Consoles are nice and all, but if you want to play gorgeous-looking titles like Middle-Earth: Shadow of War and Star Wars Battlefront II at their maximum graphical potential, you’ll want a gaming desktop.
We’ve tested dozens of the most popular gaming PCs available, running our rigorous suite of benchmarks and playing several demanding games on each system. Our current overall favorite is the Alienware Aurora, thanks to its eye-catching design, easy upgradability and a variety of pricing options for both budget shoppers and VR enthusiasts. If you’re looking for a great gaming PC under $800, the CyberPower Gamer Xtreme VR is our top budget pick.
No matter how you game, here are our favorite gaming PCs for every type of player.
Latest News and Updates (November 2017)
- We just reviewed the latest Alienware Aurora, which keeps Alienware’s flagship at the top of our list thanks to its highly upgradable design and improved power.
- Nvidia recently released its GTX 1070 Ti graphics card, which offers nearly as much power as the GTX 1080 at a more attainable price. Check out our primer and benchmark results here.
How We Test Gaming PCs
Every gaming desktop we review endures a standardized gauntlet of real-world and benchmark tests, in order to measure how each PC stacks up as both a gaming machine and as an everyday computer.
As far as hard numbers go, we currently run the framerate benchmark utilities for Rise of the Tomb Raider, Hitman and Grand Theft Auto V at 1920 x 1080 with graphics maxed out, as well as at 2560 x 1440 and 4K if a system allows for it. On top of that, we simply play tons of graphics-intensive games such as Star Wars Battlefront II, Injustice 2 and Forza Motorsport 7 in order to give you a sense of how these gaming desktops hold up in the real world.
In terms of synthetic tests, we run a gamut of benchmarks that include 3DMark Fire Strike Ultra (for graphics) and Geekbench 4 (for processor performance). We also run the SteamVR Performance Test on all of our machines to evaluate how ready they are for virtual reality. To test a system’s hard drive, we measure how fast each PC can copy 4.97GB worth of multimedia files.
What to Look For and When to Buy
If you want to reap the benefits of PC gaming while still being able to kick back with your couch and big-screen TV, machines such as the Origin Chronos ($1,200 starting) are sleek and compact enough to fit into your entertainment center. Those who want more flexibility should consider desktops such as the CyberPower Gamer Master 9500 ($2,059), which can be configured with the highest-end parts out there, and come in a variety of eye-catching and colorful cases that you can tweak to your heart’s content.
You’ll also want to pay attention to some key components. Intel and Nvidia are the most popular brands for CPUs and GPUs, respectively, largely because of their consistently strong performance. But AMD components have become a viable alternative — going for a system with a Ryzen processor or Radeon graphics card can lower your costs significantly while still offering comparable performance to the big two.
If you plan on gaming in VR, pay close attention to specs. At the minimum, the Oculus Rift requires an Nvidia GTX 960 or AMD equivalent graphics card, an Intel Core i3-6100 or AMD FX4350 processor, 8GB of RAM, two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI 1.3 port and Windows 8 or newer. However, Oculus recommends at least a GTX 970 and Core i5 processor for the best experience.
For the Vive, HTC recommends a Core i5-4590 or AMD FX 8350 CPU, an Nvidia GTX 1060 or Radeon RX 480 GPU, 4GB of RAM, an HDMI 1.4 port or DisplayPort 1.2 or newer, 1 USB 2.0 port and Windows 7 or newer.
You can use Valve’s SteamVR Performance Test to ensure your PC is Vive-ready; Oculus offers a more basic system-scanning tool on the Rift’s store page.
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