Last Updated: July 2017
If you’re even remotely serious about PC gaming, building your own rig is the only way to go. Pre built machines are absolute garbage most of the time (and cost $200-$300 more than they should for the parts inside), and gaming laptops don’t offer enough bang for your buck to even be a serious contender. Fortunately, you can easily build your own gaming PC under $500, so you don’t have to break the bank.
Building a custom rig will give you more control over your build, significantly better performance, and the sense of personal satisfaction that you can only get from going the DIY route. 🙂
Last year, NVIDIA and AMD both released their all new (and all powerful) GTX 10 and RX series GPUs – absolute powerhouse cards that balance price and performance perfectly. While it was always possible to build a gaming rig that way outperforms consoles, these new cards have made it even easier to do so while spending way less! NVIDIA, for example, advertised their 10 series cards as being half the price of the previous generation’s offerings, and even more powerful!
If you’re completely new to PC gaming, the process might seem a bit intimidating at first – and that’s totally understandable. The idea of assembling your own functioning machine from a pile of parts lying on your desk might as well be rocket science for the uninitiated. However, in reality, building your own gaming PC is probably less complicated than building a LEGO castle – all you have to do is follow a simple guide, which I’ll provide below.
If you need additional guidance, that’s what I’m here for. If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions leave a comment below this post and I’ll get back to you ASAP.
Why Be A PC Gamer?
There are plenty of reasons that you should consider being a PC gamer, but I’ll list some of the main ones below.
- It’s the most popular gaming platform, meaning there’s a much bigger community.
- You have access to epic mods for your favorite games, which often add entirely new features.
- You’ll never pay a dime to play your favorite multiplayer games online – that’s right, no monthly fees, and certainly no Xbox Live or Playstation Pro BS.
- PC games are often significantly cheaper than their console counterparts.
- You don’t have to buy an entirely new system when it starts to lag behind (years into the future) in terms of performance – you just upgrade a couple of the most important parts, and you’re good to go.
- You have full control over your build. Do whatever you want with it, whenever you want to – Microsoft and Sony aren’t breathing down your neck, or revoking your warranty if you swap a part out.
Being a PC gamer isn’t for everyone – but if any of the stuff listed above sounds like your cup of tea, it’s probably the right fit for you. Console gaming is not going anywhere in the near future, but if you want to join the constantly growing group of people who have already fallen in love with PC gaming, read on! And, as always, you can contact me with any questions at [email protected]
With all of the introductory junk out of the way, here’s a few important things to keep in mind as you read this build guide.
- NVIDIA vs. AMD: While AMD and NVIDIA are both excellent GPU manufacturers, I chose an NVIDIA GTX 1050 Ti for this build, simply because its the best balance of price and performance when compared to the similarly-performing RX 470 from AMD.
- Intel vs. AMD: This debate is far easier to settle. AMD, generally speaking, makes CPUs that are more budget-friendly – while still retaining good quality standards. Intel, on the other hand, makes CPUs that are built for enthusiasts – they are the best of the best, with prices to match.
- Memory: At least 8GB of memory is essential for modern gaming, but 16GB is ideal for one important reason: it future proofs your system. More and more games are coming out that require 16GB of RAM to run the game on ideal settings (Such as Dishonored 2 and Prey).
- Buy your components as you go: There’s no need to shell out a full $500 on all of this build’s parts at once. That’s tough for anyone to stomach! Rather, buy them as you go, and as your budget permits. This should make it far easier to manage financially speaking.
- Storage: Usually, I recommend grabbing a small SSD for your operating system and a couple of your most-played games, and an HDD to house your regular data and major game library. It allows for speedy boot times, while keeping costs manageable.
Best Parts For A $500 Dollar Gaming PC
Due to budget constraints, my primary focus with this build was not 1440p gaming – rather, I picked the best components that would allow for High-Ultra settings on modern games with a 1080p resolution – at 60+ FPS. For particularly demanding games that might come out in the future, it may be necessary to tweak the settings down to Medium to an ideal framerate, but for the time being, that shouldn’t be necessary very often.
This build will outperform consoles by a significant margin – for a similar price. Even the upcoming PS4 Pro won’t beat this build, thanks to the i3-7100 and our GTX 1050 Ti.
All of the components in this build were picked specifically to maximize gaming performance and system load times – hence the included solid state drive. However, I highly recommend picking up a 1TB hard drive as well. As stated above briefly in the “Important Considerations” section, the 1TB HDD will be where the bulk of your games are stored.
The SSD, on the other hand, is where you should be installing your operating system, and one or two games you play frequently. 120GB is not going to be enough for a massive Steam library, after all! If you want my personal recommendation, I think it’s worth going with a basic Western Digital 1TB 7200RPM HDD. It’s only $50, but if need be, you can always save the cash and buy it later.
If for some reason you don’t care for some of the brands listed in the build above, or they aren’t available currently, you might need to seek out a few alternatives. Here are some of the major alternate options that I’ve found for a few key components.
Solid State Drive
Note: All of the SSDs listed below are 120GB.
Can It Beat Consoles?
The main appeal of building a custom gaming PC is the elevated performance levels you can achieve – but what does that mean, exactly? How do we gauge performance, and what specific components make this build better than, say, a PS4 or Xbox One?
Well, to gauge performance, you can look at 3 major factors – monitor/game resolution, consistent FPS, and the specific game’s graphical settings. Ideally, every single game you play should be running at 1080p, and you should be achieving at least 50 FPS consistently on High settings. This allows for the smoothest experience that our budget permits.
With consoles, games are often locked at 30 FPS (if you don’t know, 30 FPS looks terrible – just look at the Mafia 3 debacle), they struggle to reach 1080p on demanding games, and it’s impossible to adjust the graphical settings. I’m not saying consoles are the worst option in the world for gamers, but they certainly pale in comparison to what you can do with a custom PC.
As far as specific performance-affecting components go, the GPU has the largest impact on gaming performance. Our $500 build has a GTX 1050 Ti – a solid video card, all things considered. While Microsoft and Sony haven’t disclosed specific GPU models they use (They’re undoubtedly custom to suit the needs of a console), performance-wise, they are basically identical to an AMD 7770 or 7850, both of which get absolutely destroyed by a 1050 Ti.
PC Case: Vivo “Smart” MATX
- Form Factor: Micro ATX/Mini ITX
- Fan Mounts: 4
- Video Card Length: Up to 330mm
- Expansion Slots: 4
- I/O Ports: 1xUSB 3.0, 2xUSB 2.0
The Vivo “Smart” case is a pretty basic Micro ATX case with 5 fan mounts, 4 expansion slots, and support for up to 330mm GPUs (CPU cooler height up to 162mm). It looks nice, has excellent airflow, and comes with 2 pre-installed 120mm LED fans on the front – not bad!
The case can support up to 4 120mm case fans – 2 in the front, 2 on top, and 1 in the rear. Check out my write-up on the best case fans if you want details on how to install them, and which ones you should consider grabbing.
If you want some more Micro ATX case options, (which is necessary because thats the only case form factor our motherboard supports) check out my full write-up here.
CPU: Intel i3 7100
- Socket: 1151
- Integrated Graphics: Intel HD 630
- Microarchitecture: Kaby Lake
- Form Factor: Micro ATX
- Clock Speed: 3.9GHz
The i3-7100 is a 7th-generation Kaby Lake CPU from Intel, running @ 3.9GHz with 2 cores and 4 threads. It has a pretty crappy integrated GPU (which doesn’t matter, since we’re using a GTX 1050 Ti), the Intel HD 630.
The i3 7100 offers more than enough power for our build, and will perform pretty similarly to AMD’s roughly-equivalent FX 6300, though the i3 7100 will beat it in terms of single core performance by a significant margin.
Motherboard: MSI B250M Pro-VD
- Form Factor: Micro ATX/Mini ITX
- Socket: LGA 1151
- RAM Support: DDR4
- Audio Driver: Realtek ALC887
- I/O Ports/Internal Connectors: 4x USB 3.0, 2x USB 2.0, 1x M.2, 6x SATA 3
The MSI B250M Pro-VD is one of the most affordable Kaby Lake-supporting motherboards on the market, making it ideal for our build. It’s a socket LGA 1151, Micro ATX motherboard that can support 2400Mhz DDR4 RAM.
It also includes 4 USB 3.0 ports and 2 USB 2.0 ports, so you’ll never want for connectivity. The built-in single M.2 port will support our SSD, and will leave room for an upgrade down the line, though there’s also 6 SATA 3 ports should you choose to grab an HDD as well.
GPU/Video Card: EVGA GTX 1050 Ti SC
- Clock Speed: 1354 MHz base, 1468 MHz boosted
- VRAM: 4096MB/4GB GDDR5
- Card Size: 5.7in/144mm
- Will Run: Modern, classic games @ 1080P & 60FPS+
Ah, the video card – the bread and butter of any self respecting gaming PC. For this build, the GTX 1050 Ti SC was a no brainer – nothing else even compares in the price range. AMD’s 470 is too expensive, and their 460 is too weak. The 1050 Ti just offers too much bang for your buck to ignore.
It has 4GB GDDR5 VRAM, and it’ll run modern games easily on Medium-High settings at 1080p with 60+ FPS. It can manage Ultra settings for most games, too, but your FPS will take a tip down to 4-50, which isn’t ideal in my opinion – I’d rather just take a slight hit to visuals and maintain a smooth play experience.
This card is also super compact at only 144mm. It has a base clock speed of 1354 MHz, and 1468 MHz when boosted, and full DX12 support – so it’s ready for the future, whenever games start using it more.
Memory: Corsair Vengeance LPX 8GB
- RAM Kit: 2x 4GB sticks
- Clock Speed: 2400MHz
- Ram Size: 8GB
- Size: 44mm
- Kit Type: DDR4
Memory is a super important component for any PC build, gaming or otherwise. It’s what allows you to multitask, and run games for longer periods of time with minimal effect on overall system speeds.
When picking out your RAM, it’s essential that you pick kits that have the same clock speed as each other – do not mix and match clock speeds (A 2133MHz stick with a 2400MHz stick, for example), it’s a recipe for disaster!
Additionally, with RAM, the more the merrier. With the exception of your motherboard’s RAM limits, you can never have too much. However, many people say any more than 16GB is overkill, and I would tend to agree with that. I only listed an 8GB kit here, but I highly recommend upgrading to a good 16GB kit down the line – budget permitting.
PSU: EVGA 500B
- Modular: No
- Ceritification: 80+
- PCIe Connectors: 2x 6+2 pin
- Protections: UVP, SCP, OPP
- Wattage: 500W
The power supply is both the least important and the most important component of every rig – without it, your rig can’t function, but at the same time, it’s not what gives your system its raw gaming performance.
Regardless, I opted for the EVGA 500B 500W PSU for this build due to its reliability, and the sheer amount of positive reviews it has. This PSU offers enough power for our rig, and functions near-silently.
It also offers plenty of voltage protection, so if you ever get hit with an unexpected power outage or power surge, your components will be safe from electrical damage.
Storage: PNY CS1311
- Connection Type: SATA 3
- Read Speed: 550 MB/s
- Write Speed: 520 MB/s
- IOPS: 90,000 Random Read, 90,000 Random Write
SSDs are always going to be a better choice than HDDs for gaming performance, but they’re also quite a bit more expensive for similar storage capacities. However, for this build I chose the PNY CS1311, because despite its small sotrage capacity (120GB compared to a typical 1TB HDD), it’s stupidly fast, ultra durable, and will have a pretty significant positive impact on system boot times.
The read and write speeds are also fairly close to one another, with read being 550 MB/s and write being 520 MB/s – much faster than an HDD. This SSD connects via SATA 3, however, not M.2.
To actually use your rig, you’re going to need a few important peripherals – a mouse, a keyboard, an operating system, and a monitor. Everything is pretty self explanatory, but I’ll provide a few details below.
The Acer R240HY is a 24″, 1080p IPS monitor with a 4ms response time and ultra wide viewing angles. It’s cheap but effective, and quite sturdy as well. It has a pretty standard 60 Hz refresh rate, and it supports all three major connectivity options: HDMI, VGA, and DVI.
I’ve also included a 1TB HDD, because – as I mentioned above – the 120GB SSD included in the build itself won’t be quite enough for a large Steam library.
For a budget, under-$30 mouse/keyboard combo, the Cooler Master Devastator II is the best way to kill two birds with one stone. It also has a lot of very positive reviews on Amazon.
The last 2 peripherals will be a Wifi adapter and an operating system. Windows 10 is the obvious choice for an OS, but if that’s too expensive, you can get by with Ubuntu (a free distribution of Linux) until you can afford to pick it up. The wifi adapter doesn’t matter as much, especially if you intend to plug in directly to your router with an ethernet cable, but the BrosTrend adapter I recommend here has served me pretty well over the years.
Building a Gaming PC
If you’ve never built a gaming PC before, you’re going to need a guide to get started. There’s no shortage of options out there for that purpose (both written and video), but I recommend the specific video series below from the guys over at Newegg – it’s easy to follow and very in-depth.
And that’s about it! Remember to ask any questions you have in the comments below (Or by shooting me an email), and – above all else – have fun building your own rig!