If you’re looking for a new gaming PC on the market, you probably have a good idea of what games you want to play, but you might not know what you need to buy to play them at their best. You could just buy the best PC you can afford, but spending thousands of dollars on a PC when you’d be happy with a much cheaper option is a waste.
When it comes to gaming, your central processing unit (CPU) and graphics card or graphics processing unit (GPU) will do the heavy lifting on your PC. Your memory (RAM) and storage drives are also important, but as long as you have 16GB of RAM and 1TB or more of solid-state drive (SSD) storage, you don’t have to worry about that. Below, we’ll help you figure out exactly what to look for in a CPU and GPU to build the best gaming machine for your needs.
What is a CPU and what is a GPU?
A CPU is like the brain of a PC, where each task is analyzed and sorted into the right boxes for further action. Many tasks will need complex calculations, like determining where to install a game on your storage drive, and your CPU’s high processing speeds can figure that out in a snap.
A GPU is optimized for simple tasks with many separate calculations, such as calculating what color to display for each pixel on the screen. While a CPU will determine which calculations should be done, the GPU will receive the request and perform the calculations. You can think of a CPU as a small teachers’ room (each teacher being 1 CPU core out of about a dozen) and a GPU as a gymnasium full of fifth graders doing basic math (each student being 1 GPU core of thousands).
So where do all the latest CPUs and GPUs fall on the light-to-heavy gaming ladder? Games on Steam, Epic Games Store, Origin and other showcases list system requirements so that you have at least the bare minimum to run the game. For our recommendations, we assume that you want to play at 60 frames per second (fps) with the highest graphics settings possible. If you like to modify your games, go to the next higher category.
The Best CPU and GPU for Casual Gaming
Examples of games: hollow knight🇧🇷 deepest dungeon🇧🇷 Portal🇧🇷 bioshock
- cpu: 8th generation Intel Core i5
- GPU: Integrated with CPU
- Price: no minimum
This category includes browser-based games, 2D games, PS3-era games, or older games that require very little processing power. If you usually play games in this category, you can get by with just about any PC built in the last 5 years. Most 2D games fall here, as 2D calculations are easier than 3D calculations, and the most popular 2D game engines are very light to run.
Any of our best laptops under $1,000 should meet your needs. Gaming laptops in this price range will sacrifice battery life, screen quality, and build quality compared to similarly priced productivity laptops.
The best CPU and GPU for online multiplayer and 1080p gaming
Examples of games: League of Legends🇧🇷 fortnite🇧🇷 Genshin Impact🇧🇷 Total War: Warhammer II🇧🇷 Far Cry 5🇧🇷 Minecraft
- cpu: 11th generation Intel Core i5 (desktop); 10th generation Intel Core i7 (laptop)
- GPU: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060; AMD Radeon RX 580
- Price: $700
At 1080p, most games will aim to run at 60fps with this level of hardware – the most popular GPUs used for PC gaming are the Nvidia GTX 1060, GTX 1650 and GTX 1050 Ti, according to the May Hardware Survey of 2022 from Steam. Making a game that needs more powerful hardware to run smoothly limits your user base substantially, so you can count on most popular online multiplayer games to cater to this category. Most single player games from the Playstation 4 era also run fine on this hardware at 1080p resolution.
For more intense games like cyberpunk 2077 or The medium, you may need to lower your graphics settings to keep your frame rate above 60 fps. However, these titles are not numerous and it will be some time before integrated graphics can keep up with low-end GPUs like the GTX 1060.
Our best sub-$1,000 gaming laptops should be able to reach these performance levels or better, or you can spend a little more to get a productivity or business laptop that has a discrete GPU, like the MSI Summit E16 or the Dell XPS 15 Finding a used or heavily discounted laptop like this Acer Nitro 5 model can save you even more.
The best CPU and GPU for mid-range and 1440p gaming
Examples of games: Civilization VI🇧🇷 Red Dead Redemption 2🇧🇷 Shadow of the Tomb Raider🇧🇷 cyberpunk 2077 (1080p)
- cpu: 12th generation Intel Core i5; 5th Gen AMD Ryzen 5
- GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060; AMD Radeon RX 6600XT
- Price: $1,000
If a resource-intensive game like cyberpunk 2077 can run at ultra 1080p 60fps without ray tracing enabled, so just about any game should be able to run above 60fps at this resolution, and lighter games like Overwatch will run at 60fps at epic 1440p resolution. Some games like Civilization VI and Europa Universalis 4 aren’t as graphics-intensive as most in this category, but their CPU-intensive load needs a high-end processor to keep up.
The new Acer Nitro 5 hits just that benchmark, running cyberpunk 2077 at 61fps with ultra 1080p graphics. The MSI Delta 15, Asus ROG Zephyrus G14, and Razer Blade 14 are all great alternatives if you don’t mind spending a bit more on a thinner laptop. You can find some sub-$1,000 laptops that meet that threshold if they’re on sale, but a desktop like the iBuyPower Slate MR Gaming Desktop offers greater performance for the same price.
The best CPU and GPU for high-end, VR and 4K gaming
Examples of games: To control (4K resolution), Horizon: Forbidden West (4K resolution), Half Life: Alyx
- cpu: 12th generation Intel Core i5; AMD Ryzen 7 5th Gen
- GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070, AMD Radeon RX 6800
- Cost: $1,500 – $2,000
Machines with this hardware will serve as great gaming PCs capable of running most games at 4K resolution at 60fps for years to come. That said, sometimes you come across a game like Microsoft Flight Simulator this will force you to lower the resolution or set the graphics to high or medium.
In this category, desktop PCs far outperform their laptop cousins in performance per dollar. MSI Aegis ZS and NZXT Streaming Plus pre-built PCs can play many games in 4K smoothly, although a game like cyberpunk 2077 will only run below 60fps at that resolution. There are also some stellar gaming laptops that match this level of performance that won’t completely break you for the money, although they will boost lower frame rates than a similarly priced gaming PC. The Asus ROG Strix G15 AMD laptop is a fantastic deal if you don’t need ray-tracing performance, and the Lenovo Legion 5 Pro delivers the frame rates to make most ray-traced games look amazing.
The best CPU and GPU for extreme gaming and 4K ray tracing
Examples of games: cyberpunk 2077 (4K resolution with ray tracing enabled), Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla (4K resolution with ray tracing), Microsoft Flight Simulator
- cpu: 12th generation Intel Core i9; 5th Gen AMD Ryzen 9
- GPU: Nvidia RTX GeForce 3080
- Cost: $2,000+
The best of the best, these PCs showcase what the latest games have to offer. They can easily handle ray tracing in games even at ultra 4K graphics. Notoriously detailed, realistic and complex games like Microsoft Flight Simulator it can run at maximum graphics settings, and with this hardware you can count on stellar 4K framerates in any modern game.
The best gaming desktop will outperform the best gaming laptops, but the best gaming laptops can still play games cyberpunk 2077 with ray tracing enabled at 4K resolution at 60 fps set to ultragraphics. AMD’s graphics cards don’t support ray tracing as well as Nvidia’s graphics cards in the current generation, but with regular gaming graphics, the Nvidia RTX 3080 and AMD Radeon RX 6900XT are comparable. The MSI GE76 Raider and Acer Predator Triton 500SE are killer laptops in this range, but they’ll set you back $3,000 and up.
As for desktops, the Acer Predator Orion 7000 is a sensational option that beats both laptops at the same price – but there are cheaper desktops available with an RTX 3080 and an Intel Core i9 processor or similar, such as the iBuyPower Trace MR or the MSI Aegis LOL.
For most people, a mid-range gaming PC with a 12th Intel Core i5 processor and an Nvidia RTX 3060 graphics card will perform phenomenally for years to come. Looking beyond these specs is only recommended for gamers who need 1440p or 4K resolution, as higher resolutions put a strain on the graphics card. But the price of these PCs goes up quickly.
If you want to keep your PC up to date or generally want to spend less money for the same performance, a gaming desktop will outperform a similarly priced laptop, and you can usually upgrade components later. You can even stream your gaming desktop to your laptop with remote streaming software, which is a plus for anyone with a great internet connection. But gaming laptops still hold the edge in terms of portability and lag-free online gaming compared to a desktop stream or cloud gaming.
Review’s product experts cater to all your shopping needs. Follow Rated on Facebook, twitterInstagram, TikTok or Flipboard for the latest deals, product reviews and more.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published, but may change over time.