Build Your Own Gaming PC – Part One

Hello, and welcome to the first installment of our five-part series on building your own gaming PC. Perhaps by now, you’ve realized that pre-built machines are nice but may not feature the components you want in a computer, or simply aren’t flashy enough for your tastes. Maybe you’re not happy with the cooling solution, or the lack of ability to overclock. Regardless, you’ve come to the decision to finally build your own gaming PC, but aren’t sure where to start. Thankfully, we’ve got you covered.

Throughout this series, we’re going to walk you through every step of the build process, starting with deciding what to buy all the way through assembly and OS installation and finish with getting gaming. We’ll be sure to include direction to other parts of our blog and elsewhere on the web for your convenience and ease of reference. So, without any more delay let’s dive right in.

 

Part 1: What do I really want?

Ideally, we’d all like to have the ultimate gaming PC. One with virtually unlimited storage and could run every game at blazing fast speeds for the next decade. Unfortunately, we live in the real world with concerns such as budgets and constantly evolving hardware. So, this first section is going to focus on helping you decide what you really want and need out of your machine, then prioritizing what you can afford while ensuring your PC as good as possible for as long as possible.

Before we can go out and start buying whatever components we want, there are a few things we should really think about. The first thing you should ask yourself is, “What do I want this machine to do?” Obviously, you want it to play games, or else you wouldn’t likely be reading about how to build a gaming PC. Also, is there anything else you want to do with the computer, such as school projects, statistical analysis, audio mixing, or 3D modeling? Each of these features would require extra consideration when choosing components and building your machine.

Additionally, what types of games do you play? Casual gamers have different requirements than strategy gamers, which have different requirements from either FPS or competitive online gamers. A machine optimized for PlayerUnknown’s: Battlegrounds or competitive Overwatch is going to be different from a machine you’d build for someone who wants to play Sims 4 or a machine optimized for VR.

Take a moment to figure out which games you play most frequently, which games you’d like to play but cannot on your current machine, and which games you’re really hyped to play as soon as they’re released. Then, when you have your list take a few moments to figure out what these games’ minimum and recommended requirements are. If you’re unsure you can check the developer’s websites, the relevant page on Steam, or use an external site like Can You Run It

.

 

Gaming requirements

In this section, we’ve listed the minimum and recommended requirements for a few popular games, as well as the listed requirements for the HTC Vive VR headset. This will give us a baseline from which we can start making decisions.

 

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds

 

 MinimumRecommended
CPUIntel Core i3-4340 or AMD FX-6300Intel Core i5-6600 or better
RAM6GB8GB
OS64-bit Windows 7, 8.1, or 1064-bit Windows 7, 8.1, or 10
GPUnVidia GeForce GTX 660 2GB or AMD Radeon HD 7850 2GBnone listed
HDDMinimum 30GB free spaceMinimum 30GB free space

 

Overwatch

 

 MinimumRecommended
CPUIntel Core i3 or AMD Phenom X3 8650Intel Core i5 or AMD Phenom II X3
RAM4GB6GB
OS64-bit Windows Vista, 7, 8.1, or 1064-bit Windows Vista, 7, 8.1, or 10
GPUGTX 460 or Radeon HD 4850 or Intel HD 4400GTX 660 or Radeon HD 7950
HDDMinimum 30GB free spaceMinimum 30GB free space

 

Minecraft

 

 MinimumRecommended
CPUIntel Core i3-3210 or AMD A8-7600Intel Core i5-4690 or AMD A10-7800
RAM2GB4GB
OSWindows 7, 8.1, or 1064-bit Windows 10
GPUGTX 400 series or Radeon HD 7000 series or Intel HD 4000; need OpenGL 4.4GTX 700 series or Radeon RX 200 series
HDDMinimum 1GB free spaceMinimum 4GB free space

 

Battlefield 1

 

 MinimumRecommended
CPUIntel Core i5-6600K or AMD FX-6350Intel Core i7-6700 or AMD FX 8350 Wraith
RAM8GB16GB
OS64-bit Windows 7, 8.1, or 1064-bit Windows 10
GPUDirectX 11 compatible with 2GB VRAM

GTX 660 or Radeon 7850
GTX 1060 3GB or Radeon RX 480 4GB
HDDMinimum 50GB free spaceMinimum 50GB free space

 

Star Wars: Battlefront 2

 

 MinimumRecommended
CPUIntel Core i5-6600K or AMD FX-6350Intel Core i7-6700 or AMD FX 8350 Wraith
RAM8GB16GB
OS64-bit Windows 7, 8.1, or 1064-bit Windows 10
GPUGTX 660 or Radeon 7850GTX 1060 3GB or Radeon RX 480 4GB
HDDMinimum 15GB free spaceMinimum 15GB free space

 

HTC Vive

 

 Minimum Required
CPUIntel Core i5-4590 or AMD FX 8350
RAM4GB
OSWindows 7, 8.1, or 10
GPUGTX 1060 or Radeon RX 480
PortsEither 1x HDMI 1.4 or DisplayPort 1.2; 1x USB 2.0

 

Looking over the requirements for these games and the Vive, we can classify these into three separate categories: games with moderate requirements (PU: BG, Overwatch, Minecraft), VR gaming, and games with higher requirements (Battlefield 1, SW: BF2). With the games grouped together like this, we can piece together the recommended components for these types of games and get some idea of what we’ll need to shell out to build these machines.

 

 

 Moderate RequirementsHTC VIVEHigher Requirements
CPUIntel Core i5-6600 or

AMD FX 6350
Intel Core i5-4590 or

AMD FX 8350
Intel Core i7-6700 or

AMD FX 8350 Wraith
RAM8GB4GB16GB
OS64-bit Windows 10Windows 7, 8.1, 1064-bit Windows 10
GPUnVidia GTX 700 series or

AMD Radeon HD 7950
nVidia GTX 1060 or

AMD Radeon RX 480
nVidia GTX 1060 3GB or

AMD Radeon RX 480 4GB
HDD30GB free spaceNot Listed50GB free space

 

Additional needs

Assuming that you want to use your machine for more than just gaming, we also need to consider what other functions you want your computer to be able to do. If you want to use the machine for basic school work you’ll want an Office suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint). If you want to do graphic design, you’ll want to make sure you have a powerful enough machine to run your graphics suite like Adobe Creative Cloud. Similarly, if you’re programming with something like Unity3D, you’ll want to make sure you can handle this type of work. Other specialties like statistical analysis or audio editing and mixing have their own requirements.

 

Home and student use

If you want to use your machine for basic student or home office needs, you’ll want some sort of office suite. The most well-known being Microsoft Office, but there are others available such as Apache’s OpenOffice. These types of programs have fairly modest hardware requirements. Microsoft’s Office Home and Student 2016 needs at minimum a 1GHz processor, 2 GB of RAM, 3 GB of free space, and a DirectX 10 compatible graphics card for graphics hardware acceleration. Apache’s requirements for OpenOffice 4.1.x are even less. This essentially means that we don’t have to worry about additional hardware for this function, just the cost of software.

 

Graphic design

Adobe’s popular Creative Cloud contains the current iteration of the Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator software and has the following recommended requirements as of January 2018: Intel Core2Duo or AMD Athlon 64 processor, 8 GB of RAM, at least 3.1GB of free space, 1200×800 or better display, and a graphics card with at least 2GB of dedicated VRAM. These are fairly minimal requirements, and our basic gaming build will likely exceed these as long as we pay attention to the video card.

If you are serious about graphics design you will want a more powerful machine than these fairly simple requirements. Browsing the websites for dedicated art and design schools yielded the following recommendations: Intel Core i5 or i7 processor or AMD equivalent, minimum 16GB of RAM, 500GB free space, high-quality monitor, solid graphics card. Aside from the monitor, these are fairly well aligned with our ‘high requirements’ game tier.

 

Unity3D and other functions

If you want to design and program your own games, be aware of the system requirements for whichever development software you intend to use. For example, if you’re using Unity3D the stated requirements are fairly vague: 64-bit Windows 7, 8.1, or 10, a CPU with SSE2 instruction support, and a DX9 or DX11 capable graphics card. Per their website, “the rest mostly depends on the complexity of your projects.” A quick rule of thumb is that you’ll want your machine to be at least powerful enough to play the game you’re designing, if not more powerful.

For other functions such as statistical analysis or audio editing, use common sense especially if system requirements aren’t available or seem outdated. Looking into statistics programs such as SPSS, SAS, and the R-Project, the stated requirements are either non-existent or fairly minimal. However, common sense and a little bit of Google-Fu leads us to understand you’re going to want a powerful CPU and lots of RAM for all that number crunching, whereas a high-end graphics card isn’t going to do you much good in this instance.

For audio recording and editing, you’ll likely want a quality sound card (even if built in to the motherboard), a good CPU and 8+ GB of RAM for audio processing, a high quality microphone for recording, and probably want to consider the acoustical quality of your system fans and case to reduce ambient noise.

 

Build Your Own PC parts checklist

With the list of what you want your computer to do fresh in your mind, we have some idea about what components we are going to need to get this computer assembled and running. For your convenience, we’ve put together a checklist of the required components for your BYOPC.

 

The necessities:

 

These components comprise the bare minimum that you’ll need to have a functional system. However, they’re not all we can add to the system. Below is a list of some ‘optional extras’ to further customize your machine. They’re not strictly necessary, but some of them are quite nice to have.

 

Optional extras:

  • Aftermarket heatsink/CPU cooler or water cooling
  • Wireless card, if not included with the motherboard
  • Additional storage drives
  • Optical disc drive (ODD) such as DVD player/burner or BluRay player/burner
  • Dedicated sound card
  • Additional case fans
  • LED strips
  • Headset and/or microphone
  • Additional software and games

 

Some of these ‘optional extras’ may not seem like they should be here to some people. For example, we’ve frequently been asked, “Why is an optical drive optional?” Simply put, the vast majority of software is available through digital download and also DVDs aren’t that good of a data transfer device anymore having been replaced by USB sticks. Some computer cases don’t even have the 5.25″ bays for optical drives anymore. DVD or BR drives are only necessary if you have software that requires an installation disc or want to watch DVDs/BR discs on your computer.

 

Tools you will need

In addition to all the computer parts that you want in your machine, you’ll also need to consider the physical tools you’re going to need to actually assemble the computer. In our experience, we’ve found that some tools are indispensable for every computer build, some aren’t always necessary but are nice to have on hand in case they are needed. We’ll mark those as “optional” for those on a budget.

 

 

Another thing to consider is the space that you’re going to be assembling the machine in. There’s a strong probability that you don’t have a professional-grade workspace replete with properly grounded anti-static mats and all sorts of testing equipment. That’s ok. What’s important is that you have the proper surface to assemble the machine on. Typically this is either a sturdy table or workbench that’s big enough to hold the computer case on its side, all of the other components and tools you’ll be using, and any documentation you may require. Hopefully, the surface isn’t metallic or you can cover it with a non-conductive material like an anti-static mat or even a plastic sheet. We’ll get into the workspace more in a future post, but for now, just keep it in the back of your mind.

 

It’s all about the Benjamins: Building your budget

The final component we need to consider before building your machine is your budget. Building a gaming machine isn’t necessarily cheap, so we’d like to put some numbers in your mind so you are better informed before picking out your components and software. To help get you thinking about what it could cost we’re going to show you what you’d need for the moderate and higher requirement games we discussed above. To refresh:

 

 

 Moderate RequirementsHigher Requirements
CPUIntel Core i5-6600 or

AMD FX 6350
Intel Core i7-6700 or

AMD FX 8350 Wraith
RAM8GB16GB
OS64-bit Windows 1064-bit Windows 10
GPUnVidia GTX 700 series or

AMD Radeon HD 7950
nVidia GTX 1060 3GB or

AMD Radeon RX 480 4GB
HDD30GB free space50GB free space

 

Given the age, availability, and cost of some of these components, we’re going to swap some parts out for alternatives that are more readily available and still meet our needs. For example, the GTX 700 series and Radeon HD 7950 are both fairly old and have been replaced with newer components. Also, the current cryptocurrency mining craze has made the cost of the Radeon RX 480 soar to triple the normal cost, so we’ve switched that out as well. Finally, for consistency across the board, we’re including some baseline components such as an OEM 1TB HDD, a Corsair Carbide 100R case, an EVGA 500B power supply, and a copy of Windows 10 on USB.

 

Intel & nVidia Build

 

Intel & nVidia Build    
ModerateExpect To PayHigher SpecExpect To Pay
i5-6600$200i7-6700 w/ cooling$380
Basic LGA 1151 board$60Basic LGA 1151 board$60
8GB DDR4 2400$8516GB DDR4 2400$160
GTX 1050 2GB$150GTX 1060 3GB$280
1TB HDD$501TB HDD$50
Carbide 100R$50Carbide 100R$50
EVGA 500B$50EVGA 500B$50
Windows 10 USB$120Windows 10 USB$120
Total$765$1150

 

AMD Build

 

AMD Build    
ModerateExpect To PayHigher SpecExpect To Pay
FX 6350$110FX 8350 Wraith$150
Basic AM3+ board$50Basic AM3+ board
$50
8GB DDR3 1600$6016GB DDR3 1600$115
RX 550 2GB$100RX 570 4GB$350
1TB HDD$501TB HDD$50
Carbide 100R$50Carbide 100R$50
EVGA 500B$50EVGA 500B$50
Windows 10 USB$120Windows 10 USB$120
Total$590$935

*These are guide prices not an exact figure.

 

As you can see, you should plan on a minimum of $600, as well as any additional costs for tools and taxes, for even a modest build. Also, the cost of these components is based on the most modest components available for that particular part. Motherboards, in particular, will have higher costs depending on the form factor and options that you choose. Just keep in mind that the better the components you decide to use, the more you can expect to pay for them. Bottom line: plan on a solid but modest machine coming in between $600 to $1,000, a higher end machine somewhere in the $1,000 to $1,500 range, and top-of-the-line machines easily exceeding $1,500.

 

Tips for managing the costs

Building a gaming machine can be expensive, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. That being said, there are a few ways of helping keep the cost of your build down.

Be flexible: Don’t think that you absolutely must have the latest and greatest components or those from a specific brand. Many of these components, especially motherboards and graphics cards, are very similar to one another with some of the only noticeable differences being a few letters, a port or two, or the brand name. The differences between an i5-6600 and i5-6600K may not be noticeable in your performance, especially if you don’t intend to overclock, but you can save a little there.

OEM packaging: You can save money by buying the OEM packaging over the retail packaging, especially with hard drives. Note that the OEM won’t have a SATA cable, but your motherboard will likely have one or two.

Bundles and rebates: Some retailers will offer discounts if you buy components as a bundle. For example, Microcenter offers a modest discount if you buy the processor and motherboard together. Sometimes they also offer bundle pricing if you add-on a graphics card, RAM, or SSD to your purchase. Many manufacturers frequently offer mail-in or online rebates if you purchase their products. I’ve seen these add up to over $100 on complete builds, which is nothing to scoff at.

Buy over time: Really want 16GB of RAM, but can only afford 8GB? It’s relatively easy to add another stick of RAM later on. Just make sure your board can handle the upgrade.

Stay tuned for the next in our series: Choosing parts and software.

 

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