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The smart-aleck answer to the first part of that question is easy: a gaming PC is a computer that you play games on. The important second half of that question is what’s important: a gaming PC is specifically designed to have the graphics performance required to run today’s high-end video games.

There are many other features that gaming enthusiasts look for in a dedicated PC including a motherboard with overclocking capability, solid state drives that allow games to run faster and high-powered cooling systems. But graphics are the real key to a gaming PC, so we’ll address that subject first.

Qualities of a Gaming GPU

Computers have always had video cards; they control the display of images, videos, and animation on the monitor. At one time, processing of visual images was performed by the machine’s central processing unit (CPU). In most modern PCs, though, the graphics card is combined with a graphics processing unit (GPU) that efficiently manipulates and renders images, video, and graphics without taxing the CPU’s resources.

The GPU is often mounted on a computer’s motherboard. However, video performance is greatly improved when a machine has a powerful GPU integrated with a separate graphics card and dedicated video RAM. The quality of that card and the amount of onboard memory are what primarily define a gaming computer. After all, it’s not an easy task for a processing unit to render all of the complicated images displayed in a modern computer game.

At the very least, a gaming card should be able to utilize the full resolution of your high-def monitor with smooth motion. 60 frames per second is ideal, although you’re not going to come close if you have a 4K monitor. It is what you should expect when playing on a 1080p monitor, though, and a great goal at resolutions like 1920×1080. Naturally, the better the GPU, the higher the price – but the graphics unit is not only the most expensive “gaming component” of a gaming PC, it defines a gaming PC.

Other Gaming PC Considerations

Gamers who want the ultimate performance will look for some or all of these added features. None of them specifically determine whether a machine is a gaming PC, but you’ll find most of them on the better models.

  • Unlocked CPU: Some computers have what are called “unlocked” CPUs, which can be run at speeds higher than they were designed for. This procedure, which requires adjusting several settings manually, is called “overclocking” and allows faster and more satisfying game play without laying out the money for a new, more powerful CPU.
  • Cooling: Overclocked CPUs and gaming GPUs running at maximum performance levels create an enormous amount of heat, much more than ordinary computer use would generate. A separate, high-end air cooling system, or even better (and more costly) a water cooling system, keeps the system cool to prevent the lag and stutter created when components overheat.
  • Solid State Drives: SSD drives provide much faster access to system resources than traditional hard drives, keeping games running at optimal levels without the inevitable slowdowns experienced on lesser computers.

Gaming Computers: They’re Not Just PCs

You can play most games on an ordinary PC – they’re just likely to run slowly and the video experience will be less than ideal.

A gaming computer will cost more, particularly with a GPU (and cooling system to match) that can run any game with its designed look, feel and speed. There are several levels of gaming PCs, so it’s not necessary to sell the kids to afford a good gaming machine. If you want the very best, though, the kids may be at risk.

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