What the best gaming computer has

  • A third-generation Intel Core processor. Every mainstream or gaming desktop computer in this report runs on Intel's third-generation Intel Core (Ivy Bridge) processors, which offer vastly improved integrated graphics and battery life over second-generation Intel Sandy Bridge processors.
  • 8 GB of RAM. The best gaming computers typically come with at least 8 GB of RAM to power through several demanding tasks at once. For those more interested in day-to-day work than competitive gaming, a mainstream desktop computer should come with at least 4 GB of RAM.
  • Discrete graphics. Gaming computers pack high-end graphics cards and sometimes two so you can play games fluidly on max settings and high-res screens. That said, integrated graphics are better than ever and might be all you need for everyday tasks and casual gaming.
  • At least a one-year warranty. The best models carry much better warranties, up to three years for parts and lifetime labor.

Know before you go

Is this computer for business or gaming? Mainstream desktop computers and all-in-ones are geared more toward productivity for ordinary office tasks, graphics work and more, although the best ones can handle demanding games at playable frame rates. Dedicated gaming computers cost more, but they'll satisfy hard-core gamers who want to play 3D titles on max settings and multiple screens, as well as any office task you can dream up.

Will your computer be on display? If you're going to plant your desktop in your living room, you might want a slim all-in-one or a sleek compact gamer with an Xbox-like design. If your CPU is going to spend its life under your desk, looks don't matter so much.

What kind of display do you need? The best all-in-one desktops come with super-high-resolution screens and sometimes touch screens that are fantastic for graphics work. Business and gaming towers don't usually include a display, so factor that into the price.

Do you want an optical drive? A DVD burner comes standard on most gaming computers; Blu-ray is usually optional. But some all-in-ones, notably the Apple iMac, are no longer available with a built-in DVD/Blu-ray drive. If you want one, you'll have to buy an external device.

Are you a do-it-yourselfer? Traditional tower-style desktop computers are the easiest to work on, with plenty of room inside to add more powerful components in the future. Compact PCs leave little to no room for upgrades, and some all-in-ones are so tightly sealed that only a pro should even crack them open; if you're not a tinkerer, this won't be a problem.

What do you plan to connect to your computer? Every desktop computer in this report has basic Ethernet and USB 3.0 jacks. If you want to add surround sound or multiple displays, check the specs to make sure the computer has all the ports you'll need.

How much data storage do you need? 1 TB hard drives are pretty standard, although base models might come with smaller hard drives. Solid-state drives are speedier, but they cost more and hold less.

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