Why does a "gaming" PC cost thousands of dollars?

I’ve been doing some PC shopping and needless to say, even for someone who works with computers professionally, there is an endlessly confusing combination of brands, configurations, processors, motherboards and videocards out there.

One thing I want to know, what is the deal with these “gaming” rigs that cost upwards of thousands of dollars with elaborate cooling systems as if they were powered by a nuclear reactor? Do they really design videogames now such that if you only have a “mere” $1500 Duo-Core you have to put all the graphics settings on Low?

Why are they so much more expensive that even the PlayStation PS3? Are the graphics that much better? I mean I was tempted to just keep my 6 year old PC for another six years and just buy an X-Box (which I might buy anyway).

And who can even afford to buy these things? Anyone with $5,000 to blow on a PC plus $55 per game (and I assume they have a lot of games if gaming is worth $5 G) must either have wealthy parents or a high paying job in which case how do they have time to take advantage of the cutting edge performance?

It’s a big rip-off, that’s how.You can build yourslef a good gaming machine for under a $1000, or have one built for you at a bit of a premium. You might not have the absolute latest everything, but it’ll run most anything on the market at high settings. The onyl things it won’t run on high are those few annoying games which are basically built to look incredibly awesome next graphics cycle, and are currently almost unplayable unless you’re a game developer with two linked high-end professional graphics card normally sold only to game developers.

Whatever happened with Civ IV. At one time, people were complaining because they had pretty much the setup described in the OP, and the damn game STILL wouldn’t run. Or ran sluggishly, and they had to use small worlds and such. I mean, if Civ can cripple a machine, what hope is there to get a decent one?

Pretty much what smiling bandit said. I haven’t upgraded my computer in about three years (and it wasn’t all that good for its time) and I don’t have any problems with most of the newer games I want. Not at the highest settings or resolution, of course, but it’s perfectly playable and acceptable to me.

Will one of those thousands of dollars machines help my Oregon Trail people not die on the way?


Smiling bandit is correct if you’re looking at mid or low level gaming systems. If you want something towards the high end, you can’t build it for $1000. It’s more like $3K-$5K (depending on how high end you want). You might save a few hundred bucks if you build it yourself, but not much more than that. A set of the top end video cards can easily cost $1K. A large monitor will run you $700-$1000. Speakers & a good sound card run $300-$500. Etc. etc.

Why buy one? Well, I personally do want to play the latest and greatest games at close to the highest resolution. I also don’t want to go through the trouble of changing computers every year or two; I’d rather upgrade once in 3 years than every year. Granted, my computer is also my primary work tool; I can write it off as one of my only business expenses.

Also realize that there are a lot of hobbies that cost a lot more than a high end computer. Nobody bats an eye at people who buy motorcycles, boats, ATVs, etc. And all of those things costs TONS more than a computer, even a really ultra high end one.

I spent $1600 on my new system, including a 19" monitor, and it runs any game you like at, at worst, moderate settings.

In case you were wondering exactly what the money is being spent on, it’s going to primarily be on the graphics card. A high-performance processor with a good-quality motherboard to tie the two together are also highly important.

That said, getting the latest and greatest video cards is something of a pissing match. Not entirely, however, since the system really will provide a boost on one or two current games. It generally also heralds the direction of future games, meaning a high-end system will be useful for a while to come.

Ars Technica’s System Guides will provide a good idea of how to get a good value for money system, as well as what might be the highest end without frivolous spending. The Gaming Box was just updated, with the ‘value’ option at ~$1250 (including monitor but not OS). Of course those prices are a sum of components that a system-builder might use; getting the system pre-built by a company will raise that price up a few hundred dollars.

A gaming PC doesn’t have to cost even $1000 if you stay away from the absolute latest (most expensive) hardware. See my previous thread on how I upgraded my PC for around $550: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=430825

My new PC plays Oblivion at 1650x1080 with everything maxed.

It’s like anything: If you want the best of the best, you are going to pay through the nose.

Some people buy $1000 fly fishing rods.

Some people buy $150,000 cars.

Some people want to play World of Warcraft with full anti-aliasing, full anisotropic filtering, full color resampling, and all other settings at max, with 24 other players on screen, while smashing the boss, while maintaining 75 fps.

And, like anything, it’s a process of diminishing return: Binoculars that have 20% greater clarity cost 2x as much, 30% greater clarity cost 4x as much, and so on. Someone will chime in with the technical term for this phenomenon.

Absolutely! Step over here and let me write you up a quote.

“Gaming” rigs are usually built with the bleeding-edge top-end components. And those are pricey. Quad-core Intel CPUs, 2+ GB of RAM, and the latest nVidea / ATI video card (sometimes two) is going to set you back almost two grand even if you build it yourself. Add on the monitor, 1000dpi optical / wireless mouse, 500 GB hard drive with a RAID controller, cooling systems (put that much fast-running electronics into a box and there’s definitely heat to contend with) etc. Then there’s the “fluff”: brushed chrome cases, paint jobs, interior lighting, etc.

Personally, I wouldn’t spend more than ~2000 for a new system (not counting monitor or other peripherals). And recently I did just that. I got a Intel Core 2 Duo 6750 CPU, 2 GB of RAM, an nVidia 8800 GTS (320 MB), DVD±RW and 250 GB SATA2 hard drive. Even parted out at newegg, the components came out to ~1800 (that’s including OS, power supply, case, etc). It may not be the absolute top-of-the-line, but it’ll handle the current crop of games, and I expect it to last me a few years before I need to worry about upgrading.

Whether or not the extra cost is worth the performance increase is pretty much a personal preference. Yes, spending another $200 on a CPU or $400 on a video card will get you more frames per second, but the price/performance curve gets a little flat up there at the top end. But there are people who’d rather have a good gaming rig than anything else, and have the money to spend on it. I say let them. If people are paying out the nose for the top-of-the-line stuff, the lower-end components (that I shop for) will be that much cheaper. :slight_smile:

Here’s what a really high-end gaming PC will be running these days:

Dual PCI-E SLI graphics cards, each with its own power supplied directly from the power supply. Imagine two of these babies at $380 each.
Lots of RAM, depending on what the motherboard can handle (my motherboard, for instance, can handle 4 GB but I’ve only got 2 GB in at the moment). These days, motherboards capable of handling 8 or 16 GBs are fairly common. Let’s go nuts and get this motherboard with dual PCI-E x16 ports for the graphics cards and support up to 32 GB of RAM, not that you can get enough RAM on a stick right now to actually get up to 32 GB. Motherboards are cheap, with this one being about $120. Call it $540 for 8 GB of RAM, though you might be able to do better buying separate sticks. This should be a perfectly fine CPU at $170–I think it matches the motherboard correctly, but someone please correct me if I’m wrong. Of course you’ll need a gigantic power supply to run all this stuff, something like this at $120 is an idea.

Of course, you’ll also have to get into pretty fancy cooling, possibly even water cooling. You’ll need a hard drive and some other parts, all of which you might be able to cannibalize from an older computer. Need a case that can handle everything as well. Now, I’m only up to $1500 so far, but then again I don’t build systems like this, so it might be able to either do it cheaper or even more expensive. And of course that’s just the stuff I’ve actually put a price on.

Oh yes! I’m running profits you would not believe at my Lemonade Stand.

My take on this whole $2000 or $3000 gaming PC thing is that most people really don’t know or care about the difference between running a hardware-intensive game at 30 FPS (frames per second) for $500 or 60 FPS for $2000. The sweet price/performance spot is spending about $200 on a CPU and motherboard, $150 on a video card, get as much RAM as you can afford, and don’t go crazy on hard drive space because it gets majorly cheaper all the time.

This was fixed during one of the earlier patch releases. It wasn’t that the game was deliberately designed so it couldn’t run on lower spec machines, it was just a major bug in the game causing it to not use memory efficiently. Fixing the bug fixed the problems.

Of course, releasing the game with this bug is a pretty crappy thing to do to your customers. But the reality of the software business is that if a game is scheduled to release on a certain day, it will be released on that day no matter what. A game can be delayed only if the release is called off several months in advance. There’s no such thing as slipping your ship date by a few days or by a week…once stores have allocated shelf space and printed ads, you are committed to ship or you have to eat those costs. And that isn’t allowed to happen.

It’s expensive because people will pay for it. High-end hardware is always expensive, and it always goes down in price significantly after 6 months. Games produced without high-end hardware in mind won’t be competitive. That’s avoiding the question a bit, though. The point is that these machines are sold with high markup and non-essential garbage. A fancy looking case with LEDs, a subwoofer, an overpriced soundcard*, a mouse with 7 buttons, etc etc all drive the price up.

*Who releases a game with 24 bit/96khz, 7.1 surround sound anyhow? You’re never going to hear the difference, even if you can tell.

Thanks for that answer. A related question, please. If I were to buy the game now, would it be a fixed version? Or do they just release the original ad infinitum?

That’s about what I ended up spending, not counting the monitor. My last monitor I kept for like ten years since the technology didn’t really change that much. With the new $200 20" LCD widescreen monitors, it may be time to upgrade though.

If this thing lasts another six years with minimal upgrades and no repairs, I’ll consider it a decent deal.

Well, you want a motherboard that supports a good chipset. You want the bus to be fast, you want it to support new things like DDR3 RAM, you want the fastest dual core processor on the market (for running the top current game and future games). Graphics processor is important, but so is the expansion slot (such as PCI- express). A good motherboard will cost you several hundred dollars, graphics/physics cards can go from anywhere from 600 dollars to 17,000 (external physics and graphics processors), CPU chips can run from several hundred dollars for the slower, lower end dual processors, to nearly 1500 dollars for the high end chips. DDR3 RAM is pretty new, and the motherboards that support it are expensive as hell.

Monitors (you want fast refresh rate and high contrast ratio), speakers (with high end sound cards), mouse (usb2, no wireless crap), keyboard (with gaming extension), and other various things add up. I could see easily spending 2k, for a true top of the line gaming PC, I could easily spend 5k.