Building your own gaming PC can be an incredibly rewarding experience. From the excitement of picking out parts to the thrill of assembly, there’s nothing quite like it.
But despite its many dividends, building a PC from scratch remains a niche endeavor, its participation limited by the daunting nature of the task.
Fear not: though it might seem a formidable and overly complex task, building your own gaming PC is relatively straightforward. With the right info, a clear and well-thought-out concept, and proper guidance, anyone can do it.
This guide will start you on your PC-building journey. This is the “right info” stage, where you’ll learn what the key components of a gaming PC are and how they function. Learning this information is vital, as it will help you plan and develop the concept of the PC you want to build.
Starting with the brain of your computer is a good place, especially since the CPU determines what types of other components you should/can use. For most people, you are likely considering joining the Red team or the Blue team, aka AMD or Intel®, respectively. Both came to 2020 ready to play, so it will likely be a tough decision. Here are the basics.
AMD made some big moves recently with the release of its “Zen 3” 7nm architecture. Known better as the Ryzen 5000 series, these processors come with the promise of a 26% boost in 1080p gaming and a 19% improvement for general PC workloads. For average gaming, the six-core Ryzen 5 5600X and eight-core Ryzen 7 5800X will most certainly get the job done.
If you need something for a little more than loading up Fortnite, say your day job as a 3D animator or video editor, then the 12-core Ryzen 9 5900X and 16-core Ryzen 9 5950X are the way to go. A doubling of the cache to 64MB and faster clock speeds will power through all these tasks, and maybe take your games up to 4K. All the 5000 series support 3200 MHz DDR4 memory and PCIe 4.0, meaning you can use the latest tech.
As for Intel®, the company came out in April 2020 with its 10th Gen Comet Lake™ Core™ lineups. One thing you have to appreciate is the variety of options to hit multiple audiences. At the moment, I would focus on the i9-10900K, i7-10700K, and i5-10600K. These have support for 2933 MHz DDR4 memory and provide good performance for their respective price points.
Intel® has some solid 10th Gen processors on the market, though I think the stronger argument for the company is that it still has its 11th Generation Rocket Lake™ on the way, which will likely show some solid improvements, such as faster memory and PCIe 4.0 support, that make the AMD versus Intel® decision a toss-up once again.
2020 was a great year for graphics cards—if only people could get ahold of the newest models. Still, 2021 should see stock replenished over time (we hope!), and the new releases should become much more accessible.
Again, if we want to break it down into two teams, we have Team Red (AMD, again) and Team Green (NVIDIA). What can I say, the colors are a huge part of the brands. Both had absolutely massive launches in 2020, NVIDIA with its 3000 series cards and AMD with its 6000 series.
NVIDIA came out with an amazing series at seemingly better price points than the last generation. This got a lot of people’s attention. Performance for gaming seems to hold up as well, with the GeForce RTX 3090 making headlines with 8K gaming. Moving on to more everyday cards, we have the still-incredible 3080 for solid 4K gaming and the likely best for most 3070 balancing price and performance for smooth 1440p gaming. Finally, the 3060 Ti hits an even more friendly price point with only a minimal drop in spec compared to the 3070, making it great for those using 1080p displays.
Being RTX cards, they bring ray tracing to the party, which is one of the coolest things for newer games. It makes the virtual worlds feel more real and therefore more immersive. If you haven’t seen it before I guarantee you’ll spend a couple minutes walking in front of windows and mirrors to check it out. Also, NVIDIA has its own feature set to enjoy, such as DLSS 2.0 to boost performance by using AI upscaling to retain detail while rendering at a lower resolution.
NVIDIA, you did good, and it’s easy to plan on putting an NVIDIA 3000 series card on your list.
If you want some competition, AMD has delivered that with its Radeon RX 6000 series cards. Using its RDNA 2 Architecture and other technologies, the RX 6800, RX 6800 XT, and RX 6900 XT are all highly capable gaming tools. The lineup is sensible, with the 6900 XT being the top for reliable 4K gaming, followed by the 6800 XT for fast 1440p and solid 4K, and the 6800 for more everyday gaming setups.
Comparing the two brands, you can’t go wrong with either. Arguments could be made one way or the other for particular use cases, for example, for more intense apps the extra memory and speed of the RTX 3090 might push it over the RX 6900 XT, while the reverse could be said of the RX 6800 against the RTX 3070. It’s a fun market, and while you likely have a preference, this might come down to what is available at what price in 2021.
For gaming you’ll want to get the fastest storage you can afford. NVMe SSDs are the way to go, especially if you can get some PCIe 4.0 speeds. Theoretically, we are talking about read speeds of around 7000 MB/s. That will help minimize load times, especially with games now getting more and more detailed and having larger open worlds. Right now, you can pick up something like the WD_Black SN850 NVMe SSD or the Samsung 980 PRO NVMe SSD. Both are outstanding picks and both target gamers.
If that isn’t quite your speed (aka budget), then a SATA III SSD will do very well for you. Their speeds are closer to 500-600 MB/s but will provide respectable performance if you aren’t a pro gamer.
One thing you may notice is that the good ol’ spinning hard drives (HDDs) have a lot more storage capacity for the price. Don’t even think about using one as your main boot drive. Just don’t. They are terribly slow compared to modern SSDs.
When you have your processor picked out, you should look for a motherboard that supports it. The key spec is going to be the socket, say an AM4 for the new AMD CPUs mentioned earlier. That must be supported. Beyond that, it comes down to preferences and your needs. The motherboard will determine your memory support (amount and speed), what inputs/outputs you have to start, GPU and expansion PCIe card slots, storage options like NVMe, and a bit more.
It’s arguably too much to get into here, but if you pick out your other components first, it will help narrow down the options for motherboards and then you might be able to more easily decide on a specific model. Want a place to start? I’ve always had good luck with Gigabyte products and have run a couple builds using its motherboards. I’d happily recommend them.
With memory, the answer is always more and faster. I would go with the fastest memory supported by your CPU/motherboard to ensure maximum performance. Investing in more speed now, planning to upgrade later, you could argue you are future proofing, but for now you are just spending more on performance you aren’t seeing. Also, one thing to note with memory is that you want to buy it all at once, hopefully as a matched set, and spread it out across multiple channels. One 64GB stick is not equal in performance to four 16GB sticks. Reading across multiple channels will boost speed.
Oh yeah, and if you don’t fill your motherboard’s slots right away, make sure you install them properly. Most boards have instructions on this, but it usually means spacing the memory out. If you have four slots, don’t put them in slots 1 and 2; you’ll likely want to go with 1 and 3 or 2 and 4, but double-check your motherboard’s manual.
You’ll want to pay a lot more attention to your power supply. The latest cards and processors can be very power hungry. And you should always go above the minimum requirements. The last thing you want is to have issues because you thought you could get away with a slightly cheaper source.
Fans and Cooling
More and better cooling is needed for gaming. Water cooling is becoming the go-to option because of how effective it is and is definitely worth a look. Spring for the best you can get as heat is the biggest problem for power-hungry PCs. The more heat, the more potential for throttled speeds and performance, and there is a concern that running components at high temps for long periods of time can reduce their lifespan.
Pick a case you like. You should avoid any mini boxes as you won’t be able to fit in some of the bigger components and cooling will be terrible, throttling your performance. Mid-towers are good space-saving options, but if you can fit it a full tower with good cooling will result in the best performance. Also, make sure the case has any interfaces you might want, such as a front-facing USB port, Thunderbolt, etc. And you can always consider fun colors and RGB lighting.
This should give you a good jumping-off point to start planning your next build.
Is there anything you would personally recommend for a new computer build? Anything you want to learn more about? Please drop by the Comments section, below, or feel free to contact our know