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. But if you want to play at 2560 x 1440 or 4K, then you need to start think about saving more for your rig. 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 are 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 an important factor 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.
Quick 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: This will make your computer far more faster than loading off of a traditional HDD, and has no moving parts. 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 in Crossfire or SLI, 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.
Best Gaming Desktops
1. MSI Trident X
The Best Mainstream Gaming Desktop
Rating: 4.5/5 (Editor’s Choice)
CPU: Up to Intel Core i9-9900K| GPU: Up to Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ventus| RAM: 16 GB DDR4-2666 | Storage: Up to 512 GB PCIe NVMe SSD and 2 TB, 5,400-rpm HDD
Pros: Compact size • Attractive design • Off-the-shelf parts • Strong performance
Cons: Not tool-free • Lots of bloatware
MSI’s Trident X has a bunch of powerful, standardized parts in its small, attractive chassis. Those off-the-shelf parts means it’s easy to upgrade and customize your rig. That is, as long as you’re used to working in small spaces.
And among the RTX 2080-based gaming desktops we’ve tested so far, the price is right. The price isn’t chump change, but others are even more expensive.
Read Review: MSI Trident X
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2. Corsair One i160
The Best Small Form Factor Performance PC
Rating: 4.5/5 (Editor's Choice)
CPU: Intel Core i9-9900K | GPU: Liquid-cooled Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti | RAM:32 GB DDR4-2666 | Storage: 480GB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD and 2 TB SATA HDD
Pros: Top-end components and performance in a sleek, compact shell • Surprisingly quiet operation
Cons: Limited (and complicated) upgradability • Expensive • Uses older Z370 chipset
Corsair took its original One desktop, redesigned its internals and dropped in today’s top-end components while keeping temperatures and fan speed under control. It’s super quiet with noise levels we’d be pleased with from a similar system in a significantly larger case.
The price is steep, but once you add up the cost of the components, including a liquid cooled RTX 2080 Ti, you’ll find you’d pay roughly the same amount if you built yourself a much larger system.
If you're looking for even more power, you can opt for the more expensive Corsair One Pro i180, with an Intel Core i9-9920X CPU.
Read Review: Corsair One i160
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3. Maingear F131 (2018)
The Best Splurge Gaming PC
Rating: 4/5 (Editor’s Choice)
CPU: Intel Core i9-7980XE | GPU:2x Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti | RAM:32 GB DDR4-3600 | Storage:1 TB M.2 NVMe SSD and 6 TB, 7,200-rpm HDD
Pros: Incredible performance • Breathtaking custom paint job • Custom Apex cooling
Cons: High price
The Maingear F131 isn't for a tepid PC gamer looking to dip their toe into a personalized boutique build for the first time. This is where a real enthusiast turns when they have money to burn. Maingear’s Apex cooling adds considerable cost to the build, but it’s a unique setup you can’t get from other vendors.
Much of the price also comes down to Maingear’s craftsmanship, with impeccable paint application, fine tuning, and innovative design.
Read Review: Maingear F131 (2018)
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4. ASRock Deskmini GTX Z370
The Best Barebones PC
Rating: 4.5/5 (Editor’s Choice)
CPU: Support for Intel 8th Generation (Coffee Lake) LGA 1151 Celeron, Pentium, and Core Processors | GPU:Up to Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 (MXM) | RAM: Up to 32 GB (2 x 16 GB) DDR4-2666 SODIMM | Storage: Varying M.2 and SATA options
Pros: Incredibly small • Ample storage capabilities • DIY friendly
Cons: High price • Limited USB connectivity
The ASRock Deskmini is the king of the barebones mini PCs, offering more M.2 storage and 2.5-inch bays than any other system of its size. It’s an enthusiast platform with options for GTX 1060 and 1080 graphics and a DIY setup for most other major components.
You’d be hard-pressed to find many cases that support this system’s Z370 micro STX motherboard, even if you wanted to full-on build your own PC. And this machine has plenty of space for storage considering its small size.
Read Review: ASRock Deskmini GTX Z370
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