When it comes to computer gaming hardware, better parts mean higher resolutions and higher frame rates. Better parts also entail higher costs, so unless you need to play at enormous resolutions with every option maxed out, it's safe to save a bit on hardware. After all, you'll want to put some money aside for games. For specific details, check the requirements for each game you want to play, but in general, you need about 8GB of RAM and a mid-range processor and video card.
A computer's video card powers visual effects, making it the backbone of PC gaming. A better GPU provides the power to enable more effects, such as anti-aliasing, or to increase the resolution without turning your games into slideshows. To meet minimum requirements, however, you don't need to run multiple video cards, or even own a top-tier card. A mid-tier gaming card can run most games in 1080p at medium to high settings, and even a lower-end gaming card can manage HD resolutions with some settings turned down.
Selecting a Card
Nvidia and AMD release new cards frequently to replace old models, making it difficult to recommend a specific card for very long. To help with the choice, both companies use numbering schemes that indicate relative power. Nvidia's gaming card numbers give the series and then tier. For example, the GeForce GTX 980, 970 and 960 cards are in the same series, in decreasing order of power. Even a current-series x60 card, however, meets the minimum requirements for most games, if you aren't picky about settings. AMD card numbers begin with tier designations including R5 and R7, containing low- to medium-power gaming cards, and R9, which houses the most expensive cards.
Intel provides a third graphics option, including video processors inside their CPUs, but if you're building a gaming PC, you should usually avoid integrated graphics unless you're on an extremely tight budget. Intel's chips have come a long way, with Intel Iris graphics boasting twice the power of previous integrated options, but integrated video remains a severe limitation and might prevent you from playing the latest releases.
While your video card churns out polygons and textures, other gaming tasks fall to the computer's processor. A CPU handles factors such as enemy movements and other under-the-hood calculations. CPU requirements vary depending on game genre. For example, turn-based strategy games tax the CPU heavily to work out the AI's behavior, so a better processor helps reduce downtime. Games without any AI, such as multiplayer shooters, won't see as much of a difference from a CPU upgrade. For a balanced PC, try Intel's Core i5 or AMD's A series. On the higher end, look into the Intel i7 or AMD FX chips. Note that series numbers alone don't indicate a processor's power: Intel has used the i5 and i7 numbers for years, even as the respective processors grow faster, so stick to CPUs released within the last 12 months.
Computers use two main types of memory: hard drives for storage and RAM for active data. When it comes to hard drive size, the more the better -- as much as your budget allows -- because larger drives allow you to install more games at once. RAM, on the other hand, doesn't provide any additional benefit once you surpass the amount a particular game needs. In general, 8GB of RAM is adequate. Below this amount, recent games might run worse, but there's also no need to move up to 16GB unless you tend to multitask heavily while playing games -- the more programs you have open, the more RAM you need.
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