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Published Nov. 22, 2021

PC gaming has never been so exciting. Over the last few years, we’ve seen an explosion of new technologies like ray tracing and intelligent upscaling, which make games look and play better than ever before. Diving into the world of PC gaming can seem daunting and expensive at first, but it doesn’t need to be. Whether you’re looking to get lost in New World or stay up until the wee hours with just “one more turn” in Civilization VI, we’ve rounded up the best cheap gaming PCs to get you gaming without breaking the bank.

How we selected the best cheap gaming PCs

I’ve been a PC builder for more than 15 years and a tech critic for IGN, Tom’s Hardware, PC Perspective, and MMORPG.com for over half a decade. In that time, I’ve become intimately familiar with the components that make gaming PCs tick. A high price doesn’t always mean the best performance, and a low price doesn’t necessarily mean good value. So, for this round-up, I’ve scoured retail sites with an eye toward the hardware inside each machine. After finding the best bang for the buck in each product category, I took a close look at user reviews to identify any red flags, such as poor packaging or carelessness in the build process.  

Things to consider before buying a cheap gaming PC

Shopping for a gaming PC on a budget can be a confusing mix of big promises and perplexing specs. It’s important to know what matters most so you can cut through the hype and find a PC that will perform the way you expect it to. When buying a prebuilt gaming PC, the core components are just part of the picture. You also need to keep in mind its capacity to take on upgrades and other factors. Here’s what to keep an eye on when shopping around. 

Graphics card (GPU)

The most important element to any gaming PC is its graphics card. The graphics card, or GPU, is responsible for rendering 3D graphics and is the most influential factor in how many FPS you’ll see in different games. If you’re going to spend extra money on a feature, it’s worth your while to get a PC with a more capable graphic card.

Two companies design different types of graphics cards: Nvidia and AMD. They license out their graphics processors to third-party manufacturers, such as EVGA and Sapphire, who create their own versions of each card with specs. These cards are broken into different standardized performance tiers. 

For Nvidia, the first two numbers indicate the card generation, and the third number specifies the caliber of the card. Nvidia current “30”-generation cards include the RTX 3050, RTX 3060, 3070, 3080, and 3090. 

For AMD’s Radeon cards, the first number indicates the generation, and the second specifies the card’s power. AMD’s current Radeon cards include the 6600, 6700, 6800, and 6900. 

Both companies also include half steps which offer slightly better performance than the base model. For Nvidia, these are noted with the “Ti” or “Super” branding. For AMD, it’s “XT.” 

The most important thing to watch when comparing different versions of the same GPU “make,” such as an Nvidia RTX 3060 or AMD Radeon 6700, is heat. When shopping for a less expensive GPU, a prerequisite for getting a cheap gaming PC, try to avoid GPUs with only one fan or ultra-slim designs. While they may be fine, it is more possible to push a low-end graphics card so hard that it slows down due to “thermal throttling.”

Processor (CPU)

You’ll also want to give some thought to the central processing unit, or CPU. As with graphics cards, there are two primary manufacturers for processors: AMD and Intel. Both companies have a vast catalog of processors that may show up in cheap gaming PC configurations, but AMD’s Ryzen processors or Intel’s Core processors tend to be the most common. Like GPUs, each brand breaks its chips into different performance tiers that ascend in power as their number grows. For Intel, that’s Core i3, Core i5, Core i7, and Core i9. For AMD, that’s Ryzen 3, Ryzen 5, Ryzen 7, and Ryzen 9. For gaming, we recommend sticking to Intel Core i5 and Ryzen 5 CPUs and above if possible.

When deciding which CPU is the best fit for your cheap gaming PC, it’s important to consider exactly what you plan to do with it. While some modern games work better with higher core counts, for pure gaming, a quad-core CPU is probably good enough. If you plan to stream or multitask with video or audio editing software, it’s wise to save up and go for at least six cores to prevent any potential bottlenecks. 

You should also pay attention to the processing speed, measured in GHz. That indicates how many processing cycles a processor can compute per second. For gaming, it’s wise to target the 4GHz to 5GHz range or above (that’s 4 billion to 5 billion processing cycles per second). Many games benefit from higher clock speeds over higher core counts, so higher speed can often result in higher FPS. 

Lastly, the generation of processors can also affect your CPU’s performance. New generations of processors often add new features that improve performance, in addition to adding more power. As a rule, it’s best to decide on how many cores you need first and then buy the fastest, newest CPU you can afford after that.

Memory (RAM)

Memory is another critical component. Whether you’re gaming, streaming, or just browsing the web with a dozen different tabs open, once your memory fills up, system performance suffers. In 2021, you need at least 8GB of RAM. Realistically, 16GB is the current “sweet spot” for both price and performance but may be hard to find in a less expensive system. Luckily, it is also one of the easiest and most affordable PC upgrades. You can even add more memory yourself.

Storage (HDD, SSD, NVMe)

Games are getting bigger every year, so it’s important to consider how much and what kind of storage you’ll need for the games you would like to play. Broadly, there are three kinds of hard drives you should be aware of: mechanical hard drives (HDDs), solid-state drives (SSDs), and NVMe drives. Mechanical hard drives are by far the slowest but offer the best capacity per dollar. NVMe drives are the fastest but most expensive. Solid-state drives are a middle ground between price and performance.

When choosing a gaming PC, try to find one with at least an SSD to run your operating system and most-played games. Compared to traditional hard drives, using an SSD as your primary hard drive cuts down on in-game load times and makes the entire system feel faster and more responsive. Many cheap gaming PCs will feature smaller SSDs, so you may need to swap out which games are installed on it as you finish and move on to new titles. 

The other big thing to consider is how much storage you’ll need altogether. Games are bigger than ever. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, for example, can easily occupy more than 200GB, so settling on a PC with a 256GB hard drive wouldn’t be a good choice for Call of Duty fans. Look at the recommended storage requirements for your favorite games to get an estimate for how much storage space you require. Modern PCs generally have room for many internal hard drives, so some gaming PCs may come with a small SSD and larger HDD. You can also install extra hard drives, if you’re open to the idea of upgrading on your own.

Monitors, peripherals, and other accessories

If it’s your first time buying a prebuilt gaming PC, you might be surprised to find that prebuilt gaming PCs often don’t come with a mouse and keyboard, and only rarely include a monitor, with the tower. Be sure to read the product listing carefully to identify exactly what is included with your purchase.

Though it might not seem so at first, separating the price of the PC from these accessories can actually be a good thing. When you’re purchasing a cheap gaming PC, you want every spare dollar to be invested in the hardware to improve the gaming experience. Often, any accessories that come with a prebuilt PC are poorly made and among the first things you’ll want to replace in a new setup. This isn’t always the case: Sometimes pack-ins can genuinely enhance the value of a PC bundle but look carefully at the whole package when buying a bundle—sometimes the “added value” of the accessories isn’t worth the savings.

Packaging, build quality, and warranty support

One of the most important factors to consider in buying a prebuilt gaming PC online is how well it will be built and how the vendor will actually ship it to you. Certain components, like the graphics card, should be secured during shipping to prevent damage to the motherboard. Other considerations, like cable management, can have a direct impact on the temperature of the PC and its performance in games. These elements are rarely included in online product listings, so it’s worth the extra time to read product reviews from real customers. 

And even the best gaming PC can have problems. Read the warranty guarantee and user reports about how the company handles post-purchase support. This is also a case where investing in an extended warranty isn’t always a bad idea, especially if the factory warranty is only 30 days.

The best cheap gaming PCs: Reviews & recommendations

Now you know what to look for to ensure the optimum experience at the best price. Here’s our selection of the best cheap gaming laptops we’ve found for around $1,000. In most cases, you can upgrade if the model you selected doesn’t have all the features you want.

Best cheap gaming PC overall: HP Pavilion Gaming Desktop TG01-2170m

It’s All About Value

The HP Pavilion Gaming Desktop TG01-2170m offers plentiful customization and plenty of power for the price.

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Why it made the cut: The HP Pavilion TG01-2170m offers great performance, even in the latest games.

Specs

  • Price: $1309 
  • CPU: AMD Ryzen 3 5600G
  • GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060
  • Memory: 16GB
  • Storage: 256GB 
ProsCons
Can be configured up to an RTX 3060 Limited configuration options under $1,000 with the RTX 3060
Highly customizable Small SSD
Compact design

The HP Pavilion easily offers the overall best cheap gaming PC we’ve encountered. This configuration equips it with a powerful RTX 3060 and 16GB of RAM for $1,309 and is the most powerful gaming PC in our line-up. It’s capable of the best FPS of any machine we considered and can be pushed even further with only a slightly higher budget. 

The stock prebuilt price here is higher than our target, but the good news is that you can go to HP’s online store and configure it with a much wider range of specs. If you’re willing to drop to a quad-core Ryzen 3 5300G, you can get the price down to an impressive $1,019. Of course, we’d recommend spending a little more to get a better processor or a bigger hard drive. No matter how much you spend, though, you can get a lot of machine for your money.

Best cheap gaming PC for streaming and content creation: Lenovo Legion Tower 5i

For the Aspiring Content Creator

With a great 1080p graphics card, CPU, and plenty of storage, the Legion Tower 5i is great for budding creators on a budget.

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Why it made the cut: This PC delivers great 1080p frame rates and offers plentiful storage.

Specs

  • Price: $949.99
  • CPU: Intel Core i5-11400H
  • GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 SUPER
  • Memory: 8GB
  • Storage: 256GB SSD, 1TB HDD
ProsCons
Lots of storage Bland design
Great GPU for 1080p gaming Included accessories are generic
6-core, 11th-gen Intel CPU

The Legion Tower 5i from Lenovo is easily the best cheap gaming PC for new content creators looking for a machine to let them try streaming on a budget. It comes equipped with a high-quality, modern Intel processor with enough cores to handle gaming and streaming at once. Its Nvidia GTX 1660 SUPER has plenty of horsepower to run modern games at medium to high settings, ensuring your audience has the high-quality stream they crave. When it’s time to edit together your latest killstreak, it has space to spare with its 256GB SSD (perfect for installing your favorite game or two) and a 1TB hard drive for archiving video clips. 

The one area this PC feels limited is memory, as it only includes 8GB of system memory. This is a bit light for ensuring great stream performance, especially if you would like to monitor your chat in a second window. The rest of the system is uniquely suited to aspiring streamers, so it gets our recommendation, but we would suggest saving up for an upgraded memory kit as soon as possible, or purchasing the 16GB model.

Best compact cheap gaming PC: Minisforum Elitemini HM90 

Small Box, Big Performance

Don’t let its diminutive size fool you, this tiny machine packs some impressive specs. 

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Why it made the cut: The Minisforum Elitemini HM90 is a tiny PC that can hide out behind your monitor, but has the horsepower for both streaming and content creation.

Specs

  • Price: $649 (Starting at $479)
  • CPU: Ryzen 9 4900H
  • GPU: Integrated
  • Memory: 16GB
  • Storage: 512GB 
ProsCons
Powerful AMD Ryzen 9 CPU and 16GB of RAM Integrated graphics only
Pint-sized Limited connectivity
512GB NVMe SSD

The Minisforum Elitemini HM90 is tiny, by gaming PC standards. Coming in at only 6 x 6 x 2 inches, it’s small enough to hide behind a television or even mount on the back of a larger monitor. Despite its small stature, this diminutive mini PC is surprisingly powerful thanks to a high-spec Ryzen 9 CPU. The configuration we went with also includes 16GB of memory and a fast 512GB NVMe SSD.

The drawback to having the best compact cheap gaming pc is that it doesn’t have space for a dedicated graphics card. Instead, the Elitemini HM80 finds its gaming chops in the integrated Radeon graphics of its processor. That’s going to force you to make some serious compromises on graphics settings, but you will still be able to run many modern games at playable frame rates. (This makes it an especially appealing option for some esports players.)

It may not have the graphical power of a bigger gaming PC with a dedicated graphics card, but the Elitemini is one of the only options at this price that can mount to your television and allow you to enjoy PC gaming from the comfort of your couch, saving the need for an unsightly tower.

Best cheap gaming PC for work and play: Dell G5 5090

An Understated Gaming Rig

It may not show off the hardware inside, but the Dell G5 5090 is a great choice for work and light gaming.

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Why it made the cut: This unassuming little gaming PC won’t distract. Get work done during the day and dive into your favorite game at night. 

Specs

  • Price: $919
  • CPU: Intel Core i5-10400F
  • GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Super
  • Memory: 8GB
  • Storage: 256GB 
ProsCons
Subdued design Appearance won’t appeal to all
10th-gen Intel CPU Only 8GB of memory
Good fit for light 1080p gaming

If you’re not sold on glass side panels and RGB lighting, the Dell G5 is the best cheap gaming PC for work and play and won’t distract you with unnecessary flash. With its single blue LED strip and completely opaque design, there’s no need to worry about getting distracted from the job at hand—whether that’s tackling an after-hours spreadsheet or soaring to your latest win in Fortnite

Despite its simple exterior, the G5 desktop is a great fit for light gaming. It features a recent Intel Core i5 processor and an Nvidia GTX 1650 SUPER to deliver stable frame rates at 1080p with reasonable settings. The combination even opens the door to streaming and basic video editing, though would benefit from an upgrade to 16GB of memory to ensure smooth multitasking performance. 

That said, with an older GPU that’s almost ready for retirement, it lacks the horsepower to push the latest games to high frame rates. It’s best suited for light to moderate PC gamers that don’t mind turning settings down to achieve the best performance. Still, this machine is up for just about any productivity task you’d care to throw at it and won’t immediately let on that’s it’s designed for gaming to your coworkers or non-gaming friends.

Best cheap gaming PC for beginners: Acer Predator Orion 3000

A Solid Onramp to PC Gaming

The Acer Predator Orion 3000 offers a great balance of performance and aesthetics.

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Why it made the cut: The Acer Predator Orion 3000 brings specs that will let new players explore what makes PC gaming great.

Specs

  • Price: $849
  • CPU: Intel Core i5-11400F
  • GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 SUPER
  • Memory: 8GB
  • Storage: 512GB 
ProsCons
6-core, 11th-gen Intel CPU Only 8GB of RAM
Great graphics card for 1080p gameplayIncluded mouse and keyboard are unimpressive
Slick but not overstated look

For new PC gamers looking for the best cheap gaming PC for beginners, Acer has one of the most compelling bundle packages we’ve come across with the Predator Orion 3000. The desktop expertly balances price, performance, and aesthetics, making for a superb introduction to the world of PC gaming. It has specs capable of streaming, light video editing and, of course, playing modern PC games. The Predator Orion 3000 bundle also comes with a mouse and keyboard, so all you’ll need is a monitor to get started. 

One of the highlights of this system is its subdued yet stylish look. It doesn’t overdo it with RGB lighting, but its blue front fan and slim LED strips make it clear that this is a machine purpose-built for PC gaming. If you’re shopping for a PC gamer who may not have their style preferences set in stone, this is a great entry point. 

The biggest drawbacks to this machine are its low memory (8GB) and the generic, unimpressive quality of its included peripherals. A less than ideal amount of RAM is par for the course in low-end gaming PCs, unfortunately, but you can always install more on your own. And there are great gaming mice and gaming keyboards out there when you’re ready to upgrade.

FAQs

Q: Is a gaming PC worth it?

Of course! The world of PC gaming is rich, diverse, and at the cutting edge of game development. Since PCs don’t release in generations the way consoles do and the barriers to entry for developers are fewer, there is a wider array of games to choose from. Many of the most popular games of the last five years have begun their lives on PC, such as PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG). Likewise, if you want to experience the latest and greatest graphics video gaming has to offer, a PC is usually the first and best way to experience it. If that isn’t enough, PC gaming is notorious for its deep discounts and bundle sales through platforms like Steam, often making it the cheapest way to play games you may have missed when they were first released. 

Q: Are cheap gaming PCs good for work?

A PC that’s great for gaming can still do other things. There are certain upgrades that everyone needs for gaming but most people don’t need for work (like a graphics card); however, for most people, a gaming PC is really just a really, really powerful computer. Unless the cheap gaming PC is very old, it should be able to handle all of the spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations, and essays you’d care to throw at it.

Q: Is a $500 gaming PC worth it?

At this time, I’d say no. Buying a $500 gaming PC usually means two things: old hardware and poor performance in modern games. Because the hardware tends to be older, finding upgrades can also be more difficult. Meanwhile, the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X provide incredible performance for the same $500. There are times, usually late in the PlayStation and Xbox consoles’ life cycles, when it makes sense to build a very cheap gaming PC rather than buying a console. Now is not one of those times.

Final thoughts on the best cheap gaming PCs

Buying a prebuilt gaming PC can be one of the best ways to join the PC gaming community. For users that aren’t comfortable building their own, or are having trouble finding the components they need within their budget, a prebuilt machine can take the stress out of getting started and get you gaming faster.

As with any major tech purchase, there is a lot to consider shopping for the best cheap gaming PC. Keeping the games you’d like to play, and how you’d like them to run, is the best place to begin and your guiding principle when shopping. Whether you’re just interested in seeing the best graphics possible within your budget or getting your feet wet as a streamer, there are plentiful options worthy of a closer look.    

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