Gaming PCs aren’t about following rules; you want power, excitement and flat-out speed. If you have the money available, you could go for the faster Intel Core i7-3770K, but you’re unlikely to see much improvement in terms of gaming speeds.
Ivy Bridge chips are trickier to overclock than the previous-generation Sandy Bridge processors so a decent Sandy Bridge system can still remain competitive and will be easier to soup-up if you’re thinking of having a go yourself.
Cooling is essential if an overclocked CPU is not to overheat. You won’t see stock coolers fitted in any of these PCs. Instead, expect large heatsinks, often with multiple fans. Liquid cooling systems can also offer greater cooling capacity than airflow alone.
The dust filters attached to a PC’s fans are important, and can help prevent debris from clogging up your machine and causing it to overheat.
Any self-respecting gamer will demand a system case that looks the part, but it also needs to be practical. Good internal cable management aids airflow, while fan controllers let you tweak their speeds to reduce noise or boost cooling as necessary.
The graphics card is the single most important component in a gaming PC. It may even be worth trimming your budget in areas such as storage capacity and connectivity, then splashing out on the graphics subsystem instead.
Graphics cards fall in and out of favour quickly as the two big players, AMD and nVidia leapfrog each other with their latest technologies. This month it’s the turn of nVidia to sweep the board, the most popular card being the GeForce GTX 670. This is almost as fast as the considerably more expensive GeForce GTX 680.
If you can’t afford one of these, just buy the best you can afford, and reduce your render quality settings accordingly. If you choose a motherboard which supports SLI, or CrossFireX for AMD cards, you may be able to add a second card later when funds become available.
nVidia’s GeForce GTX 560 Ti is a cheaper card that still offers very good performance. You may need to drop the display options to maintain the fastest frame rates in some games, however.
Look for a monitor that’s large, clear, and offers a fast response time; getting the best colour quality is of less importance. Pricey in-plane switching panels, for example, are less important unless you intend to view the screen from the side or use the PC for image and video editing. If you’re a console gamer, you may want a display that has multiple inputs.
If you’re playing competitively, the keyboard and mouse can make a huge difference to your performance. An enthusiast system will come with peripherals designed specifically for gaming, although increasingly we’re seeing systems offered without such peripherals so you can select your own controllers.
You’ll benefit from wired rather than wireless devices, which tend to be more responsive. Look for high-resolution mice and keyboards with programmable keys and backlighting. Some draw attention to the W, A, S, D keys with different labelling or texture. Also consider a gaming headset with a built-in mic.
Warranty terms are more important in this category than anywhere else. The longer the warranty the better, but look for a collect-and-return rather than return-to-base option.