Outside of high-end workstations and large servers, there are few high-margin opportunities in computer sales, and those opportunities are becoming fewer and farther between as refresh cycles get longer and more applications migrate to public cloud infrastructure. Gartner Inc. and others continue to bang the sagging PC market drum, but there are bright spots of demand, like PC gaming, in which system builders can thrive with the right offering.
PC gaming has drawn in large numbers of players who wish to leverage the power of the PC for games but aren’t PC enthusiasts. Unlike commodity systems, for which buyers try to spend as little as possible, PC gamers seek to maximize performance. Experienced builders in this market know there’s no blank check; most gamers seek the sweet spot between cost and performance.
Computer hardware changes in the blink of an eye as new products emerge that “change the game.” Intel’s newest 14 nm Kaby Lake line of processors are available in mobile SKUs today, with desktop parts expected in January 2017. It would be a mistake to ignore these new mobile processors now, however. The Core i7-7500U and Core i5-7200U, with Intel’s HD Graphics 620 core, allow for some interesting small-form-factor and portable gaming solutions.
Next year AMD’s new Zen microarchitecture could bring AMD back in a (somewhat) competitive position with Intel, which hasn’t been the case in years. Ultimately, the most important outcome would be better AMD motherboard offerings, which have suffered at the mid to high end as Intel took the lion’s share of that market.
Discrete graphics has been the hot area for change in 2016 as both Nvidia and AMD have responded with desktop graphics cards capable of driving 4K and VR experiences without resorting to multi-GPU configurations.
Gamers with piles of money will want Nvidia’s Titan X—the new $1,200 flagship card. Mere mortals will have to make do with the GeForce GTX 1080, GTX 1070, or GTX 1060. The GTX 1070 in particular offers VR and 4K capabilities in a single card for less than $400, making it one of the most value-packed cards out there. The GTX 1060, however, offers just about anything a 1080p gamer could want, but is a potent solution for more extreme gaming in multi-GPU configurations.
AMD’s graphics lineup still offers plenty of value if you need graphics under $150 (you could market a system with the RX 460 as “upgradable” as better cards come down in price). That said, AMD's RX 480 packs a lot of punch for the price, and offers incredible performance for the money when sold in pairs.
Gamers need fast storage, period. Of course, saying that SSDs are a "trend" is so 2014, but one significant shift in this market today is that SSDs offer enough capacity that higher-end systems could probably eschew traditional HDDs all together. Putting a few 1TB SSDs in a RAID 0 should satisfy the storage needs for most gamers, scaling the number of SSDs up as needed. Budget gaming systems could go the former route, packing a good 480GB SSD with traditional HDD.
Differentiation and Margin Opps
And good luck selling gaming systems in stock cases with off-the-shelf components. Not only are you fighting other professional system builders, but amateur builders and the gamer him- or herself. System builders need to differentiate, and that could mean low-cost (but impressive) LED case lighting, custom paint jobs, tie-ins with popular games or franchises, elaborate cooling and overclocking, and so on. A focus on things that amateur builders can’t easily do themselves (or do well) can go a long way toward making a sale.
Finally, when selling PCs to gamers, don’t miss the chance to package in some lucrative, high-margin accessories like gaming mice, keyboards, controllers, headsets, USB lights, and fans. Partner up with new vendors or work with your distributor to get some of these high-margin items front and center.