How to build a gaming pC

A comprehensive guide to building your very own gaming rig

GameWire - September 2019

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So, you’re thinking about building your own gaming PC?

Perhaps you’re a console gamer who wants try out the world of PC gaming and the greater freedom it offers. Or maybe you want to upgrade from an old prebuilt PC to one you put together yourself.

Either way, it can seem like quite a daunting task at first, especially if you’re not very familiar with all the technical lingo.

But with the right resources and a little bit of planning it can be a lot easier than it might look.


First Steps

The first step in building your own PC is to set a budget. You don’t want to be planning to make a monster gaming rig only to realize you can’t actually afford all the parts for it. Gaming PCs have a reputation for being expensive and certainly can be, but it all depends on the parts you get, as well as where you buy them from and even when you buy them.

For example, mid to high-end graphics cards were priced much higher than usual not that long ago, with the cryptocurrency mining boom of late 2017 though summer 2018 being to blame. The booming value of Bitcoin and other altcoins drove demand (and consequently price) for GPUs sky high. However, the cryptocurrency market has since lost almost half its value and the demand for high-end graphics cards has cooled considerably, as Nvidia confirmed in their earnings call to investors in October 2018. So if getting a great deal on your components is important to you, it might be a good idea to do a little research first.

You don’t need to spend several thousand dollars on parts to run most of today’s games at a good level of quality and performance - it’s possible to put together a PC for around $500 that will meet the recommended specifications for a lot of games. But if you want to run everything at the absolute highest quality settings on a 4K monitor or at the highest possible frame rate, then be prepared for your bank account to take a significant hit.

Prebuilt gaming PCs are also an option, but they’re usually quite a bit more expensive than the total cost of their individual components when bought separately. However, price shouldn’t be the only consideration when buying a gaming PC.

With a prebuilt PC you are stuck with whatever components the company decides to put together and sometimes they can be poorly matched, like a high-end graphics card with a weak CPU that bottlenecks the whole system. With most prebuilts you can still change out the components yourself, but upgrading your system with different parts right after buying it somewhat defeats the purpose of getting a prebuilt PC.

The software that comes with prebuilt PCs can also be an issue. Often referred to as bloatware, the software that companies have already installed in prebuilt PCs can slow down the system or otherwise make it difficult to use, especially for those who want to heavily customize their PCs. For maximum customization and personalization of both hardware and software, building your own PC will always be the best option. PC does stand for Personal Computer, after all.


PC Case

One of the first items you should look for when planning out your gaming PC is the case. While the case can seem like a fairly unimportant part compared to all the components that actually store and process data, it can be just as important considering it’s what holds all those components. So while it may be tempting to just get a cheap case, you could end up with one that you can’t install everything into properly or one that simply falls apart. If that happens then you’ll have to buy another, more expensive case anyway.

With a high-quality case that’s properly sized, assembling all of your components should be straightforward and it should also make it easier to add or upgrade individual components in the future. If it’s well built, the case could even outlast all of the internal components, so it would be a good idea to make sure it’s one you like the design of.

Common PC Cases for Gaming

Speaking of design, making sure that your case is the right shape and size is also important. PC cases come in several different form factors, with tower cases being the most common. Towers typically come in three main sizes – full, mid, and mini.

There isn’t any true standardization on the different shapes and sizes of PC cases, but in general full tower cases are the largest. The room they provide makes it easier to install components and also allows for using some cumbersome high-performance graphics cards and advanced liquid cooling systems, making them one of the more popular case types for high-end gaming builds. There are also even larger cases known as super tower or sometimes ultra tower cases, but they’re made more for enthusiasts and professionals and are unlikely to be what a first time PC builder would want to get.

There isn’t any true standardization on the different shapes and sizes of PC cases, but in general full tower cases are the largest. The room they provide makes it easier to install components and also allows for using some cumbersome high-performance graphics cards and advanced liquid cooling systems, making them one of the more popular case types for high-end gaming builds. There are also even larger cases known as super tower or sometimes ultra tower cases, but they’re made more for enthusiasts and professionals and are unlikely to be what a first time PC builder would want to get.

Mid tower cases are the next size down and are the overall most commonly used type of PC case. They offer a good amount of internal space without being as bulky as full tower cases, and still allow you to fit a good number and variety of components inside without taking up as much room outwardly or being as heavy. This makes mid tower cases practical for both enthusiast level and entry-level builds, which is likely why they remain the most popular kind of PC case. Then there are mini tower cases, designed for those who want a relatively compact PC and are willing to deal with the internal space constraints when installing components. Mini tower PC builds are easier to transport thanks to being smaller and lighter, so they’re a solid option for those who want some portability while still having a true desktop PC. You can also save a bit of money with a mini tower build as smaller components tend to cost less. However, you’ll have fewer options when choosing components and need to be careful to avoid overheating caused by a lack of airflow due to the cramped internal space. 

Other Case Types

For even further space-saving and portability there are a variety of PC cases known collectively as Small Form Factor cases. They are most commonly seen as part of prebuilt PCs, but can also be purchased separately for building your own machine. But while good for everyday computer usage, they’re not really the best option for a gaming PC.

There is also a case that isn’t really a case at all, test bench cases. These are designed for those who are frequently swapping out and testing parts and don’t want to deal with the hassle of opening up a case every time. They are an excellent solution for testers, but not a practical option for long term use due to the risk that comes from open-air exposure.

Last but not least, what you could call one of the more original or classic cases is simply known as the desktop case. Designed to be placed horizontally on a desk, usually with the monitor placed on top. They are most commonly seen at workplaces and schools, but can a good option for home use as well.


Motherboard

Another vital component in assembling a gaming PC is the motherboard. The motherboard is what all the other components are installed onto, while connecting them together so they function as a complete system. For a gaming PC, it’s important to get a motherboard with the right type and number of connectors for your chosen components. For example, if you want to use the latest CPUs you’ll need one with the proper CPU socket. Or if you want to build a system that uses multiple graphics cards, you’ll need a motherboard that has PCIe slots with enough lanes.

Slots and Ports

As you’re likely new to PC building, you might be wondering what exactly CPU sockets and PCIe slots are. The CPU socket is pretty self-explanatory, being how the CPU connects to the motherboard and thus the whole system. The two main CPU makers, AMD and Intel, have completely different socket types, and even these often change when new generations of CPUs are launched. For the most part, different sockets are not intercompatible, so it is necessary to pay close attention when pairing a motherboard and CPU.

The PCIe (Peripheral Component Interconnect Express) slots, also called expansion slots, are how graphics cards and certain other components, like capture cards and sound cards, connect to the motherboard. While how many slots a motherboard has is the most obvious factor in determining how many components you can install, the number of PCIe lanes can be just as important.

A PCIe lane is a set of wires that carries data to and from the slot and wherever it needs to go on the motherboard. There are several sizes of PCIe slots, the smallest being x1 connection which has only one lane. There are also x2, x4 and so on. Graphics cards use x16 PCIe slots, and while all x16 slots are the same size physically, on some motherboards the slots below the 1st one have fewer lanes. Because of this, certain multiple card setups won’t work on these motherboards as there aren’t enough lanes to handle all the data - looking for details on PCIe lanes is vital for such setups. AMD Crossfire and NVIDIA SLI support will also usually be specified in the motherboard info.

Then there are the motherboard’s RAM slots which hold the memory modules. They usually range in number from two to four slots but can include more on certain boards. These slots also come in different configurations, specifically different arrangements and numbers of pins. The type of RAM determines the configuration of the pins, with the most common types for today’s PCs being either DDR4 or DDR3. If you’re wondering what DDR4 is or what Crossfire does, don’t worry, that will be covered in the RAM and graphics card sections.

The I/O (Input/Output) ports on the side of the motherboard that come out the back of the PC case are something else to be aware of. They include USB ports for peripherals like mouse and keyboard, audio in/out ports for microphone and speakers, and the Ethernet port for wired internet access. Most motherboards also have video outputs from the integrated graphics for connecting monitors. If using a graphics card, you’ll want to make sure to use the video output of the card and not the motherboard.

Form Factors

Another important thing to look at when getting a motherboard is the different sizes, or form factors, of motherboards. Most of today’s motherboards are a variant of the ATX and ITX standards (Advanced Technology eXtended and ITX Information Technology eXtended). Of these, ATX, micro-ATX, and mini-ITX are the most common. It’s important to note that case and motherboard form factor are strongly correlated, with ATX motherboards usually being in full and mid towers, while micro-ATX and mini-ITX motherboards are usually in mini tower and small form factor cases. In fact, cases are sometimes referred to as being ATX or micro-ATX cases rather than full, mid or mini towers.

While the oldest amongst current designs, ATX motherboards are still very popular for more intense uses, such as gaming. One of the main reasons for this is that ATX motherboards have the most room for RAM and PCIe expansion slots of the three, making it possible to install as much RAM as you need and multiple graphics cards for high-end gaming or other resource-intensive applications. The size of ATX motherboards has other advantages as well, such as room for large aftermarket heat sinks and better cooling thanks to the space between expansion slots.

Micro-ATX motherboards are popular at all ends of the spectrum, being good for anything from everyday computing to enthusiast-level gaming. The main difference with micro-ATX motherboards is, unsurprisingly, that they are much smaller than standard ATX motherboards. Because of this, they also have less expansion and RAM slots than ATX boards, but they can still come in configurations that hold up to four RAM sticks and two graphics cards. As they are smaller and contain less circuitry, they tend to be cheaper than ATX boards and other motherboards in general, making them a good choice for those wanting to get the most bang for their buck.

Even smaller are mini-ITX motherboards, usually having only one PCIe expansion slot and two RAM slots. While it’s technically possible to build a gaming PC with such a board, the small size and few slots very much limit your options. Because of this mini-ITX boards are rarely used for gaming or even other desktop PC setups, and are instead typically used for more niche setups, like an HTPC (Home Theater PC).

There are even smaller variants among the ITX boards, such as nano-ITX and pico-ITX, which don’t have the standard PC ports or slots and therefore are not used for regular PCs. There are also even more variants of both ITX and ATX boards, as well other less-used form factors like BTX, but for building a gaming PC chances are you’re going to be getting either an ATX or micro-ATX motherboard. 


Memory (RAM)

Random Access Memory (RAM), also often simply referred to as memory, plays a large role in how fast and responsive your PC is. In general, the more RAM installed in your PC the faster it will be able to run. RAM provides high-speed storage in which program data can be processed, so the more of it there is the more programs can be open at the same time without slowing things down. When there isn’t enough memory, your PC has to use virtual memory stored on the hard drive which is much slower than RAM.

RAM Capacity

Most of today’s PCs have at least 4GB of RAM in order to keep up with the demand of everyday tasks like checking email and watching videos. For gaming, you are going to want at least 8GB of RAM, especially for newer games. With less than that many games won’t be able to run properly, or even at all in some cases.

For intense gaming and multitasking, you will want even more, with 16GB being the most common amount in high-end gaming builds. If you want to future proof your PC, or plan to use it for intense applications other than gaming, you could even get 32GB or more. You can get as much as 128GB of RAM, but that kind of capacity is prohibitively costly and will only be useful for a few very specific things, like running multiple virtual machines simultaneously.

RAM Speed

The storage capacity of the RAM is not the only factor. The actual frequency or speed at which it operates can affect performance as well. This speed is measured in MHz (megahertz) and can vary pretty drastically, with DDR3 RAM ranging from 800 MHz to 2133 MHz. While DDR4 actually starts at 2133 MHz and can go as high as 4600 MHz, though this is achieved through overclocking. Faster data movement between the RAM modules and the rest of the system allows programs, games, and the system in general to run more quickly.

Exactly how much of a difference it makes will vary quite a bit with different system setups and games. Higher speed memory is also much more expensive and is subject to diminishing returns as speed increases. Chances are you’ll get a bigger boost in performance by spending more on a better CPU than on faster RAM.

So in general, focusing on higher capacity rather than speed is the best choice for gamers.

Types of RAM

As promised earlier, here’s a quick explanation of the various types, specifically generations, of RAM. DDR3 and DDR4 are the two types of RAM you’re most likely to encounter with today’s PCs. DDR4 is the most recent option and is used by most of today’s gaming PCs. DDR3 is the previous generation and you’ll find it in many older gaming PCs, as well as some newer budget ones. There is also DDR2 and the original DDR RAM, but those aren’t really seen unless you’re working with very old PCs. DDR stands for Double Data Rate and the simplified reason for that name is because it was able to move data at about twice the rate of the even older type of RAM it replaced.

Also worth mentioning is DIMM (dual in-line memory module) and SO-DIMM (small outline dual in-line memory module) RAM and how they are different. Virtually all desktop PCs use DIMM, while SO-DIMM is used primarily in laptops and other portable computers. SO-DIMM is smaller and has fewer pins than DIMM RAM, meaning it cannot be used in a standard PC motherboard. DDR4 and DDR3 RAM come in both DIMM and SO-DIMM formats, so it’s important to make sure you get the correct type when ordering.


Storage (Hard Disk Drive/Solid State Drive)

How data is stored and retrieved on your PC has a big impact on performance, so choosing the right hard drive is important. If you have a top of the line CPU, graphics card, and RAM, but your hard drive can’t read the data fast enough to feed to the other components then your PC’s performance is going to suffer. Everything is slow when your hard drive is slow, especially game loading screens.

Solid State Drives vs Hard Disk Drives

For the best performance, you’re going to want a Solid State Drive (SSD). They are called as such because they have no moving parts. Instead of having a spinning magnetic platter that data is read off of like a Hard Disk Drive (HDD), SSDs are composed of interconnected flash memory chips. As there isn’t a disk that needs to get up to the proper speed before it can be read, SSDs don’t have any startup delay like HDDs do. They can also nearly instantly go to where the data is anywhere on the drive, rather than having to seek it out on a disk. This also means that fragmentation isn’t an issue with SSDs, as the physical distance between groups of data doesn’t cause any noticeable difference in speed of retrieval.

This by no means makes HDDs obsolete, however. There are still a number of things that make them useful, with one of the biggest being price. Although SSDs are much less expensive than when they first arrived on the market, HDDs are still considerably less expensive and also have larger storage options available. This makes them an economical choice for holding lots of data. HDDs don’t necessarily need to be unbearably slow either, with different RPM (Rotations Per Minute) speeds available, usually ranging from 5400 to 7200 RPM. They can even go as high as 15,000 RPM, but fast HDDs do have drawbacks, like high energy use.

When it comes to gaming, you’re going to want to both high speed and lots of storage as games tend to take up quite a lot of space. For cost-effectiveness, we recommend having an SSD boot drive and an HDD storage drive. The boot drive is where your Operating System (OS) is installed and startups from. The storage HDD will be for storing files and programs that don’t need to be as fast, while important programs and games should go on your SSD. Unfortunately, if you have a large library of games you aren’t going to be able to fit them all on a lower-priced SSD, and will have to choose your favorites to install and put the rest on the HDD. For simpler and older games this isn’t much of an issue, however, so prioritizing newer games for the SSD is a good idea.

If you don’t want to have to pick and choose and would rather every program and game run as fast as possible, you can get high capacity SSDs. You’ll need to have a pretty big budget for it though, as larger SSDs are quite expensive. For example, a 1TB (Terabyte) SSD can easily cost three times more than a similarly sized HDD. So, while high capacity SSDs will make a big difference for an enthusiast gaming build, it’s probably a little too pricey for beginners.

Connector Types

The type of connector that a hard drive uses is another important factor when building your gaming PC. Most drives, both SSDs and HDDs, are internal drives that connect to the motherboard through a SATA connection. SATA replaced the even older PATA or IDE connector for a number of reasons. It can transfer data much faster, has lower-cost cables, and is also hot-swap capable. Hot swapping is being able to plug and unplug drives while the system is still on. With PATA you always had to shut everything down before changing drives. While SATA drives are usually internal, they can also be external drives through eSATA connections, although extra hardware is usually needed.

Most external drives are connected by USB, which is perhaps the most common connector type for computer peripherals and multimedia devices in general. They can also be connected through something called FireWire, or even wirelessly. External hard drives can be either SSDs or HDDs and mostly function the same as internal hard drives but with the advantage of being portable. Some external hard drives also have added features like built-in encryption.

Flash drives are a commonly used type of portable external USB drive usually used for transporting small to moderate amounts of data but can come in capacities as large as 1TB. Flash drives are technically external solid state drives, but the term external SSD usually refers to the larger (both physically and in capacity) drives that use the same high-performance technology as internal drives.

External hard drives are often used for transferring large amounts of data, whether going back and forth between PCs in the same building, or long distances when taking your important data with you on a trip. They are also frequently used to back up important files or even whole copies of your internal drives. External drives are also an easy way to add more storage without having to open up your PC to install internal drives.


Processor (CPU)

The CPU (Central Processing Unit), also often simply referred to as the processor, is another vital component of a gaming PC. While the graphics card does most of the heavy lifting, many games also need a powerful CPU for optimal performance. As with all computer components, there is a wide variety of processors available at a variety of price and performance points.

CPU Performance

There are a variety of factors that determine how well a CPU performs, with clock speed and the number of cores a processor has being the most important. Clock speed, usually measured in GHz (gigahertz), is how fast the CPU is able to execute instructions, which in general determines how fast programs on the PC will be able to run.

Processors with multiple cores are basically multiple CPUs on one chip, which allows for significantly improved performance in most applications. The same can be true with hyper-threading, which is basically the addition of virtual cores. The more cores, the higher the performance gains. However, with games, this is only true up to a point. Most aren’t able to take advantage of more than four cores or threads. Higher multi-core CPUs can generally outperform higher-clocked CPUs with fewer cores, although for gaming, a fast CPU with 2 cores and hyperthreading can potentially be better than even an 8 core processor with a slightly slower clock speed. But in most cases, you’re going to get the best performance out of a CPU with 4 real cores. 

AMD or Intel

When deciding on a CPU you’re also going to have decide which company you get it from, with the two main players being AMD and Intel. Which way you go depends on what’s most important to you. If your main concern is overall cost, then AMD will likely be your best bet - their processors tend to be priced lower than Intel processors with similar specifications. But if pure gaming performance means more to you, then an Intel CPU is the one to go for.

The reason for this once again brings us back to cores and threads. When it comes to multi-threaded performance, AMD tends to perform the best. They also have a lower price per core than Intel. However, because games don’t generally use more than 4 cores or threads, Intel has a performance advantage, as their CPUs tend to excel in single-core and lower multi-core applications.

Also worth mentioning is overclocking - setting CPU clock speeds higher than their default maximums to squeeze out more performance. Many CPUs have what are known as locked multipliers that prevent them from being overclocked, but both AMD and Intel have CPUs capable of overclocking. For Intel, you’ll want one with either a “K” or “X” in its name, while AMD’s newer CPU chips, like Ryzen, support this feature. Overclocking potential will vary quite a bit between different processors, but in general, you’ll have better luck with the higher end ones. However, AMD does have some lower-priced overclockable CPUs, while Intel does not.

As mentioned in the motherboard section, there are a variety of sockets that processors use to connect to the motherboard. AMD and Intel have their own socket types and they also vary with different generations of processors. The AM4 socket is AMD’s latest one, but older AM3+ and FM2+ socket CPUs are still commonly seen. The LGA 1151 socket is the most recent mainstream one from Intel, while the even more recent LGA 2066 socket is for their enthusiast level Skylake-X and Kaby Lake-X CPUs. LGA 1150, 1155, 2011 and 2011-V3 sockets are also commonly seen. With all these different types it’s important to double-check that your motherboard and CPU are compatible. 


Graphics/Video Card

While all PC components are important, the most critical for gaming is the graphics card. Also sometimes known as a video card or GPU (Graphics Processing Unit), the graphics card is what processes visual data into images to display on screen. There are also integrated or onboard graphics in many motherboards and CPUs, but they are usually only powerful enough for older and low-end games. For playing today’s games at a good level of performance you need at least a mid-range graphics card. 

Red and Green

As with CPUs, there are two main companies behind graphics cards, AMD and NVIDIA. AMD’s relationship with NVIDIA is very similar to the one it has with Intel, having a reputation for being less expensive, but also slightly lower performance. Benchmarks seem to show that the two companies’ cards are actually pretty evenly matched in price and performance overall, at least when looking at MSRP (manufacturer’s suggested retail price).

Going more specifically into performance, choosing AMD or NVIDIA will depend on what games you’re playing and at what resolution. Some games will have higher frame rates at 1080p on AMD cards than NVIDIA cards, while the same games can have better frame rates at 4K on NVIDIA cards than on AMD cards. So if getting the absolute best performance is important to you, it would be helpful to look at the benchmarks of any games you’re going to play on different cards. If on the other hand you just want the best deal, you should have a good gaming experience with either company’s card.

The software that goes with the graphics cards is another comparison point between NVIDIA and AMD. NVIDIA’s GeForce Experience notifies when there are updates for drivers, the software that allows your hardware to work with the OS properly, as well a number of other features. These include optimizing game settings for the best performance, capturing screenshots and videos of gameplay, and even the ability to live-stream as you play. AMD now has their Radeon Software Adrenalin Edition which has many similar features to NVIDIA’s as well as some unique ones, like Enhanced Sync which helps to reduce both frame stutter and screen tearing.

Card Manufacturers

While AMD and NVIDIA are pretty much the only players when it comes to PC graphics card designers, there are a whole host of companies that actually manufacture the cards for them in a variety of formats. NVIDIA and AMD do have what are known as stock or reference cards that they produce, but their main purpose is, as the name implies, to be a reference from which third-party manufacturers can base their cards. The base chip itself remains the same in all cards, but pretty much everything else can be modified.

The most common and visually obvious difference is with cooling. Large heatsinks and multiple fans are often added to better cool cards while operating. Higher clock speeds and increased power draw are also possible modifications, making cards perform quite a bit better than the reference design. Adding more video memory to the card is another possibility and also can increase performance. These modifications and upgrades can increase the price significantly, but how much will vary with each company.

Quality and reliability are also important, so going with a company with a solid reputation can help ensure you get a great card. ASUS, EVGA, GIGABYTE, and MSI are among the most well-known and reputable manufacturers, so you should be fine if choosing any of their cards. It’s also helpful to read reviews and not just rely on brand names, however. Sometimes well-known companies can have problematic cards, or lesser-known companies can make great ones, so it’s always a good idea to do your research before deciding.


Power Supply

Gaming PCs consume quite a bit more power than your average computer, so getting the right power supply is important. The PC’s power supply, also often abbreviated as PSU, takes AC current from the outlet and converts it to DC current at the proper wattage for the components to use. The more high end the components in your PC, the more wattage is needed to properly power them. 

Wattage

Without enough power your system likely won’t be able to run at all, so finding out how many watts each component needs and adding it all up is the first step in choosing a power supply. Figuring out exactly how much power your system requires can be a bit tricky and perhaps monotonous on your own, but there are helpful tools for figuring it out, like this online power supply calculator. Simply enter the necessary information about all of your components and you’ll get an estimate of maximum wattage used, a minimum recommendation on what wattage power supply to get, yearly energy costs, and even a specific recommendation on which power supply to buy. If you try out the calculator, you’ll notice that the minimum recommended wattage is higher than the load wattage estimate and that the wattage of the PSU they recommend is even higher. There are two good reasons for this. The first is that having a power supply that is barely able to meet the maximum power needs of all the components can lead to system instability and shutdowns. The second is that power supplies run much more efficiently when running below their maximum wattage. 

Efficiency

To be exact, power supplies are most efficient when running at 50% of their maximum load. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to get a heavy-duty power supply just so you can run it at maximum efficiency. A good quality power supply will run well at all load levels. To know exactly how efficient a power supply is going to run, you need to look to see if it has an 80 Plus certification. This certification is achieved by testing a power supply at three different load levels - 20% (light load), 50% (typical load), and 100% (full load). If the power supply runs with at least 80% efficiency during all of those tests it receives the certification.

There are other levels to this certification as well. The base one is just 80 Plus, the next level up is 80 Plus Bronze which is met when a power supply runs with at least 82% efficiency. This is followed by 80 Plus Silver with 85%, 80 Plus Gold with 87%, and 80 Plus Platinum with 89%. Finally, there is 80 Plus Platinum which is tested at an additional 10% or ultra-light load and must have an efficiency of at least 90%. So if efficiency is important to you, be sure to pay attention to this certification when choosing a power supply.


Optical Drive

At one time a critical component, optical disc (CD/DVD/Blu-ray) drives have become less of a priority when assembling a PC nowadays. This is especially true for gamers as nearly all PC games are digital now. Although they’re no longer essential, there are still situations where it’s advantageous to have an optical drive, such as using old software, playing old games, or watching DVD and Blu-ray movies. Burnable discs can also be good for long term, and easily storable, backups of important files.

What kind of optical drive you get will depend on what type of discs you’re going to be using and whether you’ll be recording to them or not. As DVDs are an older technology, there’s actually not a whole lot of variety in the currently available internal drives. But this isn’t much of an issue as most of them are “Super Multi” drives, or something similar, meaning they can both read from and write to most DVD and CD types. They also tend to be quite affordable as well, so you needn’t worry about them adding too much to your budget.

There’s slightly more variety on offer for Blu-ray drives, both in price and features. Many of them are capable of both reading and writing to Blu-ray discs, but the less expensive ones will tend to be read-only. Most Blu-ray drives are also capable of reading from and writing to DVDs and CDs as well. For example, with a BD-RE DL recorder, you’ll be able to read from and write to nearly every kind of optical disk media currently available.

Most internal optical drives connect through SATA, but older ones may use IDE or PATA connections. There are also external optical drives that typically connect via USB. These are useful for laptops and other portable computers, as well as being an easy way to use one optical drive with multiple PCs. As with all components, it’s important to double-check that the drive has the features you want and is compatible with your system before purchasing it.


Monitor

While it may not technically be a part it, a monitor is still essential if you actually want to use your PC. The monitor displays the video signal output from your PC’s graphics card, which allows you to see what’s going on and interact with your PC. For everyday PC use, like browsing the internet or checking your email, the type of monitor you have isn’t really that important - many recent TVs can even be used in place of a monitor. But when it comes to gaming there are certain features that only monitors have that you’ll want for the best experience.

Connection Types and Resolutions

One of the most critical things, however, is to first take note of the types of video outputs on your graphics card, and make sure at least one of them matches with an input on your chosen monitor. Most monitors and graphics cards use HDMI, DisplayPort and/or DVI. Older graphics cards and monitors may have analogue VGA ports, but for gaming, it’s best to stick with digital video signal formats.

Digital video signals are much less susceptible to interference and will also generally be of much higher quality than analogue ones, especially for high resolution screens. While VGA is able to output an FHD (1920x1080) signal, it will be degraded because the signal has to be converted back and forth between analogue and digital. And for even higher resolutions, like 4K (3840x2160), a digital signal is necessary.

With today’s monitors, the most popular resolution is 1080p also known as 1920x1080 or FHD (Full HD). These displays provide a very high-quality image without being too expensive or putting too much strain on the graphics card. There is also QHD (Quad HD) also known as 1440p or 2560x1440 resolution, which is commonly seen on gaming monitors. The highest you’ll usually see for monitors is 4K or 3840x2160. You need a fairly recent graphics card to even output this signal, and you need a pretty powerful one to able to game in 4K.

Refresh Rate

Another consideration with monitors and connection types is refresh rate. The refresh rate is how often the image on the screen is redrawn or refreshed and is measured in Hz (Hertz). The faster this rate, the smoother the image on the screen appears, especially when there’s motion. The most common refresh rate is 60Hz and this is all most users really need. But if you want smoother motion, and what many people feel is simply a better-looking image, you’ll want a monitor with a higher refresh rate.

The next step up is 75Hz, but the difference between it and 60Hz won’t be very dramatic. Next is 120Hz, but the most common speed you’ll see for high refresh rate monitors is 144Hz. In order to deliver high refresh rate video signals, you need the right connector type and cables.

HDMI, DisplayPort, and DVI are all capable of delivering up to a 144Hz video signal, but at different resolution limits. The best is DisplayPort 1.4 which can deliver as high as 4K video at 144Hz. However, there aren’t many 4K 144Hz monitors on which you can display this, and they are extremely expensive. Furthermore, even top of the line graphics cards might struggle to play games at such an intense setting. Most high refresh rate monitors are 1080p but can be seen as high as 1440p.

Screen Technologies

In addition to using digital video signal formats like HDMI, most of today’s monitors use some variant of LCD technology. LCD stands for liquid crystal display and allows screens to be very thin and light, especially when compared to old CRT (cathode ray tube) displays. It’s also a much more energy-efficient technology as it works by blocking and filtering light rather than producing it. There are several types of LCD panels, the most common being TN (twisted nematic) panels.

Monitors that use TN panels have pretty good picture quality and responsiveness, but as an older and less expensive technology, it does have its downsides. One of the main ones being viewing angles. If you stray too far in any direction away from looking straight at the monitor there will be very noticeable changes in the colors on the screen. This isn’t really an issue if you’re always at a desk directly in front of the monitor, but it can be a problem for others looking at the screen or in situations where you aren’t at a desk.

Next are VA (vertical alignment) panels and one of their main strengths is deeper blacks and better contrast than TN panels. They also have better viewing angles than TN panels and tend to be reasonably affordable too. However, they do have issues with pixel responsiveness that leads to blurring or smearing during fast motion. There are newer versions of these panels that have significantly mitigated this issue, but not completely eliminated it. Then there are IPS-type panels. This includes IPS (in-plane switching), PLS (plane to line switching) and AHVA (advanced hyper-viewing angle) panels, but they are very similar technologies and so can be grouped together as simply IPS-type. What these panels are best known for is great viewing angles. At pretty much any angle you look at them from, the color and picture quality remains virtually the same. IPS-type panels are also known to have great color quality and accuracy in general. While generally more expensive than TN and VA panels, IPS-type panels can still be very affordable and many find them to be worth the slightly higher price. 


Accessories (Keyboard, Mouse, etc.)

Once you’ve got all your components and a monitor. There are still two more things you need in order to properly use your gaming PC - a mouse and a keyboard. For the best gaming experience, there are certain things to look for when choosing them, like responsiveness, durability, and extra features. Luckily there are many mice and keyboards made just for gaming that have everything you need and often a bit extra as well.

Gaming Mice

Starting with mice, one of the main things you want is a high-quality optical sensor. Optical sensors basically work by having a light of some kind, typically a red LED or a laser, and a camera at the bottom of the mouse that tracks movement by detecting changes in the surface it’s on. While most mice use an optical sensor of some kind and not the old mechanical rubber ball rollers, a cheap optical mouse may not be accurate enough for a good gaming experience. Gaming mice will usually have high-quality sensors that are more accurate and more sensitive than generic ones.

Specifically, a good gaming mouse will often have high DPI (Dots Per Inch) sensitivity. Pretty much all gaming mice have adjustable DPI as well, so that you can change the sensitivity for different situations. The higher the DPI setting, the faster the mouse cursor moves across the screen.

Another thing to look for with gaming mice is what’s known as polling rate. The polling rate is measured in Hz and is basically how often the mouse tells the computer where it is. In general, the higher the polling rate the faster changes in movement will be detected, and thus the lower the latency between moving the mouse and moving in a game. This only useful up to a point, however. At speeds faster than 500 Hz the difference is negligible and it can just be extra work for your CPU.

Gaming mice can also have less important, but still useful features like programmable buttons. This can include extra buttons just for key shortcuts and macros, or being able to change any button on the mouse to act like any key or button you want it to. Many gaming mice will also have unique designs and visual features, like programmable color changing RGB lighting. While not strictly necessary, having your gaming accessories look good is always a plus.

Gaming Keyboards

The qualities to look for in a gaming keyboard can be pretty similar to those for a gaming mouse. You want a keyboard that will last a long time and has responsive, nice feeling keys. To achieve this, most gaming keyboards are what is known as mechanical keyboards. This means that each key is activated by a mechanical switch, rather than through a rubber dome membrane. This provides a variety of advantages, including being much more durable than traditional membrane keyboards.

The main difference with mechanical keyboards is, of course, the feel of the keys. In general, mechanical keys are a bit stiffer and more tactile, often making an audible click when pressed. But there are a wide variety of switches available that can offer different levels of both resistance and sound. If like most people, you’ve never used a mechanical keyboard it may seem like it wouldn’t really matter, but you won’t know for sure unless you try one out yourself.

Besides, there are more advantages than just durability and feel. Another feature that makes mechanical keyboards great for gaming is that they usually have high key rollover, meaning that you can press several keys at once without any input being missed by the PC. This is critical for games where you need to press a lot of keys at once or in quick succession. Some even have what’s known as “n key rollover”, which theoretically means you could press every key on the keyboard and have it detected.

There are a few downsides with mechanical keyboards, however. They tend to be more expensive than membrane keyboards, so they may not be the best choice for those on a slim budget. Speaking of slim, one advantage membrane keyboards have is usually having much thinner and lighter form factors than mechanical keyboards. Mechanical keyboards are also less water-resistant than membrane keyboards, and can be permanently damaged if you accidentally spill something on them.

Going back to gaming keyboards in general, many of them have various extra features, such as programmable macro keys and RGB lighting. In fact, both of those features are now quite common with gaming keyboards, some are even able to sync up the lighting effects with that of the mouse and other gaming peripherals, turning your gaming PC into an interactive light show.

Controller

While a mouse and keyboard are the main way you’ll interact with your PC, you might want to have a controller too. Most PC games use mouse and keyboard, but there are a few games that can only be played with a controller or play better that way. So having a controller can potentially improve your experience in some games and open up the ability to play others.

One example of this would be any game in the famously difficult Dark Souls series. While it is possible to control with mouse and keyboard, the wonkiness of the controls will likely make an already challenging game much more frustrating than it needs to be. Other examples include Cuphead, Batman: Arkham Knight, and Rocket League. It’s also worth adding that pretty much any game where you’re using a car will usually benefit from being played with a controller (or even better a racing wheel).

If you think that getting a controller is worthwhile, you’ll need to decide which one is best for you as there is quite a variety of controllers available for PC. One the best known and most recommended controllers is the PlayStation DualShock 4. If you’ve played any generation of PlayStation console then the controls should feel pretty familiar. The control pad is known to be sturdy and durable, and some feel that the buttons and triggers feel better than Xbox controllers.

Xbox controllers are also a great choice, however. For those on a tight budget, wired Xbox 360 controllers will be your best bet. In addition to being affordable, their plug and play installation means they work right away with most games. While more expensive, the Xbox One controller is also a great choice, being very comfortable and easy to use. It only comes in a wireless configuration, but can be used with a micro USB cable if you want it to be wired instead.

A rather less common choice is the Steam Controller, which has the ability to be mapped to work with keyboard and mouse only games. It’s a very configurable controller and offers lots of customization options, but can be difficult to get the hang of using. There are also several other controllers made with PC in mind, like the Logitech F310 Gamepad. With all these different controllers to choose from, it should be pretty easy to find one that will fit your needs.


Assembly

Now that we’ve covered all the hardware you need to build a gaming PC, it’s time to talk about assembly. We will do a basic overview of putting your PC together, but each component will come with their own instructions. When actually assembling your PC, it would be best to follow those instructions and to look up specific information online if you get stuck or are unsure about anything. It’s certainly a good idea to have someone knowledgeable with computers help you out too.

Before handling sensitive internal components, something to be aware of is managing static electricity. Accidentally zapping the internal components while installing them can cause serious damage, so it’s important to take steps to prevent this from happening. The simplest way is to ground yourself and discharge any potential static before handling the components. This can be done by touching any metal part of the case while the power supply is installed and plugged in, but switched off. If you really want to be careful, you can also use an antistatic wristband which should constantly dissipate any static buildup.

As briefly mentioned before, the very first thing to install in your PC is the power supply. While you won’t actually be connecting everything to the power until near the end, it’s much more difficult to fit the power supply after the other components have been installed. The next steps, which may also seem a bit strange at first, is to install your CPU and it’s heatsink into your motherboard, before installing it in the case. This can save a lot of time and headache down the road.

You’ll then want to install the RAM into the motherboard as well. Make sure each module is aligned properly with the slot and firmly press it into place. If done correctly it should snap in and be locked in place by the slot clips. Next is the I/O shield or plate. This labels and helps to protect the motherboard ports that come out the back of the PC case. Once that’s installed then it’s time to actually mount and install the motherboard into the case. To do this, you first need to install the metal risers that prevent the motherboard from touching the case (your case may have pre-installed risers). Then properly align the motherboard and carefully screw it into place.

Next is the graphics card. This goes into the x16 PCIe slot. If you have multiple x16 PCIe slots, it’s best to install it into the first one. You’ll have to first remove the slot covering on the case. Once positioned and aligned properly, just firmly push until it clicks into place and then secure it, whether with a screw or the tool-less mechanism your case may use. Then comes the hard drives and optical drives. The method for installation will vary between each type of drive and the case it’s being installed to, but your case should come with instructions on how to install each one.

With that done, it’s time to connect all the cables. Start by connecting the internal ones first, such as the drives to the SATA connectors, and the power cables to all their proper components and places on the motherboard. Also, make sure the CPU cooler and all the fans are connected to the motherboard or the correct power cable.

Once all the internal connections are done, it’s time to close up the case and connect the external cables. The order doesn’t really matter, but most people usually plug in the video cable from the monitor to the PC first. When doing this make sure you plug it into the graphics card’s port and not the motherboard’s, as there have been cases of people thinking there was something wrong with their card when they actually just plugged the cable in the wrong port. Then there’s just the mouse, keyboard and any other peripherals you may have. And of course, make sure the power cable is plugged into the PC, and the outlet and switch are both on. Then just push the power button and, if all goes well, look in awe as your new PC boots up for the first time.

Once everything is up and running with the hardware, it’s then time to deal with software. When building a PC by yourself, you’re going to have to install the OS (operating system) and any software you need too. Most users opt for Windows, which you will need to purchase if you don’t already own a copy. Windows 10 can be bought directly from Microsoft in both digital form or on a USB drive, but it is often cheaper from third-party sellers. If you prefer Windows 7 or just want to save some money, you can still find older operating systems listed by third-party sellers. Once you’ve got your OS installed you can focus on installing important software, like a web browser, an antivirus program, and Steam, and then start gaming!

Hopefully, you have found this guide helpful and are now on the way to building your very own gaming PC. For more information on individual parts as well as specific recommendations, be sure to check out our other articles. As always, good luck in all of your gaming endeavors!


We hope this guide helped you build your gaming PC.


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© 2019 GameWire.org

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