This article will explain to you all the elements of a video game's system requirements, and will help you learn how to figure out whether or not you can run a video game after looking at its system requirements.
Sometimes it is obvious whether you can run a game or not. For example, if you bought your computer five years ago and paid $300 for it, then most likely you cannot run newest games that are heavy on graphics. On the other hand, if you just bought a new gaming computer for $3,000 than you can most likely run any game in the market.
However, many gamers are in between, and it might not be obvious whether you can run the latest games. In this case, verifying your computer's system requirements against the game's minimum system requirements is essential. If you cannot run the game, you are usually out of luck and out of money. Most stores will not accept a return of a game after it has been opened, so your only choice sometimes is to upgrade your computer, or buy a new one, either which can end up being very expensive.
When you buy a game, check the system requirements. If you are buying at the shop, those requirements are usually in the back of the box, or on the side. Sometimes you have to flip the cover open to see them. If you are buying a game online, the system requirements should appear on the product description page. Often a game will have two sets of requirements: Minimum, and recommended. The minimum requirements are those of which if your computer does not meet them, the game will not run at all, or will run but with extremely poor performance, often rendering it unplayable. The Recommended system requirements are those of which you will be able to enjoy the most the game has to offer, ie the full range of spectrum of the graphics, smoothest speed, and so on. In this article we will be focusing on the minimum system requirements.
If you are going to buy a game at a store, it is advised that you write down your system specs on a piece of paper, and have them ready to compare. If you know what game you are going to get, you can look up the requirements online in advance. Or, you can ask the game advisor in the store to help you (only in specialized gaming stores)
Let's have a look at an example, the system requirements for a game called Mass Effect 3 (Source)
Minimum System Requirements
OS Windows XP SP3/Windows Vista SP1/Windows 7
CPU 1.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo (or equivalent AMD CPU)
RAM 1GB for XP / 2GB RAM for Vista/Win 7
Hard Drive 15 GB of free space
Video 256 MB (with Pixel Shader 3.0 support)
Supported chipsets: NVIDIA 7900 or better; ATI X1800 or better
Sound DirectX 9.0c compatible
DirectX DirectX 9.0c August 2009 (included)
Input Mouse & Keyboard
What you want to do is go over the requirement one by one, and see if your computer exceeds it. Some requirements are easier to figure out, but others might be trickier. We will go over each one.
Most of your system specifications can be learned by running DXDIAG. We already covered how to use dxdiag in another article, so we won't go over this again now. But if you do not know how, then refer to our guide: Using DXDIAG to find out your system specs
Operating System (OS): This line tells us the operating system the game requires. For example, this game supports three versions of Windows: XP, Vista, and Windows 7. It also says what service packs have to be installed. You can find out what version of Windows you are running from the dxdiag program, or you can click on the windows start icon, and then type in "winver". This will show you your windows version as well as what service packs are installed.
Note: By looking at the operating system requirements, you can also learn whether the game will run on a mac or not. Generally, if the requirements only list windows as the operating system, than the game will not run on a Mac. Games that run on Mac will list Mac OS in the requirements as well.
CPU: Best way to find out what your CPU is, is to look at the dxdiag results and find the line that says "Processor". It will tell you what CPU (Central Processing Unit) your computer has. The name of the processor will probably be different then the one listed on the requirements. You want to make sure it is better. For example, if your processor is listed as a: AMD Athlon(tm) II x2 240 processor (2 CPUs) ~2.8 GHZ then or AMD Turion (tm) x2 Dual-Core Mobile RM-70 (2 CPUs) ~ 2.0 ghz, it will run the game as well. However, a single processor CPU with less than 1GHZ will most likely not run this game.
RAM: The RAM, or memory, is one of the more important factors. The above requirements list the RAM needed to play this game. Look at the memory line in the dxdiag output. 1024MB is 1GB, 2048KB is 2GB, 3072 is 3GB, 4096 is 4GB and so on. Generally speaking, for gaming purposes, 1GB and less is considered very low, 2GB is considered average, 3GB and 4GB are considered high. If you have 2GB you should be able to run most games, but on minimum settings. 3GB or more, you can run game on higher settings, while 6GB or more will usually let you run the game on the highest settings.
Note that memory is usually one of the easier components to upgrade, as you just have to buy and insert a new memory stick. Memory is also one of the most rewarding elements to upgrade, and performance of the video games and your computer in general can dramatically increase when upgrading from 1GB to 2GB, for example.
Hard Drive Space: This simply means how much room you need in your hard drive to be able to install the game. To find out your available space, click on "Computer" or "My Computer". On the list of drives it should say something like "375 GB Free of 455 GB". So you know you have way more then enough space to install the game. If it said "6 GB Free of 455 GB" then you don't have enough room. But this is easy to fix- just delete unused programs to free up space. The best way is to use the Programs/Software manager in your control panel to uninstall old programs you no longer use. Or delete other big files such as pictures and videos.
Graphics Card: This one is one of the more significant components for running a game, and will affect various important aspects of performance such as the FPS (Frames Per Second) unfortunately it is also often the trickiest one to figure out. For example, the above requirements demand a "NVIDIA 7900 or better; ATI X1800 or better". But, for example, GeForce 9300, 8500, 8400, and 8300 are below requirements, as well as AMD/ATI Radeon HD3200, HD3300,and HD4350, even though the numbers appear to be greater! So it is hard to tell just by looking at the model names.
A quick way to tell can be by comparing costs. For example, say you have the Nvidia Geforce 9300 and the game requires a NVIDIA 7900. 9300 is higher than 7900 so you should be fine, no? Look up online (using google or your favorite search engine) how much that graphics card costs. A Nvidia Geforce 9300 costs around $45 to $50. But a Nvidia 7900 goes for $150. So most likely your video card is not good enough. Or a more reliable way, is to compare it to a website that compares benchmarks of various cards, such as videocardbenchmark.net
Note: Even when you exceed the graphic card requirement, it is always a good idea to update your graphic drivers to the latest drivers. Go to your video card's manufacturer page (ie Nvidia, Radeon) to get the latest drivers, or to your computer's manufacturer's page in case you have a laptop.
Also note: Built in graphics card, such as intel chipset, are usually not good enough to run graphics intensive games.
Other requirements a game can list is the Direct X version (which usually comes with the game so it is not a problem), whether you need a keyboard and mouse, and whether you need internet connection to play the game.
We hope this guide helps you determine if your computer can run the games you want. If you are still unsure, or want a second opinion, feel free to post a ticket in our Help Desk forum, and experts as well as other members of the community will assist you for free.