Futureproofing a Gaming PC in 2021

HARDWARE

“How can I futureproof my computer for gaming?” is a common question in the PC building community, and it is one without an easy an answer. The release of the new consoles has brought this back into the forefront and we understand why. While many enthusiasts like to change hardware or upgrade for fun, many more users just want a solid, decent experience that will last them for a long time; hassle-free! In today’s article we will be exploring the topic of  future-proofing for the general gamer!

What is future proofing?

If you ask yourself “How long will my computer last me while fulfilling its duties?” – this is actually a question about future proofing. So, is it possible to achieve this? In a word – yes, but also it really does depend on a few factors.

Thanks to the progress of technology and gaming software requirements, it’s not possible to future proof a PC forever. It simply will not happen. The finest, beast tier Gaming PC of 2010 is now inferior even compared with the low-end hardware of today. However, one can make informed decisions when buying hardware for the short to medium term to maximizee longevity. As a consumer, you must think about what you realistically expect from the machine. What is an acceptable level of performance, which parts can be upgraded more easily than others, which ones even have an upgrade path?  Something that has a good level of performance from one’s hardware that can last a long time and/or be easily upgraded. This is what I would consider future proofing!

Which components can reasonably be future proofed?

There are several components in a computer that can indeed be future proofed to a fairly high degree. One such example is the Power Supply Unit, or PSU. Getting a good, high-quality, modern PSU right now in 2021 may indeed last you for perhaps a whole decade! Yes, I am fairly certain that its replacement model in 2027 for example would indeed be a bit better, or so I hope, but it won’t be a massive difference and is unlikely to be worth the time or cost for an upgrade. Exchanging a power supply for a brand new one is not exactly rocket science, but it is not the easiest or quickest thing to do in PC building. Also, we have a general idea for how much power PC parts of a certain tier require, we know that even if a proprietary connector were to be released, it would likely receive adapters, so from the point of view of the general consumer, spending a tad more here makes perfect sense.

Another part are computer cases! As long as you get a modern case with a solid design it will easily last you multiple builds. Things here move a tad quicker than with PSUs, but for the general, non-enthusiast gamer who want a, solid experience – these changes do not matter much. Get the case you like, that is quiet and supports good expandability for massive GPUs, with great airflow and you will be a happy customer! Again, the new model in 2025 may be overall better, we truly hope it is, but it is very unlikely to be worth the time and effort or money if you already got a nice case from the get go. Eventually, perhaps 10 years from now, case design and new standards may finally be enough to entice you to upgrade, but hey – 10 years is a long time in hardware. And it is time without hassle!

 

What about RAM or GPUs’ and CPUs’?

One thing that is a constant with video games is that newer and newer titles do use more RAM, more cores, more threads, more GPU power, more VRAM. They also use newer features, new APIs and require new software.

Let us address the CPU part first – consoles determine the general minimum level of hardware for the better part of a decade when it comes down to video games. Modern consoles like the PS5 and Xbox Series X have fairly powerful CPUs inside them, downclocked Ryzen 4750Gs (around Ryzen 2700/2700X level) that have 8 cores and 16 threads. However, most games in the here and now and for at least 2 more years will be targeting the older machines first and foremost – they won’t be making full use of the extra hardware on consoles; so this means PC Gaming requirements will not change too much. Over time, it is certain that monstrous processors like the Ryzen 5900X or 5950X will start to really outdo current “good-enough” mid-range CPUs like the 10600K or Ryzen 5600X. However, there is one very important caveat here – by the time this really starts happening and actually affects the average user – newer mid-range CPUs with their DDR5 memory standards will be crushing the 5900X and 10900K in gaming as well. Also, the 5900X and other powerful AM4 12 or 16 core CPUs will by then be “old” and “obsolete” which would make them cheaper too, so a good AM4 board can plop them right in.

I honestly do think that futureproofing a CPU just as a new console generation is being launched is not a great idea. Mid-generation? Sure, understandable even. Picking the platform with a better upgrade path in general, like for example AM4 was this time around? Definitely a solid idea for sure! But going all in just as the console generation has begun and right before a new platform is coming out? Not so much.

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What about RAM? Well, RAM is tied to CPUs and the next real generation of CPUs will be on DDR5-based platforms. DDR5 RAM in its first generation will be an improvement over DDR4, but the true difference will be with its second generation, when motherboards, microcode, manufacturing are more mature – that is when it will hit its stride with the modern CPUs that adopt it. Still, in the here and now, for pure gamers who do not extensively mod their games – 16 GB is fine. 32 GB will almost certainly last the whole generation, and if it is very cheap where you live, it does make sense to buy it right now. Dual-channel setups with quad-rank memory are also a bit faster than dual-rank ones in CPU limited scenarios. With that said, a RAM upgrade is also one of the simplest possible upgrades – it is quite easy to add more RAM.

With GPUs things are fairly simple. First off, they are easy to upgrade and change, almost as easy as RAM upgrades. If one’s aim is to have a console level experience, then a GPU 15% faster than the consoles with at least 10 GB of VRAM (since consoles can never use all of their memory for textures in a real game) will be enough, as long as it has similar API support. While consoles use customized APIs, their general capabilities do map out to DirectX12 and Vulkan pretty well.  Going for GPUs with more VRAM, like the RX 6800, will mean that the PC user will benefit from at the very least – higher quality textures throughout the generation. Going all in on the 6900 XT, which is indeed much more powerful than a PS5 or Xbox Series X is not needed – future GPUs will be even faster and/or cheaper. The ultra-premium is for users who indeed want a premium experience, but for people looking for some level of “future proofing” and value, the high-end is what they should aim for, at the most.

 

 

This bad boy above is a monster, and people who want the best should consider it… but people who want to maximize value should look at the 6800 / XT.

What if, however, one has a choice between two options that are near equal in price? Let’s say you have the choice of getting a CPU like the Ryzen 5 2600X for the same price as the Ryzen 3 3300X? The 3300X will be faster in almost all older games, it will also be faster in many modern games, but it does have lower overall multicore speeds — it will lose its poll position over the 2600X over time and already loses out in a few new titles – the same way the powerful Intel Core i5 7600 lost to the Ryzen 5 1600 over time. However, in this case neither CPU is indeed that fast, at least compared to the new consoles. In this situation just get what you believe will serve you for the next 2-3 years and does better at the games you like right now. Alas, its likely that no matter your choice, you will need to upgrade eventually. But on the bright side, a mid-range CPU upgrade (or a used 5900X), 2-3 years within the console generation, can last the whole generation easily!

This is my personal GPU – it’s a solid choice, faster than the consoles and still within a “reasonable” price bracket! Good high-end value!

The logic is the same for GPUs’. Provided they are already good choices, the one with the higher feature level support or the more VRAM (even better!) is the nicer choice, long term. But if its between GPUs with 6-8 GBs of VRAM in the here and now – it is unlikely that they will be viable for the whole generation, unless you plan to stay exclusively at 1920x1080. We know VRAM size does matter long term, the powerful R9 390 and GTX 970 did duke it out in the past, and in the current landscape of 2021, the R9 390 can at least run games with high texture settings fairly well!

Storage?

The more storage the better, the faster storage the better. Currently, the combination of good SSD for OS alongside a nice hard disk for storage still works. However, long term value is starting to shift towards SATA SSDs for storage and good PCIE3 / entry level PCIE4 NVMEs for the operating system.

Thankfully, upgrading storage is also easy. The only really hard choice here is the standard your CPU and motherboard support, which leads me to…

Universal standards?

There are some excellent new standards at play with both the new consoles and modern hardware. PCIE4, new HDMI and Display Port standards, superior audio and new USB speeds – these standards are proven, and are safe bets in the medium or even long-term future. While it always takes time for them to fully saturate the market, if its between two nearly equally compelling products but one has support for newer standards, provided all else is equal (it rarely is, but you get the idea!) get the one with more support. Even if you do not use an awesome HDMI 2.1 screen or PCIE 4 SSD right now, you may do so in the future!

 

 

Closing thoughts

Future proofing is a hard concept, especially when one is on a budget. While I do believe getting good quality (not ultra-premium!) PSUs’ and cases’ are a smart investment – other parts do advance much quicker, doubly so on the brink of a new console generation. The idea of future proofing those as well does indeed exist, but unless you are willing to go for high end monsters like the RX 6800 and RX 6800 XT combined with an ultra-high-end CPU like the 5900X or 5950X – it is not exactly a budget friendly affair. However, this is the case every single console generation, so there is nothing surprising here! For PC Gamers who can hold out right now or really do not need an upgrade, it is the next gen products like the Zen 4 CPUs and RDNA 3 that will indeed be able to match or even handily defeat console gaming, even with its optimization advantage, at a mid-range or budget price.  

 

The articles content, opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed in SAPPHIRE NATION are the authors’ own and do not necessarily represent official policy or position of SAPPHIRE Technology.
Alexander Yordanov
My name is Alex and I am a 24-year-old PC Gamer from Sofia, Bulgaria. Video games have been my go-to hobby for as long as I can remember. I started with good old DOOM and Warcraft 1 and also had a Terminator console. In time my often outdated hardware has made me read up Tech Guides and try to understand what goes within a game as well as how to appreciate it or understand it better.

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