A Beginner’s Guide to Buying Your First Gaming PC

Computer games have a reputation for being expensive and difficult. And of course, PC gaming may be the “deepest part” of the video game craze compared to console gaming, but diving into those waters is a lot easier than you might think.

If you’re interested in PC gaming but don’t know where to start, we’ve put together this detailed guide to dispel a few common myths, learn the basics of PC components, and help you find a great entry-level computer that won’t cost thousands of dollars.

What do you really need for a gaming PC?

One of the most common misconceptions about PC gaming is that you need an expensive setup. Many would-be PC gamers (as well as their parents or spouses) are understandably dismayed at the price of new PC parts – the recently announced Nvidia RTX 4090 GPU costs a whopping $1,700 at launch. But the good news is that you don’t need advanced parts to play PC games.

It’s true that high fidelity graphics settings like 4K and 1440p resolutions, ultra-high refresh rates, ray tracing and DLSS require very powerful and very expensive hardware, but they’re mostly optional.

Part of the beauty of PC games is their flexibility. Games often have a lot of graphics settings so you can run them on modest hardware . Fortnite, for example, even has special settings for playing on “potato” PCs, and some games like Guilty Gear Strive have fan-made mods that increase performance on slower machines. They may not look as good on lower graphics settings, but they usually work well enough to be playable.

Similarly, older games like Minecraft or World of Warcraft , and smaller indie games like Stardew Valley , can run just as well on weaker PCs as they do on stronger ones. The thing is, you don’t need high-end hardware to play the vast majority of PC games. And just because you can’t play the game at the highest settings right now doesn’t mean you’re stuck with that performance forever. Depending on the type of computer you buy, you can easily upgrade to more powerful components in the future.

With that in mind, let’s look at a few options for buying your first gaming PC.

Ready PCs

A prebuilt computer is a great option for beginner gamers who want a long-term desktop setup without having to assemble it themselves. In fact, I’ll just go ahead and recommend that you don’t build your own PC if you’re just starting out and want to keep things simple.

Learning how to build a computer is part of the fun of playing PC games, but it’s not a required skill. Think of PC gaming like any other hobby – the goal of any beginner should be to find an accessible path to the hobby and then gradually move on to harder levels when they feel more comfortable. You don’t expect a novice fisherman to tie his own fly flies, so don’t worry about building your own PC if you’re new to the hobby. The only trick here is to take the time to find the right deal.

Popular companies such as Alienware, ASUS, Origin, and NZXT are great for those who want a powerful PC with a “gaming” design, but even their “lower” models can be prohibitively expensive. On the other hand, many PCs from manufacturers like HP or Dell are equipped with gaming hardware, even if they look like humble office PCs, and often at much lower prices – we’re talking just a few hundred instead of a few thousand. Lower level configurations won’t be very powerful, but most of them can be upgraded later with higher quality components.

What about laptops?

Like off-the-shelf PCs, gaming laptops come with all the necessary components already installed, eliminating the need to buy every single part yourself. However, gaming laptops can be some of the most expensive devices and are rarely “portable” due to their size, weight, or low battery life compared to the average workstation laptop. Laptops also cannot be upgraded like desktops, making them less cost-effective in the long run.

The only real advantage of a gaming laptop is the all-in-one form factor and relative portability compared to a tower PC. That said, if you’re willing to pay for a powerful model, laptops can be just as efficient for gaming as full-size desktops.

If you want the simplest portable gaming setup, you can play games on compact laptops or even Chromebooks via cloud streaming services like Xbox Game Pass, Nvidia GeForce Now, or Amazon Luna.

Streaming has its downsides compared to running the game locally on your hardware; primarily choppy image and gameplay quality if your connection goes down, and the need to be constantly connected to Wi-Fi or mobile data, preferably via Ethernet or 5G mobile data. The streaming setting is best for casual gamers rather than hardcore PC gamers, but it’s worth considering if you only play occasionally and are always connected to the internet.

Steamdeck and handhelds

Finally, there are all-in-one portable gaming devices. The most popular is the Steam Deck. It is similar to the Nintendo Switch, but much bulkier and more durable, and can only be played on PC games. As such, it’s best for hardcore gamers, but its portability, strong specs, and gaming-centric SteamOS operating system make it a worthy choice as a portable gaming PC if that’s what you’re after.

However, there are some caveats. Unlike a full-fledged desktop that can be used for work, gaming, media editing, and more, the Steam Deck is a gaming-centric device. The hardware is patched and cannot be updated and it does not run Windows out of the box so cannot play all games. Similarly, battery life is poor, so expect to mostly use it at home. And even if you’re setting up a device for Windows or Linux and using an external keyboard and mouse to launch apps, it’s just not built to be a true PC replacement.

There are other Steam Deck-like portable PCs from other companies, some of which are more powerful or run full versions of Windows, but are more expensive. Others are just glorified Android tablets with limited support for games and apps. Either way, I would avoid these devices if you’re looking for a portable PC gaming rig.

PC Buying Tips

While I highly recommend a pre-built gaming PC over a laptop or portable gaming PC, all of these devices simplify the PC buying process and eliminate the need to build your own. However, you will inevitably run into lengthy specs or be asked to choose between different components when configuring your computer or laptop. My advice here is to stick to your budget – don’t worry too much about what parts you get if you just want a budget gaming rig.

However, if you’re on a more flexible budget and aren’t just buying the cheapest option, or you’re just curious about what PC components you’ll come across and what they’re good for, here are some general buying tips. We won’t go into specific component recommendations (as prices and availability change all the time), but they should help you understand what each component is and how it affects gaming performance.

  • CPU: The CPU, also known as the processor, is the “brain” of your computer, controlling the various components, applications, and functions you run. Intel and AMD are the main manufacturers of processors. If you’re taking apart your computer yourself, you’ll want to make sure you pick a processor that’s compatible with your other parts, but prebuilt PCs will handle that for you. Instead, you may be asked to choose from a specific range. Generally, 10th or 11th Gen Intel i5 or higher or AMD Ryzen 3, 5, 7 or 9 processors are best suited for gaming, with higher numbered models offering faster processing speeds and multitasking capabilities. Processors are complex, so be sure to check out our guide to finding the right processor if you need more help.
  • Graphics Card (GPU): Your GPU is what renders your game graphics and will probably be the most expensive component you buy. Nvidia and AMD are the two main GPU manufacturers. Some common entry-level models include Nvidia’s GTX 1660 and RTX 2000 lineup, as well as AMD’s Radeon 5000 series. Nvidia’s RTX 3000 and 4000 series, and AMD’s RX 6000 series are much more powerful, but increasingly more expensive (and can be harder to find). Avoid PCs and laptops that only use Intel “integrated graphics” as these chips are not designed for gaming.
  • RAM: This is your computer’s memory. The more of it you have, the faster it can complete certain tasks. At least 8GB of DDR4 RAM is the base level you’ll need for a budget gaming PC, but 16GB is preferable if you can afford it. 32 GB or more is best if you plan to edit videos or stream to your computer. Luckily, expanding your PC’s RAM is one of the easiest and most affordable upgrades you can make.
  • Hard Drive: These make up your PC’s storage space. Solid state drives (SSDs) are faster and load games and apps faster than hard disk drives (HDDs), but hard drives are more affordable and can store a lot more data for the price. You can equip your PC with multiple drives and even combine SSDs and HDDs. In any case, you will need at least one 256 GB drive, although 1 TB drives are best – modern PC games take up a ton of disk space, usually 20 to 100 GB or more, so it’s always good to have more space.
  • Operating System: Windows is best suited for gaming as it has the widest support for games and apps. Some gaming PCs use versions of Linux (like SteamOS or Ubuntu) which are great but can be difficult to learn if you’re not already familiar with Linux and may not run all games or programs.
  • Chassis, Motherboard, and Power Supply (PSU): The last three components form the core of any PC build: The motherboard performs many important functions, including running your PC’s BIOS and interacting with the CPU and other hardware, but the most important thing to know is that it’s the main circuit board. , to which all your components are connected. The power supply is what draws power from your outlet and powers every component. And in the case safely and securely placed all the equipment. Choosing the right model for each of these components is important, but off-the-shelf PCs or laptops will usually handle this decision for you.

All of the above parts are included with any PC build, but you should also keep these extra parts and accessories in mind when shopping for a PC as they are rarely included in pre-built desktops or laptops. Be sure to include them in your budget.

  • Display: For an entry-level PC, a simple 1080p monitor with a 60Hz refresh rate will do. Not only are they more affordable, you can also get the most out of your hardware by choosing a monitor that matches your PC’s capabilities. For example, a 1080p monitor with a maximum refresh rate of 60Hz is better suited to a weaker system than a 1440p or 4K monitor with a high refresh rate.
  • Internet connection: If you do not plan to connect your computer to the router with an Ethernet cable, you will need a Wi-Fi card for wireless connection. Some motherboards include them, others will require a separate component.
  • Keyboard, mouse, and other peripherals: A standard keyboard and mouse will work just fine, but competitive gamers may prefer the feel and performance of mechanical keyboards and gaming mice. As for gamepads, you can connect Xbox, PlayStation, and third-party controllers via USB or Bluetooth. Some monitors come with speakers, but headphones or a gaming headset will work too.

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