Gaming computers are complex machines, and the wide spectrum of hardware, brands, components, and configurations can raise questions and inspire major debates.
That’s why we sat down with Bryn Pilney, one of Intel’s PC gaming experts, to answer some introductory hardware questions.
Is It Better to Build or Buy a PC?
It really just depends on what you're comfortable with. I've been on both ends of the spectrum, having built my first PC about 15 years ago and having had a couple of pre-builts in between.
Personally, for desktops at least, I'm fully in the "build it" camp. I like to put together builds that are challenging and push the boundaries of my skill and knowledge. For my latest build I implemented hard tube liquid cooling, which was an upgrade from the soft tubing I did previously. You can buy pre-built PCs with hard tubing, but the challenge, alongside my affinity for hardware, motivated me to do it myself.
Building a PC is a great opportunity to learn about components, too. It can help you understand the benefits of different storage configurations like RAID, or why you might choose CPU over PCH-attached PCIe lanes for specific devices.
But there are also people who are less invested in the why of computers, and are really just looking for a solid gaming experience without the hassle or potential headaches associated with doing it themselves.
And there are some benefits to purchasing a pre-built system. Generally speaking, you'll have someone to call if you're experiencing issues. If you build on your own, you may be doing the troubleshooting yourself.
In short: If you enjoy the hardware side of things, building a computer can be a really rewarding experience that results in a computer built exactly the way you want, with fewer compromises. But if you're just looking for something that's ready to use right out of the box, then buying something pre-built could be the way to go.
And unless you're looking to bring DIY to an entirely new level, there's really only one option when looking for a laptop.
Are Macs Good for Gaming?
I'm not an expert on the Mac ecosystem, so it's hard for me to make a unilateral statement here. Maybe there is a community that thrives on Mac gaming. I know that there are opportunities to emulate Windows experiences on Mac, but I think as it stands, PC gaming is largely a Windows-based ecosystem.
That's not to say you can't game on a Mac, but the gaming ecosystem is much healthier on PC.
How Much RAM Do You Recommend?
For standard gaming workloads, it's getting to the point where it's hard to recommend less than 16GB of RAM, especially as we've seen memory prices go down.
That being said, if you’re just planning on playing a game, you can probably get by with 8GB. If you’re doing more, like running Discord, or watching a stream while gaming, 16GB is a safer bet.
How Often Should You Upgrade Your System?
The short answer: It varies from person to person.
It really comes down to personal preference and how important it is to each person to have the latest technology integrated into their setup.
For example, if you’re looking to make the upgrade to a higher resolution, there’s a system hardware requirement that comes alongside that transition. If someone frequently wants to transition to the latest monitor tech, they may be more inclined to upgrade than somebody that’s okay with integrating that technology a little bit later.
This is especially true in the case of laptops, where you're looking at both computer hardware improvements, and peripheral enhancements like better displays and keyboards. Generally speaking, the more time that passes between upgrades, the more substantial an increase you'll see in gaming performance.
There are also opportunities for those who are comfortable with DIY to do partial upgrades instead of full system upgrades. That gives people an opportunity to not have to buy a full system at once, but rather upgrade specific components over time.
What Are Some Common Things That People Overlook When Looking for a New PC?
When considering a new PC, you need to make sure your entire setup is balanced.
As we've seen advancements in monitor technology really start to take off, both in terms of resolution and refresh rate, gamers need to be mapping the hardware decisions they make against their setup. If you’re going to buy up on resolution and refresh rate, you need to make sure that your computer is capable of driving that.
Unless your goal for building or buying a system is that eventually you're going to grow into that monitor, then I think the inverse is probably more applicable. If you're going to buy a computer, and you're going to get a really nice system, you need to make sure that you're getting a monitor that's actually capable of pushing that system to that outer edge of its capabilities. If you've spent a lot of money on a system, and you’re using a 1080p 60Hz monitor, you're not taking advantage of the system that you've purchased.
I would also say that for people who are building their first PC, one thing that is sometimes overlooked is the importance of a good power supply. First-time system builders sometimes think that they can save money on the PSU, and allocate more towards seemingly more important components. But it’s important to understand that the power supply is a critical piece of any system.
Where’s a Good Place to Start for Troubleshooting Advice, or Questions Related to PC Hardware?
That’s the idea of what we’re doing here: Gathering high-quality PC-related resources that can all be accessed in one place. There is a lot of information out there, but our goal is to utilize our insider knowledge of how PCs operate to build out a hub of useful information about all things PC gaming.
And there are other online communities that are more than happy to help people who are new to system building, or are looking to solve an issue with their system.
What Tools Do You Need to Build a PC?
First and foremost, you need a good screwdriver. Something that's magnetic that has a decently long neck is preferable. There are other premium features that you could go for, but I think magnetic is really the big one. That's really it when it comes to building a PC, assuming that you're implementing standard components.
Other things that come to mind: A good workspace. Give yourself a decent amount of desk space — you don't want to build on the floor. Quality lighting is another one. Having something to organize your screws as you disassemble and reassemble your system is also really helpful.
What Are Your Thoughts on Using Electric Screwdrivers for PC Building?
I personally have not used one. I'd say if you are going to go that route, make sure that you're not getting something that puts an undue amount of force on the screws.
Building a PC is a more gentle application than screwing something into your wall, so drills are not advisable. I know that there are powered magnetic screwdrivers that are specifically for technology, and while I haven't personally used one, it's definitely something I'm looking at.
If My Monitor Is 60 Hertz, Does That Mean It Won't Show Anything More Than 60 Frames Per Second?
For this question, I took a walk down the hall to ask Intel's expert on all things monitor, Principal Engineer, Display Technologist Roland Wooster. Here’s what he had to say:
“The short answer is yes.
The vast majority of monitors run at 60Hz. Often this means that they only run at 60Hz, no faster, no slower. This has disadvantages when it comes to gaming and watching or creating video content.
In the gaming space, sometimes your GPU becomes overloaded due to the complexity of the scene being rendered, and the GPU can’t render frames fast enough to deliver them to the display at 60FPS. When this happens, you either get a partial frame displayed — half of a new frame at the top of the screen, plus half of the previous frame at the bottom of the screen — which is called screen tearing. Or, if you’re using V-Sync, then you drop the partial frame update, and just wait for the next frame update. This means your monitor is effectively only displaying new frames every other frame, which means you’re seeing the equivalent of 30Hz.
For movie playback, a 60Hz panel has the disadvantage of having to convert the vast majority of Hollywood content from 24fps to 60fps. This is done by displaying each movie frame on the display for an alternating pattern of 3 display frames, then 2 display frames, then 3 frames, then 2 frames, and so on. This process is called a 3:2 pull down, and can introduce visible judder. This is particularly visible when a scene pans quickly from left to right, or up and down, or if something moves quickly across the screen such as a car. A monitor that can support an integer multiple of the frame rate of your video content eliminates this judder. So for example, watching Hollywood content on a display at 48Hz, 72Hz, or 120Hz would be ideal.
Gaming monitors support higher frame rates than 60Hz, often 144Hz, with some displays being even faster than that. But what is incredibly important when selecting a gaming monitor is not just the maximum speed, but also the minimum refresh rate. If, for example, you bought a monitor that could do 75-144Hz, that would be great if your GPU could always deliver at least 75Hz. But if the GPU can’t deliver a consistent 75Hz, you’re back to the problem of screen tearing. In many cases, particularly for users who demand higher resolution, or higher quality settings in their games, the minimum refresh rate of the display is perhaps even more important than the maximum refresh rate. A display that could do 48-100Hz could yield a significantly better experience than one that does 75-144Hz if you find that your GPU can’t always deliver 75Hz given the resolution, quality settings, and complexity of the scenes in your games.”
What’s the Ideal Temperature for a CPU During Use?
The ideal temperature is processor specific, and those numbers are outlined in the specification documentation of the processor. This is another one where I checked with our internal cooling experts, and they rightly pointed me to Intel ARK, because there is no one answer. ARK is an easily searchable database that allows you to look up a specific CPU, and see the maximum allowable temperature in the section "TJunction" under "Package Specifications." You don’t want to exceed that number.
If you do, you might start to see thermal throttling, decreased performance, or in extreme situations, system shutdown. You’ll want to make sure that you're targeting lower temperatures.
Most Importantly: Horde or Alliance?
When I first started playing World of Warcraft 15 years ago, I played an undead mage, through pretty much all of Vanilla and the beginning part of Burning Crusade. Later in Burning Crusade I re-rolled Alliance to play with real-life friends, so from then onward, I've primarily played Alliance.
For WoW Classic*, I'll be reliving the glory days on the opposing team — main tanking for my guild on Rattlegore (US) - Alliance.