PC gaming has been around for decades and has steadily gained followers. The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, however, spurred a huge explosion in gaming popularity, as millions of Americans were forced to stay home.
To start playing, you can buy a prebuilt gaming PC, or you can dive into the world of computer building to make sure you get reliable and high-performance components.
While the computer itself is the most important piece of the puzzle, it’s far from the only one. Things like an ergonomic chair, a capable headset, and a low-latency mouse and keyboard can contribute massively to a fun gaming experience.
There are two ways to get your hands on a quality gaming rig. You can buy one that’s already built, or you can build one yourself. There are pros and cons to each.
Contrary to what some hard-core enthusiasts claim, there’s no shame in buying a prebuilt gaming computer. In some cases, you can buy a prebuilt PC for less than you could assemble a similar system. With that in mind, though, there are some specific drawbacks to this method.
Most importantly, prebuilt gaming PCs may boast impressive specs but often rely on generic components with subpar manufacturing and quality control standards. That doesn’t apply to every prebuilt PC, but it is something to be aware of.
There’s no need to feel intimidated by the idea of building a computer. In a lot of ways, PC assembly is practically like building a Lego set — the vast majority of components, plugs, and wires only really fit in one place. The hardest part is contorting your wrist the right way to accommodate hard-to-reach pieces. In reality, deciding on which components to put in your build is a much more exacting task that requires a decent amount of research. Buying individual components can be expensive, but picking them yourself can ensure you have all the specs you want in your computer. With prebuilt models, you might have to compromise on certain features since the parts all come together already made.
If you’re looking for a gaming PC that’s already assembled, well-known manufacturers like Dell and MSI are great places to start. While they might not use the absolute most premium components, such as RAM and solid-state drives, you can rest assured that what they do use is relatively reliable.
Alternatively, there are a few somewhat upstart brands that have developed good reputations for prebuilt gaming rigs. One such company is SkyTech, which also happens to compile powerful components into attractive cases. If you’re not as concerned with how the PC itself looks, CyberPowerPC is another affordable option.
First, you need a good computer case to put everything in. There are several formats to choose from, but tower cases are the most common for gaming PCs. While they come in various sizes, modern tower cases have plenty of room for large gaming hardware.
Note whether or not the case you choose comes with case fans. Consider picking up some extra fans to ensure sufficient ventilation. You might want to pick up an aftermarket central processing unit (CPU) cooler to ensure your temperatures stay in a safe range.
One extremely important part to research is the power supply. It’s responsible for converting AC electricity to DC and managing the current levels delivered to each component. Do not cheap out on your power supply and get something from a generic brand name. It’s important to research and purchase a dependable power supply unit. A poor-quality model can damage your expensive components and even light itself on fire. There are plenty of good PSU suppliers, but Seasonic and Corsair are two of the best.
Next is the motherboard and CPU combination. The two competing CPU manufacturers, Intel and AMD, use entirely different CPU socket configurations and motherboard wiring designs. You’ll need to decide on both components together. Intel has historically offered the best gaming performance, but AMD has exceeded that with some recent models.
The jury remains out on which brand is ultimately better. It’s a massive point of contention among the most enthusiastic PC gamers. Do your homework and research motherboards thoroughly if you plan on installing a high-end CPU and overclocking it. Only premium motherboards offer the stability needed for significant overclocking.
There are currently two competitors in the graphics processing unit (GPU) scene: Nvidia and AMD. Nvidia produces more units than AMD, and they tend to be slightly faster. The graphics card release cycle is usually around 18 months. New GPU families typically offer significant performance gains over previous models.
As long as the RTX 3000 series remains the most advanced and most common, the 3080 and 3080 Ti will continue as the top high-end GPU choices for most users. However, these and the 3090 are expensive.
For those who don’t want to spend an arm and a leg, the RTX 3070 and 3070 Ti currently offer the best bang for the buck. They’re capable of maintaining anywhere from playable to great frame rates in modern titles — in some cases at resolutions up to 4K. For budget-friendly builds, the RTX 3050 is a reasonable choice and the most affordable, although the RTX 3060 is far more future-proof.
Of course, GPU recommendations will change significantly once any of the manufacturers release new lineups. Since 2021, the industry has also been waiting eagerly for Intel to enter the fray with its Arc GPUs, which are slated to compete with the RTX 3070 at the top end.
Once you’ve acquired the hardware, the next most important step is picking a monitor. It’s a critical step. It doesn’t matter how fast your PC is if your monitor doesn’t support high frame rates or resolutions.
Monitors with 1080p are remarkably affordable, and most modern Full HD gaming monitors support frame rates of 120 hertz or more. It’s worth considering a 1440p display if you’re running an RTX 3060 GPU or faster. This is especially true if you want a monitor 27 inches or larger.
Some gamers consider 32 inches the sweet spot for a gaming monitor due to the remarkably immersive experience such a large display provides. In that case, you’ll need at least a 1440p resolution for best results. However, at 32 inches, a 4K resolution does make a noticeable difference.
You’ll find tons of monitor manufacturers to wade through while looking for the best. Some, such as Sceptre and Acer, usually focus on budget-friendly options (although Acer’s Predator line does have impressive specs). Others, including LG, Dell, and HP, make a variety of displays that are good for both work and play. Companies like BenQ and Samsung also offer several high-performance monitors.
Additionally, take into account whether you want a curved or flat monitor. Once they get above 27 inches, flat LCD panels start to show distortion around the edges. Curved monitors are often engineered by premium manufacturers specifically for gaming. Some of the most notable curved monitors are those in the ultrawide class. These require significant hardware firepower to run smoothly but deliver the most immersive gaming possible outside of virtual reality.
Once you have your PC and monitor, you need devices to play. You need a mouse and keyboard just to use a PC, so you might as well get models that are made for gaming. Mechanical keyboards and gaming mice are engineered to withstand heavy use while transmitting your inputs with no noticeable lag. If you look carefully, you can also find plenty of wireless mice that have low enough latency for satisfying and effective gameplay. Also, consider a gaming-centric mouse pad to minimize friction and your reaction time in fast-paced titles.
With that said, don’t limit yourself to using the mouse and keyboard. For example, games played from the third-person perspective, such as the Assassin’s Creed series, are often significantly more fun to play with a gamepad. You’ll also need a quality joystick for some genres, particularly flight simulators.
You have a few choices when it comes to audio. You can opt for a pair of computer speakers, many of which come with subwoofers, if you like room-filling sound. However, you may experience more realistic gameplay when using a gaming headset.
Keep in mind that if you don’t play multiplayer games, then you don’t need the high-quality microphone that comes with many headsets. In that case, a pair of noise-canceling headphones can perform better for gaming than even some of the best dedicated headsets. If you do use your headset or headphones for gaming most of the time, you might also want to pick up a headset stand to keep them safe when not in use.
Gamers around the world have had plenty of fun playing on a simple kitchen table and folding chair, but those get uncomfortable quickly. A typical computer desk will do just fine in most cases, but dedicated players might want to spring for a specialized gaming desk. These tend to offer large amounts of real estate and handy features, such as enhanced cable management and cup holders.
Meanwhile, gaming chairs can be a source of controversy. There are countless options available from retailers everywhere. Most resemble flashy race car-style bucket seats. Many of these can be uncomfortable, poorly ventilated, or easily damaged. While some brands, such as Merax, do make decent-quality racing-style gaming chairs, a traditional ergonomic office chair will also work just fine. These are engineered to keep you comfortable.
A. If you want to game while traveling, a gaming laptop is the only easy way to do it. However, bear in mind that they’re very niche products. High-performance laptops are considerably more expensive than even remotely comparable desktop PCs. In some respects, they can’t touch desktop performance. But in case you travel a lot, there are plenty of worthwhile gaming laptops available.
A. If your current router supports the WiFi 5 standard or better, you’re probably set in terms of casual online multiplayer gaming. If you’re serious about it, though, some gaming routers prioritize connected PCs busy with online games. The drawbacks to premium gaming routers are that they’re quite expensive and big.
If you need to upgrade your connectivity without investing in a new router, run a physical Ethernet cable. This will eliminate the lag and network interference that cause most problems with multiplayer gaming.
A. To put it simply, supply and demand are to blame. Some blame price hikes on cryptocurrency miners. While they do contribute, the reality is that more people want high-powered GPUs than ever before. The good news for consumers is that manufacturers recognize this and are doing everything in their power to increase production capacity in the coming years.
A. This frequently asked question is actually a trick question. Consoles are often preferred for their general accessibility. It’s much easier for a novice to turn on a single device and plug in a controller than it is to assemble an entire PC setup. Similarly, console gaming can now actually be cheaper than PC gaming, which wasn’t the case until recently.
Naturally, PCs are more versatile, but there’s no better or worse way to play video games. Just make sure to take breaks to avoid eye strain, get your work done before you play all night, and be polite and kind in multiplayer lobbies and game chats.
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Chris Thomas writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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