Building the Best PC for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO)


Last updated: February 2017

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) is the fourth game in the venerable Counter-Strike first-person-shooter franchise by Valve. Players join a team of either Terrorists or Counter-Terrorists and compete against the opposing team in various multiplayer game scenarios. The game is one of the most popular first-person-shooters, boasting as many as 5 million players each month.

This guide takes a close look at CS:GO’s graphical settings and the impact they have on the game. We'll also give you a good idea of the kind of PC hardware you'll need to run CS:GO to your own personal satisfaction. If you just want to know what to buy without all the in-depth analysis, you can skip to the Recommendations Section.

If you already have a PC but want to know what settings to use for best performance, check out the Graphical Settings section.

CS:GO released in 2012 and is built on Valve’s Source engine. The game is amazingly easy on PC hardware, considering its modern visuals. You do not need a very powerful PC to play CS:GO on high settings and a fast framerate. However, if you want to play at extremely competitive framerates such as 144+ FPS (the refresh rate of very fast monitors), you do need a reasonably powerful PC.

To get started, let's take a look at what Logical Increments tiers are best for playing CS:GO.

What to Buy

At Logical Increments, we recommend PC builds in "tiers," with each tier containing the most powerful, most reliable, and least expensive combination of parts for that price. We don't list the individual parts in this guide because they change frequently based on local prices and new releases. You can see the latest individual part choices for each tier at the main guide page, which is updated regularly. Open it in a new tab to compare: Logical Increments PC Parts Guide.

Note: These benchmarks assume that all of the graphical settings in the game are set to their highest or turned on. You can get even better performance out of your PC if you adjust some of the graphical settings, but we explain that in more detail below.

Tier 1600x900 1920x1080 2560x1440 3840x2160
Destitute ($170) Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable
Poor ($230) Borderline Unplayable Unplayable Unplayable
Minimum ($300) Playable Playable Playable Playable
Entry ($375) Smooth Smooth Playable Playable
Modest ($415) Very Smooth Very Smooth Smooth Smooth
Fair ($455) Buttery Smooth Silky Smooth Very Smooth Smooth
Good ($530) Buttery Smooth Buttery Smooth Very Smooth Smooth
Very Good ($630) Buttery Smooth Buttery Smooth Buttery Smooth Silky Smooth
Great ($750) Buttery Smooth Buttery Smooth Buttery Smooth Buttery Smooth
Superb ($840) Buttery Smooth Buttery Smooth Buttery Smooth Buttery Smooth
Excellent ($1,070) Buttery Smooth Buttery Smooth Buttery Smooth Buttery Smooth
Outstanding ($1,240) Buttery Smooth Buttery Smooth Buttery Smooth Buttery Smooth
Exceptional ($1,670) Buttery Smooth Buttery Smooth Buttery Smooth Buttery Smooth
Enthusiast ($2,100) Buttery Smooth Buttery Smooth Buttery Smooth Buttery Smooth
Extremist ($3,600) Buttery Smooth Buttery Smooth Buttery Smooth Buttery Smooth
Monstrous ($4,000+) Buttery Smooth Buttery Smooth Buttery Smooth Buttery Smooth
Explanation
Below 20 FPS Unplayable Jerky animation, "lag" and "stutter".
20-30 FPS Borderline Ok for some, too "laggy" for others. AKA "Cinematic".
30-45 FPS Playable Acceptable to most people. Not very good though!
45-60 FPS Smooth Fluid animation, no "lag".
60-90 FPS Very Smooth Very smooth is very smooth to almost everyone.
90-144 FPS Silky Smooth Criminally smooth. For hardcore and professional players.
144+ FPS Buttery Smooth The smoothest of smooth. When you need a constant framerate on the fastest monitors available (144Hz).
A CS:GO wallpaper created by Azuleat RapidWorks

A Note About Frame Rate (FPS)

Frames per second (FPS) measures the number of images your computer can produce every second. Higher frame rates mean that your screen will show more images per second, which means that you will see a smoother animation. Lower frame rates cause a game to appear to stutter, which is not enjoyable.

A comparison of 50, 25, and 12.5 FPS.

For the purposes of our PC build guides, we recommend computers that will achieve 60 FPS in your game of choice. Some gamers are satisfied with frame rates as low as 30, but that depends largely on the gamer and the game.

For more information and animations explaining frame rate, please check out our Frame Rate page.

Higher Resolution for Better Gaming

A comparison of several common resolutions.

Resolution refers to the number of pixels on a screen. High resolution means more pixels and generally more space and detail, while low resolution means fewer pixels, and often less space. If you are using a typical (not high-end) laptop or an old screen, you likely have a low resolution. When comparing screens with a similar aspect ratio, it is always better to get a higher resolution screen. Higher resolution will always looks better, as you have more real estate and a sharper picture. The image below shows the difference in real estate between common resolutions.

For more information on resolutions, check our Screen Resolution page.

CS:GO Hardware Requirements and Performance

Before discussing how various PC components influence your performance with CS:GO, let’s take a look at the game’s minimum system requirements, according to Valve:

Official Minimum System Requirements:

  • GPU: 256 MB or more, DirectX 9 compatible
  • CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 or AMD Phenom X3 8750
  • Memory: 2 GB RAM

Valve does not have recommended specifications for CS:GO -- just these minimum requirements. And boy, they are some low requirements! Nearly any computer or laptop built in the last five years should be able to run CS:GO, and many computers older than that will be able to run it without issue.

Now let’s discuss the best components for running CS:GO at various framerates and resolutions.

Recommended GPUs for CS:GO

Your GPU has the greatest influence on the performance of CS:GO. But that doesn’t mean you need a particularly powerful graphics card to play CS:GO. For modest settings and framerate, almost any modern graphics card on the market is powerful enough for CS:GO.

Note that in CS:GO, AMD GPUs perform better than their equivalently priced NVIDIA cards. Either brand works very well for CS:GO, but if you’re building a computer specifically for Counter Strike, you’ll get a performance bump for your money by going with AMD.

For our purposes, we prefer to recommend computer hardware that will run the game on maximum settings and 60+ FPS at your resolution of choice. If you are OK playing on lower graphical settings or FPS, you can get by with even cheaper components. Consult the parts guide on our homepage to compare GPUs.

1920 x 1080 (1080p) or lower resolution

We recommend the RX 460 or GTX 1050. Either of these cards will be capable of 144+ FPS at 1080p or lower resolution. Any cheaper cards will sacrifice a lot of performance for only a small cost savings.

If you can find a used R7 370, GTX 750 Ti, or GTX 950, those could be worth getting if they are around half the price of the current cards, and you only need 60 FPS.

2560 x 1440 (1440p)

If you only need 60 FPS at 1440p, the RX 460 or GTX 1050 will work.

If you want buttery smooth 144 FPS+ performance at 1440p, go for the GTX 1050 TI or RX 570.

3840x2160 (4K)

For 60+ FPS at 4K, you’ll need at least an RX 470 or GTX 1060.

To stay above 144+ FPS at 4K resolution, we recommend upgrading to an RX 480 or a GTX 1070.

Recommended CPUs for CS:GO

Pretty much any modern dual-core CPU will perform suitably for CS:GO, but enthusiasts looking for the highest framerate possible will benefit from getting more powerful CPUs.

1920 x 1080 (1080p) or lower resolution

An inexpensive Intel Pentium G4560 will get your average FPS up above 144 FPS. An i5 would be better for more demanding games and keep your minimum framerates higher, but the Pentium is an excellent value.

2560 x 1440 (1440p) or 4K

For 60+ FPS at 1440p or 4K, the Pentium G4560 will still perform well, and you'll still have average framerates above 144.

However, we recommend upgrading to an i5-7600K for those times when there's a bunch of smoke and action and framerates dip for a second.

If you just want the best performance in CS:GO regardless of price, the i7-7700K will give you the absolute highest framerates. The more expensive CPUs aren't worth it, because they sacrifice clock speed for more cores, and more cores aren't ussed by CS:GO.

A CS:GO wallpaper created by Frost Productions

CS:GO Graphical Settings

Under Video Options, CS:GO has 11 settings that players can manipulate to raise or lower the game’s graphical settings, and as a result, the game’s performance on their hardware.

Lowering some of these settings will degrade the appearance of the game, but will improve your performance by a certain degree. Based on our testing, we have done our best to calculate the performance difference between Low and High settings. However, we performed our testing on a higher-end gaming PC. We suspect that lower-end PCs may see even greater improvements to performance by lowering some of these settings.

Overall, you can improve your PC’s framerates in CS:GO by ~15-20% by lowering all of the game’s settings (and keeping Multicore Rendering on). By lowering your resolution, your overall performance will improve beyond that.

handle
Drag the cursor to compare all settings on Low and on High.

Global Shadow Quality

As the name implies, this setting affects the quality of all the shadows in the game. On high, shadows are very clearly defined and precise. On low, they look incredibly pixelated. It’s even worse in motion, but check the screenshot comparison below to see for yourself.

Performance impact: ~3-5% between Very Low and High.

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Drag the cursor to compare Global Shadow Quality on Very Low and on High.

Model/Texture Detail

This setting controls the resolution of textures in the game. Lowering it makes certain textures and models look more pixelated. While it may help improve performance on low-end PCs, we did not find lowering the model/texture detail to be very helpful on a higher-end systems. However, lowering it definitely makes the game look worse.

Performance impact: ~0-1% between Low and High. (Difference may be greater on a low-end system.)

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Drag the cursor to compare Model/Texture Detail on Low and on High.

Effects Detail

This setting controls the detail of some effects in the game and influences your draw distance (the maximum distance at which an object will be rendered in the game).

Performance impact: ~3-5% between Low and High.

Shader Detail

This setting controls the lighting and shading effects applied to surfaces in the game. This setting may have a greater performance impact on low-end PCs.

Performance impact: ~1-2% between Low and High

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Drag the cursor to compare Shader Detail on Low and on High.

Multicore Rendering

This setting enables the use of multiple cores in your CPU. Disabling this may result in higher framerates on systems with dual-core CPUs. However, systems with 4+ cores generally see much better performance with this setting enabled.

Performance impact: Depends on your CPU.

MSAA

Multisample anti-aliasing smooths out edges of geometric objects in the game, eliminating jaggedness.

Performance impact: ~0-1% between Low and High. (Difference may be greater on low-end systems.)

handle
Drag the cursor to compare MSAA on Off and on 8x.

Texture Filtering Mode

Higher settings make textures look better at long distances or weird angles. Lower settings can cause grainy or banded visual artifacts on textures.

Performance impact: ~0-1% between Bilinear and 16x (in our testing).

Choosing the Best Settings for CS:GO

Most PCs will not have a problem playing CS:GO at high framerates. However, if you are not achieving the framerates you want, you can make a few adjustments in the video settings menu to improve FPS.

Lowering settings such as Global Shadow Quality and Effect Detail will give you a slight boost in FPS, but at significant visual cost.

Before changing those settings, we recommend making sure Multicore Rendering is enabled if you have 4+ CPU cores, and disabled if you have 2. Of course, experiment with this to make sure that your FPS have improved and we’re not blowing hot air!

Beyond that, experiment with adjusting your settings for improvement to performance. That said, lowering your resolution will likely result in greater performance gains compared to lowering your graphical settings.


Logical Increments Tiers and How They Fare

To determine how your PC will perform with CS:GO, you’ll need to consider three things:

  1. The resolution you want to play at (usually your screen’s native resolution)
  2. How much graphical detail you want
  3. How smoothly you want the gameplay to run

For our purposes, we aim for a very smooth 60+ FPS with the graphical settings turned to High. If you’re willing to lower any graphical settings, or you’re happy with framerates lower than 60 FPS, you can get by with an even lower-tier PC.

Below, we list the the tiers on our parts list that would achieve that 60 FPS baseline on maximum graphical settings at a range of progressively more demanding screen resolutions.

1600 x 900

The Modest tier, featuring the RX 460 and Intel G4560, will get you 144 FPS+ in CS:GO at 1600 x 900.

1920 x 1080 (1080p)

The Modest tier, featuring the RX 460 and Intel G4560, will also get you 144 FPS+ in CS:GO at 1920 x 1080. If you want a bit more consistent minimum FPS, upgrade to the Fair tier.

2560 x 1440 (1440p)

The Modest tier, with RX 460 and Intel G4560, will be fine for 60 FPS. but we recommend upgrading to the Good tier, featuring the GTX 1050 Ti and i3-7100, for more consistent performance, and 144+ FPS. For playing more graphically demanding games at 2560 x 1440, you would want a build more like Outstanding, with an i5-7600K and GTX 1070 .

3840 x 2160 (4K)

Modest will still get close to 60 FPS at 4K, but Good would be much better, with a GTX 1050 Ti and i3-7100.

Great will get 144 FPS, with RX 480 and i3-7100.

Exceptional, with an i7-7700K and GTX 1080, would get ridiculously high, completely overkill performance. This build would also be much better for more graphically demanding games at 4K.


Conclusion

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is an extremely popular first-person-shooter, with part of its mass appeal likely attributable to its excellent optimization for PC hardware. This game will run at playable framerates on almost any modern PC, including relatively cheap laptops. That said, competitive players may desire framerates well above the customary 60 FPS. Gamers with 144Hz monitors likely want to get full performance out of their displays, and CS:GO is a multiplayer game where that’s achievable on relatively affordable hardware.

We hope this guide has helped you understand the necessary PC hardware for running CS:GO to your satisfaction. If you want to do further research on PC hardware, please visit our main PC parts list on our homepage.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below, or email us at contact@logicalincrements.com.

About Us

James is the content manager for Logical Increments. He has been building PCs for more than 15 years and is unforgivably terrible at CS:GO.

Logical Increments helps more than a million PC builders each year with hardware recommendations for any budget.

Sources

  1. Gamers Nexus CS:GO GPU Benchmarks
  2. Overclock.net CS:GO CPU Benchmarks
  3. Gameplay: RX 460
  4. Gameplay: RX 460 and G4400
  5. Gameplay: GTX 1050 Ti and i5-6600
  6. Gameplay: GTX 1050 and i5-6400
  7. Gameplay: GTX 1060 and i7-6700K
  8. Gameplay: RX 470 and i5-6500
  9. Gameplay: RX 480 and i5-6402
  10. Gameplay: GTX 1070 and i7-6700K
  11. Gameplay: R9 380 and Pentium G3420
  12. Gameplay: GTX 950 and i5-4460
  13. Gameplay: R9 380X and i5-4590
  14. Gameplay: GTX 970 and i7-4790K
  15. Gameplay: GTX 970 and i5-4690K
  16. Gameplay: GTX 980 Ti and i7-4790K
  17. Gameplay: R7 240 and FX-8350
  18. Gameplay: R7 250 and i7-860
  19. Gameplay: R7 250
  20. Gameplay: R7 360 and AMD 7650K
  21. Gameplay: R7 360 and FX-6300
  22. Gameplay: R7 370 and i5-4440
  23. Gameplay: R7 370 and FX-6300
  24. Gameplay: GTX 970 and i7-4790K