PC specifications often confuse many people because of how many components they involve. Especially now that there are so many products classified as gaming products, which more often than not are simply marketing gimmicks. SSD or HDD? 4K monitor with 144 Hz? Gaming motherboard? Expensive PSU? Do we really need them all?
I’m going to discuss gaming specification from one perspective, which is the purpose of you playing games. This purpose is what defines the specifications you need from a PC or laptop in order to play some games.
Many computer products are now marketed with gaming jargon, but one thing that many people aren’t aware of might be their purpose of playing games. Being cognizant of the purpose is important in deciding the priority of choosing components because if not, you might be emptying your whole savings to buy products that probably don’t suit your needs.
From this purpose perspective, I’m splitting PC gamers into two types: competitive gamers and leisure gamers.
This is what makes those two types differ from each other. Competitive gamers only have one purpose: to win the competition and become the champion. Whereas for leisure gamers, they still want to win in a game, but that isn’t their main purpose. The main purpose of leisure gamers is to enjoy the game.
Based on the purpose, I’ll provide pointers for each of the following components. Let’s discuss them one by one, which I have sorted from the ones that have the most significant impact yet many people aren’t aware of.
1. Storage (HDD or SSD)
Storage requirement is very different between those two types of gamer I mentioned. Competitive gamers don’t need that much storage, even one 500GB HDD might be enough since they ideally just play one game title.
A pro player on CS:GO most likely won’t play other games since you really need to invest a lot of time in one game to become on top of the food chain.
In reality, competitive gamers might not need an SSD or even an NVMe/M.2/PCIE SSD.
Why? You could try it yourself if you have doubts. CS:GO, Dota 2, LOL, Overwatch, or other popular competitive titles won’t differ much in terms of loading times whether you use an SSD or HDD. In this type of games, your loading times will usually be held back by your internet connection, not the write or read speed of your storage system.
On the contrary, leisure gamers these days ideally would use an NVMe/M.2 SSD, at least 512GB (plus a 1TB HDD for games that are modest enough in terms of loading times).
I’ve tested myself by comparing Fallout 4’s loading times when using an SSD and HDD. Using an SSD, the loading times when fast travelling or changing location is just 2-3 seconds. Meanwhile, when using HDD, it could take more than 30 seconds to load.
Thus, unless you plan to wash dishes while waiting for a game to load, SSD is very important for leisure gamers because many game files are too big to be handled by HDD in this modern era.
A monitor is very important to discuss since there aren’t many discussions about it in terms of gaming – which seems peculiar since there are many products marketed as ‘gaming monitors’ these days.
For competitive gamers, you will need a fast monitor. If you have the budget, go for one that could provide a 144Hz refresh rate. If not, just find one with 2-5ms of response time. Usually, products labelled as gaming monitors can deliver these conditions.
You can sacrifice color accuracy, contrast ratio, screen resolution, and many other attributes if you have a tight budget. Trust me, you don’t need to play CS:GO in 4K resolution because it won’t increase your chance in winning the game.
On the other side of the coin, if you’re a leisure gamer, I would be more likely to suggest you find monitors that are marketed for multimedia purposes, i.e. watching movies.
I know that this doesn’t sound at all like what’s in gaming monitor ads but this is the fact. This is because leisure gamers concern more about visual quality – which is the opposite of competitive gamers’.
Therefore, if you’re the leisure gamer type, look for a monitor with high black levels, contrast ratio, and color range. Why is that? Because without a monitor that’s able to provide good visual quality, ambient occlusion, dynamic shadow, or even visual plugins such as ReShade and ENB won’t be able to deliver their maximum potential.
Additionally, the visual quality is directly related to how immersive a game’s atmosphere can be. For example, try increasing your monitor brightness to its maximum setting when playing horror games, I suppose those games wouldn’t be as terrifying because of the lack of atmosphere.
Do you need a 144Hz monitor? Or the one with 4K resolution? For 2020, it really depends on your budget. If you can’t spend to get at least a US$400 graphic card, don’t bother going for 144Hz or even 4K. Because your graphic card has to run the game at least 100fps to utilize the high frame rate.
If you have the budget, though, you should at least aim for a 144Hz monitor at Full HD resolution. I honestly prefer playing AAA games in 144Hz @1920×1080 rather than 60Hz @4K.
3. Graphics card
Graphics card is the most essential as well as the most popular component in determining gaming performance. However, your graphics card requirement is very much dictated by your purpose of playing games.
For competitive gaming, you wouldn’t need an expensive graphics card. Graphics cards that cost around US$100 are already more than enough for competitive games since the system requirements themselves aren’t that demanding.
The visual priority for competitive gamers is clarity. As a matter of fact, some visual effects can actually block your view of the battlefield – and too late to identify what’s happening on screen is a matter of life and death for competitive gamers.
On the opposite side, if you’re the leisure gamer type you need to balance your graphic card with your monitor. For example, if you are using a 1920×1080 monitor, you might not need an RTX 3070. Likewise, if you use a GTX 1660, don’t bother using a 1440p monitor or the ones with more than 60Hz refresh rate.
If you are a leisure gamer type, like me, you want the fanciest graphical features which are also the most demanding, for example, anti aliasing, anisotropic filtering, bloom, ambient occlusion, and many more that need to be enabled to get exceptional visual quality.
However, just keep in mind, you need to work on the graphic card’s budget related to your monitor. For the middle class of leisure gamer, I would say the ideal graphic card is RTX 2070 — combined with a 144Hz monitor.
Do you need a gaming motherboard? The answer is, maybe yes, maybe no.
For me personally, motherboard is the trickiest part. The reason is, on one hand, a standard non-gaming motherboard is actually enough for playing games. But on the other hand, a gaming motherboard generally uses better components, which in turn make it more durable.
Durability is my main priority when looking for a motherboard. Because no matter how fast your PC is, it will be useless once it fails to function.
Moreover, gaming motherboards are typically easier to use for overclocking. So if you’re unfamiliar with overclocking, you could still benefit from overclocking with gaming motherboards.
Having said that, if you’re familiar enough with the technical side, you probably don’t need a gaming motherboard – just find one that’s durable enough – since they are usually priced higher than the standard ones.
So, my advice is, if you’re unwilling to learn about technical stuff, gaming motherboards might suit you better since they are already optimized for gaming by default. However, if you’re like me and you like to do some tweaking here and there, as well as parsimonious (LOL…), you could just search for one that’s durable.
What about the different motherboard needs between competitive and leisure gamers then? Well, I think this durability factor is crucial because if your PC is failing, that would mean you’re unable to practice (for competitive gamers), or you couldn’t have fun (for leisure gamers).
Nevertheless, in general, choosing a gaming motherboard isn’t about your purpose of playing – competitive or leisure – but more about your willingness to learn about technical stuff.
I’m one of the few people who will never be tired of reminding how important a high-quality PSU for your PC is, whether it is for gaming or other computer needs.
PSU is like a motherboard, in that its health would impact directly to your overall system. If your PSU is in poor condition, you can be sure that your PC would get frequent errors. A PSU is like a heart for a PC (electricity is like blood for your body).
So, imagine people with heart diseases, they won’t be able to physically perform as good as people whose heart is in good condition. If your PSU died, you won’t be able to practice or have fun with your PC anymore. So, please, don’t ever buy a fake PSU anymore…
No matter your purpose (competitive or leisure) a good PSU is a must. My recommendation, check this list about PSUs which already have 80 Plus certification. If you can’t find a product there, don’t buy it.
Lastly, I can’t include all the components since it would be too long of an article.
But in general, competitive gamers don’t really prioritize their PC specifications since the most popular competitive games today, such as CS:GO, Dota 2, or LOL aren’t that demanding in terms of systems requirements.
Besides, competitive gamers would prioritize more toward individual skills and teamwork than PC specifications. Competitive gamers must hold dearly to this adage, “It’s not about the gun, it’s about the man behind the gun.”
Conversely, leisure gamers would require high specification in all aspects since the best games today are very demanding in terms of performance, games like RDR2, AC: Odyssey, Cyberpunk 2077, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and many more.
Written originally on October 12, 2016. Updated on November 29 2020.
Translated by Glenn Kaonang