What Parts Are Most Important For A Gaming PC? Understanding Your Computer Hardware

Those who are new to PC gaming and computers often don’t know how to tell if a computer is good for gaming or not. It can mean that if you’re thinking of buying a new computer, you might have no idea whether it’s considered good or bad.  So which parts are most important for a gaming PC? In this article, we’ll teach you how each piece of computer hardware helps you to play games well, and once you understand how the individual parts work, you’ll have a better idea of how to work out if any computer as a whole is going to run games well.

Why It’s Worth Understanding How Your Computer Hardware Works

It’s worth learning what each hardware component in a computer does, and how it can affect your game play. Why? Because if you plan on playing a lot of different games and you haven’t got the best computer, it’s pretty likely that you might run into performance issues (like lag, low frame rates, or slow load times) at some point.

Understanding what each individual hardware component in your computer does will help you to work out which part (or parts) are causing the issues, and then you can look at upgrading or fixing that particular part. You don’t always need to buy an entirely new computer if your existing one isn’t running games well – sometimes just upgrading a single part can remove bottlenecks and save you cash as well.

So here we go – here’s a list of the most common parts in your computer, and what each one does when you play a computer game.

Graphics Card

Your graphics card is arguably the most important part of a gaming computer build. Anything displayed on your computer monitor has come directly from your graphics card (or on-board graphics processor if you don’t have a dedicated graphics card). It directly handles the processing and rendering of images which are received from your central processing unit (CPU) so that they can be displayed on your screen. Many graphics cards have in-built features to handle specific graphical aspects of gameplay such as image rotation/fine textures/anti-aliasing, so that your CPU doesn’t have to handle these particular operations and is free for other processing activities.

CPU

Just as important as your graphics card in gaming is your computer’s processor or CPU. This typically handles much of the actual gameplay when you are playing games, such as taking input instructions from your mouse and keyboard, actually running the game, loading maps and backgrounds, and processing events which occur inside the game. Once calculated, these items which have been handled by the CPU are passed on to the graphics card for final rendering/display and output to your display monitor.

Memory

Your computer’s memory, or RAM, holds short-term information which is constantly being accessed and used by the CPU. Think of this like a temporary cache/storage spot where you would put things that need to be referred to frequently.  Accessing information in RAM is a lot faster for the CPU than if it had to access the same information from say, your hard drive. It’s the equivalent of having a bar fridge right next to your couch, so you don’t have to get up to go all the way to the kitchen fridge every time you want a drink.

Storage

Your hard drive (or solid state drive if you’re lucky) is used for storage and is where the bulk of your game lives – it’s where it got installed to on your computer. When you go to actually play, the CPU needs to access this information to display on your monitor. It does this by directly pulling information from the storage drive, and performing any actions on it. The CPU itself can’t store information, so each time it needs to access the same information it needs to pull it from the storage drive. This can slow things down if your storage drive is slow (and it often is – usually it’s the slowest component in the chain).

Motherboard

Your motherboard physically connects all the pieces together and provides an electrical link between all of the main parts. It can also affect the speed at which information can be passed from one component to another, especially if information is only passed through serially (think one wire, with one path of travel) instead of in a parallel manner (think multiple wires, or multiple ways to pass a bunch of information at the same time).

Good motherboards are optimized for the highest amount of throughput of information, so that they do not limit the speed of information transfer (typically you will be limited by components like your CPU, storage drives, or graphics card long before your motherboard).

If you’re serious about gaming and want to consider overclocking either now or in the future – you should also look to see that your motherboard (and processor) supports this feature.

Power Supply

OK, so now you’re starting to wonder what your power supply has to do with gameplay, and the answer is that it’s subtle. While your power supply doesn’t have a direct effect on gameplay, we’ve included this item because an inadequate power supply can affect gaming. Simply put, your computer hardware needs a reliable power supply in order to be able to function well; and if your power supply cannot keep up with that demand then you run the risk of seeing symptoms anywhere between sluggish performance of affected parts right up to catastrophic blue-screening/shut down.  Moral of the story is to make sure that the capacity of your power supply is sufficient for your computer.

Optical Drive

Also required for some gamers are optical drives – or more commonly known as your CD drive.  Actually, these aren’t used as much these days, but occasionally you might still have a game where you’ll need to either install from a CD disc, or even more rare now, put in the CD disc to play. If you only need the disc for installation, then you don’t need to worry about your optical drive, because after installation is complete it doesn’t affect your actual gameplay.  However, if you need to insert the disc while you are playing the game, it’s because there is game information on the disc that your CPU needs to refer to while you are playing. This can be quite slow for the CPU to access, so in these cases, the faster your optical drive is able to work, the faster your gameplay will be whenever it relies on accessing disc information.

Optical drives are optional for some people, since the gaming industry has started moving towards a disc-less industry. Many game titles these days can be downloaded which removes the need for a disc.

Cooling

Heat is the number 1 enemy of computer hardware, so you need to make sure you have adequate cooling for your computer. When gaming, this becomes even more important – because if components run too hot, they can start to automatically wind back their speed in an effort to prevent them from overheating. Make sure you have enough ventilation and fans to keep your case cool.

Display Monitor

It’s a little known fact that your display monitor can actually have a big effect on how well your computer can handle games. One of the main factors which can impact the amount of demand put on your graphics card is your screen’s resolution (number of display pixels – e.g. 1920 x 1080). If you are trying to play games with the highest resolution set on your screen, then this can sometimes overload your graphics card. The good news though, is that your display monitor resolution can be adjusted.  All monitors will have a maximum resolution, which is the biggest resolution you can set, however, depending on the size of your screen you can sometimes choose a smaller resolution with no noticeable visual difference – but this change can make a massive difference to your graphics card performance.

So Which Are The Most Important Parts For a Gaming Computer?

All of the hardware parts listed above are important, but some more so than others.

For a gaming build, your graphics card is definitely the most important part; but it’s followed closely by your CPU. In order of importance, we’d rank hardware parts like this:

  1. Graphics card – arguably the most important part of any gaming computer
  2. CPU – since it handles all of your computer’s operations, its worth getting a good one to prevent bottlenecking
  3. RAM – you’ll want at least 8GB for gaming, which should be sufficient for most people
  4. Storage, Motherboard, Power Supply, Cooling – these items are all of a similar importance, so just make sure they are sufficient for the task at hand
  5.  Monitor, Optical Drive – its up to you how much you spend in this area, but it’s not too critical to gaming performance

 

 

12 Comments

  1. I did a lot of shopping ended up with a non current Intel i7-860/Asus P7P550 Deluxe combo. this is a non current socket with 16gb ddr3 ram, for $120.
    found a gtx 1060 for $115. landed 2x1tb hard drives for $25 seagate barracuda, wd black.
    throw this into an existing case with my 650 watt ps and my existing optical drives and I think I nailed it under $300 for a VR capable upgrade. Comments?
    Really; its ok to shop used parts. lots of obsessed gamers are upgrading constantly.

    • Hey James,
      Nice work with considering second hand items – definitely a good way to get a great deal!

      Thanks for sharing your build here. Sounds like this could be a good little machine, but the one thing that could be a limiting factor is the CPU (being an older model from 2009). We found this reddit thread that includes a few opinions both ways on this setup, some indicate it performs fine and others say going for a newer CPU gives a surprising performance boost. Although we personally tend to lean towards ‘the more recent the better’ stance with processors, at the end of the day the real test is how it performs in real life on the game titles that you want to play.. and for a budget upgrade $300 is not bad at all. Let us know how it goes!

  2. Hey PC Build Advisor

    i’m looking to get my first desktop and would like to put a bit of money into it, have you got any articles to help me to decide what is best ?

    • Hi Aidan,
      We’d recommend having some understanding of what each hardware part does as a starting point (this post is a good guide), but it really depends on what you want to use the desktop for (gaming? everyday use? video editing?) – this will give you an idea of which hardware or features you should prioritize and it will dictate where you should spend more money.

      Another post that might help you with this process is this guide on choosing parts for a PC if you are building your own.

      That being said, are you looking at a pre-built option or a build-it-yourself type solution? If it’s a prebuilt system that you’re after, it still does boil down to what features/performance are you looking for and what is your price range. Once you know these, we can offer some more suggestions if you like!

  3. I’m new at PC gaming and am trying to configure a PC on about an $800-$900 budget. Could you advise me of the best components that this budget could handle? As far as CPU, graphics card, RAM, HD, motherboard, upgrade ability…
    If I understand correctly, it would be best to get the best graphics card and sacrifice the CPU (maybe a 5 instead of 7) in order to stay in budget?

    • Hi Bryson,
      Correct, for a gaming PC, it’s best to prioritize your graphics card. However, you still need to maintain a good balance and get as powerful a CPU as you can, as this also will affect your gameplay. An i5 is more than adequate for your build, and these work fine for gaming. i7’s are a bit more of a luxury and the extra price you’ll pay for the i7’s features (like hyperthreading) may not benefit your intended gaming use at all.

      Hyperthreading will benefit tasks such as heavy multitasking, 3D rendering and video editing, but is not really relevant when it comes to gaming (where processes are single-threaded). For this reason, we’d suggest an i5 unless you plan on doing other multi-threaded tasks.

      We actually recently updated our $800 gaming build, so you might want to check that out for some ideas on parts – good luck!

  4. may i ask for your advice?
    I plan to build a PC gaming later this year
    but I have limited funds
    so what do you think the combination below is appropriate
    – Core i3 8100 + GTX 1050 Ti 4GB
    – Ryzen 3 1300X + GTX 1050 Ti 4GB
    – Ryzen 3 1200 + GTX 1050 Ti 4GB
    – Pentium G5400 + GTX 1060 3GB

    • Hi Panggih,
      Of the three GTX 1050 Ti options, the Core i3 seems to benchmark the highest for the 3 CPU options. That being said, you should check out the motherboard prices for each of these options, because the Ryzen AMD processors will need a different motherboard to the Intel Core i3 one – not sure if these may affect your overall pricing.

      While it would definitely be nice to get a GTX 1060 card in there because it does perform better than the GTX 1050Ti, I don’t think it’s worth dropping down to an Pentium processor which is much slower. You’d sacrifice too much CPU power that may impact your gaming performance in our opinion.

      Good luck!

  5. I thought that this was extremely comprehensive (thank you)! I recently got into PC gaming after stalling for years. I don’t consider myself to be a “serious” one but I am partial to Cities: Skylines, The Sims, and other simulation strategy games. Although I like FPS titles (Call of Duty, etc), I don’t NEED to play one. I recently purchased a custom build on eBay and was curious if I could upgrade hardware on my own in the future. This article did make me feel a little more assured.

    • Appreciate the feedback Kevin, glad you found it useful! Due to their modular nature, pretty much all computers are upgradeable, which is why the world of customizing your own PC is so flexible! Thanks for stopping by and enjoy your custom build 🙂

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