First of all, what is it that makes a gaming desktop… a gaming desktop? Is it some special component not found in traditional desktop PCs, or is it a way of design that classifies a certain desktop PC as a gaming desktop? Well, the truth is that a gaming desktop is basically a regular desktop PC, but designed with the primary workload being to run video games.
How well it runs those games depends on the hardware inside, as well as the cost of the desktop PC. Just like a racing car is basically a really fast car, a gaming desktop is a really fast desktop PC. We say PC, because Macs and Linux machines don’t really run a whole lot of games, and most NVIDIA as well as AMD drivers are designed around the Windows OS.
So how do you select a gaming desktop for your needs? Let’s say you are new to all of this, you might not know a whole lot about computer hardware. Maybe you just want to play some games, but don’t know how much you need to spend or what parts you require in your gaming desktop PC. Well, worry not- in this guide we shall take an objective approach to selecting the appropriate gaming desktop PC for YOUR specific needs.
The costliest PC is not always the best, and you need to choose whatever suits you. Some people want to play first person shooters online, some want to play open world third person RPGs and adventure type games, while others are interested in MMOs or strategy based games. Gaming desktops are designed to run all these kinds of games, but some games favor a more powerful graphics card while other games are more CPU reliant.
Before you purchase a gaming desktop, you need to understand what the most important parts of a gaming desktop are, and how it functions. When we say, “gaming PC” or “gaming desktop”, we are referring to the actual computer itself and not any of the I/O or display peripherals such as the mouse, speakers, monitor, etc.
The computer or CPU case contains the following major components- motherboard, processor, RAM, storage, graphics card, CPU cooler, PSU (SMPS), and in some cases a sound card. There might also be an optical disk drive. What each one of those components does will be discussed in the forthcoming section.
Custom Built or Prebuilt?
Custom built desktops are primarily for advanced users, although almost anyone can do a bit of research on the internet and gather parts for his or her first custom PC. There has always been a notion amongst the gamer populace that custom built computers cost less than prebuilt systems and offer the user more options for choosing the features that he or she likes. While they may or may not be cheaper, custom built machines sure do offer more choices as far as features or components are concerned, since you are the one who chooses what parts go inside.
Prebuilt machines have improved significantly in recent years- they are now cheaper, and if you choose the right brand then you can get the same components that you would have in your own custom-built desktop for a very comparable price.
Besides, the biggest pro to purchasing a prebuilt is that you don’t have to assemble the parts, they come preassembled. All you need to do is take the system out of the box, plug it in, and play games. Windows come preinstalled too, and the entire system is covered by a unified warranty. You don’t get that advantage with a custom-built system, since you have to apply for warranties on individual parts if something goes wrong in a PC that you assembled yourself.
The Main Components of a Gaming Desktop PC
Here, we have listed the most important components of a gaming desktop PC in the order of decreasing importance, i.e. the most important component comes first, the second most important one after that, and so on.
Notice that we have not listed the motherboard in here, since we are primarily focusing on prebuilt systems in this article, hence the motherboard that comes with the package is likely not a major concerning factor since it supports all the installed components by default and usually has some room for future upgrades. If you want to know more about motherboards and specific features, you can look that up on the internet since it would be too vast of a topic on its own and is beyond the scope of this article.
If you are content with purchasing a prebuilt system, know that most 1000 dollar and above machines will allow you to add an extra GPU or HDD/ SSD in the future, since there is at least one PCI slot free on the board along with a few SATA III ports.
Specific features such as RAID, overclocking, RGB lighting, intelligent fan control, SLI, CrossFire, etc. are for advanced users only, and if you are one of them then you probably want to build a custom PC. We shall discuss on that in a future article, for now let’s talk about the basics.
The processor is what we know as the “brains” of the desktop PC. It is a microprocessor chip that takes instructions and processes them to give results, and is also known as the CPU or central processing unit. There are many types of CPUs to choose from, and you will find processors with as few as 2 cores, to as many as 8 or even 10 cores.
Most gaming desktops use quad-core processors from the i5 and i7 family. There are i7 processors with 6, 8, and even 10 cores, but those are mostly used in extremely expensive high-end gaming rigs, or workstation PCs for heavy duty tasks such as 4K footage editing and 3D modelling/ content creation.
You will also find gaming desktops that use Ryzen series processors from AMD- these are the best multicore chips for the price and despite being released a few months ago, are offering heavy competition to Intel’s i5 and i7 series processors.
Most prebuilt computers still use Intel, but we recommend that you stay away from any gaming desktop that uses an old FX series chip from AMD. That processor architecture is both extremely inefficient as well as weak compared to Intel’s 4th generation and above Core i5/i7 CPUs.
If you get an AMD based desktop, make sure it has a Ryzen CPU in it. Ryzen 1700, 1700x, 1800, and 1800x are the way to go for gaming/ workstation desktops. They offer more cores for less price, and are very power efficient as well as much faster than previous generation AMD CPUs.
Strategy games and MOBAs tend to utilize the CPU more than other genres of games, hence we recommend an overclockable i5 or i7 processor if you want to play games such as Civilization, DOTA, LOL, etc. Any game based on the source engine from Valve is also likely to be CPU-intensive.
2. Graphics Card-
This is the muscle behind any gaming PC- graphics cards run all of the video processing tasks in games. GPUs compute the shadows and lighting, store textures and display them, process the shaders and character models, and basically serve as the core for all of the graphical experience that is provided by a video game.
If you plan on playing 3rd person open world games from 2016 and later, you better have a beefy graphics card. We recommend a Pascal series GPU from NVIDIA, or a Radeon RX 400/ 500 series graphics card if you decide to go with AMD. The RX 560 is a great option for e-sports titles such as CS GO, DOTA, LOL, Overwatch, etc. while the RX 570 makes for an amazing budget 1080p option (The GTX 1050 and 1050ti are NVIDIAs response to the RX 560 and 570 respectively).
We suggest a GTX 1060 6GB card from NVIDIA, or a RX 580 8GB card from AMD if you want a system that can run any game at 1080p and 60+ fps on high settings for the next couple of years. Make sure your graphics card has at least 3-4 GB of video memory, and is based on architecture released no earlier than 2016.
How much RAM do you need for just gaming? The answer is- 8GB-16GB depending on what games you play and how future proof you want to be. If you don’t play a lot of demanding games, even 6GB of memory will do fine, but if you want to game and run background applications at the same time, then 8 GB is the minimum that we recommend.
DDR4 is the standard choice nowadays, especially with the release of Skylake and Kaby Lake from Intel, as well as Ryzen from AMD. If you are into content creation, then you will need upwards of 24 GB, possibly as much as 64 GB depending on your particular workload. Just gaming however, will not consume any more than 16 GB of RAM.
It is recommended that you pack at least 1 TB of storage if you want to keep all of your games and movies and songs in one place. Desktop PCs give you the option to add more storage later, since they are much easier to upgrade as compared to laptops.
You can add more RAM, more storage, or even change the processor/ graphics card. Of course, the new processor must be compatible with the socket of your motherboard, and the new graphics card needs to have a power requirement within the limits of the PSU installed in your computer.
There are many ways to go about storage, but the most tried and trusted way to do it is to have a single 128 GB/ 256 GB SSD as your boot drive and game storage drive, along with a 1 TB/ 2TB HDD for mass storage. You can keep the most frequently used software and games on the SSD along with the OS, while the HDD will store all your documents, movies, songs, videos, etc.
Selecting the Right Gaming Desktop
Before you buy a gaming desktop, there are two questions that you need to ask yourself-
- What games do you plan on playing?
- At what graphical preset do you expect to play those games?
You also need to consider the fact that 60 fps is the minimum for an enjoyable and smooth gaming experience. At framerates of 25-30, the games will feel extremely choppy and lag will be significantly higher, destroying your gaming experience.
If you ask us, we will recommend a mix of medium to high settings as long as you are able to keep above the 60-fps line. Going for the ultra-preset at the expense of framerate is simply not worth it, especially in e-sports titles such as CS GO, LOL, DOTA, Overwatch, etc. or pretty much any online shooter such as R6 Siege or Battlefield 1, COD, etc.
Now, once you have decided what games you plan on playing, consider the resolution at which you will be playing them. Are you content with 1080p? Or is 1440p what you want to go for, since it is slowly becoming the new 1080p? 4k is extremely rare and requires a beefy graphics card such as a GTX 1080 or 1080ti.
Next, think about the refresh rate of the monitor- while 60 Hz is standard, more people are beginning to experience and understand the advantage of 144Hz monitors. The jump from 60 to 144 Hz is not as visually significant as going from 30 fps to 60 fps, but it becomes apparent after a few weeks of playing on 144 Hz, and after you are used to 144, even Windows will feel choppy and weird when you go back to 60Hz.
Remember that running a game on 120+ fps and 1080p is almost as taxing on your GPU and CPU as running a game at 1440p and 60 fps. We recommend an NVIDIA GTX 1060 6GB/ AMD RX 580 for smooth 60+ fps at 1080p on high to ultra-presets on most games.
If you are content with a mix of medium to high settings, then go for a GTX 1050ti/ RX 570. The AMD RX 570 is about 15-20% faster than the NVIDIA 1050ti, but also costs slightly more and draws more power. If your goal is to primarily play games such as CS GO, Overwatch, DOTA 2, or League of Legends, then we recommend the GTX 1050 or RX 460/ 560.
Next up, you need to consider the CPU- a Core i3 from the last 1-2 years will be sufficient to game on medium settings and 60 fps, but if you plan on gaming at 100+ fps and high to ultra-settings, we recommend at least a Core i5. An overclockable or k-series Core i5 is even better, since you can overclock it to achieve performance similar to a non-overclocked Core i7 CPU.
Overclocking can increase game performance by as much as 25-30%, or even more in certain CPU-intensive games such as DOTA 2 or CS GO. RAM should be at least 8 GB, and optimally 16 GB. Skylake series processors from Intel are the most popular at the moment, although many of the newer, 7th gen Intel Kaby Lake processors can also be found in prebuilt systems.
The difference in performance between two similarly priced Sky Lake and Kaby Lake CPUs is very small, it is just the fact that Kaby Lake is clocked slightly higher that gives it a 5-10% speed increase. The actual IPC gained by going from Sky Lake to Kaby Lake is virtually non-existent.
Once you have the CPU, GPU, and RAM decided upon, the rest is not a big deal. Prebuilt systems usually come with a motherboard that allows you to add extra storage and RAM in the future. If you plan on running a surround sound setup with 5.1 or 7.1 channel speakers, you could add a soundcard. But that’s about it- now let’s take a look at some of the best prebuilt gaming desktops in various price ranges.
Gaming Desktops Under 500:
While this particular desktop PC is not exactly under the price of 500 dollars, it is very close to that mark. And for a few extra bucks, you are actually getting a lot of bonus features and significantly better processing power compared to other sub 500-dollar prebuilt gaming desktops.
The best part about this particular desktop is that it comes with an Intel 7th generation Core i5 7400, a very capable quad core CPU based on Intel’s latest and greatest Kaby Lake architecture. This CPU is miles ahead of the AMD FX 6300 hexacore Vishera-based processor, or even the AMD FX 8320 octa-core processor. It is better than any Core i3 CPU, and is even found in mid-range gaming rigs that cost upwards of a thousand dollars.
We believe that this processor makes the iBuyPower Chimera AM008i well worth the extra price, and it still costs well below 700 so you are not exactly spending a whole lot of money considering the hardware that you are getting.
This prebuilt gaming desktop also packs an AMD RX 460 graphics card with 2 GB of GDDR5 VRAM. Make no mistake, this card is extremely good for its size and power draw, it is way more powerful than the GT series graphics cards from NVIDIA such as the GT 630, 730, 750, etc. It directly competes with the GTX 1050 2GB model from NVIDIA, and is about 10% behind on average while comparing in-game performance.
Remember though, that the 1050 costs slightly more than the 460. The RX 460 draws very little power and can be swapped out for a better GPU such as the GTX 1050ti or some next generation low-end graphics card from either AMD or NVIDIA in the future.
You will be able to play games at 1080p and 60 fps on a mix of medium-high settings with this computer from iBuyPower. It is a console killer, offering much better performance than either an XBOX One or a PS4, at a slightly higher price.
Well, if you count in the fact that you can both work as well as play on this desktop, it is a far superior machine than any current generation console. The 8 GB of high speed 2400 MHz DDR4 RAM allows you to play any game, and run background applications at the same time. There is 1 TB of storage onboard, in the form of a 5400 rpm HDD, as well as a 128 GB SSD for super-fast game loading and booting.
Yes, the 128 GB SSD comes with Windows 10 Home 64-bit preinstalled. The case has built-in lighting along with a nice transparent side panel to offer a magnificent view of the interiors. The rear exhaust fan lights up in red, thanks to LEDs. The front of the PC has a beautiful RED led line running all the way from the top to the bottom, along with an illuminated iBuyPower logo. You get a complimentary gaming mouse and keyboard from iBuyPower, along with a 802.11 ac wireless adapter.
Gaming Desktops Under 1000:
Packing an Intel Core i5 7400 CPU and an AMD RX 480 4GB video card, this is the perfect midrange gaming PC for playing at 1080p, 60 fps. It can run games such as the Witcher 3, GTA V, Rainbow Six Siege, Overwatch, Battlefield 1, Prey, etc. on high details, and 60+ frames per second.
The 4 GB version of the RX 480 performs identically to the 8 GB version, except in cases where the game requires more than 4 GB VRAM to function. This is the case with a few games that have ultra-texture modes, for example- DOOM 2016, Mirrors Edge 2, and a few more. Not all games have an ultra-texture preset, and those that do will need more than 4 GB of VRAM.
The Core i5 7400 runs at a base clock of 3.0 GHz, with a boost clock of around 3.4 GHz. It has 4 physical cores with no hyperthreading, and in this particular instance it is paired with a B250 motherboard. The processor has 8 GB of 2400 MHz DDR4 RAM to assist it, meaning that multitasking should be a breeze.
You can watch movies, download updates, run a virus scan, have multiple windows opened, along with a game/ content creation software running in the foreground and the system will still not lag. You can upgrade the RAM by adding in extra sticks later in the future if you wish, all the way up to 32 GB.
There is a beefy 1 TB 5400 rpm HDD onboard for mass storage, and it comes with Windows 10 64-bit preinstalled. There is a 24X DVD+/- RW dual layer optical disk drive, along with HDMI and Display Port for output to the monitor. Connectivity is provided through 6 USB 3.0 ports, 2 USB 2.0 ports, a single RJ 45 LAN port, and a complimentary 802.11 ac Wireless adapter. There is 7.1 channel onboard audio built into the motherboard, and you get a free gaming keyboard + mouse combo from iBuyPower.
The Gamer Panzer PVR1050 boasts some really powerful hardware under the hood, and it looks as good as any other premium gaming desktop out there. It is built inside the famous Phanteks P400 Eclipse mid-tower ATX case, and is decorated with remote-controlled RGB lighting strips on the inside from DeepCool.
The exterior of the case looks very sleek and futuristic, with ample room for airflow in the form of cutout vents that are hidden beneath the top shroud and under the front panel. The bottom of the front panel features RGB lighting that can be controlled through the external buttons on the case.
Inside the case, you will find a beastly Core i5 6600k CPU that is paired with a Z170 gaming motherboard for fully unlocked overclocking potential. You can easily push the 6600k to 4.2 GHz on standard air cooling, that is a long way above its base speed of 3.5 GHz. Only k-series processors are officially supported for overclocking in the Skylake processor family, and you also need a Z170 chipset based motherboard to overclock them.
You will find many prebuilt computers that offer k-series SKUs but pack them with B250 chipsets, meaning that you are basically wasting the potential of the CPU by pairing it with a motherboard that does not support overclocking.
How much of a difference will overclocking make? Depends on the game, but anywhere between 10-25% increase in FPS based on the amount of overclocking as well as the game that you are playing. We do know from personal experience that overclocking delivers a significant FPS increase in source engine based games such as Dota 2 and CS GO. It also affects games such as Witcher 3, GTA V, Battlefield 1, etc. Modern graphical UI based UEFI bios packages make overclocking very easy, all you have to do is tweak the CPU multiplier and core voltage, just look up a couple of online guides on YouTube and you are good to go.
The graphics is handled by an 8GB RX 480, which is fully capable of running any game on high or ultra-settings. The 8 GB of VRAM means that you can enable the ultra-quality preset on some games that will not accept any less than 4GB of VRAM (DOOM 2016, Mirrors Edge 2, Gears of War, etc.).
The RX 480 is also VR-ready so you can enjoy VR games on the Vive or Rift. The 2 TB HDD comes with Windows 10 Home 64-bit preloaded. A complimentary 802.11 ac Wireless adapter comes for free, as does a gaming keyboard + mouse combo from iBuyPower. One-year warranty on parts and labor, along with lifetime tech support.
Gaming Desktops Under 1500:
With an Intel Core i7 7700 and a GTX 1070 8GB GDDR5 GPU under the hood, this gaming desktop is definitely classified as a “high-end” machine. It has a pretty high price tag too, costing more than 1000 dollars. While it may be out of the budget of most of our readers, the select few who can afford to get their hands on one of these will be thoroughly pleased. It is worth every penny, and looks like it means business.
The exterior is a dark metallic grey with brushed finish, and the side features a screwed-in transparent plastic see through panel that gives you a wonderful view of the hardware inside. The interior is lit up with blue LEDs and the processor is liquid cooled.
Liquid cooling means that the CPU will run much cooler, even though it is not an overclocked Core i7. Even stock coolers can keep a non-k SKU processor cool, but they don’t do a very efficient job and are definitely not as long lasting as aftermarket coolers.
Besides, this case doesn’t have the best airflow and with an MSI Armor GTX 1070 card in there, we suspect that a cheap air cooler will not do a very good job of keeping everything cool. Expensive twin tower air coolers are as expensive as single fan 140mm AIO loops, and this desktop packs a Raidmax waterblock on the processor with a 140-mm fan to keep the radiator cool.
The motherboard is an MSI Bazooka B250M, and the power supply is a Thermaltake Smart 600W unit. The RAM is DDR4, consists of two 8GB Geil PC4-19200 CL 16-16-16-36 sticks running at 2400 MHz stock, can be overclocked. The CPU rarely goes above 32-25 degrees while gaming, and the graphics card stays under 55-60 degrees for the most part.
There is an LG 24X DVD +/- RW optical disk drive, along with 6 USB 3.0 ports and dual USB 2.0 ports for connectivity. The 2TB Toshiba HDD comes with Windows Home 64-bit preinstalled. CyberPowerPC did not cut any corners on quality, as a result of which the system runs really cool and silent even under load. As usual, you get the complimentary 802.11 ac wireless adapter, along with a USB gaming keyboard + mouse combo.
Unlike the previous model which had the regular non-overclockable Core i7 7700, this particular gaming desktop comes with an Intel Core i7 7700k, meaning that you can gain some extra turbo speeds over the regular, non-k SKU.
Unfortunately, it comes with a B250 chipset based motherboard, meaning that you can’t manually overclock it unless you use an older BIOS and do some tweaking that could potentially harm your warranty. Still, 4.2 GHz is not at all a bad clock speed for any Core i7 processor, although a Z270 chipset would have allowed you to hit speeds in excess of 4.7 GHz.
There is no need to worry, since this is one of the cheapest prebuilt gaming desktops to offer a Core i7 7700k paired with an NVIDIA GTX 1080 8GB card.
The GTX 1080 is a monster of a graphics card, beat only by the 1080ti when it comes to gaming. Yes, there is also the Titan XP, but that costs more than twice as much as a 1080 for about 25% more performance, and is matched or even beat in some cases by the 1080ti.
To put things in perspective, you can play games in 4k resolution and 60+ fps with the GTX 1080 graphics card and Core i7 7700k CPU. That is of course, assuming that you own a 4k TV or monitor in the first place, since those are so damn expensive at the moment. They will become slightly more affordable over the coming 2-3 years, but for now 1440p is the best resolution to game at if you own a 1080.
Purchasing a GTX 1080 desktop to game at 1080p is absolutely overkill, unless you want to hit 200+ fps on your 240 Hz esports monitor. Which is why, we suggest you either get a 1440p, 60 Hz display if you don’t already own one or a 4K, 60 Hz display. Or, you can simply run 2-3 displays at the same time using the power of your GTX 1080.
You can setup multiple monitors to stream and game at the same time, or you might be a content creator with interest in graphics design, CAD, 4k footage editing, etc. in which case you probably work on multiple monitors at the same time. There is 8 GB of DDR4 RAM onboard, and the 1 TB HDD comes with Windows 10 Home 64-bit preinstalled.
Gaming Desktops Under 2000:
There has been a lot of hype surrounding AMD’s new processor architecture- Ryzen. AMD had not developed a new CPU design since 2012, and that was almost 5 years ago. That is why Intel was running rampant, and gained such a huge market share.
How many laptops have you seen in recent times that use AMD processors? How many desktops do you know of that use AMD processors? There is a reason nobody wanted to purchase AMD CPUs for gaming in the last 2 years or so- because Intel was offering much more powerful processors that also ran cooler and consumed less power- albeit at a higher price. But we as gamers had no choice… until Ryzen showed up.
The 1700x processor is a multitasking monster- it has 8 cores and 16 threads to work with, thanks to AMDs own version of hyperthreading called SMT or simultaneous multi-threading that allows one physical core to process two threads at the same time.
The 1700x is a direct competitor to the Intel Core i7 6820k, 6900x, and 6950x, despite being priced at well below half their price. It completely obliterates the 7700k in multitasking, although the 7700k still manages to barely surpass it in certain games thanks to the higher clock speed. We all know that games love clock speed over cores, but that is about to change since developers are gradually beginning to think ahead and are optimizing games to take advantage of multiple cores.
In about 1-2 years, people will forget about dual cores (looking at i3s here), and even quad cores will be regarded as budget CPU’s. So, by purchasing this desktop you are guaranteeing yourself a great gaming experience for the next 4-5 years. It is a beast at multitasking and content creation, so you can record and stream game footage while playing the game and still experience no lag.
In fact, AMD marketed their new architecture by doing side by side comparisons of two otherwise identical systems. One was using a Ryzen octa-core and the other was using a Core i7 7700k. The Core i7 system played the game fine, but could not stream and game at the same time. The Ryzen on the other had with literally twice the number of cores and threads, could do both streaming and gaming without showing any signs of lag.
It is no secret, numerous tech review sites and YouTube channels have tested Ryzen since the day it launched, and Ryzen has only gotten better since then with driver and BIOS optimizations. Yes, the CyberPowerPC SLC8500AD Gaming Desktop is expensive, but is liquid cooled and packs a Ryzen 1700x CPU along with the world’s most powerful gaming graphics card- a GTX 1080ti 11GB.
It also packs 16 GB of DDR4 RAM, that you can upgrade to 64 GB if you wish, or even 128 GB since the motherboard allows you to go that far. You can add 4-5 more hard drives if you wish, but we believe the 2 TB HDD and 256 SSD will be enough for most gamers. The SSD comes with Windows 10 Home 64-bit preinstalled.
The SLC8600A from CyberPowerPC is recommended over the SLC8500AD only, and only if your primary goal is to play video games. If you are interested in content creation, heavy multitasking, streaming, or anything of that sort- stop reading this and buy the previous model with your eyes closed.
With that said though, there is a reason we recommend the SLC8600A even though it comes with a Core i7 7700k CPU, a processor that is destroyed in mistaking and productivity oriented workloads by the technically far superior AMD Ryzen 1700x, used in the SLC8500A. You see, most of today’s games and the games which will be released in the next 1-2 years will still favor clock over core count.
And the Core i7 7700k is the fastest processor in terms of clock speeds that Intel has ever made. It can hit 5 GHz with liquid cooling, and delivers the highest framerates in competitive esports titles such as Overwatch, CS GO, DOTA 2, etc. It also performs about 10-15% faster than the Ryzen 1700x or even the 1800x in most games as of now.
Note, we say “as of now”. This is guaranteed to change in the future, but for now the 7700k is the bang for buck king of gaming-only CPUs. Soon, game developers will learn to code for the new Ryzen architecture, soon we shall see games that require at least 4 cores to run.
But you are a man of the present, this is probably the best single-graphics gaming configuration on Earth right now. Yes, there are configurations with 2,3, and even 4 graphics cards, and 2 Xeon server grade CPUs, but those are for productivity and professional workloads. If you want the most possible fps in any given game as of 2017, buy this desktop from CyberPowerPC.
Did we mention that the Core i7 7700k is liquid cooled, and the graphics card is a GTX 1080ti, the most powerful gaming graphics card ever made? And yeah, there is 32 GB of DDR4 RAM and a 3 TB HDD for you to play with. And, a 240 GB SSD that comes with Windows 10 Home 64-bit preinstalled. There is a tempered glass side panel on the case, and the interiors are adorned with customizable RGB lighting that you can control via a remote control.