Building a gaming PC on a tight budget always involves some compromise. To see just what we could accomplish for under $500, we priced out, built and tested two budget systems: one based on an Intel Pentium Gold chip and the other powered by an AMD Ryzen 5 2400G. We were pleasantly surprised at the level of performance and build quality from both systems, but each was better at different use cases.
Aside from hitting the $500 price point, we had two other stipulations. First, the boot drive needed to be an SSD, because solid-state drives deliver such a better user experience (faster boot and program/game-level load times and just snappier performance overall) that it’s increasingly tough for us to recommend a spinning-platter hard drive as a boot option to anyone at this point.
Second, the chassis could not look cheap. So, we chose a couple of Cooler Master cases that, despite their low price, give these machines some aesthetic edginess.
We’ll tackle testing and performance results after we discuss our builds and why we chose all the particular parts. Note that prices for the parts will likely have changed between when we ordered them and now, that we didn’t factor any rebates into our budget because they tend to come and go, and that we did not include a Windows license in our build budget. If you don’t have a key to carry over from a previous build, we’d suggest perusing our feature How to Get Windows 10 for Free (or Under $30). We also did not include the cost of peripherals such as keyboards, mice or monitors.
AMD Raven Ridge Build: Ryzen 5 2400G & B350M
We’ll start with the AMD build because it’s likely the more controversial of the two. We know several of you are probably screaming about the very idea of building a “gaming” rig without a dedicated graphics card. But, that’s pretty much what AMD’s “Raven Ridge” Ryzen 5 2400G was built for. And as we saw when we tested the APU, the 2400G is plenty capable of serious gaming--so long as you keep expectations in check. Plus, as we’ll see, the money saved on graphics left us more to spend on key areas like storage. Let’s delve into the parts list.
AMD Ryzen 5 2400G ($159.99)
With four cores and eight threads and a top stock Turbo speed of 3.9GHz, the “Raven Ridge” Ryzen 5 2400G is a surprisingly capable CPU in its own right. But its on-chip Vega RX 11 Graphics means it can also compete with low-end dedicated graphics cards when it comes to frame rates. We’ll see how well it competes with our Intel build and its Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 later (hint: the dedicated card is unquestionably faster). But the savings of combining the CPU and graphics into one $160 part was tough to pass up. Plus, both the CPU and graphics silicon can be overclocked!
ASRock AB350M-HDV ($59.99)
Newer B450 motherboards were just starting to trickle out when we chose our parts, and they’re still pricier than B350 models. And you don't really lose anything essential by opting for a B350 board over a new B450 model, unless you're after a license for StoreMI, which pairs an SSD up to 256GB with a traditional hard drive for quick access to your frequently used files and programs.
We like the ASRock AB350M-HDV for its low price, inclusion of an M.2 connector (that supports both x4 PCIe and SATA drives), and for the fact that its “Ryzen 2000 ready” badge means we can drop in our Raven Ridge chip without having to try and find a first-gen Ryzen CPU first to drop in and perform a BIOS update. This board ran flawlessly out of the box with our Ryzen 5 2400G.
TeamGroup 8GB (2x 4GB) 288-Pin DDR4 SDRAM DDR4 3200 ($89.99)
We splurged a bit on the RAM for a 3200MHz kit, because we know from testing that graphics performance on AMD’s chips increases dramatically with memory speed. Plus, the red trim fits with the AMD theme, as well as our case choice, which we’ll get to soon.
We ran our tests with the TeamGroup RAM running at 2933MHz, as it’s the top officially supported speed, as well as the fastest we could clock the RAM without digging deep into manual settings. You could also spend more on faster RAM and likely eke out a few more frames per second. But that will also put you in a higher price bracket where you could have just bought a dedicated graphics card and achieved better frame rates than you’d ever get with current-generation on-chip graphics.
500GB Crucial MX500 ($99.99)
Our cost-cutting on the graphics front allowed us to get a fairly roomy SSD--and one that’s not a bargain-basement model, either. Down the road, you may want to add a secondary storage drive or a second SSD to this system. But the 500GB here will let you install Windows and at least a few games before you run out of room. This ASRock board has connectors for three more SATA drives and an M.2 slot, so there are storage expansion options aplenty.
Corsair CX-M Series CX450 ($49.99)
Corsair’s 450-watt CX-M PSU gives us more than enough wattage to work with (the Ryzen chip is the main power draw, and rated to just 65 watts), and its semi-modular nature means we don’t have to hide a massive group of unneeded cables behind the motherboard. It was a bit expensive when we bought it, but this model often goes on sale, and is sometimes accompanied by rebates that can take the final price down even more. We’ve seen it as low as $20 after rebates.
Cooler Master MasterBox Q300L mATX Case ($39.99)
This $40 case from Cooler Master brings a lot of style and substance for the price. Its side panel is plastic rather than glass, and the magnetic dust filters which cover the front and top tend to slide around a bit when moving your PC. But the case just looks great for the price, there was plenty of room to work in with our modest build, and things aren’t too cramped for future upgrades.
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