I want a gaming PC. I really do. I also want to build it, because the pricing just makes a lot more sense that way. For example, a great gaming PC help help me finally start streaming on Twitch, especially now that I have the Logitech C920 (one of the best webcams).
Also, from everything my fellow gamers have told me, I've seen that a PC is one of the best way to game. No, I'm not trying to make Cyberpunk 2077 run smoothly (though it would have been better with an RTX 3080 card than with an Xbox One X). My interest in owning a gaming PC isn't rooted playing the modern hits. It's more an older game that I can't get on a PS4 or PS5.
But as much as I want to play that game and start stream, I've got a whole fistful of reasons for why I won't build a gaming PC.
Before this piece goes any further, I'll just note that I have the utmost respect for those who build their own gaming PCs. I wrote this for the gamers out there who, like myself, feel weird about taking on the process.
This all started because of a game I wanted to play for years, but couldn't: Persona 4 Golden. P4G is the predecessor to the amazing Persona 5 and Persona 5 Royal, games that I spent hundreds of hours tackling over the last four years.
But P4G had been exclusive to the niche PS Vita for most of its life. Then, Persona 4 Golden came to Steam last summer, and I was excited. Until, that is, P4G ran so poorly on my usual machine that I thought I'd need to build a gaming PC to make it run right.
When I actually thought about the work that would go into building a gaming PC, though, I had a lot of doubts.
Building your own PC is choosing chaos
I've always been afraid of building a PC because of how easy it is to screw up the process. I'm smart enough to know how to electrically ground myself so I don't accidentally break a component, but I'm not a tinkerer.
Building a PC requires so much more than I have to give. The whole whole art of dealing with a system's BIOS (which stands for Basic Input/Output System, aka the operating system for your components) and other elements feels downright intimidating.
Take, for example, the story of the Tom's Guide test PC. It spent more than a month in what I'd call the debugging process, as our senior editor Marshall Honorof — who is legit one of the smartest people I know — struggled to make it all work.
For some reason, the TG PC would shut down instantly after booting up, then immediately start up again. (Like when I wake up and go back to sleep, when I should just get out of bed). That's clearly not the way you want a PC to work. When Marshall posted online looking for help, I would retweet his requests, and watch as my acquaintances tried to help.
Then, one day, Marshall figured it out. The answer is so confusing that I was in awe of Marshall's success — and added another reason to the list of why I'd never try to build my own PC. The test PC suffered from a glitch related to overclocking — the art of pushing a PC harder than it's normally set.
Mousing around the BIOS, he discovered that the Tom's Guide PC had three active overclocking profiles. I don't know why a system would have this many enabled at once — and I don't know if I would have noticed the error, either. And then I would have spent even longer troubleshooting.
Why did it have three profiles? The system had added one overclocking profile (visualized as a Game Boost button) for the CPU, and one for each stick of RAM. That doesn't make intuitive sense, and is the kind of answer I'd never have guessed in a million years.
Of course, Marshall's story is still a win in the long run. He solved a problem, learned something from fixing it and now has a mighty desktop gaming PC. As much as I admire his result, I look at my last month-and-a-half, and wonder where I would have found the time.
Finding the right parts is nigh impossible
If you think it's hard to find a PS5 restock or a new Xbox Series X, know that PC gamers face similar issues when trying to get the latest and greatest GPU (graphics processing unit).
The popularity of our Where to buy Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 article shows that even a high price cannot help solve a lopsided supply:demand ratio. Yes, even a $699 graphics card can be perpetually out of stock.
But it gets worse. Scrolling through Amazon's dedicated GeForce GTX 3080 page is like walking through a mall where almost every store is out of business. It's all "currently unavailable" until the rare option that's sold by a third party retailer, where the GPU costs at least twice as much.
PC gaming gets way more expensive than console gaming
This isn't a situation where buying a GPU from a previous generation is wise, either. Sure, a gaming PC is built to be upgraded, but a GPU upgrade could also lead to a power supply upgrade, as new parts need more juice. Furthermore, if I'm going to build a gaming PC, it should be an investment for the near-to-long term. I don't want to buy something that I'll need to upgrade right away.
And at the end of the day, the parts for the aforementioned Tom's Guide PC cost about $1,655 total. And that's without a monitor. While it's not a shockingly high price for a computer, that's three times the price of the PlayStation 5.
Admittedly, a great gaming PC can serve more functions than a console can. It's not just a place to play games, but also a work machine for productivity and streaming online. However, I've already chosen the macOS world for my productivity, and I'm not leaving any time soon.
Gaming laptops should be enough
Let's get back to the video game that inspired me to consider building a gaming PC. I spent hours this past summer testing Persona 4 Golden on a number of PCs, including a powerful Surface Book 3 with a Core i7-1065G7 CPU and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti GPU. But I still ran into performance issues.
I asked around, and I found an unsettling common refrain. Maybe, I was told, I shouldn't be playing games on a laptop. Not even this old PS Vita game.
Then I asked for help from an internet-acquaintance Matt Enloe, who'd tweeted about playing the PC port of P4G. Among other suggestions, he said "I would recommend not trying to play video games natively on laptops," and that "cloud gaming is going to be a better option if you are mobile."
The logic, when I broke it down, made sense. Demanding, high-end games will probably run better on desktops than laptops. Tower PCs are designed for much better heat dissipation and cooling than laptops, which means you can push desktops harder.
That can even be true for a game that shouldn't be demanding — if the studio did a poor job optimizing it. Eventually, I got my hands on a laptop powerful enough to do the task, thanks to testing for the Tom's Guide Ultimate Home Office Awards. The Acer ConceptD 7 Ezel, packed with a 2.3 GHz 10th Gen Core i7 H-series Intel CPU and an RTX 2080 GPU, runs this old game as well as it can be run. (I had to spend an evening toying with its settings first, though.)
Am I annoyed that it took a $3,999 laptop to run this old game? Yes. Is there a more affordable laptop that could probably do the trick? Probably. But this all adds to my frustration about the PC gaming universe. I don't want to tinker around in settings, toggling V-Sync on and off to make graphics look right. That's definitely one reason why I'm a console gamer first.
Most games are available elsewhere
Right now, Persona 4 Golden is the only reason why I go near Windows in my personal time. Outside of that, there are very few games I've seen that I'd need a PC to play. And eventually, PC games tend to arrive on consoles anyway. Just look at Microsoft Flight Simulator coming to Xbox Series X. Maybe I'll get lucky and Atlus will bring P4G to the PS5 someday. Who knows?
But the likes of Half-Life: Alyx, League of Legends and Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition? These big-name PC games are fortunately (for my budget and time) outside of my area of interest.
Hitting pause on my gaming PC dreams
For now, I'm putting my aspirations of PC gaming on hold. Hopefully, the costs and scarcity of components goes down sooner or later. I'd also like the PC gaming experts I know to be able to get COVID vaccines — not only for their health, but also so that we can share a room, and I can get their help in person.
Right now, though, it seems like one does not simply walk into building a gaming PC. Down that path lies a lot of lost time and spent money.
Of course, I expect my tune could change at the drop of a dime, if the right exclusive title or experience came along. The idea of building a gaming PC is daunting, but it also has its own allure.