2000s Gaming PCs: What Were They Like?

Here’s what gaming PCs were like in the 2000s:

Gaming computers changed substantially across the 2000s.

At the start of the decade, budget gaming PCs were hard to come by, as gaming was pretty demanding for computers.

By the end of the decade, budget gaming PCs could play most games, and the market had really expanded to provide a variety of options.

So if you want to learn all about the gaming PCs available during the 2000s, then this article is for you.

Let’s jump right in!

2000s Gaming PCs: What Were They Like? (Everything to Know)

What Were Computers Like Across the Decade?

Here’s the thing.

We’re covering a pretty big topic today.

There is no average gaming computer that adequately describes what the computers looked like across the 2000s.

It was a 10-year span, and computers changed a lot over that time.

The first ever smartphone was launched in 2007.

Internet speeds went from dial-up to broadband in this decade.

Online gaming really found its foothold, and by the end of the decade, mobile gaming was actually more popular than PC gaming.

That’s to say nothing of the intense console wars that pushed technology hard and fast.

Needless to say, there’s a lot to cover, and I don’t want this to be a dissertation.

It would be nice if you could get through the article in a few minutes and without the need to hold an advanced degree in computer engineering.

So, I’m going to simplify the ideas a bit.

I’m going to compare gaming PCs from the beginning and the end of the decade.

We’ll look at common hardware and software in 2000 and 2009.

Then, I’ll make some comparisons between budget and high-end PCs from both years.

The rest of the decade fits somewhere in the middle.

How Do Computers Work? (4 Parts)

In order to make these comparisons, we’ll have to first go through some of the essentials of what makes a computer a computer and how to compare different devices.

Largely, I’m going to distill this into a comparison of four key components: CPUs, video cards, RAM, and storage drives.

#1 CPU

First up is the central processing unit (also called a processor or a CPU).

It’s the brain of the whole machine.

If a computer has to think about something, the CPU does the thinking.

CPUs are rather complicated machines these days.

A modern gaming CPU probably has eight cores and up to eight threads.

That means that the single device has eight components to it (called cores), each capable of independent and simultaneous processing.

In other words, an eight-core processor can handle the same workload as eight separate CPUs that only have one core and run at the same speed.

Threading adds to this.

Multi-threading allows for a software trick that enables a single core to simultaneously carry out two tasks at once.

So, an 8-core processor with 8 threads can actually do the work of 16 different single-core processors.

Clearly, cores and threads are important, and this concept was introduced and expanded in the 2000s.

So, a 2000 computer only had one core and one thread.

By 2009, computers could get up to 12 cores and two threads per core.

Today, if you’re really going for overkill, you can have 64 cores with as many threads.

Granted, that’s not really optimal for gaming.

There comes a point where the additional multitasking just doesn’t help anymore.

But, we’re not done yet.

Another important aspect of a CPU is the clock speed.

This is measured in MHz or GHz (1 GHz is equal to 1,000 MHz).

A modern high-end CPU will run around 5 GHz, and in case it isn’t clear, a higher clock speed equates to faster raw processor speeds.

#2 Video Card

Video cards are even more complicated than CPUs, but we can distill the concepts pretty easily.

In general, a video card is designed to take over any task related to video presentation.

With a good video card, the CPU no longer has to worry about running the display, and that frees it up to focus on other tasks.

Thus, the video card (also called a graphics card or a GPU) determines the video quality of your gaming experience.

For the most part, video cards are all about memory.

They have varying speeds too, but they’re so complicated that just giving you a clock speed won’t actually mean that much.

Video cards actually take the idea of multicore processing to entirely new levels, and the clock speed is overshadowed by other aspects of the card.

What really matters for a video card is how much memory it gets to have.

Video cards have dedicated memory, and they can utilize that to handle huge amounts of processing very quickly, so more memory makes for a more capable video card.

This number is measured in MB or GB (where 1 GB is equal to 1,000 MB).

A modern, high-end video card might have up to 8 GB and cost between $1,000 and $1,500.

#3 RAM

RAM is actually much simpler.

In this case, there is a clock speed and an amount of memory.

The clock speed is similar to that of a processor and uses the same units of measure.

A modern stick of high-end RAM might be a little over 3,000 MHz (this is the same as 3 GHz, but for some reason, manufacturers prefer to list stats in thousands of MHz).

As for memory, this is measured in MB or GB. Modern computers usually have somewhere between 8 and 32 GB of RAM, depending on how much money you want to spend (we’ll get into costs of specific builds later).

#4 Storage

As for storage, this really saw a transformation in the 2010s.

In the 2000s, hard drives were dominant.

That means that the storage devices didn’t really get a lot faster (some gains were made, but they were largely trivial).

Instead, the arms race for storage in the 2000s was all about capacity, and this is again measured in GB.

To give a modern reference, modern storage devices are typically measured in TB, where 1 TB is equal to 1,000 GB.

What Were Gaming PCs Like in the Year 2000? (4 Things)

Let’s travel back in time for a minute.

The year is 2000.

The world only recently realized that the Y2K bug wasn’t a big deal at all.

Computers are common in every household, but not in every room, and they’re still pretty expensive, even on the budget end.

Laptops still weigh more than 10 pounds.

Computers are exciting and improving fast, but the average person doesn’t have high computer literacy.

During this year, gaming PCs weren’t exactly a thing.

Sure, you could find some super enthusiasts with custom gaming rigs, and there were internet cafes and such where you would find better gaming computers, but that wasn’t normal.

For the most part, there were family PCs, and if they could play a few games, that was good enough for most people.

Keep in mind that dial-up was still the primary internet connection in 2000.

#1 Hardware

So, what did hardware look like in 2000?

For a gaming PC, you only really have high-end options.

An average computer couldn’t play the newest and coolest games of the year.

So, you’re looking at computers with something akin to an NVidia GeForce 2 Pro.

Most computers did not have specialized graphics cards like this, so having one at all meant it was a high-end machine.

The GeForce 2 Pro had 64 MB of video memory.

At the same time, a computer running it probably had 512 MB of RAM, so video cards still had a long way to go in this era.

A popular, good processor for the time was the Pentium III.

It launched in 1999, and it was still competitive in the year 2000.

At launch, it hit clock speeds of 400 MHz, and in the year 2000, a 500 MHz processor was pretty good.

Those are the main components.

Your gaming PC probably had its own modem (internal or external), and the DVD drive was essential.

It also had a hard drive, probably holding a few Gigabytes of storage.

In all, this type of computer could play all of the games of the era, but it is less powerful than a modern smartphone.

#2 Software

As for software, if you didn’t buy your computer in 2000 (say you had a 1999 model), then it was probably running Windows 98.

It was a successful platform, but the year 2000 saw the launch of one of the most popular and successful operating systems of all time.

That was the year that Windows XP came out, and new computers all ran it.

Windows XP brought some important upgrades to the Windows system, allowing for 64-bit processing for the first time.

For those who aren’t familiar, this was a major upgrade to how computers worked.

For the most part, XP systems still worked on 32-bit operations, but the fact that 64-bit processing was even available was a big deal.

Windows XP could play all of the good games; it was reverse compatible with most Windows 98 stuff.

#3 Apple

The start of the 2000s is also when Apple was making a huge comeback.

The company nearly went under in the 90s, but Steve Jobs returned, and he got the company on a successful track very quickly.

In 2000, a good Apple machine was the Power Mac G4 Cube.

The original Power Mac G4 launched in 99, and the Cube was just an upgrade to that system.

This computer had a G4 processor that capped at 500 MHz, 128 MB of RAM, a 30 GB hard drive, and an ATI Rage 128 Pro video card.

This was pretty high end for the day, and it sold for $2,299 ($3962 in today’s money).

There was a more budget option, but if you wanted to play games, this was the way to go.

While many games in the day were designed exclusively for Windows, the G4 could handle the most demanding games of the day that could be played on a Mac.

#4 Popular Games

Another important thing to consider is what games looked like in the year 2000.

This was the year that Diablo II and Counter-Strike were released.

We’re talking about some all-time classics, and they definitely pushed graphics to newer heights.

NFL 2k1 and the Sims 2000 also launched that year, just to provide a little perspective.

PCs of the day were also likely to run established favorites like StarCraft, Doom, and plenty of other games from the 90s.

The truth is that Diablo II was really the king of computer performance.

If your PC could handle Diablo II, it could probably handle the rest.

Here are the minimum specs you needed for that:

  • Pentium 233 or equivalent (at least 233 MHz speed)
  • 32 MB RAM
  • DirectX-compatible video card (most video cards of the day fit this)
  • Windows 95 or newer
  • 650 MB hard drive space
  • CD-ROM

What Were Gaming PCs Like in 2009? (4 Points)

That paints a nice picture of PC gaming in the year 2000.

By the year 2009, things were extremely different.

Smartphones were really starting to take over.

Broadband internet was the norm.

Personal computers were way cheaper on average (you could actually buy one for under $1,000). 

Also, hardware and software advanced mercilessly across the decade.

2009 machines were 10 to 100 times more powerful than what was available in 2000.

It was kind of a crazy change.

Also, gaming PCs were a real thing.

The idea really started to take off in the early 2000s, and by 2009, a lot of people were investing in gaming PCs.

They wanted dedicated, specialized machines that could play the newest games without any problems.

Also, by 2009, it was starting to be normal to build your own custom machine.

The components market was huge and growing.

At this point, there was actually a difference between budget and high-end gaming machines—as not all gaming machines had to be high-end rigs anymore.

We’ll look at some common specs for machines and software in 2009.

Then, we can do some direct comparisons from the beginning and end of the decade.

#1 Hardware

Let’s look at hardware first.

By 2009, multicore processors were a thing.

They were still expensive, but they were the best of the best.

A good gaming rig of the year might have had an Intel Core 2 Quad (like the Q9650).

Multicore processors are hard to compare to the old single-core styles from earlier in the decade.

Basically, engineers found a way to make one processor do the work of two, or four.

These days, they make consumer-grade processors with 16 or more cores.

It’s kind of insane.

The point is, at the same number of MHz, a dual-core processor is literally twice as powerful as a single-core processor.

On top of that, multithreaded processors were also a thing.

This is a software technique that allows one processing core to work like it’s actually two.

So, you could have a multithreaded dual-core processor that really behaved as though there were four different processors.

It was a major upgrade, and the Q9650 was a quad-core processor with a base speed of 3 GHz.

For clarification, 1 GHz is equal to 1,000 MHz, so this thing was roughly 30 times as capable as the Pentium III we looked at in 2000.

Of course, graphics cards underwent multiple revolutions across the decade.

A gaming PC in 2009 was probably going to have around 4 GB of video memory.

The example from 2000 only had 64 MB, so the 2009 hardware was almost 100 times more powerful.

A good graphics card in 2009 was the GeForce 9800 if you want to take a closer look.

As for RAM, a good gaming PC in 2009 probably had 4 GB of RAM, which is almost enough to run a modern operating system (some might technically run at 4 GB, but realistically, you need a minimum of 8 in a modern computer, and that’s at the extreme budget end).

Hard drives by this time could hold more than 100 GB, and while CD/DVD drives were still common, they were headed the way of the dinosaur.

#2 Software

A modern computer in 2009 probably came with Windows Vista, but since Vista had such a poor reception, a lot of gaming PCs actually ran Windows XP.

That’s an interesting bit of change.

In the 90s, there were at least four major operating system upgrades with Windows alone.

In the 2000s, the decade started with XP.

While Vista was available in 2009, XP was still the more popular system.

That didn’t really change until Windows 8 launched a few years later.

Everything was still running on DirectX, so as long as you had the latest version, you were fine.

And since I haven’t explained DirectX yet, now is a good time for that.

DirectX was first launched in the mid-90s.

It’s a software package that is specifically designed for graphical rendering.

Basically, if you play a game with 3D graphics, DirectX is the software that actually draws everything.

DirectX has been dominant since it launched, with major updates coming every few years or so.

It is still vital for PC gaming to this day.

#3 Apple

In 2009, there were a lot of viable Apple machines for gaming.

You had MacBook Pros, iMacs, and the Mac Pro.

We’re going to zero in on the Mac Pro because it was the only of the three that was designed exclusively around high-end video performance (although the other two were above average when compared to PCs).

In other words, this was the best gaming computer you could get from Apple.

A 2009 Mac Pro had an Intel E5620 Xeon CPU.

You could actually choose which version you wanted, ranging from 2 to 12 cores on the single processor (technically the 12-core version bridged two 6-core processors that made them work as one), any of which would run at 2.4 GHz. 

The device could hold anywhere from 4 GB to 32 GB of RAM, depending on the configuration you chose.

It used multiple hard drives, allowing for a combined storage of up to 8 TB of data.

As for graphics cards, it came with an nVidia GeForce GT 120. This had 512 MB of video memory.

You could put up to four separate video cards in the computer, but technology at the time could only pair two of them, so there was no point in having more than two video cards.

In all, this was a very powerful computer, and because Apple made it easy to dual boot into Windows if you wanted, it could play all of the games.

Considering the vast range of configuration options, the price on this bad boy ranged from about $2000 to roughly $1000 (up to $13,834 in today’s money).

#4 Popular Games

How did games themselves change over the decade?

In 2000, we were excited about Diablo II and Counter-Strike.

In 2009, some of the hottest releases included Batman: Arkham Asylum, COD Modern Warfare 2, Resident Evil 5 (admittedly a console exclusive), and Plants vs Zombies.

Yeah, I included Plants vs Zombies.

By 2009, there were a lot of games you could play without a high-end gaming rig, and that’s a big part of the reason why budget gaming PCs were a thing.

But, if you wanted to play the most graphically intense games (like Arkham), then you needed good specs.

Here’s a list of some of those specs for reference: 

  • GeForce 510 or better
  • Intel Core 2 Duo E6850 or better
  • 1 GB RAM
  • 8 GB hard drive space
  • Windows XP or newer

In case it isn’t clear, the specifications I mentioned in the hardware section could play Arkham Asylum without issues.

How Do High-End and Budget Gaming Computers Compare? (2 Ways)

Ok. We can really wrap this up and bring it all together.

Clearly, gaming computers at the end of the decade were much more powerful.

Even a budget gaming rig could run circles around a high-end PC from the year 2000.

But, we haven’t really looked at prices, and there is room to really nail down a few key comparisons.

So, let’s get into it.

#1 High-End

We’ll consider the specs from the example I gave for the 2000 PC.

That was definitely a high-end example, and at the time, it would have cost more than $2000 ($3,447 in today’s money).

It could play all of the games of the era, but it was certainly not cheap.

Meanwhile, the specs in the 2009 section were also fairly high-end.

In fact, I pulled them from a high-end gaming PC article, and those very specs ran a cost of $2,700 in 2009 (or $3,735 today).

So, the prices stayed pretty close together, but the performance differences are dramatic.

As I already said, the high-end PC from 2009 is at least 50 times more powerful than the one from 2000.

Arguably, it could be as much as 100 times more powerful.

#2 Budget

What about budget versions?

Well, in 2000, you could get a budget computer for around $1,000 ($1,723 today), but it wasn’t a gaming rig.

It probably did not have a discrete graphics card, and it probably could not run Diablo II.

Meanwhile, a budget gaming PC in 2009 was probably between $500 and $800 (up to $1,106 in today’s money).

Such a computer would still have a dual-core processor, a dedicated graphics card, and 8 GB of RAM.

It could run all of the games at the time, but it might stutter some with a high-end performance game like Arkham.

For a final context, modern gaming rigs are still between $500 and $800 on the budget side, and they can get up to $3000 for the most extreme versions.

Typically, anything over $1500 is considered high-end today.


  • Theresa McDonough

    Tech entrepreneur and founder of Tech Medic, who has become a prominent advocate for the Right to Repair movement. She has testified before the US Federal Trade Commission and been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, helping influence change within the tech industry.