Everything you need to know about gaming PCs

Video game consoles get all the headlines, but a quarter of Canadians play video games on their computer more often than a console or phone.[1] If you have a budding PC gamer in your house, a rig that can handle the speed and graphics of the latest games is an essential investment. This guide breaks down everything you need to know about buying a PC gaming desktop so you can choose a model that’s up to the task.

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1What is a gaming PC?

Yes, a normal PC can be used for gaming in some instances—at least within a web browser. But most PCs aren’t made to handle resource-intensive games like Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed.

A gaming PC, on the other hand, will typically have a more powerful central processing unit (CPU), a discrete graphics card and plenty of memory (RAM) to render prettier visuals. The result? It can run sophisticated games smoothly and reliably.

Some gaming PCs also have extras such as a solid-state drive (SSD) to cut down long load times or a liquid cooling system to reduce fan noise. These components tend to make gaming PCs more expensive than other computers.

2Gaming Laptops vs Desktops

Gaming laptop vs gaming desktop

Do you want the simplicity and portability of a gaming laptop or the power and flexibility of a gaming desktop? Choosing between the two formats is probably the toughest question most shoppers face. This quick comparison should help.

Computer Type Pros Cons
Gaming Laptop
  • You get nearly everything you need—computer, display and keyboard—in a single package.
  • It’s portable, which is handy for players who go to gaming parties.
  • You can always connect to a larger monitor or better speakers if you feel the need.
  • Gaming laptops typically aren’t as powerful as a similarly priced gaming desktop.
  • Components are a lot harder to swap out and upgrade.
  • Even though it’s portable, you won’t want to move too far from an outlet since gaming will quickly drain the battery.
Gaming Desktop
  • Dollar for dollar, you generally get more bang for your buck, which means smoother, more attractive graphics.
  • You can easily upgrade your rig by adding more memory, changing graphics cards, etc.
  • You can make it your own by customizing lighting, cooling systems and front panels.
  • It’s not as easy to move around or take to game parties (though plenty of gamers still do it).
  • Customizing or upgrading a desktop can create system instability if components aren’t compatible.
  • You’ll need to purchase the peripherals including a headset, monitor, speakers and often a keyboard and mouse.

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3Buying vs Building a Gaming PC

CyberPowerPC Gamer Xtreme pre-built pc gaming desktop This CyberPowerPC Gamer Xtreme desktop has a glass panel that reveals custom lighting.

Building your own gaming PC can give you major cred in the PC gamers community—and it’s not as hard as you might think. It’s mostly a matter of plugging in cards and wires and twisting some screws. The project can also be super fun and satisfying for kids (and their parents!) and helps teach technology literacy.

That said, building a gaming PC isn’t for everyone. Figuring out which parts are compatible with each other can be a chore. Plus, building your own gaming PC can actually end up costing more than buying one off the shelf. And unless you’re a slightly more advanced builder, your homemade PC probably won’t have the cool design features found in a pre-built gaming PC, like customizable LED lighting and liquid cooling systems.

If you do decide to build your own PC, you can find everything you need in Walmart’s PC components shop. Just make sure all the parts you choose are compatible with each other, either by checking manufacturer websites or using an online guide like PCPartPicker.

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4Key Gaming PC Specs

If you’re a PC gaming newbie, looking at a spec sheet is a sure-fire way to get your eyes to glaze over. There’s a bit of a trick to it, though: Check the graphics card, which is the heart of your gaming experience. If a gaming rig has a good graphics card, chances are high that the rest of the components will be equally impressive.

Admittedly, identifying a good graphics card isn’t always easy. Most are made by Nvidia and branded as GeForce. A GeForce 1660 is a good start for entry-level gamers, a GeForce 2060 is a step up, while a GeForce 3070 can render divine game graphics at high resolution. Basically, the higher the number, the better. The same general rule holds true for cards made by Nvidia’s chief competitor, AMD.

If you want to dig a little deeper, here are some other vital terms and specs to keep an eye on when shopping for gaming PCs.[2]

  • Memory (RAM): Gaming PCs start with eight gigabytes of RAM, but 16 or 32GB will make for a much smoother experience.
  • Central Processing Unit (CPU): Aim for a 10th-generation or newer Intel core for silky performance across all applications. Intel Core i5-10400F is 10th generation, for example, while Intel Core i9-11900KF is 11th generation. (We added the bold so you can see where Intel lists the generation in their model number.)
  • Solid-State Drive (SSD): SSDs are gradually replacing standard hard disk drives for storing data. They deliver much faster performance and load many games almost instantly.

5Gaming PC Brands

Regardless of which brand you choose—CyberPowerPC, Asus, MSI, Acer or HP, for example—you’ll end up with many of the same key components, all made by other companies. The main difference is how each brand puts the parts together and what sort of perks they add to individual models, from a smaller size and liquid cooling system to fancy lighting and a sleek chassis design.

In the end, it comes down to what you’re willing to spend on these perks and how important they are to you.

6Cost of a Gaming PC

A new desktop gaming PC can cost anywhere from $600 to several thousand dollars. Gaming laptops generally start around $1,000 and have a similar top end. If you want to run demanding games that max out graphics and performance, you’ll need a bigger budget.

If you do decide to drop a bit more money, your best bet is to spend on a graphics card like GeForce 3070, which will have the biggest impact on how your games look and perform.

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Article Sources

  1. Entertainment Software Association of Canada. Essential Facts About the Canadian Video Game Industry.
  2. Tom’s Hardware. How to Buy a Gaming Laptop.