Choosing a new Gaming Computer – Part 2 – CPU/GPU

Now you know what resolution you want to game at, it’s time to pick the other essential parts.

If you aren’t sure what I am referring to, check out Part 1 of the series to see what some of the pros and cons of high-resolution gaming are.

There is one crucial aspect of every recommendation from now on. The target performance for every combination is so that you can run on very high/ultra settings with at least 90 frames per second. There are always exceptions – Microsoft Flight Simulator is hard to run on ultra for any GPU. But these are particular and rare examples.

My goal isn’t to build a system at a set price point. Once you have all of the articles, you know what to look at for a great gaming machine. This means you will have more than enough power for almost all other work on your computer.

So the need to get a ‘better’ graphics card should be pretty non-existent. The want is a different story – if you can afford it and want one, go for it. That’s your call. It’s just like cars – you can buy a Porsche if you want, but you only need a Subaru. Both will get you where you need to go!

The CPU

Even with all of the CPU choices out there, this is surprisingly easy. If you want a good general computing experience that is excellent for gaming, you want a 6 core/12 thread CPU. That’s it. All the other CPUs are for doing different jobs with different budgets.

Now, people will say ‘But this game needs X cores!’ but that isn’t exactly true. What you need is a certain level of performance. With all the different variables that are involved, latching on to the core count is easier for people to understand.

Which one do you need? Hint: It's neither of these

A 6 core processor for 1080p/1440p gaming will see you have about the same gaming performance for 2-4 years. The same CPU will show it’s age (i.e. not keep up with FPS rates in new games) quicker in 4K gaming. You should be good for at least 2 years, but will probably be looking at upgrading in no more than 3 years.

The same is true for an 8 or even 16 core CPU. There is no ‘future-proofing’ for this, unfortunately.

For gaming, these are the CPUs you want to be aiming for. Ignore the marketing hype.

Choosing between Intel and AMD is a mix of choice and availability. Forget the benchmarks and the ‘better at x’ opinions. Blender or Code Compilation benchmarks mean nothing when playing Doom Eternal. You will get a great gaming experience with either brand, as long as you have the 6 cores/12 thread combination.

There is also a lot of flexibility with a CPU this powerful. Doing normal web browsing and office work, this CPU will be great for years. If you want to render videos (e.g. edit home movies), there is nothing wrong with CPUs like this.

Yes, there are ‘bigger’ CPUs that will do those jobs faster, but if it’s something you occasionally do, save your money and wait that little bit longer. That is what you need to decide when choosing your CPU. Is the extra say $600-$900+ you spend in the CPU, better cooling, power consumption etc. worth it for the additional 30 min wait once in a while?

As you can see, at 1080p (which pushes CPU more than GPU), there isn't much difference between the new Ryzen CPUs. SOURCE** Hardware Canucks https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ip3u8hnKgvU

The Graphics Card (GPU)

There is a lot that can be explored in Graphics Card options. For now, I have made it easy with a table that will hit 90 FPS for 98% of games at Very High and Ultra settings.

Resolution Min Card Max Card Ray Tracing
1080p RTX 3060*
RX 6700*
RTX 3060 Ti
RX 6800
RTX 3070
1440p RTX 3070
RX 6800
RTX 3080
RX 6800 XT
RTX 3070-3080**
4K RTX 3080
RX 6800 XT
RTX 3080 Ti*
RX 6900 XT
RTX 3080 Ti*
* - Cards not yet announced, but historically will be the card to look at
** - 3070 should be ok, 3080 will give you higher graphics settings for longer

That’s pretty much it. If you want to aim for higher performance, then you can buy a ‘higher’ GPU. Honestly, the chances of you seeing the difference are minimal. If you are willing to upgrade for this though, maybe think about playing at higher resolutions for the more superior picture quality as well?

Yes, differences can be measured for benchmarking, but that isn’t the same as the actual playing experience.

There is one big caveat to this ‘ultra’ settings target – Ray Tracing. Right now, there still aren’t many games that take advantage of Ray Tracing, and those that do heavily favour NVIDIA cards. The reason for this is simple – NVIDIA released Ray Tracing cards first.

In stills, Ray Tracing can be shown off well. When you are in a fast moving scene? That's your personal call.

Now that the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S are here, I am betting that this will change. This is conjecture, but games will now be written for AMD’s Ray Tracing tech built into these consoles.

Right now, if you want the best Ray Tracing performance, stick with NVIDIA. AMD is actually beating NVIDIA on a lot of games with ‘normal’ graphics with the new 6000 series. Keep this in mind, but your choice right now is betting on the future, and until it arrives, it’s the best guess scenario.

But what about Bottlenecking?

You can definitely bottleneck your system. This is where you have a CPU or GPU that can’t keep up with each other. The catch is these days, you have to try to create a bottleneck. CPU performance has come ahead in leaps and bounds.

1080p is more work on the CPU, while 4K is heavily GPU intensive. This is why I pick the 6 core CPUs. They have more than enough grunt for 1080p gaming and can easily keep up with instructions to/from the GPU at 4K.

If anyone tells you that you need more than an 8 core CPU to ‘avoid bottlenecking’, they either don’t get it or are trying to get you to spend more money. Probably both.

If you think you need the NVIDIA 3090, think again.

The existence of the 3090 annoys me. Not because it’s a lousy card per se, but because it is a bad gaming card.

What I mean by this can be confusing. If you look at reviews and benchmarks, it can push more FPS than the 3080. But not enough to justify the 100% price increase.

The 3090 is really aimed at people that do 3D rendering and video post-production. The extra tech in there helps these jobs and do next to nothing for gaming. And even if you do this kind of work regularly, the 3090 is the cheapest ‘workstation’ GPU NVIDIA offers.

This is why I will never suggest anyone buys a 3090 for gaming, and will actively try and talk you out of it. Even if you want to learn Blender, the extra money can go into a much more powerful CPU and RAM to give you a better performance boost.

Yes, you can game on it. But the 3090 is truly a low end worsktation graphics card, not a gaming one.

But I need X and Y because I stream!

For most people – no, you don’t. I know this sounds condescending, but it really is the case. Think about who told you this. Odds are it was a streamer/YouTuber using that equipment they were either given by the company to sell to you or bought with money viewers gave them.

If you want to stream console gaming, then everything I am suggesting for just gaming will be perfect for your streaming PC. If you’re going to stream games you are playing on the streaming PC (single system streaming), yes you should probably think about upgrading the CPU.

Which CPU? The 8 core/16 thread version. Yep, you only need to really jump up one step. The extra two cores/four threads will handle your software running with your game without a big hit to your gaming. Because you can only stream at 60FPS, your viewers won’t even notice. Just don’t turn on the FPS counter – that’s about the only way you will know.

While still not 'cheap', the NVENC encode on this card is the same as the 20 and 30 series

I would recommend sticking with the NVIDIA cards though. For stream encoding, all of the cards have the same NVENC chip, so you don’t need a ‘better’ card to improve your stream quality.

A little tip as well – the NVENC chip is the same in the 20 series and even the 1660Ti. So if you want to build a dedicated stream PC and take advantage of NVENC, don’t buy more than a 1660Ti for that machine.

Gaming Laptops

This is always a tricky subject on the internet. A lot of people on the internet look down at gaming laptops because they can’t reach the speeds of their desktop cousins.

If you want to play on a laptop for whatever reason, this is absolutely viable. If someone tries to talk you out of a laptop with their only argument ‘desktops are just better’, don’t let them dissuade you. Chances are the portability and/or size is what you need if you are looking at laptops, and desktops can’t compete here.

As computers get more powerful, the gap between laptops and desktops is closing

Simple things to keep in mind are noise (those fans need to spin hard to cool the machine) and cost. If you game on a laptop regularly, I would suggest also budgeting for a good pair of headphones – possibly noise-cancelling ones. Laptops have notoriously bad speakers, and once those fans ramp up, it’s never great for your ears.

You can generally get a desktop of similar/better performance at a lower cost than a gaming laptop. Still, with stock and availability as it is right now, that’s not always true these days.

The reason for this ‘lower’ performance is power. You cannot expect a laptop that uses 200W for everything to a computer that uses 100+W for the CPU and 250+W for the graphics card. It’s like comparing a 4 cylinder car to a V8 – it’s not an apples to apples comparison.

Would you compare the performance of a small getaround car to a Ferrari? Same arguyement here

Yes, the price goes up because technically you get ‘better’ graphics cards in another model. The performance increase in FPS is often less than 10%, even though you can pay 20-25% or more for the ‘upgraded’ laptop.

Best bang for buck look at a gaming laptop as if you are looking at a 1080p gaming desktop. This keeps the cost down, but you also get what you pay for more often than not.

Stick to a Max P (or Performance) ’60’ graphics card (1660Ti, 2060 Super), you will get excellent 1080p results similar to a desktop computer. If you go for 2070 or 2080 GPUs, you are paying for a graphics card that cannot run at its best because it hasn’t been given enough power.

In the rare cases you get a laptop that will provide the GPU with more power, it is usually then limited by temperature anyway. Keep the 1080p specs in mind, and you can’t really go too wrong.

So now you know what CPU, GPU and Monitor to buy. Later this week I will talk about RAM and storage, then you are pretty much set!

After all that, I will talk about my system and why I choose the parts that I do. More specifically, real examples of what I mean by ‘heavy workloads’.

Until next time,

JohnHQLD
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