Occasionally I come across a console gamer looking to make the change to PC gaming. They're interested primarily in better graphics and mods. What holds them back are a mix of legitimate concerns, and a vast amount of false information invented by anti-PC gamers. I felt that I should clear up the benefits and disadvantages to PC gaming. I've been gaming on consoles since 1996, and have extensive experience with all consoles since NES and Sega Genesis. I built my first gaming PC in 2008, and since then I've developed many modifications for games as well as designed quite a few levels. So this will be a purely informative and non-biased post.
Below are some of the common questions asked by console gamers looking to switch to PC gaming.
1. Isn't PC gaming much more expensive?
- If you're willing to learn to build a PC, or have a friend/family member who can build one, then you can build a powerful PC for about $600-$700. See the end of the post for great budget hardware. However, I realize that most console gamers are not willing to do so. Pre-built PCs will set you back close to $1,000 for inferior hardware than a custom built $500-$600 PC. Therefore, the cost of a pre-built PC is one of the legitimate concerns against PC gaming.
- However, upgrading to each new console generation totals up to far more than building one solid gaming PC. This brings us to our next question.
2. Don't you have to upgrade PC hardware every few years to play the latest games?
- Absolutely not. This is one of the most common concerns preached by anti-PC gamers, but it's mostly nonsense and/or extremely exaggerated. First and foremost, new hardware is not necessary to simply play new games. Sure, certain outdated hardware may struggle on higher settings of a new game, but you can still play the game. So I'll say it clearly, you do not have to upgrade to the latest hardware to play PC games.
- If you want to run games on the highest or near-highest settings for the next few years, you can build/buy a powerful one and it will certainly last for a while. My video card is over two years old, and can max out nearly every game at 1920 x 1080 smoothly (over 30 FPS average). I get 50-60 FPS in Battlefield 3 on Ultra. Using today's modern equivalent hardware, you can get significantly greater performance, allowing you to max out pretty much any game at 1920 x 1080 now and most likely for the next few years. This is not just some assumption either - Crysis from 2007 runs worse than many modern games that have similar graphics quality.
3. What if I prefer gaming with a controller?
- Then use a controller on PC. Microsoft's wired XBOX 360 controller works, and most games support it. Logitech and other brands have controllers with a unique layout. However, the mouse and keyboard combo is one of the benefits to PC gaming. A mouse gives you far more precise aiming for shooters, and far more precise movement for platforming. A controller has about a dozen buttons, while a normal keyboard has over 100 keys (but you can get smaller models which take up less space, and are beneficial to many gamers). There are some games that actually make use of nearly every key on the keyboard, namely the ArmA series.
- Believe it or not, it took me less time to get used to the mouse and keyboard than to get used to the XBOX 360 and PS3 controller. Mouse and keyboard just give you more freedom for hand movement, so you don't have to keep your hands clutched around a controller all the time.
- Keyboards, especially mechanical keyboards, are much higher end products than any controller. They offer much greater reliability than controllers and normal keyboards (both of which use normal rubber membranes), and are much more precise. The feel compared to a normal keyboard is leagues ahead. Did you ever notice how with sports games and such, sometimes things don't come out right when playing with a controller? Or how your old controllers don't work anymore. This is because they're such low quality products. Did you ever notice how hard it is in some games to use the diagonal functions with a controller? They're not precise and they're not reliable, especially wireless. Serious gamers should always use wired peripherals, this is less of an issue for casual gaming.
- There are also keyboards with macro functions, allowing you to make custom key combo bindings which may be helpful for competitive gaming. Even if you're not sold on mouse and keyboard, once again, you can use a controller for PC gaming.
4. What if I prefer gaming on my couch or bed, with a big TV?
- Then do the same for your PC. Plug it into your big TV, hook up your controller, lay down and go play some games. There is nothing from stopping you from doing this with a PC. Most modern video cards come with HDMI ports, as well as DVI. Some slightly older (but still powerful) models have an old analog VGA output for your ancient TV, and newer ones also include DisplayPorts. There are also a ton of adapters to use if your TV inputs and GPU outputs don't match up. These adapters are dirt cheap, and may be included with the GPU and/or TV.
5. Are PC games more of a pain to set up and play?
- Not at all. You have to install PC games which takes a few minutes, but even modern consoles have game installation now so it's practically the same thing. Launching your game is as simple as double clicking an icon, or selecting it in your games library if you use Steam or Origin. Many times you don't even need to use a disc, especially if you buy games digitally from Steam or someone similar. This makes PC gaming even easier - no losing discs, no scratched discs that don't work, etc.
6. Do PC games auto-update like on consoles?
- Yes and no. If you buy your games digitally from Steam or someplace similar, they auto-update. If you use a disc, there is no way for them to auto-update but typically they have an in-game feature to check for updates. Installing patches is not difficult at all. Go to the website with the patch, download it, run the installer, let it install, and then you're finished.
- PC games have a benefit when it comes to patches - they get them weeks or months earlier. For consoles, Sony and Microsoft have to do some certifications before letting these patches be released on consoles. Some patches even bring more content to PC games, due to this content not being possible to run on consoles. A good example of this is the Skyrim 1.5 update - it adds grass shadows to PC but not to consoles since consoles cannot run simple grass shadows in Skyrim without a bad frame rate.
7. Are PC games less stable?
- No, this is typical malarkey invented by anti-PC gamers who usually never even tried PC games. Multiplatform games are just as stable on PC, if not more stable in some ways. Skyrim on consoles gets occasional stutter and frame rate dips, which is a form of stability. This doesn't happen on my PC. Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty games crash my PS3 (not even just crashed to the Home menu, but actually froze the PS3 which is a new model) far more than they crash to my desktop on PC.
- There are a number of unstable PC exclusives, though this isn't common and they tend to be older games.
- Bad console ports may have performance issues or even stability issues on PC, but for this isn't too common.
8. What about exclusives?
- This goes both ways. Consoles have exclusives such as sports games, family split screen games, more cinematic action games (Uncharted and Metal Gear Solid for example), and massive budget racing games like Forza and Gran Turismo. On the other hand, PC has exclusives such as racing simulators, flight simulators, even military squad simulators (ArmA series), and other games that are too massive and/or have too many features such that they wouldn't run on consoles.
- You can sometimes play console exclusives on PC. This is accomplished via emulators, but this is a hit or miss. You'll have more success running older console games on emulators compared to new ones.
9. What about DLC?
- For multiplatform games, consoles sometimes get DLC a week or two earlier. Then again, the PC versions get patches several weeks or even over a month earlier. I don't mind waiting a week or two for extra content, vs waiting a month for annoying bugs to be addressed.
10. Are PC graphics really that much better?
- PC graphics are WAY ahead of console games. The difference is huge, even for multiplatform games. PS3 and XBOX 360 run games at 1280 x 720. This 1080p support is a myth - there might be one or two PS3 games that run at 1920 x 1080, but the rest only upscale therefore you don't get anywhere near 1080p quality. Console games also lack anti-aliasing, thus leaving all edges jaggy and often with a white outline. This looks horrible. Compare it to a PC game running at a much higher resolution (1920 x 1080 monitors can often be found for under $150, or if you have a 1080p TV, use that if you wish) as well as AA methods to fix those edges. The difference is massive. Even the best looking games on console, namely Uncharted 2-3, Killzone 3, and Alan Wake, are far behind the PC versions of pretty much any relatively new multiplatform game.
- As for certain PC exclusives, console games don't come near them in visual quality. They are years behind Crysis/Crysis Warhead, Metro 2033, ArmA 2, The Witcher 2, Battlefield 3, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Clear Sky, and many others. As for physics, nothing on consoles comes close to the PhysX display of certain PC games (Cryostasis and Mafia II are some of the most impressive ones). If your computer can't run high quality graphics, all PC games have configurable graphics settings so you can lower them.
11. What about frame rate?
- Due to newer and more powerful hardware, you will usually get a much higher frame rate than you do on consoles. Higher frames per second means a much more smooth game. Console games usually run at 24-30 FPS, but it is common to see them drop below this value. The difference between 30 FPS and 60 FPS is massive. The same applies to 30 FPS vs 45 FPS. Console gamers should know this since Call of Duty usually runs at 60 FPS. Imagine that smoothness in every game, but with far better visuals. That's one of many perks you'll get on PC.
12. What about 3D?
- I have no experience with console games in 3D, but the reception for console gaming in 3D is rather cold. It doesn't get rave reviews and hardly anyone cares for it. On the other hand, NVIDIA 3D Vision 2 has gained almost only positive comments and reviews. I briefly tried the original NVIDIA 3D Vision, and it was very impressive in some games (Left 4 Dead stands out in my memory). It was rather dark, but 3D Vision 2 addresses this issue with a new "LightBoost" technology. The downside to 3D is the price. A NVIDIA 3D Vision 2 setup will set you back about $700.
13. Are PC monitors any good?
- PC monitors get the newest technologies and are far ahead of most TVs. A large 1080p LED backlit TV will cost you over $700 if you want a good brand name, compared to around $150-$180 for a similar quality 23" monitor. This $700 could get you a 3D Vision 2 setup, but with only a similar quality monitor (white LED backlit). $700 could also get you a top quality IPS panel, such as Dell UltraSharp, which has image quality far greater than any typical LCD panel. A white-LED backlit display (which is pretty much every LED backlit TV/monitor on the market) does not provide great image quality, mainly in the red and green color ranges. With PC gaming, you have access to top quality IPS panels and other types of displays.
- Lets not forget surround gaming, something exclusive to PC. If you have serious cash, then you can set up three monitors and immerse yourself even more.
14. Are mods really worth it?
- Mods are one of my main reasons as to why I prefer PC gaming. There are mods that make needed fixes for games, improve graphics, improve sound, add cool features to games, or act as a total conversion for a game bringing totally new gameplay. Mods can improve the replay value of a game considerably, adding all sorts of new content to a game. They are a big deal. Take a look at games with massive modding communities, namely ArmA 2, Crysis, Half Life 2, Fallout 3, Fallout New Vegas, The Elder Scrolls series, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series, Killing Floor, and so on. Or just look at what the modding-maniacs do in Garry's Mod. You'll be amazed. It is not difficult to install mods at all - some have an installer, but usually you just have to drop a folder into another folder.
15. What about cheaters in multiplayer gaming?
- Cheating can be a problem in PC games. Anti-cheat exists, but the most common ones (PunkBuster and VAC) don't stop some cheaters. Both of these are constantly updated however, but some dedicated cheaters and hackers constantly update their cheats. It isn't a huge problem, but it is annoying when encountered if no admin is present.
- PC does have a lot of perks to multiplayer gaming. You can use modded content in some games to totally change up gameplay, and play on new levels thanks to SDKs given by certain developers. Automatic mod and level downloaders make it so you don't even have to install these mods, as seen in many Unreal Engine MP games. Most PC MP games also make use of dedicated servers, which reduce lag considerably and gives the server owner the option to customize the server. Without dedicated servers, MP gaming is a lagfest, therefore consoles are not the best platform for MP games.
16. What about reliability?
- As far as I know, the XBOX 360 had a higher failure rate than most other electronic components in recent years. Although its reliability improved, it is common to have a console die on you in several years, especially current gen and last gen. I had one PS3 and one XBOX 360 die on me, my PS2 and Gamecube have trouble playing games, although oddly enough my older systems work fine. I guess those were tanks. But acknowledge the fact that consoles are mass-produced systems so their quality is bound to be worse. When my PS3 failed, I opened it up to try and repair it (which I did with the oven trick). Upon looking at its hardware, it became obvious how poor the quality and craftmanship is. Bad soldering all around, consoles are just cheap and unreliable systems. Consoles also get really hot, while on PC you can get all sorts of cooling methods (simple fans do more than fine). Get yourself some moderately powerful or enthusiast PC parts, and your PC will last a long time. Far longer than a console.
17. PC games don't have achievements like consoles do, right?
- Wrong. Steam games have dozens of achievements, although it is rare to come across a non-Steam game with achievements.
18. I don't like digital copies for games, I want hard copies.
- Then buy hard copies on PC. They're still around... for now. Sony and Microsoft are pushing digital retail for next gen consoles too. But why avoid digital copies? It's really better, as long as you get them from a good place like Steam, but Desura is a good last resort. Steam DRM is not restrictive, you get the game earlier (compared to buying from an online store), no need to fiddle with or worry about scratching/losing disks, and disk games have DRM too. Steam is a lot more convenient.
19. What about easy transport? PCs are bigger
- Most PCs are indeed bigger than the PS3 and XBOX 360, especially the slim models, but you can still build a very powerful PC in a small form factor chassis such as the Silverstone FT03, or dozens of others from Lian-Li and other brands (I'm not very knowledgeable in small form factor options). Several larger cases have handles making them easy enough to transport, making only its size a concern. But like I said, if you're a LAN gamer pick up a chassis designed for LAN usage. The Silverstone FT03 is the most impressive one I've seen, it can hold even an enthusiast CPU cooler if you want to overclock, as well as pretty much any desktop GPU. There are HTPCs that can hold enthusiast hardware too. Easily portable Ivy Bridge/SB-E and GTX 680/7970 rig? Can be done.
20. Break it down for me, why should I try PC gaming?
- Versatility - You can keep playing on your couch and with your big TV, or set up a mouse and keyboard combo with one or several monitors and enjoy an amazing gaming experience.
- Customization - If you build your own PC, you can make it so that it has the colors/lights of your choice, noise level of your choice, and even size of your choice. People like to say PCs are massive and hard to bring around, but you can build a very powerful PC in a tiny form factor chassis, avoiding these issues. Even larger computers can be easy enough to transport, as long as they have handles.
- Convenience - Modern consoles tend to install games just like a PC, but due to their small little hard drives, you may end up uninstalling and installing games quite often which is time consuming especially on consoles. With a PC, you can get a large hard drive or solid state drive, or several in a RAID setup if you wish, and just keep all of your games installed.
- Multitasking - PCs are good not just for gaming, but you can watch TV/movies on it, use the internet (in-game if you use Steam), Microsoft Office, photo/video editing, anything.
- Game Support - PC games cost less. Just about every console game is $60. Most PC games are $30-$50. Only Bethesda, Activision, and EA games are $60. Let's not forget older titles that disappear off the shelves. On Steam, you can find a number of very old titles and download them. There won't be shortages, since most PC games are released digitally.
- Potential to run much higher resolutions, up to 2560 x 1600 on one display (over 4x the pixels compared to 1280 x 720 consoles)
- Upgradable hardware to keep up with new technology that may appear in games.
- Much better graphics and better frame rate made possible thanks to newer hardware.
- PCs are more reliable, higher quality systems.
- Play PC exclusives with the ability to play some console exclusives via emulators.
- Mouse and keyboard offer greater capability in games, thanks to the precision of a mouse (for aiming and platforming), sheer number of keys, and macro scripts on mice and keyboards.
- Potential to use multiple displays, higher quality displays and/or 3D vision. Yes, you can do 3D vision across three displays (called 3D Surround).
- Potential to use better audio hardware. Many top quality headphones don't work with consoles.
- PC gives you the option of abandoning the use of discs, which can be scratched/damaged and lost. Digital retailers such as Steam also offer a ton of features not seen or poorly done on consoles, such as in-game instant messaging, web browsing, news updates, joining in progress, favorited servers, mod workshop (instant mod installation and updating, so far for only a few games but this will change), etc.
- You can take screenshots in any PC game.
- Much easier video capture.
- Mod support, which can provide a totally different experience to games.
- Level and mission designing and creating, in games with an SDK.
- Dedicated servers to reduce lag in MP games. Once you play on good dedicated servers, you'll probably refuse to play on anything else.
- In MP games, admins can kick or ban cheaters/boosters/teamkillers/any other people who deserve it.
- PC usually gets patches weeks or months earlier.
- There are probably more reasons.
21. Be honest, what are the downsides of PC gaming?
- Overpriced pre-built systems. This can be avoided if you're willing to learn how to build a PC.
- Building a PC is time consuming and can go very wrong for an inexperienced person.
- Cheaters still get around anti-cheat in MP games occasionally, and there may not be an admin around to kick/ban them.
- Admins abusing their power in MP games.
- Consoles sometimes get DLC earlier.
- Console exclusives are console exclusives. Emulators can be unreliable.
What's this budget hardware you spoke of?
Assuming you have a TV/monitor, speakers or headphones and an input device already:
- Lancool PC-K57 Case
- ASRock H77M
- Intel Core i5 3470
- G.SKILL Value Series 8GB DDR3 1333 RAM
- SAPPHIRE 6850
- Seasonic M12II Bronze 520W
- Western Digital Caviar Blue 500GB
- Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Throw in a $20 optical drive if you need one, and you're looking at under $700. You can knock down the price much more if you get a cheaper i3 CPU. Building a PC saves costs a lot compared to pre-builts, and gets you a better system as well.
I will periodically update this thread, mainly with new value hardware but also with any new questions that arrive. If you're looking to make the switch to PC gaming, this is information you should know.