$500 Gaming PC Build List

by Turbolence1988dec 22nd, 2018

Go tell someone you want to pick out parts to build a PC. Anyone. A techy friend, a sibling, a guy at the computer store, or even your grandmother. The first question they’re going to ask you won’t be whether you want RGB lighting or a specific brand of graphics card...it’s going to be how much you’re looking to spend. A build can come together for any amount from less than the cost of a tank of gas to the asking price of a brand new car, and we at OzTalksHW have our own recommendations for every price point as well. This is the first installment of our Build Lists, where we’ll present a part list to hit a price and performance target for novice builders to get the most out of their investment.

We’re starting things off with one of the most popular build configurations: a $500 gaming PC targeting high details at 1080p resolution. PC gamers getting into building for the first time will find this combination of hardware performs well for pretty much any game on the market, as this price point tends to keep pace with evolving technology and good pricing on what most would consider mid-range hardware. Here we forego some of the luxuries of higher-tier PCs and focus on a platform that has plenty of room to grow while delivering on its performance promises.

Full disclosure: Product links shown in this article are retailer affiliate links. If you click-through or purchase products from these links, the OzTalksHW team will receive a small share of the sale. Product recommendations are never sponsored.

CPU: AMD Ryzen 3 2200G 3.5GHz Quad-Core Processor

View at Amazon ($94)

We chose AMD’s Ryzen 2200G, the most affordable quad-core on the market, to be the heart of this build. It beats out Intel’s i3-8100 on cost at most retailers while offering performance within a few percentage points of its blue-team rival. The Ryzen chip comes with two major advantages over the i3 as well: unlocked frequency and voltage control, as well as a Vega 8 graphics core that keeps pace with entry-level dedicated graphics cards. We feel the 2200G’s flexibility makes it a better buy than the Ryzen 1200 and 1300X, giving you the choice to skip a dedicated GPU altogether if you want to get started for less money and grab one later.

A quad-core processor remains the minimum for almost every game on the market today, and the Ryzen 2200G delivers. This modern quad-core should remain relevant for several years without much issue, handily clearing minimum requirements as developers continue to utilize four cores for game logic.

Motherboard: MSI B450M BAZOOKA MicroATX AM4

View at Newegg ($85)

A major reason we chose to use AMD over Intel came down to the platform. Hot Hardware reports that AMD’s current AM4 socket will be supported through the end of 2020 while Intel’s platform support is not guaranteed. This means all existing chipsets will be compatible with future AM4 processors through BIOS updates, giving builders a varied set of upgrade paths to choose from. Someone putting together a basic dual-core 200GE build today can upgrade to whatever eight (or twelve, or sixteen!) core chip AMD plans to release in 2020 on AM4.

MSI’s B450M BAZOOKA is a midrange, second-generation AM4 motherboard that has a good array of connectivity options, strong RAM support, and a power delivery system that provides solid overclocking potential. An M.2 connector supporting blazing fast SSDs, four SATA-III ports, multiple fan headers, and an RGB header allow many customizations down the road. The board also offers four RAM slots, allowing expansion to at least 64GB of memory. With support for memory speeds up to 3466 Mhz, high-performance RAM can be utilized, boosting system performance by swapping out memory sticks.

The power delivery system on the B450M BAZOOKA is a 4+2 phase (four for the CPU, two for the System on a Chip) design. Generally speaking, more power phases means an increase in power quality, so you want more of them wherever you can. This board’s 4+2 design should allow for some overclocking headroom throughout. Unfortunately the Ryzen 2200G has limited overclocking potential, usually capping out around 3.8 or 3.9GHz, but better power quality will make reaching the chip’s highest speeds easier.

Of note - there are less expensive AM4 motherboards available, but these typically use a feature-limited chipset labeled A320. Among other things, these have no overclocking options and limit PCI Express capabilities to fewer lanes at slower speeds, usually preventing the use of an M.2 NVMe SSD. For future expansion, we strongly suggest a motherboard with the B350/B450 or better chipset.

RAM: G.SKILL Ripjaws V Series 8GB (2x4GB) DDR4-2400 Desktop Memory

View at Newegg ($56)

Memory speed has become a more important factor in system performance lately due to how modern processors rely on it to perform their operations. We sought as high-performing kits as the budget would allow, but even with the recent fall in RAM prices we still had to yield some speed here to give us higher-end parts elsewhere.

2133 MHz represents the baseline for DDR4; you won’t find many memory modules slower than this. While we could have opted for a single 8GB stick of 2666MHz or faster single-channel memory, Ryzen benefits much more moving to dual-channel memory, so we elected to keep a slightly slower dual-channel kit in the build. This 2400MHz G.SKILL kit has overclocking potential to 2666MHz, possibly 2800 in some instances, but even at stock speeds we recommend this G.SKILL kit as solid, reliable RAM for any build. The 2200G can support faster memory kits, but major price increases moving above this kit didn’t justify the bump in system performance.

Video Card: PowerColor Radeon RX 570 4GB RED DRAGON

View at Newegg ($140)

At last we have the centerpiece to our gaming build, the graphics card. It goes without saying that the last two years have been a tumultuous time for buying a GPU, as the cryptocurrency mining boom came with a vengeance to push nearly every card’s selling price to stratospheric highs. Throughout most of 2017 and early 2018, it was not uncommon to see cards trade hands at double their MSRP. Luckily, what rises must eventually fall, and today we’re seeing incredible deals on video cards across the board.

We chose the PowerColor Radeon RX570 4GB because it offers all of the latest graphics technologies and VR-ready performance at a cost nearly a third lower than the competing option from NVidia. This refreshed AMD Polaris card has 2,048 shader cores boosting to 1,250MHz, meaning 1080p gaming at 60FPS is no issue using a blend of medium and high details on most 2018 titles. Ultra settings on older releases and eSports games should also yield 60 or more FPS throughout. 4GB of VRAM is plenty for 1080p gaming and should remain well clear of minimum requirements for several years.

Of note, the 8GB model can sometimes be had for 10 to 20 dollars more, and if your budget allows this would be a recommended upgrade as higher texture resolutions have a minimal impact on performance but a substantial impact on visual quality.

Main Storage: Inland Professional 120GB 2.5” SATA SSD

View at Amazon ($22)

The drive that holds your operating system will access thousands of files over the course of a single bootup. These will be small files that are somewhat scattered throughout the disk, so our random read and write performance is key. The quicker the drive can react to a request for data, the faster the system will be. Thus a solid state drive (SSD) comes highly recommended over a traditional hard disk drive (HDD) for hosting an operating system, as memory chips can jump between data locations hundreds of times faster than a disk that needs to physically spin a platter to reach the requested data.

Although SSDs are much more expensive per-gigabyte than HDDs, a 120GB drive will host any modern operating system with plenty of room to spare for updates and some installed programs. For this task we recommend the Inland Professional 120GB 2.5” SATA Solid State Drive, a budget drive that performs similarly to most other entry-level SSDs. This low-cost option allows room in the $500 budget to add a traditional HDD as your secondary drive where games and media can be stored so you reap the best of both worlds: a snappy operating system and plenty of storage space.

The OzTalksHW team debated for a long while whether we should recommend a single large HDD, a modestly-sized SSD, or a mix of a small SSD and a good-sized HDD. We settled on the latter to balance speed against space, and this was only recently allowed within the budget by the rapid fall in SSD prices. Prices may continue to fall further, making SSDs even more competitive on a cost-per-gigabyte basis, so take a look at current prices before making the decision one way or the other. You just might be able to squeeze a 1TB SSD into a $500 build before long.

Secondary Storage: Toshiba 1TB 3.5” 7200RPM HDD

View at Walmart ($40)

With the SSD taken care of, it’s time to look at HDDs that’ll fit in our budget. Since games and media will be most often stored as larger files to be read or written in single, continuous bursts, we’re looking for the best sequential read and write performance we can muster. An SSD will still perform faster than an HDD here, but the difference will not be as dramatic as it would be on our main disk drive.

The Toshiba HDWL120XSTZA (that’s a mouthful of a name) is a high-speed drive that sacrifices some quietness of operation for a high-performing, high-capacity hard disk. In general, a faster-spinning hard drive will load data faster since it will read more memory from the disk platters in the same amount of time, and a 7200RPM drive balances speed against capacity and price. A terabyte is an ample amount of storage for multiple AAA games as well as a sizeable media collection.

We chose Toshiba over competing brands as they offer performance matching or near best-in-class at a good price. The company has been manufacturing hard drives for decades and built a reputation for reliable disks in professional and commercial spaces, often acting as the drive supplier for OEM machines from major brands.

Case: Cooler Master MasterBox Q300L MicroATX Mini Tower

View at Newegg ($40 plus shipping)

Cases are a difficult thing to recommend. Some builders will emphasize their need for an expensive case that with an over-the-top design, while others will get by with the cheapest product they can find that lets them put top-tier hardware in their rig. In our search for a proper case for a $500 build, we focused on a balance between affordability, airflow, and space, leaving flair as a lower priority.

Cooler Master’s Q300L is a wide MicroATX case that has immense room for cable management without breaking the bank. This case is extremely well-ventilated and features room for up to six fans (four 120s, two 120/140) and can support a 240mm radiator. The single 3.5” bay under the motherboard is a small limitation as this is supplemented by two 2.5” bays for SSDs. The Q300L also allows for a 360mm GPU, which means it can accommodate virtually every graphics card currently on the market while retaining its compact form factor. Integrated air filters reduce the amount of dust build-up you’ll see inside the system, though you’ll still want to take a vacuum to the case about once a month to relieve airflow.

PSU: EVGA BT 450W 80+ Bronze ATX Power Supply

View at Amazon ($30)

Finally, we wrap up our $500 build with the power supply unit. There are countless manufacturers vying for your money, with many inexpensive units being offered as rebrandings of common low-power, low-efficiency units. Within our $500 budget cap, we can’t splurge on a PSU that’s going to work for all high-end CPUs and graphics card configurations, but quality units can still be had for reasonable costs. At any price point above single-digits, a PSU should be at least 80+ Certified, indicating the PSU can translate at least 80% of the power it draws from the wall into electricity powering your PC rather than heat.

We decided on EVGA’s BT line here as it is a step up in power quality from the BV line, offering 80+ Bronze efficiency and a large, varied number of power connectors that can accomodate pretty much any entry level build and most single-GPU systems. This voltage-sensing (worldwide compatible) PSU features Over Current Protection, a technology designed to prevent shorts from a bad cable or shoddy component workmanship from destroying your PC.

As this PSU is non-modular, unused cables might be difficult to manage and stuff elsewhere in the chassis to keep the cables from blocking airflow or looking attractive, but the Q300L we recommended above and other wide cases should provide enough room to hide them out-of-sight and out-of-mind.

Build Summary

With some individual PC components reaching prices higher than the cost of this entire build, it’s a relief that the lower and midrange markets continue to thrive with solid performance at great prices. What we’ve listed here forms a machine that will handily run all current titles, and though it might struggle some with the eye candy turned up, this will deliver a fluid and good-looking 1080p gaming experience.

Unlike some super-budget builds, this rig also has a lot of future upgrade potential as it’s on a current platform that hasn’t even hit the halfway point of its support life. It’s simple to add more memory, drives, or an NVMe SSD, swap out the GPU, and even upgrade the processor without needing to change motherboards. Even without these additions, you’ll have a capable gaming rig that’ll serve you well for years to come.

Want to find out how to put it all together? We have you covered. Check out our How to Build a Gaming PC Guide for complete step-by-step instructions to put this and any other modern PC together.

Game on, friends!
- Turbolence1988