The biggest mistake commonly made by consumers, and something often taken advantage of by companies who sell computers, is what defines a “gaming computer”. If you’re reading this guide, you’re more than likely wanting this type of PC, but it’s crucially important to understand a simple fact – it’s not that simple…
Any computer of moderate cost will be able to play games, however, how well, at what settings and at what resolution make this a difficult topic to understand coming from inexperience, and a marketplace which thrives on ignorance.
Companies will take advantage in their advertising, labelling products as “ultra fast”and “gaming” – although this isn’t a lie, strictly, it is misleading. For general computing, browsing the web, using office etc… it will undoubtedly “feel” fast if the person is coming from a much older machine.
This then leads to a situation many millions will experience, including me as an ignorant, oblivious child – you buy a game everyone is talking about, you’ve seen screenshots and videos of it on YouTube and it looks amazing, you’re excited, you can’t wait to install it and try it out. You load up the game, the tension is palpable – it begins to load, the menu looks somewhat strange, you dismiss it – you enter into the story mode and begin to play, then, your heart sinks in your chest, your mind cannot comprehend why it looks… so… hideous! Even in it’s disappointing state of appearance, there are regular freezes, maybe a black screen or crash. You realise your PC evidently cannot play this, but why!? I bought an “ultra fast-gaming PC”! Surely this should look amazing? You’d be wrong and here’s the explanation as to how a game plays and looks.
Firstly, how well is usually tested via FPS (frames per second) – this is how many frames, or images, are loaded per second to display the multimedia shown. Consoles are commonly locked to 30fps, and this is a major drawback – as it is accepted humans can easily up to 60fps. [Source]
So, it is often a goal of any enthusiast PC gamer to attain an average 60fps in gaming – this gives smooth gameplay and provides a better overall experience; any higher than this is a plus, in-fact many companies now supply 144Hz monitors to adhere to the “super-enthusiast” looking for the perfect experience. There is also a curse of possessing a computer good enough to surpass 60fps, which means if you lack the monitor that supports certain features – it will result in “screen-tearing” – basically, when the graphics card supplies too many frames for the monitor to handle per second, eg 65 on a 60Hz display – without a sync setting active, those 5 frames will cause tears across the display as it struggles to synchronise.
This leads nicely on to the next section, settings. Settings in a game determine what features will be applied to the games visuals enabling it to look better – the more features you enable, the higher the level you set those at will use more resources. An easy way to think of it is % load, ie in the CTL-ALT-DLT task manager of windows, it is in the “performance” tab and shows how much usage your processor and RAM is currently at. Your graphics card (GPU) will have a similar reading, programs like MSI afterburner and CPUID HW Monitor will show this.
This is the important part, the crucial bit of information you take from this entire article – integrated is different to dedicated in graphics cards, and, not all dedicated GPUs are made equal.
Dedicated graphics cards generally provide better performance than an integrated one; when you buy a processor they usually include an “onboard” graphics ability meaning you can use just that and load up the computer. It will perform as expected, you’ll be able to do the usual tasks but gaming will likely suffer. On the other hand however, having a separate card just for graphics will usually mean much better performance and if you want to play the latest games well, then you’ll need a good one.
This then leads to another key term you’ll meet in PC gaming, VRAM. As you’d expect, Video-Ram is an important selling point in graphics cards and usually the more you have, the better the performance but again it’s not that simple [Source]. You have a core frequency clock (like in a CPU), memory clock, bandwidths and variable connections like VGA, HDMI, Display Port. That isn’t an exhaustive list, there are many other factors which will affect performance but if you simply google “graphics card comparisons” you’ll see the huge range of products available. These days it’s easier as there are only two major companies supplying chips – Nvidia and AMD, each with their own advantages – which will often be benchmarked against each other, and their own closest rivals, to provide scores which can help you decide.
Following on from this takes us nicely into resolution, which is the number of pixels used to produce the image. Your monitor will have a set resolution, today it’s common to have full HD or 1080p which means 1920 x 1080 pixels. The higher the resolution the better the image quality you’ll observe, eg 1440p will be noticeably better. The apex of of quality today is 4K is 3840 × 2160, compared to the others: 1080p is 2.07MP, 1440p is 3.69MP and 2160p is 8.29 megapixels – resulting in a huge increase and up to four times the picture quality.
In PC gaming, the higher the resolution, like settings, the more resources are used and the better components you will need to attain 60fps. Today, to “max out” any AAA game, turning most if not all settings to the highest, and playing at 1080p – you’ll need upwards of £200 for a graphics card and a decent processor of over £100. The standards increase every year, so just because you can max a game now doesn’t mean you always will. Not so long ago, 1GB of VRAM was huge… now 4GB is a generally accepted minimum for AAA games and, with the advent of HBM (high bandwidth memory) that will surely increase soon.
This is why research is so crucial in building a pc, or if needs be, buying one – don’t ever purchase a computer from eBay, Amazon or even Apple (which are not innocent in providing fairly basic components in a pretty package for a high price) without looking up every part that’s on the spec list, to see if what they’re providing is worth the money! Usually you’ll find, they aren’t and you don’t want to pay extortionate prices for inferior products.
In this article I’ve tried to keep it simple, there are exceptions to everything I’ve outlined – for example, I haven’t mentioned overclocking which allows GPUs and CPUs to increase their stock performance by providing additional power and voltage to the chip. This means some people can still max out the newest games at 1080p with components that are fairly old in the pc world, two or three years, and even more! I haven’t gone into specfics of game settings, that turning everything to max can actually result in worse quality, than if you’d left some things lower and the trial and error that goes into “tuning” your experience. There’s drivers, the type of storage used – SSD vs HDD and many more.
The fundamental goal here is to show you, it’s not that simple…