Congratulations. You’ve decided to embark on the exciting adventure of building a gaming computer, and you’re in for a challenging but fun time.
PC gaming today is more exciting then it’s ever been with such titles as Witcher 3, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, and League of Legends keeping gamers up all night.
But here’s the kicker:
It’s almost impossible to fully enjoy these graphically gorgeous titles without a decent gaming computer to run them on.
That’s where learning the basics of building a gaming computer comes into play.
Once you arm yourself with the knowledge you need, you’ll be able to build a gaming computer that will tame even the wildest games on the market.
PC gaming fact:
“PC gaming sports the most vibrant indie games development community of any platform, with a host of innovative titles released each month through digital download services such as Steam.”~Howitworksdaily.com
Gaming Computer vs. Regular PC
Believe or not, some people believe that gaming computers are just overpriced regular PCs with a few “bells and whistles.”
That’s like saying a Lamborghini is just a fancier Toyota Camry.
The most significant difference in building a gaming computer versus a regular PC is the components.
A regular computer is likely to have lower quality parts than a gaming computer, which makes sense because why would a mail carrier need to deliver mail in a Lamborghini?
Meanwhile, gaming computers are built for speed, power, and performance, with the primary objective of playing the latest pc games at best possible settings.
Benefits of Building a Gaming Computer vs. Buying a Prebuilt Gaming PC
There’s a raging debate over whether it’s wiser to buy a prebuilt PC versus building a gaming computer from scratch.
Having a custom or prebuilt system made for you does have a few merits over building a gaming computer.
Here are a few of them:
A prebuilt gaming computer is ready to play right out of the box. Just plug it in, set up your Windows 10 account, and you’re good to go.
This option is obviously much more comfortable than buying all the parts you need while building a gaming computer separately and putting it together.
No doubt, building a gaming computer is riskier than buying a prebuilt system.
With a prebuilt system, you don’t have to worry about incompatible or defective parts.
Plus, you don’t run the risk of ruining one of the parts during the building process.
On top of that:
A prebuilt PC is likely to include a warranty and perhaps even free tech-support.
Meanwhile, building a gaming computer do-it-yourself (DIY) style involves dealing with warranties on several different parts from different companies.
PC gaming fact:
“Games on PC have one of the lowest entry points of any platform, with even low-end desktops, laptops and netbooks capable of playing many console titles.” -Howitworksdaily.com
Despite saving time and risk, there are several disadvantages to buying a prebuilt gaming computer versus building a gaming computer.
Lower price-to-performance ratio
With a prebuilt gaming computer, you’ll likely have lower quality performance versus a gaming computer that you build yourself for roughly the same price.
That’s because makers are likely to take some shortcuts to get the price under a certain margin.
They may use lower qualities components such as RAM, heatsink, case, power supply, and motherboard.
They’ll try to distract your attention with all the pretty RGB (red, green, blue) lights and a high-powered graphics card.
However, the system’s likely to be about as upgradable as a rock in your yard.
In other words:
These limitations will impact how your system handles future games that will require better hardware.
The makers of most prebuilt systems are in it to make money, not build the best gaming computer.
Yes I know it sounds cynical, but it’s true.
If you think about it, these builders have to mark up the price to pay for their overhead costs like labor for example.
Very few prebuilt manufacturers are going to give you quality value that will handle the newer generation of games that come out each year.
On the other hand:
There are a few builders who do make premium gaming machines.
However, they still generally charge more than if you were to buy the same parts or similar and build your own.
PC gaming fact:
Today, modern gaming PCs sport graphics cards capable of outputting over HDMI, allowing users to hook their machines up to large television screens, rather than just a desktop monitor.
The Virtues of Building a Gaming Computer
Building a gaming computer can be a bit scary, especially if you don’t have a lot of experience with computers.
However, if you prepare and can follow simple instructions, then you’ll be amazed at how easy it is to accomplish.
When you build your own gaming computer, you are in control of everything.
You can choose to put together a monster system or start with something basic that you can grow into a monster.
You’ll have the flexibility to decide what goes into your machine.
You’ll learn more about computers through experiencing the trials and errors every builder has to overcome.
No, it won’t always be fun, but once you’ve conquered your first Blue Screen of Death (BSOD), you’ll want to run outside and give your Lamborghini-driving mail carrier a high five!
Important PC Terms You Need To Know When Building a Gaming Computer
CPU: Central Processing Unit. Also called a chip or processor.
Cores: The processing units in a CPU, with multiple cores making up a single processor.
Threads: Cores can run numerous operations at one time thanks to technologies called HyperTreading on Intel CPUs and Simultaneous MultiThreading on (SMT) on AMD chips.
Cache: Very fast memory built into the CPU design. Different levels of cache offer varying sizes and speeds, to improve processing wait times.
Socket: This is the physical socket in which the CPU connects to the motherboard.
Heat spreader: Metal attached to the top of a CPU that helps transfer heat away from the CPU cores to a processor cooling component.
Thermal compound: Often called thermal paste or chip grease, this substance aids in the heat transfer between the CPU and cooler.
Clockspeed: The rate at which the CPU completes an entire cycle. Processors measure speed in Gigahertz (GHz) which is 1,000,000,000 per second.
Boost clocks: A component manufacturer’s maximum for clock speeds.
Overclocking: Increases clock speeds beyond the product’s initial limitation. Can be applied to RAM, graphics cards, and CPUs.
GPU: A graphics processing unit (GPU) is the processing chip the drives the computational power of a graphics card.
Video memory: The memory used on a graphics card that stores information needed by the GPU, such as frame buffer and textures.
Resolution: The number of pixels available to display an image on the monitor, traditionally measured in height and width. For example, 1080p is made up by a horizontal display of 1920 pixels and a vertical display of 1080 pixels.
Response times: How quickly the pixels change when they get new information. Low response times causes motion blur and ghosting.
PCIe: Interface used for the fastest components, such as storage drives and graphics cards. Some interfaces, such as the ones on current graphics cards, use fast express lanes that connect directly to the CPU, others to the chipset.
Form factor: Represents the size of a motherboard. From largest to smallest are EATX, ATX, Micro ATX, Mini ITX.
Chipset: A chipset represents a collection of integrated circuits on a motherboard. The chipset manages many connections with the CPU, such as LAN, Storage, input/outputs, and audio.
RAM: Random Access Memory, this is a buffer between your processor and both the software and hardware requesting it’s resources.
Memory Channels: Motherboards with dual channels allow for at least two memory modules (RAM) to use two separate channels for increased bandwidth. Quad channels allow up to four RAM modules to use different channels
DDR: Double data rate (DDR): Transfers data twice per clock allowing for the transference of more data.
RAM speed: RAM speed is a frequency measured in Megahertz (MHz), and it determines how fast information gets to the CPU.
Downclocked: Whenever RAM speeds exceed the limitation of the CPU or motherboard, the RAM speed is automatically downclocked to the motherboard or CPU speed limit.
Latency: Measured by timings in a four-digit format. For example, 9-9-9-8. The lower the numbers, the lower the latency, which is good.
Clean install: To install a brand new OS without upgrading or carrying over data from a pre-existing installation.
Visit this site for more terms and definitions.
Building a Gaming Computer on a Budget
When building a gaming computer, it’s best to start with a budget and work within that goal.
However, sometimes you may decide that a specific component is important enough to expand your budget, and that’s okay.
What you don’t want to do is allow yourself to get distracted by all the shiny new, cutting-edge hardware out there.
Because if you do that, you’ll end up going from a $500 build to a $5,000 build in the blink of an eye.
That’s why before you consider a hard number for your budget, it’s important to establish just what you want to get out of your system.
Do you want a system that can handle virtual reality (VR)?
Also, take some time to consider the type of games you like to play and wish to play.
Then do a bit of research on what kind of system can deliver the gaming experience you want out of those games.
In other words:
It may not be necessary for you to have a system that can handle 5K graphics when most of the titles you want to play only go up to 1080p.
Then again there’s also the issue of “future-proofing:”
PC gaming fun fact:
“One of the most competitive and lucrative games in the world is the PC’s Starcraft II. Here, teams of gamers compete in international tournaments for figures north of $100,000.” -Howitworksdaily.com
Future-proofing involves building a gaming computer with more expensive parts in hopes of being able to keep up with future technological gaming demands.
However, this concept does have a few flaws many builders fail to consider until it’s too late.
Here are five reasons why future-proofing may and may not work when building a gaming computer.
1. Future-proofing can be unnecessary in some cases
This first reason applies less to gamers than it does to casual users such as web surfers or office workers who don’t tax a lot of system resources.
Gamers, on the other hand, have to satisfy more demanding games coming out every year, making it harder not to upgrade or future-proof components to keep up.
However, once again, you can run into the trap of blowing up your budget while obsessing about future-proofing your gaming computer.
2. Warranties may not last
Another consideration is warranty terms on your components.
Many components, like GPUs (graphics cards), motherboards, and RAM may have shorter warranty periods, which can make it impractical to future-proof these parts.
Imagine buying a $600 graphics card with a one-year warranty only to have it fail on you in 18 months.
3. Future-proofing can be both cost-efficient and inefficient
Future-proofing things like power supplies, cases, SSD drives, and possibly RAM can yield long-term cost-savings.
One Reddit user summed up the advantages of not future-proofing, stating:
“WITH A $2,000 BUDGET THAT NEEDS TO LAST 4 YEARS YOU’D USUALLY BE BETTER OFF IN THE LONG TERM SPENDING $1,000 NOW AND THEN $250 IN UPGRADES ONCE A YEAR. CAREFUL LONG-TERM BUDGETING (IS MORE) RELIABLE THAN ONE BIG SPLURGE.THE ONLY EXCEPTION IS A COMPUTER THAT CAN’T BE UPGRADED EASILY, SUCH AS A BUILD FOR A FAMILY MEMBER WHO LIVES TOO FAR AWAY.”
4. Technology has just about peaked
The technology of many components that you buy simply will not get much better within the next three to four years.
If you buy a decent-powered CPU, it’s unlikely that you’ll need to upgrade it as quickly as you would a graphics card.
That’s because most games don’t require higher-end CPUs to run on maximum settings.
For example, buying that $1,000 i9 processor may be a waste of money when the i5 will deliver the same or close to the same performance.
5. Future-proofing isn’t a guarantee
In 2013, a Redditor asked a bunch of builders about their experiences with future-proofing.
Nearly all the respondents said that the performance of newer games still declined throughout four years.
However, most did say that their experience was still “good enough” without the need to upgrade.
Others advised that it’s best to future-proof only if you’re willing to overclock specific components to keep up with newer games.
This is important:
Many future-proofers recommended buying a higher-end PSU (power supply) and computer case, well beyond warranties
Most future-proofers stated that they got at least two or three good builds out of quality PSUs and cases.
However, most said that graphics cards are components that usually need upgrading at least every two or three years.
Parts You Need When Building a Gaming Computer
Before you get started there are a few parts you’ll need when building a gaming computer.
These components are the bare essential elements of a great gaming system.
Unless you’re really into Linux, when building a gaming computer you’ll most likely run it with Windows.
Fortunately, you have a few options in this area.
If you’re building a clean system from scratch, you can purchase a new Windows license for about $100.
You can make a clone copy of your existing Windows system and install it on a new SSD drive using special software.
You can just pull the SSD drive out of your older system and slap it in the new build.
None of these are bad options; it mainly depends on your budget and where you may want to save money.
PC gaming fact:
“Unlike consoles, gaming PCs can be continuously upgraded by switching components in and out. This allows them to evolve over many years and keep pace with graphical improvements in the latest titles.” –Howitworkily.com
When building a gaming computer, the motherboard is the best component to buy first.
That’s because the motherboard will largely determine how long your system will remain a viable gaming computer.
If your motherboard doesn’t have a new fast port that’s going to become the gold-standard within a year or two, then you’re severely limiting your upgrade potential.
A good example of this would be M.2 ports which boost speeds for components like SSD drives exponentially.
Also, this is very important:
Motherboards can support one of two types of processors (CPUs): Intel or AMD.
Both AMD and Intel boards utilize different socket designs.
This means that Intel CPUs won’t work on AMD boards and vice versa.
Your motherboard is one of the few components that you really only want to buy once per build.
In other words:
You want the best board you can afford before you have to build another gaming computer.
This doesn’t mean you have to break the bank on your motherboard.
However, you should allocate a decent portion of your budget for this component.
The CPU or processor is a vital component because it does most of the thinking.
When building a gaming computer, you’ll have to decide between going with an Intel or AMD CPU.
Intel CPUs are usually better for gaming because they have stronger single-core processing performance, which is currently more important for gaming.
AMD processors are usually better at multi-tasking operations due to the larger number of cores they tend to offer.
However, AMD processors are starting to catch up with Intel CPUs when it comes to single-core performance needed to run most games.
Also, games like Witcher 3 are using more than one core, which could also give AMD more of an edge in upcoming years.
The number one thing to consider:
You want a processor with sufficient clock speed, which is measured in Gigahertz (GHz) that will allow your games to run fast and smooth for years.
This is one of those components that you can future-proof well if you choose wisely.
This is one of those components that you can future-proof well if you choose wisely.
Your graphics card, which is also referred to as a graphics processing unit (GPU), is the thing that really makes playing some of the best games possible.
It’s also one component that doesn’t have to be cutting-edge to deliver the best performance.
As with processors, there are two brands of graphics cards on the market: Nvidia and AMD.
However, unlike processors, most Nvidia and AMD cards will work on just about any board that meets their minimum requirements.
Nvidia cards are usually the top performing cards on the market.
But, AMD cards are also catching up fast.
Sometimes you can only tell the difference between Boards with AMD CPUs and GPUs versus ones with Intel and Nvidia by very close and technical benchmarking numbers.
When it comes to looks, framerates, and performance, most gamers will not notice any difference between comparable components.
So don’t let AMD’s second banana status make you think you’re getting an off-brand sneaker at Walmart versus Nike.
With graphics cards, you may not always serve yourself well by getting the latest and greatest model.
Cards that are one or even sometimes two years old can still give you the performance you want today.
On the other hand:
If you do get a high or just under expensive high-level card, it will probably retain its value more in two years.
This means you can probably sell it to another budget builder for a reasonable price and use the funds toward your next card.
With the right system, you can change GPUs two or three times before the need to build a new gaming computer.
Okay, let’s get back to your veggies.
RAM, or Random Access Memory, is another component that you can sort of future-proof.
RAM modules are come out in generations known as Double Data Rate, or DDR for short.
The current RAM generation is DDR4.
Speeds are measured in the Megahertz (MHz) frequency.
RAM capacity is measured in Gigahertz (GHz) frequency.
For gaming, you won’t need more than 16GHz of ram any time soon, unless you’re doing some crazy work stuff like video editing.
While 16GHz is ideal, you can also get away with 8GHz in many cases, as long as you’re running lean with very few other programs competing for RAM.
But, you want to be careful here:
You don’t have to go too crazy trying to buy the fastest RAM on the planet.
Buy the frequency you can afford, but always get the latest generation, which shouldn’t be a problem if you’ve got the right board.
It probably doesn’t hurt to keep tabs on what boards are offering the next generation to get an idea on how long you can hang out in that neighborhood before you have to build again.
In this case, DDR 5 RAM production isn’t expected to start until the end of 2019.
This means that you’re unlikely to find many motherboards that will support DDR5 RAM until this time as well.
So, for the time being, you’re safe with DDR4 memory.
Just make sure you try and get a reasonably fast 16 gigabyte DD4 RAM at the fastest speed you can comfortably afford in your budget.
Plus, it doesn’t really make much difference if you get two or four modules (also known as sticks).
Because most games stop benefiting from faster RAM past a certain point.
Many people update their RAM sticks for faster speed when they upgrade their graphics card.
Storage is another good future-proof component you can buy when building a gaming computer.
Right now the gold standard in storage drives is SSD drives.
However, with the emergence of M.2 SATA ports on many motherboards, M.2 SSD SATA cards are the way to go over regular SSD SATA drives.
The fastest M.2 SSD drives are PCIe drives on motherboards that allow them to use up to four PCIe lanes.
Right now many Windows 10 computers have issues booting these drives from PCIe ports, which means you could be paying for a speedy storage drive.
For gaming, M.2 SSD drives using either an M.2 port or SATA III port will not be as fast as PCIe.
But you won’t notice the difference because these drives are more than fast enough for gaming already.
So if you’re thinking of upgrading your hard drive to an M.2 drive, do yourself a favor and save some money and headache by getting an M.2 or converted SATA III M.2 SSD drive.
Also for capacity, you shouldn’t need more than 500 Gigabytes of storage if you use a secondary HDD drive.
Secondary hard drives
While building a gaming computer, it’s good to have a secondary HDD drive with decent storage space.
You can use your faster SSD drive as your boot drive and for programs like games, and the secondary drive for other programs and files.
Your secondary drive can take a lot of the load off of your SSD drive and save you money by allowing you to buy a lower capacity SSD drive.
A secondary drive is, of course, entirely optional and can wait, especially if you have an external HDD drive that you can use in the meantime.
Okay, so now let’s get into some power talk.
When building a gaming computer, the amount of power you need will rarely exceed 650 watts if you’re creating a basic build.
You can also future-proof this component by getting an 800 to 1,000 Watt PSU.
However, you need to make sure that the PSU is compatible with components like your graphics cards.
Next to cases, PSUs can be the cheapest component of your build, but don’t be tempted to go cheap in this area.
You want to get the highest quality PSU you can find, that’s at least 500 to 650 Watts.
Your case is another future-proof component that you should put some extra thought into.
Many cases on the market today offer cool features like extra USB 3.1 ports and flashy RGB lighting effects.
But for air-cooled systems, the most important feature a case needs to have is a good airflow system of fans.
Balancing your case’s airflow will allow your system to run cooler and last much longer.
Some cases will also allow you to add bigger or extra fans to help improve airflow.
While a cool looking case is important, it’s more important that it actually keeps your expensive components cool.
Having a good monitor goes hand in hand with a good graphics card.
The best graphics card on the market will still look like garbage on a dated monitor.
Today you can find great deals on 27-inch 1080p, 1440p, and 4K monitors that won’t break your budget.
If you’re getting a 4K monitor look for a DisplayPort and make sure you have a graphics card with a DisplayPort to bring out the best graphics.
With a monitor, you can also go bigger than 27-inches. However, when it comes to size, it’s all about your personal preference.
Just keep in mind that pixel density becomes a factor when you go with larger screens.
The picture may not look as sharp on a 32-inch monitor as it would on a 27-inch monitor.
You can also go for the ultra-wide display.
A 34-inch monitor with 2560×1080 resolution looks about the same as a regular-sized 27-inch 1080p monitor.
Here’s a good guide to help you decide what size works best for your build.
Keyboard and mouse
Last but not least are your main input devices.
For a budget build, you can probably afford to go cheap on a keyboard. However, you may want to spend a little bit more on your mouse.
For many players who enjoy FPS (First Person Shooter) games, having an excellent tracking gaming mouse can be essential.
Of course, you can always wait and save up for your gaming mouse or find the one you like in a pre-owned model on sites like eBay.
Mice usually hold up very well, and you can find some great deals on used gaming mice.
If you invest in a gaming mouse, also consider picking up a good gaming mouse pad that can enhance your mouse’s tracking.
For MMO and MMORPG fans they also make gaming mice and keyboards specially designed for those games.
How to Build a Gaming Computer
To assist you in building your first gaming computer, we found this helpful step-by-step video that will walk you through the process.
Remember to take your time so that you don’t miss a vital step.
Experience the Joys of Building a Gaming Computer
You’re now on your way to building a gaming computer.
Keep this in mind on your journey:
Don’t be discouraged if your system doesn’t boot up or gives you a blue screen the first time you build.
Simply troubleshoot and work the problem by searching for articles, videos, and forums for guidance.
Learning is a part of the process, and it makes completing your first build all the more satisfying when you finally get it right.
Thank you for sharing your time with us, we hope this information helps you in building your first gaming computer.
Good luck and stay wired.