Shopping for a new PC is both super exciting and super stressful. When you think you finally found a high-end gaming setup at a great price, your friend looks at the specs and says, “You can’t game on that.” Is there a way to tell if a PC you want to buy is a high-end gaming beast or your average office computer?
Here are a few ways to know if a PC is low-end or high-end:
- Check the graphics card model.
- Look at the CPU model.
- Review the capacity, speed, and latency of the RAM.
- Inspect the storage device types, speed, and capacity.
- Check the CPU cooler and case fans.
- Research the power supply model.
- Look at the PC peripherals (Monitor, keyboard, etc.).
- Test the PC’s performance in video games.
- Run a benchmark to analyze the performance of the PC.
This article will go over everything that can help you tell the performance of a computer without even turning it on. I’ll also share a few ways to check the performance of a PC if you have the chance to test it.
1. Check the graphics card model
A graphics card is synonymous with gaming, video rendering, and other graphical processing tasks.
Whatever you call it, it’s the most important part of your computer for gaming.
You can often tell if it’s a high-end or low-end graphics card from the price alone.
But familiarizing yourself with AMD’s and NVIDIA’s nomenclature helps too.
The first two numbers in the model name indicate the generation. Newer graphics cards are always significantly more powerful.
The last two digits tell you how powerful the graphics card is within the generation. Here’s what they roughly mean:
- 30, 40,50: Low-end
- 60, 70: Mid-range
- 80, 90, Titan: High-end
Note: the “Ti” suffix indicates a more powerful version of the same card.
AMD uses similar names for their Radeon graphics cards. The first number is for the generation, and the last three digits indicate how powerful it is. Here’s a quick rundown:
- 300, 400, 500: Low-end
- 600, 700: Mid-range
- 800, 900: High-end
Note: Like with “Ti,” the “XT” suffix means it’s more powerful than the standard version.
When comparing graphics card models, check online benchmarks. It’s a good way to check the performance.
Although a powerful graphics card alone isn’t a clear indicator of a high-end PC, it often is.
Many people cram powerful, expensive graphics cards into their 5-year-old systems.
However, this doesn’t transform that old machine into a brand-new high-end PC. We’ll talk about why that is later (Hint: It’s because of the CPU bottleneck).
2. Look at the CPU model
The processor, central processing unit, or CPU for short, is also very important for gaming and productivity performance.
A weak CPU can’t send data fast enough to the graphics card for rendering.
Be wary of this because some PC stores combine powerful graphics cards with very old and weak CPUs to trick their customers. You can’t have a high-end PC with a cheap CPU.
Thankfully, you can easily tell the difference between CPUs. They use simpler names compared to graphics cards.
Both Intel and AMD use similar nomenclatures. AMD uses “Ryzen” and Intel “i” to indicate the model:
- Ryzen 3, i3: Low-end
- Ryzen 5, i5: Mid-range
- Ryzen 7, i7: High-end
- Ryzen 9, i9: Enthusiast/Extreme
The numbers and letters that come after the model are easy to understand.
The first number is the generation. A newer version of a less powerful model roughly matches the older, more powerful one (e.g., a new Ryzen 5 is similar to a previous-gen Ryzen 7).
The last three numbers tell you how powerful the CPU is within the generation and model.
If there’s an “X,” “XT” (AMD only), or “K” (Intel only) at the end of the name, it’s a slightly more powerful version.
Benchmarks on YouTube can help you when comparing two CPUs.
3. Review the capacity, speed, and latency of the RAM
After the graphics card and CPU, RAM has the biggest effect on your computer’s performance.
Although there are dozens of RAM models, they’re all very similar. Stuff like RGB and heatsinks improve the esthetics but do nothing for performance.
Instead, look at stuff like the capacity, frequency, and latency.
Let’s first go over the size of RAM sticks. More is always better. Here’s a quick and easy way to tell what RAM size means for the PC:
- <16 GB: Low-end
- 16-32 GB: Mid-range
- 32+ GB: High-end
A computer might have a mid-range CPU and graphics card. But if it doesn’t have at least 16 GB of RAM, you’ll experience a lot of stutter in games.
If you want to get more technical, look at the RAM frequency and CAS latency.
RAM frequency is expressed in MHz and describes how many commands the stick processes in a second. The higher the number, the better.
CAS latency, CL, or ram timings indicate the delay between clock cycles to access data. A lower CL latency means the RAM is better.
Both RAM frequency and CAS latency affect the performance of your RAM. You can expect a 2-10 FPS difference in games with AMD processors. The difference is less clear with Intel CPUs.
Lastly, there’s a difference between DDR versions. DDR5 is faster than DDR4, which is faster than DDR3, etc.
Each new generation roughly doubles the bandwidth and RAM frequency. If you want a high-end PC, always get the latest generation.
4. Inspect the storage device types, speed, and capacity
There are two main storage device types: solid-state drives (SSDs) and hard disk drives (HDDs).
SSDs are often 10 to 15 times faster than HDDs, if not more. Almost all mid-range computers have some type of SSD in them.
A high-end PC should have at least one high-capacity SSD. To be more specific, it should be an NVMe M.2 SSD.
NVMe is a type of ultra-fast memory that uses the motherboard’s PCIe M.2 slot for faster bandwidth. Note that an SSD can use the M.2 slot without being NVMe.
PC builders rarely put an NVMe into low-end PCs. They usually only have HDDs.
If they do have an SSD, it’s likely a slower SATA SSD.
However, having an SSD doesn’t mean the PC automatically qualifies as a high-end PC.
5. Check the CPU cooler and case fans
Low-end computers seldom have an aftermarket CPU cooler. There’s no reason to pay additional money for lower temps.
A low-end CPU doesn’t get hot on a stock cooler even after overclocking.
A mid-range computer can get away with a stock cooler, but not high-end PCs.
Case fans are a different story. Some computer stores put cheap low-end RGB case fans into low-end PCs to make them more appealing.
They sometimes even go one step further and put the weak PC into a fancy-looking computer case.
That’s how they get away with charging top dollar for low-end PCs.
But here’s the thing – looks don’t always matter.
Thanks to the relatively standard dimensions of computer parts, you can cram thousands of dollars worth of components into a case from the 1990s.
If you see someone selling a “sleeper build” PC online, that’s what it means.
6. Research the power supply model
Although the PSU (Power Supply Unit) doesn’t affect performance, it does reveal a bit about the computer.
You can put a 750 W power supply into a low-end computer. But it’s not common.
Low-end computers usually use power supplies from unknown brands. They’re often rated for around 400 to 500 watts.
High-end PCs have power-hungry graphics cards and processors that can draw well above 500 watts alone.
You need a branded (preferably 80 Plus certified) power supply rated for 700 W or more to power top-shelf hardware.
7. Look at the PC peripherals (Monitor, Keyboard, etc.)
If you’re buying a whole PC setup, the peripherals matter a lot.
The monitor is the most important piece. It affects how your games look and feel immensely. A low-end PC can only run games at a resolution of 1080p (or even less).
High-end machines are made for 1440p and 4K gaming. The computer should maintain 60-90 FPS in demanding games at 1440p. For 4K, it should be around 40 – 60 FPS.
The monitor’s refresh rate matters too. In a nutshell, refresh rate describes how many frames (pictures) the monitor can display in a second.
Most low-end PCs can’t go higher than 60-70 FPS, so they’re seldom bundled with a 144+ Hz monitor.
A high-end PC can run the latest AAA games at 100+ FPS at 1080p. Some older eSports titles should easily run at over 200 FPS, justifying a 240 Hz or 360 Hz monitor.
If the PC comes bundled with a branded gaming keyboard, mouse, headphones, speakers, etc., that’s also a plus.
8. Test the PC’s Performance in Video Games
If you’re trying to find out whether your PC is low-end or high-end, play some video games!
Download a few of the latest AAA titles, turn on the FPS counter, crank up the graphics, and start playing.
A high-end system should have no trouble running any AAA title well above 60 FPS at 1440p. If you have a 1080p monitor, it should be around 80-90 FPS.
A super low-end system can’t even run AAA games, let alone at a playable framerate. If it’s a low to mid-range computer, expect around 30 FPS at low settings.
Granted, you don’t have to run a game at a million frames per second and the Ultra graphics preset. What matters is that you’re happy with your PC.
9. Run a benchmark to analyze the performance of the PC
I’ve already mentioned how you can easily find CPU and GPU benchmarks online.
But you’ll hardly find a benchmark that has the exact specs as you do. So, it’s best to test it yourself!
If we’re talking about a high-end gaming computer, run an in-game benchmark after setting the graphics preset to Ultra.
If you’re on a 1080p monitor, you should get close to or above 100 FPS, no matter what game.
A low-end PC will struggle with the benchmark, though. It’ll output less than 30 FPS at the Ultra preset.
A typical mid-range computer will land somewhere in the middle of the pack.
What Is a Low-End PC?
A low-end PC is a computer with relatively weak hardware and performance. A typical low-end PC has a Ryzen 3 or i3 processor, 8 GB or less RAM, and sometimes a budget graphics card. Although gaming on a low-end PC is possible, it’s often not an enjoyable experience.
A low-end computer may run eSports titles and older games. But it’s nothing compared to the gaming behemoth, a high-end PC.
What Is a High-End PC?
A high-end PC is a computer with top-shelf hardware. It combines a powerful graphics card with a fast 8-core (or more) CPU with high-capacity RAM to deliver the best gaming experience available on the market. High-end PCs are assembled for high refresh rates and high-resolution gaming.
You can tell that a PC is high-end from the specs alone. High-end PCs have the most expensive, most powerful consumer hardware available.
You can know if a PC is low-end or high-end by looking at its specs.
A typical low-end PC has a weak Ryzen 3 or Intel i3 processor, less than 16 GB of RAM, and it sometimes doesn’t even have a graphics card.
A high-end PC has all the latest bells and whistles available to consumers. It has high-end air or liquid cooling, a huge, powerful graphics card, a highly-rated PSU, and over 32 GB of RAM.