Whether you’re ready for it or not, 4K is the future of PC gaming. Graphics are looking better with each gaming generation and resolution is a big part of that. We went from 480p gaming (Playstation 2 era) to 720p gaming (Playstation 3/Xbox 360 era) to 1080p gaming (PS4/XB1) to presently 1440p gaming (moderately higher-end gaming computers) in a matter of less than two decades.
Gaming technology is now moving fast toward ultra HD gaming, the beautiful 3840 x 2160 pixel resolution. We’ve already seen the gradual increase of other 4K media being available, most notably Netflix supporting UHD video. TV shows and movies, however, are much easier to render and stream at 4K. Video games have a lot of moving parts that need to be processed. To play games in 4K, you’re going to need some pretty powerful hardware. This guide should help you out. We have numerous sections related to 4K gaming here; simply jump to the one that is most relevant to you. Here is this guide’s table of contents:
- How much do they cost?
- Best 4K gaming desktops
- Cheapest 4K PC
- Our custom 4K gaming PC build
- The cheapest 4K PC build we could make
- 4K gaming PC requirements (minimum and recommended)
Before we begin, we need to set some expectations for gaming at 4K. The industry is not yet ready to make 4K gaming mainstream. While it definitely exists, the hardware is too expensive for it to be common among the general gamer population. It will take at least a few more years until gaming at such a high resolution becomes more popular and normal. For now, gaming at 1080p or 1440p seems to be the norm.
How much does a 4K gaming PC cost?
The price for a desktop capable of playing games at 4K is considerable. These are not budget computers (read our guide for cheapest gaming PCs, if you’re interested in that). You’re probably going to have to spend more than $1500 at the minimum, regardless of whether you build the PC yourself or buy it pre-built. More realistically though, expect to pay anywhere from $1700 to $2500 for a real 4K-ready gaming computer. Any more than that is extra.
A 4K graphics card (separate post on that coming soon!) like the GTX 1080 alone can cost more than $500. Keep in mind that the 1080 is one of the cheaper 4K cards. It is fully capable of playing video games at that resolution with average frame rates well above 30. However, people often use a two-way SLI with two NVIDIA graphics cards (or Crossfire for AMD cards) for higher frame rates. Two video cards of this caliber in one computer could cost well over $1000. Add in all of the other components and you have yourself a very expensive desktop. It’s, without a doubt, worth the money if you love PC gaming. Money spent on things you enjoy, after all, is not money wasted.
If you think your wallet is ready for a budget like that, proceed with the guide. We have made this article as comprehensive as possible, adding many sections depending on your needs. We even built our own 4K PC and listed all of its parts in this guide.
Best 4K-ready PC
In this sector, we’ve listed some of the best pre-built 4K desktops out there. Keep in mind that many manufacturers are willing to market their gaming desktops as “ready for 4K”. In reality, the hardware on those computers aren’t really ready for that resolution. Be wary of PCs like this and as always, examine the individual parts before buying. We’ve created a segment in this guide that list the requirements for 4K gaming. Make sure you’ve read that if you’re building your own desktop.
#1: CyberpowerPC Gamer Panzer PVP3020LQ
We’ve done numerous reviews and PC analyses on CyberpowerPC products. Their machines have frequently showed up in our gaming PC guides. CyberpowerPC is simply put a very solid manufacturer for gaming computers. They put together individual parts for you, resulting in a build that is very close in price to something you could build yourself. PC building manufacturers like this are ideal options for those that wish to save money and time, while also getting a highly competent desktop build.
The Gamer Panzer build is an excellent pre-built 4K desktop. Its specs make it perfect for ultra HD gaming while still being an affordable option. Included in our beautiful custom chassis was an Intel i7-7700K 4.2 Ghz quad-core processor.
The computer we purchased came with an Intel Z270 motherboard chipset, though others have reported receiving an Intel Z170. There should be minimal difference between the two, though. Check the picture to the left if you’re curious.
For 4K gaming, an Intel i7 is pretty much essential. You’re going to want a strong i7 as well. Ideally, it needs to be capable of being overclocked, but you can easily play in 4K with non-overclocked hardware. CyberpowerPC’s Panzer desktop has an OC-ready processor in the i7-7700K, which I absolutely love.
The Panzer also has a GTX 1080 8GB video card installed, which is the most important thing you need to look out for. The video card is what matters most when buying gaming hardware.
As mentioned above, the GTX 1080 is one of the lower-end 4K cards. Even so, it performs much better than the GTX 1070 and is far more expensive than the majority of cards in the market. CyberpowerPC’s computer was able to power through the games we tested it with.
Here are a few of the game benchmarks we did, all in 4K resolution:
CyberpowerPC Panzer game benchmark: Shadow of Mordor
Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor is a game that features numerous weather and environmental effects. The world is fairly large and incredibly detailed. There are also plenty of particles that need to be rendered during gameplay. This makes the game a prime target for hardware benchmarking, as more and more video games move toward the open-world space.
3840 x 2160
Max settings: avg. 66.3 fps / min. 54 fps
Shadow of Mordor, again, is a complex game to render. It utilizes a number of particle, lighting, and shadow effects. At 4K and the maximum settings, the CyberpowerPC Gamer Panzer had an average of 66.3 frames a second during my 20-minute gameplay test. I included the minimum fps count as well to account for performance spikes and more graphically intensive portions of the game.
CyberpowerPC Panzer game benchmark: Grand Theft Auto V
We did a number of gameplay tests on highly detailed single-player experiences like Shadow of Mordor and Rise of the Tomb Raider. This 4K PC was able to get solid frame rates on those. We still decided to benchmark a huge open-world game like GTA V to evaluate its ability to handle games like this.
The textures in the game aren’t as detailed, but the open-world environment is huge. With a good gaming desktop, more of the world is rendered at one time. There are a lot of moving parts on top of some of the graphical effects the game features. This is what makes GTA V particularly tough to render at high resolutions. Here are the results for the Gamer Panzer desktop.
3840 x 2160
Very high preset with 2x multi-anti aliasing enabled: avg. 50.9 fps / min. 37 fps
The game wasn’t able to play at above 60 frames per second, but I’d say the average frame rate for a game this large (with the Very High preset enabled and at this resolution) is pretty impressive. Again the GTX 1080 alone is an awesome 4K-ready card. If you’re looking for more performance than above, though, you would need to consider a two-way SLI.
Why it’s a top pick as the best 4K-ready PC:
CyberpowerPC’s entry to 4K gaming is solid. It is capable of playing the latest games at 4K resolution on “very high” or maximum settings. Frame rates for these games are on average far better than the minimum playable (30 fps).
Perhaps the best thing about the CyberpowerPC Panzer is its price. We were able to buy ours for ~$1800, including tax. It came complete with an Intel i7-7700K, a GTX 1080, 32GB of DDR4 RAM, a 2TB hard drive, a 256 GB solid state drive, and a respectable gaming keyboard/mouse combo.
#2: HP 880-050 OMEN
Originally, we placed one of the desktops built by CPU Solutions at the #2 slot. However, it cost roughly $500 more than the HP Omen with only a few minor upgrades. The Omen helps blend 4K gaming PC performance with value. With a total cost of about $2200 as of writing, HP’s desktop is fairly affordable if you’re looking for a 4K gaming rig. Your money reasonably goes toward outstanding hardware that perform well.
We were able to customize our Omen on Amazon and got the following setup for ~$2200 to use: Intel i7-7700K processor, GTX 1080Ti 11GB GDDR5 card, 16GB of DDR4 RAM. For storage, we got a 2TB hard drive and a nice 512GB solid state drive.
A GTX 1080Ti + i7-7700K combination is a popular choice when it comes to playing at 4K with just one card. For the performance, those two are affordable options. Below are some of the benchmarks we came up with while testing our HP Omen.
HP Omen game benchmark: Shadow of Mordor
We again used Shadow of Mordor as a game to analyze PC performance at 4K. This is good because it gives us a platform to compare the HP OMEN vs. the CyberpowerPC Panzer. Those two 4K computers have substantial price differences.
3840 x 2160
Maximum settings: avg. 78.1 fps / min. 56 fps
At maximum settings, the 1080Ti on our Omen desktop powered through Shadow of Mordor. The gameplay was incredibly smooth, only dropping barely below 60 fps a couple of times.
HP Omen game benchmark: Total War Attila
Real-time strategy games are rarely known for their graphics. Despite this, the Total War series is consistently a good benchmark to measure PC gaming performance. There are hundreds of moving parts in the game and each character model is impressively detailed.
Add in large textured environments and you have a game that looks great but requires expensive hardware to run smoothly.
3840 x 2160
Maximum settings: 34.8 fps / min. 26 fps
The average frames during around 10 minutes worth of play came out to be 34.8 fps. This period of gameplay felt very smooth, despite frame rate dropping to 26 a few times. Still, Total War: Attila looked outstanding in 4K on the HP Omen and it played smoothly.
Why it’s a top pick as the best 4K-ready PC:
If you’re looking for a 4K desktop that has a GTX 1080Ti installed, this is among the most affordable. Prior to purchasing, we found many pre-built desktops with 1080Ti’s that retailed for more than $2500. The first example of this is the CPU Solutions computer we mentioned earlier.
The HP 880-050 is a great gaming desktop that gives you more in-game performance than some of the cheaper options do. The 1080Ti is made for 4K gaming, and the rest of the Omen’s hardware supports it nicely without costing too much.
Cheapest 4K gaming PC
This sector was included for those with budget in mind. Yes, 4K gaming systems are indeed expensive. But if you’re ready to make the leap, you still have some affordable options available to you. We’ve scoured the market and checked numerous 4K-capable desktops for their hardware. We weren’t able to purchase these computers and test for ourselves (it would be financially unreasonable, on top of the desktops we’ve already purchased above), but the hardware should speak for themselves. Keep in mind that this part is only for the cheapest 4K gaming PC that is built for you and ready to go. Check out our other section for the cheapest 4K PC build further down.
#1: HP Envy Phoenix 860-030
Out of every already-built desktop we shopped around for that had respectable 4K-ready hardware, the HP Envy Phoenix was the only system that, as of writing, is priced at less than $1500. That is without any markdowns or price drops, either. The Envy Phoenix’ components include an Intel i7-6700K processor, an AMD Radeon R9 390X card, 16GB of DDR4 RAM, a 2TB hard drive, and a 128GB solid state drive.
Without buying the most top-of-the-line 4K cards (eg. GTX 1080Ti, R9 Fury X, GTX 980Ti), you’re realistically going to either SLI/Crossfire your cards or purchase a mid-tier 4K card like the Radeon R9 390X. The R9 390X was engineered to perform awesomely at 1440p, but it still has 4K capability in it. You won’t get the amazing frame rates at that resolution with the 390X, but it will still work for you. After all, this is in a cheap 4K desktop.
We weren’t able to do game benchmarks on the HP Phoenix 860-030, but fortunately one of my buddies owns an R9 390X and was able to help us out. His system is similar to this computer and so benchmarks will be pretty accurate of its performance.
At 3840 x 2160p, the R9 390X came up with an average of 32.6 fps. It’s minimum frame rate was 26 fps. This was on the highest possible settings.
Toning down a few of the video settings increased average fps to 38.2.
Grand Theft Auto V
Also at 4K, the average for GTA V on this was 28.1 fps. Minimum frame rate went down to 21 fps. This was on the highest possible settings.
If we decreased some of the video settings (shadows, lighting quality), average frame rate shot up to 35.3 fps.
In total, the HP Envy Phoenix 860-030 PC should be able to handle some of the more recent games at 4K resolution. Its AMD R9 390X card was more suited for gaming at 1440p, but it can go up to 4K. Performance in this resolution wasn’t up to par with the higher tier desktops, but then again this is a very raw, bare-bones 4K gaming system. You can absolutely play at 4K, but not at the higher settings. You’ll have to tone down the settings to get more respectable frame rates, but it is possible.
4K PC build
Finally, we’ve come to building a 4K gaming PC of our own. If you’ve been searching for how to build a 4K gaming PC, this portion of the guide has you covered. We bought all the individual parts, installed them, and benchmarked the final desktop for your own consideration. We are very proud of this 4K build and believe it is worthwhile to purchase its components and build it yourself. The second build was curated for the sake of budgets. We decided to create a more affordable blueprint for 4K gaming.
Do make note of their overall price estimates. These are 4K-ready PC builds that give you the most performance without being ridiculously expensive. They will cost you some serious cash. If you’re looking for the cheapest 4K gaming PC build we could possibly make up, however, scroll one more section down.
Also note: these builds are for the PC itself. The cost of a gaming monitor with 4K resolution, PC accessories (eg. gaming mice), or whatever else you need are not included in the final estimated price. Final cost is also prior to shipping and/or tax to give you a better idea of raw price.
4K gaming PC build (#1)
|Component||Purchase price||Current price|
|CPU||Intel Core i7-6700K 4.0Ghz quad-core||$326.36||View current price on Amazon|
|CPU Cooler||NZXT Kraken X62 Liquid||$159.99||View current price on Amazon|
|Motherboard||MSI Z170A SLI ATX LGA1151||$109.99||View current price on Amazon|
|Memory||(2) GeIL EVO Potenza 8GB DDR4-2400||$109.99||View current price on Amazon|
|Graphics card||(2) Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1080 8GB G1 (two-way SLI)||$1019.98||View current price on Amazon|
|Storage||(1) 240GB Sandisk SSD Plus|
(1) 1TB Western Digital Caviar Blue hard drive
|240GB Sandisk SSD Plus
1TB WD hard drive
|Case||Phanteks Enthoo Evolv ATX Mid Tower (Steel)||$159.99 (on sale)||View current price on Amazon|
|Power supply||Corsair RM750X 750W 80+ Gold PSU||$109.95||View current price on Amazon|
|Case fan||(2) Corsair ML140 Pro 140mm fan||$49.98||View current price on Amazon|
Even two-way SLI-ing the GTX 1080, an expensive video card in its own right, this build still managed to come at less than $2200. Its performance is doubtlessly better suited for 4K gaming than most pre-built systems, while costing about the same or less. The only item that was on sale the day we purchased each component was the ATX mid-tower case we purchased. Everything else was at or close to retail. Check our quick game benchmarks below:
Crysis 3 in 4K UHD:
Very high settings, SMAA enabled: avg. 63.7 fps / min. 51 fps
Rise of the Tomb Raider in 4K UHD:
Very high settings: avg. 66.8 fps / min. 55 fps
The Witcher 3 in 4K UHD:
Ultra preset: avg. 57.8 fps / min. 40 fps
The only game out of the three we benchmarked extensively that was close to struggling at 3840 x 2160 resolution was The Witcher 3. Even Crysis 3 ran beautifully, having a minimum frame rate of 51. The GTX 1080 SLI is very powerful and the dual card combo’s in-game performance is nothing short of incredible.
Cheap 4K gaming PC build (#2)
This is one of the cheapest 4K PC builds we could create while still maintaining solid gaming performance at that resolution. You could of course go cheaper, but performance would likely diminish to the point where gaming at 4K really isn’t worthwhile anymore. Also, this build focuses on using two-way Crossfire with two Radeon R9 390X cards. You could theoretically achieve similar performance by SLI-ing two GTX 980 cards (similar in price as well).
|Component||Price as of initial publication date|
|CPU||Intel Core i5-6600K 3.5Ghz quad-core||$228.52|
|CPU Cooler||Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo||$29.84|
|Motherboard||Gigabyte GA-Z170-HD3 ATX LGA1151||$127.95|
|Memory||(2) Crucial Ballistix Sport 8GB DDR4-2400||$112.42|
|Graphics card||(2) Gigabyte Radeon R9 390X 8GB (two-way Crossfire)||$770.28|
|Storage||(1) 240GB Sandisk SSD Plus|
(1) 1TB Western Digital Caviar Blue hard drive
|Case||Corsair 200R ATX Mid Tower||$54.99|
|Power supply||EVGA 850W 80+ Bronze Semi-Modular PSU||$93.58|
4K PC requirements
There aren’t really exact requirements that will make a certain desktop “4k-ready”. However, there are specific graphic cards and builds you need to be aware of.
Minimum 4K gaming PC specs:
The absolute minimum requirements for each PC component you need are listed below. Bear in mind that these are rough estimates, based on hundreds of hours of individual research/experience on these parts. These parts should enable you to play games in 4K, though video settings will need to be limited and frame rates won’t be as high.
- Intel i5 overclocked processor (examples: i5-4690k or i5-6600k)
- 8GB DDR4 RAM
- Dedicated CPU cooler
- Mid-tier 4K card (examples: R9 390x or GTX 980)
- 650 watt PSU
The most important thing to note here is the video card. This makes or breaks your 4K gaming rig. The lowest-tier cards you can get and still achieve 4K gaming are the R9 390x or the GTX 980. These are able to handle the resolution without Crossfire or SLI, though frame rates will obviously not be as smooth. You will also need a dedicated CPU cooler, especially at the minimum PC requirements. Your CPU will be handling a lot of work, especially if it’s overclocked (which it will almost always need to be if it’s an i5).
Recommended 4K gaming PC specs:
These are a step up above the minimum requirements. If you have a little bit more money to spend on your PC, we highly recommend you do. This will ensure efficient energy consumption, optimized 4K performance, and better value for your money.
- Intel i7 processor, preferably overclockable (examples: i7-4790k, i7-6700k, i7-7700k)
- 16GB DDR4 RAM
- Dedicated CPU cooler
- High-end single 4K card (examples: GTX 1080Ti, Titan X) or two mid-tier 4K cards (examples: 2x GTX 980 SLI or 2x R9 390X Crossfire)
- 750 watt gold-certified PSU
The i7 CPU is to prevent your processor from bottlenecking the cards. After all, if you’re spending this much on a gaming PC, you’re better suited making sure your parts don’t hold each other back. For graphics cards, you can choose to go with just one high-end card such as the 1080Ti. Or you can SLI/Crossfire two cheaper cards like the GTX 980 and R9 390X. This will get you much better performance than the minimum 4K PC requirements will.