Every few years, the planets align and we’re introduced to a new Xbox, a new PlayStation, and a new generation of PC graphics cards all at once—the perfect storm for a gaming-centric flame war. And with Nvidia’s latest cards costing $500 to $1,500, console users are singing the common refrain: “PC gaming is too expensive.” But these cost comparisons are often misleading.
You Already Own a PC
When people see a $500 graphics card, they think, “Holy smokes—I can buy an entire PS5 for that, and PC gamers are paying that much for just one component?” But that’s not really a fair comparison, because you (probably) already own a computer—so it makes more sense to compare the cost of a PS5 to the cost of upgrading your existing (or next) PC.
Let’s say you have a decent, somewhat modern desktop PC, but it uses integrated graphics, making it a gaming slouch. If you wanted to game on that PC, you wouldn’t need to build a new computer from scratch—you’d just need to pop in a new graphics card, maybe with an upgraded power supply (depending on your graphics card’s power needs). This isn’t a hugely complicated task—just read those two steps from our PC building guide—and you could easily do it for the same price as a modern console, or less. Nvidia’s latest cards start at $500, but those are just the high-end models—for each new generation, the enthusiast models come out a few months before the midrange GPUs most of us buy. Keep an eye out for some great $250 to $300 cards next year.
But let’s say you don’t have a desktop PC, having opted for a more portable laptop instead. You could upgrade it with an external GPU enclosure (if your laptop has the right Thunderbolt port), but that gets expensive once you factor in the cost of the graphics card that goes inside it. For a more cost-effective solution, I actually recommend buying two PCs. Yes, you read that right.
Let’s say you’re eyeing the $400 PS5 Digital Edition, and you currently own a $500 Windows laptop—a budget-friendly but not bottom-of-the-barrel setup that totals $900. The next time you’re ready to upgrade your computer, you could skip the new laptop and put together a solid $600 gaming PC instead, with a $300 Chromebook for coffee shop work or chilling on the couch. The total package still costs $900, but you get a gaming PC without giving up portability. The Chromebook won’t necessarily handle everything your old laptop did, but your desktop Windows PC can pick up the slack whenever you need Windows.
If you generally go for more expensive $1,000 laptops, you have a lot more room to play with—you can put more money into the gaming machine, or put more money into the laptop. I switched to this two-computer setup years back, and it’s been incredible—even after replacing an otherwise high-end Dell XPS 13 with a cheap used Chromebook.
That exact situation won’t work for everyone (and the $300 Xbox Series S certainly throws a wrench into things on the absolute low end), but you get my drift: With some outside-the-box thinking, PC gaming is absolutely attainable on a console budget, if you take a more holistic approach to your buying decision.
PCs Have Some Hidden Cost Savings
And that’s only the price of the initial hardware. When you factor in the other costs that come along during a gaming machine’s life, the PC still comes out looking pretty good.
Consider games, for example. While people often cite ever-regular Steam sales as evidence that PC games are cheaper than their console counterparts, I haven’t found this to be entirely true—pop recent games into price trackers like PS Deals and IsThereAnyDeal and you’ll find many PC games share similarly low sale prices as their console counterparts. However: You definitely don’t see as many giveaways and bundles on consoles as you do on PC, thanks to companies like Epic and Humble. Even when PC gamers find themselves low on cash, they never have a shortage of games to play.