When you hear the term ‘gaming PC,’ what sort of image comes to mind? Maybe it’s a sleek black box with glowing LED lights that looks like something out of an alien movie. Maybe it’s a massive server, a giant tower with blinking lights and whirring fans. Or perhaps it’s a homemade rig, made of many smaller components to form a Super Megazord of gaming power. All these answers are correct. Essentially, almost any computer can become a gaming PC.
If you’re in the market for a gaming PC you may notice the different design philosophies clashing and competing for your adoption. You may have heard of a great deal on the new Assassin’s Creed game through a gaming computer retailer or a local electronics store featured a doorbuster sale on a fairly powerful workstation. This article will break down the differences between three styles of gaming PCs, weighing the pros and cons and helping you to make an informed purchase.
Breakdown: Gaming PCs
These are computers manufactured by companies that focus specifically on gaming. Some popular manufacturers of these PCs are Alienware, iBUYPOWER and ASUS ROG. They come in desktop and laptop format and will usually contain a powerful dedicated graphics card and a decent amount of storage space.
Pro: Powerful Graphics
Since the primary focus for these machines is running graphic-intensive games, the one aspect of their build that receives the most attention is the graphics rendering. Expect a gaming PC to have an outstanding graphics card capable of running new games at moderate settings.
Pro: Bonus Offers
Many of the manufacturers for these computers work with popular game studios and distributors to add some extra value to each purchase. Often you can find free games bundled with your system and occasionally license keys to professional software.
Depending on the age of the customer in question, this may actually be a pro. However, for the majority of consumers, the jagged edges, bright flashing lights and giant cartoon logos that most gaming computers have will come across as garish.
The way many manufacturers of pre-built gaming hardware make their profits are through buying cheap components in bulk and then jacking the price way up once the machine is assembled. Taking a page out of Apple’s book, these computers can often be replicated with custom builds for significantly cheaper.
Gaming computers are ideal for younger gamers, less tech-oriented consumers and regular folks who just want a gaming computer with minimal hassle. You can get something better for less but if you don’t want to go through the effort, these are a fine choice.
Take a look at some recommended gaming PCs on our list of the Best Gaming PCs Under $600 and Best Laptop for Gaming.
Breakdown: Pre-built PCs
These are desktops and laptops, sold as fully finished models. Ordinarily they aren’t designed for gaming, so you’ll likely find limited hard drive space and an integrated graphics processor. Regardless, these are ideal gaming machines, since they can be purchased in a finished state at a convenient price and then upgraded intermittently.
The best places to find these computers are at your local electronics retailer. These go on sale very often, especially around Black Friday. You can also find these desktops online, but you’ll have to be much more careful that the product you’re purchasing works as advertised. Check user reviews and be sure to look for a better price. Most major retail chains will price match with online distributors such as Amazon and Newegg.
With the exception of a graphics card, these computers come fully equipped to play video games. You may even be able to manage some lower-performance games such as League of Legends and World of Warcraft running just off the integrated graphics, if the included processor is powerful enough.
Pro: Manufacturer Support
Being sold as a complete product, the manufacturers will usually provide excellent support for these machines. That means if there is an issue with a driver or graphics card, it’s relatively painless to get the issue resolved. Look to see which manufacturers offer good warranties and make sure to ask for the extended warranty if possible.
These computers are designed mainly as powerful workstations and the focus is around productivity. This means the internal components are plenty powerful and should handle games with ease but usually a graphics card isn’t included. In order to achieve smooth framerates make sure to add a GPU at some point.
With many new computers, both manufacturers and retailers make deals with software companies to promote their products. This means that before you get your hands on a machine the manufacturer adds trial offers for apps or programs and the retailer adds free trials for ineffective anti virus programs.
The pre-built PC is perfect for the student or young professional who need a machine capable of handling both work and play. You can usually get a decent desktop for a reasonable price and a few inexpensive upgrades will result in a respectable gaming rig with a low profile.
If you’re on a budget, check out our list of the Best Gaming PCs Under $300 for some terrific low budget pre-built PCs.
Breakdown: Custom-Built PCs
This is the big leagues. If you’re a control freak you’ll want to become intimate with every piece of your desktop. For those very particular about specs, a bit of research and a clean work environment can produce the perfect gaming PC for you. There’s a lot that can go wrong but the results are unparalleled in any other niche of gaming PC.
How much storage do you need? What are the games you want to run the best? Do you want to stream footage or create virtual machines to emulate older titles? Maybe you want to set your computer up in your living room, hooked up to your flat screen TV as a gaming/media center. With a custom built PC, the sky’s the limit.
If you use newer parts and unlocked processors, you can extract an extraordinary amount of gaming power from your machine; much more than you would be able to get from a pre-built or even a dedicated gaming machine! If you’re careful with your adjustments, the possibilities are truly astounding.
Con: Extra Work
It’s a very delicate and time-consuming process, building your own PC. The parts are small, fragile and very expensive, so make sure you have the time and patience to build your computer correctly. You can always hire someone to build it for you, but where’s the fun in that?
Con: Harder Troubleshooting
When something goes wrong on a machine custom built by you, the blame is placed squarely on your shoulders. You will be the only one truly capable of fixing the problem, because no one will know your PC as well as you. This can be challenging for many newer PC users, so keep this in mind.
This is for the lifers, the hobbyists and professionals. If you want to build your own gaming PC, you had best make sure you know exactly what you’re doing. If you aren’t intimidated by this, however, you can get some incredible results. A machine build custom to your specifications will really give you an edge up, some potential professional experience, and the respect of your peers.
Some of the best games and gaming experiences are only possible on a PC, so it’s no surprise that there are many options to choose from. Based on this list, you should have a good idea of what kind of computer you want for yourself or the gamer in your life. If you’re still stuck, there are plenty of in-depth product reviews available in a variety of price ranges. Have fun!