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Computer games are not as difficult to run as they once were, but they’re still among the most demanding tasks most users will ask of their PC. An inexpensive desktop or laptop still has little chance of running the latest-and-greatest, so would-be PC gamers have to ask themselves; how much can I, and should I, spend?

For many the $1000 mark is an important cut-off. Computers under this are generally considered affordable, even “mainstream,” while those exceeding it are looked at as luxurious items. The average selling price for a PC has meandered between $500 and $600 for the last five years, so even $1000 is a stretch for most buyers. But can you really buy decent gaming PC for less than a grand?

Desktops

If you want maximum gaming performance for your dollar, a desktop is the way to go. That’s always been true and always will be for as long as desktops exist as a category. Gamers will also be happy to know that there are a lot of options with discrete graphics cards for less than $1,000.

So what will your money buy you? The Acer Predator G3 is a good example. A basic version of this system, with an Nvidia GT 640 video card How To Choose The Right PC Video Card [Technology Explained] How To Choose The Right PC Video Card [Technology Explained] Read More and Core i7-4770, can be had for $829.99. A system like this can generally be expected to play modern games at 1080p, though only at medium detail, and some very demanding games (like Civilization V and Metro: Last Light) probably won’t hit 60 frames-per-second. Other choices include the ASUS M51, Dell XPS 8700 and Alienware X51.

There’s no question that a reasonably capable gaming desktop can be yours for less than a grand, but we also should ask if spending a bit more results in even better value. The answer seems to depend on how much control you have over the build. Acer offers a better G3, for example, with a GTX 660 graphics card. But it also loads up on 32GB of RAM and more storage, upgrades that are unnecessary. As a result,the high-end G3 sells for around $1,400, which is still a good overall value, but way over budget.

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Alienware’s X51, on the other hand, can be upgraded from an Nvidia GTX 645 to a GTX 670 without altering other components, so the price leaps by $350 for a total of $1,199. That’s a better deal because you only pay for upgrades that really matter.

While you can’t buy a desktop that guarantees 60 FPS at maximum detail in every game, you can play every game on the market with a $1,000 rig. Going beyond that price point will improve the performance and allow for more visual detail.

Notebooks

In the desktop market, spending around a grand is almost guaranteed to buy a system with some form of discrete video card. Notebooks are a different story. Many systems sell for well over $1,000 with only Intel integrated graphics, so finding an affordable option with gaming potential is difficult.

Laptops designed with gaming as their primary purpose are generally out of this budget. To find options you’ll instead have to turn to multimedia notebooks, systems that usually have a 15.6” display and come with a low-end discrete graphics card. Examples include the Acer Aspire V3/V5, the Toshiba Satellite S800 series, the Lenovo IdeaPad Y500 and the Samsung Series 5. All of these notebooks have variants with AMD or Nvidia discrete graphics for under $1,000.

Don’t expect any performance miracles. Systems like this generally ship with an Nvidia GeForce GT 740M/750M or an AMD Radeon 7670M/7330M. Discrete graphics like this will struggle to keep up with modern games, so you’ll generally be restricted to medium or high settings. The one saving grace is the fact inexpensive multimedia notebooks almost universally come with a 720p display, which in turn lowers demand on the GPU.

Your options are limited, so will spending more help? Yes, it can. The least expensive tier of budget gaming laptops from ASUS, Alienware, and MSI sells between $1,000 and $1,200. For that you’ll receive an Intel quad-core, a far better discrete graphics solution, and (usually) a 1080p display. Games will play at high to maximum detail despite the increased resolution, making the extra $200 to $300 money well spent.

Roll Your Own

There is a third way. If you have the skill, or you’d like to learn it, you can try putting together your own desktop gaming computer Custom Budget Gaming PC Build and Giveaway Custom Budget Gaming PC Build and Giveaway How hard is it to get a decent gaming PC without breaking the bank? If you go out and buy yourself a pre-assembled name-brand computer, chances are, it won't be powerful enough to be a... Read More . This route can be trying, as you’ll be responsible for making sure the PC works. But success is rewarded with incredible performance for the price.

Rather than hashing together my own build, I’ll point you to something tried-and-true; The Tech Report’s system builder guide. Their current “sweet spot” build, the option they think provides the best bang-for-the-buck, prices out at $1,058. For that you can grab a quad-core processor, a Radeon HD 7870 video card, two terabytes of storage and a 120GB solid state drive, plus all the other miscellaneous components you need to make the PC work.

This rig can play any game at 1080p with near-maximum detail, and do so without breaking a sweat. Even if you downgrade the system slightly by selecting a less expensive motherboard or ditching the SSD, you’ll still end up with a desktop that should perform well for several years.

Conclusion

While there are various caveats, pitfalls and exceptions, the general answer to this article questions is a solid yes. You can buy a good gaming PC for less than $1,000 and expect it to run all modern games at 60 FPS, though you’ll sometimes have to dial detail back to medium – unless you build your own desktop.

Notebooks are the only sore point left, as those sold under a grand tend to struggle with the most demanding games on the market. But even this category has seen progress in affordability, and if you spend around $1,200, you can end up with an awesome portable gaming rig.

Image Credit: Deiby/Flickr

  1. Jonen
    September 11, 2013 at 7:41 am

    the worst part of pc gaming is temptation for the newest hardware. my gtx 560 ti suddenly feels so old, the GTX 780 is calling out for me.

  2. Nick
    September 3, 2013 at 9:07 am

    I bought my gaming PC for $400 and I can play max payne on high settings. So it really depends on where you buy your setup, if you want to buy an alienware you can almost guarantee that your going to spend over $1000, but you can easily find sites that will sell you a budget gaming PC for far less then $1000.

  3. Robin
    August 31, 2013 at 11:55 pm

    $500 for a normal PC?? WTF.

    I bought on Amazon:

    AMD Dualcore 3.10 GHz
    8 GB RAM
    some ATI HD 5400 series graphic card

    for less than 200 bucks incl. shipping. Excellent for games, too much anything else. I paid 20 bucks for Windows 7 64bit and 50 bucks for a 500 GB hard disk.

    All together $280. New of course lol

  4. Gary
    August 30, 2013 at 1:42 am

    My brother and I both bought custom built Cyberpower PCs for around $1,000 about a year ago, and they are still beasts. I priced out the parts and couldn't have built it myself for the same price. Not only that, the options are endless. I strongly recommend at least checking them out. My brother's PC worked flawlessly out of the box. Mine had a bad video card at first, but they sent me a new card within a week while covering the shipping. They also build laptops I believe.

  5. Ricky Rozay
    August 29, 2013 at 11:53 pm

    What is the best laptop for looking at Pr0nz?

  6. MrSmith
    August 29, 2013 at 8:01 pm

    Building your own gaming rig for under $500 should be the topic of this article. You can get a decent Nvidia card for around $200 and a barebones kit for about the same. Drop a decent HD in there and you're off and running. At 1k, you should be able to build a killer rig with gaming kb/m and a 26" monitor or 40" LED TV. If you shop around properly and pickup things on sale or from a discount online retailer.

  7. Igor R
    August 29, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    I just done get the integrated graphic card...they are so miserable.I mean,you cant even play a simple flash game without strugling to get atleast some smooth gameplay.. if i cant even play a web based game..whats the point in even buying that stuff...Why cant they just boost an integrated graphic card for web rendering or somethin like that...it just suck ....

    • impakt
      September 22, 2013 at 7:28 am

      Flash games don't work as much with the graphics card as many think, it's most processor based, that's why most professional programmers hate it

  8. Sony
    August 29, 2013 at 5:50 pm

    I always recommend building your own pc to buying a pre-built rig.
    Mostly because pre-built means expensive and often a bad component mix.

    Today you'd want to buy AMD Graphics and Intel Processors to get the most bang for the buck (even at higher levels).

    Building your own pc isnt hard at all, not even for a rookie. All you have to do is to buy compatible components (something your local pc-supplier might help you with, or a random community will) and install them by following the Motherboard manual. DONE

    • Henry
      August 29, 2013 at 6:25 pm

      Only for desktops though. I would recommend against building your own laptop, though you can, it is much easier to modify a prebuilt model for the most part and you should be able to find something with the processor and graphics card you want, though there are also some great customization services like xotic pc if you really want a specific combination that you ae having trouble finding.

      Actually AMD processors tend to be more bang for buck at the low end but always compare each individual model once you have decided on your price point and shopped around a bit

    • Matt Smith
      August 29, 2013 at 6:57 pm

      Can you still build your own laptop? I know that a few customization laptop shells used to be sold, but I thought they'd all been withdrawn from the market. At least in North America.

    • Henry
      August 29, 2013 at 6:59 pm

      I haven't seen any places selling direct to consumers but I know that companies like MSI and Sager still make barebones

    • Robin
      August 31, 2013 at 11:55 pm

      Dell lol

  9. likefunbutnot
    August 29, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    In point of fact, you can get a pretty good gaming desktop for about $500 since by most subjective measures typical PC games aren't remotely CPU bound any more (since most games are console ports) and spending on high end graphics cards is ridiculously wasteful in many configurations (since most PC games are console ports).

    My SO games on a Pentium g2120 - basically an i3 without the hyperthreading - and a $120 Geforce 650. Granted that she doesn't have an SSD, but all the parts in her PC cost me a total of about $330 and she couldn't be happier with it.

  10. Candy Crush Level 97
    August 29, 2013 at 3:49 pm

    Yes Good performing PCs are available less then 1000$.

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