When you’re getting ready to get a new gaming PC, there are usually three different ways you can go about it — you can build it yourself, buy one off store shelves (which include, like Amazon), or you can go to the manufacturer’s website and configure the system of your dreams.
Now that it is so hard to find affordable computer components, especially graphics cards, more people are choosing pre-made gaming PCs than ever before. But, when you go to CyberPowerPC, Maingear, or even Dell’s website to configure your Alienware gaming PC, there are plenty of pitfalls that mean you can spend a lot of extra money without resulting in a better experience for you.
Unfortunately, this means that you will need at least some literacy when it comes to PC components to really know how to configure a gaming PC that is actually worth the money you spend on it. But for PC Game Week, we decided it was time to get into the nitty-gritty and give you a few things to keep your eyes open when shopping for a new gaming PC.
Do not buy the entry form
When you go to the manufacturer’s website, it’s easy to see a computer starting at $1,000 and think that sounds like an excellent bargain – it just isn’t. For example, now at Dell you can get the Alienware Aurora R12 – a PC we loved – for just $1,129. But click on that starting configuration, and you’ll get an Intel Core i5-11400F, 8GB of RAM (and maybe a single stick – more on that later), and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Super. To make matters worse, it also has a 1TB hard drive, and no SSD.
And it’s not just Alienware either. Just look at iBuyPower, and it has an “Intel 10th Gen Gamer Daily Deal” offer, starting at $1,429. but that also It only has an 8GB RAM chip, and it starts with an Intel Core i3-10105F processor. It has at least an SSD to start with and an AMD Radeon RX 6600 XT, but that’s it not $1400 pc, we’re sorry.
There are some manufacturers that have more reasonable entry level configurations. Maingear and the NZXT BLD are both good at not giving you a totally bad PC just because you don’t want to spend thousands of dollars. But both options are more expensive across the board, too.
There will probably be a lot of people out there who will see this and just say “How hard is it to just look at the specs to see what you’re buying before paying?” But a lot of the people who would choose the first Alienware to appear on the page would be parents just trying to make a birthday present for their kids, and they might not necessarily be up to date on the latest technology. Especially when it comes to the iBuyPower option we mentioned earlier, which has a last-generation processor in a configuration that starts at $1,429.
Don’t get lost in all the options
One of the first things that you will likely notice once you go to these boutique builder websites is that there are a large number of different customization options. This is a dream come true for people who really want to build the machine of their dreams, but it is a nightmare for anyone unfamiliar with the wonderful world of computer components.
Just looking at the promoted CyberPowerPC, there are 51 different chassis options, 19 different combinations of fans and 26 different CPU coolers. And to make matters worse, if you try to save some money, you may get an error message yelling at you that you are making the wrong decision.
For example, with this PC we chose the Cooler Master Hyper 212 Black Edition – one of the best CPU coolers on the market, and know he told us it wouldn’t be fat enough to handle the virtual CPU, which is just an Intel Core i7 processor. -11700KF. Yes, you probably won’t push that CPU into the stratosphere with high overclocking, but on stock settings you’ll keep that tiny bit of silicon more than cool enough.
But what makes it worse is that with so many CPU cooler options available, and some raising the price by as much as $253, we could see someone being intimidated by a warning message like this into upgrading to an unnecessary, powerful AIO cooler.
With so many options available, it’s incredibly easy to spend money that you really don’t need to spend, in ways that won’t actually affect your experience or gaming performance for your shiny new PC.
Don’t worry about speed increases
Lots of boutique PC builders will have a choice when you configure your PC to overclock your system for you. Now, we love overclocking like everyone else, but in terms of the extra performance you’ll get, it’s probably not worth spending the extra money on.
After all, the primary appeal of overclocking is to squeeze a little bit of free performance out of your computer, but that appeal wanes when you have to pay for it. At most, you will notice a 5-10% difference in games and this highly unlikely, Especially with increasing CPU speed.
Our advice, if you really want to mess around with overclocking your computer, is to do it yourself after you have the computer in hand. This process is pretty foolproof at this point, and you probably don’t even have to go into BIOS to do it like we had to do in the old days.
You can use something like the EVGA Precision X1 or MSI Afterburner to overclock your graphics card, and they have safeguards in place so you don’t permanently damage the GPU no matter how hard you try. And for your CPU, you only need to think about overclocking Intel chips – AMD chips don’t overclock really well – and you can just use the Intel Extreme Tuning Utility to do it safely.
Therefore, it is probably not worth paying Origin or Cyberpower PC to overclock your PC, when you can download an app and press a few buttons to get the same result. These options might have made a little more sense a decade ago, when overclocking really required you to dig into your BIOS and change complex and dangerous settings, but that’s not really the case anymore.
It’s not worth it at this point, just get everything with factory settings. Even in the best-case scenario, overclocking won’t make the difference between running the game and not running it.
What should you actually be looking for?
In general, our advice on buying a gaming PC and things you should put it in will largely remain the same: it depends.
However, for most people, you’ll be fine with any virtual motherboard, especially if you’re not the type to mess with overclocking.
For your processor, we find that an Intel Core i5 or AMD Ryzen 5 processor would be the perfect place for most gamers. You can go a level higher than that if you need the extra computing power – like if you’re going to do some video editing or something – but a hexa-core processor will be plentiful for most people.
Just be sure to get something from the current generation. You’ll likely be spending upwards of a thousand dollars or more on your machine, so you’ll want to make sure you get an 11th chip from Intel or a 5th generation AMD Ryzen chip. If you follow our advice and get the midrange, it would be an Intel Core i5-11600K (or 11600KF) for Team Blue or an AMD Ryzen 5 5600X for Team Red.
As for your graphics card, it largely depends on the resolution you want to run your games at. Sure, a lot of people want a shiny new RTX 3080, but unless you’re playing 4K gaming, it probably isn’t worth the extra cost. If you just want to run everything in 1080p, an AMD Radeon RX 6600 XT or an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 will be more than enough.
Just a tip, don’t spend more than $1000 on a gaming PC that uses something like the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Super. This card, even if it is inflated due to encryption, is not worth that amount of cash.
Finally, get your accessories elsewhere
Every company that sells gaming PCs will also try to sell monitors, keyboards, headphones, and other such items. Our advice? Only purchase the gaming device from the creator of the PC.
Oftentimes, you’ll save a pretty significant amount of money by buying your desired peripheral or accessory on Amazon or Newegg, rather than bundling it with your device.
- Welcome to TechRadar’s PC Gaming Week 2021, our celebration of the largest gaming platform on Earth. Despite the global pandemic and ongoing GPU shortages, PC gaming has never been more vibrant and exciting, and throughout the week we’ll be reflecting on that with a selection of in-depth articles, interviews, and essential buying guides.