minor flaws.
Related: How To Choose A PC Case
But luckily for us, the Thermaltake Versa H17 exceeds expectation given its price tag. For approximately $45 you’re getting a full-metal case that was made with the current gaming scene in mind. This means that none of the precious space inside the case is wasted on optical drive bays, and there’s only a single 3.5-inch HDD tray. So you won’t have any trouble fitting in bulky graphics cards, like the RX 570, and even larger future upgrades.
The case also looks gorgeous. There’s nothing about it that creams GAMING, but the clean matte exterior is a thing of beauty if you prefer inconspicuous cases. The scarce amount of mesh on the front-panel may lead to you believe that the airflow inside the case is rather restrictive, but this isn’t actually the case. Sure, the ventilation would be better if the front were all mesh, but even as it is, the Versa H17 does nothing to impede airflow circulation.
Our only grievance with the case is that it only comes with a single preinstalled fan on the back. There’s room for three fans on the front and one on the top of the case, and we highly suggest making use of at least one of the front mounts. Some 120mm fans go for less than $10, making them a rather reasonable investment for what they bring to the table. In any case, highly advise you to check out this guide for the best case-mounted fans out there.
Related: Best Gaming PC Cases
Now if you’ve been keeping track of the prices so far then you must’ve noticed that all $500 of the budget are accounted for. The build includes only the hardware and the box.
However, just the hardware and the box are not enough to actually get any mileage out of your PC; certainly not enough to do any gaming, serious or otherwise. You’ll need peripherals for that!
So we’re going to highlight some of the best and cost-effective picks relative to this build’s budget. If you’ve got some old peripherals lying around, by all means, use those. But once you see what we have to show and why, you may still consider upgrading your gear.
Operating System: Windows 10
First up, we have to mention the operating system. While not a peripheral per se, you won’t get anything done without it.
Now there are some free operating systems out there, but unfortunately for us, games are optimized with Windows in mind. Many games aren’t even compatible with Linux, and a large portion of the ones that are won’t perform as well as they would on Windows. So if you want to get to most out of your hardware, Windows is the only choice.
Related: What Is The Best OS For Gaming?
Monitor: BenQ GW2480
Picking the monitor for this build rather easy, since in terms of performance this PC is made to do one thing and one thing only – strive towards 60FPS in 1080p. And since we had no reason to include higher refresh rates into the calculation, we immediately turned towards monitors with IPS panels.
The greatest benefit of IPS panels is that they allow for gorgeous colors (plus wider viewing angels). And since we’re going for maximum eye-candy, we wanted a large monitor to maximize the immersion. Of course, we didn’t want to go past 24-inches, since that’s as big as you can comfortably stretch the 1080p resolution without exposing yourself to some unsightly aliasing.
Once we’ve decided on these parameters the BenQ GW2480 became an easy pick.
Of course, we’d still like to offer an alternative for those of you who are into esports and value performance over everything else. This PC can’t run many AAA-titles at more than 60FPS, but eSports are another thing entirely. So, for all your high refresh-rate needs and low response time requirements, we present the AOC G2460PF.
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Keyboard and Mouse: Redragon K552 Bundle
In order to bring you the best value, we decided to forgo scouring the Internet for the best individual keyboard and mouse, and instead look for the best bundle. Redragon immediately stood out as we narrowed our search for affordable yet highly functional bundles.
The Redragon K552 is one of the best entry-level mechanical keyboards on the market. Its custom mechanical switches are responsive, durable, and, most importantly, geared for gaming, while its sturdy metal construction helps make it a keyboard that can withstand the frustrations of losing a match in an online game. What’s more, it’s splash-proof, giving it has that added bit of elemental resistance all gaming keyboards ought to have.
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Of course, seeing as this is a basic mechanical keyboard, you only have the red LED backlight and no Numpad, but we wanted to take a substance-over-style approach here.
On its own, the K552 goes for $33, but this bundle also includes a very decent gaming mouse and a large, water-proof, silk-processed mouse pad with stitched edges for just $45. And if you’re scratching for a headset as well to finish your gaming setup but your wallet has all but run dry, you can get a Redragon headset as well for only an additional $5. It’s obviously a budget headset with a budget-level quality, but for just $5 it definitely overperforms.
Of course, this is just a rough estimate of what we think most gamers building a $500 PC would need. If you aren’t interested in mechanical keyboard whatsoever, you can get the bundle with the S101 keyboard instead. It’s a full-sized keyboard with RGB lighting and a comfortable frame, and it comes with the same mouse for less than $30.
Or in case you think peripherals are worth spending more money on if they’ll look awesome while providing you with the competitive edge, try the K555 + M710 bundle – a full-sized RGB-backlit mechanical keyboard with a wrist rest and an RGB-lit mouse with up to 10000 DPI and weight tuning for $68. It’s may not be cheap but it is a bargain!
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Speakers: Edifier R980T
So first up, we want to emphasize that these speakers cost $70. If this is too expensive for your taste, that’s fine. But in that case, we really don’t have any single alternative we can suggest. Not all lower-priced speakers are of the identical quality, of course, but they are all well below the Edifier R980T in terms of sound quality, so it doesn’t matter to much what you get, so long as you do enough research to know you aren’t buying junk.
What sets the Edifier R980T apart from the competition is the sound quality. Even starting with just the bass, there is a palpable thumping to these speakers, despite the lack of a dedicated subwoofer. The compact size of the speakers does compromize the lower bass, but for the sake of gaming, these speakers are ideal.
Plus they look great! They have an air of genuine quality about them. They’re made from medium-density wood, topped off with a gorgeous black veneer. Leave the grilles on and they blend into their surrounding inconspicuously, take them off and you’ve got speakers that your friends will look twice at.
The only things about these speakers that scream downside are the volume and bass knobs. We’ve just praised these speakers for their inconspicuous exterior, but you may have noticed, looking at the picture, that the R980T speakers are so inconspicuous they don’t even have a volume knob.
Strictly speaking, this isn’t true. The left speaker has both a volume and bass knob, but it’s positioned on the back of the speaker, meaning that you’ll have to either rotate the speaker or reach around and adjust the volume blindly. This can be an annoying inconvenience, but the sound quality of these speakers is so immense that we’re sure you won’t mind this trade-off too much.
Related: Best Gaming Speakers
Controller: Xbox One Controller
In today’s gaming climate, a controller can end up more important than the keyboard and mouse, depending on what type of games you play.
As you can see, we’ve gone out of our way to find affordable quality keyboard and mouse bundles, however, you don’t really have that many options when it comes to controllers.
Sure, there’s no shortage of PC controllers on the market, but if you plan to do most of your gaming on the controller, then you’ll need an Xbox One controller. No controller manufacturer save for Sony even comes close to offering the same level of quality, but the problem with Sony is that their DualShock 4 controller is only officially supported through Steam. And for better or for worse, Steam is no longer the only relevant client installed on most gamers’ PCs.
Even if you need a controller just for a couple of game every now and then, an Xbox 360 controller would be a wiser pick than anything else in that price range. But if you intend to game on the controller full-time, then getting the Xbox One controller will save you a lot of headaches in the future. It’s responsive, it’s ergonomic, and it’s no longer as expensive as it used to be.
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Now there are just a few last extra peripherals that you may find useful but that are by no means necessary, so here goes:
Headset: Corsair H60
If you need a headset and you want something better than the Redragon solution you can get in a bundle, then look no further than the Corsair H60.
The H60 is one of the latest gaming headsets by Corsair and its one that strikes the balance between affordability and quality perfectly.
It has a sound profile that’s perfect for gaming, with a decent but not overpowering bass. Needless to say, the virtual 7.1 capabilities are there and they are on point. But more importantly, it has the comfort you’ll need to get through those prolonged gaming sessions. The headset is lightweight, has enough adjustability to form a snug fit around most heads, and offers the pillow-like level of plushness we’ve come to expect from Corsair.
Most importantly, the microphone is very clear. It’s a bit thin, but this shouldn’t ever be an issue when playing team-based online games, which is what the mic was made for in the first place. Also, it’s one of the most versatile headsets around, as it’s compatible not only with the PC but all the major consoles as well. In fact, you can connect it to anything with the right adapter.
Related: Best Gaming Headset
External DVD Drive: LG Electronic 8X
If you’ve started formulating a mean commend to our praising Thermaltake for finally getting rid of the optical drive bay, worry not, we’ve got you covered. We make this build with the widest audience in mind, and for better or for worse, most gamers have long abandoned buying physical game discs in favor of digital downloads.
But that doesn’t mean this build won’t work for you if you prefer owning physical copies of your games. Of course, you can always just opt for a different case, or you can buy an external DVD drive.
The LG Electronics 8X is a portable DVD writer that only requires a USB 2.0 connection to work. It may not be the most elegant solution, but the fact that you can conveniently use it with multiple PCs in a day and age when most PCs don’t have optical disc drives does have its benefits. And it will only set you back $30.
Wrist Rest: VicSting
Lastly, in case you do get the K522 keyboard, or any other keyboard that should be unable to type out the word ergonomic, you want a wrist rest to ensure maximum comfort during long hours of gameplay.
To this end, we give you the VicSting two-part wrist rest, for both the keyboard and mouse. This combination of memory foam, superfine fiber, and gel will ensure a level of comfort during gaming so high that you’ll wonder how you’ve ever got by without this $10 product.
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In summation, while there are still areas in which this PC needs improvement – an additional 8GB RAM stick for example – it should be crystal clear that it’s no slouch.
If you’re looking to run AAA titles on a budget at better settings than what consoles could offer, then this is the right PC build for you!
Now all that’s left is to order the parts and put them together, but we have no doubt you’ll succeed at this. There are loads of helpful guides online that you can refer to, so just things one step at a time and enjoy the best gaming $500 can buy!