Despite the popularity of the Nintendo® Wii® and other gaming consoles, the PC is still a great platform for games, with lots of new titles coming out each year and millions of devoted players. But today's graphically complex games call for a wide variety of high-performance hardware. Choosing the right game-friendly PC can be a daunting experience, unless you know what to look for.

Some hardcore gamers build their machines at home. But the majority of us who don't have time or who just want to choose the right computer for our favorite gaming enthusiast, generally prefer to order a computer online and have it built just the way we want it.

If you want a computer that provides a good environment for video games, take a look at this PC gaming checklist, which covers all the essentials, before you go shopping.

Controllers

Although PC games can be played with a keyboard and mouse, many can be enhanced with specialized gaming controllers from steering wheels for racing games, to joysticks for flying and shooting games, to high-performance gaming mice. However, these extras should only be purchased once you know you need them.

Laptop and Desktop PCs

Tons of laptops these days have the power to handle demanding games — so gaming on the go will no longer get you laughed out of the arena. However, desktops offer expandability and performance that are always just a hair beyond those of their mobile counterparts.

Hard Drive

Since lots of the data used by games lives on a computer's hard drive, you want a hard drive that 1) holds plenty of data and 2) can access that data fast. Most new computers come with large enough hard drives, but if you're willing to spend a little extra, you might be able to eke out better gaming performance by choosing the one with the highest RPM rating and largest cache.

Internet Connection

If you plan on playing online games, a fast connection is crucial, because even the fastest system performs sluggishly over a slow connection. Some providers offer different levels of service; you may find it necessary to upgrade.

Monitor

There was a time when only deep, desk-filling "CRT" monitors were capable of providing performance suitable for fast-paced video games, but thanks to strides made in LCD monitor technology, choosing a monitor that's great for gaming no longer means surrendering most of your desk space. Any newish LCD monitor should have a fast enough response time to suffice. Other than that, the main thing to keep in mind is that games generally look better on larger monitors.

Processor

A fast processor is key. Look for a high GHz (speed) rating and a multicore processor. The "multi" means that it actually comprises two or more processors that team up to process data faster. The result? Fast, smooth game graphics. Some manufacturers sell computers with "factory overclocked" processors that are even better for gaming.

Want to experience the very best in laptop gaming? Look for laptops with the latest processor in the Intel® Core™ processor family.

Want to get a desktop PC that screams through the latest, computer intensive games? Look for desktops with Intel® Core™ i7 processor Extreme Edition.

RAM (Sometimes Called "Memory")

Computers and the games that run on them store the data they need to access fastest on these chips. You can upgrade RAM yourself, so long as you don't mind popping open your computer's case and inserting a chip. If that's the case and if it's inconvenient for you to include additional RAM with the purchase of a new computer, you can always install more later. But if you want your computer to be great for gaming, you'll want to pack as many gigabytes of RAM into it as you can, one way or the other.

Sound Card

Video games are like films; both are visual mediums that use audio to add meaning and nuance to the narrative. Many of the new computers sold today include a sound card built into their main circuit board (called the motherboard). Although these have improved over recent years, they mostly don't offer the solid performance of a dedicated sound card. You can add a quality sound card for relatively little. Models with 5.1 channel surround sound are preferable; even if you don't feel like buying surround sound speakers now, you might change your mind later.

Speakers

Most desktop computers ship with some sort of desktop speaker system, but it's often possible to add a higher-end model for a fuller gaming experience. A 2.1 speaker system (the "2.1" stands for two small desktop speakers plus a subwoofer) can provide decent sound, but a 5.1- (or even 7.1-) channel surround sound speaker system is even better. Want to hear that ninja creeping up behind you? You'd better have surround sound speakers back there.