Group Test: Best PCs for games
In March, AMD launched its muchanticipated Ryzen processors. We’ve written plenty about them over the past couple of issues, but now we’re in a position to see how they fare when viewed as part of a whole PC.
For this group test, we asked some PC builders to send us their best system based around a Ryzen chip and others to use something from Intel’s seventh generation Kaby Lake range.
It’s no secret that games run better on Intel processors at the moment, despite Ryzen’s better performance in many CPUbased tests. The fact is that although you get more cores for your money, most game developers have not yet optimised their titles to work well on Ryzen. Because of the lack of competition from AMD in recent years, studios have tended to optimise for Intel processors, and there’s no guarantee that your favourite games will ever be updated so they run faster if you have a Ryzen chip.
But as we explain on page 77, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy a gaming system with a Ryzen processor.
As Overclockers UK demonstrates, you don’t have to spend top dollar to get a PC that will handle the latest games. And it will be plenty quick enough for all the other stuff you need to do besides gaming.
The reviews will tell you all you need to know about each PC, but here’s some extra advice to help you choose the best PC for you.
Different games place different demands on your computer hardware, but choosing a gaming rig will involve a balancing act between CPU and graphics performance.
For gaming PC’s we’re happy to allow overclocked processors, which will significantly increase your overall processing power without having to stump up for the most expensive chips.
To keep the overclocked processors cool, most PC builders fit third-party coolers, some using the traditional heatsink and fan design, while others opt for a liquid coolant pumped through a radiator. This is known as a closed-loop cooler or CLC for short.
Overclocked processors place additional demands on the system’s power supply and also require better cooling, so expect
to pay more for PCs with more extreme overclocking. You can overclock the processor yourself if you wish, but it can be a good idea to buy a pre-overclocked system such as the ones reviewed here, which are covered by the manufacturer’s warranty when running at the higher speed.
There are several points to consider when choosing the right motherboard for your PC, if you’re not into technical details you may be tempted to overlook the motherboard and concentrate on the processor and graphics, but the motherboard is extremely important.
All AMD Ryzen processors are overclockable, but only motherboards with the X370 and B350 chipsets support this.
You should also try and get a board that supports the latest USB 3.1 gen 2 sockets (which run at 10GB/s) and has a highperformance PCI-Express M.2 SSD slot.
Premium motherboards such as these may offer additional features such as the higher-quality built-in audio and faster network cards designed to reduce lag alongside nice, but unnecessary, things like better looks and even colour-changing LEDs,
It’s usually the graphics card that determines the overall quality of your gaming experience. Once your processor is fast enough, it’s down to the card to deliver the game to your screen. This is why we suggest gamers go for a Core i5 or Ryzen 5 processor rather than the more expensive Core i7 as the difference in price will almost certainly serve you better spent on the graphics card rather than on the CPU.
To ensure the smoothest possible gameplay, you generally want to achieve a minimum of 60 frames per second (fps) in your game. This is the limiting speed of most PC displays, so you won’t really need to go faster than this unless you have a high-speed gaming monitor that allows for faster refresh rates. Any extra performance will then allow you to increase the quality settings in your game, making characters sharper, textures more realistic and graphical effects more immersive.
Right now, Nvidia offers the fastest cards (at high prices), but AMD also has some great-value offerings such as the RX 480. That’s just been superseded by the RX 580, which is a bit quicker for similar money, so ask to upgrade to this if you order the Overclockers UK machine.
The PCs here don’t come with monitors. If you don’t have a good one already, then, for more immersive gameplay, opt for the largest display you can find and one with a good contrast ratio. A fast response time will ensure that fast, frenetic gameplay remains free of blur, although not all game players will notice any difference.
TN-based monitors will cost less and provide most of these features, but IPS-based displays will give you better overall colour reproduction and wider viewing angles, although response times tend to be slower. For a more responsive display, go for a gaming monitor with a high refresh rate of 120- or 144Hz, although you’ll need powerful graphics to supply frames at this speed. For the very smoothest gameplay from an Nvidia graphics card, look for a monitor that supports Nvidia G-sync. With G-sync, the monitor stays in step with the graphics card rather than the other way around.
This means less blurring or image tearing even at lower frame rates and will be of great benefit to mid-range graphics cards such as the ones found in these PCs. AMD offers a competing technology called ‘FreeSync’ and these monitors are generally a lot cheaper than G-sync ones.
If you’re using your PC on a desk with a monitor, you’ll benefit from the improved responsiveness of wired rather than wireless devices. Look for high-resolution mice, and keyboards with programmable keys and backlighting.
High-grade mechanical switches in keyboards have a better ‘feel’ and provide longer life than cheap membrane switches. Some draw attention to the W,A, S, D keys with a different colour or texture. A gaming sound card can provide a more immersive experience by adding multiple sound effects, with improved audio fidelity. Also consider a gaming headset with a built-in mic.
However, if you’re planning on playing from the sofa, you’ll want wireless controllers. For keyboard input, we would recommend a wireless model that comes with an integrated pointing device, such as a trackball or trackpad.
We’re not used to seeing many gaming PCs coming with optical drives these days, and none of this month’s PCs have one. If you’re still playing games delivered on disc, you may need a USB optical drive – some of the latest cases don’t even have a bay for an internal drive.
Power consumption and noise
If you’re using the PC as a home entertainment hub, you’ll want to consider idle power consumption and noise. The more you overclock your PC, the more power it will consume and the louder it will get.
Warranty terms are crucial when it comes to gaming PCs and a key advantage of buying a pre-built overclocked PC is that all of the overclocking will be tested and covered by the vendor’s warranty. The longer the better, but also look for a collect-and-return rather than return-to-base option. Also pay attention to whether parts and labour are both covered and for how long.
To ensure the smoothest possible gameplay, you generally want to achieve a minimum of 60 frames per second (fps) in your game, which is the limiting speed of most PC displays
For the ultimate gaming experience you need a powerful PC. Paul Monckton tests out five of the latest and best