Published on January 23rd, 2013 | by Liam Dean15
How to build your own gaming PC, Part 1: Choosing the parts
There’s a popular misconception amongst gamers that has existed since time immemorial. Pretty much ever since PCs have been used as platforms for playing video games, people have been scared of them. Not so much the actual nitty gritty of installing a game on a capable computer and getting it to run. It’s relatively simple to do that in this day and age after all – particularly if you know how to follow a simple Wizard prompt. No, people are scared of PCs because they don’t like the idea of getting their hands dirty by actually building one.
Even if you’re buying a ready-made PC off the shelf that will blitz cutting edge games on max graphics settings, there’s still that creeping dread in the pit of your stomach. It tells you that you might actually have to bust open the case and upgrade a component at some point in the future. But you really shouldn’t worry; putting a PC together is no more difficult than building a moderately taxing Lego set, whatever those smug computer boffins like to tell you. You know the type. They tend to act like they carved the parts out of silicon themselves. Well, pretty soon you’ll be able to throw their stupid Lego knowledge back in their smelly faces, and I’ll show you how with this nifty two part guide!
But first things first. We can’t have you gallivanting off to build your killer rig without any components! In this first part of my two part feature, I will be giving you my humble opinion on some parts that are worth your consideration. We will be working towards a budget of £1000. This will comfortably get you a “mid-range” rig in the UK. This translates to a “top class” set up that will play most new games at maximum graphics settings and won’t need upgrading for at least two to three years.
So, let’s start as we mean to go on then shall we? The graphics card or “GPU” is where the graphical horsepower comes from and is the part of your computer that’s going to render all of those beautiful frames in eye watering detail. Because of their importance – and immense popularity – there is predictably a huge range to choose from. Not only that, but each card has several variants from competing manufacturers hoping to steal your money with their increased shader cores, over-clockability and general badass appearances.
However, in lieu of all the different variants and manufacturer specials, there are still generally two different routes to go down: NVidia or AMD. Both have their relative strengths and weaknesses, but for the purposes of this guide I would recommend that you choose an NVidia card for your first rig. Apart from having brilliant control panel options for tweaking your graphics settings outside of games applications, their drivers are a breeze for beginners to install when compared to AMD’s finicky “Catalyst” ones.
The actual card I would recommend is the NVidia GTX 660 Ti. Apart from being able to run games like Battlefield 3 on “Ultra” settings at over 50 fps on a 1920×1080 monitor, this is one of the new “Kepler” cards which has amazingly low power consumption when compared to previous generation GPU’s. An alternative AMD card is the Radeon HD 7950, which is a little less impressive than the NVidia card performance wise, but still offers more than playable frame rates on high settings.
Both cards can be found on Novatech with overclocked variations for a reasonable price.
A computer’s central processing unit or “CPU” is effectively its brain. It is designed to carry out the majority of the calculations that don’t involve rendering graphics frames and is arguably the most important part of any computer. It not only needs to be fast and efficient to play games properly, but for day to day computing and multitasking as well. It is for this reason that you should spend as much — if not more – time considering this than you do for the graphics card.
Generally speaking, most modern games only need a “quad core” CPU to play them properly. It’s amazing how many old quad core processors can still produce very credible frame rates with a decent GPU in tow. However, there are still a fair amount of games that have quite complex multi-threading which makes modern quad core CPUs a credible long term investment. For the purposes of this guide, I would suggest bagging a new Intel “Ivy Bridge” generation processor. They have low power consumption like the NVidia Kepler cards, and they have slightly faster performance than their “Sandy Bridge” predecessors. The Intel Core i5 3570K should fit our budget and “mid-range” bracket perfectly, and is even overclockable if you find that you need to squeeze out some extra juice in the future.
The Intel Core i5 3570K can be found on Scan.
The motherboard is effectively the thing that links all the components of a PC together. Everything is connected to it at some point or another, so it’s a something that you’re going to have to get more than a little familiar with when you’re slotting together your colossal Lego contraption. It can certainly appear a little daunting at first. The giant mess of circuit board connectors has undoubtedly deterred a few would-be-computer-builders at some time or another. The most important thing to remember though is to stay calm, and read your manufacturer’s manual thoroughly. Seriously, don’t bother for anything else, but you do need to read the motherboard manual. Don’t look at me like that.
The second most important thing to remember with motherboards is to avoid overkill when you’re picking your specs. The crucial compatibility factors here are the slots for the processor and graphics card. These should be a 1155 Socket (Ivy Bridge) and a PCI Express 3.0 x 16 port respectively. If you think you may decide to run two cards in SLi or Crossfire at some point in the future, then I would suggest getting a large board with at least two PCI slots and plenty of space. However, for the purposes of this guide I will be choosing a cheap and cheerful alternative: the Asus P8H77 – V. Not only does this board have the required compatibility, but it is from a reputable manufacturer and has a large amount of useful output ports for HD displays and USBs etc. Bargain!
The Asus P8H77 – V can be found on Aria.
The power supply unit or “PSU” is a component that is woefully overlooked by many gamers wishing to save money on their build. Many manufacturers know this as well, and so they will often include a PSU that barely meets minimum requirements in the hope that they will shift systems faster. This is a very silly attitude to adopt, and it can result in computers shorting out because they run out of juice. It can also lead to your valuable expensive components getting fried, and nobody wants to see that.
The general rule of thumb for selecting a PSU is to choose one that is at least slightly more powerful than the minimum specification of your graphics card. The GPU is the component that sucks up the most power at any one time, but selecting exactly the required minimum can be walking a thin line between okay and dangerously low. The minimum PSU requirement for our GTX 660Ti is 450W, so it would be prudent to select a PSU that is at least 600W. The Corsair Builder Series CX600 seems like an excellent solution from a reputable manufacturer, and is literally only £20 more expensive than their 430W variant. You’d be silly not to.
The Corsair Builder Series CX600 can be found on Novatech.
Ah, the PC case. Surely this is one of the least important considerations to make when budgeting for a new gaming rig, and yet many people get incredibly preoccupied with it. The look of the finished PC is important, but the cost of a few flashy LEDs or a gnarly Perspex design shouldn’t come at the expense of a slightly better graphics card or processor. Having said that, the layout of a computer’s inner workings can do wonders for its airflow and the amount of space you have for installing/upgrading components.
Choosing the look of your beloved steed is obviously a very personal thing, but I would like to venture a case I have used on my own personal rig. The Fractal Design Core 3000 is a fantastically sturdy piece of equipment that will house our full ATX motherboard whilst providing plenty of space for cable management and airflow. Not to mention it has a chic understated look!
The Fractal Design Core 3000 can be found on Aria.
The Viewsonic VX2370Smh-LED is a beautiful 23 inch screen with the latest IPS technology, a huge gambit of colours, a fast refresh rate and a native 1920×1080 resolution. It is the perfect companion for that GTX 660 Ti and can be found on Scan for a very reasonable £137.08.
Pretty much any RAM will do as long as it uses DDR3 memory. It’s definitely a good idea to get 8GB of RAM for your build. Whilst it’s true that a lot of games don’t use more than about 4GB, it’s a good idea to future proof in this case because it’s so cheap. It will also give your other non-gaming applications significant breathing room. 8GB of Crucial Ballistix Sport seems like just the ticket. It can be found on Aria for £35.99.
It’s possible to spend a huge amount of money on a keyboard, and although many people will maintain that mechanical keyboards are the way to go, the Microsoft Sidewinder X4 is excellent for the money. As well as a variety of programmable Macro keys, it has a fairly consistent backlight and a cool understated look that makes it suitable for business and pleasure. It can be found on Amazon for a tidy £52.99.
This is, again, a very personal thing. However, in terms of accuracy and ease of use, you can’t go far wrong with the Logitech G400. It has a variety of buttons that are infinitely programmable and not too obtrusive. Sometimes simpler is better. It can be found on Amazon for a tidy £26.90.
Now comes the rather easy part: selecting the optical drive. Obviously, you could decide to do something rather fancy and install a Blu-Ray drive for playing all of your latest HD movies, but for the purposes of playing games all we need is a straightforward DVD drive. This one seems like just the ticket.
A few of the more tech-savvy amongst you may be aware of the Solid State Drive (or “SSD”) revolution that is taking the computing world by storm. They do indeed have the fringe benefit of making your OS and application software boot much faster, but it’s not essential to have one for playing games. They are also incredibly expensive if you’re buying anything bigger than around 128GB. It’s far better to go for a cheaper standard HDD with bags of room for all your music and films too. This one has a massive 2TB!
So, you’ve shelled out a huge packet for a shiny new Ivy Bridge CPU. The last thing you want to do is have it overheat because you’ve been too much of a tight arse to buy a nice aftermarket cooler. This one looks to have a decent heat sink and a powerful fan to take the temperature off your prized processor whilst providing a positive airflow throughout your system.
And finally, it is essential to buy some highly conductive thermal paste to compliment your cooler. This Arctic Cooling MX4 compound is excellent, and is sure to lower your core CPU temperature several degrees more than competing brands.
TOTAL COST = £957.37
So there you have it – a powerful mid-range gaming rig with the capacity to overclock the CPU and graphics card for under £1000! Next comes the easy-peasy job of clicking everything together. Until then, you’ll just have to salivate over those glorious specs and get to saving those monies.