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Best gaming PC 2017 UK: Buying advice
Consoles are great, but they simply can’t match the graphical power of a decent gaming PC. With the right processor and graphics card, you can achieve far higher-quality visuals and enjoy all the game modifications you desire. Of course, you also get high-performance for all your non-gaming needs and that graphics card will also offer a considerable performance boost to other applications, such as photo and video editing software.
Best gaming PC 2017 UK: Virtual Reality (VR)
Virtual reality (VR) is the big new thing: you can buy an HTC Vive and play VR games at home. The Oculus Rift is also available to buy in the UK from the likes of GAME and Amazon. But while you may be prepared for the high price of the headset, you might not realise you also need a powerful gaming PC to use one.
You can read our complete guide to VR for more in-depth information on the headsets, games and apps available, but here we'll explain the minimum specs you need to a VR-ready PC. You can also jump straight to our reviews of the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.
Most people don’t realise that VR games require seven times the graphics power of normal 3D games. This is because the graphics card has to deliver two different high-resolution images to both eyes at 90 frames per second.
If your PC struggles to play games at 1920x1080 – the minimum is considered 30 frames per second – then it’s not going to cope with running an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive which both have a 2160x1200 screen, especially if you want 90fps (that's 1080x1200 pixels per eye).
A VR-ready PC will need to have the following specifications (or better) to drive a VR headset and produce a ‘great experience’:
- Nvidia GTX 970 / AMD Radeon R9 290 graphics card
- HDMI 1.3 output
- 2x USB 3.0
- Intel Core i5-4590 (or equivalent)
- 8GB of RAM
- Windows 7 SP1 or later
These are not minimum requirements, but recommended specs. You may be able to get away with a less powerful CPU, for example, but it’s inadvisable to do so as developers are also working with these specifications to ensure games run well. And if you’re going to spend a lot on a VR headset, you really need to have a computer that’s powerful enough to run it.
If you’re buying a laptop, then Nvidia says you’ll need a GTX 980 or better. Again, note that this is not a GTX 980M, but a full-fat 980. Few laptops have this desktop-class GPU and you’re better off waiting for laptops with the new GTX 1060, 1070 or 1080.
Also, bear in mind that most laptops’ HDMI outputs are connected to the on-board Intel graphics and not the discrete Nvidia or AMD GPU. So if you are buying a laptop for VR use, make sure it has a compatible HDMI 1.3 output that’s actually coming from the separate graphics chip.
Different games place different demands on your computer hardware, but choosing a gaming PC will involve a balancing act between CPU and graphics performance.
For gaming PC’s we’re happy to allow system builders to overclock processors, which can significantly increase performance without having to stump up for the most expensive chips. The latest chips are Intel's 7th-gen Core chips. The desktop versions (which go on sale in January 2017) offer around 25 percent better performance than the 6th-gen Skylake chips, and also offer a couple of other features besides.
To keep the overclocked processors cool, they are fitted with large processor coolers, some using the traditional heatsink and fan design, while others opt for a liquid coolant pumped through a radiator.
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.
We explain in each review what the motherboard offers in terms of overclocking. Not all motherboards support this, and opting for a lower-cost motherboard without such features can also allow you to spend a little more on your graphics card, which can have a big impact on your final performance figures.
If you want the latest ports and connectors including USB 3.1 Gen 2 (which supports transfers at twice the speed of USB 3.0 - also known as USB 3.1 Gen 1) then make sure you check this before ordering.
It’s usually the graphics card that will determine the overall quality of your gaming experience. Once your processor is fast enough, it’s down to the graphics card to deliver the game to your screen. This is why we suggest gamers go for a Core i5 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 smooth 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. It's a good idea to go for a card from Nvidia or AMD's latest ranges. AMD's fastest card - the RX 480 - isn't as quick as Nvidia's, so read our graphics card reviews to find out how each card performs.
It's also worth bearing in mind that it can be down to which graphics card vendor has done a better job optimising any particular game for performance on its own cards. If you have an idea of which games you want to play, it can be worth investigating how well any given card performs with those particular games before you make your decision.
Cases and cooling
We've already talked about processor cooling, but gamers tend to like their PC tower system to look the part as well. Many come with fans that light up in various colours, but don't overlook the fact that the case needs to be practical. Internal cable management aids airflow, while fan controllers let you reduce noise or boost cooling as necessary.
Graphics cards can also come with various cooling systems, the more advanced of which can allow for faster clock speeds on the GPU and less noise from the graphics subsystem when playing games.
For more immersive gameplay, go 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 framerates, 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’, which will soon be available for displays connected to AMD graphics cards.
For more see our Best gaming monitors roundup.
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 and D keys with a different colour or texture. Here are the best gaming keyboards.
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.
Power consumption and noise
If you’re using the PC as a home entertainment hub, you may also 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 become.
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 warranty 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.
Best gaming PCs of 2017 in the UK
- Reviewed on: 26 December 16
- RRP: £914 & delivery
The Wired2Fire Diablo Fury is a high-performance gaming PC using overclocked components which deliver good value for money. However, the lack of a hard drive means the SSD is likely to fill up quickly
Read our Wired2Fire Diablo Fury review.
- Reviewed on: 28 December 16
- RRP: £824 & delivery
The YoyoTech Warbird RS10 V2 delivers high-performance gaming at a reasonable price. The lack of an SSD makes the system feel less responsive in general use, but there’s plenty of storage available for a large game library. Warranty terms could be more competitive at this price.
Read our Yoyotech Warbird RS10 V2 review.
- Reviewed on: 28 November 16
- RRP: £749 & delivery
As a great all-round gaming PC, the Fusion Tracer RX 480 will not disappoint. It delivers strong gaming performance without cutting corners, although it does lacks upgrade options. It also comes with a five year warranty.
Read our Chillblast Fusion Tracer RX 480 review.
- Reviewed on: 28 November 16
- RRP: £660 & delivery
As a budget system with a strong emphasis on gaming, the Overclockers Kinetic H1 sacrifices multi-core processor performance, instead to sinking most of the budget into the graphics card. Photo and video editing performance may suffer a little, but you’ll be able to enjoy decent gaming frame rates up to 1440p. The inclusion of a hybrid hard drive also keeps the system responsive in general purpose computing scenarios.
Read our Overclockers UK Kinetic H1 review.
- Reviewed on: 28 November 16
- RRP: £699 & delivery
The Mesh Storm PCA performs very well for the money, but the lack of an SSD makes it less than speedy at many non-gaming tasks. A good choice for demanding gamers on a budget.
Read our Mesh Storm PCA review.
- Reviewed on: 28 June 16
- RRP: £999 inc. VAT
A mid-priced VR-ready PC striking a perfect balance between performance and features, the Chillblast Fusion Catapult is well built and delivers a solid VR experience without cutting corners. Faster gaming performance is possible for this price, but only if serious compromises are made elsewhere.
Read our Chillblast Fusion Catapult review.
- Reviewed on: 27 June 16
- RRP: £1150
The Wired2Fire Diablo Predator VR isn't cheap but it delivers superb performance without compromise on components and is well worth the extra money if you can afford it.
Read our Wired2Fire Diablo Predator VR review.
- Reviewed on: 1 July 16
- RRP: £999.99
The Yoyotech Warbird RS14 makes tough compromises in its specification, but delivers superb gaming and VR performance at a very reasonable price.
Read our Yoyotech Warbird RS14 review.
- Reviewed on: 20 June 16
- RRP: £709.99, US$888 (aprox)
The Kinetic VR Gaming PC is one of the least expensive VR-ready PCs you can buy. It doesn't have a lot of power, but delivers performance where it’s really needed in order to provide a good VR experience at a low price. It’s also one of the few gaming PCs which could be considered portable.
- Reviewed on: 1 July 16
- RRP: £1199.99
The Palicomp i5 Matrix is very fast and reasonably priced considering its premium components. However the 4.7GHz overclock is perhaps a little overambitious for the supplied cooling solution.
Read our Palicomp i5 Matrix review.
- Reviewed on: 1 February 16
- RRP: £1379.99
The Chillblast Fusion Nano Fury is not without compromise, but fits into an almost impossibly small case while delivering a huge improvement in gaming performance thanks to AMD’s R9 Nano graphics card.
Read our Chillblast Fusion Nano Fury review.