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Console or PC? This fall, the choice is simple

Should you buy a PC or a new console, like the Xbox Series X or a PS5? We have the answer

Xbox-X video game console photographed on a dark grey background Photo: Henry Hargreaves for Polygon

For the past five years, I’ve encouraged readers who want to have the best possible video game experience to purchase a PC. Midrange gaming PCs cost around twice as much as a typical video game console, but the benefits were obvious. A PC had faster load times, better graphics, and access to a variety of storefronts. Any extra money spent on the PC would be repaid by the stream of sales on every game, big and small.

This fall, my recommendation has changed. The average person should strongly consider purchasing a game console because the modern console — particularly the Xbox Series X and Series S — is in many ways a fantastic (and comparably affordable) PC.

I’ve spent a month with the Xbox Series X. It doesn’t have a flashy launch exclusive, like the delayed Halo Infinite, but the hardware itself is excellent, closing the gap between consoles and PCs. I can feed you the tech jargon and marketing buzzwords (SSD! Velocity Architecture! 8K! VRR and FreeSync!), but what matters most is the actual experience.

Load times are far shorter than they are on existing consoles and most gaming PCs — especially if you haven’t upgraded to an NVMe SSD. High-end graphics settings work and they work well, including real-time ray tracing, the beautiful lighting effect previously only possible on expensive new PC graphics cards. And the Xbox Series X makes the most of nice gaming monitors and 4K TVs, whether that’s taking advantage of their higher resolutions, refresh rates, and HDR features, or avoiding nasty screen tearing.

I’ve played a handful of new AAA games on both the Xbox Series X and a high-end PC running with a brand-new GPU and a year-old CPU. The PC runs a bit better — as it should — but the difference is in no way so great that I would recommend that the average person spend over a thousand dollars more on hardware. Plus, the console (as you’d expect) outshines the PC in terms of ease of use.

Xbox-X video game console photographed on a dark grey background Photo: Henry Hargreaves for Polygon

PC gaming evangelists will tell you that PC gaming is painless; they’re not entirely wrong. In the last decade, PC gaming has become an easier undertaking thanks to services like Steam and Nvidia’s GeForce Experience, which handle patches and graphical optimization. But a number of times a year, I still spend more time than I’d like searching online for a fan-made patch that makes AAA games like Nier: Automata run in something resembling “fine.” Console games may have their bugs now and then, but by and large we can expect a console to just work.

As for sales on games, both Microsoft and Sony have begun to regularly offer discounts via their online storefronts. They still don’t compare to the deals available on PC, where Steam, GOG, the Epic Games Store, Humble, and other shops must compete with one another. However, both offer additional means of getting games, like the free monthly games given to Xbox Live Gold and PlayStation Plus subscribers, and their respective game subscription services: Xbox Game Pass and PlayStation Now.

None of this is to say that every reader should walk away from PC gaming! In my review of Nvidia’s impressive new RTX 3080, I said there’s no better time than now to get into PC gaming, and that remains true. If you want access to some of the best independent games in the world, PC will still be your best choice. But to run most small games, you don’t need an elaborate gaming rig. You need the modest sort of computer you use to get work done. The computer you’re using at this very moment might be powerful enough for those needs.

If your idea of PC gaming is big AAA titles, your best bet might be to invest in a console for now — and save all that extra money for a fancy PC in the coming years. Unless, of course, you want luxury features only available to PC players, like ...

  • support for hundreds of PC peripherals
  • the option to play games on ultrawide and super ultrawide monitors
  • the ability to play games at frame rates exceeding 120 frames per second — something I’d recommend only to the most hardcore and competitive gamers.

For people who plan to spend a lot of money pushing their hardware to the brink, a high-end GPU unquestionably outperforms the new consoles. But for everybody else, the console should more than suffice.

The gulf between console and PC should eventually widen, as it regularly does over the course of a console generation. This fall, though, console is king.