Just because you don’t have a lot of money to spare doesn’t mean you can’t build a capable—and highly upgradable—gaming desktop.
With the economy still struggling, personal budgeting remains vital. Even if you’re not in any financial trouble yourself (and if that’s the case, congratulations) you’re probably keeping a close eye on your bank account to reassure yourself that you’re secure should things take a turn for the worse. So if you want a new computer, particularly one for something relatively frivolous like playing games, chances are you want to make every penny count. And if you really want to restrict the number of pennies you spend, you may feel that you don’t have many choices.
Luckily, that isn’t the case. We showed last month that, with some smart shopping, it’s possible to build a functional Linux-based desktop PC for less than $200. Unfortunately, putting together a serious gaming desktop for that amount of money just isn’t going to happen. But you still don’t need to spend a mint to make it happen. If all you have is $500, you can build a desktop that will give you a good foundation for playing games now and for the next few years—and assembling it will be a snap.
We took a spin through Newegg.com to track down what we needed and had no problem coming up with a satisfying general-purpose PC with a strong gaming focus that came in just under $500. Is this system a barn burner? No—because the best gaming video cards on the market don’t start hitting until about the $200 price range, you aren’t going to be able to crank up all the detail settings and expect a DirectX 11 (DX11) game to zoom across the grand expanse of a 30-inch monitor. But you will be getting a PC that will work for more moderate 3D gaming—we mean actual first-person shooters here, not just casual titles—and, more importantly, sets you up for further upgrades down the line when you have more to spend. This computer isn’t going to be the end of your gaming aspirations, we admit, but hopefully it will prove a nice beginning. If you want something even beefier in terms of pure polygon crunching, we’ll show you another configuration that will take you there—though you’ll have to give up some other capabilities in order to make it happen.
In the coming weeks we’ll examine ways you can expand this basic configuration if you have another $250, $500, $1,000, or $1,500 to spend on building a gaming system. But even if $500 is your limit for now, we think you’ll find that isn’t too bad a place to start.