PC Buying Guide
A top-of-the-line PC will outpace many gaming consoles when it comes to sheer computing power, but many low- to mid-tier computers also provide great gaming experiences. PC gaming is largely about customization, giving you a vast array of hardware and accessories to choose from. No matter how you want to game, Best Buy has a PC for you, and this guide will help you find it.
Because blockbuster gaming can require large amounts of processing power, gaming PCs are built to process data extremely fast, which means you should expect to find a high-end processor in any gaming desktop.
Video graphics card/GPU
Most gaming PCs will have a dedicated graphics card. This comes with additional resources and processing power that your system will dedicate exclusively to visual quality. This has an obvious impact on the quality of video games, delivering smoother frame rates with far less graphical lag. A powerful graphics card will also provide a boost for anything involving visuals, including graphic design and video editing.
Gaming PCs, with their powerful processors and graphics cards, can get very hot, so they will usually require some sort of cooling system. Processors are typically coupled with heatsinks and cooling fans, but manufacturers will sometimes add a liquid coolant system to provide exceptional cooling with virtually no noise.
For more information on building your own PC or upgrading your current computer, see the components section of this guide.
With computing power being a key element to the best possible PC gaming experience, a true gaming laptop will typically be more powerful than a standard laptop, and of course be much more portable than a desktop. This means that gaming laptops will usually come with a very powerful processor and a beefy graphics card to provide visually stunning gaming experiences. These components must stay cool, so gaming laptops will often have more powerful cooling systems as well.
The trade-off between portability and power often results in a laptop that is larger and heavier (although many of today’s models are no longer as hefty as yesteryear’s). Additionally, the intense processing power required to run games will cause the battery to drain faster than it would if you were only browsing the internet, checking in on your favorite social networks, or uploading photos.
Finding the best gaming laptop for your needs is a matter of balancing power with portability. If you care more about maximizing the graphical quality of the games you play, consider sacrificing some measure of portability to get the most powerful laptop you can. Conversely, if portability is the most important feature for you, you’ll want to consider choosing a less powerful laptop that is smaller and lighter, and has a longer battery life.
PC gaming components.
Video graphics card/GPU
Serious gaming requires a lot of graphical power. Most standard PCs come with built-in graphics processing, but many games require a dedicated graphics card. In many cases, adding a graphics card to your PC will give you a noticeable boost in performance. If you’re looking for the most bang for your buck, this is a great place to start.
The graphics card you choose will largely depend on what types of games you’re interested in playing and how much you want to spend. Sometimes, even a very basic graphics card will give you the performance boost you need. If you are really looking to push your system and play the newest games on the highest graphical settings, however, you might want to invest in a faster model with more built-in RAM.
Your processor determines how fast your computer can perform tasks. Playing the most current video games will put your system through its paces, and a faster processor will help your system keep up with the intense demands of gaming.
When looking at a processor, one of the key features is how many cores it has. Having multiple cores makes your processor more efficient by splitting the data processing between them. Not all games will take advantage of the maximum number of cores though, so it is useful to know how many cores your favorite games make use of before deciding upon a specific number of cores. Processors will also identify how many threads they have, which organize the data being processed by the core. The combination of cores and threads plays out differently depending on what your PC is doing, but in a nutshell, the number of cores delivers more impact for the intense single task of gaming, while multithreading or hyper-threading technology is more helpful when multitasking.
Another factor to consider is frequency, or speed, which is measured in GHz (gigahertz). For example, a 3.0GHz processor is faster than a 2.0GHz processor. For smooth performance in the most advanced and current games, you might want to consider 3.0GHz or more, but several games will run on processors slower than that.
Short for Random Access Memory, RAM stores temporary data on the fly while your computer is performing tasks. The more RAM you have, the more things your computer will be able to do simultaneously. It’s recommended that you have a minimum of 8GB of RAM for gaming, but increasing this to 12GB or more will often lead to much better performance.
Not having enough RAM can create a bottleneck in gaming performance, as games require several different types of data to be manipulated all at once. Thankfully, it’s not a very expensive component to upgrade.
Keep in mind that there are several types of RAM, and you’ll need to make sure that any RAM you buy is compatible with your motherboard before making the upgrade.
When it comes to storing your games locally, capacity is important but speed is key.
For sheer storage capacity, traditional hard disk drives (HDD) still have a role, giving you more gigabytes per dollar. Hard drives store data on rotating disks, so the faster a disk rotates, the faster the drive will read and write data. Drives operating at 7200 rpm will let your PC access data more quickly than a 5400 rpm drive.
When it comes to a gaming PC’s primary drive, hard drives have largely given way to the speed and stability of solid state drives (SSD). These flash-based drives are built for speed, with no moving parts to wear out. SSDs are many times faster than HDDs, delivering faster performance when starting your PC, launching games and saving progress, all while creating less heat and no noise. SSD storage capacity tends to be smaller than you’ll find in hard drives overall, but larger terabyte drives are now more common (although you should expect to pay a premium).
If you upgrade your processor, it is essential that you purchase a model that is compatible with your current machine. The motherboard on your PC is built to be compatible with a specific socket type, so it’s important to match the socket type of your processor with that of your existing motherboard.
If you’re building your PC from the ground up, you’ll also need a motherboard, a power supply and a cooling solution, as well as a computer case to house it all.
Motherboards are the central integration point for all your components. They are built to be compatible with a specific socket type, so it’s important to match the socket type of your processor with that of your motherboard. Motherboards also feature a combination of other sockets and interfaces for everything from your RAM modules to your display ports.
Power supplies are available in a range of watts to meet the needs of your total system.
Draw away heat from your system with overall case fans, targeted CPU fans, an advanced liquid cooling system, or a mix-and-match combination.
Today’s tower cases feature designs with RGB lighting and/or windows to showcase the RGB and LED options available on other internal components.
In order to upgrade your system, you’ll have to make sure new parts are compatible with your existing hardware before you make the purchase. For instance, if you intend to upgrade your processor, it is essential to purchase a model that is compatible with the motherboard in your current machine.
You might also consider installing a sound card or utilizing an external card to pump out better audio than the on-board sound you’d find built into a standard PC.
It’s also important to look for performance bottlenecks in your system. You might buy the best graphics card on the market, but if you have a small amount of RAM or a slower processor, your system won’t be able to maximize the potential of that card and you might still experience slow or stuttering performance. To maximize your upgrade, you’ll want to isolate the pieces that are causing the biggest performance bottlenecks and make sure you prioritize replacing those components.
Keep in mind that more powerful components may require an enhanced power supply, better cooling and a larger case.
One of the most important factors in buying a monitor is size. You want to choose a size that works for you, based on how much room you have on your desk and how close to your monitor you plan to sit. Bigger isn’t always better. When you sit close to a large monitor, the edges of the screen could be outside your peripheral vision. Between 20" and 25" seems to be an ideal range for people who play games at a desk, but this will increase if you sit farther away from your monitor.
Using a screen with a high resolution will give you a larger field of vision. Essentially, the higher your resolution, the more of a game’s world you’ll be able to see — vertically and horizontally — at any given time. Additionally, in games that support higher resolution textures, you will get smoother visuals with higher screen resolutions. However, running games at higher resolutions will take up more system resources.
You can typically adjust the display resolution in the options menu of most games, but every monitor has a maximum resolution that can be displayed. If you want to game at a very high resolution, make sure you purchase a monitor that can support it.
While 5K monitors are beginning to enter the market, the highest monitor resolution readily available is 4K, which displays at 4x the resolution of Full HD. To put it another way, a 4K monitor will contain 4x as many pixels as a similarly sized Full HD monitor. Those extra pixels allow you to widen your field of vision tremendously and get a far smoother look in the games you play.
To get an extremely wide field of vision, gamers may place two monitors side by side, which is a feature that is supported by most high-end graphics cards. One advantage a dual-monitor setup has over a single display is that you can bend your field of vision around you, putting more screen real estate into your peripheral range. One disadvantage to this is you’ll have a split right in the center of your display where the two monitors come together.
The best of both worlds can still be had with a curved monitor. The gentle bend allows for a wider field of vision, enveloping you and immersing you deeper into your game worlds.
Refresh rate is the number of times your screen refreshes per second, so a 60Hz monitor will refresh 60 times every second. This is important because faster refresh rates will display motion with more clarity and smoothness.
For gaming, it’s recommended that your refresh rate is a minimum of 60Hz. Double that to 120Hz if you plan on taking advantage of cinema-like 3D.
Response time is how rapidly your screen’s pixels can transition from one color to another. In games, where actions tend to be lightning-quick, slower response times can lead to motion blur or “ghosted” images. Response time is measured in milliseconds, so the smaller the number, the faster the response time.
For gaming, it’s recommended that your monitor’s response time is 5 ms or less.
High dynamic range (HDR)
HDR technology expands the contrast and color range of the existing pixels in the display to deliver better contrast, improved color accuracy, and more vibrant colors. Monitors with this feature will give you a more natural viewing experience, ideal for the depth of today’s game imagery.
G-SYNC and FreeSync technologies
Monitors equipped with NVIDIA G-SYNC technology provide a smooth gaming experience, virtually free of stuttering, screen tearing and lag. These displays feature refresh rates of up to 240Hz, and synchronize with the compatible G-SYNC GPU in your PC. Moreover, each G-SYNC monitor is also NVIDIA certified, going through rigorous testing for consistent quality and performance with the GeForce GTX gaming platform. G-SYNC Ultimate also supports HDR content.
Likewise, monitors featuring AMD FreeSync technology deliver fluid gameplay — essentially putting an end to choppy gameplay and broken frames for virtually any frame rate — by synchronizing with your compatible FreeSync graphics card.
For the most part, G-SYNC- and FreeSync-equipped monitors will work with any PC, but only deliver their respective benefits when paired with a compatible G-SYNC- or FreeSync-enabled graphics card. More recently, however, a growing number of FreeSync monitors are also G-SYNC compatible with select GPUs with additional drivers. This combination delivers most of the benefits of G-SYNC on a FreeSync display.
A gaming headset should be lightweight enough to be comfortable for long periods of time. Full-ear models are the most common, since they fully surround your ears to deliver quality audio and cancel out background noise.
While many headsets deliver stereo sound with a single speaker for each ear, some higher quality models add additional speakers in each ear cup to deliver a true surround sound experience. Surround sound headsets will require a compatible sound card in your PC in order for you to take full advantage of this feature.
Communication is a key element of good teamwork, so gaming headsets usually feature a boom mic that lets you talk to your friends and allies. Some booms are adjustable, which gives you more control over mic positioning.
Many headsets include a separate control switch that adjusts in-game chat independently of the game’s audio so you can adjust volume on the fly. This feature can be helpful in situations where your teammates talk too loudly or quietly.
Wired vs. wireless
Headsets come in wired and wireless versions, and there are benefits to both. On the one hand, wired headsets are much cheaper, and many users claim they deliver better sound quality. On the other, wireless headsets don’t have cords to tether you to your PC.
Wired headsets sometimes plug into the audio jacks on your PC, but many of them will plug into a USB port. Wireless headsets usually connect to your PC via a USB dongle. You’ll also want to note how each wireless headset is recharged.
Ghosting happens when you press several keys simultaneously and your keyboard doesn’t recognize all the keystrokes. Anti-ghosting technology is designed to reduce the number of possible key combinations that can lead to ghosting.
Macros are complex strings of commands that can be recorded and programmed to be triggered with a single keystroke. Several gaming keyboards feature extra keys that can be used for macros.
Some keyboards include backlit keys. Not only does this add a stylish flair to your keyboard, it also allows you to see the keys when you’re gaming in a dark or dimly lit room.
With RGB lighting, you can customize your keyboard to enhance your gaming experience. You’ll find options that allow you to highlight the keys you frequently use, adjust pulsating lights, choose effects driven by game action, show teammates’ health status and more.
In mechanical keyboards, every key has its own individual mechanical switch. While these are heavier and more expensive than other types of keyboards, they’re also more durable, and keyboard enthusiasts claim they are much more satisfying to use. Since every keystroke produces a click sound as the switch connects, mechanical keyboards have been shown to reduce the number of errors when typing. When a missed keystroke could mean the difference between winning and losing, accuracy is paramount, so a mechanical keyboard is a good choice for gamers.
The switch below each key on a mechanical keyboard responds to the force of your movements and delivers an audible response to each keystroke. There are a variety of switch brands, each created to take a particular amount of force to activate, with a specific level of sound associated when you touch each key.
Optical keyboard switches use a beam of light as the actuation point, compared to two metal contact points with fully mechanical switches. This allows for extremely quick reaction times and reduced wear and tear.
Short for “tenkeyless,” these compact keyboards do not have a 10-keypad on the side, taking up less space and allowing for your mouse to be closer to the keyboard. These models are also easier to pack up when traveling for tournaments or LAN parties.
“60% keyboards” go one step further and also remove the row of F1–F12 keys.
Wired vs. wireless
Keyboards come in both wired and wireless versions, and there are benefits to both. You may prefer the always-on reliability of a wired keyboard, or the tether-free flexibility of a wireless model.
Wired keyboards typically connect to your PC via USB, while the wireless interface may be a USB dongle, Bluetooth, or the option to choose between them. Wireless keyboards may use a built-in rechargeable battery or replaceable AA batteries.
Mice and mouse pads.
Mouse sensitivity is measured in DPI (dots per inch). The higher the DPI rating of a mouse, the more sensitive and accurate it is. However, extreme sensitivity isn’t always necessary. Keep in mind that the higher the DPI rating, the further your cursor will move on your screen when you move your mouse an inch, and moving too far can be as detrimental to your game as not moving far enough.
Some mice include buttons that let you adjust DPI on the fly so you can switch between settings with ease. If you prefer different sensitivities for different virtual weapons, for example, being able to swap DPI settings with the click of a button can save valuable time on the virtual battlefield.
The polling rate of a mouse is how often the mouse sends data to your computer. The more often your mouse sends data to your PC, the faster the response time.
Gaming mice often include several additional buttons that give you more control over how you want to play. If you play MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games), having a large number of programmable buttons on your mouse lets you set up a control style that feels right for you. It also requires a minimal amount of finger movement per button click.
Gaming mice have often skewed heavier than everyday models — both in terms of packing in multiple features, and in actual weight to customize the heft to a gamer’s preference. But manufacturers are now providing more options at the lightweight end of the spectrum. These cheaper models are geared toward esports players, where ultralight mice could respond to wrist movement more quickly for fast in-game reactions.
When considering the shape of the mouse, your personal grip style — palm, claw or fingertip — may affect your comfort level with that shape. Most mice are designed for varied grip styles, with only a few models optimized for a specific grip. An ergonomic mouse can also help avoid cramping during extended gameplay sessions.
Wired vs. wireless
Mice come in both wired and wireless varieties. Some gamers may prefer a wired mouse that’s always on and always powered, while other gamers prefer the drag-free range of movement that a wireless mouse allows. Wireless mice may use a built-in rechargeable battery or replaceable AA batteries.
A larger mouse pad will give you a greater field of motion with your mouse. Most mouse pads have a cloth surface with a rubber backing to prevent the pad from sliding around on a desk, though some heavy-duty gaming mouse pads are made of aluminum. Aluminum mouse pads last much longer than cloth mouse pads, they don’t fray on the edges over time, and they’re easier to keep clean. They also won’t wrinkle, fold or buckle during intense use.
Digital game purchases
PC gaming has largely become digital. When you buy a game digitally, you don’t bring home a box from a store — you download the game directly from the internet. In many cases, you can pre-order digital games and pre-install them so they’re ready to play the moment the game is officially released.
Best Buy has an assortment of games that can be purchased or pre-ordered digitally.
Steam Wallet cards
Steam is a popular digital video game storefront, where you’ll find a broad selection of blockbuster games and indie titles that may have passed you by, across every price range.
Xbox Game Pass
An Xbox Game Pass Ultimate membership also provides access to a library of PC games on your Windows 10 computer, in addition to Xbox One games.
Subscription game cards and in-game currency cards
Some games, especially massively multiplayer online (MMO) games, require a monthly subscription. Many of these games allow you to buy in-game currency as well. This is currency that can only be used inside the game’s own ecosystem to purchase things like new costumes, weapons and in-game bonuses for your characters.
Physical game purchases
Even with the large selection of games that can be purchased digitally, the option still exists to purchase a physical, boxed game that includes an install disc. These options include collector’s editions that can include display-worthy cases or physical items like character figurines or statues.