Being on a budget doesn't mean you have to settle for a sub-par PC gaming experience. Here's what you need to know to find the budget gaming PC that's right for you.
One of the most attractive advantages of PC gaming is the flexibility afforded by choosing your own hardware. This allows for a wide spectrum of system configurations, and the opportunity to select a pre-built in your price range, whatever that may be.
All of these options mean there are plenty of excellent choices for those interested in more entry-level machines. Working with a budget doesn't prevent you from enjoying the world of PC gaming; it just means that you need to consider your options to find exactly what you're looking for.
To be clear: A budget PC is going to mean different things to different people. There isn't a universal definition of what is entry-level or budget, and only you know exactly what you are looking for. For the purposes of this discussion, we're going to define “entry level” as a PC that can run most games in 1080p resolution, at roughly 60 frames per second. This is a baseline that allows you to enjoy the advantages PC gaming has to offer while providing some flexibility in the hardware you choose to reach that goal.
With that in mind, here are some ways to think about finding the right budget gaming PC.
Define How Much You Want to Spend
The first step in choosing your pre-built budget system is determining how much you're willing to spend.
Carefully consider the upper limit of your budget, and do a bit of searching for pre-built gaming PCs in that price range. This should serve as a baseline for your performance expectations. Use tools like this PC gaming benchmark database to determine if these systems are suited to play the games you want to play.
Keep in mind, there's more to a PC gaming setup than just the system. You'll also need a display, a mouse and keyboard, and possibly a headset for multiplayer gaming, so make sure you factor these in to your budget. If you're looking at a laptop, you probably won't need an additional display, but a good mouse may still be a good investment. Of course, there are ways to save money on these peripherals, particularly by repurposing old ones. A slightly older display can work just fine with your new PC, assuming it has the right connections, as will an older keyboard and mouse. You can always upgrade these peripherals later.
Once you've firmly established what your budget looks like, it’s time to focus in on your hardware needs.
Performance and Prioritization
When looking for a 60 FPS build, it's critical to consider the games you want to play, and what kind of performance and features you're looking for. Map your hardware choices to those specific needs, and consider the minimum viable experience that you'd be happy with as a baseline. This strategy applies whether you're looking at a pre-built desktop or a gaming laptop.
When shopping for a budget system, it's often best to prioritize the best out-of-the-box performance in-game before spending on additional features like extra memory or storage. You can usually upgrade components like RAM and storage later, and possibly even your GPU, depending on the configuration of your desktop. If future upgrades are important to you, you'll want to keep that in mind when exploring your options, as some desktops are more difficult to upgrade than others.
These are the components you'll want to focus on when choosing your PC:
- Central Processing Unit (CPU) and Graphics Processing Unit (GPU). These are important components when it comes to in-game performance, as measured by graphical details, resolutions, and framerates. Prioritize these whenever possible.
- RAM. 16GB or above is ideal, but 8GB is usually fine for most games. With less than 8GB, you can start running into performance issues. RAM can usually be upgraded later, although it depends on the desktop configuration, and is usually more difficult to upgrade in laptops.
- Storage. 500GB or more is ideal, but you can get away with less if you aren't opposed to swapping out game installations or implementing external storage solutions. A hard disk drive (HDD) will work fine, but a solid state drive (SSD) will result in faster loading times and transfer speeds, and faster overall system performance. Desktop storage is usually fairly easy to upgrade later, though this can be significantly more difficult in laptops.
When considering your hardware options, weigh what's most important to your gaming experience. Is framerate a higher priority than fast load time? If so, prioritize a better CPU or GPU over a faster NVMe*1 SSD, and go with a SATA-based SSD, or even an HDD. Maybe you're looking to stream your gameplay. If you are, you might want to consider a higher-end CPU over more memory. Flexibility is important, but make sure you end up with a well-balanced system. You don't want to focus too heavily on one component at the expense of others.
If you've done the research, and still can't match your budget to the performance you're looking for, there's nothing wrong with waiting to make your purchase. You don't want to settle for performance you're not happy with, so keep an eye out for deals on the pre-built systems you're interested in until you find the right match, or consider building your own PC.
Once you've selected your core system, you'll want to consider everything else you might need (or want) to complete your setup.
The monitor you're going to use is also an important consideration. If your build is running games at 1080p, keep that in mind when selecting a monitor. You might not be able to take advantage of features like higher resolution and higher refresh rate displays until you upgrade your hardware further down the road. That money might be better spent toward a more powerful CPU or GPU right now rather than trying to future-proof your display.
As with keyboards and mice, audio solutions also vary widely in price, from audiophile headphones to standard earbuds. You might already have a set of headphones or speakers that will work, and if not, you can select from a large variety at a range of prices.
Another extra feature to consider is how the computer looks. Though lighting and flair can add a level of customization to your system, it's unrelated to the performance of the hardware inside, and can sometimes add cost. If you're choosing between two builds with the same internal hardware, but one has tempered glass and RGB fans, then, by all means, go for the premium aesthetic, but this could also be an opportunity to potentially save.
When it comes to a gaming PC, it's what's inside that counts.
The Right Fit
Once you know what your budget can buy, and how various configurations perform, you'll find there are a huge amount of quality budget PC options out there. With the flexibility afforded by different hardware configurations and the huge selection of manufacturers offering systems across the price spectrum, there's never been a better time to upgrade, no matter your budget.