IntroductionIF YOU WANT TO TAKE YOUR GAMING TO THE NEXT LEVEL, YOU NEED A PC THAT CAN KEEP UP WITH EVERY OTHER GAMER LOGGED INTO THE SERVER. If you’re reading this, it’s fair to estimate that the computer has won the console wars - and you’d like to upgrade from what you have now to something better, flashier, quieter and more powerful to stay ahead of the market and any new releases.
It doesn't take as much technical know-how as you might think to build your own gaming PC. Everything you need to know can be learned on this page, and everything else is usually a search away.
Building a gaming PC yourself can be cheaper than buying one. Plus, you get to choose all the specifics rather than choose something that another company put together. This can also allow you to stay a lot more current – and it makes it easier to upgrade and fix when you're the person who put the computer together in the first place.
Putting together your own gaming PC can also be one of the most fulfilling things that you ever do, and if you don't know a lot about PC hardware yet, you'll pick up most of the things that you'll ever need to know by the end of this project.
Here's how to put together a powerful monster of a gaming PC
Why a PC “Off-the-Shelf” Isn't GreatThe first thing a lot of new gamers do wrong is visit their nearest PC store or website and buy a complete “gaming PC” at the price of a few hundred (or sometimes thousand) dollars. It's a common mistake, and it can be a very expensive one.
It's a mistake a lot of beginners will make, and it's not unique to computers. First-time beginner guitarists often buy a guitar kit containing an amp, guitar, bag and accessories all-in-one – and it takes only a few months for them to realize that they need to upgrade to something better to keep up with the next step. Computers work the same way.
This is why you'll see a lot of “used gaming computers” for sale on classifieds and social media markets like Facebook Marketplace. People buy a computer, have it for a few months and realize that it doesn't keep up with their needs as well as they thought.
An off-the-shelf PC isn't great for most gaming needs. If you want to avoid this, build your own.
First, an off-the-shelf “gaming computer” model is likely to be expensive: It can cost you a few thousand dollars at the high-end – and still a heavy hundred when you're going for the lower end of the scale.
Putting together a gaming PC isn't as expensive as you think.Buying a computer that a manufacturer has already put together is also limiting. Instead of having a group of good components in the same PC tower, you'll have a bunch of components that a manufacturer instead thought was great.
The components in a new “gaming” PC are usually ones that could be bought separately for cheaper – and you get to choose components that meet your exact needs.The great thing about building your own PC is that it doesn't require a lot of technical knowledge to pull off: But what you manage to learn here will stick and be just as useful in ten years as it is now.
Step One is Choosing Your NeedsThe first step to building your own gaming PC is deciding what your needs are.
If you're a casual gamer who still wants to keep up with new games getting released, there's no need to put together the Monster of Monsters when it comes to your gaming PC. Something more basic should be enough to meet your needs – and your goal isn't to out-do everyone else, but just to make sure your PC stays current enough.
If you're a professional gamer or reviewer who writes about new releases it changes your needs, and might tip them to the higher end of the pricing scale. You'll need something that's more powerful than your average gaming computer.
If you're a streaming gamer you'll need to put more emphasis on speed and the screen you're using to game with. You're likely going to need some additional accessories like a microphone, streaming-quality camera – and of course, the appropriate software to record and stream games. Twitch.tv is becoming an increasingly popular platform for this.
If you're putting a PC together for someone else you should find out what their needs, requirements and ideas are: Buying as a gift? Be subtle. If you want to buy PC parts for someone else's build as a gift, it's also always best to find out what they're working on – and what they'll still need.
When buying, keep receipts, document everything that you buy – and when making any online purchases, make sure you're buying through a reputable retailer.
Operating Systems: Stay Authentic
Linux has some great operating system options out there, but none of them are ideal for gaming. The most popular operating system for gaming remains Windows – and when we say Windows, we're talking about an authentic version in its most current form.
Don't rely on previous versions of Windows (such as XP) for modern gaming needs. Support for older versions of Windows is being phased out completely, and using an older version of Windows will either mean that (1) games won't be compatible with the operating system or (2) you'll be a sitting duck to any hackers that have learned how to exploit system vulnerabilities.
When you put together your own gaming PC, it's likely that the HDD won't have Windows pre-installed. Make sure that you load only authentic version of the latest Windows.
It's easy to install Windows to a blank HDD if you've never done if before. Insert the boot or install disk into the drive and boot up the PC. You'll be prompted with a Windows start-up screen which leads to the installer, and most of the system will do its job from there.
When installing Windows, you might have to change the Boot Order in the BIOS settings. Start-up your computer and press F8 (sometimes F12) to be taken to the BIOS menu, and make sure that where your start-up disk is, is listed as the top boot priority. Save and exit.
Sometimes you might have to create a bootable flash drive for this to work right. RUFUS-USB can help you to do this if you have an authentic Windows disk or install file and would rather install by booting up from a USB. The steps are the same as above, but create your bootable disk with RUFUS first, and change the BIOS boot priority settings to boot up from USB.
Step Two is Learning Components:
What's in the Box?!
If you were building Frankenstein's next monster by sewing a bunch of human parts together, you'd have to know more or less which parts go in a human – and where they should go. If you don't, you can fire up all the electricity you want, it won't start up properly.
Computers work the same way.
The essential parts of a computer are:
1. The Motherboard (MOT)
2. The Processor (CPU)
3. The Memory (RAM)
4. The Graphic Card (GPU)
5. The Power Supply (PSU)
6. The Storage (HDD/SDD)
7. The PC Tower
If you can find these essential parts, you can put together a gaming PC.
Tight budget? Parts included in your gaming PC build don't have to be brand new ones, just current ones. Sometimes you can buy PC parts from classified websites for much cheaper than new. Everything from screens through to graphic cards are available.
You might also need to buy some extras in the process, too.
Always have extra cables, connectors and dongles. When something goes wrong, it's commonly a connector – and wouldn't you prefer to be the person can go, “Oh, I have a spare somewhere.” instead of the person who doesn't?
As for extras, most gamers purchase these extras alongside their ideal PC build.
- Gaming Mouse and Keyboard
- A High-Quality Headset with Microphone
- A Webcam for Added Immersion
- External Storage for File Safety
Why is it worth adding the extra expense for a gaming mouse and keyboard? They're more comfortable for your hands than your average typing keyboard, which can help you avoid long-term hand injuries and conditions. More than this, specialist gaming keyboards have special capabilities like lighting up in the dark for better sight - and more keyboard shortcuts at your disposal catering only to gamers and what they need right at their fingertips.
Choosing the right keyboard-and-mouse combination might feel like a needless expense, but it's worth the money. Finding the ideal keyboard for you can help to save your hands – and make you a hell of a lot faster on the keys when in-game.
Now that you know the essential parts of what's in a computer, let's explain each of these parts in a little more detail.
Explaining the Parts
1. The Motherboard
Simply put, the motherboard is the part of your PC's capability that helps to get power to everything else. (Most main components of your computer will fit into the motherboard.)
Higher-end motherboards have more space for RAM – and more capacity to handle high-power CPUs. For the best performance to compliment the other parts the computer will be running, choose high-powered motherboards where possible.
ASUS and Gigabyte are two reliable manufacturers, though a lot more are available.
2. The Processor (CPU)
The processor (CPU) is the part of the computer that makes it think – or process – commands. Often, the processor is one of the most crucial factors to the fast performance that gaming requires: The more processing speed your computer has, the better and faster it can perform.
It's essential when it comes to rendering and the computer's decision making (and process running) capabilities.
A processor's core defines how much it can process at any one time, whereas a processor's clock speed is measured in GHz and applies to how far it can be pushed to do its job.
Remember when dual core was impressive? Modern processing systems in 2019 can handle a lot more – and systems of up to 8-core are already available. Don't want to lag behind? Keep up with the times and make sure you're building a multi-core system.
Intel processors are known to be powerful and pack a considerable amount of processing power into their designs, though they have been known to cost more.
AMD processors are another common processing choice. Not good and not bad, but just different. These are likely to cost less than your average Intel setup, but can perform just as well even under pressure.
3. The RAM
A computer's RAM tells you how much “memory access” it has – that is, how well it handles the processes that go through the CPU. Generally, the more powerful your CPU is, the more powerful your RAM will need to be in order to keep up – if not, the two will clash and the subsequent conflict could cause issues with lag.
Buy DDR4 RAM only. Lower DDR3 RAM is slower than most gamers would like it and won't be useful for your build. DDR3 is also more likely to clash with more modern components.
Buy the correct size of RAM in order to support the rest of your system.
Always aim for higher specifications than the “minimum system requirements” of the top games on the market recommend. This way, you ensure that your PC is more likely to stay current and keep up with the times.
Different sizes of RAM are available on the market. It's not as complicated as it sounds. The best recommendations for RAM sizes are the following.
- 4GB: The lowest end of what you can get. Usually, this is hardly enough to run through any serious gaming – but will enable you to play a few that were released a few years ago.
- 8GB: For starters and sheer basics, 8GB is like the cheaper seats for a rock concert. You can see the action, but you're just not close enough to feel it.
- 16GB: Going with 16GB gives you more freedom. This is the recommended option for some actual gaming power – and it should hold for at least the next five years of game releases, enough for most PC builders to be more than happy with it.
- 32GB: Opting for 32GB is, for now, the highest end of the RAM scale. Unnecessary for most gamers unless you intend to build a supercomputer – and have the budget.
TL;DR? Go for 16GB to be set for at least the next five years' worth of game releases. Less and you'll lose out, more and you're blowing your budget for nothing.
4. The Graphic Card
The graphic card is the part of your PC that's in charge of rendering and displaying graphic details.
Make sure that you pick a graphic card that's compatible with your CPU. The higher the possible resolution of your graphic card (thus, the higher-end of a graphic card you have), the higher your CPU should be in order to keep up.
Benchmarks are the specs of graphic cards. Google the model of the card that you're looking at together with the word “benchmarks” to see the card's details at a glance.
If you want to see just what a graphic card can do, set the in-game settings to “lower quality (for older graphic cards)” and compare this to the settings of the fancier, more well-rendered version.
See how vital a graphic card is?
If you've ever run a game just to be confronted with a split-screen nightmare that rendered the game unplayable, you've seen what older graphic cards can do when they try to process newer games and graphics. It won't work.
NVIDIA is one of the leading brands for high-performance graphic cards catering specifically to the needs of gamers.
As a quick guide, more than 6GB of VRAM is enough to power even the highest-end of newly released games on the market today.
Less than 4GB or VRAM can get the basics rendered, although won't perform as well on newer high-definition game releases as you might have hoped.
5. The Power Supply
The power supply is what gives power to everything you've hooked up, and it's usually hooked up to the motherboard from there.
Buying a power supply is the easiest step as long as you calculate the wattage of the power supply you'll need first.
Many online tools allow for easy wattage calculation that can tell you which power supply is best.
6. The Storage
Storage is where you'll install your base operating system, most of your programs and everything else.
PC storage comes in two different types: Either SSD (Solid State Drive) or HDD (Hard Disk Drive).
SSD Drives are known for their reliability (because they use no moving parts that can break and fragment the information), but are more expensive to install.
HDD options offer more space and are often cheaper, but can become unstable over time if information is repeatedly installed and removed.
Install both SSD and HDD options in the same PC for the best results. Store games on one drive, and essentials on another.
An additional option is available on top of these. You can also purchase an external drive, perfect for on-the-go storage space like music or movies.
7. The PC Tower
The PC tower is the shell that everything is kept in – and there's a lot of opportunity to show off. If you're going to go to the trouble of putting your own PC together, you'll want the PC tower to show a little more of your style. Themed-towers are pretty damn cool. If you have spray paint, time and some creativity, you can even create your own design.
Not your thing? You can order PC towers from many online retailers in every style, shape, size or game-theme you could think of.
Some PC towers have an additional mounting system for water cooling systems. These are useful for any gaming PC that operates under a lot of pressure, or operates in a warm area. Cooling systems aren't essential, but where you live in warmer areas, they can be.
Ideally, make sure that the tower you settle with (1) is as durable as possible, (2) isn't heavy, especially if you're a gamer who travels with their gear.
Nobody wants to stare at a bland PC tower. Show off with yours! You built it!
Putting it Together
Once you have all your components and connectors (which usually come with your purchases of parts, and are easy enough to order when they don't), it's time to put everything together.
It should be obvious, at least more or less, where everything should go. Everything has a slot that fits – where RAM should go isn't the place where you should stick the CPU, and it would be impossible to make this mistake when you have it in front of you.
Always Have Extras
Always buy extras when it comes to certain computer components. These are small things, but they have the potential to cause big headaches if and where you don't have them.
These include batteries (for Bluetooth-powered devices that eat vast amounts of battery power at a time), connectors and USB cables.
Components like these are always useful – and will always come in handy during a tight spot when you aren't sure what to do.
It's easier to have it and not need it is the rule when it comes to PC parts. Rather be the person who has it than the one who gets cut off and has to order it before getting anywhere.
Ready to show off what you've put together? Share your build (and how you got there).