At what price is a console better than a gaming PC?

Q: What price makes the console a better choice for gaming than a PC? I’m asking in general and intended for the current times, when it’s very difficult to get my hands on computer components.

A: The exact number varies depending on the type of player you’re working on. Generally, this question applies when you tend to play games that are not exclusive to PC and your PC budget is in the same price range as modern consoles. After the launch of the new console last fall, that range fell between $300 and $500.

To determine this further, you’ll need to compare the performance of similarly priced gaming consoles and PCs, and then consider the genres you’re playing and your general computing needs. So, for example, let’s say you’ve only played AAA single-player titles, and you want to play them as soon as they come up. You also have a device that you already use for everyday tasks like web browsing and video calling, like an old laptop or PC. As long as you don’t need universal mouse and keyboard support for gaming, the Xbox Series S, Series X, or PlayStation 5 will be better for gaming. In this price range, PC consoles are hard to beat. Moreover, they will play everything that comes out during their life, including all the mega games. The last two generations of consoles lasted between seven and eight years – the graphics card you buy today won’t be able to play the AAA titles of 2028 with the same graphical resolution as now, but the console will.

However, you might instead be into multiplayer games, and need access to online play. After that, you’ll need to add another $60 per year for an online membership that allows this functionality – Xbox Live Gold for Microsoft consoles, and PlayStation Plus for Sony consoles. (You can pay less if you get the memberships on sale, but we’ll work with a list price across the board.) Depending on how long you typically wait before upgrading a GPU in a gaming PC, this can significantly increase the budget for an equivalent PC. Online multiplayer access is free on PC. For example, anyone with a four-year upgrade cycle can add $240 to their computer budget when making a comparison with a game console. That cash would buy a much nicer GPU.

Microsoft / YouTube

Choosing between a console and a PC is usually a simple question to answer whenever the amount drops below $500. But for now, PC gamers can find themselves thinking about it even if their graphics card budget is $1,500.

The value of a console versus a PC changes in every scenario – to throw a few more examples, someone who only plays lightweight indie games might actually be better off with a low-cost gaming PC. Or maybe you don’t already have another PC or laptop and would take advantage of a new, modern desktop to work with.

Doing this calculation becomes more complicated when computer parts have crazy tags and/or very limited availability as now. You have to weigh your willingness to wait for pricing and availability to improve against your budget in the short and medium term, as well as your willingness to fight for a console. The new Xbox and PlayStation 5 are moderately easier to get than graphics cards at the moment.

You also have to take into account what you already have – perhaps your current gaming PC can continue to be trucked with the help of GeForce Now. Or maybe you could settle for your old gaming hardware in a pre-built PC, because that’s all you can easily get at an affordable price. You could also be someone who has $1,500 to throw on an RTX 3090, but you’re so angry with brokers that buying an Xbox Series X to push you until prices drop below the MSRP is the cheapest and most satisfactory move.

Hopefully we don’t have to wait any longer for this question to once again become a fun theory bomb to ask people to discuss, rather than having to consider it a real option when your budget usually allows you to buy a graphics card that’s all about consoles.

Welcome to Ask an Expert, where we take care of your PC building questions. Have a concern of your own? Send us an email at thefullnerd@pcworld.com.