Welcome to STACK‘s essential guide for the consoler looking to up their game and make the giant leap from console controller to the PC keyboard/mouse combo.
Dominating on console is a lot like winning a training-wheels bike race. Sure, there’s pride to be found in victory, but it’s a victory that’s hamstrung by a whole lot of ‘lower’ modifiers. Lower visual fidelity. Lower accuracy. Lower skill ceiling.
Lucky for you, then – budding PC gamer – you’ve decided to make the not-so-Nintendo switch from console to PC. The trickier news is there are some initial and moderate-term hurdles to overcome.
Welcome to the sweat
The first thing to understand when ditching a console controller for a PC keyboard and mouse is, well, you don’t actually have to ditch the controller. Chances are if you can play it on PC, you can play on a controller.
Unless you plan on selling your console(s), controllers and all, the average current-gen (or last-gen) console has a controller that’s compatible with a PC. The PlayStation 4’s DualShock 4 plays nice with PC, either via USB cable or Bluetooth. Xbox One controllers need a cable, unless you invest in an Xbox One Wireless Controller White (which has Bluetooth), or an Xbox Wireless Adapter for Windows 10 dongle.
But unless your plan is to stick with controller-friendly PC genres – the FIFAs, Forzas and Mortal Kombats of the PC gaming world – you want to fully upgrade to the input versatility of a keyboard and the extreme accuracy of a mouse. Before that, you’ll want a PC.
Logic will dictate that you have two core options – gaming laptop or gaming desktop – but, really, there’s a third: the laptop or desktop you already own. There’s a behemoth-sized disclaimer with that seemingly zero-bucks option. It has to have enough grunt beneath the hood.
Thankfully, there are ways to check if your dusty PC is up to spec. Head to Device Manager, the ‘Applications’ tab of Task Manager, or just visit www.systemrequirementslab.com/cyri to sniff out whether your PC is capable of meeting the PC specs of whatever game you want to play.
Whether you’re using an old PC, upgrading parts to something new, or buying a whole new rig, your primary PC gaming focus is threefold: GPU, CPU and RAM. Those capital-letter acronyms impact eye candy and frame rate, the smoothness of the experience, loading times and (slightly) help your online survivability. For memory, shoot for 8GB of RAM as an absolute minimum, and 16GB as the current standard.
Pick your rig
If you’re opting for a new PC, expect to pay more for gaming laptops over desktop PCs. Prebuilt desktops certainly make life easier and complement the out-of-the-box playability of a console. Laptop vs desktop really boils down to space and mobility: if you are lacking in space and/or want to game on the go, a gaming laptop is the best option.
You can start at the lower end of the spectrum with the likes of an Acer Nitro 5 AN515-52-52BX or HP Pavilion 15-BC419TX. The comparatively lower price equates to, at best, moderate eye candy and fps for modern games. You can always boost your existing laptop’s graphical prowess with an HP Omen GA1-1013a GFC Accelerator Box, if said lappy has a Thunderbolt port.
Alternatively, you can blow the gaming budget with an Alienware Area 51 M, for generous 17.3-inch screen size, or the Razer Blade 15.6” gaming laptop for something more compact. Both of these high-end gaming laptops are built for that whoa-factor mix of fidelity and frames.
On the prebuilt desktop side of things, you can start with an Intel/Nvidia-powered Acer Nitro N50-600 i5 (GTX 1050 Ti) or Dell Inspiron AMD Gaming Desktop. Acer also offers a couple of mid-range options with the Acer Nitro N50-600 i5 Gaming Desktop (GTX 1060) or, for a few (hundred) dollars more, the better future-proofed Acer Nitro N50-600 i7.
There aren’t really any wrong answers with your PC purchase, so long as you ensure your current or new rig matches, at least, the minimum spec or, ideally, the recommended spec for the games you want to play. Spending more on your initial PC purchase or upgrade will keep you in the good-looking, high-frame-rate PC game for longer. Plus, you can sub in a new graphics card and more RAM down the track.
Now for the other bits. If you don’t want an immediate online advantage, you can safely stick with the likes of an LG 22MP58VQ monitor when you’re learning the PC gaming ropes. Similarly, you can simplify your keyboard/mouse needs with the Corsair Gaming K55 + Harpoon RGB Gaming Keyboard and Mouse combo. Just ensure you’re using at least a large-ish mousepad, like the SteelSeries QcK Mouse Pad.
Then it’s a choice of speakers or headphones, because monitor sound is tinny. Nab the Logitech Z150 speakers on the cheap or make an aural investment in the Logitech Z607 for the full 5.1 surround-sound shebang. Headsets are essential for upping your online game, so start with the budget-friendly Plantronics RIG 300 or go all out with the incredible precision of the SteelSeries Arctis Pro Wireless Gaming Headset.
Framing the action
One of the biggest differences between console and PC is frame-rate potential. The average console game runs at 30 frames per second (fps) and a maximum of 60fps. Meanwhile in PCville, the lowest acceptable frame rate is usually 60fps. There are noticeable differences, too – both visual and competitive – between 60Hz displays (where Hz equals max displayable fps), like the BenQ ZOWIE RL2455HM, and 144Hz on a Samsung LC32JG50QQEXXY screen, or the lowest-input realities of a 240Hz Alienware 24.5” Full HD display.
Unless otherwise stated, gaming laptops still tend to use 60Hz screens. This means you won’t be able to score any online competitive gains beyond 60 frames per second. More expensive gaming laptops with higher refresh rate panels will definitely highlight their inclusion on the box. The same is true of external gaming monitors: if it doesn’t big-point pimp its high refresh rate, assume it maxes out at 60Hz.
On PC, tweaking visual settings can be the difference between stop-motion unplayable or butter-smooth competitive edge. Using the recommended in-game defaults is a good place to start. You can also use your respective AMD Radeon or Nvidia GeForce Experience software to automatically or manually tweak settings. Plus, there are plenty of online guides for eking the most performance out of even the humblest of rigs: just whack ‘best settings’ or ‘optimisation’ in a Google search alongside the game you want to tune for in-depth guides.
It’s a lot easier to be brand agnostic with peripherals, but there are a couple of core loyalty considerations when it comes to core innards. On the CPU front, Intel is more expensive but generally has better performance than AMD. That said, AMD CPUs are cheaper but built with gaming in mind. For graphics cards, it’s AMD or Nvidia. AMD GPUs provide strong bang-for-buck performance. While expensive, Nvidia GPUs have dominated the last two GPU generations and, if you can make the investment, are better future-proofed, particularly for 20-series cards.
When it’s time to play, get comfy with keyboard/mouse controls in single-player games before jumping into the highly competitive online realm. There’s no auto-aim for most online PC games, so mastering mouse aim is a must!