What to Look For in a Gaming PC

Consider the cost, graphics, processor, RAM, and hard drive

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. 

What Is a Gaming PC?

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. 

iBUYPOWER Custom Gaming Computer

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5 Gaming PC Specs to Consider When Buying a Gaming PC

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: 

  • Cost
  • Graphics Card
  • Processor/RAM
  • Hard Drive
  • Out of the box or custom?

How Much Should a Gaming PC Cost?

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.

Price Range What You Can Expect
$500-$1000 Can handle games that don't involve high-end graphics and older games. Best for users who don't need to play games at high resolutions or quality levels. Note: Not suitable for the games like Forza Horizon 5, Cyberpunk 2077, or Control.
$1000-$1500 Able to play the latest games, but you might need to lower resolutions to 1080p and reduce detail levels so they don't stutter. This range is best for those willing to compromise or keen on playing older games with lower requirements. 
$1500-$3000 Able to play the latest games at a high resolution, including 4K gaming. Best for players who don't want to scrimp on image quality by spending less.
$3000-$5000 Able to play the latest games and ready for future games with higher requirements. Best for players with a lot of spare cash.

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. 

What Kind of Graphics Card Should a Gaming PC Have?

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. 

Look for:

  • A card suitable for playing at 1080p resolution at minimum with 4K resolution an option depending on budget.
  • The most powerful GPU processor you can afford.
  • The most GPU RAM you can afford.

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. 

Which Processor and RAM Should a Gaming PC Have?

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. 

Alienware Aurora R11

Lifewire / Erika Rawes

What Type of Hard Drive Should a Gaming PC Have?

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.

Should I Build My Own Gaming PC?

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.

Who Should Buy a Gaming PC?

A few key types of gamers within society will find the most benefit from buying a gaming PC.

  • Casual gamer. A gamer who particularly loves one or two games. A casual gamer doesn't want to spend thousands on a gaming PC, but they're hooked on one or two fun games they know well such as an MMO or a free-to-play game like Fortnite or Apex Legends. At this level, it can be worth buying a cheap gaming PC to improve the gaming experience.
  • People who game more than 20 hours a week. If you prefer to use a PC over a game console, a gaming PC means offers plenty of flexibility with game choices. Frequently, PC games cost less to purchase than console versions. 
  • Streamers. If you're keen to stream your gaming content on Twitch and other streaming networks, you need to have a gaming PC that can play a game quickly and at a decent quality level. No one wants to watch a streamer struggle to load a game.
  • Home workers. If you work from home, you probably already need a PC for work. A gaming PC means you can combine work and pleasure, so your system effectively does everything you need throughout the day and can rev up into game mode at night.
  • Experienced gamers who like to mod. One of the advantages of gaming PCs over consoles is that you can generally mod or adapt games far more on a PC than with a console. It's a great way of adding more to a much-loved game with many inexpensive or free mods.

What Should I Do After I Buy 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.

  • Buy a new monitor. Most gaming PCs don't include a monitor, so you'll need to buy a new one. Research the best gaming monitors you can afford and try not to scrimp on costs. A regular monitor will work, but a gaming one is better because it offers superior refresh rates and input lag, meaning no risk of motion blur or a briefly ugly-looking picture.
  • Buy new peripherals. Your gaming PC also needs a new keyboard, mouse, headset, and possibly a games controller too. You may already have these (games console controllers work well), but it's a great excuse to upgrade. A headset is only essential if you plan on talking to teammates or you want more immersive sound, but buying a gaming keyboard and mouse are a good idea for most players. Many gaming mice offer programable buttons and superior speeds. A mechanical gaming keyboard is more responsive than a regular membrane-based one and can make a difference when playing fast-paced games.
  • Find a suitable living space for it. Create space in your den, study, or living room for the new gaming PC. Tidy up some cabling, so the new setup is ready for the new rig.

Shopping for peripherals? We test a ton of them so you don't have to. Check out our recommendations on the best:

A child cheering in front of a gaming PC and monitor.

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More Tips for Buying a Gaming PC

Before you dive into buying a gaming PC, there are a few other things you might want to consider. 

  • Do you need a gaming PC? Do you have an untouched gaming console because you never have the time to game? Do you own a PC which already runs the games you want to play? Then you might not need a gaming PC. Don't buy one for the sake of it when a good gaming PC costs so much. 
  • A gaming laptop might be a better choice. A gaming laptop can be a good alternative if you prefer to game in a portable manner or have limited space at home. Often more expensive than a regular gaming PC, a gaming laptop is still very convenient. 
  • Don't forget the aesthetic. Gaming PCs don't have to be bland black towers of hardware. These days, you can add RGB lighting and cool windows so you can see inside your PC. Look out for one that fits your aesthetic and suits your personality. 
  • How do I build a gaming PC?

    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.

  • How do I optimize a PC for gaming?

    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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