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How we test, review, and rate on PCGamesN

Honest, experienced, and rigorous testing is what we promise to deliver every time. Here's how PCGamesN reviews games, hardware, and peripherals.

A white desk complete with RGB peripherals

With new games and hardware dropping on the regular, it can be tricky to work out what’s worth your attention and where to go for expert opinions, which is where we come in. At PCGamesN, our experienced team tests hundreds of games and hardware products every year to help you decide what’s right for you. On top of our buying guides and standalone reviews, we’ll also explain how hardware stacks up against its competitors with comparison articles.

PCGamesN first launched in 2012, and its contributors have years of experience testing the latest games, hardware, and gaming peripherals. We’re also passionate about the industry, which means we’ll be entertaining along the way.

It’s important to us that you trust the way we review – we aim to be rigorous, reliable, and fair. We also want our buying advice for hardware in particular to be repeatable, making it easy for you to compare reviews and find the very best products for your gaming needs and budget.

What does PCGamesN review?

There are so many new and exciting games and hardware releases every month, but we have to be selective about what we review. We try to reflect the exciting world of gaming while also being trendsetters and tastemakers ourselves.

In our buying guides, you’ll find a range of products to make it easy for you to make the right choice based on your budget, design preferences, or performance expectations. We consider gear in a wide range of price brackets, not just the most expensive. We want to make it possible for anyone to find the right product for their needs. Of course, PC hardware can be expensive, so if you’re spending a lot of money, we’ll always tell you when a product is worth the investment (and when it’s not), and suggest alternatives that might suit you better.

We also tailor our hardware choices to a range of experience levels, too. Whether you’re a hardcore PC gamer or a real beginner, there’s a product out there for you, and we want to help you find the right one.

Editorial ethics

Our review coverage is 100% independent and will only ever recommend games and hardware that we genuinely think are worth your time, offering the best in design, performance, or value. In short, what we write isn’t dictated by an affiliate partner or an advertiser. We do often work with game PR, developers, and publishers, as well as hardware manufacturers, to request game and hardware samples for review, but we’ll never cover a product or give it a more positive review simply because of that. All the hardware samples that we receive are issued on a loan-only basis, and we don’t review products so that we can keep them ourselves.

We may earn a small affiliate commission when you click through to buying links in our guides and reviews, but that doesn’t affect our coverage or scoring. All of our in-house team of writers and freelance reviewers are paid separately for their writing, and they don’t earn any bonus or payment for giving products a better score. PCGamesN does work with brands to create sponsored editorial content, but this is labeled at the top of the article.

How we score

Here at PCGamesN, we score products out of ten. Below, you’ll find an explanation of how we choose review scores and what they mean to us. Of course, scores are only designed to be a summary of the reviewer’s opinion, and it’s always worth reading the full review if you want to see what was said about a certain feature or aspect of the game or hardware.

  1. Failure
  2. Terrible
  3. Bad
  4. Below mediocre
  5. Mediocre
  6. Above mediocre
  7. Generally good
  8. Very good
  9. Exceptional
  10. Industry-leading or defining

How we test PCs and laptops

Testing the best gaming PCs and best gaming laptops requires a good deal of time to make sure that all the components that power these machines are up to code.

For both desktop and portable systems, we benchmark both the CPU and GPU, noting their performance in games and if cooling or noise is an issue while they’re running. We’ll also evaluate their build quality and physical features such as ports and ease of upgradability.

We also put laptops through a PCMark 10 test that scores the battery life of each device while gaming and in general use.

How we test monitors

When we’re testing the best gaming monitors, we begin by evaluating the build quality, design, and other physical characteristics of the display, including how easy it is to construct, and if it features ergonomic adjustments like height, tilt, and swivel.

Turning on the screen, we explore its OSD to see how quick and easy it is to navigate and see what customization options it offers. These include image quality settings, such as an sRGB color space clamp, and useful gaming features such as crosshair overlays. Some modern monitors also include KVM functions and we also test how easy these are to use.

Next it’s time to test image quality. We first assess the overall look of the display in terms of viewing angles, the screen coating (glossy or matte), pixel density, text clarity, and of course how good the colors and contrast are. We then test with a Calibrite Display Plus HL colorimeter and DisplayCal software, testing for the true max brightness, contrast, and color accuracy of the panel.

We also test these features using different modes and settings on the screen to see which is best and how easy it is to get the display looking as good as it can.

Then it’s time to put its gaming performance to the test. We test subjectively with fast-paced games such as competitive FPS, seeing whether the refresh rate and response time of the display combine to create a snappy or sluggish-feeling screen. We then test the response time with an Open Source Response Time Tester (OSRTT) tool. This is super important for LCD monitors, though less so for OLED displays.

For HDR monitors, we test to see if there are any noticeable backlight dimming zones and how bright the screen gets in small windows and in full-screen.

How we test graphics cards

To help you find the best graphics card for your system, we put their performance to the test in our benchmark suite of games. Our selection is designed to test a GPU’s ray tracing and rasterization capabilities, across the three most popular resolutions: 1080p, 1440p, and 4K.

To ensure we’re not leaving any frames on the table, we pair our pixel pushers with the AMD Ryzen 7 7800X3D, so there’s basically no chance of a CPU bottleneck. Our setup is rounded off with 32GB of DDR5-6000 RAM and a 2TB WD_BLACK SN850X SSD.

We use the built-in benchmarking tool in each of our games so that you’re able to replicate the tests for yourself. Each game is run using its highest quality preset, without Nvidia DLSS or AMD FSR upscaling technologies enabled. With RTX 4000 graphics cards, we also test how much DLSS Frame Generation can improve your frame rate.

How we test processors

In order to separate the best gaming CPU from pretender processors, we evaluate each chip’s gaming capabilities paired with the most powerful graphics cards, including the AMD Radeon RX 7900 XTX and Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090.

Our benchmarks include our usual suite of games with a few extra additions, including 3DMark, Civilization VI, and Cinebench R23. We observe what temperatures the processor hits under load, noting how long it’s able to maintain its advertised boost clock speeds.

How we test SSDs

To make sure we’re ready for the best SSD models of today and the future, we use an Asus TUF Gaming X670E-Plus WiFi motherboard that supports both PCIe 5.0 NVMe and SATA drives.

Our tests include 3DMark, CrystalDiskMark, and AS-SSD, which allow us to see the real-world performance of drives and highlight any thermal throttling.

We’re also keeping an eye out for games that feature DirectStorage and will incorporate them into our testing regime once they’re more readily available.

How we test peripherals

The world of PC gaming includes many hardware peripherals, such as the best gaming keyboard and the best gaming headset. Although these items are more subjective when it comes to reviews, there are still many factors that we analyze, compare, and explain to help you make the best choice. For headphones and headsets, we might cover the fit of the product and how comfortable it feels to wear for long periods. There’s also connectivity, what’s included in the box, design, and battery life, if a product is wireless.

We always make sure to tailor our review to the product at hand, sharing our real-life experiences over a number of weeks or months of use to outline all the real pros and cons.

How we test VPNs

The best gaming VPNs allow you to change your geographic location, which can give you access to easier lobbies and regional exclusive games content, among other benefits (which you’ll find in our How to use a VPN for gaming guide). There are so many VPN providers out there, including the best free VPNs, and we want to ensure that we are recommending services that you can trust. Here’s how we test those criteria:

  • Speed: We use the ProPrivacy VPN Speed Testing Tool to find out the average download speeds of VPN servers.
  • Privacy: We only recommend VPNs with a no-logs policy, and we check third-party audits (where available) to confirm that those policies are upheld.
  • Service compatibility: We test whether or not services are compatible with different VPNs by accessing them while we have the VPN switched on.

We also test VPN apps to determine their ease of use, the quality of their applications, their value for money, and the distribution of their servers.

How we test games

Beyond testing gaming hardware and VPN software on PCGamesN, we also review all the best PC games. Our process for reviewing games is somewhat similar to physical products – we are rigorous in our testing, we assign reviews to those with genre experience, and what we say is based on real gameplay from a range of experts.

We will always spend as much time as we feel is required to experience the breadth of what a game offers, whether we’re talking massive RPG games or huge multiplayer hits. While we do endeavor to roll credits on the games we review, there will be cases where we don’t feel this is a necessity to deliver an informed, thorough, and decidedly expert analysis.

We also strive to bring you reviews on the embargo, though in cases where we have not been given a sufficient lead time, we will instead delay publication or create a review-in-progress, which we’ll then add a score to once we’re confident that we’ve spent enough time with the game.

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