Despite the proliferation of game consoles and mobile devices, PC gaming is more popular than ever. From gaming for fun to the new realms of virtual reality and the competition of eSports, the power and customization options a computer offers simply can’t be beaten. Today’s high-end gaming PCs provide an unprecedented level of raw processing power, moving pixels like never before. Manufacturers have also been releasing mid-range and entry-level systems that offer a great gaming experience. With extensive customization options and add-on accessories, it’s easier than ever to upgrade an existing PC or even build your own.
|Table of Contents:|
No matter how you like to game or what your comfort level is with the components and hardware involved, Best Buy has a PC and PC Gaming accessories for you. This guide will help you to find it.
Off-the-shelf PC gaming solutions
For PC gaming, a desktop computer sits at the top of the pack. The desktop form factor ticks off all the boxes for gamers: the space needed for the most powerful components, room for cooling and hefty power supplies, plenty of output ports, and easy access for upgrading.
What makes the difference between a basic gaming desktop and a high-end model?
Visually, there are a few clues. All gaming desktops offer a vast array of ports and many feature a case with a subtly aggressive design and flourishes like LED lighting. The difference comes down to the components used. As you move up the range, high-performance CPUs are used for maximum processing power. The video card becomes more powerful and at the upper end, you can expect the capability to drive multiple monitors in 4K resolution at high frame rates. RAM gets faster and you get more of it. Storage gets boosted, often with multiple drives and an SSD for faster system performance. Power supplies get bigger to support all the high-performance components and to keep everything from overheating, you often see liquid cooling systems.
No matter what level of gaming desktop you choose, it offers the advantage of upgradability. You can keep it performing for years of AAA PC games, or even start with a basic gaming desktop and take its performance to the next level by upgrading components like the video card, RAM and storage. And it goes without saying that a gaming desktop can also be used for everything else you might want a PC for, including streaming video, web surfing, photo and video editing, and productivity tasks.
A gaming laptop can’t provide quite the same level of power that a high-end gaming desktop offers, but there are real advantages that make these systems a popular choice.
They provide portable gaming experience, so gamers can pick up their system and easily carry it from room to room, to a friend’s house for a LAN party, or even bring it on vacation. Thanks to a built-in battery, they don’t even need access to an electrical outlet. With its integrated display and gaming-optimized keyboard, a gaming laptop provides everything needed for a solid PC gaming experience in a single device that doesn’t require much desk space and minimizes connecting cables.
Like a gaming desktop, there is a range among gaming laptops and you’ll find the highest performance at the upper end of that range. But there are also other factors to consider and the way you intend to use the gaming laptop will factor into the decision you make. Battery life and size usually end up being key deciding points.
If true mobility is a key requirement, battery life and weight should be high on your list—although this will usually come at the cost of performance and screen size. If having a gaming desktop replacement in a more compact form is your aim, then battery life and weight are less important so you can focus on overall performance and screen size/resolution.
Gaming laptops offer less in the way of upgrade options than a gaming desktop. However, if you want a gaming laptop with some future-proofing, look for one that offers easy access to the RAM and storage bays.
Build-it-yourself PC, or upgrade your current system
The CPU or processor is the heart of any PC, the component responsible for carrying out instructions, controlling input and output, and other critical tasks.
Key CPU performance factors include the number of cores (each core essentially acts as a mini processor able to run independent operations), clock speed (measured in GHz) and the number of threads supported (the CPU can allocate threads to specific tasks). With a gaming PC, the CPU tends to be on the higher end of the spectrum, so each of these numbers will typically be higher than the processor you find in a general use computer.
As important as the CPU is to the performance of a gaming PC, the single most critical component is the video card. Video games require an enormous amount of video processing power, especially when 4K resolution, detailed textures and effects, and virtual reality are added to the equation. A video card provides this horsepower, with dedicated GPUs, dedicated video RAM, and outputs for connecting a monitor.
While any video card will improve on graphics performance compared to an integrated GPU, the video card you choose will depend on factors including the genre of games you play, the resolution of your monitor and the number of monitors you want to use.
The motherboard is a circuit board with sockets and connections for the various PC components; it’s like the base that the rest of your computer is built on.
When choosing a motherboard, makes sure it’s compatible with the CPU you want to use, and that it has the sockets needed for the components you’re considering. You’ll want a motherboard that supports high-speed RAM, sufficient PCI-E slots for the video card (or cards) and enough SATA slots for your storage needs. You’ll also want to make sure there are plenty of USB ports. Motherboards aimed at gaming may also include features like support for CPU overclocking, heat sinks, M.2 SSD slots, integrated 802.11ac Wi-Fi and even LED lighting.
RAM is computer memory used by the CPU to temporarily store data and instructions for quick access. With any computer, having sufficient RAM means faster performance. When the system gets low on available RAM, it starts to slow.
Video games can be very demanding in terms of RAM usage and there are two factors to be aware of. First, make sure you have enough RAM to avoid it becoming a performance bottleneck. Second, PC gaming can benefit from faster RAM, so watch for systems (or motherboards) that support speedy DDR3 or DDR4 RAM.
Storage is an important part of any gaming PC and there are two variables that are critical: capacity and speed.
With the size of PC game installs, capacity is important, so gaming PCs are typically equipped with one or more high-capacity hard drives, usually in the 1TB range. Look for a 7200 rpm hard drive rather than the slower 5400 rpm versions. Speed is also important, so it is increasingly common to have the operating system installed on an SSD (solid state drive) for faster performance.
SSDs can also significantly cut the load time for games but are still more expensive than traditional hard drives in high-capacity sizes. Many gamers choose to go with a high-capacity hard drive for bulk storage, supplemented by an SSD that’s large enough for both the OS and a favourite game or two, for the best of both worlds.
For a truly immersive PC gaming experience, don’t overlook audio. The sound card plugs into the motherboard to provide audio output. Gamers who want to enjoy truly immersive audio might want to consider a sound card that supports 5.1 channel or 7.1 channel surround audio.
The high-performance components that make up a gaming PC give off a lot of heat, making PC cooling an important consideration. Active cooling is needed for most gaming computers and fans are the usual solution. They move air over the hot components to cool them, then blow the hot air out of the PC case; for extreme configurations, you might want to consider a liquid cooling system.
Factors to consider when choosing a PC cooling solution include the physical size of the cooling unit (make sure it fits in the case and has the required connectors), airflow capability, and the amount of noise you can expect it to generate.
As its name suggests, the power supply delivers the electrical power needed for the computer to function. It also has to deliver that power reliably, without spikes.
Because the components in a gaming PC can have high power demands, the power supply is usually much bigger than in a typical computer. You’ll want to look for a high-efficiency power supply (the most efficient are Gold rated) to reduce electricity use and heat. It’s critical that it has sufficient wattage output to satisfy the power draw of all the components, so keep track of what each component requires.
Computer cases serve a very practical purpose: housing all the components of a PC.
On the most basic level, look for one that’s designed to fit your motherboard and components, with sufficient drive bays and ports, plus easy access. For a gaming PC, that’s likely going to mean a tower form factor. Some cases include cooling, some leave room for you to install your own.
When it comes to gaming PCs, there are plenty of computer case options to make a visual impression, including different colours, bold shapes, clear sides (all the better to see those high-powered components) and even customized LED lighting.
With the exception of virtual reality (when a VR headset is front and centre), no PC accessory has a bigger impact on your gaming experience than the monitor. Choosing a gaming monitor instead of an everyday monitor is a decision you won’t regret.
Gaming monitors are equipped with technology that optimizes the experience. This includes features like a high refresh rate, ultra-fast response time, a wide colour gamut, high contrast, anti-glare treatment and wide viewing angles. Many also offer adaptive sync technology that works with the video card to eliminate issues like screen tear.
If you are setting up a multi-monitor configuration, look for units with the thinnest possible bezels and ideally choose two or more of the same monitor for continuity.
Outside of the gaming-specific features, size, connectivity options and resolution are also important considerations.
Gaming headsets are the ideal accessory for any gaming desktop or laptop. They provide immersive audio, with detail that you might miss out on otherwise. Hearing a foe approach before you can see them is a real competitive advantage and some gaming headsets offer 5.1 channel and even 7.1 channel surround audio. An integrated microphone makes it easy to chat with other players. Popular features include active noise cancellation (eliminating background noise so you can focus), and Bluetooth wireless connectivity.
Headsets have the added advantage over built-in audio or speakers of not taking up any desk space, and they won’t annoy people sitting nearby.
For many PC games, the keyboard is the primary input method. Even when the game is mouse-driven, the keyboard still plays an important role. Choosing a gaming keyboard over a standard model offers real advantages over the competition.
N-key rollover means the end of ghosting. You can hit the multi-key combo and all the keys will register. Expect the keys to also offer longer life than on a standard keyboard. Many gaming keyboards support programmable macros, giving the advantage to quickly trigger multi-key combos. Backlighting is also a common feature, making it easier to play in dim lighting and often including support for custom lighting effects.
For maximum tactile response, many gamers opt for a gaming keyboard with mechanical switches. These offer better feedback and reduce the likelihood of an accidental, game-ending keystroke.
While wireless keyboards are commonplace, in the PC gaming world USB is still king. When every millisecond counts, a wired USB connection gives a gaming keyboard an edge over most wireless options.
A standard computer mouse is the default method for navigation. But it can’t compare to a specialized gaming mouse when it comes to the competitive world of PC gaming.
When you upgrade to a gaming mouse, you can expect superior ergonomics, with a mouse that’s designed to be comfortable to use for hours at a time. Expect precision, with some gaming mice offering laser tracking that also boasts a response time far superior to a standard mouse. Many PC gaming mice also include additional hot buttons that can be assigned to a game-specific action, along with macro support and even LED lighting effects.
With a gaming mouse acting as an extension of the gamer’s hand, they have significant advantage that will help them to dominate the competition.
When equipping your computer to be the ultimate PC gaming station, don’t forget the mousepad.
It’s easy to overlook the mousepad—some people use a mouse directly on their desktop—but that would be a mistake, especially in gaming. A mousepad that’s been optimized for gaming provides an even surface for consistent tracking, with some incorporating a specialized surface treatment to boost mouse accuracy and responsiveness. A mouse pad protects the surface you’re playing on and can also help to protect you, if you opt for a model with an ergonomic, integrated wrist rest.
Besides the potential functional and ergonomic benefits of using a mousepad, there is also the potential to make a visual statement by choosing a mousepad emblazoned with a favourite image or logo.
Take the next step
Enjoy the best that video gaming has to offer by finding the right gaming PC.
Check out the range of gaming computer options available at Best Buy.