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How to choose a PC for gaming

Gaming PC buying advice

Gaming PCs are all about raw graphics power, with a big dollop of machismo thrown in to the outward design for good measure.

Performance and upgradability are key here, at the expense of quiet-running domestic bliss. Many gaming PCs will be overclocked – running the main processor at higher than rated speed – in order to help the graphics processor run at its top speed.

For the last year, the CPU of choice has been the Intel Core i5-2500K. This is a great starting point for a gaming system as it can be massively overclocked, when given a decent cooler and high-quality power supply. It’s considerably less expensive than the HyperThreaded Core i7-2600K which offers only a small performance advantage to gamers.

Cooling is of paramount importance as it’s a key factor in determining how fast a processor will run before it further undermines Windows stability. Make sure you get a decent cooling system inside – no cheap Intel-standard parts here.

Liquid-cooling systems are also commonplace and can allow far greater cooling capacity. They won’t necessarily be quiet though – listen out for gurgling pump systems.

Look out for dust filters which will prevent your PC from clogging up over time and overheating. A processor which exceeds 4GHz after hot-rodding is even more likely to fail when the cooling system isn’t operating at peak efficiency.

Built in cable-management helps maintain air-flow, while fan controllers let you tweak fan speeds to reduce noise or boost cooling as necessary.

But the single most significant – and expensive – part of any gaming PC is the graphics card. If you’re focused on gaming, you can forego Blu-ray drives, multi-TB hard disks and wireless networking and throw more cash at the graphics subsystem.

AMD’s latest Radeon HD 7970 is currently the king of graphics cards, delivering unparalleled performance in a single GPU solution, but at a price.
 
Else, look for a cheaper card such as nVidia’s GeForce GTX 560 Ti which offers very good performance at a killer price. Remember, these cards will also spin your electric meter and can roar like a jumpjet. Consider sound-deadened PC cases to reduce noise. See also: Group test: what's the best graphics card?

Your monitor needs to be large, clear and responsive, but won’t necessarily require accurate colour quality. There’s less point spending money on an IPS panel, for example unless you also intend to use the PC’s horsepower for photo or video editing. Console gamer should look for a display with multiple inputs so you could hook up your Eggbox 360 and PS3 to the same screen.

Keyboard and mouse will also make a difference. Often tacked on as an afterthought, a proper gaming keyboard will be wired rather than wireless, for best responsiveness. You can also get high-resolution mice, and keyboards with programmable keys to perform a sequence of game actions with one press.

Also look for backlit keyboards, and the crucial WASD keys highlighted to find them quickly.

Consider a gaming headset, not only for keeping the peace with your neighbours, but also for the built-in microphone which comes into play for many multi-player games.

With systems pushed up to and beyond their limit, warranty terms are more important than ever. Look for a collect-and-return option rather than one which requires you to ship a heavy PC system back to the vendor at your own cost.

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