Should You Build a Gaming PC Instead of Buying a Next-Gen Console?

Let’s face it, it’s the holiday season, there are new consoles out, and you’re probably itching to get your hands on something new and shiny to play the latest games with.  Thankfully, you have more options than ever before.

Console or PC?

It used to be that if you wanted a high-quality gaming experience, you had two choices; build a very expensive PC or buy a comparatively inexpensive game console.  These days, that’s not nearly as true as you might think.  Yes, if you want a gaming PC that will last, providing you with at least a year before you need to consider upgrades, you’re probably going to spend around $800, but there’s a world of options at the $500 price point that offer plenty of horsepower, provided you’re willing to cut corners on ports, form factor, multitasking, and in some cases, resolution.

Essentially, what you game on shouldn’t just be a hardware or software debate, you need to consider what you want as an experience.  If you want to do everything a computer can do and play games and don’t mind having to use a keyboard and mouse to install your content, then a PC is probably a good choice for you.  If you want to just play games and maybe watch some netflix, then a console is where you’ll find a great bang for your buck experience.

Xbox One or PS4 (or WiiU)?

The WiiU is probably one of the best consoles ever made.  It has a negative stigma, but between it’s massive library of retro/indie titles, fantastic first-party exclusives, and value-focused price point, the WiiU should be something every gamer seriously considers this holiday season.  Unfortunately, it isn’t the every-gamer device it has the potential to be, mostly thanks to Nintendo royally screwing up the marketing for the WiiU and not making it an attractive piece of hardware for developers.  While third-party titles on the WiiU might be fantastic, they are sparse and not as well supported as their competitions’ versions.

The Xbox One has had it’s fair share of troubles this year.  Between an awful marketing strategy on Microsoft’s part and a focus on media over gaming, the “Xbone” is a tough sell to anyone that’s been following the console race this year. Thankfully, I think it offers something very attractive that neither Sony or a PC without heavy user interaction, can offer.  The Xbox One is probably the most powerful media hub on the market right now.  While it’s not going to wow anyone who’s into home theatre solutions, for the everyday consumer it offers everything and anything you could possibly want in a media device.

Sony’s approach to the PlayStation 4 has been radically different than we’ve ever seen them take.  Between the lower price point, cheaper hardware production costs (than even the actual unit itself), and a “for all gamers” marketing approach, the PS4 screams value for any gamer looking to get a next-gen experience.  But therein lies the PS4’s biggest flaw, it’s not the gaming console and fantastic media device that the Xbox One is.  What it lacks in the Xbox One’s media integration, it makes up for in being cheaper, marginally more powerful, boasting a larger library of launch titles, and amazing exclusives from the likes of Naughty Dog.  While the Xbox One is busy doing a fantastic job of pleasing everyone, the PS4 is hard at work making sure gamers are getting the most for their money.

Personally, as someone that pursues and demands the best experiences gaming software and hardware can offer, I recommend the PS4.  I’d rather save $100 and get to play the “better” version of all the multi-platform titles and arguably better exclusives than pay for something that offers media services and integration that I really don’t have much use for. On the other hand, if you’re someone who already owns a high-end PC that satisfies all your gaming needs, you might consider enhancing your living room experience with an Xbox One, rather than investing in a piece of hardware that focuses on what your PC already does better.

How to PC, like a Boss

It goes without saying that the best way to get a PC gaming experience is to build your own PC.  It’s easier and cheaper than it’s ever been before and has limitless potential.  So without further ado, here’s my budget gaming PC parts list:

PCPartPicker part list
Price breakdown by merchant

  • CPU: AMD A10-5800K 3.8GHz Quad-Core Processor ($94.99 @ NCIX US)
  • Motherboard: MSI FM2-A75MA-E35 Micro ATX FM2 Motherboard ($59.91 @ Amazon)
  • Memory: PNY XLR8 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3-1600 Memory
  • Storage: Seagate Barracuda 500GB 3.5″ 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive ($49.99 @ NCIX US)
  • Video Card: Gigabyte Radeon R9 270X 2GB Video Card ($199.99 @ NCIX US)
  • Case: Silverstone PS08B (Black) MicroATX Mid Tower Case ($34.99 @ Amazon)
  • Power Supply: Cooler Master GX 450W 80+ Bronze Certified ATX Power Supply ($49.05 @ OutletPC)
  • Total: $488.92

(Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available.)
(Generated by PCPartPicker 2013-11-30 06:07 EST-0500)

For under $500 you’re getting a comparable gaming experience to both the PS4 and Xbox One, while still leaving some room for upgrades.  Some downsides of this build are it being a small form factor (micro ATX), limited amount of storage and RAM, and lack of peripherals like a mouse and keyboard, monitor, and OS.  But all things considered, chances are you have a keyboard and mouse in a closet somewhere, your TV will do just fine, and aside from Linux, getting a free or very cheap Microsoft OS like 7 or 8.1 is nearly pain-free these days.  More to the point though is that for roughly the cost of an Xbox One or PS4 with PS+, you’re getting something that outperforms both in areas not just limited to gaming.  There’s not much more to say except that if you are willing to try something new and put a little bit of effort into it, a gaming PC might surprise you at how easy and cheap owning one can be.

What should you get?

For me, what hardware I buy comes down to two things, performance and value.  If it’s not running games in 1080p without costing me an arm and a leg, it’s not for me.  With that in mind, if you weigh all the options, you’re really left with two solid gaming options this holiday season; the PS4 and building your own PC.  Now that’s not to say that the Xbox One or WiiU aren’t solid consoles.  They really are.  But for gaming, the PS4 just offers more performance at a better value.  By all means, if you want a very robust media machine and gaming console, go get yourself an Xbox One.  I doubt you’ll be disappointed, especially if you were a fan of the Xbox 360.

As for PS4 vs PC, it all boils down to one thing; value.  With a PS4, not only are you going to save some time by not having to build or install anything, but you’re also getting a great value in the PSN without having to pay for a premium membership unless you want to play multiplayer titles aside from the F2P options available on the PS4.  Value, however, is where PC gaming really shines.  While it’s uncommon to see games in the console world for cheaper than $50 at launch, most PC titles go from anywhere between $15 and $60, with a plethora of sales and deals flying around every day, even on major AAA titles.  That’s where the real value of PC gaming shines for me.  It’s not about graphics or exclusives for me, it’s about getting the most for my money.

At the end of the day, I really can’t recommend building your own PC enough.  Even Sony and Microsoft have done it this generation as they’ve almost totally abandoned niche/proprietary hardware and gone with essentially off-the-shelf PC parts.

If you’re looking for a strictly adequate gaming experience that will probably last you a good 3-5 years, the PS4 is a great choice.  But if you’re willing to return what you save in spending on games in a new GPU or more RAM in a year or two, a gaming PC is just as attractive with the added bonus of a world of software and features no console can offer.

If you’ve yet to make the jump, what is your “next-gen” weapon of choice? Would you consider building a gaming PC?

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