PC Gaming. And you thought Console choices were hard.

There is a lot to think about with tech. Don’t get fooled by the marketing.

So I was going to talk about all of this on Tuesday, my ‘normal’ day for Talking Tech articles. I put it off because of a flood of reviews on the new AMD Ryzen 4800HS laptops. And I am drooling. There is finally a low power CPU that can eat my desktop i9-9900k for CPU intensive tasks. The catch? Gaming isn’t a CPU intensive task.

What does all this mean? You have already dropped numbers and acronyms I don’t get!

The whole point of these articles is to try and simplify the technical minefield that is computing. In future articles, I will be taking you through individual components and talking about what all of the numbers and acronyms mean.

Today, I am going to try and clarify some terms that I am going to be using a lot of the coming weeks. I will also touch on why most of you shouldn’t get caught up in the new AMD laptop hype.

Oh, he’s an Intel shill. Stop reading everyone.

Hold up! I am only picking on the new 4800HS because it is the current hype. The new AMD chips deserve all the praise they have been receiving and more. I already said I am really looking forward to these processors becoming available!

What I am going to point out that for gaming, you don’t need to go high end on most components. Companies want you to buy the expensive stuff, but it’s not always what you need. The exception is your graphics card, but even that doesn’t need to be as high as you need.

But I watch all these fantastic systems be built with incredible results!

One of my favourite lie back and chill YouTube playlists is a lot of showcase computer builds and hardware reviews. Why? I know a lot of the results before they start, so I can just watch people play with the equipment I would never pay for.

But there is a catch with YouTubers and their reviews. No, I am not bringing any results integrity into question. All of the channels I love have a high level of enthusiasm and expertise. The catch is the equipment they use.

Intel, AMD, Nvidia, Asus, Gigabyte et al. have a tendency to ship flagship top of the line units. Why show what an Nvidia 2070 graphics card can do, when we can let you show off a 2080 Ti that costs people 3 times as much?

So if someone hands you AUD$5,000+ worth of stuff to make a computer out of, why wouldn’t you? And of course, they are going to do it with a smile – they are literally kids in a candy shop!

Even in this incomplete state, you could build two or three solid gaming systems for the cost of this beauty.

So today, I am going to outline some firm guidelines for what you need for a solid gaming experience vs top of the line show pieces.

You keep saying “A Solid Experience”. What does that even mean?

Between PCs and Consoles, my definition of solid experience is a little different. For consoles, you want to play games at a stable frame rate with no need for you to do anything to intervene.

What are frame rates? It’s literally how many images the system can throw up on the screen in a second. Frame Rates, Frames Per Second and monitor frequency all work together to try and give you a smooth gaming experience.

If you watch TV and movies, these are traditionally filmed at 24 frames per second. This is why if you pay close attention, a fast-moving object appears to ‘stutter’ on the screen. If you watched frame by frame, you could see how the object jumps from location to location.

Gaming at 60 frames per second helps reduce this by a lot. And today with the power of graphics cards, hitting 60 frames is pretty easy even for ‘graphics-heavy’ titles. This is where the monitor frequencies join the fun. If you have a monitor that works at 60Hz, this means it refreshes at 60 frames per second (simplified explanation), showing you each and every frame.

Why am I banging on about frames per second? I consider 60 frames per second as a ‘solid’ experience. Not Ray Tracing, DLSS Turbo blah blah blah. These technologies are important and have a place, but not necessary to the experience.

Images like this are supposed to make you feel like you NEED the bigger numbers. Marketing Hype.

But I want everything to work with all the bells and whistles! Don’t I need all that RTX stuff?

Not in my opinion. And that is the key phrase – “My Opinion”. If you want Ray Tracing, you aren’t wrong. I keep coming back to the car analogy. If you look at the Hyundai cars, the i20 works and gets you around. The i30 gets you about in a bit of comfort and doesn’t have trouble speeding up on hills. If you go up to the Sonata, you get more of the luxury features that make it more delightful to drive.

Looking at the accurate reflections is amazing and immersive. I am not dismissing the technology. But if you look at the Resident Evil 3 Demo pics from the XBox One S, it also had amazing reflections. Ray Tracing is the future, but it’s not the standard yet.

If you have the money to spend, you can go all the way to a Masarati or similar supercar though. Think of the price jump from an i30 to a Masarati. For day to day driving, how many people can really justify a Masarati? Wanting is fine, and if you can do it. Send me pics. I will be jealous 🙂

Gaming is the same. Using this analogy, I am guiding you towards the i30 of gaming systems. A good, reliable ‘bang for the buck’ system. More importantly, I am trying to explain why I think these systems are the way they are. Not to convince you that I am ‘right’, but so that you can look at your own use case and decide what is right for you.

So what do I need for a gaming system?

The keyword in all this is ‘System’. No one part makes a system, but one piece can break a system.

Don’t panic! If you stick with me, I will tell you all of the little gotchas and traps that can lead to an expensive experiment. That is why I am not just throwing up a bunch of specs and saying ‘go forth and enjoy’. It’s easy to do that with consoles – they are what they are. PCs can be customised any number of ways, so you need to understand how they all work together.

Over the years, I keep getting asked for the 2 pieces people think makes up a system – the box and the screen. Technically these are 2 components of a system, but a few bits are missing.

To build a system, you need to think about the following components:

  1. CPU
  2. Graphics Card
  3. Motherboard
  4. Memory (RAM)
  5. Storage
  6. Cooling
  7. Case
  8. Power Supply
  9. Monitor
  10. Sound (Speakers or Headphones?)
  11. Operating System
  12. Any extra parts (e.g. Expansion Cards, RGB)

It can be really intimidating, as each item has a considerable amount of options. But now, I will take you through the basics of what I think you need for good gaming only system. This doesn’t go through everything on the list, but I will take you through the essential parts of the main pieces.

CPU

The brains of your computer are the Central Processing Unit or CPU. There are two offerings – Intel and AMD. Each company has pros and cons, but for gaming, either is a solid choice.

The thing you want to look for is a CPU with 8 threads. Not cores – threads. A core is basically a dedicated processor, and a thread is a queue of commands that can be executed at the same time. By having 8 threads, your computer can handle a lot of tasks at the same time. A 4 core/8 thread CPU for gaming is just as good as an 8 core/8 thread one for games. Don’t let the different model numbers and marketing confuse you – just concentrate on the number of threads, and you will be fine.

Anyone tells you this is what you need to just play games - walk away. Quickly.

I will get more into the nitty-gritty of all this when I do my article on CPUs, but gaming has only recently started taking advantage of using more than one thread. Eight threads sound like a lot, but really it’s a comfortable number. Remember that Windows and all of the ‘normal’ things your computer is doing also run in the background, so a little breathing room is a good thing! 🙂

For 1080p gaming, I would aim for a minimum of an i5 (Intel) or Ryzen 5 (AMD) processor. Both have great options that will do many tasks well. If you look at different builds on the internet, I have seen people say you need an i7/i9 16+ thread CPU for gaming. No, you don’t.

You might need an i7 only becuase Intel has shifted up the new processor numbering. Buying a desktop i5 processor can be tricky. It’s a marketing ploy. Look at the threads, look at the price. There is nothing wrong with an 8th generation processor, especially just for playing games – older is not always worse, especially with Intel processors.

If you want to do streaming/content creation/video editing or run multiple high-end graphics cards, yes the extra threads help. But just for gaming, come back down the scale. It’s a lot cheaper as well.

Today is very much a ‘don’t go lower’ message. Over the next few weeks, we will talk about why you might want to go higher, and when you should think about it.

Graphics Card

Yes these are 'older' model cards, but they still hold up if you are on a tight budget!

This is where your gaming grunt is mainly handled. Notice I say Graphics Card, not GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) like many people do. It’s a semantic difference, but a GPU is part of a graphics card, not the whole of it. Graphics cards are literally little computer systems in themselves, and many things differentiate them from each other – not just the GPU.

This is probably going to be a controversial call for some, but I will stand by these choices.

I would recommend a minimum of 1660 Ti for 1080p gaming. I have this card in my laptop, and I can get 90+ frames per second on Control, a very new game. Some people recommend the RTX 2060, but I would be wary. Ray Tracing is really pretty, but it can also cost you 20-30% of your frame rate, and so you need to either turn it off or drop quality settings.

To me, if you have to turn off features of a more expensive card, why pay for it?

Now I am not ignoring Radeon cards. The RX 5600 goes toe to toe with the 1660 Ti and is a great choice. AMD has been having some driver issues lately that have made the news. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security – this happens on both sides from time to time. It is one of those things that unfortunately just happen.

AMD cards are an excellent choice, but they tend to have a bumpier troubleshooting experience than Nvidia. 

If you are worried about something going wrong and have to fix it yourself, stick with Nvidia. If you don’t mind rolling back a driver if something goes wrong, give Radeon a good look. 

Also, don’t forget, Nvidia and Radeon work equally well on AMD and Intel CPUs. I have heard sales staff tell people you need Nvidia with Intel CPUs, and Radeon for AMD CPUs. If someone tells you this, ask for another sales person!

Memory (RAM)

I need to go into a lot of detail about this, but the short version is you want to go Dual Channel memory. Now, this is actually a feature of the motherboard, but it has a real impact on what RAM you buy.

For Dual Channel, you will need at least two sticks of RAM, so if you want 8GB of RAM, you need 2 x 4GB sticks.

How much RAM do you need? That’s easy. You can get away with 8GB, but I would try and go for 16GB if your budget can stretch to it. I will go into the whys and whatnot when we look at this in more detail in another piece.

Some people pick a quantity, and then move on to RGB or No RGB. There is an important factor missed.

The trickier question that gets overlooked is what speed RAM. That’s right – your RAM has a speed!

For Intel, high-speed RAM doesn’t really impact performance. Just sticking with a Dual Channel setup will see you the best performance. Aim for the 2400MHz models as a minimum, and go higher only if the cost is right for you. I wouldn’t go over 3200MHz, and even that is pushing it. The benefits just aren’t there on Intel CPUs for the extra speeds, especially for pure gaming performance.

For AMD, it’s a very different story. AMD is more than just a different brand, it’s a different type of CPU architecture. And it loves high-speed RAM. Faster RAM costs more, but I would aim at a minimum of 3200MHz, with 3600MHz being the sweet spot for the price vs performance gains.

Storage

Another short but sweet until I can get into more detail.

From Left to Right - Slower but cheaper for large storage capacity, faster but expensive at high capacity, and best but very expensive per GB.

You want an NVMe drive for your operating system/essential programs, and you don’t need a PCIe 4 drive! PCIe 3 for Windows and Games have excellent (and almost identical) performance compared to the expensive PCIe 4 drives.

For more abundant storage, you can go a large but slower SATA SSD to load your Steam games on (not Steam itself – install that on the NVMe drive!), or even a cheaper HDD. This way the HDD will only be dealing with loading files for the game, with the more complicated file structures handled by the high-speed drive. This is a sound cost/performance ratio setup.

Intel Optane drives, and PCIe 4 drives, have their place and are fantastic tech. That place isn’t for everyday file access, though. Not for the costs involved at least. They are the Masarati’s of the storage world, again don’t let the marketing fool you!

So you have told me lots of choices, but not specific parts!

Yep. That’s because this is already a REALLY long piece. A big part of this will boil down to what you can spend as well. There is no one ‘perfect’ build out there.

But a lot of the basics you now have a little bit more knowledge of what you should be aiming for. You will also have an idea of the sorts of things I want to cover and have an idea of what might be a questionable choice when looking at specs.

Next time, I will be making a video with parts lists for solid, advanced and high-level gaming systems. I will also talk about why I think those systems are in the tier they are, as well what I consider those tiers to be!

I will compare these to some gaming companies ‘ready-made’ desktops and laptops, and show why it’s important to know what you are looking for.

If you would like more information on a specific part or build type, drop a comment, and I will try and answer it or bring forward that article to try and help 😀

Until next time,

JohnHQLD