How to choose a pre-built gaming PC

If you're unsure what hardware does what, or how to choose between different pre-built PCs in 2020, this guide should clear things up

Last edited on the 19th of September 2020
How to choose a pre-built gaming PC

This article is sponsored by HP Omen.

While building your own PC certainly brings with it the satisfaction of your own handiwork and probably a lower cost, if you’re not completely confident in your PC building abilities then buying a pre-built gaming PC is a safer bet. Buying a pre-built PC for a slight premium ensures you’re getting a PC that you know will work out of the box - and this premium in 2020 isn’t as great as it used to be in years gone by. 

But there are still choices to be made. Choosing a pre-built gaming PC means knowing a little about the hardware that comes inside it. There are many different gaming PCs on the market in 2020, and even specific pre-built systems can have differing configurations to choose from. Knowing a little about what sort of hardware you’ll want for your budget will make the whole decision-making process that much easier.

Do you just want something cheap and cheerful that’ll play Fortnite or CS:GO at 60fps? Do you want something that can play Death Stranding on ultra settings at 4K resolution without breaking a sweat? Or do you want something in-between that offers great performance for the price without breaking the bank?

We’re here to help you out with these questions. We’ll take you through some budget, mid-range, and high-end gaming PC options to give you an idea of how to compare different pre-built systems and decide what’s best for you.

CHOOSING A BUDGET PRE-BUILT GAMING PC

In 2020 even a budget prebuilt gaming PC can have a lot to offer. Thanks to plenty of new CPU offerings, RAM price drops, and other such industry developments, you can now get a budget gaming PC that plays modern games at 1080p resolution on high settings at 60fps.

You should look for something that has a processor with four cores (four cores and eight threads if possible, but four cores with four threads is fine, too). The Intel Core i3 10300 is one such processor, as is the AMD Ryzen 3 3100. You should also look for one that has at least 8GB RAM, an SSD (SATA or NVMe) of 250GB or more, and a graphics card capable of 60fps at 1080p.

Comparing two great budget pre-built gaming PCs

To give you an idea of how you might compare two budget PCs, here are a couple of great ones we found. First, there’s the HP Pavilion TG01-0160xt Gaming Desktop currently on sale for $699.99 ($100 off). This comes with an Intel Core i5 9400 CPU, 8GB DDR4 memory, a 1TB or 128GB SSD, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 graphics card.

There’s also the HP Omen 25L GT12-0240m Desktop PC on sale for $799.99 ($100 off). This comes with an AMD Ryzen 5 3500 CPU, 8GB DDR4 RAM, a 256GB WD Black NVMe SSD, and AMD Radeon RX 5500 XT graphics card.

To decide between these, first compare the CPU and GPU. The Core i5 9400 is a six-core, six-thread CPU with a base clock of 2.9GHz and a turbo clock of 4.1GHz. The Ryzen 5 3500 is a six-core, six-thread CPU with a base clock of 3.6GHz and a boost clock of 4.1GHz. The 3500 is essentially a Ryzen 5 3600 with a lower boost clock, smaller cache, and with simultaneous multithreading disabled. Based on various benchmarks you can find online, these two CPUs seem to perform about the same in gaming.

However, the RX 5500 XT performs much better than the GTX 1650 (non-Super) graphics card. Given that both systems are working with 8GB RAM by default (the rigs can be configured and upgraded at an extra cost), and that the CPU and graphics card are the two most important components for gaming, the Omen 25L is a better choice if you can afford the extra $100. You also get a 256GB NVMe SSD with this build, which will make for a much better desktop experience than either a 1TB HDD or 128GB (presumably SATA) SSD.

CHOOSING A MID-RANGE PRE-BUILT GAMING PC

Deciding between different mid-range and lower-high-end prebuilt gaming PCs is where all the fun happens. There are options when it comes to budget builds, but not too many if you want reasonable frame rates. Similarly, if you want the best of the best your options are naturally limited. But most people go for mid-range builds, and there are more options to cater for this. This is where you get to really see the best that manufacturers have to offer in terms of straight up price to performance value.

At the mid-range you want a prebuilt gaming PC with a CPU of six cores or more, 16GB RAM, an SSD with 500GB or more capacity (and preferably NVMe), and a graphics card that’s capable of comfortably pushing out well above 60fps in any game on ultra settings at 1080p and hitting 60fps at 1440p.

Comparing two great mid-range pre-built gaming PCs

Comparing mid-range pre-built gaming PCs is pretty much the same as comparing two budget ones, but there are likely to be more options to decide between. Here are a couple of examples. First, there’s the HP Omen 30L GT13-0280z Desktop PC on sale for $999.99 ($200 off). This comes with an AMD Ryzen 5 3600 CPU, 8GB DDR4 RAM, a 256GB NVMe SSD, and an RX 5700XT graphics card.

There’s also the HP Omen Obelisk 875-0030qd Desktop PC on sale for $969.99 ($100 off). This comes with an Intel Core i5 9400 CPU, 8GB DDR4 RAM, a 1TB HDD or 128GB NVMe SSD, and an Nvidia GeForce 1660 Ti graphics card.

The first option is clearly a better one, here. The Ryzen 5 3600 is a six-core, 12-thread CPU that is currently one of the best gaming CPUs on the market. The RX 5700 XT also performs better than the GTX 1660 Ti - although the 1660 Ti is still a cracking choice for a mid-range GPU. Add to this an SSD with double the capacity and you have a no-brainer. The only thing we’d recommend is that you opt for 16GB RAM when you customise your purchase, if you can afford the extra $100 it costs to do so.

CHOOSING A HIGH-END PRE-BUILT GAMING PC

At the high-end, it’s often a choice over whether you want to take price into account at all. If money’s really not an issue then you can go for the best of the best - but you’ll pay out your teeth for it. If you still want to at least consider the monetary proposition of a rig, then there are high-end options that are still damn good value. These high-end but still reasonably priced options are ones that will still get you cracking frame rates on ultra settings at 1080p, 1440p, and on high settings at 4K, but you’ll lose out (by a slim margin) to those unreasonably priced debaucherous PCs up at the pinnacle.

At the high-end, you should look for a pre-built gaming PC with a CPU of eight or more cores, 16GB or 32GB RAM, a 1TB or higher NVMe SSD, and a graphics card that’s capable of playing any game at any resolution on high settings with silky smooth framerates.

Comparing two great high-end pre-built gaming PCs

You know the deal by now - it’s the same process comparing two high-end pre-built PCs as it is comparing any other two PCs, but the stakes are a lot higher money-wise at the high-end, often with slimmer performance margins. Here are two examples. First, there’s the HP Omen 25L GT12-0235se Desktop PC on sale for $1,399.99 ($100 off). This comes with an Intel Core i7 10700 CPU, 16GB DDR4 RAM, a 512GB NVMe SSD, and Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 Super graphics card.

Second, there’s the Omen 30L GT13-0295xt Desktop PC for $1,799.99 ($200 off). This comes with an Intel Core i7 10700K CPU, 16GB DDR4 RAM, a 512GB NVMe SSD, and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super graphics card.

Deciding between these two should actually be pretty simple. There’s quite a large price delta, and also quite a large performance delta when it comes to gaming. The Core i7 10700K is the same as the 10700 (non-K), except it is ‘unlocked’, meaning it can be overclocked if you so desire (but make sure you check warranty notes to see whether overclocking voids any warranties!). 

They both offer 16GB RAM and 512GB NVMe SSDs, too. The main difference is the first offers an RTX 2060 and the latter offers an RTX 2080 Super. We reckon the RTX 2080 Super is the best high-end graphics card, because the only one that beats it is the RTX 2080 Ti which is unreasonably expensive. The 2060 Super, on the other hand, is a great graphics card, but nowhere near the same level. The 2060 Super even loses out to the RX 5700 XT that we saw featured in one of the mid-range builds.

For that reason, and if you have the extra $400 to spare, the second option is a better one for gaming. But if you’re only playing at 1080p resolution (especially if that’s only on a 60Hz or 75Hz monitor) the 25L is more than adequate.