Gaming PCs: Picking the Best Parts and What They Do
Here’s what you need to know.
Building a computer may seem like it would be a pretty tricky project, but in all reality it’s just like a technological puzzle of sorts. With a bit of guidance and a steady hand, almost anyone can build a computer now as long as you do the correct research into the components you purchase.
This guide will give you a rundown on all of the components you need to purchase and what to look out for when buying. For instructions on putting the whole thing together, check out our gaming PC assembly guide.
Motherboards are arguably the most important part of your computer, so when you’re doing your shopping and research you’ll want to make sure you get the correct board for all of your needs.
First off, the socket type for your motherboard needs to match up with the socket type for your processor. If you’ve got a specific processor in mind, make sure that you’ve narrowed down your motherboard search to those with that specific socket.
Next up is the size of your motherboard. These come in three sizes, Mini-ITX, Micro ATX and ATX. If you’re not after something incredibly fancy then a Micro-ITX board will do the job. However, the more advanced features that you need your motherboard to have, the bigger it will need to be. As long as the size of your build isn’t an issue, this is something that won’t largely determine which one you buy.
When we get to our section of RAM, we’ll talk about the number of sticks you can buy. But when looking for a motherboard, you’ll want to make sure it has enough slots to support the number of sticks of RAM you intend to purchase. The number of SATA ports is also important depending on how many internal hard drives and optical drives you intend to put in your build.
PCI Slots are what you’ll be plugging your GPU, Wi-Fi adapters and other expansion cards into. Take into account anything you plan to put into your build that will require a PCI slot and make sure your motherboard has enough of them to cater to your needs.
Finally, some advanced motherboards can perform a lot of fancy features. Overclocking your processor and Crossfiring your GPUs are just two examples of advanced features that are only possibly with specific, more advanced motherboards. If you’re wanting to do anything like this, make sure your purchase is capable of it.
Arguably the most important part of your PC, the processor is essentially the brain of your creation. It will process all of the commands from the software you try to run. Because of this, the power of your processor and the one that you select will have a significant effect on how well your PC performs, its speed, and whether you can even play some games.
When looking into processors the things you’ll want to take note of are the number of cores, cache, clock speed and socket type of the processor. The number of cores is an easy way to determine exactly how good your PC will be with multitasking or handling some particularly demanding processes. The cache is an area of memory on the processor itself that is used to store and speed up particular operations. The more powerful your processor, normally the larger your cache will be allowing your processor to keep particular operations speedy.
Your clock speed is another way of gauging how powerful your processor is and whether it will be able to run certain games. Many games now are pushing into the Intel i5 processor range as a minimum recommendation, which have a clock speed of roughly 2.5-2.7 GHz. Depending on what you’re aiming to play on your gaming PC, you should ensure that your processor can run all of what you’re intending to play on at least the minimum specifications to ensure you’re not disappointed when it’s up and running. If we were to suggest a processor range for future-proofing, an Intel i7 with a clock speed in the upper ranges of the 3GHz’s should be more than enough.
Finally, you have the socket type. Processors aren’t all the same size and don’t work with every motherboard on the market. You’ve got to make sure that you’re matching up your processor to a compatible motherboard. Ensuring that your socket type is compatible with your motherboard is crucial; fail to do so and you’ll fall at the first hurdle of assembling your rig.
RAM, or Random Access Memory, is a form of storage inside your PC. It allows programs such as your operating system to be read and written much faster and therefore is also quite important when it comes to gaming. Keeping it brief, there are a few things you want to look into when you’re buying RAM: size, memory type, speed, and channel.
The size or amount of memory is going to affect the performance of your machine. At the time of writing this guide, the average gaming machine will have around 8GB of RAM, although some may stretch up to the dizzying heights of 16-32GB. Upgrading RAM is probably the easiest upgrade you can make to your machine, so if you want to switch from 8gb to 16gb in a year’s time, simply grab another two sticks of RAM the same brand, speed, size, and channel and throw them into the RAM slots on your motherboard.
The memory type can range between DDR3 and DDR4. There isn’t really much of a personal choice to be made here. Whatever your motherboard supports is the type you’ll buy. While DDR3 is the more common type, more recent gaming rigs and motherboards will now support DDR4. If you get the wrong type it simply won’t fit into place on your motherboard, so always double check before buying.
The speed of your RAM won’t make a huge difference, but faster speeds can help when running resource intensive programs. The speed will be in the form of MHz and again, whatever you do choose, make sure it’s compatible with your motherboard.
The channel of RAM you buy is once again dependent on what your motherboard will support (you’ll probably have noticed grabbing a good motherboard is really quite important). Your motherboard will support either dual, triple or quad channel RAM. Dual channel means you’ll want to buy RAM in sets of two, triple in sets of three, and quad is most optimal with sets of four or eight sticks.
Corsair, Crucial and Kingston are the brand names most commonly associated with RAM. These are always a good place to start, but there are plenty of other brands out there that may be more suitable to your needs and budget.
Your GPU or graphics card is one of the most important parts of your gaming PC. It’s responsible for exactly what you think – displaying your games and making them look pretty. When looking into graphics cards, you’ll find there are really only two big brands you want to be looking at: NVIDIA and AMD. Many other companies such as MSI, Gigabyte and Asus will take these cards and overclock them to create their own versions, but these do cost a little bit more than the stock models from NVIDIA and AMD, and they will burn out much faster.
There is no set rule to purchasing graphics cards and you’ll more than likely find that searching around and checking ‘benchmark leaderboards’ are the best ways to compare GPU performances and finding the right one for you. A pretty good site to compare graphics cards is VideoCardBenchmark. The higher the score, the better the card. One helpful tip for checking how good a card is, is the amount of VRAM that the card has. The higher the amount of VRAM, the better the card will display higher resolutions or perform when using a multi-monitor setup.
Hard drives are basically where you’re going to store everything. There are only a few things we need to talk about here so we’ll keep it brief. First things first is the size. It’s rather common sense with hard drives that the bigger the memory, the more you’re going to be able to store. You can get hold of a 1TB hard drive for pretty cheap nowadays, and this will keep you going for a pretty long time.
Hard drive speeds will be in the figure of RPM. The two standard speeds are 5400RPM and 7200RPM. The common belief is that the higher the RPM the faster your hard drive will be able to read and write to the disc. While this is largely true, there is a theory that in some instances a slower RPM can be of benefit. We’ll stay away from trying to explain it, but if you are interested you can find out more here.
The final thing to mention are SSDs or Solid State Drives. These things don’t have any internal moving pieces and are essentially super speed memory cards. Installing your operating system and core programs such as your internet browser, Steam and maybe the top three games you’re playing a lot of will result in much faster load speeds. We’re talking 5 seconds to get to your desktop from turning your PC on, instantaneous opening of programs, and faster transfer rates when copying things to and from the drive.
Due to this, SSDs are quite a bit more expensive but you can still grab a 120GB or 250GB SSD to store your operating system and key programs for a pretty good price. Using an SSD as your master drive and having a 1TB HDD as a storage drive is also a possibility.
Your power supply unit does exactly what you expect. First things first, if you’re building a PC for gaming, you’re going to want to make sure that your PSU has a high wattage in order to send enough power to all of the different components. There’s a power supply calculator here that is incredibly useful for working out what PSU wattage you need.
The other really important thing you’ll want to bear in mind is the type of cable that your PSU is going to support. You’re going to want to try and get hold of a modular one. This means that you only have to use the cables for the components you need, rather than having a ton of loose cables hanging from your PSU. It’s not a huge issue, but it’ll keep the inside of your system looking tidy and keep that all-important airflow nice and clear.
Your case is going to be the main part of your build that everyone’s going to see, but you’ll need to keep in mind a couple of other things than just aesthetics.
Cases come in three different sizes Mini- ITX, Micro ATX and ATX just like your motherboard. The size of the case you buy will correlate directly with the size of the motherboard you’ve bought. A lot of builds tend to be housed in Micro ATX, although if you’re going all out with liquid cooling, several hard drives and a ton of fans, you may want to look for a full tower case.
The most important thing is airflow. While a lot of cases may just seem like slightly different colored variations of a rectangular box, the fans and the insides of some cases can be completely different and thus alter the quality of airflow in your PC. Make sure you’re getting a case from a reputable source. While a cheap Micro ATX case from an unknown brand may seem like a great way to cut costs, it may end up resulting in your PC overheating when you push it to its limits.
You’ll also want to make sure that all of the cables connecting your different components together don’t cause any blockages to the airflow inside the case once it’s installed. Using cable tidies can be one method of resolving this, but if you look around you can find PC cases that have holes ready and waiting for you to thread your cables through to keep the inside of your PC looking tidy.
Last off is what the case has to offer you in terms of accessibility. If you’re going to be connecting and transferring files between an external hard drive a lot, you may want to have a USB 3.0 on the front. Or, perhaps you do a lot of live streaming so you want your microphone/headset ports on the front to save your routing around the back of your system. All of this will be mentioned in the item description on reputable sites, as will the number of drive bays, which is important if you’re going to have a lot of optical drivers and hard drives in your PC.
Now you’ve got everything you need to put together your very own gaming PC. Need help putting all the parts together? Check out our gaming PC assembly guide over here.