How To Build a Gaming Computer

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When I was a computer shop owner, customers would come in often and ask me how to build a gaming computer?  They had seen all the trailers, player made videos, taken a look at the massive library of games and possibilities and now they wanted to join the PC master race, but they were afraid.  With a console, you just buy it, plug it in, and it works.  But with a PC there’s a whole ecosystem of video cards, RAM, processors and then the costs!  Some spend thousands of dollars on battlesations that have six monitors and seemingly have the processing power to run virtual reality.  Then there’s the know-how, what it takes to put it all together yourself.   To most, a computer is a mysterious box that magically connects us to the internet, but what really goes on in there seems to be a complicated and unapproachable mess.

Have no fear!  Building your own gaming PC isn’t nearly as difficult or as expensive as you may think, and I’ll show you how to build your own gaming computer.  To begin, there are two things you need to consider, your budget and your needs.  Let’s take a look at what you need first.  What games are you interested in trying or already into?  It used to be that certain genres of games generally taxed hardware more, but these days that’s no longer the case.  There are as many strategy games that push rigs to the max as there are first person shooters, so you have to take it on a case by case basis.

What to Look For

If you are looking to getting into Massively Multiplayer games, keep in mind that you may want to overshoot the recommended specifications to compensate for how many players may be on your screen at once.  You should make sure your gaming PC have a bit more RAM than is listed, and maybe ensure that your video card is a few notches above to deal with a hundred or more character models in a town center.  If you just want to get into some of the older games you missed out on that never made it to the consoles, or you are a more casual gamer, you can come away spending next to nothing on a box that does just what you need it to.  If you want to play the latest and greatest, you still don’t necessarily need to take out a mortgage, but if you want to go cheap you need to plan ahead.

Let’s take a look at your budget.  How much are you willing to put back for gaming computer: $300, $500, even $1000?  Big spenders can spend up to $4000 and even $5000 on machines that can seemingly put HAL 9000 to shame.  It’s all about what you can afford, but keep in mind that one of the advantages to PC gaming is that you’re not necessarily stuck with what you buy.  If your PC begins to lag behind, you can always slap some more RAM, a better processor, or a better video card in so long as the motherboard can handle it.

Something you can also consider is a “barebones” kit.  A barebones kit has most, if not all, of the components needed to build a complete rig without having to hunt down every part.  While you don’t get to completely customize what’s in your PC, it does take away some of the hassle of choosing every individual component.  You still have to assemble it yourself, which is why it’s cheaper than buying a prebuilt machine.

The (current) bare minimum suggested for gaming

  • A motherboard that can handle up to 8 GBs of RAM
  • A dual core processor
  • 4GBs of RAM
  • A video card with 512MB of RAM (if you go this low, you will need to do some advanced tweaking to make most modern games work)

Making the Hard Choices for Building a Gaming Computer

This brings us to hardware choices, the hardest part of this whole adventure.  When my clientele would ask me how to build a gaming computer, almost all of the questions focused on the extensive myriad of hardware choices on the market.  Nothing substitutes knowledge, and it pays to read all the reviews on any part that goes into your machine.  We start with the motherboard, the heart of your gaming PC.  Everything you choose depends on what the motherboard can handle.   The key is to pick a motherboard that allows you to upgrade in the future.

The Motherboard

How to Build a Gaming Computer
How to Build a Gaming Computer

For our budget gaming PC build, we’re going to pick the Asus M5A99X EVO.  It’s cheaper than most, and it’s an AM3 socket which most modern AMD processors use.  Keep in mind that you are restricted to using only the processors that fit into the socket type on the motherboard. It has space for a second video card, so if you have some cash in the future you can put another video card and run them in SLI or CrossFire mode, which makes them work together.  The RAM is also, of course, fully upgradeable, as well as any extra hard drives or accessories you’d like.  In the premium build, we’ve chosen the Asus P9X79 Intel X79 motherboard.  It’s a beast that can house the Intel Core i7 processor.  It has the space for both video cards, and eight RAM slots that could go up to 32GBs if desired.

The Power Supply

Next, you’ll need a power supply to feed all the components in your gaming system.  In the budget build, we went with a respectable 650W Kingwin.  If one chose to go for that video card upgrade in the future, it could be replaced with any larger supply that can be shoved into the case slot.  The premium build gets a 750W supply by Thermaltake, which should be more than enough to handle both video cards and the processor as you game.

The Processor

The next step in building your gaming PC is the Processor, the brains of the computer.  For the budget we went with the AMD FD8120FRGUBOX FX-8120, an eight core 3.1 Ghz processor with a respectable 8 megs of L3 and L2 cache. It’ll do the job well enough for the price.  Our premium build has thrown caution and our wallets to the wind and gone with the Core i7 -3820 quad core from Intel.  This is considered amongst the best of the best, and is clocked at 3.9 Ghz with 10 megs of L3 and L2 cache.

You may have noticed that those numbers don’t appear to be that different from each other as compared with the cost.  The reason for that is that, quite simply, clock speed doesn’t matter nearly as much as it once did.  Architecture and efficacy does, and that’s what you paid for.  Also, you’ll notice the low end processor has more cores.  While one would normally think “more is better”, few games take advantage of eight cores (many still don’t take advantage of four!), but the eight core budget machine does have the unique advantage of being better at multitasking non-gaming tasks, so keep that in mind if you are planning on doing some work as well as play.

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