The PC vs console war has been raging quietly for the past few decades. It’s a debate that reliably sows division and strife. Politics and religion might cause some disagreement, but if you really want to raise the blood pressure of your gaming buddies, then insulting their system of choice is really the only way to go.
Even if you consider yourself old and wise enough to rise above this sort of thing, you might still have to suppress a surge of anger whenever someone declares that GoldenEye 007 is a dreadful game with laughable graphics and controls like a forklift truck – or that no-one could possibly enjoy a game that doesn’t have one triangle per pixel.
Of course, when you cut through the vitriol, there’s actually a worthwhile discussion to be had. If you have a few quid at your disposal and you’re looking to invest in a new machine, then the benefits of PC gaming vs console gaming actually matter. Upgrades happen every few years, and your gaming priorities may shift in the interim. So, it’s worth considering just what you want from gaming, and what kind of system will deliver it.
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Among the most critical differences between the two kinds of system is that gaming consoles come with a fixed architecture, and often one that’s highly specialised. A gaming PC, by contrast, is more generalised. They’re made to do a lot of things and can be configured by the user and upgraded over time.
This has consequences during development. Since the end-user is always going to be gaming the same system, console developers can push things further, safe in the knowledge that the results in the testing lab are going to be consistent with those in the living room. So, a system that’s underpowered on paper can achieve respectable results in a gaming setting.
Another side effect of fixed architecture is that progress happens in sudden generational leaps. The launch of a new console, like the PS5, might be seriously impressive, but once it’s on the market, the hardware is effectively fixed. On PCs, this doesn’t happen – instead, we get incremental improvements in the form of new components. While AMD and Nvidia might occasionally launch a new graphics card that outstrips the old ones, there’s no such thing as a ‘2080 Ti game’. It’s just that PC gamers will need to worry about tweaking the settings in their games to match their priorities.
Some console companies, like Nintendo, deliberately look at ‘mature’ hardware. This basically means that their consoles are technically obsolete before they come out. The hardware matches the needs of the developer; since they’re not looking for photo-realism, the specs don’t matter quite as much.
Among the major benefits of PC gaming vs console gaming is the flexibility PC gamers have to tweak settings to their liking. Since the hardware is not consistent, striking the right balance between smoothness and visual fidelity is left to the user. Many games will guess the right settings so that you can get into the action with minimal fuss.
You might still want to tweak things to suit your particular taste, however, If you absolutely must play games at 165fps, and you’re willing to dial back the textures and lighting to do so, then a PC will help you make it happen.
Discerning PC gamers learn to recognise which features have the greatest impact on frame rate. In a card that’s lacking in video RAM, things like draw distance might have a notable impact. If there’s foliage being drawn in right up to the horizon, the drain may well be immense. Similarly, the resolution of the textures, the extent of post-processing and the involvement of ray-tracing will have a huge impact on frame rate.
The vast majority of console games are capped at a measly 30fps. This is due to the limitations of the cheaper televisions they’re often played on. There’s no point, after all, in a developer optimising a game in a way that large portions of players won’t benefit from. PC games, by contrast, can be pushed all the way up to 144fps and beyond, making butter-smooth action possible.
Another thing worth considering is the impact your control devices will have on your gaming experience. This is a considerable reason to prefer gaming on PC vs console, particularly if you’ve been a PC gamer for years and you’re familiar with using a mouse and keyboard.
The living-room format makes certain kinds of games pretty much impossible to find on a console. Strategy titles, menu-diving simulation games, and certain kinds of RPG are to be found exclusively on PC. Other kinds of game, like first-person shooters, are playable on a control pad – although many prefer the precision and speed of a mouse and keyboard.
There’s not really a flip side to this particular concern; control pads are perfectly compatible with PCs, meaning that you’ll be able to play platform games, beat-em-ups and sports titles just as well on a PC as you would on a console.
To persuade customers to buy their consoles, manufacturers sometimes pay big money to secure the exclusive rights to certain games. Alternatively, some developers like Nintendo build their own consoles especially to play their games – which has much the same effect. If you want to play Gran Turismo 7, then you’ll need a PS5, just as you’ll need a Nintendo Switch to play the latest Zelda and Mario titles.
Often, exclusivity is temporary. Some titles, like Red Dead Redemption 2, will come out first on consoles, only to be ported to PC a year or so later – often with performance improvements thrown on top.
Let’s also address one of the most important factors: the cost of PC gaming vs console gaming. A high-end gaming PC costs more than a brand-new console. The new PS5 is reported to weigh in at around $700/£500. A decent PC can cost several times that amount – especially if you’re using the latest Intel chips and a high-end video card.
It’s worth factoring in a few considerations, however. Firstly, you’ll need a television to play your games on. This is something that will have a huge impact on your overall experience, and it’s therefore worth investing heavily in. Secondly, you’re going to get a 4K Blu-ray player if you invest in certain consoles, which may save you a few hundred pounds.
Of course, PCs can do a lot more than just play games. They can also allow you to browse the internet, engage in creative pursuits, and even get a little bit of work done. If you want to see how far your money can go, check out our article on budgeting your gaming PC.
PC vs Console: Which is better?
What are we to conclude from all of this? Should your new gaming machine be a console or a PC? As ever, it depends on what your priorities are, and what your gaming habits have looked like up until this point. If you’re an avid gamer who can’t quite decide which route to go down, then you can always invest in both!