The best cheap gaming PCs will allow you to play the latest games at a reasonable resolution and frame rate without emptying your wallet. The term cheap is relative, but we've defined it as $1,000 or less. Many premium pre-built gaming PCs cost several times that price, and the rising cost of graphics cards because of rampant Bitcoin mining means building one yourself has become more expensive.
That said, there are still some great budget-friendly gaming PCs at a reasonable price if you're willing to sacrifice some performance to get there. If you make a few compromises, a cheap gaming PC can offer you as much — if not more — enjoyment than a game console.
How We Picked the Best Cheap Gaming PCs
Our cheap gaming PC recommendations are based on a mix of research and hands-on testing. Below are the factors we considered most highly when deciding which cheap gaming PCs to include in this buyer's guide.
Graphics Card: A computer's graphics card is responsible for processing images on your computer, and outputting them to your screen. In the gaming PC world, this is the most important component in your rig. Graphics cards can be broken down into two categories, dedicated and integrated, which offer significantly different experiences.
— Dedicated: A dedicated graphics card is a piece of dedicated hardware with its own processor(s) and memory. This allows the PCs main processor and memory to run other software, like the computer's operating system and other apps, without a hit to performance.
— Integrated: Integrated graphics cards, which are typically found on laptops, have a significantly slower processor and share the computer's main memory pool. Graphics in high-end games are huge, so your computer will run out of memory more quickly, which leads to a loss of fidelity as the system struggles to keep up. Additionally, there's some lag time between a computer's processor, integrated graphics card, and memory, which slows down performance even further.
In general, we only recommend running games on a PC with a dedicated graphics card, though there is an exception if you game on a Mac.
Processor: A computer's processor is responsible for running your entire computer. Everything you do, from moving the mouse cursor around to playing a game in 4K, requires some level of processing power. High-fidelity games require a lot of power, so we made sure to prioritize both the processor speed and number of processor cores in the machines we're recommending. Multi-core processors, which are standard in all computers now, allow the PC to run several tasks in parallel to avoid overloading the processor and burning it out.
Memory: All of our cheap gaming PC recommendations have at least 8 GB (gigabytes) of RAM (Random-Access Memory). Game assets, from graphics to music tracks, are huge, so you'll want as much memory in there as possible. When a computer runs out of memory, it ends up dumping old data onto the system's hard drive or deleting it entirely. Your gaming PC's performance will be substantially impacted by how much of the game your computer can keep stored in memory at any given time. This is especially true in open-world games, which allow you to roam freely in a single gigantic world instead of navigating through small areas that can be loaded and unloaded as necessary.
Storage: New PC games are gigantic, so if you have a large library, you'll ideally want a computer with a lot of space. Gaming PCs can be equipped with either a hard drive or an SSD (Solid State Drive), which each come with their own pros and cons.
Hard drives are very slow, as data is stored on a physical platter that spins around, so your gaming performance will actually be limited by the laws of physics. The benefit of this storage medium is that ultra-high-capacity hard drives are relatively inexpensive.
Solid State Drives store data on computer chips, which allows your computer to read data from them a lot more quickly. In gaming, using a PC with a solid-state drive means you'll see lower loading times and smoother overall performance. Unfortunately, solid-state drives are a lot more expensive than hard drives.
Ports: A computer's ports determine what accessories can be plugged into them, and how they can output information like graphics and sound. Our cheap gaming PC recommendations all have an array of ports, from USB-A and USB-C, which allow you to connect external hard drives, keyboards, and mice, to an HDMI or DisplayPort output, so you can conveniently connect the machine to your TV or monitor.
Cooling System: Playing games will constantly tax your computer, so it's important to get a machine with a cooling system that will keep it from overheating. In the cheap gaming PC world that means getting a computer with a lot of fans inside. Yes, you will be able to hear the machine whirring away as you play, but it's better than the machine overheating.
Upgradability: A huge benefit of gaming on the PC instead of a console is that you can upgrade your machine over time instead of waiting for Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony to release new hardware. Cheap gaming PCs with an upgrade path also allow you to spend less money now, but create a more powerful system over time.
Operating System: Windows has been the dominant operating system for gamers since the early 1990s due to its extreme popularity. You can run some games on a machine running macOS or Linux, but the library available to you will be much lower.
Best Cheap Gaming PCs: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Overall: Cyberpowerpc Gamer Xtreme
Why It Made The Cut: Cyberpowerpc is a fast machine with enough graphical horsepower to run any modern game well.
— Graphics Card: Dedicated
— RAM: 8 GB
— Upgradable: Yes
— Powerful graphics card
— Many upgradable parts
— Large size
Cyberpowerpc's Gamer Xtreme is the most traditional gaming PC we're recommending, and it's also the most powerful.
It boasts a six-core Intel i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, a 500 GB SSD, and an Nvidia GeForce 2060 graphics card with 6 GB of dedicated video RAM. These are impressive specs from a computer that costs less than $1,000, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a game that wouldn't run well on it at a resolution of 1080p.
Power is great, but this cheap gaming PC's biggest strength is that all the components I mentioned earlier are upgradeable. If you need more memory, you can pop it in; if the system's processor gets out of date, it can be replaced; if you need more storage for your game library, add another drive. This flexibility means you can build your dream system piece by piece, and don't have to worry about replacing the entire system. Yes, eventually you'll need to buy a new computer because the latest parts won't be compatible with this machine's motherboard, but in that scenario, you will likely be able to keep the PC's case.
The Gamer Xtreme's internal hardware is complemented by a wide array of ports, which solidify it as a great general-purpose PC. The top of the PC's case features a pair of USB ports, a microphone input, and a headphone jack in addition to the power button. Having quick access to all of these ports makes it easy to plug in an external hard drive if you need to transfer game data, or hook up a gaming headset. On the back of the machine, you'll find six additional USB ports, a gigabit Ethernet port, one HDMI port, and a DisplayPort. This load-out will allow you to connect this PC to two monitors simultaneously without any dongles.
Our only complaint with the Gamer Xtreme is it's pretty large. This is par for the course with gaming PCs, and a fair tradeoff considering how upgradable this machine is, but it's something to consider. The Gamer Xtreme will fit nicely underneath a desk, or to the right or left-hand side of a media console if you plan on connecting the machine to a TV. If you have enough space and can stretch your budget to the upper limits of what we consider cheap for a gaming PC, this is the one you should get.
Best Budget: Minisforum EliteMini HX90
Why It Made The Cut: The EliteMini HX90 is roughly the size of a modern game console, but it's more versatile and very upgradable.
— Graphics Card: Integrated
— RAM: 8 GB
— Upgradable: Yes
— Ultra small
— A lot of connectivity
— Upgrades can fix its flaws
— Integrated graphics card
If space is your primary reason for picking a gaming console instead of a PC, Minisforum's EliteMini HX90 may change your mind. This gaming PC is smaller than the PlayStation 5, and packs a serious punch.
The pre-built machine comes with an eight core AMD Risen 9 processor, 16 GB of RAM, and a 512 GB SSD. In some ways, this PC is actually better than our best overall pick. Unfortunately, it has an integrated graphics card that will hinder its performance. You can fix this issue by connecting a graphics card to it using a cable, but that will add a lot of bulk to your gaming PC setup, and might look a little odd on your desk. You can upgrade the EliteMini HX90's RAM, and swap in a larger SSD by popping open its case. These upgrades will have a material impact on the HX90's gaming performance, but won't require any additional space. While it's not perfect, we do want to reiterate that this gaming PC's upgradability is a very attractive feature.
The EliteMini HX90 is small, but Minisforum packed it with ports. There's one USB-A port, a USB-C port, a microphone input, and a headphone jack on its front side. If you flip the computer around, you'll find four more USB-A ports, an additional microphone input and headphone jack, an Ethernet port, two HDMI ports, and two DisplayPorts. You can connect this machine to up to four monitors right out of the box, which is incredible if you want to use it for productivity work between gaming sessions.
The EliteMini HX90 is well priced given its power level, especially because Amazon is knocking $115 off its typical price when you click the digital coupon on its product page. If you're in the market for a gaming PC in the sub $700 price range, and have tight space requirements, the EliteMini HX90 should be your next gaming machine.
Best Mac: Mac mini
Why It Made The Cut: macOS isn't as robust of a gaming platform as Windows, but the Mac mini is an impressive piece of hardware for the titles that are available.
— Graphics Card: Integrated
— RAM: 8 GB
— Upgradable: No
— Small size
— Powerful processor
— Excellent industrial design
— Limited game library
Apple made a big pitch to gamers at its World Wide Developer Conference this past June. If the company's plans to court game developers works out, the Mac mini will be one of the best cheap gaming PCs on the market.
Right now, the number of games that can run on the Mac is limited compared to Windows, but Mac mini has a trick up its sleeve. The machine can run any game that's part of Apple Arcade, a $5-per-month subscription service that allows subscribers unlimited access to a wide variety of games that can be played on the iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Some of these games are actually available on other consoles as full-priced standalone releases. Additionally, some modern games have versions that run natively on the Mac.
With these caveats out of the way, let's get to the real reason the Mac mini stands out as the best gaming machine in Apple's lineup: its power and its size. The Mac mini is smaller than the EliteMini HX90 we recommended earlier and looks a lot nicer to boot. It has an integrated graphics chip but offers excellent gaming performance because Apple designed the M1 processor inside this machine. The M1 chip has the computer's multi-core processor, multi-core graphics card, and memory all on the same, small component. The M1 allows the Mac mini to achieve levels of performance that are basically unheard of for a computer of its size.
Being on the cutting edge of Mac hardware is great whether you're gaming or not, but this machine has a couple of hardware limitations to consider. The most important one is that you can't upgrade any component in this machine. If you want to get a Mac mini, you'll have to decide how much memory and storage you need at the time of purchase. The stock version with 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD is solid if you're a casual gamer, but you might want a more well-equipped machine if you plan on playing lots of games all the time. Apple was also a little stingy with ports, as the Mac Mini has two USB-A, two Thunderbolt 4, one HDMI port, and a headphone jack.
Gaming on the Mac has always been a compromised experience, but the M1 Mac mini is a very good step in the right direction. Hopefully Apple will be able to improve MacOS' compatibility with more titles.
Best Laptop: ASUS TUF Dash 15
Why It Made The Cut: The ASUS TUF Dash 15 is a fast, upgradable gaming laptop that you'll want to take with you everywhere.
— Graphics Card: Dedicated
— RAM: 8 GB
— Upgradable: Yes
— Big screen
— Solid specs
— Compromised battery life when gaming
The gaming laptop market has expanded a lot recently, and ASUS TUF Dash 15 is a viable machine if you're serious about playing games everywhere you go.
This PC has a four-core Intel Core i7-11370H processor, 8 GB of RAM, a 512 GB SSD, and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 TI graphics card with 4 GB of dedicated video memory. These specs are excellent for a computer that you can fit inside a backpack and use on a plane. When you're on the go, you'll be playing your games on a 15.4-inch HD display with a 144 Hz refresh rate, which means games that can run at a frame rate higher than 60 frames per second will look ultra smooth.
We've mentioned the importance of upgradability several times in this guide, and that's one of the reasons we chose the TUF Dash 15 over other gaming laptops. You can upgrade the SSD and RAM in this machine, and there's even an additional slot for a second SSD if you're really hurting for storage. You can't improve this laptop's graphics power, but adding more storage and memory to address your future needs is excellent. We're very impressed by the machine's size, too; at less than five pounds, you'll be able to carry the TUF Dash 15 around without hurting your back too much.
The TUF Dash 15 is outfitted with three USB-A ports, one Thunderbolt 4 port, an HDMI port, an Ethernet jack, and a headphone jack. This laptop has a proprietary charger, which we don't like, but you have the option to top it up using a USB-C PD charger, too.
If you've given up gaming because you're never in front of a desk or TV for very long, the TUF Dash 15 may help revive your interest in the hobby. If you want a traditional console gaming experience, you can get a wireless game controller and bring an HDMI cable with you to connect it to a TV anywhere you go.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Cheap Gaming PC
Building Your Own Machine
If you have the time, patience, and confidence, you can build a computer that's better and less expensive than the pre-built ones we're recommending in our guide.
Going down this path requires you to have a thorough understanding of how computers are put together, and make sure that each component in the rig is complimentary. If you're new to PC building, you run the risk of getting pieces that are incompatible with one another or accidentally forgetting a crucial item like thermal paste.
Additionally, you'll need to have a place to work on the machine that's free of static, and all the necessary tools for installation. Building a gaming PC is very rewarding, and sites like PCPartPicker have taken a lot of the guesswork out of making your own build, but it'll still require a lot more effort than taking a pre-built machine out of the box.
If you build your own cheap gaming PC, you also may find that a single piece of the machine you'd like is back-ordered for several months, which will make the project impossible unless you decide to buy the part on a site like eBay.
Q: How do I responsibly dispose of my old PC?
If you're replacing an old PC, we recommend reading our guide on how to responsibly dispose of e-waste.
Q: If one piece of my cheap gaming PC goes bad, do I have to replace the entire machine?
No. You will be able to replace the single component that's malfunctioning and continue to use the machine as you did before.
Q: How does a gaming PC's performance compare to a gaming console?
Gaming PCs are a lot better at running than consoles because they have faster processors, more memory, faster storage, and higher graphics performance. That said, the current generation of PlayStation and Xbox consoles are very powerful machines, and require far less stress (and money) to set up and use. Still, a gaming PC will give you the best possible experience when playing games.
Q: Do gaming PCs take up more space than game consoles?
Yes. Typically, a gaming PC will take up roughly 1.5x to 2x the amount of space as a game console. Mini gaming PCs are a lot smaller, but you sacrifice a lot of performance.
Q: Can I hook my gaming PC up to a TV?
Final Thoughts on Cheap Gaming PCs
It's nice to see the price of gaming PCs drop over time. The best cheap gaming PCs today offer so much more performance than similarly-priced machines only a few years ago. Supply-chain issues have prevented PC component prices from continuing to decrease — in some cases, they've actually increased — but you're still getting a lot for your money.
That's especially true when you realize that you can use your gaming PC for productivity purposes, like writing emails, working on documents, or other tasks required for school and office work. Game consoles may be more simple to use, but a gaming PC will always offer better performance.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.