So you want to buy a gaming PC?

If you are looking to buy a new gaming PC, there are a number of important factors that need to come together to ensure your new system will be up to the task. All too often, PC gamers invest their hard earned dollars into machines without doing the homework required to ensure their new system is optimised for playing the latest games at the high performance level expected by an avid gamer. To help ensure your new gaming PC lives up to your expectations, I have prepared a list of helpful tips and considerations to guide you in your quest to getting the best value gaming PC for your money.

Budget – When it comes to high end gaming systems, the sky is really the limit with how much you can spend. Chasing the latest breakthroughs in technology can be an expensive business, and the feeling of pride when looking at your machine knowing it has the best graphics card that money can buy can be quickly extinguished when you see your friend with the same system 4 months later having paid 30% less for it. Nonetheless, if you have the money and are willing to pay a huge premium for the latest of the latest then I say go for it. For most of us however, our budget usually has a limit, and value for money is always an important consideration. With this in mind, my first tip to help you on the road of finding a new gaming PC is to determine your budget. With a set budget, you can then work out what combination of hardware you should get that will deliver you the best gaming performance.

What games will you play? – Chances are you are not going to be playing the first version of Starcraft or Sim City on your new system. If you were, then why would you need a high performance gaming PC in the first place? Most likely you will be playing games that have just come out, are likely to come out soon and perhaps a few older favourites as well. Taking this into consideration, it is worth doing some research and finding out what games run well on what graphics cards. With a variety of offerings from ATI and nVidia, it is well known that some games run much better on ATI hardware and others on nVidia. If you have a favourite game that you plan on playing for quite some time, then researching this point can pay dividends.

Graphics card vs. CPU – Don’t make the mistake of allocating most of your budget to your CPU and skimping on your graphics card. When it comes to a gaming PC, your graphics card should be your first priority and a higher spec card with a lower spec CPU will nearly always deliver better gaming performance. This is why defining your budget (as per tip 1) is so critical, as it will enable you to work out how to allocate your budget for the best results. A good rule of thumb here is that your graphics card should cost 3 times as much as your CPU. If the money gods have been kind to you, and you are in the market for an i7 Extreme Edition CPU, then this will mean you should be looking at a triple SLI configuration or similar. For a mid range system, this could mean an ATI 5870 with an Intel Core Duo E7600.

Other hardware considerations – When it comes to RAM, you can never have enough. Having said that, there is no point in having 8GB of high performance low latency RAM if this is going to take a huge chunk out of your graphics card budget. If your budget has worldly limits, then for a gaming PC running Windows 7 or Vista, 4GB of RAM is usually plenty. Now most gamers I know love a fast system. When it comes to games, a fast system usually means a system that will provide you with the best frame rate and graphics settings when playing your favourite games. I like to take this one step further though. For me, a fast system is just that, fast! Fast at booting up, fast at loading programmes and fast at pretty much everything else. With this in mind, my favourite bit of technology that all of my gaming systems have utilised for the last 7 or so years is RAID striping. There are many different configurations of RAID that I won’t go into here, but RAID striping involves utilising a minimum of 2 disks to read and write data allowing for improved read and write times. Very few computer manufacturers offer this option out of the box, and it is a real shame as it gives such a good boost to computer performance. For the cost of an extra hard drive, configuring a RAID array that utilises striping is such a great bang for buck option that you should really give some thought to.

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