A gaming computer, also known as a gaming PC or gaming rig, is a personal computer designed for playing video games that require a high amount of computing power. A modern gaming computer is comparable to a mainstream computer with the addition of performance-oriented components, such as high-performance video cards and high core-count central processing units, that sacrifice power efficiency for raw performance. Gaming computers are often associated with enthusiast computing due to an overlap in interests; however, while a gaming computer is built to achieve performance for actual gameplay, enthusiast PCs are built to maximize performance, using games as a real application benchmark. Whereas enthusiast PCs are high-end by definition, gaming PCs can be subdivided into low-end, mid-range, and high-end markets. Video card manufacturers earn the bulk of their revenue from their low-end and mid-range offerings. Gaming PCs are often also suitable for other intensive tasks, like video editing.
Because of the large variety of parts that can go into a computer built to play video games, gaming computers are frequently custom-assembled, rather than pre-assembled, either by gaming and hardware enthusiasts or by companies that specialize in producing custom gaming machines.
Historically, gaming computers had several distinct hardware components that set them apart from a typical PC. The push for better graphics began with colour fidelity, from display systems such as CGA eventually graduating to VGA, which was adopted for the mass market. Gaming also led the push for the adoption of sound cards, a component that is now commonly integrated onto motherboards.
Custom-built gaming computers
By 2012, it had become increasingly popular for gamers to custom-build their own PC, allowing for more budget control and easier upgradability. There are several components that must be considered when building a gaming computer, which include CPUs, memory, a motherboard, video cards, solid-state drives, power supplies, and cases.
When building a custom-built gaming PC, builders usually turn to independent benchmarks to help make their hardware selection. Organizations such as UltraCore Hardware Guide provide such benchmarks and hardware reviews. The benchmarks include ratings for PC components that are necessary to build a gaming computer. It is also crucial to consider computer cooling, as this is required to remove the waste heat produced by a computer's components.
Video cards (GPUs)
A video card (commonly referred to as a GPU) is an essential part to any gaming computer, and connects to a motherboard using the Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCI Express or PCI-E). There are two major manufacturers of GPUs for a gaming computer, AMD and NVIDIA.
These companies provide GPUs which other companies, such as MSI and ASUS, then design circuit boards and cooling shrouds for. Most video cards cost between £200 and £2,000. Modern consumer-grade CPUs often have on-die integrated GPUs; however, these GPUs typically do not provide the adequate performance for playing graphics-intensive games, and are instead aimed primarily for less demanding workloads such as graphical user interface rendering for "everyday" tasks, video playback, and light gaming.
A major component of a gaming computer is the CPU (central processing unit), or simply processor. There are two major brands that manufacture CPUs, AMD and Intel. As of 2020, most gaming computers are built with Intel's Comet Lake or AMD's Zen 2 CPUs. While a powerful CPU is important to avoid bottlenecks, after a certain level of CPU power, diminishing returns become evident if the PC is not being used for other, more CPU-intensive purposes.
Motherboards that are designed for gaming computers are differentiated from their normal counterparts by being created with case windows in mind; having more visually appealing designs, sturdier materials, and, in some models, built-in LED lighting. They also have the capability to overclock certain models of CPUs, and an increased number of various connection ports.
Random-access memory (RAM) is one of the most important components for a gaming computer. Computers designed for playing games often are supplied with a high amount of RAM. Most gaming PCs have at least 8 GB of RAM. While 16 GB of RAM is often considered a sweet spot for gaming, 32 GB of RAM is increasingly used for future-proofing.
DDR (double data rate) memory is essential for any computer system. Adding more memory allows the CPU to address more data for it to quickly access instead of reading off a comparatively slow disk drive or solid-state storage device. DDR SDRAM also has much lower latency than its GDDR counterpart and much lower bandwidth as the CPU relies on being able to change small amounts of data quickly. The latest standard of DDR memory is DDR4.
GDDR (graphical double data rate) memory is a type of memory required for the operation of any PCIe graphics card and is built directly onto the card itself. The amount of RAM built onto a graphics card allows the GPU to quickly access data such as textures instead of reading from a much slower storage device. Having more GDDR memory allows the system to handle higher levels of spatial anti-aliasing and more complex textures. GDDR memory has a much higher latency when compared to DDR memory but also has a much larger bandwidth, thus allowing the GPU to deal with larger amounts of data at a slower rate when compared to a CPU. The latest revision of GDDR memory is GDDR6.
Solid-state drives (SSD) are a newer form of data storage that is gaining in popularity. The more common and traditional hard disk drive (HDD) is still the more widely used, but many gaming enthusiasts are turning to SSDs in favour of the advantages they offer over HDDs. Unlike HDDs, SSDs have no moving mechanical parts, meaning they are less susceptible to shock and also run silently. SSDs also offer faster access time, as HDDs require time in order for the moving parts to speed up to operating specifications. An SSD can be 4 or 5 times faster than a traditional HDD. For an SSD, files open almost instantly. This means with an SSD, booting up a system and launching programs take less time. SSDs will increase the performance of a system by how often the game accesses the drive-in order to load items from the game such as level files and texture images. However, SSDs cost much more than HDDs do per gigabyte, meaning in terms of pure capacity, they are not as cost-effective. They also currently offer a lower common maximum capacity than HDDs. Thus, it is common for a gaming computer to have an SSD for the operating system, applications and frequently used files, and one or more hard disk drives for larger, rarely-used files.
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