The $500 Build

Looking to build a powerful, expandable home office PC for under $500? No problem! This guide lists all the parts you'll need to put together a balanced computer that has the power to handle any office task. There's even an option to turn it into a serious gaming machine for around $650! And don't worry - if you need help building your system, our Builder's Guide to Assembling a Basic PC will walk you through every step, providing plenty of detailed photos and tips.

For March 2017, we are able to save you a lot of money going with the new sub-$100 CPU king, the Intel Pentium G4600. Intel isn't revealing much with its subdued branding, but for all intents and purposes, this is a mid-range Core i3 processor in disguise! The key is the Hyperthreading technology that Intel has added to several Pentiums in the new Kaby Lake range, with the G4600 being the fasetst. In short, this processor has two physical cores and two virtual cores, allowing it to handle serious multi-tasking like nobody's business! This system also features 8GB of DDR4-2400 RAM in a dual-channel configuration and a quick 275GB solid-state drive, ensuring that it will deliver an ultra-smooth computing experience unlike any you'll get from similarly-priced off-the-shelf systems. The significance of an SSD in this system shouldn't be underestimated. Only around 30% of pre-built desktops on the market today include SSDs, and most of the models that do are extremely expensive. Building your own PC is a much better option if you're willing to make the effort!

The beauty of this system is that it can be customized in so many ways. For power users, we suggest an optional upgrade to a quad-core, which is ideal for multi-tasking, computational work, or video editing. And for gamers, we suggest an optional upgrade to the powerful Radeon RX 470 4GB video card, which offers amazing performance for well under $200, matching cards that sold for over $300 not long ago.

Note that if your total budget is significantly below $500, we recommend that you buy a pre-built system. Building an ultra-low-price PC is difficult if you need a copy of Windows (about $100 on its own and included in this $500 build). Our Desktop Buyer's Guide includes several capable yet inexpensive pre-built systems, so check them out if you're on a very limited budget.

If you'd like to see the how this build compares to the other options we recommend, check out our PC Build Comparison Page. If you're interested in seeing past versions of this build, flip to the $500 Home Office PC Archive. To discuss this build or get advice on your own build, check out the Reader Forum. You might also get some inspiration in The Gallery, where you can see this system as built by one of our readers. We'd love to feature your PC if you decide to build a system based on this guide! Be sure to also check out our Monitor Buyer's Guide and Peripherals Buyer's Guide if you're in the market for components to round out your system. 

U.S. prices are shown below in real-time, with separate links provided to Amazon UK, Amazon Canada, and Amazon Germany for our readers in those countries. Regional substitutions have been made as necessary. If you decide to purchase any of the products we list, please use the links provided, which helps support continued development of these guides. 

The $500 Home Office PC - March 2017

    CPU:

    Pentium G4600

    Released in early February, the Kaby Lake-based Pentium G4600 is the most powerful sub-$100 CPU ever released. While its model name doesn't give away what lies beneath, this is a 3.6GHz dual-core, Hyperthreaded processor, which means it's much faster than the 3.5GHz G4500 dual-core CPU released in 2015. The two virtual cores provided by Hyperthreading means it operates a whole lot more like a $120 Core i3 processor than any previous Pentium processor ever could. Plus, with its built-in HD 630 graphics chip, this processor will easily handle any home PC use, including streaming high-def video.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Some PC builders may wonder whether they should use a Core i5-7500 quad-core CPU instead of this Pentium for their home office computers. Here's the simple answer: for basic office tasks like e-mail, Internet, and word processing, the Pentium is the equal of the much more expensive quad-core. But if you're interested in high-resolution video or photo editing or serious gaming, then go with the quad. It will drop right into this build with no other modifications.

    Motherboard:

    MSI B250M Pro-VDH

    This inexpensive but feature-rich B250-based board is the perfect pick for this build. It has VGA, DVI, and HDMI video outputs, one PCIe x16 expansion slot along with two PCIe x1 (both accessible even with a video card installed!), and unlike a lot of low-cost boards, four RAM slots. It also has several cutting-edge connectors, including a USB Type-C port and an M.2 SSD slot.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Note that while some older B150-based boards may be able to support the Pentium G4560 after a firmware update, for guaranteed support, your only choice is a B250-based model.

    Memory:

    Crucial 2x4GB Ballistix Sport LT DDR4-2400

    The new Intel Kaby Lake platform provides a number of benefits, one of which is the ability to run faster DDR4-2400. The previous generation could only support DDR4-2133. That provides a nice speed boost in a lot of applications, particularly when using the Intel CPU's built-in video. By the way, using a pair of 4GB sticks rather than one 8GB stick allows for "dual channel" operation, boosting not only CPU performance, but more significantly, built-in video performance.

    The Guru's Tip:

    While a total of 8GB is plenty for all mainstream uses, if you'd like to work on high-res photo or video editing, go for Crucial's 2x8GB DDR4-2400 kit.

    Solid-State Drive:

    Crucial MX300 275GB M.2

    We now recommend that most builders choose an SSD over a hard drive, and specifically an M.2 form factor model. The responsiveness of a system with an SSD is so superior to systems with a hard drive that we simply don't think you should build a PC in 2017 without one. And the M.2 form factor makes installation so much easier, as no cables are required - the drive slots right into the motherboard like a memory stick. Among all budget M.2 drives, the Crucial MX300 is the clear winner, offering both more capacity (275GB vs. 250GB) and higher performance than any drive close to its price. 

    The Guru's Tip:

    To affix this drive to the motherboard, you'll need a jeweler's type screwdriver.

    Case:

    Zalman T4 Micro ATX

    The T4 is an updated version of the Zalman ZM-T2, which we reviewed and still use to this day! It has an ultra-compact footprint, meaning it will slip in just about anywhere, despite being able to hold quite a lot of powerful gear!

    The Guru's Tip:

    SRM-01

    Another great option is the Silverstone PS08, which is shorter but deeper than the T4, with about the same total volume. It's one of our very favorite budget cases. You can see our full review of the PS08 right here.

    Power Supply:

    EVGA 450 B1

    EVGA's 450W model offers unmatched value, providing Bronze-rated efficiency and quiet operation. And the reality is that this build will use less than half of this unit's rated power output, even with an added video card, meaning you'll have power to spare!

    The Guru's Tip:

    This unit is backed by a 3-year warranty and EVGA's excellent customer service.

    Optical Drive:

    LG 24x DVD Burner GH24NSC0B

    While you may not use it much, when you need it, you'll be glad you have a DVD burner in your system. For starters, it makes installing an operating system and motherboard drivers so much easier. We think that justifies the cost on its own!

    The Guru's Tip:

    Because two SATA cables are included in the box with the motherboard used for this build, you don't need to buy an extra SATA cable for the optical drive or the SSD, but you will if you also add a third SATA device beyond an optical drive and a main system drive.

    Operating System:

    Microsoft Windows 10

    In July of 2016, Microsoft's Windows 10 marked its one year anniversary, with a huge new update released to further distance it from the long-forgotten Windows 8.1. In addition to its superior usability, it also has lots of fine tuning under the hood to improve performance and provide greater customization options.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Note that Microsoft no longer offers free upgrades to Windows 10 from older versions of Windows.

    Hard Drive (Optional):

    Western Digital Blue 1TB (Opt.)

    This drive can be used instead of or in addition to the solid-state drive recommended earlier in this guide. If you need the capacity offered by a hard drive, then there really is no substitute in terms of value per dollar. We therefore recommend hard drives for bulk media and data storage needs, and this model offers above-average performance and quiet operation. Note that you'll need to buy an extra SATA cable if you'll be using this plus an SSD and DVD burner.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Using an SSD for the operating system and main applications, along with a hard drive for data, provides an incredibly-responsive user experience along with plenty of storage capacity. Read our SSD Setup Guide to learn how to make sure they're running optimally.

    Video Card (Optional):

    XFX RX 470 4GB SF

    Due to newfound competition in the budget video card market, AMD has dropped the price on its capable RX 470 GPU to steal the limelight from Nvidia's new GTX 1050 Ti 4GB. Offering 25-30% better gaming performance for just a few dollars more, it's the clear value leader in the under-$200 arena.

    The Guru's Tip:

    Note that many RX 470 models will be too large to fit in this system. We've purposefully selected a smaller model to make sure there are no clearance issues.