Can you build a $500 PC that beats the Xbox One X?

Microsoft’s Xbox One X presents an interesting challenge for PC builders. Sure, if you want raw power, nothing beats the PC. But can you put together an Xbox One X equivalent for $500?

At that price point (and outside of that golden window of Black Friday sales and stellar combo/bundle deals on PC components), you’re pushing the limits of what’s possible, particularly if you want to completely replicate the same experience Microsoft is promising hardcore console fans. Given today’s high RAM prices, the low availability of certain GPUs, and the dearth of 4K UHD drives, the results don’t come out cleanly in favor of a DIY PC.

Build #1: A basic 4K/30-fps gaming PC

To start, we’ll walk through a baseline build, which makes a few sacrifices but should still perform at 4K/30 fps.

Build notes

  1. Prices current as of June 15, 2017.
  2. Retailers chosen with shipping costs in mind—and the assumption most people have an Amazon Prime account.
  3. Cheap AM3+ motherboards like the ASRock 970 Pro R2.0 lack on-board Wi-Fi, so if you want wireless connectivity, prepare to shell out for either a Wi-Fi adapter or a better motherboard. 
  4. The price for this ASRock motherboard is after a $20 mail-in rebate.
  5. See the Build Summary section for notes on availability.
  6. This price is after $20 mail-in rebate.

Build breakdown

When comparing our build to the Xbox One X piece by piece, each platform’s advantages are clear. Our PC has more flexibility and muscle, while the Xbox One X is both highly compact and set in stone.

For the Xbox One X’s CPU, GPU, and memory, Microsoft chose a custom AMD APU that features eight 2.3GHz custom x86 cores, 40 Radeon compute units running at 1,172MHz, and 12GB of GDDR5 memory. AMD doesn’t have an equivalent APU available for DIY build purposes, so I chose to walk the line between the Xbox One X’s specs and recommended specs for a smooth PC gaming experience. In our build is the eight-core 3.3GHz AMD FX-8300, 8GB of DDR3/1600 RAM, and an 8GB Radeon RX 580. (My GPU choice does have one catch, which I’ve noted in the Build Summary below.)

dsc01660 Brad Chacos/IDG

This configuration nets you a (faster) eight-core CPU, enough RAM to avoid bottlenecks in system performance, and a GPU capable of 4K gaming at a minimum of 30 fps on Medium settings. However, some Xbox One X games may end up running more smoothly or with better visual fidelity on console than on this homebrew 4K machine. Unlike with the PC, developers can fine-tune their games for Microsoft’s console through a low-level API.

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For storage, Microsoft hasn’t yet shared details on drive speed, type, or interface. All we currently know is what Digital Foundry revealed in its April 2017 preview: The Xbox One X will have a “1TB hard drive with a 50 percent increase in bandwidth.”