When you buy a console, you’re safe in the knowledge that any game you buy for it, you’ll be able to sit down and play. If it says PS3 on the front, it’s going to work in your PS3. For PC gamers, it’s not always as easy. Sure, you have minimum and recommended specs for just about every game, but that doesn’t really give an indication as to how well things will play on specific hardware combinations. More and more, it seems like you need to have a fairly decent grasp of the relevant parts and technology to be a proficient and prolific PC gamer. As a computer technician by day, I’m lucky enough to know a little about the different options available.
Option 1: Buy a mainstream PC
Though probably the cheapest option, it can also be considered the least favourable. Mainstream PCs tend to built with components that aren’t tailored towards gaming in any way. Just because a processor is described as “quad core” doesn’t mean it’s going to be suitable for the latest releases. Be wary of budget Intel chips such as the “Pentium” and “Celeron” range, or AMD “Sempron” and low-end of the “Athlon” range.
Couple this with an almost guaranteed reliance on “on-board” graphics and you’re looking at a very poor gaming experience overall. Harbour no illusions about being able to play most modern games on a mainstream PC.
Option 2: Buy a Gaming PC
If you have money to burn and desperately want something extravagant and shiny, you might consider a Gaming PC. These behemoths are specifically targeted towards providing the best possible gaming experience, but tend to be horribly overpriced for what you get. The old adage of “paying for the name” really applies in this situation: buy an Alienware or Origin PC and you can rightly claim to own the epitome of gaming prowess, but be prepared to pay above the odds for the privilege.
Custom Built Systems
Option 1: Bespoke PC Retailers
There are a number of websites out there that provide customised PCs suitable for gaming. Some of these are big brand names like Dell, but places like PC Specialist are also available. They do all of the legwork for you; instead of building your own PC, which is something no novice should attempt, they simply ask you to choose the components you’d like your new machine to contain.
This option’s pricing can fluctuate wildly, depending on your choice of retailer. As a rule, the bigger the name, the bigger the mark-up. You might also find better deals locally, so be sure to check around independent PC shops in your area to see if they provide a custom building service.
Option 2: Build it yourself
This last option is definitely the cheaper than all but the first, but only when done right. Unfortunately, doing it right most often necessitates a decent level of PC knowledge and a good scoop of confidence. Knowing that if something goes wrong, there’s a good chance you’ve mucked up… it’s difficult. That aside, the main benefit of building it yourself – or roping someone you know into doing it for you – is that you’re not paying any labour costs (except perhaps a case of beer or something for your friend).
But the other perk is that you can pick and choose your components. Knowing the right parts to pick is almost as important as knowing how to put them together, however; it’s crucial that you don’t go overboard and build a system that’s far too powerful in an attempt to “future proof” your PC. Trust me: there’s no such thing. There’s always something better on the horizon and your PC will be outdated within 5 years, no matter how high-spec you buy today. Do some research and try to find components that balance price and performance to get the best value for your money.
To finish, here’s an example system that would be able to play just about any game on the market today at the highest settings, but without going overboard on the specs. The prices are all approximate, but give you an idea of the costs involved.
- Intel Core i5-3570K Processor – £162
- ASUS P8Z77-V LX Motherboard – £88
- 8GB DDR3 Corsair RAM – £24
- nVidia GeForce GTX 660Ti Graphics Card – £234
- Samsung SpinPoint F3 1TB Hard Drive – £53
- Any DVD-RW Drive – ~£15
- Fractal Design Core 3000 Case – £52
- Antec 520W Neo Eco Power Supply – £50
- Any USB Keyboard & Mouse – ~£10
- Windows 8 64-Bit Operating System – £67
- Dell U2412M 24″ Monitor – £198
Total cost for an excellent system? Around £950; less if you don’t need a monitor, keyboard, mouse or optical drives (salvage them from your old system!). Even the case isn’t a necessity if your old one will do. There’s no need for 16GB of RAM or an 8-Core processor; no game is going to properly utilise those resources, so don’t waste your money! I haven’t covered every possibility in this article, but you should at least hopefully be able to form an opinion on which option suits you best. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to reply!
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A twenty-something gamer from the North-East of Scotland. By day, I’m a Computer Technician at a local IT recycling charity, where I fix and build PCs. Outside of that, most of my time is spent either sleeping or gaming, which I try accomplish in equal amounts.