Why Buy a Gaming PC?
The top performers in our review are the XOTIC PC Recon, the Gold Award winner; the Digital Storm Vanquish 5, the Silver Award winner; and the CyberPowerPC Zeus Evo Lightning 1000, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a gaming computer to meet your needs, along with details on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 systems.
How to Choose a Gaming PC
Gaming desktop computers have unique performance benefits compared to traditional game consoles. Along with running office programs and other common applications, custom gaming PCs often run PC games at higher resolutions than game consoles. If you're unfamiliar with how to build your own computer, gaming PC manufacturers can take care of the work for you. Besides performing standard tasks such as hardware installation, trained gaming PC builders can safely and neatly organize cables and install a liquid cooling system.
Compared with other classes of computers, gaming desktops are optimized for serious action; they have large hard drives, excellent cases and the ability to play games at high visual settings without performance issues. We looked at several top gaming PC manufacturers and compared base configurations at a price point of around $1,000 to $1,500.
To keep our comparisons consistent across brands, we selected review models from a comparably priced pool of stock configurations. However, many manufacturers also offer part-by-part premium customization options for their PCs; such models are featured in our custom gaming PCs reviews.
Gaming PCs: What We Tested, What We Found
When purchasing a gaming desktop computer, the key buying considerations are its graphics performance and processing speed. Our colleagues at Tom's Hardware and Anandtech conducted extensive benchmark tests and gathered data on the performance of both of these components. We drew on those evaluations to find the estimated capabilities for each gaming PC's default graphics card and processor.
These numbers won't necessarily be identical to your gaming computer – performance is based on a variety of factors, including a computer's memory, processor and video card. Still, because these numbers are taken from test computers with components fast enough to avoid constraining a given processor or graphics card, they establish a performance ceiling. For instance, if an Anandtech-tested graphics runs the game Crysis 3 at a frame rate of 38 frames per second (fps), it won't run faster than this frame rate on a stock configured system. Since some gaming enthusiasts understand and use such test results, we’ve reported them in our comparison so you can precisely evaluate your options based on this information.
Overall, graphics performance for the gaming PCs covered in our review is consistently high. That’s unsurprising given that all of our evaluated models use relatively high-end graphics cards. Within the group, you can play games at resolutions and visual settings that are better than current-generation video game consoles.
Similarly, since they all use mainstream processors, processing speed for the group ranges from reliably fast to extra speedy with high-end models. Those with the slowest performance, relatively speaking, can struggle with processor-intensive tasks like video compression when compared with their newer, faster counterparts. Newer chips generally benefit from more efficient design in areas like power consumption and processing ability.
What Else Is Important in Selecting a Gaming PC?
While there are many other attributes of gaming PCs, the following areas are among those we emphasized in our scoring. For more information, check out our articles on gaming PCs.
Storage: Where Do Your Files Go?
Hard drives are a crucial part of any computer – they store everything from music files to the operating system – but they are especially vital for gaming users. With game sizes averaging between 20GB and 50GB, high-capacity hard drives are a requirement for your gaming PC.
For customizable systems, multi-terabyte hard drives can capably handle your game library and other files. Further, solid-state hard drives and setups with multiple hard drives offer additional storage flexibility. While solid-state hard drives traditionally have smaller capacities of under 1TB, their faster data transfer rates make them useful for high-demand system resources. Similarly, multiple hard drive setups provide additional storage, and when set up in a RAID array, can also transfer data faster.
Cooling: How to Keep Your PC Cool?
Computers traditionally rely on fans to circulate hot air out of the case and keep components from overheating. For high-demand gaming PC users, liquid cooling is an efficient alternative. Liquid cooled PCs rely on a series of radiators, fluid and tubing to transfer heat away from high-use components like graphics cards and CPUs. This allows them to operate safely when run at high-clock speeds for better performance.
A handful of the models in our lineup have liquid cooling as an available upgrade. Liquid cooling setups are typically expensive to install and maintain, which make them less-feasible options for a budget-limited gaming PCs. In addition, self-installation can be equally difficult, since loose bearings can cause leaks and damage your computer's components. Still, by reducing operating temperatures, liquid cooling is a feature that can lengthen the life and increase the reliability of your gaming machine.
Gaming PCs: Our Verdict & Recommendations
The XOTIC PC Recon, Digital Storm Vanquish 5 and CyberPowerPC Zeus Evo Lightning rank among our best gaming PCs because of their focus on high performance at competitive price points. XOTIC PC offers a full suite of customization options for the Recon, and its high-end NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 graphics card provides excellent gaming performance. Similarly, Digital Storm Vanquish 5's high-end Intel Core i7 processor and NVIDIA graphics card can handle games or general work with ease. The CyberPowerPC Zeus Evo Lightning's base AMD CPU is an excellent processor, and the configuration's low price tag gives it ample room for checkout upgrades.
Other highlights include the Alienware X51 and Acer Predator G6. While neither offer extensive flexibility for customization, their high-end specifications are competitive with the best gaming PCs.