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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.
This 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.
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.
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.
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.
Your hard drive (or solid state drive, which are becoming a lot more affordable and popular) 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).
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.
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.
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, particularly since the gaming and computing industry has started moving towards a disc-less industry. Many game titles these days can be downloaded which removes the need for a disc.
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.
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:
- Graphics card – arguably the most important part of any gaming computer
- CPU – since it handles all of your computer’s operations, it’s worth getting a good one to prevent bottlenecking
- RAM – you’ll want at least 8GB for gaming, which should be sufficient for most people
- Storage, Motherboard, Power Supply, Cooling – these items are all of similar importance, so just make sure they are sufficient for the task at hand (though when selecting a motherboard, it’s worth considering if it will support any future upgrade plans you might have)
- Monitor, Optical Drive – it’s up to you how much you spend in this area, but it’s not too critical to gaming performance