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A gaming PC is one of the best ways to enjoy the latest games at high resolutions and fantastic visual quality. With so many brands and specifications to consider, it can be hard to know where to start when buying one.
This buying guide will help you determine which gaming PC to buy based on your specific needs, budget, and tastes.
While at its heart, a gaming PC is just a PC it's not like most other computers. While the average PC can run office-based software, browse the internet, and allow for basic photo or video editing, a typical PC isn't capable of running more than simple games at low resolutions.
If you want to play today's level of games on your PC, it's important to pick out a gaming system with dedicated hardware for gaming purposes. While a regular PC may run some basic or older games, you need a dedicated graphics card and more powerful hardware to be able to play the latest titles. Today's top-tier games are among the most computationally complex tasks a computer can do.
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There are some key factors to bear in mind which differ from buying a regular PC. As you look at gaming PCs, you'll see they all offer different specifications and features.
It's essential to get a balanced gaming PC, from ensuring you have the best storage for your gaming pc to getting the right specs in place for your needs. Here are the five key areas you need to think about before you invest in a new gaming PC:
It's possible to spend $500 on a budget gaming PC, and it's also possible to spend $5,000 on a high-end gaming PC. Ultimately, it's down to you and what you can afford as to how much you want to pay.
The more you spend, the more likely it is you'll be investing in top quality components. That means a gaming PC can be expected to last longer, so for future-proofing purposes it's smart to spend a bit more up front.
However, that's not always practical. If you're on a budget, you can still make a good investment and have a great PC for gaming.
If you want a specific number, between $1,500 and $2,000 (the middle two rows in the chart) will get most people a really good gaming PC, especially with price drops during sales seasons.
With any purchase, only spending what you can afford is crucial, but with something as expensive as a gaming PC, it's easy to get carried away.
The most critical component in any gaming PC is its graphics (video) card. Graphics cards are the heart of what enables you to play games at high resolutions and with as many graphical features enabled as possible. They’re also one of the most expensive components out there.
Two companies provide graphics cards: AMD and Nvidia. Currently, Nvidia provides the best graphics cards with the RTX 30-series of graphics cards. If money is no object, the GeForce RTX 3090 Ti is the best graphics card, but you're more likely to come across the RTX 3060 or 3070 range when buying a gaming PC.
If you're looking to play games at 4K resolutions or with graphic settings at high or ultra-high, the RTX 30-series is typically the best choice.
AMD is still worth paying attention to if you're on a tighter budget with the RX 6000 Series worth considering. These cards are suitable for playing games at 1080p resolutions and slightly lower graphic detail levels. Most games can run at 1080p or lower graphics levels if you're willing.
The latest Call of Duty games and Final Fantasy XIV will scale down to 1080p, while games like Cyberpunk 2077 may stutter a bit with lower-end graphics cards. Perennial favorites such as Fortnite scale well, so most GPUs will handle it.
In either case, it's worth paying attention to the model number.
The higher the number, generally, the better the card. For instance, the GeForce RTX 20-series is older than the GeForce RTX 30-series. The 20-series will still play the latest games, but you should invest in an RTX 30-series card to get the best quality.
A 20-series GPU card typically costs around $300 less than a GeForce RTX 30-series card on its own but when bought as a desktop system, expect it to be around $200 more to buy the latest RTX 30-series card. Prices frequently fluctuate due to continuing global microchip shortages.
Finally, look to see how much memory is on the card. A graphics card with 12 GB of RAM is likely to perform better than one with 8 GB of RAM. GPU RAM, also known as VRAM (video random access memory), is a particular type of RAM that works solely to assist your computer’s graphics card rather than for any other part of your system.
Unlike regular RAM, you can't upgrade it at a later date. More VRAM means your graphics card can access details such as game textures or other effects more quickly than a lower amount.
Intel and AMD are the two options when picking out a gaming PC. At the moment, the most powerful processors for gaming vary depending on your price range. Like with graphics cards, generally, the higher the number, the better the processing power.
A processor, also called a CPU, is essentially the brain of your computer. It is responsible for interpreting and executing pretty much all of what unfolds on your screen. Its speed and cores affect how quickly it operates and completes tasks.
Cores are like processors within processors. Most CPUs have between four and eight.
Computer RAM works much like VRAM, but rather than assisting the graphics card’s processor, it helps the main CPU instead. The more RAM you have, the better your system can retrieve temporary information, improving speed and performance.
When it comes to RAM, you need 16GB of memory. The average PC can multitask reasonably well with 8GB of memory, but 16GB is pretty much the minimum you need when gaming because games are much more demanding than browsing the internet or using office-related software.
When you have a least 16GB of RAM when gaming, you can rest easy knowing there are no bottlenecks when your system is loading new data for a fast-moving game.
Only when dealing with the least expensive gaming PCs is 8GB worth a look. It's likely if you're looking for the most affordable gaming PCs, you're on a budget and aiming to play older games or less demanding titles like Fortnite.
Not all RAM is equal. Check the speed of the RAM and the type of RAM. DDR5 is the latest and fastest RAM, but many systems use DDR4. Steer clear of anything lower than DDR4.
For Intel processors, you need the RAM to run at 3,200 MHz for the best performance, while AMD systems can cope with 3,600 MHz. Slower RAM will work, but you might find your PC suffering from a bottleneck as it tries to process all the information, and performance may suffer.
AMD has its Ryzen 5 series, which you are most likely to come across in a gaming PC system, but it also has the Ryzen 9 series for high-end gaming.
Alternatively, Intel has the i9 range for high-end gaming and the i5 and i7 for more affordable but still speedy gaming. The processor world is a predictably fast-moving arena, but if you stick with the higher numbers and the latest processors (for both Intel and AMD), you should be fine.
Usually, it's hard to upgrade the processor yourself in a gaming PC, but it's often one of the simplest tasks in gaming hardware to replace the RAM. If you feel comfortable with a screwdriver, you can usually upgrade the RAM yourself at a later date.
Lifewire / Erika Rawes
Most gaming PCs offer Solid State Drives (SSDs) for their storage method. If you see one that offers only regular hard drive storage, skip it. The only exception is if the gaming PC offers SSD storage and a hard disk drive (HDD).
SSD storage is one of the easiest ways to make your gaming PC perform faster. Your PC can read the files more quickly through SSD storage, reducing game loading times for you and generally improving performance.
It's essential to make sure you buy as much SSD storage as possible. Some gaming PCs only offer 256GB of SSD storage, and with the latest games like Call of Duty: Vanguard requiring over 100GB of space, you won't be able to install many games at once. Instead, you'll need to uninstall games frequently to be able to switch around.
It can take a while to reinstall games, with the majority available digitally or requiring extensive patches. You also need to account for having significant spare space for the patches mentioned above to expand and install.
512GB should be the minimum you consider unless you’re buying a PC to play just one or two games. While 256GB may suffice if you only plan on playing one or two games, you’ll soon find you will need more space as new games are often larger than ones in the past. Fortunately, installing a new hard drive in many systems is possible.
Many people prefer to build their gaming PC and it's certainly possible to do. Essentially, building a PC is like a slightly more complicated form of LEGO with electrical components.
Things get tricky when it comes to buying components that work together. It takes quite a bit of research to buy all the correct parts unless you purchase a bundle deal from a retailer that combines a series of components compatible with each other. There's also the issue of rising costs.
Once, building your PC was cheaper than buying a pre-built unit, but those days are gone with individual components like a graphics card sometimes costing more than an entire gaming PC tower.
If you can build a regular PC, you can build a gaming PC. However, be brutally honest with yourself about your tech expertise and abilities. If you're not sure, go ahead and buy one out of the box.
A few key types of gamers within society will find the most benefit from buying a gaming PC.
If you’ve used a PC before, setting it up is going to be pretty straightforward once you transfer files from your old PC. Here’s a quick overview of what else to do straight after buying a gaming PC.
Shopping for peripherals? We test a ton of them so you don’t have to. Check out our recommendations on the best:
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Before you dive into buying a gaming PC, there are a few other things you might want to consider.
Assembling your own computer is an alternative to buying which lets you customize everything from the start, including memory, processors, and appearance. You'll start with a basic case and then buy the components (including a logic board, memory, CPU) and install them.
Most of the ways to make a PC run games better involve upgrades. You can install more memory and replace the graphics card and drivers for big changes, but you can also do some optimizations without buying more hardware. Try ending unnecessary programs in Task Manager, cleaning up startup and shutdown items, and overclocking, which wrings more performance out of the hardware you have.
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