When shopping for a new gaming PC, it's important to have a goal in mind. If you need your system to provide excellent framerates in AAA games at 1920 x 1080, you won't need the absolute best (and most expensive) GPU and/or processor on the market. If you intend to run games with multiple displays or at higher resolutions, that's when you’ll need to expand your budget. CPU horsepower is also similarly tied to gaming acumen, but branching out into anything over a quad-core processor will primarily see performance gains in multi-threaded workloads such as video processing, rendering and encoding, not games.
Storage and memory capacity is also a prime consideration that can push the price of a PC high rather quickly. Solid-state storage devices (SSDs) make a huge difference in overall performance and game load times compared to hard disk drives (HDDs), but they also cost more for less capacity. If you’re a gamer, having a moderate-sized SSD as a primary partition (512GB or so) with a sizable HDD (two or more terabytes) is a good baseline.
Power is also a prime consideration when choosing a PC. Does the PSU offer enough juice to cover the hardware inside? (In most cases, the answer is yes, but there are some exceptions, particularly if you intend to overclock.) Can the power supply be upgraded? Is there enough available power to upgrade in the future? The ability to upgrade is another important factor, and case size and expansion options vary drastically between our picks.
Aesthetic value and form factor should also be considered when buying. If you want your case to shine as bright as the sun or to fit in your living room entertainment center, there are options out there for either scenario--or both. Most boutique PC builders offer overclocking services to get the most possible performance out of your hardware, and if you aren't versed in the art of overclocking these services are extremely helpful.
Ultimately for most people though, budget plays the biggest role in a desktop buying decision. You can sometimes find good deals on big-box desktops when they go on sale, but you’ll be stuck with the components chosen by the likes of HP, Lenovo or Dell. The beauty of a custom-built PC is that you can adjust the component configuration until it suits your needs and budget.
News and Updates
- Holiday shopping season is here. Keep an eye on our best tech deals page for great prices, including on pre-buillt gaming desktops
- The Corsair Vengeance 5180 Gaming PC (not listed) is made entirely of standard parts, making it easy to upgrade down the line. But it starts with last year's CPU.
Tom's Hardware has been reviewing PC and PC components for more than two decades. We put each desktop through a bevy of benchmark tests which measure everything from the speed of its boot drive and RAM, to gaming and productivity performance. We've tested dozens of models, so we can separate the best from the over-priced under-performers.
Quick Desktop Shopping Tips:
- Bigger isn't always better: You don’t need a huge tower to get a system with high-end components. Only buy a big desktop tower if you like the look of it and want lots of room to install future upgrades.
- Get an SSD if at all possible: No other component has a more noticeable impact on performance. Look for at least a 256GB SSD boot drive, ideally paired with a larger hard drive for storage.
- You can't lose with Intel or AMD: As long as you opt for a current-generation chip, both companies offer comparable overall performance. Intel’s CPUs tend to perform a bit better when running games at lower resolutions (1080p and below), while AMD’s Ryzen processors often handle tasks like video editing better, thanks to their extra cores and threads.
- Don’t buy more RAM than you need: 8GB is OK in a pitch, but 16GB is ideal for most users. Serious game streamers and those doing high-end media creation working with large files will want more, but will have to pay a lot for those options.
- Don’t buy a multi-card gaming rig unless you have to. If you’re a serious gamer, get a system with the best-performing single graphics card you can afford. Many games don’t perform significantly better with two or more cards, and some perform worse, forcing you to disable an expensive piece of hardware to get the best experience possible. Because of these complications, you should only consider a multi-card desktop if you are after more performance than can be achieved with the best high-end consumer graphics card.
- Ports matter. Beyond the connections necessary to plug in your monitor(s), you’ll want plenty of USB ports for plugging in other peripherals and external storage. Front-facing ports are very handy for flash drives, card readers, and other frequently used devices. For added future-proofing, look for a system with USB 3.1 Gen 2 and USB-C ports.
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