Parts are expensive these days. Whether you’re looking for the latest in CPU chips, the strongest of last gen’s graphics, or a working human heart that’s still in good condition, the buying market for home-builders is in rough shape. But, you may wonder… is it still possible to get a good, high-quality gaming experience in the modern age? Well, yes, yes it is. For this guide I’ll be using modern console pricing as a framework for building a good, strong computer that will last you for this generation–giving us a budget of between $500 and $600 dollars. So, read on to learn what to look for when picking out PC parts for your own nefarious purposes, and stick it to the retailers and miners who would have you pay more.
Each PC comes with seven core parts, that is parts that are functionally required for the PC to work. I’ll list them all below, with my choice for headlining budget option for our build here, but I want you to go in prepared, so I’ll put a brief write-up here for those who are interested. If you already know these core parts, or if you just want to see the list, scroll on.
Processor – The thinking engine of any modern PC, and the driving force behind it. The CPU is required to get everything in running order–to put the ”computer” in “personal computer”. Measured in gigahertz as a unit of speed, across multiple cores of power.
Graphics Card – A separate processing core solely for pushing visuals to your screen or monitor. In a gamer’s rig, this will often be the most expensive part–and for good reason.
Memory – Sticks of temporary storage the computer uses to stay agile. Data is stored in RAM sticks while being shuffled around your CPU. Think of these like ‘pockets’; they can’t hold as much as your house, but you also don’t need to drive home every time you need to pay for gum.
The Motherboard – This is where all of the above parts will live, where they need to attach to work and become one central unit. It’s also where everything attaches; housing this and everything on it is why we need a case.
Storage Suite – At the basic level, this will be a hard drive, with more or less storage space and slower or faster spin-up times, to move things there. If you’re willing to drop more money, you can get a ‘solid-state’ drive, which doesn’t spin and works faster overall but comes at an extreme cost increase per terabyte of space.
Power Supply – Inarguably the most important part of the PC. The power supply or PSU is simply what diverts power to all the parts of your PC, and without it there is no PC.Cheap pre-built computers you buy often skimp on these; I would only do so at your peril, as a bad PSU can cause loading issues, shutdowns, or even small fires.
The Case – The skin, the shell, the outside. The case, the last and somewhat optional component of any computer, and one that is also subject to opinions on aesthetics and size. However, inside of each case are some important points to note.
With that out of the way, let’s begin.
The 600 Dollar PC Components
What? A Pentium?! Yes, believe it or not dear readers I am pushing a Pentium chip from last year on you. However, don’t be fooled; this isn’t some ten year old dinosaur. The G4560 is a relatively recent dual-core processor, coming in early last year and predating much of the pricing craze and mining that’s taken place. However, it still holds up; it’s a standard 14nm chip for any LGA1151 chipset, so any modern Intel motherboard will hold it. It’s also a 3.50 GHz processor with a low power draw that should fit easily into any system.
Sure, sure; it’s not flashy. It’s also not going do you any favors if and when it comes time to process videos or crunch numbers for your next shuttle launch. However, for gaming, the GPU is far more important. And don’t be fooled by the 4560’s price tag, either. In a good sale you might find one for as low as $45, but out of the box at a roughly $60 price point the 4650 competes with and meets the standards of chips that can cost as much as double. You’ll feel its budget price when you pay, you’ll feel how little it cost when you open the box and put it into your machine… but when you load up a game, you won’t find a trace of that bargain pricing anywhere. Definitely recommended, and the money we save here will come right back into the machine down the line.
Here we go. A solid option for a budget gamer, from a great manufacturer with a good warranty policy. The real deal. This 1050 Ti comes in at a stock 4GB of video memory, with a decent speed, making it far more cost-effective than the old 2GB ones, without adding much to the cost. Perfect for gaming. It’s also extremely power efficient, working with a surprising 75 watt draw in a market where stronger, more expensive competitors and offerings above it in the GTX line are working well over double that. You can also drop an extra ten on it to get a version with two fans instead of one, to keep it cooler. Great if you’re interested in overclocking.
At the end of the day, it’s not the best out there but it does take the top spot in its price category, which is exactly what we’re looking for. It’s also very capable of meeting current console standards as far as graphical settings and resolution goes, and with the Pentium G4560 listed above, will easily be able to play pretty much every modern game on some kind of settings, or turn those same games up a little at the cost of some frames–just like consoles do. It won’t be able to beat some of the big exclusives, but it’s a fantastic starting point for someone getting into the market, or a great deal on an affordable core part for a gamer looking to save cash.
This is quite literally where it all comes together. I had several options here, so I went through the entire rest of the build again piece by piece to make sure it would all work well together, and then I picked the best motherboard for all of it together, on a cost-to-performance ratio. To that end, it’s hard to beat the B250M Gaming PRO for our purposes. It’s a great budget offering from a well-known company, and in an actual gaming line. With a little extra of the cost we saved from some of these great bargains, we can spring for a package that’ll do everything we need out of the box and provide for a solid platform to hold the rest of our build. And it’s a Micro ATX board, so even if you want to get a more compact case, this motherboard will be ready.
Technically speaking, the B250M has everything we need. A full PCI Express slot for our graphics card, a pair of slots for our one stick of memory and a future possible upgrade, and full support for all components. And if it matters to you, it’s got a pretty slick look to it that coincidentally matches with everything else on this list.
Extra 100 bucks upgrade: Best Gaming PC Under $700
Vital, yet cheap and effective. For a modern hard disk drive, 750 gigabytes may not seem like much, but the real key to this drive is its 7200 RPM speed. That means that you lose a bit of storage, but you take a huge chunk off the price for that, while keeping it fast and reliable. It’s also cheap and easy to upgrade to something more substantial as an option, if your budget allows, but for the low, low price of $25 you can’t beat something this worthwhile.
It helps that Seagate is a reliable company that I and many thousands of others swear by, with useful tools you can get from them for free and a warranty that’s come in handy for me the one single time I’ve needed it over my long time buying from them. It does its job well, and 750 gigs is nothing to sneeze at. Unless you want to; it’s your hard drive, I won’t stop you.
Lower Cost PC Build: Best Gaming PC Under $500
Another offering from a company I’ve used several times before, this is actually a cousin of the RAM in the machine I’m currently using at home. Corsair’s done a good job with the Vengeance series of RAM, providing a good line of chips that have always managed well the balance between price and performance, providing us with a single 8GB board of DDR4 memory clocked at 2400MHz, easily on par with modern gaming offerings–because it is one. One of these gives you enough memory to meet or exceed the minimums of just about any game ever made, and being a full 8GB in one stick of RAM, it’s also easy to upgrade later with another single-chip purchase, doubling you to a full, robust 16GB.
One thing to note is that the Vengeance here is low-profile, without any of the fiddly bits on top that can get in the way of a more compact machine. This will help it to fit in any build, even counting the smaller Micro ATM sizing some motherboards and cases bring. It also comes in multiple colors, if you’re interested in bringing in a little customization.
6) POWER SUPPLY
As I’ve said before, and as I will continue to say for the rest of my days–you can’t skimp on the PSU if you want to have a good PC build. After picking a decent brand with a good name for itself and the wattage you’ll need, at the bare minimum you need to make sure that your power supply is at least 80+ Bronze rated. This is a measure of efficiency and overall quality of the components used and the build inside, and guarantees a minimum of 80% power efficiency through draw. This makes sure your system works better, helps keep it cool, and means you’ll have an overall much better time, especially since it means your machine probably won’t catch fire.
The EVGA 450 is, naturally, a 450 watt PSU with an 80+ Bronze certification, which effectively won’t get you much less than anything Silver or Gold rated, especially in a build with such a low total cost in power as we have here. It’s also pretty cheap for a fully modular power supply, which comes with detachable cables for a fully customized presence in your case, a major help in cable control and keeping the interior clean and manageable. And for our build, 450w is more than enough to keep us supplied in power and ready to go.
Before I begin, I need to explain something about your choice of case. The choice is an important one, because it also chooses the outside design of your case. And even then, if aesthetics don’t exactly matter to you, you still have a wealth of low-budget offerings that can get as cheap as twenty bucks on sale for some surprisingly good cases. But, this is an endeavor, as the case has so many different features that it’s hard to pick a single catch-all case in any price range that will satisfy every customer. However, I have made my choice below, and I feel like if you were to just stick with the 200R, you’d be fine.
This is a fantastic and long-lived case with a huge market share, and for many good reasons. These days, any case will set you back at least a modest amount with all the extra fans you need to buy to fill them up; luckily, the 200R comes with every fan you’ll need out the gate, for running any setup that will fit inside. However, it also has a few extra slots, for those that want more airflow. In addition, it’s also got a host of the expected features; drives and bays, internal space, USB 3.0, the works. It’s even a Mid ATX format despite its compact size, allowing you enough room to work with for a multitude of builds and upgrades. Overall, a solid recommendation.
I feel like it’s safe to say this is a good, final build for this level of power. We managed to get everything major, splurge just a little, and throw together a cost-effective build that will do everything we need it to do right out of the box, without breaking the bank. And I even left a thirty-dollar flex gap for minor cost increases or any starting budget games you may want to buy–but, I also didn’t include any of the numerous sales or offers that were currently on these parts, at the time of writing. That would have taken another $55 off of the price–and if you shop around, you might be able to scrape up the same in rebates and sales. With another $100 free, you could drop it anywhere in the build you want, be it getting a bigger case, a future-proof motherboard, or something like a GTX 1060 for a bit more power. The world is your oyster.
Now, let that be a lesson to you. It is still possible in these dark, costly days to build a budget PC and game with it. Party on, dudes.
Guide Written By Devon Boyette