First-Time Gaming PC Buyers: Your Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Right Hardware and Components
Craig Hume - MD @ Utopia
Hey folks, In this blog we will be looking at all you need to know before buying your first gaming PC. Perhaps you’re a parent whose kids want their first gaming PC, or maybe you’re a long-time console gamer and think that now is the time to make a move to a PC. Regardless this blog is going to cover the most commonly asked questions that I get about this topic, and by the end of this, you’re going to feel confident in making the right decisions when investing in your first gaming PC!
To keep things simple I have split this blog into 3 sections. In the first section, I will explain what makes PC gaming so special (heads up it’s really, really special!)
The second section is going to cover the commonly asked question, “Should I build a gaming PC, should I buy an off-the-shelf one, or should I have one custom-built?”
Finally, I’m going to look at the specifications that you should be looking at and give a quick overview of the critical components, so you know what’s what when choosing one configuration over another.
First up, what makes PC gaming so unique? Why not just stick with console gaming?
PCs are awesome, OK I’m seriously biased, but they are. They are the Ironmen of athletes, they can put their hand to anything and are great all-rounders. You see with a console, you can play games and talk to friends, it might even be able to stream Netflix, but it quickly runs out of talent. PCs are full-blown entertainment systems, with VPN tools allowing you to stream content from anywhere in the world, curating customisable libraries of music and film as well as being able to easily turn their hand to any home office or blended learning for schools, from PowerPoint to Adobe’s creative suite allowing you to get the best out of your home videos and pictures.
Once you’ve got all that sorted, free online learning tools allow you to learn to code and even design games if that takes your fancy.
And even if games are all you are interested in, Gaming PCs have, of course, got it covered. With a many Xbox and Playstation titles now available to own on PC as well as having a back catalogue of hundreds of thousands of titles to choose from. With gaming platforms like Steam allowing you to buy games for under a pound and Epic giving away a quality title game for free every month, once you have made your investment in your PC, finding new fun digital adventures will never have been so easy. Online indie platforms like Itch.io also offer plenty of choices while researching for this blog, I downloaded a fun little game called Everything is Garbage for free and had a blast playing it with my son for an hour or so...donation to that particular game dev incoming!
All the while when on a PC you are also learning about technology, how to keep it running smoothly, how to resolve any issues you might have and how things like hardware and software actually work.
PCs are also as individual as the gamers themselves. With each system being configured to suit the needs of the gamer. From entry-level systems at under £500 to full-blown custom painted, custom-designed systems at over £5,000. There is a PC out there for everyone, and that’s why buying one can be a little confusing.
So, now that you know that a Gaming PC is an excellent choice over a console, let's move on to the next section...
Should I build my Gaming PC, buy one off the shelf or have one custom-built for me?
The answer to this really comes down to you. To help you choose which one suits your best, I’m going to explain what that means and cover the top three reasons to buy this type of computer.
First up, building your gaming PC yourself. This means buying the parts, typically online from either one or more online retailers and assembling them, installing Windows, configuring the PC and testing yourself.
The reason to build yourself is three-fold:
- You want to learn more about the hardware itself - Exploring new hardware can be great fun, and learning how it all goes together can be very rewarding.
- You want to do it as a fun bonding project, perhaps with your kids or a friend - I’ve built PCs with both of my kids, and it takes a lego project to the next level!
- You have a genuine interest in problem-solving should something go wrong - It’s not all plain sailing, but for some, that’s part of the journey.
Reasons to avoid building yourself are:
- You want to save lots of cash - these days, you often won’t save much building yourself, and if you do something wrong, you can end up having to pay for a replacement part which can feel like a very expensive mistake.
- You want to save time - If this is your first build, expect there to be complications, and if you receive a faulty part, the time to return that part and exchange it can be frustrating.
- You want support should something go wrong months down the road - eTailers like Amazon often ask you to deal directly with the manufacturer should there be an issue. This can be a real pain if you have limited troubleshooting knowledge - sometimes not even knowing which part is causing the problem.
Next up, an off-the-shelf gaming PC from a high street retailer. Who should buy this? This means going to an indie PC Store or a larger chain like PC World and choosing from a PC that’s all boxed and ready to go.
Reasons to do this:
- Easy to buy and take home - Often getting to see the PC in person before buying and getting to take it home the same day
- In a good store, a salesperson will help guide you to the suitable gaming PC for your needs and not make you feel uncomfortable for not knowing too much about PCs.
- Simple warranty - if something goes wrong, you have a shop just down the road to return.
Why not buy an off-the-shelf pre-configured PC
- Hardware is often outdated before you buy. Due to the fast-moving nature of PC hardware, PCs that were designed only a few months ago can already be overpriced due to having older versions of hardware installed.
- Warranty is only as good as the store you buy from - make sure they are there to help should you have any questions that fall outside of the PC simply not turning on.
- Salespeople can be a double-edged sword, good ones are great, but bad ones can be difficult to deal with, in some cases making you feel awkward for not understanding the technology and, in extreme cases, not understanding your needs and selling you the wrong gaming PC.
Finally, a fully custom build PC. Who should buy one of these? Well, I might be biased, but a good custom-built gaming PC is the pinnacle of PC gaming. A good PC builder will spend time talking over your needs, explaining the options and tailoring a PC to suit you. They will also be there for you with the best after-sales care that you can get, for everything from your PC not turning on to helping you install an update for your favourite game *cough, Cough* shameless plug, but Utopia Computers won this year’s best system builder in the UK for the fith time - just saying!
So why buy a custom-built Gaming PC?
- You will be guided to help you choose exactly what you need to fit your budget
- You will get the latest hardware and software with the system being optimised to reach its maximum potential - a well-built PC is way more than just the sum of its parts.
- You will get the very best after-sales support for both technical issues and other general questions
Why not buy a custom-built PC
- You will often have to wait, sometimes up to two weeks, for your PC to be delivered
- Buying off the shelf or building yourself will likely be a little cheaper
- There is a learning curve that a good builder will help with to purchase a custom gaming PC online.
Now I know where I’m buying my PC, what Spec gaming PC should I buy?
OK, so you’ve decided on how you’ll buy your Gaming PC; next up is getting to grips with what we call the specification of the PC...with all those numbers, where do you even begin?
The spec you need comes down to three key areas, I think three is the magic number for this blog!
- How much you want to spend, your budget - at the end of the day, you can only spend so much, so this will be a key factor in what specs you can go for. It’s worth saying £1000+ has long been the sweet spot for a good quality all-round gaming PC.
- What games you’re going to play? Games like Fortnite run on practically anything; however, games like Call of Duty and Cyberpunk 2077 will need a powerful computer to get the best out of them.
- What monitor or TV are you connecting to? If you are planning on connecting to an HD TV or monitor, you will need a lot less power than if planning on connecting to a 4K 144Hz screen (more on that in a bit!)
Before we go any further, I think it’s important to mention that PC gaming is very different from console gaming. On a console, every gamer experiences each game in the same manner. The graphics, the sound, and even the controllers are all almost identical. Yeah, you can have a nicer TV and a cool modded controller, but at its core, the game and the experience are the same as someone running on an old TV with the controller that came with the console.
PC gaming is very different. Almost every game comes with a wealth of settings to allow you to customise the graphics and sound to suit your setup and style. For some gamers, it’s all about pure speed to be competitive online, in which case they optimise the speed settings. For other gamers they want the most photo-realistic settings, enjoying the visuals that can be had with a high-end gaming PC. With this in mind, two gamers can be playing the same game but seeing and hearing a very different experience depending on their system specifications and their individual preferences. Then there are the accessories, with gaming Keyboard, Mice, headsets and more, allowing games to further customise their setups and eek out every last bit of performance in-game.
So what specs do you need to think about?
The Four key aspects of your PC (yeah, we moved on from threes!) are
- Graphics Card and Monitor
There are other components, but I’m going to hold them off for a separate blog as I think they go outside of the scope of this beginner's guide.
Let’s start with the CPU. This is the brain of your computer, in the past, it was the most important component, but for gaming these days, the graphics card is arguably the key part. Your CPU will be measured in two key ways, its speed, measured in GHz or frequency and the number of cores the CPU has. Think of cores as being individual CPUs within the main CPU. In 2022, most good gaming PCs will come with a 4 or 6-core CPU with a frequency of around 4GHz. 8 core processors running at up to almost 5GHz are becoming the norm in higher-end gaming PCs. My top pick here would be something like AMDs 5600X CPU or the newer 7600x if your budget allows it.
Next up RAM. RAM is where information is stored as your computer works on any task, from loading when turned on to blasting its way through your latest game. 8GB of RAM has long been seen as the minimum for a gaming PC, with 16GB now becoming the norm due to low memory prices at the moment. 32GB is seen in higher-end gaming PCs, with games like Fight Sim 2020 taking advantage of this amount of RAM. Truth be told, most games can’t utilise 32GB amount of RAM effectively, meaning 16GB is still a sweet spot. Kingston HyperX RAM has long been a Utopia Favourite.
Now Graphics Card is the most important part of your Gaming PC, this card puts the picture on the screen and is responsible for a huge amount of computational work when gaming. While there are lots of brands of cards, they all choose between either Nvidia or AMD chipsets. Nvidia is my go-to at the moment, with cards like Nvidia’s RTX series being able to realistically mimic real reflections in real-time (this is called Raytracing) to produce real-time gaming graphics, the likes of which were thought impossible only a couple of years ago. 6GB of VRAM - this is the memory your graphics card uses is the sweet spot now, with cards like the 1660 being the minimum all-round card at the time of writing and the RTX 3060 being the mind ranger king and the RTX 3070 being the start of the high-end options. AMD’s cards are exciting too, but Nivida graphics is what I currently recommend due to the track record for stability and reliability. I mentioned earlier that monitors are important. I’ve got a whole other blog planned on why you should use a monitor over a TV when PC gaming, but in short, if you want a high-performing monitor with a 120Hz or above refresh rate, be sure to get a graphics card that is capable of supporting the native resolution of the screen at this rate. Your system builder or retailer will keep you right here.
Finally, storage is where you will keep all your files and games, as well as Windows itself and any applications you might want to install, like Microsoft Office and Adobe. For everyday use, a single drive will do you just fine, but if you want a pro-level setup, then you would be best to think about having a couple of drives
Your first drive will be for Windows and games. An SSD or M.2 NVMe, if your budget allows, is what you want here. You want to stay well clear of a mechanical Hard Disk Drive. Hard Drives are super slow and will make even the best gaming PCs slow to use and load. 1TB SSD is the sweet spot for most gamers. Again, Kingston is a super reliable brand with good performance to opt for in this space.
Second, you want a working drive for your photos, videos and perhaps games that you don’t play often but want to be installed just in case. You can add something like a 2TB hard drive for this purpose, and your PC's performance won’t suffer, except when trying to play games installed on this drive.
One last thing to consider is the looks and feel of your PC. As mentioned at the start of this video, gaming PCs can be as unique as the gamers who play on them. LEDs, braided cables, water cooling - all adding to the custom look of your new PC. Of course, options like this will add to the final cost of your PC.
So there you have it; we now know why Gaming PCs are cool if we are going to build, buy or have one custom made and we have an idea of the key specs and what they mean.
If you still have some questions sure to get in touch with us. We can help with any type of Gaming PC, even if you’re thinking of building your own! More than anything, try and enjoy this process. Learning about gaming PC and the technology involved can be great fun.