Gaming

Top Things to Consider When Buying a Gaming PC

November 30, 2020 • 57 min read

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Top Things to Consider When Buying a Gaming PC

A gaming PC, affectionately referred to by some as a gaming rig, is a computer with a high level of computing power that is optimized for playing video games. In this context, we are referring to the graphics-intense and action-packed first-person shooters, real-time strategy games, and the many other categories that call for a powerful and well-built PC.

With the many components that can be fitted inside the typical desktop, there are plenty of options to choose from. Components vary in popularity and price based on compatibility and performance, and we don’t recommend selecting anything before you’ve done your research.

When it comes to gaming PCs, some decisions are easier to make than others. Traditionally, people think of raw processing power when it comes to building a high-end gaming PC, and while this is largely true, there are several points to consider.

Budget

The biggest question that most people have is how much their gaming PC is going to cost. Given the range of choices, there is no simple answer. An entry-level gaming computer will cost less than $1,000, whereas a mid-level machine might range between $1,000 and $2,000. A high-end model will be more than $2,000 and the sky’s the limit. Depending on the components and performance, ultra-high-end models will cost more than $5,000.

It comes down to how much you are willing to spend. However, it is important to remember that once you decide your budget and which category you fall into, it will have an impact on the games that you can play. At the entry-level, you can enjoy classics like League of Legends at the lower resolutions and have a great experience, but many more modern titles such as GTA V have greater demands and will be sluggish.

For those buying or building their first gaming computers, the mid-level is a great place to start. Most of the PCs in this range can play modern games like GTA V, Red Dead Redemption 2, and Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, albeit some concessions in terms of graphic detail may be required for the best performance.

CPU versus GPU

It is no secret that in years past, the CPU was the bottleneck when it came to high-powered computing, and gaming was no exception. While this is still the case with some genres that are less graphics-intensive, the majority of modern games rely more heavily on the graphics processing unit that is integral to the video card.

The GPU is responsible for rendering the images and animations that you see, and fast-paced games are designed to take advantage of advanced capabilities that are available in different chipsets. The CPU, by comparison, is given other important tasks, such as artificial intelligence functionality in computer-controlled players [1].

In practice, both the CPU and GPU are important components and neither can be overlooked in the quest for a well-performing gaming computer. Your budget will likely dictate that you simply can’t have the best of both so on that note, let’s dive into what is important in a video card.

Video Card

The video card, or GPU as some now refer to it, is an essential part of any gaming rig. The two major GPU manufacturers are NVIDIA and AMD, each with numerous choices that vary in performance and price. Lower-end video cards and systems with video integrated into the motherboard are suitable for simple graphics, such as a typical GUI, but are not sufficient to play graphics-intensive games.

While all the current rage is the NVIDIA 30 Series GPUs, they currently can be hard to come by. According to GamesRadar+ [2], NVIDIA’s RTX 2080 series provides the best value, although it is still somewhat pricey. That said, for many games, the GPU is the most important component so if you want to splurge then this is a good place to do it.

Writing for PC Gamer, Walton [3] discusses Metro Exodus, which is one of a small number of games that support the GPU-intensive ray tracing capability. Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS) is an NVIDIA RTX technology that uses AI to boost frame rates in graphic-intensive games, and it is indeed available for use in Metro Exodus [3, 4]. However, the aforementioned RTX 2080 series is the minimum requirement for enabling DLSS at 1440p. Clearly, features such as this are very demanding, although it is safe to say that they will become more commonplace in game releases to come.

CPU

While there is a great deal of attention given to the GPU, there are certain games that are more CPU-demanding. The typical candidate is a less graphic-intensive MMO, with many players and a lot of things going on at once.

Depending on the game, it will run faster with multiple CPU cores. For example, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, recommends at least a quad-core processor. For these games, the number of cores is more determinative of good performance than raw CPU speed. For a sampling, there are many types of processors available that range from dual-core to 28-core.

According to Tech Guided [5], some of the more popular CPU-intensive games are:

  • WARHAMMER 2, where the draw on your CPU is strained by the size of your armies
  • Cities: Skylines, where at first the CPU has no trouble keeping up, but the larger the city gets, the demand for CPU cycles increases
  • Assassin’s Creed: Origins, where the fight sequences in the arenas experience the most noticeable slowdowns
  • Grand Theft Auto 5, where the massively open-world comes with a massive demand for processing power

Storage

Given that storage is one of the lower-priced components in your gaming PC, it is much easier to decide than a video card or processor. There are two varieties, which are hard drives (HDDs) and solid-state drives (SSDs). The traditional HDD is a more cost-effective, albeit a significantly slower storage technology than the SSD. Modern-day systems, including gaming PCs, use a combination of these technologies. Most often, the SSD is used to host the operating system and frequently accessed data, whereas the HDD is used to store the bulk of the fixed data.

The amount of hard drive space required by games with fantastic graphics should not be underestimated. For example, Final Fantasy XV requires a minimum of 100GB running at 720p and a significantly higher 155GB minimum for running in 4K HDR [6].

Budget-permitting, a 250GB SSD is a reasonable size to host an operating system and applications that will most benefit from high-performance read and write access. For storing data that is unchanging, such as the large graphics scenery files associated with games like Final Fantasy XV, a decently-performing 2TB HDD should be plenty. At least for the time being.

Monitor

As with the other components in a gaming PC, having an excellent monitor means paying a premium. There are a few things to keep in mind, especially when it comes to gaming.

  • A higher resolution means a better picture. This is the spec that tells you how many pixels the monitor has and will be specified in a width x height format. For example, 1920 x 1080, also known as 1080p, and a monitor of this same resolution or higher will be the minimum that you need for decent gaming.
  • A higher refresh rate, measured in Hertz (Hz), is better. Larger numbers mean smoother, less choppy images. While you should have at least 75 Hz, most gaming monitors will have at least 144 Hz.
  • The response time tells you how long it takes to change the color of an individual pixel and for gamers, this is an important statistic. The lower the response time, the better. A higher response time in a fast-action game leads to blur, which when unintended, can only lead to a poor experience. The highest response time you will see for a gaming monitor is 5ms, although monitors such as this ASUS are rated at 0.4ms.
  • Size matters! There is an important trade-off between the size of a monitor and pixel density. The pixel density impacts monitor quality and the larger the screen, the lower the density. That said, a large screen makes for a more immersive experience. As an example, there are several choices of 32” monitors available for less than $500.

An important question that often comes up is whether to use a curved monitor, rather than a traditional one. Curved monitors are intended to make your gaming experience more immersive, although glare can sometimes be an issue because they capture light sources from different angles instead of just one. It is generally understood that having a curved monitor means more real estate, so sizes of at least 32” should be expected. This Viewsonic 35” monitor is a prime example that also includes speakers and a USB hub.

Keyboard

The first time you see a nice gaming keyboard, often the first thing that strikes you is the illumination. Many gaming keyboards, such as this SteelSeries, have highly a highly customizable set of lighting effects. It won’t necessarily improve your gameplay unless you perform better when the ambiance is just right, but in any event, it will look great.

On a more practical note, a good gaming keyboard will help you push your way to the next level. One of the choices to make is mechanical versus membrane-based keys. Mechanical keyboards are conducive to fast-paced gaming as each keypress requires less force and has greater bounce-back than one used for applications like word processing. A membrane-based keyboard has a common connection point for all of the keys, as opposed to each one having a mechanical switch. This means that a little more force is required, but gamers sometimes choose them because moving from key to key is somewhat easier to do. The SteelSeries is an example of a mechanical keyboard, whereas this ROCCAT is membranical, purportedly the best of both types brought together into one.

Another important feature in a gaming keyboard is programmable keys, or macro keys, which have functionality that can be customized by the user. For players who want to be able to execute complex keystroke combinations with a single click, having user-defined keys is essential. In fact, the use of macro keys is often banned in gaming competitions because of the advantages they can bring.

Mouse

A gaming mouse can be thought of as a regular desktop mouse, but not unlike a gaming keyboard, has features that help out the player. Gaming mice have programmable keys, quicker response times, higher sensitivity, their own lighting scheme, and the weight can even be adjusted for just that right feel. This Corsair gaming mouse has a very high sensitivity at 16000 dpi, custom backlighting, and enough macro buttons to make it stand out in a crowd.

For those already familiar with gaming mice, it is important to mention the wired versus wireless debate. Several years ago, wireless mice were simply not suitable for gaming because of problems like input lag or running low on battery power in the middle of a critical mission. However, with improvements in technology, it is now much more a case of personal preference [7].

Gaming Controllers and Joysticks

Game controllers are specialized input devices that are designed to remove the distraction of unneeded keys. Several types of gaming controls exist, including the standard joystick or gaming pad, and become more specialized with a flight yoke or racing wheel. They are designed to be gamer-friendly and as with gaming keyboards and mice, after equipped with a variety of features ranging from fancy to functional.

Headset

A gaming headset is a big step up from the simple headphones that you might use to listen to music. Many gamers feel more immersed in play when background noise is eliminated and the only thing they hear is the sounds of gameplay. A good headset will give you a clear, balanced sound, eliminate background noise, and feel comfortable even after a long gaming session.

One of the features to look for is noise-cancellation, which does the all-important task of blocking out external noise. Naturally, you will want to have great sound quality, as this is one of the main reasons that people use headphones in the first place. The sound coming from your speakers isn’t necessarily bad, but headsets deliver it directly to your ears, which really enhances the experience. This Logitech Gaming Headset is a 7.1 surround sound model that promises high-end performance.

Today’s gaming headsets are not just for listening. Rather, they have built-in microphones for team communication that is all-too-important in team-based games. Being in constant communication with your group is the edge you sometimes need, as relying on in-game messages and alert pings are not only more distracting and time-consuming but easier to misunderstand, just at the wrong time.

Choosing a wireless headset has the same advantages and disadvantages as other peripherals. Wireless technology is generally more expensive, but it offers unrestricted movement that can sometimes hinder gameplay or reduce comfort. On the flip side, you have to deal with regular re-charging of the batteries.

Also noteworthy for gaming headsets, in general, is that you can turn up the volume as loud as you like, and it won’t disturb anybody else in the household. So, when you have that late-night gaming session and don’t want to turn down the volume in case you miss the footsteps coming up behind you, a good headset is just the thing you need. Unless, of course, you go for a full-out VR headset.

Support for VR

Virtual reality is the next level in immersive gameplay and while not universally supported, it is getting more popular. This is in part because the hardware has very much improved in recent years, which goes hand-in-hand with the support from game studios. VR is not going to top the list for an entry-level gaming machine, as not all video cards support it, but it is well within grasp for a mid-range system.

There are now more VR games than ever before, and some titles, such as Half-Life: Alyx, have been released with VR-only versions. While Half-Life: Alyx now has a mod that works allows you to play with a keyboard and mouse, the experience is somewhat diminished [8].

The following virtual reality glasses vary in price and performance, but what hardcore gamers normally look for is a deeply immersive experience from something comfortable to wear for an extended gaming session. The controller is part of the package, so this is something that also needs to be considered if you opt to go VR with your rig.

Worthwhile Acknowledgements

A survey of important considerations would not be complete without at least a mention of the motherboard and power supply. The motherboard is the hub of the PC, where all of the components join to communicate with each other. The power supply, or PSU, is responsible for powering the machine and all of the components. Although topics each and of themselves, in this context, the best advice is to consider the requirements for the components that have been selected. If, for example, the motherboard doesn’t support the amount of RAM, or the PSU is not sufficient in terms of power output, then more appropriate choices need to be made.

Conclusion

At the forefront of any list of considerations for your gaming PC is your budget. It might be difficult to pick a number and stick to it, but once you have a general idea, you can start to select your options. Most likely, there will be room to improve or expand, but scalability is something that you should keep in mind during the selection process if you think that upgrades are in your future.

Designed properly, a gaming machine will last several years before it has to be replaced, and perhaps longer if it is flexible enough to handle an upgrade or addition of individual components in the future. Adding or replacing storage is trivial, but whether your motherboard can handle a new processor is a different question altogether. These are the kinds of scalability issues that should be looked at in advance.

Finally, it is important to keep the relevant trade-offs in mind, such as the monitor size versus pixel density and the cost of SSD storage compared to HDD.

References

[1] J. Dobbin, “GPU vs CPU: What Matters Most for PC Gaming,” Hp.com, Feb. 24, 2019. https://store.hp.com/us/en/tech-takes/gpu-vs-cpu-for-pc-gaming.

‌[2] A. Bradley, “The best graphics cards for 2020: get the best GPU deal for you and your rig,” gamesradar, Apr. 07, 2020. https://www.gamesradar.com/best-pc-graphics-cards/.

‌[3] J. Walton, “Metro Exodus performance analysis: RTX, ray tracing, and DLSS benchmarked,” PC Gamer, Feb. 27, 2019. https://www.pcgamer.com/metro-exodus-settings-performance-ray-tracing-dlss/.

‌[4] NVIDIA, “NVIDIA DLSS: Your Questions, Answered,” 2019. https://www.nvidia.com/en-us/geforce/news/nvidia-dlss-your-questions-answered/.

[5] B. Hale, “7 CPU Intensive Games for Benchmarking Your CPU,” Tech Guided, Apr. 30, 2019. https://techguided.com/most-cpu-intensive-games/.

‌[6] R. Alwani, “Everything You Need to Know About Final Fantasy XV Windows Edition,” NDTV Gadgets 360, Mar. 05, 2018. https://gadgets.ndtv.com/games/features/final-fantasy-xv-windows-edition-unlock-time-download-size-system-requirements-1819817.

[7] S. Stewart, “Wired vs Wireless Gaming Mouse [2020 Guide],” GamingScan, Nov. 11, 2020. https://www.gamingscan.com/wired-vs-wireless-gaming-mouse/.

‌[8] M. Humphries, “Half-Life: Alyx Mod Allows Play Without a VR Headset,” PCMAG, Mar. 30, 2020. https://www.pcmag.com/news/half-life-alyx-mod-allows-play-without-a-vr-headset.


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