The short answer is that a good price-to-performance ratio is what makes a cheap gaming PC “good,” and the good news here is that desktop computers already provide this sort of value by their very nature — it’s simply easier to fit all that beefy hardware into a desktop tower, whereas the scaled-down components of laptops (not to mention their built-in displays and keyboards) make those mobile PCs more expensive. That said, it’s still important to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck if you’re buying a pre-assembled desktop computer, as some are built better than others.
The three main hardware components that drive performance are the CPU, GPU (or graphics card), and RAM. Our recommendations: For your CPU, stick with a 9th- or 10th-gen Intel Core or one of the newer AMD Ryzen (sometimes called “Zen”) processors. For RAM, a minimum of 8GB is recommended for all but the cheapest gaming PCs, an 16GB is even better — but remember you can almost always add more RAM and this is one of the easiest (if not the easiest) components to. GPUs are arguably the heart of a gaming computer; modern models include AMD’s Radeon 500 and 5000 series as well as Nvidia’s GTX 16- and RTX 20- series GPUs.
Nvidia replaced their older 10-series GPUs last year, but there are still cheap gaming PCs floating around with these cards. Our advice: Avoid them unless your needs are modest and you can snag one for a seriously good deal. Even the entry-level 16-series Nvidia cards are faster and are ideal for 1080p gaming. For 1440p gaming, you’ll be better served with one of the 20-series cards such as the GTX 2060 or 2070. If anything bottlenecks your gaming PC’s performance, it will be an underpowered GPU, so this is the one component you don’t want to skimp on. One final thing to consider is upgradeability: If you plan to keep your chosen PC tower for a while, look at what sort of case and motherboard it’s using to determine if you can easily add and swap parts in the future. Some desktop PCs from brands like HP use proprietary components which will limit what parts you can add and can be costly to replace.