What are the Best Desktop Computers for Retro Gaming?

Desktop PCs provide an excellent platform for emulating classic game consoles and arcade machines. Their power, expandability, and desktop form factor allow crafting capable retro gaming rigs. In this guide, we’ll recommend the most ideal desktops for retro emulation.


While single board computers like the Raspberry Pi have grown popular for retro emulation, desktop PCs offer distinct advantages:

  • More powerful CPU and GPU for smooth emulation
  • Standardized components for easy upgrading
  • Internal storage for large ROM libraries
  • Multiple controller inputs without USB hubs
  • Desktop form factor fits with vintage setups

We’ll suggest some great pre-built and custom desktop options that won’t break the bank and provide an awesome retro gaming experience. Let’s check them out!

Key Desktop PC Features for Retro Gaming

  • Decent CPU with integrated graphics sufficient for most emulators
  • 8GB RAM minimum for desktop OS overhead
  • 500GB+ storage for games libraries
  • Multiple USB ports and controller inputs
  • HDMI connection with 4K @ 60Hz support
  • Compact mini tower case to fit entertainment centers

Prioritize emulation performance and input connectivity over bleeding edge specs to keep costs reasonable.

Best Pre-Built Desktops for Retro Gaming

Dell Inspiron Compact Desktop

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CPU: Intel i3-10100


Storage: 512GB SSD

Graphics: Intel UHD 630

Price: ~$400

With its i3 CPU, 8GB RAM, and 512GB SSD, the Inspiron Compact has great specs for retro emulation at reasonable cost in a compact mini tower case.

HP Slim Desktop

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CPU: AMD Athlon Silver 3050U


Storage: 256GB SSD

Graphics: AMD Radeon Graphics

Price: ~$300

HP’s affordable Slim Desktop line delivers adequate AMD CPUs and integrated graphics for retro gaming. Just add more storage for your ROMs. Compact size works well.

Lenovo IdeaCentre AIO

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CPU: AMD Ryzen 3 4300U


Storage: 256GB SSD

Graphics: AMD Radeon

Price: $450

Lenovo’s all-in-one desktop packs performance into a compact integrated design with keyboard and mouse included. Just attach controllers and game!

Best Custom Built Retro Gaming Desktops

Emulation Powerhouse

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CPU: Intel Core i5-12400


Storage: 500GB SSD

Graphics: NVIDIA GTX 1660

Price: ~$800

With its modern i5 CPU, GTX graphics, and 16GB of RAM, this system will handle the most intensive emulators like PS3 and Wii flawlessly while still being reasonably affordable.

Budget Emulation Build

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CPU: Intel Core i3-10100F


Storage: 500GB SSD

Graphics: Integrated Intel Graphics

Price: ~$400

You don’t need bleeding edge specs for retro gaming. This budget system has enough muscle for most emulators in an affordable package.

Living Room Retro Rig

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CPU: Intel Core i5-10400


Storage: 512GB SSD

Graphics: NVIDIA GTX 1650

Case: Compact Mini ITX

Price: ~$600

With a mini ITX motherboard, compact case, and fast parts this is a powerful yet space saving retro gaming desktop perfect for connecting in your living room.

Tips for Building the Ultimate Retro Gaming PC

  • Prioritize CPU performance over GPU since emulation relies on processor power.
  • Install operating system and emulators on SSD for fast loading times. Use secondary HDD for ROM storage.
  • Ensure power supply can support any future GPU or hardware upgrades. Go modular.
  • Choose cases with front accessible USB ports for controller connections.
  • For living room use, install internal optical drive for disc-based games.
  • Add a fan controller to adjust fan speeds and reduce noise during gaming.


Can you build an emulation PC for under $500?

Yes, by choosing an budget CPU like the Ryzen 5 5600G, 8GB of RAM, a 500GB SSD, and a value micro ATX case and motherboard you can build a capable retro gaming desktop for around $500.

Is an expensive GPU required for emulation?

Not at all. Most emulators rely primarily on CPU power. An integrated GPU is sufficient for retro 3D graphics. Focus budget on CPU and RAM instead.

What PC case works best for retro gaming?

Prioritize front accessible USB ports for controllers. Compact Mini ITX cases take up little space for living room use. And cubes or towers allow displaying vintage gear.

How much storage do I need for an emulation PC?

500GB is a good starting point which allows you to already store a sizable game collection. Add additional hard drives over time as your ROM library grows. Solid state disks help with load times.

Can I build an emulation PC with used parts?

Absolutely! Using previous generation or used components is a great way to save money. Ensure parts are compatible and test before purchasing to avoid issues.


Desktop PCs – whether pre-built or custom – offer great performance, upgradability, and connectivity for retro gaming. Focus on specs like a decent CPU, 8GB+ RAM, and multiple controller inputs over cutting edge graphics.

With some thoughtful component selection, you can build a killer retro emulation PC without breaking the bank. Get ready to enjoy thousands of classic games across decades of systems in one place with the power of a desktop. Game on!

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