The gaming PC upgrade cycle is a myth. This is why

A gaming PC with LED lighting.
Alberto Garcia Guillen/

PC gaming is often criticized for being expensive, and part of that is the idea of ​​having to upgrade regularly to somehow “keep up”. In reality, upgrading PCs is both optional and much less frequent than most people think.

Consoles are the benchmark

A black Xbox Series X next to a white Xbox Series S
ALDECA studio/

Multiplatform games released on both PC and console are designed to work on the lowest common denominator device on which the title is released. Consoles have some advantages in terms of efficiency and reduced system overhead. Suppose you have a PC that is slightly more powerful than the weakest system of the current generation. In that case, you can rest assured that your PC will run games with similar settings and performance for the duration of the console generation.

Take the Xbox Series S as an example. This console has a GPU that’s about 20% less powerful than an NVIDIA GTX 1660, so you’d expect a computer with that graphics card and a comparable CPU to match or exceed whatever the Series S can do.

The main caveat is that console versions of games often have settings tailored to that particular hardware platform. Also, some settings on the console version of a game may be lower than the lowest possible on the PC version, making it difficult to match exactly. On the other hand, PC games are generally customizable with custom settings, so there may be a workaround anyway.

Finally, there’s the specter of poor-quality, unoptimized PC ports. This is nowhere near the problem it was in the past, as current generation consoles like the Xbox Series X|S are essentially custom Windows computers running DirectX. However, there are still cases of bad PC game conversions from consoles.

PC games are scalable

Doom Eternal graphics settings on a Windows PC.
A video game settings page from DOOM Eternal (PC)

Speaking of settings within PC games, it’s common for PC games to offer a wide variety of scalable options. This allows you to optimize the look and performance of the game to match the hardware you have. A game released in 2022 will run on hardware five years earlier or even older, but with lower settings than more modern PC hardware.

These games should look and run just as well as games that were new when your PC was new, they just don’t compare to the best PC hardware that can handle higher settings. However, these are two different things.

Whether it’s playable and looks good is different from whether it looks as good as it can be! Whether the older computer runs the game satisfactorily is subjective, which is one of the reasons why upgrading isn’t required as often as the myth suggests.

The psychology of video game preset inflation

PC gamers may feel pressured or even obligated to upgrade as PC game presets experience inflation. Today’s “high” preset is tomorrow’s “low” preset.

This creates a situation where an older PC can only run games annually at progressively lower presets, which can give the feeling that the computer is deteriorating.

However, the games you play on low today look just as good or better than the games you played on high when the PC was new. Your PC hasn’t gotten any worse, it’s stayed the same, but the existence of higher unreachable settings creates an incentive to upgrade.

It’s best to look at the look and feel of the current games on your existing computer individually and decide if it’s good enough for you, rather than looking at the graphics of high-end systems and feeling like your system is now worthless.

New techniques extend the life of gaming PCs

A comparison of computer game images using FSR 2 and FSR 2.1
AMD – A comparison of two versions of graphics upscaling technology.

There are two ways to make a game look good and perform well. One is to use the brute force processing power of the system to achieve your goals, and the other is to use efficiency tricks to get more out of the processing power you have.

Consoles are a good example of the second scenario, as the hardware in a console is fixed and cannot be upgraded. Yet we see more beautiful, more complex games appear on consoles throughout the generation. Usually the best looking games are some of the last to be released for the system.

As game developers learn to work smarter with what they’ve got, they keep the platform alive and those same methods are making their way into PC games. A good example is Dynamic Resolution Scaling (DRS). Here a game has scaled the resolution, rendering each frame to pursue a certain frame rate target. This helps maintain a stable frame rate; usually the player won’t even notice if some frames aren’t as sharp as others.

Newer game engines often run better on the same hardware compared to older versions of those engines, taking advantage of new rendering techniques that achieve more with less. This kind of advancement can keep an older computer relevant for longer.

Upgrade for the right reasons

The ability to upgrade a PC is one of the strengths of the platform. Still, it can also be an incentive to keep spending money on hardware to achieve extra fidelity and performance that might not make much of a difference to your gaming experience.

A section of PC gaming enthusiasts can’t stand to play on anything other than high-end hardware, but that’s not what PC gaming is about and shouldn’t be the dominant narrative. The idea that PC gaming is an endless money pit of upgrading is likely to keep gamers away from the hobby, when they could enjoy the platform’s other benefits on more modest systems, just as long as a game console remains viable for new gamers. releases.

The best time to upgrade is when a new game you want to play has minimum requirements beyond the specs of your current computer. More often than not, this means that the computer is now so old that it makes more sense to build a new system than upgrade the old one.

If you’re looking to upgrade your CPU, GPU, or any other component that affects gaming performance, think carefully about whether the money you spend will result in a gaming experience worth the cost and effort. If you upgrade because of peer pressure, it’s likely a recipe for dissatisfaction.

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