At some point, especially if you are a beginner to the computer-building hobby, you may have asked: “How much do gaming computers cost?” Well, it is a valid question. The answer is that you can actually build a gaming desktop with only $200 or so, but to build a decent one that will play games you want to play, you would have to pony up around $450 to $500. That is a decent price to pay, and so we scoured the Internet for good computers that have decent hardware, able to play some modern games while also allowing for future PC component maintenance. The list below contains desktops that fits this criteria while also costing right around that budget.
Gaming PC Under $500 Option 1: Alienware Steam Machine (with Intel Core i3)
By far, one of the best choices you can make when purchasing a new computer that you intend to game with while also having a spending limit is to consider an Alienware Steam Machine. The reason here is simple; the Steam Machine line, whether made by Alienware or other companies, are easier to understand just like video game consoles are. They are very similar to gaming consoles like the Xbox One or PS4 in that you only really have to buy it, set it up, and play. Other gaming desktops require you to know about every piece of hardware inside, which power supply you need, which monitor is the best choice, if the machine needs additional water cooling, and when or if you need to upgrade a processor or graphics card. That is all mostly eliminated in Alienware’s Steam Console because they give you decent value right out of the box and you won’t have to worry about upgrading parts.
The i3 version
With that said, there are 3 versions of the Alienware console. Each can be viewed and compared on the official product page here. The Alienware machine I recommend, however, is the i3 version listed because:
- It fits our $500 limit perfectly, while also allowing a little bit of room for other accessories like mice or keyboards
- The other versions get significantly pricier with each step
- It still offers excellent gaming value for those starting out
The specs for the Alienware include a nice quad-core processor in the Intel Core i3-4170T. The graphics card, a custom Maxwell-manufactured NVIDIA GTX card, is more impressive with 2 GB of DDR5 (much better than the many DDR3-type video RAM out there).
The actual RAM for system-wide random storage is only 4 GB of DDR3. For file and game storage, you get a decent 500 GB hybrid hard drive. Lastly, it comes with a version of Windows 8, though you can upgrade this to Windows 10 for free at Microsoft’s Windows 10 Upgrade site. You will most likely also be using the free SteamOS operating system, which is very handy for playing your Steam games.
Alienware Alpha PC performance
If the specs above did not make much sense to you, it’s alright. The performance is all that really matters when it comes to choosing an affordable gaming computer. Which video games will I be able to play? Can I play ____ with decent graphics? What graphical settings and output will I be able to have with this computer?
We did some video game performance benchmarks on the Alienware Alpha and it came out pretty well. Playing The Witcher 3, a PC title heralded by many as 2015’s best video game, we got an average of 45 frames per second, though if we did a “turbo boost” (in which many of the other applications are closed so the hardware can focus specifically on providing good gaming performance) we got a frame per second count of around 55-60. This was run at medium settings on the game while at 720p, which is what the Xbox One usually runs at.
The performance of the Alienware Alpha Steam Machine is very similar to that of an Xbox One or a Playstation 4. Essentially, if those consoles are able to run a game, then this PC should also be able to run it at medium settings. What’s more is that you can hook up an Xbox 360 wireless controller and use that to control the computer like it was an actual console. Or you can try the new Steam Controller, an innovative new take on gaming controllers which was also built specifically for Steam consoles.
If you are looking for a simple computer that can outright play the games you want with moderate graphics, the Alpha is the best choice.
At the very least, give the customer review section a read. On Amazon, the Alienware Alpha ASM100 Steam Machine is rated 4.5 out of 5.0 stars, based on 288 reviews (as of this writing) and is also a Top 20 best seller in the Computer category.
Gaming PC Under $500 Option 2: CybertronPC Borg-Q TGM4213
The CybertronPC Borg-Q replaces the iBuyPower AM649FX (you may read our review on that desktop here) on this list because this newer computer gaming model by CybertronPC has much stronger hardware and is capable of so much more than the older AM649FX.
The Borg-Q is a well-built computer setup. The specs are nice and it is a full package too, coming in with the tower, keyboard, and mouse. All you need is your own monitor and you will be good to go.
Borg-Q TGM4213 Specs
- AMD FX-4130 quad-core processor, running at 3.80 Ghz
- NVIDIA GeForce GT610 graphics card, with 1 GB of video memory
- 8 GB of DDR3 RAM
- 1`TB hard drive for file storage
The specs leave a little bit more to desire, but there are still some great value in there. Foremost, the FX-4130 is not a bad processor. In fact, many of the processors in the AMD FX series are listed on our “best AMD processing chips” article that we wrote recently. Its performance is great and it can manage a lot of computer tasks.
The GeForce GT610, of all the computer parts listed, will be the biggest limit to gaming performance as far as the TGM4213 desktop is concerned. It is a few years old and I wish CybertronPC put a stronger card in here. However, they still do make it easy to upgrade (there are several decent articles and YouTube videos that demonstrate the upgrading process and what you need to know) the graphics card if you have or want to buy something better. I would recommend going with a GTX 750 Ti for starters (like the Alienware Alpha above has) since that will allow you to play basically any video game to date on medium settings at 720p resolution. At higher resolutions like 1080p, the GTX 750 Ti on this specific desktop setup will run games at around low to medium, depending on the video game.
The 8 GB of system RAM is a nice step up and it allows for optimized memory allocation when running programs and games vs. just 4 GB of RAM. Also, the hard drive has 1 TB of storage space, allowing you to store a ton of large video games (each big game can be anywhere from 30 to 50 GB).
Performance of the CybertronPC Borg-Q
First, I would like to mention that, like the other computers on this list, I did the performance test with whatever hardware the stock version from Amazon came with. That is the most fair since that is what you will be getting when you buy a gaming computer. However, for this specific computer, since the graphics card is a bit dated to perform at moderate levels, I would recommend upgrading like mentioned above. If you do end up purchasing the GTX 750 Ti card I recommended, be sure you get this Zotac one and not this ASUS-manufactured one. You would save a few bucks for essentially the same card (just manufactured by a different company; both still have very positive reviews).
With that out of the way, the video game to benchmark was Alien: Isolation. This game received many awards and nominations for best graphical game of 2015, so it was a nice pick to see how well the TGM4213 can play. At high settings, the computer obviously choked and sputted out only around 10-11 frames per second. What you want to be playing at is the medium settings, with a select few of the graphical enhancements turned off. This plays the best, offering around 34 frames per second on average. At low settings, it jumped to around 45 fps on average. The game still looks nice on low and medium settings, especially if you have a wide 720p monitor.
This gaming computer by CybertronPC is one of my picks for best value in a budget desktop. The overall package is quality, from the PC case, to the selection of hardware (with the exception of the graphics card, which is upgradable anyway), to the inclusion of its own keyboard and mice.
It helps that it is the #1 New Release item in the “gaming computer” category on Amazon as well as having a 4.1 out of 5.0 star rating from around 900 customers.
Read more on the CybertronPC TGM4213 machine here. Be sure to check out the reviews and sort by Most Helpful, as those often answer additional questions you may have.
Gaming PC Under $500 Option 3: CybertronPC Patriot GM1293D
Being the younger brother of the CybertronPC Hellion GM1213 that we mentioned in our under $1k list, this affordable gaming machine has a nice balance of power and design. I had this specific model a while back, perhaps a year or two ago. I now have 2 different machines that I frequently use, but I will not forget the Patriot desktop.
The Patriot is step backward compared to the Steam machine and the Borg-Q mentioned earlier with the decision to include a dual-core A4-5300 3.4 GHz processor. While the previous two had quad-core CPUs, this only runs with 2 cores.
On the brighter side of things, the system RAM is at 8 GB and the hard drive can hold 1 TB of data, which as previously mentioned can hold a nice amount of PC games. Where the GM1293D missed in processor power, it hit right in the video card department. The CybertronPC Patriot comes with a AMD Radeon HD 7480D graphics card with a gig of VRAM. This should be able to run most games at low settings, which is better than most budget computers can say. Still, if you want to upgrade, the best choice in terms of gaming experience and budget is the NVIDIA GTX 750 Ti (listed here). It is only really $100 or so more minus whatever you can sell the old video card for much better video performance and the ability to run the latest games on medium settings.
CybertronPC GM1293D Performance
Let’s begin with the okay side of things. We started things off with Bioshock Infinite, a game that came out in 2013. Newer games are – needless to say – more advanced graphically so it would really put the vanilla GM1293D on its heels.
We couldn’t pump out the system to reach high settings, as we were getting ranges from 8-10 frames a second on those configurations. So I decided to play at medium to low to see what this PC was capable of. At a healthy 42 frames per second on average, the game was still very playable. If you’re a hardcore gaming freak, you may get bothered that it isn’t 60 fps or the visuals aren’t pretty enough. If that’s the case, unfortunately your only options are to check out the above recommendations or increase your gaming budget. We did make a list of gaming computers under $1k, in case you are able to expand your budget in exchange for a better gaming experience and longevity in hardware.
To conclude, I’d say, for one of the cheaper gaming computers on the market, being able to play a recently released game smoothly and lag-free is still a plus. Make sure to read up on product details below.
Cheap Gaming Computers
So how much do gaming computers cost? For a good one, right around $500. Obviously, you can upgrade these (or downgrade) up to the performance you prefer, but that price range looks about right to get started.
That’s all I can write for now, everyone. I truly hope you learned something and consider any of the above desktops or even related ones if you’re willing to step out of your $500 budget. With only that much to spend on a gaming PC, I tried my best to compile and thoroughly explain these three very, very solid computers.
If you have any hardware or gaming computer-related questions or comments, be sure to drop a line below or email. Many people have come to me for advice and ended up building or buying pre-built computers that they or their children loved. I am readily available to answer your questions and concerns.
Until next time.