Building Your Gaming PC
Your guide to understanding the components of a PC and what you should buy.
What goes into building a computer? To a lot of people, building a computer sounds like a task reserved solely for the tech-savvy, engineer friend. Fortunately, I can be that friend. My name is Sam Arslanian, and as a college student who is intrigued by competitive gaming, I’d like to share my perspective toward what should go into a gaming computer for people looking to get into PC gaming.
I will guide you through the individual parts of a computer, their functions, and what you should look for when considering investing in a custom-built PC. Recommendations are included for a computer that will be more than sufficient to run Triple-A competitive titles at high settings.
It should also be noted that I am not being sponsored by any company or manufacturers of what I recommend. If you’re looking for a guide for a budget computer, stay tuned for another blog.
Let’s get into it.
The central processing unit, or better known as the CPU, is the brains of the computer. The CPU looks like a small rectangular block of metal and controls basic functions — including but not limited to managing memory, running software, and converting inputs into outputs. Intel has controlled the market for the better part of the last few decades, but AMD has begun to close the gap with its Ryzen line of processors.
What does this mean for gaming? While a high core count is important, higher clock speeds (measured in GHz) have more of an impact on gaming performance. I recommend staying above a quad-core CPU with a clock speed in the upper 3 GHz range.
My Recommendation: Intel i7-8700K.
With all of that processing power packed into such a small space, the CPU draws a lot of electricity and creates a ton of heat. Without getting into a thermodynamics lesson, the goal of a CPU cooler is to transfer heat away from the processor and out of the computer as a whole. Some CPUs under full load can reach upwards of 100 degrees Celsius. When CPUs get this hot, there are a number of things that can happen. First, you may experience thermal throttling — thermal throttling is your computer’s way of cooling itself off. The processor will slow itself down — or throttle — to prevent the processor from taking in more heat. CPUs that are not properly cooled will degrade faster, shortening its lifespan.
My Recommendation: Corsair H100i Pro.
The motherboard is the hub of the computer — connecting every component together. The motherboard has little effect on the actual performance of the computer, so long as it is the right form factor for your computer. There are a couple things to ensure match up in your build. First the motherboard needs to have the correct socket for the CPU you have chosen. This differs between brand and model, so ensure the motherboard matches the socket of your CPU. Also, pay attention to the memory form factor. Most computers built today use DDR4 RAM (Double Data Rate 4 Random-Access Memory), which is a different form factor from DDR3 so ensure that your chosen RAM and motherboard match up. The last thing to consider is the physical size of your motherboard in relation to your case. If you have chosen to go with a compact case, you may need to choose an ITX motherboard — a smaller form factor motherboard.
My Recommendation: Asus Prime Z370-A.
Memory is commonly referred to as RAM (Random-Access Memory). This is not the same as storage. Memory is short-term; storage is long-term. RAM serves as the computer’s place to quickly read and write data. This permits the computer to cache data relevant to processes that are running in order to run faster.
How much RAM do you need? Computers today can have anywhere from four gigabytes of RAM to upwards of a terabyte. What you plan on doing with your PC will determine how much RAM you need. If you are editing video, 32GBs is a good place to start, but for gaming, 16 GBs should be plenty as anything more will offer diminishing returns.
My Recommendation: Corsair Vengeance LPX 16 GB (2 x 8 GB) DDR4-3200.
The graphics card — also known as video card — is the single-most important component of a gaming computer. The purpose of a graphics card is to interpret the visual output instructions from processes being run on the computer in order to display them on your screen. Therefore, the graphics card will most often have the largest effect on how a certain game will run on the computer. Better graphics cards allow for the computer to push more frames per second and enable the game to run smooth, higher-quality graphics. Graphics cards are often mistakenly referred to as GPU’s (graphics processing units). Although this is not entirely inaccurate as the GPU is a part of the graphics card as a whole.
My Recommendation: EVGA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti.
All of the parts of a computer are important in their own way, but you can’t play video games if you don’t have any place to store them. There are two main types of storage: hard disk drives (HDDs) and solid state drives (SSDs). Which is better? It depends what your needs are.
Hard disk drives utilize a series of platters and a read/write arm to find information stored on physical disks. HDDs, while slower than SSDs, can store significantly more data for a fraction of the cost. If you plan on installing a bunch of games on your computer, consider investing in a hard disk drive to store infrequently played games.
Solid state drives have no moving parts and utilize flash-based storage — this makes them faster and much smaller. As SSD prices continue to fall, it is becoming more common for PC builders to rely solely on flash-based storage.
The storage size of both a HDD and SSD entirely depend on what you plan on installing. My preference is to start with a 500GB SSD and upgrade by adding another SSD or HDD if you need it.
My Recommendation: Samsung 860 Evo 500 GB 2.5″ Solid State Drive.
Without power, all you are left with is a hunk of expensive metal and silicon. There are two factors to consider when buying a power supply: wattage and efficiency. Sites like pcpartpicker.com allow you to calculate the estimated wattage of your specific hardware. Always err on the safe side by purchasing a power supply that doubles the watts of your projected draw. This ensures that your power supply will run efficiently and have some extra overhead in case you decide to upgrade components later. The second thing to consider is efficiency; power supplies are graded with an 80 plus certification (bronze, silver, gold, etc.). These grades refer to how efficiently they can convert power from the wall into power for your computer, though you may put more strain on the power lines.
My Recommendation: Corsair TXM Gold 850 W 80+ Gold Certified Semi-modular ATX.
The case may seem like an unimportant decision when it comes to the performance of a gaming PC — for the most part, it is. The majority of thought that goes into choosing a case is for aesthetics; however, it is important to ensure you are buying the appropriate size case for your hardware and that it has potential for good airflow. Cases hold the hundreds of dollars of equipment you just bought, so don’t skimp out on a cheap case. Ultimately, your decision will be on a case-by-case basis.
My Recommendation: Any mid-ATX case, but the Fractal Design Meshify C White is a good place to start. Check out this insane shark case mod from the 2019 Case Mod World Series.
Great! Now that you have your gaming PC built, it is time to put it to the test. If you want to see how well your computer performs, you can run a few benchmark applications to get some quantitative results. Geekbench is a good program to test your CPU, and CineBench will give you a sense of how well your graphics card performs.
I strongly suggest that you use a wired ethernet connection for your computer if you plan on playing competitive titles. Competitive games use a lot of bandwidth, and lag from a poor connection could be the difference between a victory in a match and defeat. An ethernet connection is more stable than its wireless counterpart. Wired connections will reduce latency and have much faster data speeds.
If a wireless connection is your only option, there are a couple of things you can do to optimize your speeds and connectivity. Get as close to your router as possible without obstructions like walls or cabinets. Here is a good guide on how to check your Wi-Fi strength. If your router has two bands (2.4GHz and 5GHz), use the 5GHz band, as it can transfer data at a faster rate than the 2.4GHz band. If you want to learn more about the differences between ethernet and Wi-Fi, here is a helpful guide.
You will need some way to interact with your computer. You will need a keyboard, mouse, mousepad, headphones, and a monitor. Every peripheral is based on feel and comfort. I highly recommend going to a brick-and-mortar computer store to test the peripherals you are considering buying. To give you a bit of guidance, here are a couple things you should consider when buying peripherals.
Stick with mechanical keyboards. Mechanical keyboards are more responsive than their membrane counterparts. This will result in a more responsive feel to your keyboard. For mice, choose a wired mouse that you like the weight and feel of. A wired mouse won’t fault during gameplay, making sure you never have that awkward moment mid-game while you scramble for a charger or new batteries. For a mousepad, make sure you get a pad big enough to accommodate large mouse movements. You don’t want your mouse to ever leave the pad. You also have the choice of a cloth or hardtop mouse pad — once again, this is purely based on preference. For a headset, look into headphones with directional sound and a microphone. Headphones marked with Dolby 5.1 or 7.1 will provide a spatial sound stage that will aid in helping you identify where sounds are coming from in-game.
As for a monitor, investing a few more bucks into a high-refresh rate monitor will be worth it. The refresh rate is how many refreshes per second the monitor can display. For example, a 60Hz monitor refreshes 60 times in one second. A higher refresh rate produces is more precise and less blurry with fast-moving images. If you want to invest more in a 4K or 1440p monitor for a crisper resolution, go for it, but a 1080p 144Hz monitor will be more than sufficient.
“A Gaming PC Approaches!”
Now that you have built your PC, you can take your gaming to the next level. Download and install your favorite titles and enjoy the wonders of the gaming world. Game on!