Many people will tell you that PC gaming is the best way to experience a game. Building your own rig lets you get serious performance tailored to your specific needs, but it can also be expensive. While this hobby is often costly, you can get a gaming PC under $500 if you know what to look for.
How Much Does it Cost to Build a Gaming PC?
Usually, a mid-range gaming PC costs roughly $1,000 to $1,200 if you’re building it yourself. However, it can easily get a lot more expensive.
Top-of-the-line components — especially graphics cards (GPUs) — can cost several hundred dollars for a single part. They’re not likely to get much cheaper, either. The rise of AI and cryptocurrency means powerful computer chips are in high demand. Chip shortages and a downright insane secondary market have squeezed demand even more, sending prices to the moon.
That can be discouraging, but there’s still hope. Stories about sky-high GPU prices and skyrocketing demand only tell part of the story. As this hobby has grown, so have your available options. There’s more to choose from than ever, so there’s still considerable room to save.
How to Build a Gaming PC Under $500
If you’re in the market for a gaming PC under $500, you’re in luck. Getting below that price may be tricky, but you can lower your part list costs in a few different ways. Here’s how.
Leave Out Nonessential Components
The easiest way to save on a gaming PC is to avoid buying anything you don’t need. RGB lighting looks cool, but rest assured, it doesn’t make you a better gamer. Leave it out.
Similarly, gaming chairs are entirely unnecessary, as are dedicated sound cards, now that motherboards have reliable built-in alternatives. You can also leave out the disc drive and stick to digital downloads. If you have an ethernet cable to hardwire your PC to your router, you can forgo a Wi-Fi card, too.
Some components are nice to have but may not be necessary. Additional cooling systems, for example, are a must for high-end, energy-hungry GPUs. However, you can get by with your other parts’ built-in fans if you’re not doing anything crazy on your PC.
Use Non-Gaming Peripherals
Using non-gaming parts is another great way to get your gaming PC under $500. To be clear, gaming-specific components make a difference in internal components like your motherboard and RAM. Gaming peripherals, though, often come at a premium without delivering that much of an upgrade.
The big three to consider here are your keyboard, mouse and monitor. If you already have some of these peripherals for work or school, don’t buy anything new. If you don’t have any, look at office-use versions instead of those from gaming brands.
Gaming keyboards and mice often have more programmable buttons, but those aren’t must-haves. The important thing is high responsiveness, and unless you’re playing at a very competitive level, you won’t notice a big difference between a gaming peripheral and an office alternative that costs half as much.
Consider Leaving Out the GPU
It’s time for some unpopular advice. If you want the cheapest build possible, consider not buying a graphics card. GPUs are easily the most expensive part, but depending on what games you like to play, you may not need one.
Most modern processors (CPUs) have integrated graphics, so you don’t need a GPU to process games’ visuals. Forgoing this part will mean a drop in performance. If you mainly play smaller games without as advanced graphics, though, that’s not an issue.
On the other hand, you’ll want a GPU if you play a lot of new AAA titles. You can find some GPUs for as little as $130, but know you’ll have to turn down your games’ graphics settings.
Buy Parts on Sale
Building a gaming PC under $500 is much easier if you take your time. Instead of looking for the cheapest components and buying them right now, wait for higher-end options to go on sale.
This strategy is especially useful for high-demand parts like GPUs and CPUs. Prices on old models usually fall after a new release, but not immediately. If there’s a component you like but is a bit pricey, wait for a newer alternative to come out, then watch its price. It’ll likely go on sale within a few months.
Other great times to buy components include Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Amazon Prime Days. Waiting for things to go on sale will mean a much longer building process, but it can save you hundreds in some cases.
Accept Lower Performance
Even if you find parts on sale, building a budget gaming PC is only possible by sacrificing performance. You’ll have to accept that your finished product won’t support the highest resolutions and frame rates for every game.
You can still get impressive performance from a $500 PC, but it won’t be top-of-the-line. If you wait for new GPUs to fall within your budget, you may wait forever. Instead, make sacrifices to lower your costs.
Look for less RAM, forgo ray-tracing support and avoid the temptation to buy a CPU with a high number of cores. Big numbers are impressive and do make a difference, but you can still make a great PC without them. It’ll be much easier to stay within budget if you forget about the high end.
Another Option: Buy a Gaming PC Under $500
You could also go the pre-built route if you don’t think you can stick to your budget when building your own PC. You can find off-the-shelf gaming PCs under $500, but not many. At that price range, you should also expect lower performance, possibly even lower than what you’d be able to achieve yourself.
While PC-building companies can acquire parts at lower wholesale prices, their price tags include a premium for labor and room for profit. As a result, they’re often less cost-effective than building a PC. Consider how most non-handheld consoles are $500 or more when adjusting for inflation. These are essentially purpose-built computers, and they show how it’s hard to remain under that mark while providing high-end performance, even for big companies.
Getting a Gaming PC Under $500 Is Still Possible
A gaming PC under $500 won’t deliver stunning graphics, but it can still outperform non-gaming computers and some consoles. If you build it yourself, you have an even better chance of getting great performance on a budget.
Tech prices keep climbing, but gaming on a budget is still possible. Follow this guide to build your ideal sub-$500 rig, then upgrade parts as you want later to maximize its performance.
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