We often get asked for advise from customers who have a rough idea of what they are trying to achieve but are just not quiet sure what the best configuration for their particular needs is.
For the purposes of this article we are going to make a few basic assumptions.
- Primary Use : Gaming
By far the most common and often the trickiest to determine with a lot of conflicting information floating around online.
- Goal : Best value for money
Isn’t this always the goal? Well not always, a lot of our customers do like to splurge on aesthetics with bigger coolers, RGB LEDs and high end fancy chassis. Our recommendation below won’t take aesthetics in to account as it’s too subjective. That being said, you can always use this guide as a jumping off point for the performance aspect and make a few tweaks or additions to get it exactly how you like it!
- Availability : Right Now!
In the world of PC hardware, something new is always around the corner and you can always find someone to tell you ‘just wait another month or two and you can get the X with the Y and it will be so much better’. Well sometimes this true but quiet often it’s a longer than expect wait for a smaller than expected jump in performance. Don’t forget to factor in the value of being able to game on your new PC for that extra time and remember, even if you wait a few weeks or months for the next big thing, it’s only a few months away from the next, next big thing and you can’t wait for ever!
It also might be worth checking out our online custom PC builder page linked here before you jump in to the rest of the article so you can get a better idea of what we are discussing.
Getting Started; Addressing the lies
Don’t fall for the CPU and RAM trap!
There are three main contributors to a PCs performance, the CPU, RAM and GPU (aka video or graphics card) but contrary marketing hype it’s not all about the CPU or RAM.
For almost all games, especially triple-A big budget 3D titles, the video card is the key contributing factor to in-game performance. The heart and soul of any gaming PC as long it’s not bottle-necked, responsible for rendering as many frames per second to the screen as it possibly can. The more frames per second, the better the performance and smoother than experience.
It really is that simple but quiet often the ‘gaming PCs’ you see in big box stores sitting on the shelf are configured purely for marketing purposes, designed to be sold to people who know nothing about PC hardware by shady salesmen who know equally as little or are happy to lie to your face to get their sales.
This is why you’ll commonly see an i7 CPU and a huge amount of RAM paired with some entry level or mid range video card completely unnecessarily! Why? Sadly it’s because your average mum or dad wandering in to a JB HIFI to buy their 13 year old a ‘gaming PC’ has no idea how important the video card is and how to even compare them against one another. What they do end up comparing is the CPU and RAM, a poor indicator for gaming performance but an easy mistake for the un-savvy customer to make. It seems intuitive right? i7 is better than i5 or i3 and more GB’s means faster! Well this is completely wrong.
If you take anything away from this article to save you money on your next gaming PC purchase it should be these simple facts;
- You should always start with the GPU and work backwards.
Figure out what sort of performance you are looking for, choose the right video card for your needs and work backwards to make sure you choose the appropriate supporting hardware.
- More cores doesn’t mean better gaming performance.
Most modern game engines will only utilize 4 cores and barely touch the others. In fact a lot will only really fully utilize 2! This might change a bit in the future but not any time soon and it’s been this way for a very long time. As a result in the vast majority of games an i5 will match in i7 in performance and in some cases even the i3’s!
- More RAM that you actually don’t need doesn’t actually do anything.
These days, RAM comes capacities come in increments of 8GB and in all but the most demanding games, 8GB will get you by just fine. Jump up to 16GB and your totally covered, anything higher just isn’t going to make a difference for gaming.
Choosing the best video card for gaming PC and pairing it correctly
For as critical as this step is to any gaming PC, it’s not actually that difficult. Performance and price almost scales uniformly and it’s generally a case of you get what you pay for. The only real trick is knowing what you can expect for money.
Top of the Line
Best Gaming PC GPU for 144Hz, 4K & VR
If you really want the best of the best, as of today the GTX 1080 TI is the only way to go. The only card considered a higher tier than this is the much more expensive Titan X which is more optimized towards professional applications over gaming and as a result even with it’s extra pipelines and on-board memory they perform almost identically in terms of gaming.
To pair with this, a high end i5 like the 8600 or 8600K with 16GB of RAM would be our recommendation but if you wan’t that extra piece of mind and it’s within your budget, an i7 would be worth concidering. Especially if you have some secondary use cases that would leverage the extra cores or if your a big fan of games like the Total War series that lean much more heavily on the CPU.
The Best Gaming PC GPU for 1080P / Max Settings
A couple of steps down from the top is the GTX1070 or GTX1070 TI. Both great cards in their price range with only very little difference in performance and price between them and each capable of running all modern games at 1080P extremely well, even at high / ultra graphics settings very well.
For CPU and RAM, a mid to entry level i5 with 16GB of RAM would be all you need, no need to worry about an i7 at this tier.
The Best Gaming PC GPU for General 1080P Gaming
A lot of games, especially popular e-sports titles don’t really require much in the way of gaming PC horsepower as they try to optimize for high frame rates over rich, high detailed 3D environments. A great example of which are titles like Overwatch and Fortnite. If these are the types of games you love and you don’t really worry about needing to crank all the graphics settings up to their highest you can easily get away with a GTX 1060 3GB.
The 3GB model is a slightly cut down version of the 6GB but still plenty to get very smooth frame rates across a very wide range of popular titles and if you dial back the settings a bit you can still find a very enjoyable balance in the more demanding games too.
A high end i3 like the 8300 would be great pairing with this card and you could easily get away with only 8GB or RAM.
The Best Gaming PC GPU on a Tight Budget
Happy with medium pre-sets and really only play a handful of less demanding classics like Counter Strike, Team Fortress, Dota etc? The GTX 1050 packs enough of a punch to keep you very happy, but don’t expect 4K or VR levels of power! It’s great value for a lot of games but you might struggle in a more demanding title a little further down the road.
As for CPU and RAM with this one, it doesn’t really matter. Even the entry level Pentium would get the job done and anything over 8GB of RAM would be waste of money.
Should you go with SLI? (Dual Video Cards)
For those of you not familiar with the term, that means running two of the same model GPU in the same machine, setup and linked together so they work together to power your PC while you’re gaming. The upside is a lot more gaming performance assuming the game you are playing is well optimized to support it. The down side is of course the extra cost, not only in the second GPU, but the motherboard and power supply that is required to support it.
Remember, even the most optimized games don’t scale 1:1 so it’s always better to have a single higher performing card over two less powerful ones.
So the answer is yes, but only if it’s a high end card, it’s within your budget, and your happy to pay the premium involved with to get the extra performance.