Motherboard’s Emanuel Maiberg recently wrote that “PC gaming is still way too hard.” Although his article is definitely good for a few laughs, it unfortunately suffers from a number of misconceptions. Luckily, for those on the fence, it’s not too hard to sort through the myths that Maiberg puts forward.
Myth #1: To game properly on a PC, you have to build your own.
Maiberg takes for granted the notion that, in order to game on a PC, one ought to build a gaming rig from scratch, rather than buying one pre-built: “PC gamers always recommend building over buying in the first place.” How did PC gamers miraculously arrive at this monolithic consensus? Nerds are a contentious lot, and rarely come together to offer up these kinds of black-and-white prescriptions.
Context is everything.
Whether you want to build your machine or buy one pre-built is entirely up to you, and it depends on your circumstances. Do you feel like doing the work of assembling a computer? Are you prioritizing best bang for your buck, cost, or sheer power? What’s your budget? If you just want a medium-tier rig, you can get a decent machine for $800-900. But if, like Maiberg, you have two grand to drop, then sure, building your own will probably make more sense, because at that price tier, you can probably build something better than getting it pre-built. Anything below $800 is really pushing it as far as gaming goes; you’re better off going budget and getting a console if your main concern is short-term sticker price (more on that next).
For my own part, in the last ten years, I’ve built three different desktops of varying quality, and I’ve bought two pre-built machines. In fact, I’m currently writing from a machine that I bought pre-built for about $900, give or take, from PC Componentes (Newegg‘s counterpart in Spain), and I’m quite happy with performance.1 I can play most games at max settings, and in those that don’t max out, I usually just need to tweak a few settings for the best performance:quality ratio; in such cases, I barely notice the difference, if at all. I’d originally intended to build my own, higher-quality machine for $1400, but after the costs of moving myself, Kelli, and our two cats across the globe, we decided that knocking off $500 was worth it. For the record, here are my specs:
- Mid tower: Nox Coolbay Sx Devil
- PCU: Intel i5-6600K 3.5Ghz Box
- GPU: MSI GTX960 4GD5T OC 4GB DDR5
- RAM: G.Skill Ripjaws V Red DDR4 2400 PC4-19200 8GB (2x4GB)
- Motherboard: MSI Z170A PC Mate
- HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200.14 1TB SATA3 64MB
- PSU: Tacens Radix VII AG 700W 80 Plus
- Cooler: CPU Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO
Quality pre-built gaming PC’s are easy to find.
In the U.S., Newegg has plenty of low- to high-end gaming desktops that dispel the myth that you need to build to play. You even have a range of simple but functional-looking rigs, as well as towers that will melt your nerdy heart with their fancy LED’s and glass-paneled vistas of their sexy guts.
If, on the other hand, you want a good gaming laptop, MSI is the way to go (Kelli games on a GP60). When you buy a laptop, you’re paying more for less than you would get when buying a desktop, but sometimes the convenience of having a portable machine outweighs the added cost or drop in performance.
Myth #2: PC gaming is more expensive.
Maiberg writes that, in order to have a gaming rig, you need “an unreasonable amount of disposable income.” This is the real crux of the issue–the bottom dollar. Again, where you stand on this depends on your particular situation, and what you want to get out of gaming. But let’s start with the elephant in the room: if you’re a gamer, then you probably have a computer. In other words, you’ve already invested hundreds of dollars in a machine. Let’s say you bought a cheap desktop at around $500. Even a machine like this will play the tens of thousands of videogames out there that are at least several years old, a library exponentially larger and more diverse than anything you can hope to find on consoles (as well as a lot cheaper). Plus, if you’re into pirating2, you can download emulators to play thousands of older console games (oh, the irony) that are otherwise unavailable thanks to the shittiness of videogame publishers.
Choose between one machine or two.
But let’s say that you’re not a hardcore gamer, not a videogame researcher, not a retro nerd–whatever–and you just want to play the latest and greatest. If you’ve already bought your cheap $500 rig, then you’re probably out of choices, and you can’t blame that on PC gaming, but rather on your decision to think about gaming after having already spent a wad of cash. But if you’re poised to make that desktop purchase, and you’re wondering whether to get a console or to simply upgrade your PC, then going ahead with purchasing a gaming-quality machine will be about the same cost as getting the cheap rig plus a console.
Still, there’s even more to consider, and I don’t just mean the fact that thousands of titles can be torrented. Going all the way back to when I got my first job at Blimpie and saved up to buy an original Xbox, I was a loyal console gamer long before I got too deep into PC gaming.3 As most Xbox players from around that time well know, the red ring of death came for my machine, and spirited away its life force to the great beyond. When I bought a 360, the same tragedy befell my errant console three more times, and when Microsoft repeatedly demanded that I pay for the repairs, I said to hell with it, and bought a PS3–incidentally, right around the time that the Halo franchise got just a little too shitty and Bungie went on to do other things sans Microsoft, thus eliminating my desire to own an Xbox in the first place.
Factor in the cost of the games themselves.
Later, when I realized the shining glory of Steam sales (when I could buy 20 games for $80, for example), and when I’d had to sell my PS3 before moving across the ocean, I looked back on the original Xbox, Xbox 360, and PS3 titles that I’d collected over the years, and realized that I’d never be able to play them again. I had around 50 games in total, nearly all of them bought in your typical console $40-60 range. Just take stock of this for a moment–about $2500 of games that I can no longer play.
In the long term, gaming is exponentially cheaper on PC’s, if you’re smart and buy your games through a marketplace like Steam, because (unless Valve or Steam go under any time soon, which is highly unlikely) when you buy a game, it’s yours for life.4 Lightning nuke your gaming rig? Going to prison for ten years and have no way to play those old titles when you get out? No problem, when you have enough money saved to get your next PC, just download Steam again, login, and voila! Your library is once again at your fingertips.
Myth #3: Building a computer is hard.
This one is a bit murkier than the previous two. Building a computer might be considered hard by your grandma, and it’s definitely hardest the first time you do it. My first time, I invited my friend over to help me (who is an aeronautics engineer, so it was a bit overkill). Like Maiberg, I was mystified, but I didn’t despair. The whole process took about an hour, and the motherboard manual had all of the instructions that we needed for mounting it to the case and hooking everything up. Other than that, the component wires were ingeniously designed to plug into places where only those types of wires would fit (like basically every other consumer electronics wire known to humankind). The process is relatively intuitive, and even quite fun.
Regarding pre-purchase research, Maiberg claims that “doing enough research to say with authority that I got the right CPU at the right time is a full time job.” This kind of mystification of the process isn’t helpful, as it’s relatively easy to visit a site like Newegg, see that Intel (for example) is selling i5’s and i7’s, and then determine which one is right for you. Still, not to be dissuaded from his course, Maiberg continues:
The process of physically building a PC is filled with little frustrations like this, and mistakes can be costly and time consuming. I have big, dumb, sausage fingers, so mounting the motherboard into the case, and screwing in nine (!) tiny screws to keep it in place in a cramped space, in weird angles, where dropping the screwdriver can easily break something expensive—it’s just not what I’d call “consumer-friendly.”
Certainly these are common frustrations when building a computer, but they’re relatively minor. What’s more, actually damaging your components is easy to avoid; they’re a lot more durable than they look.
Computers are actually pretty easy to assemble.
Maiberg even claims, incredibly, “The only reason it’s hard is because of poor design, and the design continues to be poor after all these years because they [[PC builders]] are willing to put up with it.” What he overlooks is the simple fact that engineers, not gamers, design and build computer parts, and no amount of gamers complaining about things–nay, not even the flabby hordes slouching through DoucheGate–would change the engineer’s job. Moreover, the parts of a computer are actually pretty simple, as the brief list above demonstrates, so there’s nothing to “put up with” in the first place. Every single desktop tower needs the same parts to work, and the product pages of Newegg, Amazon, and other retailers clearly display what parts are compatible (your motherboard only works with certain CPU’s and RAM).
I’ve cultivated white oyster mushrooms from a single culture using both pasteurized and sterilized growth media. I’ve grown vegetables from seed. I’ve perfected recipes for smoked seitan brisket, biscuits, and tomato sauce (with the proviso that no recipe is ever truly “perfect”). All of these things are significantly harder and more time-consuming than assembling a computer using parts that are clearly labeled, with easy-to-read instruction manuals. Granted, if you just cringe at the thought of assembling your own machine (which I fully understand), then just get a pre-built one. Otherwise, YouTube (as even Maiberg admits) is replete with tons of helpful information, and maybe you’re lucky enough to have a nerd friend who will help you.
Myth #4: Just buy a Mac.
I admit, this isn’t a proper myth, but the incredible claims made here merit a response (which doesn’t even begin to address the issue of recommending a Mac when talking about building a PC). Maiberg writes, for example, that “Apple reduces friction to the point where even my mom could upgrade the RAM on her iMac, and it can do this because it controls everything that goes in that box.” If, by claiming that his mom (who presumably doesn’t know much about computers) could upgrade her RAM, he means that she could get someone at an Apple store to do it for her, then sure, she could do that, but the actual process of popping open the machine and installing internals is more or less the same regardless of the platform or distributor (and there are plenty of shops that will do this for Windows users).
Apple ain’t got game.
More importantly for gaming, Mac is probably the worst platform,5 because a huge number of games just aren’t compatible, and Apple computers tend to be both under-powered and extremely overpriced. Why “Just buy Apple” is Maiberg’s response becomes clear only when one considers that Apple fans tend to know very little about the hardware and software that they depend on, but instead default to sleek design and usability for basic tasks. There’s no question that Apple has led the field in UX for years now, and they’re damned good at it, but their design focus should by no means function as a catch-all “Buy Apple” for inexperienced users looking to game. This type of buyer might be better off buying a pre-built PC and a separate Windows OS (thus avoiding the crappy bloatware that companies like HP and Dell are famous for). Still, for Maiberg, Apple products “just work,” but in his examples he’s really comparing a pre-built machine to one that you build yourself, which is really a matter of Apples and oranges.
Myth #5: “All PC cases are ugly anyway.”
And with Thermaltake’s Level 10 GT Snow Edition, I rest my…case.6
- May the notion that PC’s are prohibitively expensive in Spain be laid to rest forever. ↩
- Which is totally illegal and not something that I can advocate. ↩
- All hail Goldeneye 007. And also Perfect Dark and Conker’s Bad Fur Day. ↩
- Steam, it is worth noting, is wholly responsible for the idea of downloadable game marketplaces, which have not only introduced the concept of owning a game for life, irrespective of its local installation on your machine, but also opened up a world of infinitely more diverse and cheaper gaming. All those downloadable titles you’re salivating over on your console? Thank the PC world, where it always happens first. ↩
- Even worse than Linux, which at least has Wine. ↩
- And yes, the featured image for this post is most assuredly also a case, perhaps the sexiest ever devised. ↩