Updated May 2022
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.

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Buying guide for Best gaming computers

When it comes to video games, console platforms tend to get all of the attention — but if you’re looking for the absolute cutting edge of gaming technology, you’ll want to get a gaming PC.

Gaming computers are like gaming consoles on steroids: They can include a faster processor, a better video card, and can even work with headsets that support audio innovations like Dolby Atmos. Top-tier games, and even some exclusive titles, are easy to find for PC, and best of all, gaming computers can be easily upgraded, so you can always customize them to create your perfect gaming setup.

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What will your setup look like? Curved monitor, dual screen, triple screen — these are all space considerations when deciding whether you want a full tower, mid-tower, small tower, or small form factor.

What is a gaming computer?

A few factors make gaming computers different from regular computers. These are things that most computers have (like a video card, CPU, and RAM), but in a gaming PC, you’ll find maxed-out versions.

You can play games on a standard PC, but you just won’t reach the level of performance that most serious gamers crave. If you want to play the newest games online with your friends, a gaming computer is the only way (though most of the time, you can’t play online games with players on consoles like the Xbox One and PS4).

Below are some of the defining features of a gaming computer.

CPU (central processing unit)

This is the “processor” — the part of a computer that does the thinking and heavy lifting. The CPU attaches to the motherboard and carries out instructions and processes.

Expert Tip
If you’re building a set up with multiple monitors, make sure that your video card will support this with the resolutions you need. Some video cards support multiple monitors, but only at lower frame rates, which can be a limitation if you’re into high-frame-rate games like first-person shooters.
BestReviews Electronics Expert

GPU (graphics/video card)

This is the component that renders graphics, performs texture mapping, and maintains a smooth and high frame rate (ideally 60 fps). Graphics cards in most computers will not be able to play games on the highest settings. The main function of the GPU, beyond rendering polygons, is taking work from the CPU.

Ram (memory)

Distinct from internal storage (i.e., a hard drive), RAM allows for high-speed gameplay and helps your CPU handle a lot of things going on at once. You can’t run out of RAM the same way you run out of storage space — think of it as temporary storage space — but RAM capacity and speed significantly impact how much your computer can handle at once.

Cooling systems

Since most people use their computers primarily for web browsing, or at the very most, graphic design, they aren’t pushing their computers to the limit in terms of processing and rendering. Top-of-the-line GPUs and CPUs generate a lot of heat. Heat is the primary cause of lag (drops in frame rate) and thus should always be dealt with using an efficient, often water-based cooling system. A heatsink can also keep your CPU from slowing, especially when paired with a great cooling system.

Storage

Game files are big, so a big hard drive is often necessary. Your hard drive is where your computer stores information — your games, files, and operating system all live here. 512GB or 1TB is usually enough, and if you have free USB ports, external drives are always an option. But as far as performance goes, the question isn’t how much space, but what type of hard drive to get. A solid state hard drive (SSD) is the fastest choice, as it will reduce load times significantly. Traditional hard disk drives (HDD) are cheaper by the GB, but load times will be slower. This choice comes down to your price range and patience.

Laptop or desktop?

This question is as much about lifestyle as it is about your gaming style. If you travel frequently and need something to distract you on planes or in hotel rooms, you might consider a gaming laptop.

Laptops

A decent gaming laptop will be able to handle the latest games, albeit not always on the highest settings. But for a flexible, portable gaming experience, a laptop is ideal.

There are a few drawbacks to a laptop:

  • Battery life (a non-issue with desktops) can limit your gaming time.

  • Laptops offer limited upgradability

  • Laptops are generally at least 40% more expensive than their desktop counterparts

The compact design of laptops makes them naturally more difficult to upgrade, meaning you’re almost guaranteed a shorter life span, assuming you’re playing the latest games. There is also the risk of theft, laptops being easier targets than desktops. If you’re looking for a one-and-done purchase and aren’t worried about maxing out your games, a laptop may be right for you.

Desktops

A desktop will almost always outperform a laptop when it comes to power, longevity, ports, and customization.

There are a few drawbacks to a desktop:

  • Desktops are an ongoing investment as you upgrade.

  • Display (and other accessories) is often not included and can add cost.

  • A desktop can be bulky.

If upgrading your computer and staying on the cutting edge of performance are exciting ideas to you, choose a desktop. It’s often a bigger investment on the whole, but after the initial purchase, replacing your GPU and RAM won’t seem like a big deal, compared to replacing the whole machine.

Expert Tip
If you want a gaming PC with internal lighting, make sure the model you choose will allow you to turn them off. Turning internal lighting on and off is a pretty standard feature--but not always, so it pays to double-check.
BestReviews Electronics Expert

Features to consider

It’s nice to have options, and you don’t want to plug in your computer only to realize it’s missing functionality you need. On the other hand, don’t pay for extra features that you’ll never use.

Vr compatibility

If VR is something you’re interested in, make sure your computer meets the minimum requirements of your VR system of choice. And even if it does, make sure you have a quiet cooling system that can handle the processing power required by VR. Nothing takes you out of an immersive digital experience like buzzing fans.

On the other hand, if VR isn’t for you, don’t get a package deal that includes a VR headset. Put that extra money toward features you care about — or just save it.

Connectivity and ports

Most towers won’t do much moving around, so WiFi might not be a feature you’re interested in. On the other hand, make sure you’ve got enough USB ports for your accessories.

Windows and lights

Admiring the inside of your machine is fun, particularly if you’ve done some customization and cable management. This is a stylistic choice, and if your tower’s going under your desk, fancy visuals might not be worth the extra cost.

Upgradability

For future-proofing your computer, be sure it’s easy to upgrade. Check to see what tools you need to get in the case and whether the motherboard has one, two, or four RAM slots. It’s good to have options if you need them.

Expert Tip
If you’re building a gaming rig for daily use, plan on buying custom accessories. Typically, gaming PCs are powerful on the inside, but if they include peripherals like mice or keyboards, these items will be super basic. If you’re going to be gaming for hours at a time, look for third-party accessories that will perfect your experience, like a mouse, gaming keyboard, mouse pad, or even a gaming chair
BestReviews Electronics Expert

Included accessories

In some cases, you’ll pay for just the tower or laptop. In others, the package will include a keyboard, mouse, or monitor. Each of these items deserves as much consideration as your computer, so if they’re part of the deal, do your research. You may not like the style of the keyboard or mouse, or you might want a 4K monitor instead of a 1080p monitor.

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Solid state hard drives are fast, but expensive. If you abhor load screens, an SSD is almost a must. But you can save a good chunk of cash by going with a hard disk drive.

FAQ

Q. How long will my gaming computer last?

A. This depends on how frequently (if at all) you upgrade parts, and whether you’re playing newly released games. You can expect your computer to handle new games for five or six years before you need to consider upgrades.

Q. How do I know if my computer can handle certain games?

A. Most games will list both minimum and recommended specifications on the manufacturer’s website. You don’t have to run every game on max settings, but if you can, go for it! Required specs will include your video card, RAM, CPU, and OS ratings.

Q. How much should a gaming computer cost?

A. Most gaming desktops start around $800, and they can run up to $3000 or more. The price will vary depending on the hardware internals, but in general, the bigger and more powerful a gaming rig you need, the more you should plan on spending.  Don’t pay more for features you won’t need.

A gaming laptop will usually cost at least 40% more than an equivelent desktop.

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