Gaming is evolving rapidly, and if you want to play gorgeous-looking titles like Battlefield 1, Forza Horizon 3 and Mass Effect: Andromeda at their maximum graphical potential, you'll want a gaming desktop.
We've tested dozens of the most popular gaming PCs available, running our rigorous suite of benchmarks and playing several demanding games on each system. Our current overall favorite is the Alienware Aurora, thanks to its eye-catching design, easy upgradability and a variety of pricing options for both budget shoppers and VR enthusiasts.
No matter how you game, here are our favorite gaming PCs for every type of player.
What to Look For and When to Buy
If you want to reap the benefits of PC gaming while still being able to kick back with your couch and big-screen TV, machines such as the Alienware Alpha ($499 starting) and the Corsair One ($1,799 starting) are sleek and compact enough to fit into your entertainment center.
Those who prefer customization and eye-catching designs should consider desktops such as the Origin Millennium ($1,731 starting), the CyberPower Gamer Master 9500 ($2,059) and Maingear Shift ($2,278 starting). These machines can be configured with the highest-end parts out there, and come in a variety of eye-catching and colorful cases that you can tweak to your heart's content.
According to our sister site ShopSavvy, the best time to buy a gaming PC is Black Friday season, followed by the summer months of back-to-school season. That's when you're most likely to find discounts from big brands such as Dell, Acer and Asus. However, good PC deals tend to pop up throughout the entire year, so be sure to check out our best deals page regularly.
If you plan on gaming in VR, pay close attention to specs. At the minimum, the Oculus Rift requires an Nvidia GTX 960 or AMD equivalent graphics card, an Intel Core i3-6100 or AMD FX4350 processor, 8GB of RAM, two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI 1.3 port and Windows 8 or newer. However, Oculus recommends at least a GTX 970 and Core i5 processor for the best experience.
For the Vive, HTC recommends a Core i5-4590 or AMD FX 8350 CPU, an Nvidia GTX 1060 or Radeon RX 480 GPU, 4GB of RAM, an HDMI 1.4 port or DisplayPort 1.2 or newer, 1 USB 2.0 port and Windows 7 or newer.
How We Test
Every gaming desktop we review endures a standardized gauntlet of real-world and benchmark tests, in order to measure how each PC stacks up as both a gaming machine and as an everyday computer.
As far as hard numbers go, we currently run the framerate benchmark utilities for games such as Rise of the Tomb Raider, Hitman and Metro: Last Light at 1920 x 1080 with graphics maxed out, as well as at 2560 x 1440 and 4K if a system allows for it. We also run a custom Grand Theft Auto V test at the same settings. On top of that, we simply play tons of graphics-intensive games such as Battlefield 1, Gears of War 4 and Doom in order to give you a sense of how these gaming desktops hold up in the real world.
In terms of synthetic tests, we run a gamut of benchmarks that include 3DMark Fire Strike Ultra (for graphics) and Geekbench 4 (for processor performance). We also run the SteamVR Performance Test on all of our machines to evaluate how ready they are for virtual reality. To test a system's hard drive, we measure how fast each PC can copy 4.97GB worth of multimedia files.
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