You’ve decided to make the jump into PC gaming? Now all you’ll need is a gaming PC and some peripherals (a monitor, keyboard, and mouse).
But what should you look for when choosing a new gaming PC? How much should you spend? What kind of components and what brands should you be considering?
What about building your own PC?
There are a lot of factors you’ll need to consider before you choose the gaming PC that is right for you.
In this guide, we’ll break down those factors and help you understand what you should be looking for in a gaming computer. But first, you need to ask yourself two important questions:
- How Much Do You Have to Spend?
- What Games Will You Be Playing?
What’s Your Budget
Before you can start looking for a gaming PC, you have to consider how much you have to spend. Obviously, the more you have to spend, the less restrictions you’ll have in terms of performance.
On the other hand, if you’re working with a tighter budget, your options will be a bit more limited and therefore, the factors you should be looking for in a gaming PC will change.
Also Read: How Much is A Good Gaming PC?
The good news is that, while PC gaming is a bit more expensive to get into than console gaming, there are budget-friendly gaming options out there that will deliver great performance.
So, once you’ve got a specific budget or a general price range of how much you’re willing to spend, the next question you need to ask is: what games will you be playing?
What Games Will You Play?
If your goal is to play games like Starfield on max settings on a higher resolution monitor, what you should be looking for in a gaming PC will be quite different than if you’re someone who spends most of their time in games like Rocket League or League of Legends.
To max out games like Starfield you’re going to need a gaming PC that has high-end hardware: a premium graphics card and processor, at least 16GB of RAM, and quality components to support them (power supply, motherboard, storage devices, etc.)
To max out games like Rocket League or League of Legends, you can get by with a moderate hardware configuration.
It’s also important to consider what resolution you want to be playing at. If you want to game on a 4K monitor, you’re going to need a more powerful gaming PC than if you are content gaming on a 1080P display.
Once you’ve set your budget and have a good idea what games you’ll be playing and at what resolution you’ll be playing them at, you’ll have a better idea of what to look for when shopping for a gaming PC.
Prebuilt Gaming PC vs Building Your Own
You have two main options when it comes to getting a new gaming PC:
- You can buy a prebuilt or custom gaming PC
- You can build your own system
I always recommend to build your own gaming computer. You’ll get more performance for the amount you have to spend and you’ll have more control over the hardware in your system.
Start Building: Step-By-Step PC Building Guide
But buying a prebuilt gaming PC or custom gaming is a solid option as well, especially if you don’t want to spend time putting together a compatible part list and assembling the components yourself. However, it does cost more to to get the same level of performance as a DIY build would offer (assuming you chose the correct components.)
Ultimately, though, you need to decide which route you will take as it will change what you should look for in a gaming PC quite a bit.
More on Building Your Own PC
- Parts Needed to Build A Gaming PC
- How Much Does it Cost to Build A PC?
- Best Prebuilt Gaming PC Desktops
- Best Custom PC Builder Websites
GPU, CPU, RAM: The PC Gaming Trinity
Now that you have an idea of how much you want to spend and you’ve decided whether or not you’re willing to build your own system or not, you can really dig into what kind of hardware you should be looking for in a gaming PC.
The following are the main components you’ll need to be looking at when shopping for a gaming PC (or for individual parts) in order or importance:
- Graphics Card (GPU)
- Processor (CPU)
- Memory (RAM)
- MOBO, PSU, Storage, Case, Cooling
In general, no component is going to have a bigger impact on your in-game experience than will your graphics card. Most modern games rely heavily on your GPU. The better your GPU is, the better performance you will get.
The more graphically-demanding games you’re looking to play (like Assassin’s Creed, Tomb Raider, or Starfield), the better the GPU you’ll need.
Alternatively, if you’re mainly playing non-demanding titles (as discussed above), you can save money and opt for a mid-range or budget-oriented graphics card.
These buyer’s guides will give you a good idea of what kind of GPU options you should be looking for depending on your budget:
More on GPUs
While not as important for gaming specifically, the processor (or CPU) will be the next component you’ll want to consider.
As we mentioned above, most modern games rely heavily on GPU performance. However, there are some CPU-intensive games out there that require a better processor. And, most games require at an adequate processor to pair with your GPU.
Your processor is also going to be the most important component when it comes to non-gaming performance. So, by no means do you want to skimp on your CPU in order to get the best GPU possible.
For gaming-heavy use-cases, it’s a good idea to try and balance your CPU and GPU performance, with a slight favor towards the GPU.
The following list will give you a good idea of what kind of CPU to get depending on your budget:
- Smaller budget: Intel Core i3 / Ryzen 3
- Moderate budget: Intel Core i5 / Ryzen 5
- Large budget: Intel Core i7 or i9 / Ryzen 7 or 9
More on CPUs
- What to Look for In A CPU: 7 Factors to Consider
- How Much Does Your CPU Affect FPS?
- Best Processors for Gaming Right Now
The next most important component when choosing a gaming PC is how much memory it has. For modern gaming, 16GB of RAM is generally the accepted minimum amount.
However, if you have a tight budget and/or you’re mainly playing non-demanding games, you can still get by with 8GB of RAM to start out (with the goal of adding an additional 8GB of RAM in the future.)
Also Read: 8GB vs 16GB of RAM: How Much Should You Get?
RAM speed is also important to consider. Some games perform better with faster memory. However, unless you have a large budget, spending more for faster memory isn’t the best idea as it will provide minimal performance gain. Any extra money you have in your budget would be better spent on a GPU or CPU upgrade, or in adding more memory.
More on RAM
- How Much RAM Do You Need for Gaming?
- Single Channel vs. Dual Channel vs. Quad Channel Memory
- DDR4 vs DDR5: Which Should You Choose?
- Best Gaming Memory Right Now
Motherboard, Power Supply, Storage, Case, & Cooling
While the motherboard, power supply, storage options (SSD or HDD), case, and cooling components won’t directly affect your in-game performance, they are important components that need to be considered.
The main things to consider in a motherboard, especially if you’re building your own system, are:
- Socket: If you’re building your own PC, you’ll need to make sure that the motherboard you’re considering has the right socket for the CPU you’re choosing.
- Chipset: A motherboard’s chipset will determine what you can do in your system. Some chipsets are designed for overclocking your processor, while other chipsets (budget options) limit your ability to tune your system and offer restrictions on how many extra devices you can add (USB / SATA / M.2 ports you have)
- Form-factor: The size of the motherboard you choose will determine what kind of case you can get and how much RAM you can put in it, among other things. Micro-ATX vs Mini-ITX vs ATX: What’s the Difference?
- USB / SATA Ports: Most motherboards will come with enough USB and SATA ports to accommodate the average gamers needs (one storage device, and enough USB ports to connect all of your peripherals.)
More on Motherboards
For power supplies, the two things you need to consider are:
- Does the power supply offer enough power to accommodate my system?
- Is the power supply a quality unit?
*There are other important factors to consider (such as efficiency and modularity—see below), but these two factors will get you headed in the right direction.
I use OuterVision’s PSU calculator to determine how big of a power supply I’ll need in my system.
And, as for determining whether or not a specific PSU is a quality unit, it is best to start by looking for PSUs from these brands:
You can also get an idea of whether or not a specific PSU is of good quality or not by checking its 80PLUS rating:
However, your absolute best bet is to read individual reviews on the units you are considering.
If you’re looking at prebuilt computers, it will be difficult to find out what specific power supply they are using. This is somewhat off-putting, as a lot of prebuilt PC companies will choose less-than-ideal power supplies to keep their costs low to maximize their profits.
It’s a good idea to read individual reviews of the prebuilt system you are looking at to see if you can determine what kind of power supply they are using before you decide to purchase the PC.
More on PSUs
Storage (SSD or HDD)
When looking for a new gaming PC, you need to consider how much storage you’ll need to hold all of your games and important programs/applications and how fast of storage you need
In general, a 1TB SSD will give you plenty of room to hold everything you need for the foreseeable future and will give you good performance.
However, if you’re working with a tight budget, you can opt for a 500GB option to save some money. You can always add an additional SSD down the road.
HDDs are also viable options for mass storage as they are much cheaper per/GB. But they are also much slower than SSDs. A lot of people still use HDDs as secondary storage devices. But as SSDs continue to drop in price, HDDs continue to make less sense as storage options.
More on SSDs
- What to Look for in an SSD & Hard Drive
- SSD vs HDD: Do SSDs Make Your Games Run Faster?
- The Best SSDs for Gaming Right Now
There are are four main things to consider when choosing a case:
- Compatibility / Clearance / Form-Factor
- Cooling & Air Flow
- Case Aesthetics
- Cable Management
We’ll give a quick rundown of each of those factors below, but you can find a full overview of each in our guide on How to Choose A PC Case.
- Compatibility / Clearance / Form-Factor: If you’re building a PC, you’ll need to choose a case that will accommodate all of your other components. You’ll not only need to consider its form-factor (what size motherboard it will fit), but also how much clearance it offers (to make sure it will fit your graphics card and CPU cooler.)
- Cooling & Air Flow: Some cases are designed with air flow in mind. They come with a grilled front (or top) panel and plenty of locations to add case fans (ideally already provided). Typically, the more air flow your PC case comes with and the more cooling options it provides, the better.
- Case Aesthetics: While case aesthetics are subjective depending on the individual, they are important to consider. Do you want a minimalist design? Or do you want a bunch or RGB lights? How about a case with tempered glass panels to show off your build?
- Cable Management: If you’re building your own PC, it will be up to you to assemble your system and connect all of the cables necessary. However, connecting your cables in such a way as to not make the inside of your system look like a mess is easier said that done. Some cases are designed to make cable management as easy as possible. And, if you dont want a tangle of cables in your build, its a good idea to consider such a case.
More on PC Cases
- The Best PC Cases Right Now
- Which PC Case Size is Best for Your Next Build?
- 27 Examples of Good Cable Management
While your case will play an important role in cooling your system, your CPU cooler is even more important. Here’s a quick rundown of what you should consider when choosing a CPU cooler. (Or you can read our full in-depth guide How to Choose A CPU Cooler).
- Stock vs Third Party: AMD and Intel provide stock coolers with most of the CPUs. For most users, these coolers (especially AMDs) will work fine. However, if you want to extend the lifespan of your processor, opting for a third-party cooler is a good idea.
- Air vs Liquid: Both air CPU coolers and liquid CPU coolers are viable options. However, air cooling is cheaper than liquid cooling and, except for at the extreme end of liquid cooling options, air cooling performs similarly.
- Compatibility / Clearance: Not all CPU coolers will work with all CPUs, motherboards and cases. You need to make sure that the CPU cooler you choose will fit with the other components you’ve selected.
More on CPU Coolers
- Best CPU Coolers Right Now
- Safe CPU Temperature Range
- Liquid Cooling vs Air Cooling
- Do You Need A CPU Cooler?
Display (or Monitor)
As mentioned above in this guide, the resolution of your monitor will play a large role in determining the kind of gaming PC you can and should get.
If you want to max out games on a 4K display, you’re going to need an extemely powerful hardware configuration (GPU, CPU, and RAM).
For 1080P gaming, you can get by with a moderate (or even lower) budget.
Aside from that, below are the main things to consider when choosing a monitor for your system. (Read our full guide How to Choose A Gaming Monitor for a more in-depth look at picking the right monitor.)
- Your GPU: The GPU in your gaming PC will determine what monitor you can (and should get). If you have a budget GPU, you’ll want to pair it with a 1080P display. If you have an extreme GPU, you’ll want to pair it with a higher resolution / higher refresh rate display.
- Resolution: What resolution do you want to game at? As discussed above, the monitor resolution you choose should be determined by your GPU. Higher resolution gaming requires a more powerful GPU.
- Refresh Rate: A higher refresh rate will make games feel smoother. This can advantageous in competitive games, as it will help you react faster. However, in order to fully utilize a higher refresh rate, you need to maintain a higher average framerate. So, you’ll need a more powerful system (and, specifically, GPU) in order to take advantage of a high refresh rate monitor.
More on Monitors
- Best Gaming Monitors Right Now
- TN vs IPS vs VA: Which is Best for Gaming?
- Is 4K Worth it for Gaming?
- Best Monitor Size for Gaming?
- Response Time vs Refresh Rate
Choosing the Right Gaming PC
There is a lot to consider if you’re in the market for a new gaming PC—and, even moreso if you’re planning on building your own system.
In this guide, we’ve give you a run down of the main things that you should be looking for in a gaming PC. This is not the end-all guide to choosing a PC, but it covers all of the main factors to consider, as well as offers more resources to help you dive in further.