PC gaming can be a very expensive hobby, with parts and pre-built PCs alike commanding a pretty penny. For some, the price is offputting and adds to the allure of console gaming.
Nevertheless, it is possible to get started without throwing away all of your money. There will be sacrifices to make, be that in hardware or ultimately the resolution, frame rate and detail settings in some of your games. Likewise, if you're looking to get into some esports-friendly titles like League of Legends or CS:GO, a PC in this price bracket will be plenty.
Here's a selection of machines that cost less than $500 that are worth taking a look at.
Note: We're only pricing the actual PC at under $500, and a keyboard, mouse, and monitor is required for any desktop PC at any price point.
You can only get the base model and it'll come with Windows 8 but you can get an Alienware Alpha mini-PC for around $430, though as it's no longer manufactured you'll be best finding an open box or factory refurbished unit.
That gets you an Intel Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 2GB NVIDIA GPU, but the RAM and processor at least are upgradeable in the future. You can't use Alienware's external graphics amplifier with this model, but it's a great little package to get into some less intensive PC gaming or even use in the living room.
There is also an alternative, and that's the Steam Machine model that is still sold in some places. This one doesn't run Windows but will probably allow you more powerful hardware to play your games, at the expensive of not being a full Windows PC.
Lenovo Ideacentre 710
While this isn't technically a gaming PC, it's not a bad place to start out if you're looking to play CS:GO or League of Legends. For around $460 you get one of AMD's newer processors, in this case, the quad-core Ryzen 5 1400, paired with Radeon R5 340 1GB dedicated graphics.
Not earth-shattering, but solid performance on a budget. You also get 8GB of DDR4 RAM included, but the system can be expanded up to 32GB, as well as a 1TB 7200RPM HDD for storage. Toss in a cheap SSD as your Windows 10 boot drive and you'll still be on your budget but you'll feel massive performance gains.
It's also a pretty stylish looking PC with room to expand by adding more drives, you get Bluetooth built in as well as Wi-Fi, as well as HDMI connectivity.
By steering away from major manufacturers and looking towards smaller builders you can find some decent specs for under $500. This one from shinobee, a U.S. based company comes in at this price point by a whole cent, but the beauty is in the GPU.
Instead of something old or insanely low powered, this PC comes with a 2GB GTX 1050 from NVIDIA. And it's a better GPU for gaming than you might think. The tradeoff is using an older, AMD FX 6300 six-core bulldozer processor. But even so, for the sort of gaming you'll be doing on a budget PC, it'll cope just fine.
You also get Windows 10 Pro, a 1TB HDD and 8GB of RAM for your $499.99, and a two-year limited warranty, which is important when you're buying from lesser known brands and PC makers.
Buying a gaming PC for under $500 is pretty hard, especially if you're looking to buy new. The sad truth is that parts capable of gaming come with a premium. If you're a little more flexible or willing to take a risk on a pre-owned product, you can always find something great.
Hitting the pages of eBay, you can find things like an Alienware X51 with a Core i5 processor and GTX 745 GPU for under $350, and it's a PC that is fairly easy to add a better GPU to down the road, even going as high as a GTX 1060.
You could also start out with a barebones kit, which will provide you the main parts. This MSI Nightblade combines a nice case, a power supply, motherboard and cooling for $299. You'll have to add the processor, RAM, and storage yourself, which will easily go over $500 in the end, but it's an easy way to both learn how to build your own PC as well as spreading out the cost over time.
Then there's the obvious one: Build your own PC. AMD's new Ryzen APUs, combining a processor and integrated Radeon graphics is a great shout for this type of budget gaming. You can get the Ryzen 5 2400G for just $155, or bundled with a motherboard for $220. Even accounting for buying a Windows 10 license, you could build yourself a budget gaming PC for $500 with one of these.