Gaming Computer Buyer's Guide

How to Compare Gaming Desktops and Laptops Based on Specifications

If you're shopping for a brand-new gaming system or upgrading an existing desktop, it's important to evaluate components based on performance to get the most bang for your buck. This article explains what to look for in a gaming computer to make an informed buying decision. Whether you are shopping for a gaming desktop or laptop, certain features are necessary for the best gaming experience.

Video Card

A computer system's video card is arguably the most important component for gaming performance.

A majority of your budget should be spent on the system's graphics card for the ultimate gaming experience. A video card's core clock isn't everything. You should look for the number of shader units, as well as memory clock speed and GPU memory. Other factors to consider include whether you will be using the card in SLI configuration (multiple cards) or if you are wanting to delve into 3D gaming. Currently, there are many NVIDIA 3D Vision-ready cards and games on the market, and the list continues to grow.

Memory

Memory isn't as important as having an excellent GPU (since video cards today have an abundance of dedicated graphics memory), but it still is an essential item for a gaming rig. It's a good idea to have at least 4GB of memory if you're a casual gamer to support the operating system and other tasks. For intense gamers, it is ideal to have at least 8GB of DDR3 RAM. You can't go wrong with more memory as future applications become more and more memory-intensive.

Display

As 3D gaming grows in popularity, a 120Hz display is necessary to enjoy this new technology. For a complete list of NVIDIA 3D compatible hardware, click here. If you're shopping for a gaming monitor, study the max resolution, contrast ratio, and refresh rate. For gamers on a budget, 1680x1050 resolution is adequate but many affordable models support 1920x1080 or even 2560x1440 resolution.

This makes a big difference when gaming for long periods of time, especially on larger displays. Make sure both your monitor and gaming rig offer up-to-date ports, such as HDMI, dual-link DVI, or a DisplayPort. This buyer's guide outlines features to look for in an LCD panel.

Storage

While gaming typically doesn't require a huge amount of storage space, it is nice to have ample hard drive space for multiple installs and files. Look for a 7200RPM hard drive to speed up basic functions with at least 500GB of disk space. If budget allows and you don't have hundreds of gigabytes of data, a smaller solid state drive is also a worthy option.

Processor

Frankly, a high-end processor isn't as important as a good graphics card and ample memory. Many games today cannot take advantage of quad-core and hex-core processors. A dual-core processor is adequate, but for future expandability, a quad-core processor is a sound investment. And as prices continue to fall, it is becoming more affordable to upgrade to an Intel Core i7 or AMD Phenom II processor.

Sound

To add to the gaming experience, it is wise to invest in a good set of desktop speakers and a sound card. Nothing beats rumbling bass during an epic dungeon run.

On-board audio with headphones plugged into the jack can't produce the same effect as a multi-channel audio setup. Creative Labs makes decent sounds cards, and a set of speakers with a subwoofer doesn't have to break the bank.

Case

Many gaming cases on the market today combine flashy lights with a bold, aggressive look to portray an intense gaming feel. A case marketed for gaming isn't completely necessary, though. What is important is to ensure a chassis offers excellent cooling for expensive components. Look for a multitude of fans that offer well-designed airflow. Top gaming cases feature hot-swappable drives, a slew of ports, and easy access to parts for future upgrades.

Peripherals

Gaming peripherals round out the the list of features to look for in a gaming system. There are entire product lines dedicated to top gaming keyboards, mice, and headsets. Purchasing these items immediately isn't entirely necessary, but there are a few products that are must-owns. First up is a keyboard. Look for one that offers programmable keys for one-touch gaming action. A comfortable mouse with laser precision is also nice to have. And if you do a lot of in-game communicating, check out this list of the best gaming headsets that are comfortable, yet practical.

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