Is PC gaming more expensive today than it was a decade ago?

Say it with me: “Building a gaming PC is getting more and more expensive.” Price is paramount when building a gaming PC in 2022, and why shouldn’t it be? Today, the best graphics cards cost over $1,000, DDR5 is goddamn expensive, and CPU prices are double or even triple what they were a decade ago.

It’s easy to add up the numbers and come to a conclusion, but that ignores game optimizations, falling prices of other components, and the various scaling tools players have to squeeze extra performance out of their PCs. Instead of adding up what you could spend on a gaming PC, I added up what you would spend.

And after digging into what $1,000 buys you today versus a decade ago, I can confidently say that PC gaming isn’t getting more expensive.

What $1,000 buys you now

A Radeon RX 6700 XT GPU unit installed on a motherboard.

You can still build a respectable midrange PC for $1,000 now, despite rising GPU prices. While AMD has released its Ryzen 7000 processors (read my Ryzen 9 7950X review for more) and Nvidia has pushed out the RTX 4090, we’re still in the awkward middle ground between the last generation and the next generation. That means mostly last-generation components that offer great value now that prices are starting to come down.

  • Processor: AMD Ryzen 5 5600 – $160
  • CPU cooler: Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo – $45
  • Motherboard: ASRock B550 Phantom Gaming 4 – $105
  • Memory: Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4-3200 16GB – $60
  • Storage 1: Samsung 970 Evo Plus 500GB – $70
  • Storage 2: Crucial MX500 1TB – $90
  • Graphics Card: ASRock RX 6750 XT Challenger Pro – $400
  • Case: Focus on fractal design 2 – $70
  • Power supply: Thermaltake Smart BM2 650W – $60
  • Total: $1,060

For today’s most demanding games, you’re looking at over 60 frames per second (fps) at 1440p with this configuration, as well as 4K with upscaling tools like FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR). This configuration can play the most demanding games available today at maximum settings, as you’re willing to sacrifice a bit in terms of ray tracing.

Today’s most popular, demanding games include Cyberpunk 2077, Horizon Zero Dawn, Red Dead Redemption 2, and Dying light 2. Tom’s Hardware shows the RX 6750 XT reaching over 110 fps Horizon zero dawn and 80 fps in it Red Dead Redemption 2 at 1440p, while TechPowerUp shows the card hitting just under 60fps Cyberpunk 2077 at 1440p.

That is our starting point. Spending $1,000 today won’t quite get you to 4K in the most demanding games, but 1440p is still well within reach (often over 100fps). You also get 1 TB of game storage, a recent six-core CPU, and a combination of chassis and power supply with room to grow.

What $1,000 bought 10 years ago

Wind back the clock to 2012: AMD had “HD” in the graphics card names, every motherboard was adorned with blue plastic, a metal PC case would run you over $300, and even a 60GB SATA SSD was over $100. We’ve come a long way.

Looking back, it’s interesting to see the same talking points that are present today, especially for the GTX 570 graphics card in this configuration. Even a decade ago, reviews complained about the “arm and a leg” price of the GTX 580, which launched at $500. It mirrors what we see now with the RTX 4080.

Reflections aside, here’s the setup I chose from 2012, using pricing on Newegg available through the Wayback Machine.

  • Processor: Intel Core i5-2500 – $210
  • Motherboard: Asus P8Z68-V LE – $130
  • Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws X DDR3-1866 – $60
  • Storage: Seagate Barracuda 2TB 7,200RPM – $160
  • Graphics Card: MSI N570 GTX 570 – $370
  • Case: Antec Three Hundred – $60
  • Power supply: CoolerMaster Silent Pro M600 – $60
  • Total: $1,050

In 2012, DirectX 11 was brand new and the landscape of demanding games looked very different. Batman: Arkham City led the lineup of titles, joined by The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, crysis: warhead, Battlefield 3, and subway 2033 (the original edition).

Ten years ago, 4K was still a utopia, with 1440p as the ambitious resolution for the most expensive graphics cards. Or rather, 1600p was the desired resolution. At the time, 16:9 hadn’t yet caught on as the actual aspect ratio, so most testing was done at 16:10. It’s important to remember that there were no upscaling options at this point – you got what you got with performance.

DDR3 memory on a motherboard.

The GTX 570 was able to surpass 60 fps Batman: Arkham City on Full HD at maximum settings, though at 1600p it fell short at an average of 38fps. The same was true Battlefield 3, offers nearly 70 fps at Full HD and about 40 fps at 1600p.

This time it was still very much in the ‘can it run’ Crysis” era, which is evident from the Crysis: warhead performance. The GTX 570 is short, offering just under 50fps at Full HD and closer to 30fps at 1600p. subway 2033 was the real benchmark at this point – comparable to Cyberpunk 2077 now – where you could expect around 30fps at Full HD, and closer to 15fps at 1600p.

Is PC gaming getting more expensive?

A hand holding the RTX 4090 GPU.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

It’s hard to answer whether PC gaming is actually getting more expensive, because the answer is yes and no. For proof, look no further than Nvidia’s most recent GPUs. A flagship cost $500 10 years ago. Today it’s $1,200. If you want the best of the best, PC gaming is more expensive today than it was a decade ago.

But that’s a narrow segment of buyers who want that configuration. In any case, you get more value for your money today than ten years ago. Upscaling tools like Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS) allow for higher resolutions with less capable hardware, and your CPU plays much less of a role in game performance, saving you some cash by using options from previous generations.

Today, $1,000 will buy you above 60fps, and often closer to 100fps, at 1440p with the option to play at 4K. Ten years ago you could get around 60fps at Full HD without resorting much to higher resolution. It’s clear that resolutions and game requirements change over time, but it’s clear that games from a decade ago were much more demanding on hardware than games today. You get a better experience even with the most challenging benchmarks available in every era.

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