Gaming computer

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An example of a dedicated gaming-PC rig.
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A gaming computer, also known as a gaming PC or gaming rig, is a personal computer designed for playing video games that require a high amount of computing power. A modern gaming computer is comparable to a mainstream computer with the addition of performance-oriented components, such as high-performance video cards and high core-count central processing units. Gaming computers are often associated with enthusiast computing due to an overlap in interests; however, while a gaming computer is built to achieve performance for actual gameplay, enthusiast PCs are built to maximize performance, using games as a real application benchmark. Whereas enthusiast PCs are high-end by definition, gaming PCs can be subdivided into low-end, mid-range, and high-end markets. Video card manufacturers earn the bulk of their revenue from their low-end and mid-range offerings.[1]

Because of the large variety of parts that can go into a computer built to play video games, gaming computers are frequently custom-assembled, rather than pre-assembled, either by gaming and hardware enthusiasts or by companies that specialize in producing custom gaming machines. In order to generate interest, gaming computer manufacturers that sell complete systems often produce boutique models, allowing them to compete on aesthetic design in addition to the hardware inside.


Historically gaming computers had several distinct hardware components that set them apart from a typical PC. The push for better graphics began with color fidelity, from display systems such as CGA eventually graduating to VGA, which was adopted for the mass market. Gaming also led the push for the adoption of sound cards, a component that is now commonly integrated onto motherboards.

In the 1980s, several non-IBM PC compatible platforms gained a measure of popularity due to advanced graphics and sound capabilities, starting with the Atari 400/800 and the TI 99/4, and then continuing with others such as the Commodore 64 and eventually the Amiga. Video game developers of the time targeted these platforms for their games, though typically they would later port their games to the more common PC and Apple platforms as well. The MSX was also popular in Japan, where it preceded the video game console revolution.[2] Japan also had several other popular gaming computers during the 1980s to early 1990s, including the very popular PC-88 and PC-98 as well as the powerful X68000 and FM Towns.[3]

By 1993, PC-compatibles were the standard for gaming in the US. Computer Gaming World stated in January:[4]

We think it would be a mistake to get anything less than a 386 clone with, at least a clock speed of 33 mhz. If possible, get a 486 clone with a faster speed. Get four megabytes of RAM and at least 100 MB on your hard disk. If you've never dealt with a C> prompt before, do yourself a favor and put Windows on the machine as your primary interface. If you're comfortable with the same DOS that you see on your friends' machines, go with DOS 5.0. Get a mouse, if you can afford it, and a sound card that is either AdLib or Soundblaster compatible. If you do win the lottery, throw in a CD-ROM, too. That's the basic game machine for today's games.

In September, the magazine replied to a reader asking for "the current '486' desktop dream machine for playing computer games":[5]

486 66MHz DX/2 motherboard (VESA Local Bus) EISA

256K Cache RAM on motherboard

AMI BIOS (upgradable with disk)

8-16 Megabytes of 70ns or faster RAM

VESA compatible Local bus Video card with S3 (or other co-processor).

250 megabyte and up, SCSI 2 Hard Drive.

SCSI 2 host adapter with cache memory.

MPC Level 2 CD-ROM.

SoundBlaster 16 ASP w/ Roland Sound Canvas SC-7 module.

Full Thrustmaster Mark II WCS/FCS and Rudder pedals.

20" and up CAD monitor

Falcon Northwest began advertising in Computer Gaming World in 1993, claiming that the "Falcon MACH series are the first personal computers designed especially for the serious gamer in mind".[6] Computer Gaming World reiterated in 1994, "we have to advise readers who want a machine that will play most of the games to purchase high-end MS-DOS machines".[7] The magazine reported in August that the 80486DX at 33 MHz was the "minimum machine for the rest of 1994".[8]

LAN parties helped to promote the use of network cards and routers among consumers. This equipment is now commonly used by non-gamers with broadband Internet access to share the connection with multiple computers in the home. Like sound cards, network adapters are now commonly integrated onto motherboards.

In modern times, the primary difference between a gaming computer and a comparable mainstream PC is the inclusion of a performance-oriented video card, which hosts a graphics processor and dedicated memory. These are generally a requirement to play modern games on the market.

Forays into physics processing have also been made, though with Nvidia's buyout of PhysX[9] and Intel's buyout of Havok,[10] plans are that this functionality will be combined with existing CPU or GPU technologies.

Custom-built gaming computers[edit]

By 2012, it had become increasingly popular for gamers to custom-build their own PC, allowing for more budget control and easier upgradability.[11] More often than not, it is possible to maximize performance for the best value when building a gaming computer. There are several components that must be considered when building a gaming computer, which include CPUs, memory, a motherboard, video cards, solid-state drives, power supplies, and cases.[12]

When building a custom built gaming PC, builders usually turn to independent benchmarks to help make their hardware selection. Organizations such as AnandTech and Tom's Hardware Guide provide such benchmarks and hardware reviews. The benchmarks include ratings for PC components that are necessary to build a gaming computer. It is also crucial to consider computer cooling, as this is required to remove the waste heat produced by a computer's components.

Video cards[edit]

An example of an NVIDIA GPU (GeForce 10 series).

A video card is essential to any gaming computer, and connects to a motherboard using the Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCI Express or PCI-E). There are two major manufacturers of GPUs for a gaming computer, AMD and NVIDIA.[13] These companies provide GPUs which other companies, such as MSI and ASUS, then design circuit boards and cooling shrouds for.[13] Most graphics cards cost from $200 to $2,000. Modern consumer-grade CPUs often have on-die integrated GPUs; however, these GPUs typically do not provide the adequate performance for playing graphics-intensive games, and are instead aimed primarily for less demanding workloads such as graphical user interface rendering for "everyday" tasks, video playback, and light gaming.


A major component of a gaming computer is the processor, or CPU (central processing unit). There are two major brands that manufacture CPUs, AMD and Intel.[14] As of 2019, most gaming computers are built with Intel's Ice Lake or AMD's Ryzen 2 CPUs.[14] While a powerful CPU is important to avoid bottlenecks, after a certain level of CPU power, diminishing returns become evident if the PC is not being used for other, more CPU-intensive purposes.[14]


Motherboards that are designed for gaming computers are differentiated from their normal counterparts by being created with case windows in mind; having more visually appealing designs, sturdier materials, and, in some models, built-in LED lighting.[15] They also have the capability to overclock certain models of CPUs, and an increased number of various connection ports.[15]


Random-access memory (RAM) is one of the most important components for a gaming computer. Computers designed for playing games often are supplied with a high amount of RAM.

DDR memory[edit]

DDR (double data rate) memory is essential for any computer system. Adding more memory allows the CPU to address more data for it to quickly access instead of reading off a comparatively slow disk drive or solid-state storage device. DDR SDRAM also has much lower latency than its GDDR counterpart and much lower bandwidth as the CPU relies on being able to change small amounts of data quickly. The latest standard of DDR memory is DDR4L.

GDDR memory[edit]

GDDR (graphical double data rate) memory is a type of memory required for the operation of any PCIe graphics card and is built directly onto the card itself. The amount of RAM built onto a graphics card allows the GPU to quickly access data such as textures instead of reading from a much slower storage device. Having more GDDR memory allows the system to handle higher levels of spatial anti-aliasing and more complex textures. GDDR memory has a much higher latency when compared to DDR memory but also has a much larger bandwidth, thus allowing the GPU to deal with larger amounts of data at a slower rate when compared to a CPU. The latest revision of GDDR memory is GDDR6.

High bandwidth memory (HBM)[edit]

HBM is a type of memory required for the operation of any PCIe graphics card, and is placed directly beside the GPU itself on the graphics card. This is different to standard GDDR as standard GDDR memory sits on the PCB of the graphics card. The main advantages of having the memory mounted so close to the GPU itself are as follows; reduced latency due to signals travelling a shorter distance, more bandwidth due to more space for data lanes, and decreased power consumption due to inherent differences to GDDR on the microscopic level. The latest revision of HBM is HBM2.

Solid-state drives[edit]

Solid-state drives (SSD) are a newer form of data storage which is gaining in popularity. The more common and traditional hard disk drive (HDD) is still the more widely used, but many gaming enthusiasts are turning to SSDs in favor of the advantages they offer over HDDs. Unlike HDDs, SSDs have no moving mechanical parts, meaning they are less susceptible to shock and also run silently. SSDs also offer faster access time, as HDDs require time in order for the moving parts to speed up to operating specifications. An SSD can be 4 or 5 times faster than a traditional HDD. For an SSD, files open almost instantly.[16] This means with an SSD, booting up a system and launching programs take less time.[17] SSDs will increase the performance of a system by how often the game accesses the drive in order to load items from the game such as level files and texture images.[18] However, SSDs cost much more than HDDs do per gigabyte, meaning in terms of pure capacity, they are not as cost effective. They also currently offer a lower common maximum capacity than HDDs.

Power supply units[edit]

Although occasionally overlooked, the power supply unit (PSU) is still an important component to consider. The wattage needed to run a system is dependent on the hardware, so often a PSU calculator is used to determine the wattage needed.[19] In addition, future upgrades to a gaming rig will possibly require more power, and PSUs lose power as they age, so it is often a good idea to buy a PSU that has the capability of lasting through several years and upgrades. The PSU must also be compatible with the other hardware pieces.

There are two types of PSUs, modular PSUs (MPSU) and non-modular PSUs. Non-modular PSUs come with fixed cables, meaning unused ones will be left unconnected. Modular power supplies have cables that are detachable so unused cables do not create excess clutter but are often more expensive than their non-modular counterparts.[20] Both fulfill the same purpose, but often Modular PSUs are preferred because they allow for better cable management, as they remove the issue of unused cable clutter that non-modular PSUs often have.[21] Semi modular power supplies come with only the necessary cables fixed, while cables that are not necessarily needed are able to be detached.[20]

Cooling systems[edit]

Many gamers and computer enthusiasts choose to overclock their CPU(s) and GPU(s) in order to gain extra performance. The added power draw needed to overclock either processing unit often requires additional cooling to what the original equipment manufacturer shipped their product with, most notably in the case of CPUs. Two types of mainstream cooling exist, air cooling and water cooling. Air cooling,[22] the more common of the two, uses a heat sink often in conjunction with heat pipes or vapor chambers to move heat away from the component and dissipate it into the air. Water cooling is somewhat more complex, it makes use of water blocks, radiators, pumps, tubing and optionally a reservoir. Water removes heat by running water through a block affixed to the component and then allowing the water time in the radiator in order to cool off. Fans are often used to increase a radiator's rate of heat dissipation.[23]


Choosing a computer case involves several considerations. For one, there is a large range of sizes. A larger gaming tower will allow for future upgrades and more movement. The case must also be compatible with the motherboard's form factor. Because games are oftentimes demanding on a system, one of the most important factors of choosing a case is cooling. In order to avoid the risk of overheating hardware, a computer case with good airflow and a quality fan will go a long way in ensuring proper cooling.[24] Other additional features such as fan speed controllers, filters for dust management, and clear side panels are all useful as well. Custom-building allows a builder to personalize their case if they so desire for aesthetic purposes. There are many designs for computer cases so the builder can choose to their liking.

Pre-built computers[edit]

An example of a pre-built gaming computer showing the case lighting used for the rig.

While many "advanced" gamers build their gaming PCs themselves, some choose to go with pre-built or custom-built gaming PCs. These PCs can often be more expensive than building one's own, with higher premiums attached to high-end brands with varying levels of customer service.

Different companies offer varying degrees of customization. While established gaming computers such as Alienware offer unique case designs and little customization from the user prior to purchase, other smaller firms allow a greater degree of customization and better value-for-money, often to the same extent as if the user were to build the computer themselves.

There are however, drawbacks to building one's own computer. Assembling a computer means being personally responsible for any problems that may arise, both during the assembly phase, and after it is in regular use. Instead of using a single technical support hotline to cover the entire system, often one will have to deal with individual component manufacturers.

Due to the wide inconsistencies in after-purchase support from component manufacturers, trying to get support can be a daunting task. Customer support is a major reason why even extreme gaming enthusiasts may look to a system integrator for their custom PC builds. There are many positive aspects in choosing to build one's own system, such as no longer being tied to specific configurations. Pricing on individual components is often better, and thus can save quite a lot of money on a comparable pre-built system. Warranties are often included with the price of each individual piece of hardware when building a PC, whereas a prebuilt PC's warranty may cost an additional fee or may be as little as 1 or 2 years for the entire system. Those who choose to build their own PC often seek help from an online community or forum in the absence of a consumer helpline.[25]

One major drawback of buying a prebuilt gaming PC aside from the extra cost is that they are often built with a very powerful CPU, but with a relatively weak graphics card. This results in a "gaming" PC that performs poorly in gaming for the price paid. Most games today do not benefit much from having a very powerful CPU with more than 4 CPU cores and hyper-threading,[26] but benefits greatly with a more powerful graphics card.

Gaming laptop computers[edit]

Gaming laptops such as MSI, Acer, Asus are the mobile equivalent of gaming desktops and are usually more expensive than their desktop counterparts. Currently, most gaming laptops like MSI, Acer, Asus feature more power efficient versions of high end desktop graphics cards, which nevertheless still significantly drain the battery, and necessitate more advanced systems. One recent development by Nvidia is SLI for laptops. Generally, gaming laptops are not considered "rigs" as the term can also refer to the physical size of the system. Modern gaming laptops can achieve respectable game performance, but never quite match desktops in a class to class comparison, and most do not feature upgradeable graphics cards.

Due to the relatively small size that the hardware has to fit in, cooling the heat intensive components is a major problem affecting the performance of such laptops, usually causing degraded value for money performance wise. Attempts at using the same performance hardware as desktops usually end in a decreased clock frequency of graphics chips to reduce heat, causing the poor value for money.

One can find many value recommendations across the World Wide Web on websites like TechRadar or Tom's Hardware.

The introduction of the Nvidia GTX 900M series of mobile GPUs in late 2014 represented a significant advancement from the previous 800M series, lessening the gap with desktop systems and making gaming laptops a more viable alternative to desktop PCs.

A newer approach in the gaming PC industry is to create small form factor desktops that are more compact and easier to transport than a normal full sized system.


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