$500 Build It Challenge
Maximum PC|December 2019
Can we build the best upgradable system for under half a grand?
By Christian Guyton

WE’RE BACK with another featured build, and this time our focus is customizability. We wanted to make a straightforward, versatile system to act as a launchpad for future expansions. As such, we had a budget to work with: $500. And we stuck to it (sort of). We decided early on that integrated graphics would be the way to go; we’ve got the space to add a dedicated GPU (or any other expansion cards that strike our fancy) later, if we want.

Flexibility is king here, but our system needed to be a capable PC in its own right, too. A mix of old and new components proved to be the cocktail we needed to create the perfect system for this task, although we’ll look back at the end and see whether there’s anything we could have done better. We’ll also be taking some time to break down the directions in which this system could be upgraded, whether it’s to become a high-powered gaming rig or a music-editing system.

That placed a few caveats upon us. First off, we needed a motherboard that was ready for upgrading; that meant plenty of DIMMs and PCIe slots, along with M.2 support, and the ability to take new Ryzen CPUs. We’re going with AMD rather than Intel for our processor, due to the availability of newer AMD chips with integrated graphics. We also needed a PSU capable of handling those extras, and a case with room for more drives.

We’re using a current-gen Ryzen processor with a last-gen motherboard, which might have you worrying about compatibility issues. Have no fear—we can rectify this with a few simple BIOS updates. This is where it gets complicated, though. X470-series motherboards can support either first-gen and second-gen Ryzen chips, or second-gen and third-gen, but never all three at once. Assuming your X470 board didn’t come with the latest BIOS updates installed, you need a 2000-series Ryzen CPU and a USB flash drive. Consider these add-ons to the build that we won’t be mentioning in the ingredients list—they won’t be used in the finished build, but you need them to get the system up and running.

CPU

AMD RYZEN 3 3200G $95

THE CHEAPEST CHIP in the Ryzen 3000 range, this comes with four cores, a base clock of 3.6GHz, and its own cooler (see above). Most importantly, it’s got the integrated graphics—Radeon Vega 8—that will power this rig. AMD claims this CPU can hit 4.0GHz in overclocking, but we’ve got reservations, especially as we’re only using the stock cooler. That’s OK—we’ve got no plans to overclock this build, and at less than $100, this is exactly what we need.

CPU COOLER

AMD WRAITH STEALTH $0

IT’S FREE! That’s all we have to say about this. Just kidding—the Wraith Stealth cooler that comes packaged with the Ryzen 3 3200G at no extra cost is actually a really good little cooling solution. It’s simple to install, has a low profile that will fit in just about any case, and easily provides the cooling necessary for low-pressure computing with integrated graphics. It’s still just air cooling, making it weaker for overclocking purposes, but we’re not going to be overclocking this build anyway. The Q500L case has room for a small AIO cooler if we decide to upgrade, too.

RAM

CORSAIR VENGEANCE LPX 16GB (2X 8GB) DDR4-2666 $59

WE CAN STOP SINGING the praises of Corsair’s excellent Vengeance LPX line whenever we want, honest, but we just don’t want to. It might not be as flashy or as fast as other memory—with no LEDs and a simple black metal finish—but this kit will serve us well. We contemplated a gentler 8GB, but 16GB for less than $60 was too good an offer to pass up. The 3200G does benefit from fast memory, but we want value for money, so we’ve opted for a 2,666MHz kit of two 8GB DIMMs. Simple, but effective.

MOTHERBOARD

GIGABYTE X470 AORUS ULTRA GAMING $125

NO, WE’RE NOT USING an X570 board, even though we are using a third-gen Ryzen. The new AMD compatible motherboards are still prohibitively expensive, so we’ve opted for a cheaper X470 one. Gigabyte’s Aorus Ultra Gaming has everything we need, and leaves lots of space for upgrading. We’ve got room for more drives, a more powerful CPU, more memory, and any sort of PCIe expansion, be that a GPU, soundcard, or something else entirely. With no other flashy lighting around, this will be the only source of RGB effects inside our case—it’s going to be a muted affair.

SSD

CRUCIAL MX500 500GB $64

CRUCIAL ALWAYS HAS it covered when it comes to SSDs. This time around, we’re using its MX500, giving us half a terabyte of SATA storage to play with. This will be our boot drive, containing the OS and immediate file storage. We did look into using a smaller M.2 SSD for our primary drive, but even the launch of NVMe Gen4 hasn’t lowered the prices of older M.2 drives enough for this low-cost build, so we’re sticking with SATA for now. 500GB isn’t quite enough for a full system, though, so we’ve enlisted some backup….

HDD

WESTERN DIGITAL BLUE 1TB $40

…AND HERE IT IS. Western Digital’s HDDs are still some of the best in the business, running quietly and not drawing too much power from your build. A terabyte of storage for just 40 dollars is a steal, too; a far cry from the pricey, bulky drives of yesteryear. The Q500L can support up to four SATA SSDs or two HDDs, so we’ve still got room for one more SSD on those drive brackets, should we decide to upgrade—alternatively, there’s plenty of space on the motherboard for a speedy M.2 drive.

PSU

450W CORSAIR CX450 80+ BRONZE $50

POWER SUPPLY PRICES are in constant flux, so this part of the build is nebulous at best. Really, we just recommend using whatever 140mm PSU you have to hand or can get cheaply online. We’re using Corsair’s CX450, as it’s a good little power brick that comfortably provides all the wattage this system will need; anything in excess of 500W would be overkill. The CX450’s low price means that it isn’t modular, which will leave us with some excess cabling to deal with, but that’s not the end of the world. If you do happen to have a modular power supply, go right ahead and use that instead for a slightly tidier build.

CASE

COOLER MASTER MASTERBOX Q500L $57

WE REVIEWED THIS CASE a little while back, and opinions were mixed. It’s almost TARDIS-like in its complexity, seeming capable of fitting more inside its little metal frame that should logically be possible. The customization options will be seen as a boon to some and utterly pointless to others. Yes, you can unscrew and remount the front I/O toward the rear of the case. Why would you? Well, that’s not a question for us to answer, because we’re not doing that. What we are doing, however, is nodding with satisfaction that we picked one up for a mere $57 online. Good job, us.

READY TO BUILD

ONCE YOU’VE GOT ALL OF YOUR COMPONENTS READY, FOLLOW OUR STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE TO ASSEMBLE THIS VERSATILE $500 PC

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