Whenever someone asks us about the minimum amount of money they’d have to spend to get a decent gaming PC, our answer is always $500.
This is not a random number — a $500 PC is the cheapest system you can get that contains a dedicated graphics card, which is the cornerstone of any gaming PC.
Of course, you could get a cheaper GPU, but it would be neither better nor cheaper than any of the integrated graphics cards in AMD APUs, so we wouldn’t recommend it.
Now, we know that it’s not exactly easy to get your hands on PC components these days, GPUs in particular. That’s why this build may not look like it could have during the good old days before the world was plunged into chaos.
Nevertheless, we’ve managed to put together a rig that will hold its ground against any modern title.
So, if you’re interested in what this system looks like and what you can expect from it, just keep on reading.
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The Best $500 Gaming PC Build For 2021
Updated: May 3, 2021
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So, how exactly should you tailor your expectations for this affordable gaming rig?
Well, a rig such as this one could have been called a console killer just a few months ago. While it can’t be called the same now that the Xbox Series X and the PS5 are out, this is still a system that rivals any last-gen console capabilities.
You will be able to play most AAA games with 50FPS if you desire to do so. Even if this means not playing at the highest settings, you’ll still be able to enjoy better graphics than you would on a PS4 or Xbox One X.
To deliver the best performance imaginable at this price, we had to forgo some upgrade options. 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.
The PC Build
Now that you have an overview of the build, we’ll present to you the parts that constitute this gaming PC, and what you can expect from each of them.
Let’s get started with the individual PC components that make this the best $500 gaming PC for 2021.
With a $500 budget, you can’t be too picky with your processor if you want to have room for a decent graphics card. Luckily, both Intel and AMD have some decent options that can fit this budget nicely, and the one we opted for is the Intel Core i3-10100.
This processor has 4 cores, 8 threads, a base clock speed of 3.6 GHz, and a max boost clock speed of 4.3 GHz, and it can compete toe-to-toe with the AMD Ryzen 3 3300X. The only major difference between the two is that the i3-10100 is more readily available at the moment, which is the main reason we went with Intel over AMD on this one.
Now, one difference between the two manufacturers that might matter to you as a gamer is that all AMD processors are unlocked, while Intel’s aren’t.
If overclocking is something you’re interested in, Intel might not be the right choice for you at this price range. But if you don’t mind having a locked CPU, the i3-10100 will work perfectly.
Cooler: Intel Stock Cooler
Every CPU needs a good cooler, and luckily for us, most Intel’s CPUs come with a stock cooler free of charge.
The i3-10100 is accompanied by Intel’s standard stock cooler. This might not be anything to write home about, but it’s still perfectly capable of keeping up with this CPU at stock settings.
Keep in mind, however, that the airflow in your case also matters, so make sure to check your CPU temperatures occasionally to determine if you need a better cooler. Even if you do need one, though, it won’t set you back by much unless you’re going for something high-end and glowing.
As we’ve already mentioned, the thing that makes this $500 exponentially better than any $400 system is the fact that it doesn’t have to rely on integrated graphics.
Even a weak dedicated graphics card will be a massive improvement over integrated graphics. That said, the GPU we chose to spearhead this system is nowhere near weak. The MSI GeForce GTX 1650 GAMING X is a beast; overpriced, but a beast nonetheless.
This GPU is a great option for 1080p gaming. While it can’t max out all games you decide to throw at it, it does an excellent job at running all modern titles at a decent 45-55FPS in most cases after a little graphics settings adjustment.
Now, we would like to point out that, given the current market climate, the prices are awfully volatile. From time to time, you can come across an RX 570 card from AMD that’s miles better for about the same price. So, keep your eyes peeled for that card if you want to get the best value out of this build.
That said, don’t worry about it if you don’t manage to find it. As we’ve said, the GTX 1650 with 4GB of VRAM is a great GPU for 1080p gaming. It will allow you to play titles such as Assassin’s Creed Odyssey at 37FPS, Fortnite at 75FPS, PUBG at 92FPS, Forza Horizon 4 at 55, and Far Cry New Dawn at 74FPS on average, all at maximum settings.
Keep in mind that this won’t be the case with the more modern AAA titles. Still, with a little clever optimization, you’ll be able to enjoy a perfectly reasonable gaming experience even in those games.
This is by no means a small feat, although we would recommend upgrading to 16GB of RAM the first chance you get. It’s not that you can’t get by with 8GB, but 16GB will provide a tangible performance boost in both gaming and productivity-related tasks.
So, if you’re looking to build a $500 gaming PC that can handle games in 1080p at decent graphics, this is currently the best you can get without exceeding the budget.
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 to be a bit stifling, even though 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, but you’ll 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 their top priorities, which forces us 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 can end up making a big difference in certain games as it can slightly increase the FPS.
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.
This is especially true if you get the MSI B460M-A PRO motherboard with only two RAM slots. A more expensive motherboard would give you more options, but even then you’d be better off making this choice before you commit to your purchase.
As for the motherboard, we decided to go with the MSI B460M-A PRO. This micro ATX motherboard is just the pick for this budget PC.
For starters, the micro ATX form factor strikes the best balance between affordability and performance. Even though the MSI B460M-A PRO is among the lower-priced offerings with the LGA 1200 chipset, it still has all the features you need for a quality budget build.
This is a very basic board, and you shouldn’t expect much from it in terms of special features, but it’s one of the best LGA 1200 motherboards to get if you’re looking to save money. It has plenty of USB and SATA ports, an M.2 heatsink, Audio Boost, easy-to-navigate BIOS, and even some handy Debug LEDs.
The motherboard also supports RAM clock speeds up to 2933MHz, and it is compatible with 10th-gen Intel processors out of the box, so you can rest assured that you’ll get some decent mileage out of it.
Keep in mind, though, that B460 models don’t support 11th-gen Intel processors, so if you ever decide to upgrade, you’ll have to get a new motherboard as well.
The two things we would highlight as the biggest downsides of this board are the fact that it only has one fan header and only two RAM slots.
Now, the first problem is easy to overcome by simply getting a splitter, but the second is a bit trickier, especially for a gaming system since it makes upgrading the RAM difficult. However, a more expensive motherboard simply couldn’t fit the budget, so we had to settle for this one despite its shortcomings.
That said, it’s not unusual to find more expensive motherboards on a discount, so if you happen to come across one that fits this build you can always get it instead. An alternative option is to keep an eye out for the Gigabyte B460M DS3H for when it comes back in stock.
All in all, there are newer and flashier motherboards out there, but if you want a cost-effective solution that fits this $500 PC, then the MSI B460M-A PRO is a decent choice.
With that said, if you have a bit more money to spare, we suggest taking a look at the ASRock B460M Pro4. It’s only $15 more expensive, but it has a few more interesting features and some neat RGB to boot.
In this day and age, SSDs have become so affordable that picking an HDD, even as a budget solution, just won’t cut it. With that in mind, we give you the ADATA SU635 with 480 GB of storage space.
Yes, we’re 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 just 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, games these days tend to be rather large, so if you’re the type of person who likes to have all of your games installed whether you play them or not, and want to get the most mileage out of the initial $500 investment, instead of toughing it out with 480GB of storage (albeit SSD), you can get a 1TB Western Digital Caviar Blue HDD.
The Western Digital Caviar Blue is a gaming-oriented HDD with 7200RPM that will give you the best gaming experience HDDs can offer.
One of the most common (and most dangerous) mistakes novice builds are tempted to make is skimp on the power supply. This is understandable since 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 fry your entire system. The difference between a $20 500W PSU and a $50 500W 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 500W 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 heats 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 will, 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 500W 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!
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 to ensure you get a sturdy, breathable, and manageable case — and even then you should still expect it to have flaws.
But luckily for us, the Cooler Master MasterBox Q300L exceeds expectations given its price tag. For approximately $50, you get a spacious case with both fan and radiator support if, at some point, you choose the water-cooling route.
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 even bulkier graphics cards than the GTX 1650.
The case also looks gorgeous. There’s nothing about it that screams GAMING, but the clean exterior is a thing of beauty if you prefer inconspicuous cases.
When it comes to airflow, we can’t say that it’s perfect, considering it only comes with a single pre-installed fan in the back. Actually, this is our only grievance with this case.
The good news is there’s room for two fans in the front and 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. So, with one or two additional cases, the airflow would be perfectly reasonable, especially because the case has a mesh front and top.
If the price of this build has risen by the time you’re reading this, and you want to cut down your expenses a little bit, you can also take a look at the slightly cheaper CougarMX330 or the 330-X cases. We can guarantee that they retain the build quality and style (if you can find them).
These were just our favorite budget picks, but if you want to see more options, take a look at the link below. We also highly advise you to check out this guide for the best case-mounted fans out there.
If you’ve been keeping track of the prices so far, 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!
That’s why we’re going to highlight some of the best and most cost-effective peripherals 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.
First up, we have to mention the operating system. While it is not a peripheral per se, you won’t get anything done without it.
There are some free operating systems out there, but unfortunately for us, games are optimized with Windows in mind. Most 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 the most out of your hardware, Windows is the only choice.
Picking the monitor for this build was 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 angles. 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 the most you can comfortably stretch the 1080p resolution to without exposing yourself to some unsightly aliasing.
Once we decided on these parameters, the HP 24mh became an easy pick.
This monitor has an IPS panel with FHD and it actually has a 75Hz refresh rate. This is a little higher than we hoped to get, and it means that the monitor will be able to register up to 75 FPS in games where your GPU can deliver. This is a welcome bonus to an otherwise already perfect monitor.
In addition to this, the HP 24mh also has a low blue light mode that protects your eyes by switching to slightly warmer colors, as well as built-in speakers. As expected from an integrated sound system on a budget monitor, it isn’t anything special, but it’s enough to let you get by until you get actual speakers if you don’t already have them.
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.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for something cheaper, you can take a look at the Samsung LC24F396FHNXZA, or the Acer SB220Q, which is considered one of the best budget monitors on the market considering its price.
For the peripherals section, we tried our best to choose items that are price-wise appropriate for a $500 build. As such, we were delighted to find this amazing Havit mechanical keyboard, mouse, and headset kit, and we’re sure you will be too.
Some people tend to shy away from bundles thinking that buying each item separately would net them a greater value. Granted, sometimes this is the case, but there are some gems out there that are worth checking out, and this combo is definitely one of them.
For less than $100, you get a full-sized mechanical keyboard complete with adjustable RGB.
Not only that, but the keyboard has a metal shroud that gives it heft, durability, and protection from bending. It comes with a detachable wrist rest, as well as anti-ghosting and full n-key rollover, which allows the keyboard to register every single key and in the right order, even if you press all of them at once.
The mouse is likewise impressive with its bright RGB and 6 DPI levels, the highest of which is at 4800 DPI, which will be plenty for a 1080p monitor. Those of you who prefer first-person shooters will be glad to know that the mouse also has 2 programmable buttons, and an ergonomic design reminiscent of the Razer Viper, or most other Razer mice for that matter.
And finally, there’s the headset. Like every other item in this bundle, the headset is equipped with RGB lighting, which is a bit unnecessary in this case, but we’re not complaining. It has soft, memory foam ear cups and 50mm drivers.
It also has virtual surround sound which, despite not coming close to the more expensive headsets, sounds surprisingly crisp and clear, and the same goes for the microphone.
Well, there you have it. If you need a keyboard, mouse, and headset, and don’t plan on spending hundreds of dollars on them, this Havit bundle is definitely worth a try.
Of course, with the awesome new keyboard and mouse, you’ll need a mouse pad to match them.
The Ktrio Extended Gaming Mouse Pad is an excellent choice for anyone on a budget. It has a micro-weave cloth surface that feels smooth under the mouse, but is actually textured enough to give you that extra bit of control.
The underside is a sticky kind of rubber that will keep your mouse pad in place, which is always neat to have. What we like most about it, though, are the stitched edges that prevent fraying and damage over time, and the waterproof surface, too.
And of course, there’s the design. This is a clean, black, extended mouse pad, or an XL one if you will. As such, it’s large enough to accommodate both your full-sized keyboard and mouse with room to spare.
These kinds of extra large mouse pads are becoming increasingly popular within the gaming community, and it’s easy to see why. They look and feel stunning. In fact, this particular Ktrio pad is the smallest out of all the ones they have.
Now, we understand that not all of you like large mouse pads, or have enough room for something of this size on your desks, in which case you can take a look at the HyperX FURY S mouse pads. These come in various designs and sizes, one of which is sure to appeal to you. If you’d like to browse even more options, you can check out the link below for more recommendations.
In today’s gaming climate, a controller can end up being 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, 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 games every now and then, an Xbox 360 controller would be a wiser pick than anything else in this price range. So specially if you intend to game on the controller full-time, getting the Xbox One controller will save you a lot of headaches in the future.
It’s responsive and ergonomic, and it’s no longer as expensive as it used to be.
When thinking of PC peripherals, most people forget all about the chair. This is unfortunate because a chair is a part of your setup that makes a huge difference in how you game and how you feel in front of the monitor. Not only that, but it will greatly affect your health and posture, too.
For this particular build, we chose something that looks great, has an ergonomic design, and is affordable enough to comfortably fit anyone’s budget, and that’s the BestOffice Mesh Chair.
Like the name says, the seat is made of a mesh material that allows the skin to breathe during hot summer months. But don’t worry — it still has a soft cushion to sit on and plastic support on the backrest, which functions as lumbar support and makes you sit upright at all times.
While this is by no means a high-end chair, and far from the best chair we’ve recommended on this website, it’s a great choice for those of you not ready to spend a fortune but still looking for something that won’t twist your spine. It’s also an amazing choice for children and teenagers thanks to its smaller frame.
Lastly, in case you do get the K552 keyboard or any other keyboard that could 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 HyperX Wrist Rest.
This combination of memory foam, superfine fiber and gel will ensure such a high level of comfort during gaming that you’ll wonder how you ever got by without this $20 product.
In summation, while there are still areas in which this PC needs improvement — an additional 8GB RAM stick, for example, or an additional fan or two —, 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 the PS4 or the Xbox One could offer, this is the right PC build for you.
All that’s left now is to acquire all the parts and put them together.
Until a while ago, assembling a PC was the difficult part; but nowadays, it seems like ordering the components will give you a bigger headache than that ever could. Nevertheless, where there’s a will, there’s a way, so stay positive and be persistent, and we’re sure you’ll soon be putting together your brand new PC.
And if you build yourself into a pinch, remember that there are loads of helpful guides online that you can refer to. So just take things one step at a time and enjoy your awesome $500 gaming PC to the fullest.