So, you’ve decided you want to get into PC gaming; maybe the consoles weren’t cutting it for you? Perhaps you saw a friend playing StarCraft and had to get some? Or it could even be a possibility that you just saw a copy of PC Gamer magazine in your local newsagent when you were a kid and have longed for your very own gamin rig ever since? Whatever the reason, the first thing you’re going to need is a Pc that’s capable of running the latest games. Let’s take a look at a few of the questions you should ask yourself before you head online and start spending your cash.

If you build you own, the choices are endless

Do I already own a PC?

If you’ve already got a PC of some description, you should be taking that into account before anything else. How old is it? What are the specs? If it’s a mid-high range PC that’s been bought in the last 2-3 years, there’s every possibility that simply upgrading the machine’s graphics card could provide you with something that’ll actuall play games. Ideally, your system would already have a dual or quad core processor, 2-4GB of RAM installed and an expansion socket of the “PCI-e x16″ variety — if you’ve got all of those things, you’d be capable of playing the latest games on moderate-high settings by simply adding a new graphics card. You’d likely be looking to spend around £129-£199 on a graphics card in this scenario, but that’s all you would be needing.

Buy pre-built or build my own?

If you’re not fortunate enough to already own a half decent computer, you will (of course) be needing to purchase the whole thing — but, do you buy an off-the-shelf gaming system or go about building your own? If you know somebody that is comfortable with putting together the parts of a PC together, this could be your best option. You’ll be able to get the very best performance for your budget and you’ll have something that you know inside-out — always very helpful should you have any issues or wish to further upgrade in the future. If that’s not an option, you’ll be looking at a ready made system. I’d recommend that you buy online, rather than any of the big chain stores as you’ll likely get a better deal and more solid advice. I’d personally recommend a company called Novatech in the UK — whether you want the components to build your own or a something that’s pre-built, they’ll likely have something to suit your needs. They’re also very helpful on the phone and are always happy to check compatibility of products for you before you actually place your order. If you’ve got a real high budget, you may wish to look at some of the premium brands, such as Alienware — you’d end up with a killer rig that’s ready to go, but it’ll cost you. Finally, I’d recommend that you stay away from sites like eBay when buying a system and always remember that just because it says “Gaming PC” on the listing, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll up to much gaming.

Alienware can supply some impressive systems, at a cost

My final recommendation would be; if you aren’t sure, try and seek advice from somebody in the know. Whether it be a friend, family member or even somebody online, you don’t want to be stuck with something that’s not what you thought it would be. Heck, if you’re really stuck for advice head on over to our forums and ask away — we’d be more than happy to help you out.

Should I buy a bundle deal or just the actual PC?

That’s a tricky one, though personally I’d rather by my monitor, speakers and other peripherals separately — it allows you get exactly what you need in your own circumstances. However, you can save a heck of a lot of money by buying everything in a bundle, so it really depends on the deal that’s on the table. If you are buying seperately, or not getting everything in one package, we’ll be covering monitors and other hardware that you’ll be needing in Part 2 of this guide.

How much should I be spending?

The simple answer is; however much you can afford. Save for as long as you can and gather every penny that you can possibly find before going ahead with a purchase. If you scrimp on you’re initial rig, it’s going to make it less upgradable, less future-proof and ultimately, it will be out of service a lot sooner. Buy the newest and fastest technology you can possibly afford and you should be happy for many years to come.

What specification should I be looking for?

All those numbers can be pretty confusing, so here’s an example of the key components in a low, medium and high range gaming rig — to give offer you a bit of a scale to judge your purchases upon (all will be capable of running the latest games, albeit perhaps not on full settings):

Low end gaming system

  • Dual core processor  (ideally 3.0GHz +)
  • 2GB 800MHz DDR2 RAM
  • Nvidia GTS 250 or ATi Radeon HD4850

Medium range gaming system

  • Quad core processor – Intel Core 2 Quad or AMD Phenom
  • 4GB 800MHz  DDR2 RAM
  • Nvidia GTX 280 or ATi Radeon HD4890

High end gaming system

  • Quad or Hexa-core processor – AMD Phenom II or Intel Core i5/i7/i9
  • 6GB 1600MHz DDR3 RAM
  • Nvidia GT 400 series or ATi Radeon HD 5870

Please do bear in mind, that these are fairly modest system specifications as they are aimed towards a beginner – I’ve just included the key components as a guide. Of course, the spec’ on the high end system could indeed be far greater if you introduced dual graphics solutions such as Nvidia’s SLI or ATi’s Crossfire. It’s just really not something you’re likely to buy into when purchasing your very first PC.

I’ve got my PC, what next?

You could be gaming on something like this before you know it.

Well, I’m afraid you’re going to have to wait until next Monday for Part 2 of our guide to PC gaming. We’ll be looking at all the other bits you’ll be needing, such as headsets, monitors, keyboards and perhaps even an ideal desk… who knows, you’ll just have to wait and see what’s included. See you soon!

Part 2: Other hardware and peripherals (coming Monday 23rd August 2010)

Part 3: Essential software (coming Monday 30th August 2010)

Part4: Essential Games (coming Monday 6th September 2010)