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Building your own computer can be an overwhelming process, but it is also a very exciting one. Brand names like Alienware and VoodooPC can build you a quality rig, but you will pay a hefty premium for them. Though it may be easier to pay someone else to do it for you, there is something inherently awesome about booting up a computer that you put together yourself. Still, with the ridiculous number of choices of possible components and configurations, it can be difficult to know where to start. So, how about B&H?
Today, we are going to go through a basic list of everything you will need to make a solid gaming PC. It is not the cheapest build out there, nor is it the most expensive, but it will handle pretty much anything you throw at it with ease, including the Oculus Rift when it will be released next year.
Even if you don’t choose these exact components, we’ll try to help you understand exactly what you should be seeking. It’s a big world out there. We have your back.
A good case is important. Generally, you’ll see lists like these with the case at the back end, where the writer realizes that, ‘Oh yeah, they need a place to put all of that cool equipment they recommended, but the reality is that a case is important.’ That’s not just because it is the box, but it’s the thing that you will have to look at (or hide) for as long as you have that build. In addition, a case can last. You don’t have to drop a case from build to build. GPUs come and go, but a good case will stay with you. The kind of case you choose says something about you. Do you want something enormous, covered in LEDs? Do you want a side window that lets you and anyone else stare at your handiwork?
Corsair Carbide 200R Windowed Compact ATX Chassis
Of all these recommendations, this is the most tepid. Get a case that you think looks cool. At a certain point, every case is equally good, but you can’t go wrong with a Corsair Carbide case, like the 200R. I use one, and I like it a lot. It’s not enormous, but it’s spacious enough for all but the largest components, and I like the way it looks. It has a side window and some top ventilation holes, and Corsair’s tool-less design makes installation a breeze.
The motherboard is like a train’s central hub. Everything runs through it, and it controls everything. You can have the most state-of-the-art components in the world, but if you’re backing them with dated or underpowered technology, they’re not going to be able to do everything they were built to do. When choosing your motherboard, you have a choice to make: going with Intel® or AMD. There are valid reasons to do either, but we’re sticking with Intel. AMD is generally a better bet for budget systems, but Intel wins with raw power. If you’re using Intel’s fourth or fifth generation CPUs—ASUS says that the upcoming Broadwell line of CPUs should work without issue—the Z97-A ATX will serve you well. For this build, it’s overkill, but a great value, and if you have any interest in upgrading to faster RAM, adding a second graphics card, or getting a ridiculously speedy M.2 Solid-State Drive whenever they become affordable, you won’t need a whole new motherboard to make it all work. That’s a good thing, because while replacing individual components isn’t usually a big deal, replacing the hub is a headache you’ll want to avoid.
ASUS Z97-A ATX Motherboard
If the motherboard is the computer’s nervous system (new metaphor, just roll with it), the CPU is its brain. You want a powerful brain, fast and with the ability to become even more powerful with minimal effort. You want an Intel® Core™ i5-4690K. Now, you might be thinking, “Why not a Core i7?” That’s simple: the primary benefit of an i7—hyperthreading, which effectively doubles the number of processor cores that applications can access—has little impact on gaming performance. In fact, few games even take advantage of the 4690K’s four threads, let alone the eight of a hyper-threaded i7. If you’re planning to use your PC for video editing or other rendering-intensive applications, then the $100 upgrade to something like a Core i7 4790K might be worthwhile, but that won’t affect your gaming experience. Moreover, you can over-clock the 4690K, pushing its performance closer to a more expensive chip.
CPU: Intel Core i7
There’s a tangible benefit to getting a quad-core chip over a dual core chip, mostly thanks to Windows 10 and DirectX 12. (Let’s be clear: If you play many games, you’re going to want to upgrade to Windows 10.) DirectX 12, among other things, finally adds real support for multi-core processors. While there are visible benefits with up to four cores, anything beyond that sees diminishing returns. (The $1000+, 8-core/16-thread i7-5960X is an absolute monster, but its 3.0GHz base clock means it will perform worse than a processor one-quarter its cost, in most gaming situations).
The CPU cooler is the unsung hero of any rig. As you overheat, you start to slow down. You don’t think as clearly or effectively. Computers have the same problem. Having a bunch of fans in your system to keep ambient temperatures low is good—and the 200R supports up to six—but the CPU itself needs a little something extra. Many CPUs come with stock fans, but higher-end ones rarely bother. Companies know you’re going to turn to a third party, something like the Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO Cooling Fan. While there are numerous options in this category, many of them very similar, I have the most experience with the Hyper 212, and I have no complaints. I saw a 50% temperature reduction on my old build when I upgraded from a stock cooler, and with some OC on my newer build, I’m never concerned about overheating my system. If you want the extremely low temperatures and extra OC overhead of a liquid cooling system, the Corsair Hydro Series H55 is effective and budget-friendly.
Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO Cooling Fan
If the CPU is the brain, then the GPU is the brawn. While many games are CPU-intensive, it’s really the GPU that makes the whole thing run smoothly (or not). You want to push more polygons, render more rays, and jettison those jaggies? That’s on your GPU.
You have a few options here, but it’s generally best to go with one solid card over a couple of lesser ones. Both major GPU manufacturers—NVIDIA and AMD, formerly ATi—offer multi-GPU configurations known as SLI and Crossfire, respectively, but these can make gaming experiences worse. Those extra fractions of a second that are required to send calculations to and from multiple cards can introduce micro-stutters that affect playability. Therefore, it’s definitely worth putting in a little bit more for one good card than getting a lower-end card and possibly doubling up on it down the line.
I have an MSI GTX 970 Gaming 4G myself, and I’m quite happy with it. Despite the rather infamous issues it has when utilizing more than 3.5 of its 4GB of GDDR5 vRAM, it’s a great mix of price and performance. (With a little push, it can nearly reach the levels of the far more expensive GTX 980.)
MSI GeForce GTX 970 Gaming 4G Graphics Card with self-contained cooling system
I like MSI cards, in particular, because their FROZR fan system is nice and quiet. It’s only kind of a joke that gaming PCs sound like an airplane under heavy load, thanks to all the fans running at full speed. MSI cards aren’t silent, but they’re impressively quiet.
As an aside, AMD graphics cards generally have superior raw numbers for around the same price (if not slightly cheaper), but many PC games are better optimized for NVIDIA hardware and/or use various NVIDIA-developed tools for better rendering of hair, lighting, etc. In the long term, that may not be the case, but in the here and now, you’re probably better off with an NVIDIA card.
Your RAM is like your short-term memory. It holds your operating system and all your concurrent programs. You want fast RAM and you don’t want ever to be caught in a situation where you run out of it. This means choosing the right RAM is somewhat tricky, because there are so many options available to you. The reality is that you don’t need to spend a whole lot of money on 32GB of DDR4 3200 MHz RAM. 16GB of 1600 MHz DDR3 Crucial Ballistix Sport will do you just fine. As cool as it is to say you have 32GB of RAM, there’s really no tangible benefit for video games beyond 16 and, even then, most games only ask for 8. While you can definitely find faster RAM out there, the minimal performance increase isn’t necessarily worth the extra price. 1600MHz is plenty, and the built-in heatsinks on these sticks keep them from overheating and also look pretty cool, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Crucial Ballistix Sport 16GB (2 x 8 GB) DDR3 PC3-12800 Memory Module Kit
A good power supply is a thing you put into your system and promptly forget about. It sits there quietly; making sure everything has enough juice without wasting energy. Power supplies don’t get enough credit, but a dependable power supply can last you a long time, as long as you keep the future in mind when picking. For this build, you don’t need more than a Corsair CS650M. I have an earlier version, without the modular cabling, and it has served me well through multiple system configurations. Aside from the fact that its modularity means that your case won’t be nearly as messy as mine, it’s also a very quiet power supply, only turning on the fan when it’s needed—very rarely, in my experience. Furthermore, it can easily power everything in this build while giving you some extra headroom in case you ever want to upgrade. If you think that might not be enough, perhaps it’s worth punching up to a Corsair RM750. Only the hardest of the hardcore will ever need more power than that.
Corsair CS650M Power Supply Unit
Long-term memory: the ability to recall moments from the past quickly and efficiently is crucial to having a smooth experience, both in games and general system usage. I remember when SSDs first began to appear; everyone would talk about how the best thing you could do for your system was upgrade to one. They may have cost more than most graphics cards, but the speed benefits afforded by them were worth it. Years later, they’ve become so (relatively) cheap that getting at least one is a no-brainer. They’re still more expensive than traditional spinning hard drives—and probably always will be—but you’ll definitely want a Samsung 250GB 850 Evo in your rig. 250GB should be enough for your operating system and games. With new releases needing upwards of 40GB, you’ll still have to manage your space, but you won’t have to worry too much. As for brand? For the money, it’s Samsung Evo or nothing.
Samsung 250GB 850 Evo 2.5" SATA III Solid-State Drive
For your other programs that don’t rely on rapid access to long-term memory, an SSD is overkill. Consider adding a Western Digital 2TB Caviar Black hard drive for the rest of your applications and anything else you might need to store. With everything moving toward the cloud, 2TB should be more than enough. Western Digital’s Caviar Black line is a solid choice. For a spinning disc, it’s plenty fast, and it’s reliable, as well. It may not be an SSD, but it makes a fine complement.
Windows 8.1 Professional. Gabe Newell, head of the Valve, rightfully the biggest name in PC gaming, famously rejected Windows 8 upon release. He was worried that the addition of a walled-off app store would hurt the proliferation of compelling indie games, but those fears have proven to be unfounded and, ultimately, the OS is pretty good. Let’s be honest, though: You don’t want Windows 8.1; you want Windows 10. With its July 29 release, you don’t have long to wait. As I wrote earlier, there are some serious under-the-hood changes that are especially enticing for anyone looking to play games, and both the Oculus Rift and Valve/HTC’s Vive collaboration are going to have native compatibility with the new platform. Of all its new features, the increased new gaming potential is possibly the most exciting. You will definitely want in on it.
There you have it—a system that will take on pretty much anything you could throw at it! If it’s a bit too rich for your blood, there are a couple of things you could do. A lower-end GPU like the MSI GTX 960 will knock $100 or so off the total. Switching over to an AMD setup with an FX 8320 processor and a compatible motherboard like the MSI 970 would do even more. Pairing those with an XFX Radeon R9 280X and a 1TB hard drive would bring your total closer to $1,000. It will not perform at the quite the same level as our recommended build but it will, nevertheless, provide you with a very satisfying gaming experience.
Building your own PC can be difficult, but it’s ultimately very rewarding. Knowing what you need is half the battle and you know now what you’re looking for—whether you choose this particular build or something else.
If you have any thoughts about this or other component recommendations, please let us know in the Comments section, below.