Are PC games more expensive today than they were a decade ago?

Say it with me: “Building a gaming PC is getting more expensive.” Price comes first when building a gaming PC in 2022, and why shouldn’t it? Today, the best graphics cards will cost you well over $1,000, DDR5 is incredibly 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 upscaling tools gamers need to get in order to get the extra performance out of their PCs. Instead of adding up what you I could you spend on a gaming PC, I added up what you wanted Spend.

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

What $1,000 is buying you right now

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

  • processor: AMDRyzen55600 – $160
  • CPU cooler: Cooler Master Iper 212 Evo – $45
  • motherboard: ASRock B550 Phantom Gaming 4 – $105
  • Memory: Corsair Vendetta LPX DDR4-3200 16GB – $60
  • Storage 1: Samsung 970 Evo Plus 500GB – $70
  • Storage 2: Crucial MX500 1TB – $90
  • Graphic 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 setup, as well as 4K with upscaling tools like FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR). This setup can play the most demanding games available today at maximum settings, as you’re willing to sacrifice a bit in the ray tracing department.

The most popular and challenging games today 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 in The dawn of Horizon Zero and 80 fps inside Red Dead Redemption 2 at 1440p, while TechPowerUp shows the card hitting just under 60fps Cyberpunk 2077 at 1440 p.

This is our baseline. If you’re spending $1,000 today, you’re not quite able to hit 4K in the most demanding games, but 1440p is still within reach (often above 100fps). You also get 1TB of storage for games, a recent six-core CPU, and a case and PSU combo with room to grow.

The one that $1,000 bought 10 years ago

Turn the clock back to 2012: AMD had “HD” in the names of its graphics cards, every motherboard was adorned in blue plastic, a metal PC case cost more than $300, and even a 60GB SATA SSD cost more than $100. We’ve come a long way.

Looking back, it’s interesting to see the same talking points present today, particularly for the GTX 570 graphics card in this configuration. Even a decade ago, reviews were complaining about the GTX 580’s “arm and leg” price tag, which launched at $500. It echoes what we’re seeing now with the RTX 4080.

Thoughts aside, here’s the setup I’ve opted for since 2012, using Newegg pricing 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
  • Warehousing: Seagate Barracuda 2TB 7,200 RPM – $160
  • Graphic card: MSI N570 GTX 570 – $370
  • Case: Antec Trecento – $60
  • Power supply: Cooler Master Silent Pro M600 – $60
  • Total: $1,050

In 2012, DirectX 11 was brand new, and the landscape for demanding games looked very different. Batman: Arkham City led the lineup of titles, joined by The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Crisis: tested, battlefield 3, And Metro 2033 (the original version).

A decade ago, 4K was still a pipe dream, with 1440p being the coveted resolution for more expensive graphics cards. Or rather, 1600p was the coveted resolution. At the time, 16:9 hadn’t caught on as a de facto format yet, so most of the testing was done at 16:10. It’s important to remember that there weren’t any options for upscaling at the time – you get what you get with performance.

DDR3 memory sitting on a motherboard.

The GTX 570 was able to exceed 60fps in Batman: Arkham City in Full HD on maxed out settings, though it fell short at 1600p with an average of 38fps. The same was true in battlefield 3, delivering nearly 70fps at Full HD and around 40fps at 1600p.

This time it was still very much into the “it can work Crisis” era, which is clear from the Crisis: tested performance. The GTX 570 falls short, delivering just under 50fps at Full HD and closer to 30fps at 1600p. Metro 2033 was the real point of reference right now, similar to Cyberpunk 2077 now, where you might expect around 30fps at Full HD and closer to 15fps at 1600p.

Are PC games getting more expensive?

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

Whether PC gaming is actually getting more expensive is hard to answer because the answer is Yes and No. For proof, you need look no further than Nvidia’s latest 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 small segment of buyers who want that setup. If anything, you’re getting more for your money today than you were a decade ago. Upscaling tools like Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS) make higher resolutions possible with less capable hardware, and your CPU plays a far less role in gaming performance, allowing you to save money by going with options from past generations.

Today, $1,000 gets you above 60fps, and often closer to 100fps, at 1440p with the option for 4K gaming. A decade ago, you could get around 60fps in Full HD without resorting much to upping the resolution. Of course, resolutions and gaming demands change over time, but it’s clear that games a decade ago required much more hardware than games today. You’re getting a better experience, even with the most demanding benchmarks available in every era.

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