What’s in the Best Gaming Desktop?
Despite the proliferation of gaming consoles and handheld gaming devices, PC gaming is still alive and kicking. Enthusiasts know that nothing can beat the quality of gameplay that you would get with a gaming desktop. But what kind of PC will it take to run so-called “high-end 3D games?” If you have deep pockets, your answer could be a custom-built hot rod from elite boutique PC manufacturers such as Alienware, Falcon Northwest, Maingear, or MSI. If you’re not made of money, a couple of well-informed choices will go a long way toward helping you get the right gaming desktop, even if it’s from a standard PC manufacturer. We tell you what to consider when looking for a gaming desktop and give you the 10 of our top picks in the category.
The most pivotal decision you’ll make when purchasing a gaming desktop is which 3D graphics subsystem to use. Integrated graphics are fine for casual games, but to really bring out the beast on AAA titles, you’ll want one or more discrete graphics cards.
Today, dual-, triple-, and quad-graphics-card arrays from AMD and Nvidia reign supreme on the desktop. AMD’s CrossFireX solution consists of multiple Radeon HD processors, while Nvidia’s top draw is its two-,three-, or four-way SLI with up to four Nvidia GeForce GTX cards.
A few words of warning, though: Equipping your system with these high-end GPUs will unavoidably boost your total bill by a couple thousand dollars. Still, multiple graphics cards not only add extra GPU power to your gaming experience, they can also enable multiple-monitor setups so you can run up to six displays in AMD’s Eyefinity or Nvidia’s 3D Surround setup.
You can still get a rich gaming experience for thousands less by using a single but robust 2GB to 3GB video card, such as a midlevel AMD Radeon or the Nvidia GeForce GTX Series GPU. If you’re less concerned about turning up all the eye candy found on games anti-aliasing and esoteric lighting effects, for example, then last year’s cards and GPUs will still give you plenty of oomph for a lot less money.
The heart of any system, even a gaming rig, is its processor. At the moment, Intel’s eight-core CPUs in the Core i7 Extreme Edition family top the list in terms of raw processing power. AMD goes bang for the buck with its FX processors, with up to eight cores. Lesser, but still high-powered, CPUs, such as the AMD A10 and unlocked quad-core Intel Core i7 K series processors, can also provide the computing muscle needed for a rich gaming experience. Budget gamers should look to lower-priced (but still speedy) processors, such as the AMD A8 or the Intel Core i5, which will knock hundreds of dollars off the bottom line.
When given the choice between paying for a higher-level GPU or a higher-level CPU, however, go with the graphics, every time. In other words, a system with a GeForce GTX GPU and a Core i5 processor is a much better choice for gaming than a system with a GeForce GT card and a Core i7 CPU.
One thing that’s often overlooked is that a system’s memory is severely taxed by modern games. Try to outfit your PC with at least 8GB of RAM and budget for 32GB if you’re truly serious about freeing up this potential performance bottleneck. Faster memory (DDR3-2133/DDR4-2133 or better) also improves performance and lets you overclock your CPU with greater stability.
Solid-state drives (SSDs) are definitely a hot commodity, since the prices have come down dramatically over the past few years. They speed up boot time, wake-from-sleep time, and the time it takes to launch a game and load a new level. A small (128GB) SSD with a large (500GB to 1TB) spinning hard drive is a good start for gamers who also download the occasional video from the Internet. Bigger SSDs are available (512GB or more capacity), but choosing one will dramatically increase the purchase price of your gaming rig.
But don’t stop at internal components. A couple of extras can really do wonders for your gaming experience. We recommend that you trick out your machine with a solid gaming headset. Comfortable keyboards, mice, and specialized controllers round out your options.