With prices ranging from £829 to £16,99 there's something for everyone in this month's round-up of best gaming PCs.
Scroll down to the bottom of the page to see the 6 best Gaming PCs chart.
Gaming PCs buying advice
The graphics processor drives the Windows gaming experience, but a PC still needs a central processor. The new Intel Core i5-4670K is difficult to beat for all-round performance at a reasonable price. You can opt for the supreme power of the more expensive Core i7-4770K, which can process double the number of threads, but you’ll pay a considerable premium – and crucially, see minimal improvement to gaming framerates. Take a look at 7 best laptops for games reviewed: best gaming laptops 2013.
Any of these ‘K-series’ processors will allow a reasonable amount of overclocking, but do make sure your system uses a motherboard that supports this function if you want to make the most of such a CPU.
We use PCMark 7 to quantify the general performance of each machine. When most PC vendors are selling in essence the same box of bits, differences can be attributed to the level of overclocking and the use of fast memory and an SSD. Graphics cards still come into play for non-gaming tasks such as converting video formats, which is also reflected in the overall PCMark 7 score.
Graphics cards fall in and out of favour as AMD and nVidia leapfrog each other with the latest technologies. It’s wise to base your GPU decision on the type of games you like to play, since many titles are sponsored by one of the two graphics-card designers and are thus likely to run better on its own cards. In this group test we see examples from both nVidia and AMD.
Never skimp on the graphics card in a gaming PC – it’s the single most expensive component, but essential for the best Windows gaming. Accordingly, many of the PCs here are fitted with powerful cards such as the nVidia GeForce GTX 770 or AMD Radeon HD 7870.
You can save money with a factory-overclocked card with a lower base spec. These often cost significantly less, with a minimal reduction in performance.
Dual-card solutions can also be a good idea, depending on the prices of the cards available at any given time. None of the vendors here has gone for such a solution but, if you choose a motherboard that supports nVidia’s SLI or AMD’s CrossFireX, it’s easy to add a second graphics card later (see page 114 for a walkthrough). Just ensure your PSU is sufficiently powerful, and offers enough power connectors for the two cards.
Good cooling is essential if a high-performance CPU is not to overheat. The cheap Intel CPU cooler often fitted by UK vendors simply won’t do. Expect to find large heatsinks and several fans.
Liquid-cooling systems offer reduced fan noise and greater cooling capacity than airflow alone. Meanwhile, the dust filters attached to a computer’s fans can help to reduce the incoming debris that clogs up games machines and can otherwise cause them to run even hotter and louder.
Gamers like their systems to look the part, but the case needs to be practical. Internal cable management aids airflow, and fan controllers let you reduce noise or boost cooling as necessary.
Gaming PCs buying advice: Peripherals
Look for a monitor that’s large, clear and offers a fast response time. Twisted nematic (TN) panels offer the fastest response times, but in-plane switching (IPS) panels are now sufficiently fast and provide much better colour reproduction. Their wider viewing angles will benefit other (non-gaming) users of the PC, too. Console gamers may want a display that has multiple HDMI inputs so they can hook it up to their PC and switch between the two.
The keyboard and mouse you use can make a huge difference to your gaming performance. An enthusiast system should come with peripherals designed for gaming. You may 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 soundcard can provide a more immersive experience by adding multiple sound effects, with improved audio fidelity and reduced noise. Also consider a gaming headset with a built-in mic.
Gaming PCs buying advice: Warranty
Warranty terms are crucial when it comes to PCs pushed to maximum performance. The longer the better, but also look for parts-and-labour cover rather than labour-only deals.
Gaming PCs buying advice: Conclusion
Arbico’s low-cost Elite 4670 OCX is a very capable PC, although you’ll need to supply your own monitor, keyboard and mouse, and possibly dial down the quality settings to keep gameplay smooth.
At the other end of the scale, Wired2Fire’s Diablo Predator Z87 provides everything you’ll need bar a Blu-ray player, including a class-leading nVidia GeForce GTX 780 graphics card. This component alone is enough to beat into submission the competition and earn Wired2Fire our recommendation, although it does add around £200 to the price when compared to the cheaper GTX 770 model.
In between these two systems are several interesting options. At £1,100, Computer Planet’s ND 3000 offers great value. It offers a good set of components, but the motherboard’s budget B85 chipset prevents the unlocked Core i5 processor from being overclocked. Not that overclocking will make your Windows games play faster, mind.
Mesh’s Elite Gamer PCA offers unusually decent build quality and very good performance, but we can’t help thinking that the money spent on its Core i7 processor could have been put to better use elsewhere.
At £1,249, Chillblast’s Fusion Uzi is the least expensive system to provide a full set of peripherals, top-end gaming performance and a motherboard worthy of its unlocked Core i5-4670K processor. It also comes in a unique and attractive small-form-factor case, which can be more easily transported to gaming events.
For only £30 more, PC Specialist’s more traditional-looking Vanquish GT1 delivers slightly better gaming results and incorporates a gaming sound card, although general application performance is lower.
The Chillblast edges out the PC Specialist to win our Best Buy award with its Blu-ray drive, additional USB 3.0 ports, integrated Wi-Fi and lower power consumption.
Gaming PCs: How we test
We test each PC for performance, measuring its speed in everyday computing tasks and its ability to play games.
For this group test we used PCMark 7, an industry-recognised test suite that uses 25 different workloads to measure areas such as storage, computation, image and video manipulation, web browsing and gaming. An overall score in the high 6,000s is excellent for an overclocked gaming system.
We’ve used three games to evaluate graphics performance. We run our tests at 1280x720- and 1920x1080 pixels at various detail settings.
Framerates are recorded using the following games and quality settings:
Final Fantasy XIV: 1280x720, Medium quality; 1920x1080, Maximum quality.
Alien vs Predator: 1280x720, all settings at Maximum quality; 1920x1080, all settings at Maximum quality.
Sniper Elite V2: All options set to Medium quality, advanced shadows off, Supersampling off; all options set to Ultra quality, Advanced shadows – high, 4x Supersampling. We’ve also added a test run at the lowest possible quality to allow comparison with non-gaming systems.
Power consumption torture testing
We measure the power consumption of each PC base unit (excluding peripherals) when idle and again while running at its performance limit.
During the idle test the PCs hard drives are still spinning and the power-management features are not enabled.
For the full-load torture test, we run Prime 95 to force all CPU processing threads to maximum utilisation and stress system memory. At the same time we run the Geeks3D Furmark benchmark to stress any installed graphics cards. We leave these tests running for 10 minutes, then record the system’s power consumption and the CPU temperature reached.
Because gamers demand the best performance from their hardware, we allow vendors to overclock PCs in this category. We require that any tweaked component is designed for overclocking, and that the PC vendor offers a comprehensive warranty to put things right in the event that the overclocking overstresses your PC.
We pay close attention to the physical characteristics of each PC, its noise output and its build quality, delving inside the case and taking note of the quality of components used, cabling and airflow.
Good-quality peripherals are also important, and where they are supplied we note the ergonomics of the keyboard and mouse. Ordinary wireless keyboard and mouse combos are frowned upon in this category, whereas fast, responsive peripherals will impress.
Differences in warranty terms can impact our scoring. Long warranties are sought after, but we also look at the terms and conditions – specifically, whether faulty PCs must be returned to the vendor at your cost and if both parts and labour are included.