PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X? Or neither…
For many people, the big choice this year is whether to buy a PlayStation 5 or the Xbox Series X.
I’m here to make the argument for another, arguably better, alternative.
The mighty gaming PC.
The best of both
With the exception of some PlayStation exclusives, you can get almost everything on those consoles on PC. Indeed, as we are now seeing with the likes of Horizon Zero Dawn, even unobtainable PlayStation exclusives have a tendency to wind up on PC at some point.
With Microsoft it’s even more clear cut. Almost every Microsoft exclusive releases day-one on PC, and thanks to Game Pass, you can get them for a very small outlay. Microsoft has made big moves recently, with Phil Spencer openly stating its not the number of consoles that determines their success, it’s how many people invest in their ecosystem.
Xbox has progressed from just a games console, to console and PC, and going forward with X-Cloud, you won’t even need either. The best place to play these games, though? PC.
Subscription and streaming services
Xbox has Game Pass, PlayStation has PS Now. The good news is, both are available on PC.
PS Now admittedly is limited to streaming-only on PC, and it’s capped to 720p. If you are only playing PS2 or PS3 titles then this isn’t a problem of course, but it could make for an underwhelming experience if you play the available PS4 titles on a high end PC. Regardless, if you want to play some PS exclusives such as Ratchet and Clank or Uncharted, PC allows you to do what Xbox does not.
The most popular and arguably best subscription service, Game Pass, is excellent on PC. Not only do you get a curated list of over 100 games, but you also get Xbox Game Studios releases day-one. Forza Horizon, Gears of War, Halo. All inclusive.
A good PC can play these games better than any current console, though, and if you hold out for the next generation of graphics cards (RTX 30xx series and Radeon RDNA2 “Big-Navi”) due at the end of the year, you can leapfrog the performance of these new consoles considerably.
Familiar controls (if you want them)
A huge advantage PCs have is in the number of input options you have. Not only can you use mouse and keyboard, but you can also use PlayStation and Xbox controllers. Not just current ones, either. Pretty much every generation of controllers is supported, and even if they’re not officially supported, someone out there has no doubt crafted some ingenious way of making them compatible.
Something many console users may never consider is the power of mods. A good mod can dramatically change the look of a game, breathing new life into games with vastly improved graphics and lighting. Even more of an incentive, you can get reams of additional content, with fan made missions, levels, character models and more available for pretty much any game you can imagine.
We hear all the time about the great PlayStation and Xbox exclusives. What is oft overlooked, however, is the quality and popularity of PC exclusives.
Gran Turismo and Forza, and indeed all sim racing games, have a pretty loyal following on console and pull in regular numbers. When compared to the quality and authenticity of PC sim racers, though, they pale into insignificance.
If you follow motorsports, you’ve no doubt seen some of the recent events being streamed and broadcast of eSports race meets. Many of these are played on iRacing (NASCAR and more), or rFactor 2 (official WEC LeMans event). These sims are PC exclusive.
Where do pros like Max Verstappen, Lando Norris, and a whole host of other real-world champions in pretty much every discipline you can imagine, play? PC.
You’ve also got a wealth of competitive games that are massively popular on PC. Games like CS:GO, League of Legends, DOTA and the newly released Valorant.
We’re talking true backwards compatibility, not restricted to games that have been certified or approved by the console maker. PCs have access to a huge library, with many older games available for a tiny price. Your library can come with you whenever you upgrade, with backwards compatibility all but assured.
Cost of games
Games are cheaper on PC, too. Sure, the system itself may involve more of an outlay, to begin with, but if you’re the kind of person who buys dozens of games every year, you can recoup this cost in a short amount of time. Even revisiting slightly older games that you can pick up for pocket change makes for a better experience than if you buy them on consoles.
PC versions of games are often unrestricted by console versions. You can benefit from increased resolution, higher frame rates and even HDR and ray-tracing. As we mentioned, too, mods are often available that make old games look far superior to their original incarnation.
Upgrade at will
If you buy the next-gen consoles, as good as they look now, they will have been superseded by PCs significantly at the end of their roughly seven-year life cycle. When they launch, with the exception of the PS5’s SSD, almost every component in them is less capable than what is available right now on PC. Come December, when the next-gen GPUs are available, a high-end PC will stand head and shoulders above the consoles.
This is where PCs come into their own. With a console, they may bring out a mid-gen refresh like the PS4 Pro or Xbox One X, but they still retain some of the bottlenecks of the earlier console. With PCs, you can upgrade almost every component from the CPU to the cooling system. You can add more and faster RAM, faster storage, better sound cards, RGB lighting, add more ports… The list goes on and on.
What’s the catch?
With the exception of not being able to play a small number of (albeit very good) exclusives, PC has consoles beat by almost every metric. What, then, is the catch?
Building a PC that surpasses consoles, especially the heavily optimised next-gen consoles, is an expensive undertaking. The GPU alone is going to set you back around £500, and the whole system? Well, you’re looking at a minimum of £1200-1500.
N.b. If you need to justify it to yourself/your accountant/significant other/loan shark, bear this in mind: Over 7 years (the lifespan of a console), if you usually buy ten or more full-price games a year, you are going to save this extra outlay and then some. The more you play, the more worth it a PC becomes.
It’s absolutely worth it, and you have the advantage that a gaming PC is an absolute powerhouse that is useful for more than just gaming, but it’s a very expensive hobby. Don’t forget you need to factor in the cost of a monitor, keyboard, mouse, speakers, headset and more. Once you get sucked in, it’s a serious cash sink.
My setup for example:
- £750 – ASUS TUF FX505DY Gaming laptop
- £360 – LG 27UK650 4k Monitor
- £470 – ASUS ROG Strix XG32VQR Monitor
- £129 – Logitech G613 Lightspeed Keyboard
- £129 – Logitech G502 Lightspeed Mouse
- £239 – Audioengine A2+ Speakers
- £850 – Audeze LCD-GX Gaming Headset
- £109.99 – Logitech G Pro X Gaming Headset
- £9.99 – 10″ Plush Cookie Monster Toy (Not essential)
Total: £3,046.98 (I’ve never added it up before, and I shocked myself)
I’m still saving for a new desktop (current desktop not listed, because it’s outdated and garbage), which is going to cost around £1500. By the time I pick it up, we’re looking at over £4,500, not including games. Make no mistake, if you get drawn into it, gaming on PC will drain your bank account fast.
If, however, you only play Fortnite, Call of Duty and/or FIFA each year, then a console is probably the better choice.
Seriously, though, the only reason you shouldn’t buy a gaming PC is if you can’t manage the cost. They outclass consoles via every metric.