On the fence on whether or not to get a console or a new cheap gaming PC? This solid $500 gaming PC build will have you playing any game on medium settings and most esports titles on max settings.
One of the common myths about PC gaming is that it is too expensive to get into. Yes, a high-end gaming PC will cost you a bit more upfront than a console. However, you can do more with a PC than you can with a console. And, the reality is that a gaming PC doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. In this guide, we’re going to present you with a solid-performing $500 gaming PC build and go over what it is capable of.
First, though, it’s important to note that you can get a more powerful system for your budget by building your own PC. And, considering how tight of a budget you are working with, building your PC will allow you to squeeze as much performance out of your $500 budget than will choosing a similarly-priced prebuilt system.
Fortunately, building your own PC is not difficult (check out the FAQ section for our Step-by-Step Build Guide.) And, while choosing compatible components takes a bit of research, we’ve handled that for you with this guide.
The affordable gaming PC build listed below is perfect for gamers who are working with a tight budget, but who want to be able to play their favorite games on at least medium settings on a 1080p monitor.
If you want to browse more affordable PC build options, check out our Cheap Gaming PC Build guide.
Part List for $500 PC Build
|CPU||Intel Core i3-12100F|
|GPU||ASRock ARC A580|
|CASE||Thermaltake Versa H18|
Grand Total: $470-$530
*Component prices fluctuate daily. Click ‘Price on Amazon’ to see the most-up-to-date price.
**You’ll need an operating system. Windows 11 is free to download but a license costs ~$125. However, you can still install Windows for free and it will work indefinitely without activating it—there will just be a watermark at the bottom left of your desktop asking you to activate it.
Next Option: $600 Gaming PC Build »
$500 PC Build Overview
How good is this array of hardware?
The combination of the i3-12100F, ARC A580, and the 16GB of RAM will allow you to play most games on higher settings on a 1080P monitor.
For non-demanding popular titles like Fortnite, Minecraft, Roblox, League of Legends, Valorant, Rocket League, or older games like Skyrim, etc. this PC will run then on medium-or-higher settings with a high framerate.
This build will also work for running more-demanding titles (like Starfield, Assassin’s Creed, God of War, Elden Ring, etc.) as well, but you will have to lower the settings a bit to achieve a consistent playable framerate.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find that kind of performance out of a $500 prebuilt PC.
It’s the perfect cheap gaming PC for gamers who don’t have a ton of money to spend, but who want a solid entry-level machine that will allow them to play their favorite games.
Quality Case & PSU for Upgrades
This system also comes with an MSI 550W 80 PLUS Bronze-rated power supply, which will allow you to upgrade to a mid-tier GPU in the future with no problems.
And, you get a Thermaltake Versa H18 case that has a tempered glass side panel, a full length PSU shroud, will offer plenty of room for a larger graphics card, and will provide adeqaute airflow.
Ultimately, if you’re looking to get into PC gaming without dropping thousands of dollars on a new machine, the part list below will get the job done for you…
*NOTE: If you don’t want to build your own PC, click the “Shop Pre-Builts” button in the section above to see a similarly priced pre-built gaming computer.
ARC A580 Benchmark
If you’re still on the fence about building your own PC, or you have questions before you make your decision you have three options:
- Use the form below to get help on your decision
- Ask a question in the comment section below
- Scroll through the FAQ below for answers to some common questions
The section below also highlights some of the decisions we made in this part list as well as goes over future upgrades you can make to take this system to the next level.
1. How Do I Build This PC?
You will need to assemble all of the individual components you have purchased into a working PC. Fortunately, this process is not difficult! And, it’s a lot of fun. If you’ve never built a PC before, use our Step-by-Step PC building guide to walk you through the process.
2. Why Not Go With an APU?
AMD’s Ryzen APUs are a popular processor option for many budget gamers. Their integrated graphics are good enough to run most games on at least lower settings. However, while AMD’s new APUs are solid alternatives to a budget GPU/CPU combo, at the $500 price point, an Intel Core i3-12100F paired with an ARC A580 will be more powerful than AMD’s most powerful APU.
I’ve put together a more thorough write-up on the battle of APUs vs CPUs and that should help clear up when the new APUs make sense over a traditional CPU/GPU combo. As of right now, we use the Ryzen 5 5600G in our $300 PC build. We’ve also used APUs in our $400 gaming PC in the past, too, but currently that’s another budget-range where it makes more sense to go with a CPU and dedicated graphics card.
3. Intel Core i3-12100F vs Ryzen 3 4100 or Ryzen 5 4500?
It’s a tough decision in choosing the Intel Core i3-12100f over the Ryzen 3 4100 and Ryzen 5 4500. All three are solid performers for their price and they all offer excellent CPU upgrade paths.
Right now, the i3-12100F is the stronger of the three processors and it is cheaper to pair it with a budget H610 chipset motherboard than it is to pair a Ryzen 5 4500 with a budget B450 chipset motherboard.
The cost of the Ryzen 3 4100 and a compatible B450 motherboard will only be about ~$20 less expensive than an i3-12100F. We felt the performance difference that the i3-12100F offered was the better option.
However, you could make a case for opting for the 4100 if you think you can squeeze a higher-end GPU into the build. Right now, though, there’s a big price gap between the ARC A580 (~$160) and the next logical GPU upgrade (over ~$200).
4. Why Only An ARC A580?
In the past, we’ve been able to fit a much more powerful GPU into the $500 build. However, with higher GPU prices, the ARC A580 is currently the only video card option that makes sense.
You could forego a dedicated graphics card altogether and opt for one of AMD’s APUs (namely, the Ryzen 5 5400G or the Ryzen 7 5700G). The cost would be similar and, while you might not get as much overall GPU performance right now, you would be setup well to upgrade in the future, because all you would need to do is add a higher-end graphics card.
We opted for the i3-12100F/ARC A580 combo, though, as it will offer more performance now.
And, as mentioned above, if you can find a good deal on a GPU better than the A580, you could drop the CPU down to a Ryzen 3 4100 to make room for it.
5. Why Is the Price Higher Than $500?
Even when cryptocurrency miners aren’t driving up graphics card prices, or there are global supply chain issues, or we’re seeing the highest inflation in decades, individual PC hardware prices fluctuate on a daily basis.
So, if I update this guide one day and the total price is under $500, it’s possible that the next day—or even within just a couple of hours—the price could be higher (or lower.)
If you see the prices on this guide go over $500 and you can’t afford to go over that budget, you’ll need to alter the build a bit in order to keep the price down.
While I do try to update this guide on a regular basis, if you want to see a version of this build that gets updated more frequently, check out our Affordable PC Build guide that I linked to at the top of this page.
6. Why Isn’t Windows 11 Included in the Price?
Yes, it’s true…
We didn’t include Windows 11 in the price of this build.
But, we do have a few of reasons for that. You will need an operating system for your new build. And, while you can just pay ~$125 for a Windows 11 license from Microsoft, there are ways to get around paying that much.
At ~$125, a copy of Windows will drastically reduce the kind of performance you can get out of a $500 budget.
So, below, I’ve listed three different ways you can either forego purchasing Windows 11, or get it at a discounted price so that you can allocate more money to the actual hardware in your build.
You Could Always Go With Linux!
First, Windows 11 isn’t 100% necessary in order to build a gaming PC. You could, instead, go with a free Linux-based system.
However, the downside of Linux is that it doesn’t support nearly as many games as Windows.
But, if you’re strapped for cash, you could always go the Linux route to start with. And, then when you have some more money, you can purchase a Windows key and switch over.
Windows 11 on the Cheap!
The second reason why we did not include the cost of Windows 11 in the build is that there are ways to get it for less than the full retail price (~$125).
The short answer is that Kinguin and G2A should probably be avoided for Windows keys, but if you don’t mind the somewhat blackhat nature of it all, it is an option that a lot of people choose. (And, if you do purchase a Windows 11 key from Kinguin, make sure you add the Kinguin Buyer’s Protection.)
If you don’t like the idea of purchasing a Windows key from a third-party site, if you’re a college student or you serve in the military, you can get Windows 11 for 10% off through the Microsoft store.
Windows 11 for Free?!
Finally, it is actually incredibly easy to get Windows 11 for free. In fact, you can go straight to Microsoft’s website and download Windows for free. If you download it to a USB, you can boot from that drive on your new computer, and install Windows with no key necessary.
And, you’ll actually get a working copy of Windows.
The problem is that the free version of Windows won’t be licensed unless you register it with a legit key.
However, a lot of people have reported that you don’t really lose much if you never end up registering your copy of Windows.
And, you could always build your system now, install the free copy of Windows 11, and use that until you can afford to purchase a full license. That would give you an extra $125 to spend on your CPU/GPU combo now, and that could potentially give you a lot more performance to start out.
Is it the most ethical way to go about it? Tough to say. Microsoft doesn’t stop you from adding it to your PC for free, though. And, with such a tight budget, that extra $125 would mean a significant downgrade in components. So, I say skip purchasing a Windows license so that you can maximize your in-game performance now.
7. How to Upgrade this Build
The main goal with all budget PC builds is to eventually upgrade them so that they offer ideal in-game performance.
There are three main ways to upgrade a PC to get better gaming performance out of it:
- Upgrade your GPU
- Upgrade your CPU
- Add more/upgrade your RAM
First, Upgrade Your GPU
In this $500 build, the first thing I would upgrade would be the graphics card. It’s going to have the biggest impact on your in-game performance (as the i3-12100F is an adequate processor for 1080P gaming.)
The following GPUs would make for a good upgrade:
- RTX 4070
- RX 7700 XT
- RX 7800 XT
Just note, though, that a serious GPU upgrade is going to require that you upgrade the 550-watt power supply in this build. You could always alter this build to feature a higher-end power supply so that you can easily swap in a better graphics card down the road. But, that will definitely take you over the $500 budget.
Second, Upgrade Your CPU
The Intel Core i3-12100F is by no means a high-end processor. But, considering that most modern games rely more heavily on GPU performance than they do on CPU performance, the 12100F will work just fine for 1080P gaming for the forseeable future.
So, it would make sense to hold off on upgrading the 12100F as it won’t be a bottleneck even after you’ve upgraded your GPU.
Still, though, it would be good to upgrade it eventually as there are more powerful options out there. With the motherboard in this build, the following processors would make worth upgrades:
- Intel Core i5-12400(F)
- Intel Core i7-12700(F)
Of the two, we’d opt for the i7-12700 or 12700F as those will offer you more cores and threads.
It’s important to note that while the motherboard in this system could house a newer 13th generation Intel CPU like the i7-13700, those CPUs are a bit more power hungry than 12th gen Intel CPUs and, so, a 13th gen Intel CPU may be throttled by this motherboard.
So, if you do want to upgrade to a 13th generation or 14th generation Intel CPU, you’re also going to want to upgrade the motherboard to a chipset that will provide the new CPU an appropriate amount of power.
Third, Add More Storage
The 1TB Crucial NVME SSD should hold you over for a time. But, most modern gamers can fill up 1TB of storage quick. So, after you’ve upgraded your GPU and CPU, it would be a good idea to add a second SSD so that you have plenty of space to hold all of your favorite games.
Conclusion: A $500 PC Build Can Give You A Lot More Than You Think
The $500 gaming PC build listed in this guide is capable of playing any game on a 1080p monitor. And, through a few different upgrades, it can transform from a decent entry-level gaming PC, into a high-end gaming desktop.
And, really, that is one of the main advantages of going with a gaming computer over a console. Whereas a console’s hardware can’t be upgraded, a computer can be upgraded and added to as your demands as a gamer grow.
Ultimately, this cheap gaming PC build will serve any budget-oriented gamer well as a starter system that they can grow into.
Get Help With Your Build: If you need help putting together a part list for your build? Fill out the form below or ask your questions in the comment section!
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