The Xbox One X has been announced, and with a price of $499/£449, my first reaction was very positive. It’s a great price point that offers very good value for money, despite being targeted at premium gamers.
As a PC gamer though, it naturally got me thinking: “Can I make a PC that achieves the same perceived level of quality for the same price or less?”. PC gamers regularly pride themselves on being able to cobble together a system that matches consoles in terms of power output, but also affords other uses for multimedia consumption and creation. For a native 4K gaming system though? Well, things get interesting…
There are plenty of reasons why consoles are good; PCs aren’t just automatically better by sheer virtue of power and flexibility in terms of doing more stuff. Besides the obvious points like how console games can be optimised in terms of performance and are designed to take advantage of specific features and functionalities of the console such as Xbox Live, you also have the benefit of having reduced price points for hardware due to mass/bulk production and manufacturing, as well as other price/performance related benefits.
So let’s dive in. Can I theoretically build a gaming PC for around the same price as the Xbox One X?
The short answer? Not really.
The long answer? Yes – kind of – and what follows below is my attempt to do so. With the Xbox One X priced at £449, I’ll be working towards keeping costs under that. The Xbox One X is a self-contained product that includes all the hardware necessary to play games including a controller, so we’ll account for that in the budget as well.
If you take a demanding large, open-world game like GTA V that has tons of assets and textures you’ll need at least 4GB of VRAM (graphics card on-board memory). Most games running in 4K will use at least 3gb of VRAM such as Battlefield 4, with more demanding AAA titles pushing at over 4gb with higher settings, easily jumping over 8gb if you turn everything up to Ultra. So that’s where our journey begins: a graphics card capable of produceing good results with at least 4gb of VRAM. We can always turn down the graphics to match what we’d expect from the Xbox One X, thus lowering the VRAM requirement even further. There’s also no need for anti-aliasing, because who would see jaggies on such a high pixel density anyway?
We’re also going to opt for 8gb of DDR4 RAM, because that should be enough to run most games at high settings. The CPU on the Xbox One X is an octo-core (8) clocked at 2.3ghz. Since most affordable gaming PC CPUs are quad-core (4) and clocked higher at 3.2ghz+, we’ll look for a quad-core that sits above 3.2ghz as an equivalent contender.
So what do we end up with?
Here’s the system I would build to match or beat an Xbox One X:
- Nvidia GTX 1050ti: 4gb ram ~1300mhz clock speed [~£130]
- AMD Ryzen 1400: quad-core (4) 3.2ghz CPU [~£150]
- 8Gb DDR4 Memory 2400mhz (Unbranded/non-gaming themed) [~£50]
- 1Tb 7200rpm SATA Hard Drive [~£40]
- 450w Power Supply 80 Plus Rated [~£35]
- Case [~£20]
- Motherboard AM4 Socket with USB 3.1 support [~£50]
- CPU Air/Fan Cooler [~£20]
- Mouse and keyboard (Generic Gaming Double Bundles) [~£20]
- Xbox-equivalent PC controller [~£25]
Total Cost: £540
As you can see, I’ve had to overshoot my budget by almost £100 to reach a similar performing machine. The GTX 1050ti has a good clock speed that’s higher than the Xbox One X’s GPU, and has 4gb of VRAM which we can expect to deliver the same graphical settings as the Xbox One X, and still be high enough for 4k gaming..
The AMD CPU has 4 less cores, but the clock speeds are much higher. There’s the potential to overclock a little as well apparently with a 1400, so we can expect perhaps 3.8ghz comfortably on air cooling. There’s less RAM, with 8gb compared to the Xbox One X’s 12gb, but the Xbox One X’s RAM is shared across both GPU and the system itself, so this equates to around 8gb of system ram anyway.
A 1Tb hard drive seems ample for gaming and matches the Xbox One X’s hard drive. 7200rpm drives are only around £5-£10 more expensive than a 5400rpm, but the loading times will increase noticeably, so a 7200rpm is needed for decent speeds. Worth the extra £s. A 450w power supply and a cheap PC case are fine for our needs; in this case we don’t want flashy because we’re after performance, not design. A cheap mini-atx motherboard for an AM4 socket CPU can go as low as £40, but I’ve gone for a reputable brand for £50. Generic air cooling is necessary to enable us to keep the system running at good temperatures as well as giving us a little bit of overclocking headroom. Finally, we need a basic mouse and keyboard to be able to operate the system, as well as a gaming controller to contend with the Xbox One X.
For that extra £100 though, you get all of the features and capabilities a PC brings, which doesn’t restrict you to just gaming. Besides being a great work station for other creative and professional endeavours, you’re also able to achieve a better quality of web browsing, and upgrade your system in increments in the future. You’re getting way more value for your money here.
The advantage the Xbox One X has, as I eluded to in the opening paragraph, is its mass hardware production. It means that prices can be driven down by striking deals with hardware manufacturers. Of course, as a system designed solely for gaming, all of the Xbox One X’s resources are designed for that purpose, meaning it can be incredibly efficient in terms of performance compared to a PC with similar specs, that’s always going to be laboured with additional tasks such as running the Windows operating system and all the processes that go along with that.
PC vendors are offering systems almost identical to what I’ve specified above, but with various parts receiving tiny upgrades (better brands or slightly better specs/speeds) for around £550, which is an option should you not want to build a PC yourself. All of the parts I mentioned above too will be cheaper to buy from the likes of eBay or Amazon Warehouse, so you may be able to shave off ££s that way. You can also buy ‘barebone bundles’, which give you a motherboard, CPU, RAM, and power supply all together, saving you anywhere around 20% of the costs than if you had bought them individually.
So that’s it. You can technically build a 4K system that should theoretically match the Xbox One X, for only a fraction more of the price. The beauty of PC is you can tweak your settings to your liking, so whilst a developer for the Xbox One X version of a game might think that shadow quality is less important than texture quality, you can opt to reverse things and set the graphics to your preferences, and not what you’re forced to play with. You’ve also got the option of going down to 1440p if you want to turn up some graphical settings, as 1440p is still a big upgrade from 1080p.
The bottom line is, however, a PC will give you more freedom and control, but the Xbox One X will be the easiest, most reliable, efficient and cost-effective way to game at 4K. For that, I commend Microsoft for doing a great job with the console, and delivering an attractive gaming experience for a fantastic price point. If I was a gamer on a budget, and I wanted 4K gaming, I would probably be looking at pre-ordering an Xbox One X.