This article explains key components of gaming hardware most commonly used for esports competitions and what to look for when investing in an onsite esports lab.
Are you starting a new esports or scholastic gaming program? Are you looking at that old lab full of dusty, smelly, ancient computers, or the low-performance 1-1 devices in your students’ hands that would be out-performed by a potato clock, and feeling a bit daunted or overwhelmed at the number of acronyms and components that go into a gaming machine? In this article, we’ll briefly explain the hardware used in esports and gaming machines, as well as how they work.
Gaming can be accomplished on a variety of devices–from mobile phones to high-end desktop computers–but not every solution has the same capabilities, and no one solution is perfect for everybody. Some titles such as Rocket League require something as simple as a Nintendo Switch, while others like Call of Duty may need a high-end PC or a harder-to-find console like a PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X|S.
Understanding the hardware needed for gaming starts with understanding the hardware itself. A gaming PC is composed of several parts that each control different functions and different games use these parts differently. The most important components in any gaming PC are the processor (CPU), graphics card (GPU), random access memory (RAM), and the boot drive (ROM, SSD, or HDD). Some systems also combine the CPU and GPU into one package known as an advanced processing unit (APU), or simply called “a processor with integrated graphics”. The CPU is responsible for telling the other components how to communicate with each other, and for pulling the programs and data from the hard drive/solid-state drive (or ROM) to the RAM. Game consoles consolidate all of this onto one chip but do not offer the same versatility and upgradeability.
If you open a standard consumer PC you’ll usually find an APU-style processor with onboard graphics, and generally four or eight gigabytes of RAM. A system like this can get you started with gaming but doesn’t usually have the power to play anything more demanding than Minecraft or Solitaire. Games with complex 3D graphics (such as Call of Duty or Halo Infinite) require millions of polygons to be displayed on the screen at once, which requires a substantial amount of calculation power and memory–which is why gaming computers need a dedicated graphics card. A GPU contains a dedicated processor for these 3D graphics and a special amount of memory dedicated to graphics known as video RAM, or VRAM. This is why most modern games (as of the date of writing, 5/17/22) will function poorly without a dedicated graphics card unless played on a console designed specifically for gaming.
When determining how powerful your PC components need to be it’s important to understand the requirements of the games you primarily aim to play. It’s best to aim as close to the recommended specs as possible (if not above), since minimum playable specs still won’t result in the best performance. An easy way to illustrate “minimum” compared to “ideal” specs is to think of the edition of a car, such as economy, high performance, standard, etc. Different performance levels serve different purposes and our hope is that this article has helped disambiguate the terms relating to the “trim” of a computer for you.