Introduction: Buying Parts for a Custom Gaming PC
Who this guide is for
For all the guides on how to build custom PCs, there are very few on how to choose quality parts that meet your needs. Even fewer are well written. Each step (there is one step per component) can be read independently of all the others if you’re looking for tips on one specific component.
As the title implies, this guide is for a gaming PC. Expect that if you have different needs, this guide may not be of much use to you.
You need not have any previous experience with building PCs or selecting parts. Each step will include an explanation of what the component is, guidelines on selecting a version, price ranges, and recommended brands.
Some useful tools and websites
Keeping track of all the components you’ve selected and comparing them can be difficult. The website PCPartPicker can be extremely helpful with this. Just click on the button in the upper left that says “Start a System Build” and you can start choosing parts. It will automatically keep track of the list. You can create an account to save a build under a custom name, but everything you do is automatically saved with the URL. After you’ve added a part you can see the URL with your build in the box titled “Permalink.”
See the second and third images in the gallery for more details on PCPartPicker.
Knowing where to buy is important as well. For the highest quality product and customer support, I recommend Amazon and NewEgg. There are other reputable vendors such as OutletPC and SuperBiiz where you may find lower prices but usually at the cost of customer service. In general, I would not recommend this trade.
How to purchase a part
I generally avoid places like eBay and Craigslist. You really don’t want to buy used PC components for a clean build. Even if a part looks good and works fine when you buy it, it may be degraded in ways you can’t see from stress caused by long or improper use. Used parts usually do not have warranties so if something goes wrong after two months you won’t have that part anymore and you risk damage to the machine.
It’s usually best to wait for parts to go on sale and buy individually rather than buying a dozen parts at once. Your wallet will thank you.
All about rebates
Many manufacturers that list their products on NewEgg include rebate offers on popular products. Let me be clear: they do not want you to get this rebate. Rebates are offered to draw customers in with “discounted” prices and then something happens that causes them to not get their rebate, so they just paid full price. If you apply for a rebate, follow every instruction very carefully and be extremely mindful of due dates. It sometimes happens that a rebate is available when you purchase a part but not by the time you mail it in.
Rebates typically ask for the order number, the UPC (bar code) from the box the part came in, and require a form to be filled out. All this needs to be mailed to the manufacturer.
NewEgg offers the full details of the rebate before purchasing the item. Make sure you read it thoroughly and that you have time to complete all the required steps.
See the fourth and fifth images in the gallery for more details on rebates.
After placing your order
Store your components in a cool and dry location. Be organized so you know exactly what you have and what you still need to buy. Be patient with the shipping process, these things can be delicate.
Unless otherwise stated, you shouldn't have to purchase any additional tools, cables, or screws to actually use your parts; the seller almost always includes these for you. As long as you own a Phillips head screwdriver, you should be good to go.
Step 1: GPU
A GPU (short for graphics processing unit, also called a graphics card or video card) manages all the video related things your computer does. Clearly, this is where the graphical power comes from to play games.
The first thing to be aware of is how GPUs are made. There are two big manufacturers, nVidia and AMD. Both make high quality cards and which you pick usually comes down to personal preference. Other companies such as MSI, EVGA, and GIGABYTE actually sell the card with a heat sink and fan attached. Between these sellers, there’s almost no difference.
The title of a GPU gives an accurate idea of how powerful it is. A GTX 980 will outclass a GTX 960, and an R9 390 will beat an R9 270. The higher the number the better. To compare between nVidia and AMD, see this resource.
To see what kind of real performance you can expect in terms of frames per second, check out notebookcheck.net and search for the GPU you are interested in.
Recommended Brands: nVidia, AMD
Note:There is a steep increase in price to go from mid to high. Just because the card costs twice as much does not mean you’ll be getting twice the performance. Most games work fine with mid-range cards.
Step 2: CPU
The CPU (short for central processing unit, also called a
processor) is the brains of the computer. This part handles all the math that your computer might do. This includes Microsoft Word, Photoshop, Web browsers, and things like that. The only big companies that make CPUs for consumers are Intel and AMD. AMD tends to be cheaper, but requires more electricity. A lot of people like to combine nVidia GPUs with Intel CPUs and AMD together.
Unlike GPUs, the names of CPUs do not help very much in determining which is the most powerful. A 3.5GHz CPU is not necessarily slower or weaker than a 4.0GHz CPU. It is much more useful to look at benchmarks which tell you how well a CPU does under a certain test. The higher the score the better. CPUBenchmark has a good database on this, and if you can’t find your CPU there, just Google it!
Gamers don’t tend to need a very high end processor. One thing to note here is that lot of high end processors focus on multi-threading. This is used to run lots of different things all at once. In a game, there’s usually not too much going on that the CPU is worried about. This means that there’s generally not a good reason to get an Intel i7 over an i5.
Recommended Brands: Intel, AMD
High: i7-6700K ($350)
Note:Again, most games will be just fine with a low end CPU.
Step 3: Memory
When people say “memory,” they mean RAM, or Random Access Memory. This is what your computer uses to remember things temporarily. This is for things like an open word document, web browser, object locations in a game, etc. Most games never need more than 8GB.
Recommended Brands: G Skill, Hyper X, Crucial
Price: ~$40 for 8GB
Step 4: Motherboard
The motherboard is the piece that ties everything together. It’s listed here at step 4 because your selection is largely going to depend on your selection in the previous 3 steps, graphics, processor, and memory. The only real requirement here is to make sure your board can handle everything you want. PCPartPicker has a great filter that you can easily find a top rated board with your needs. Unless you think they look cool, don’t pay extra for “gaming” motherboards, they don’t really offer anything more than regular boards do.
Recommended Brands: MSI, ASRock, GIGABYTE, ASUS
Price: $80-200, depending on your needs.
Step 5: Storage
Storage refers to your hard disk drive (HDD), where you store all your files and programs. How much space you need depends a lot on what you want to do. Optionally, you may want to include a Solid State Drive (SSD), which works the same, but is much, much faster. Naturally, it’s more expensive. 1TB should be enough for at least 50 games, so most gamers are easily satisfied with that.
Also consider if you want/need a CD/Blu-Ray drive. It usually makes your life easier to have one.
Finally, look at the number of “storage” devices you have. This includes the HDD, SSD, and CD Drive. These are connected to the motherboard with SATAcables. Most motherboards commonly only come with two cables, so if you have more than two devices, you’ll have to buy more cables separately.
HDD: WD, SeaGate
SSD: SanDisk, Crucial, Kingston, Samsung
Price: ~$50 for 1TB HDD or 120GB SSD
Step 6: Power Supply
Like the motherboard, you really just need to pick something that suits your needs. PCPartPicker provides good estimates on power consumption. My recommendation is that your power supply be able to handle around 150% of what your computer needs. Additionally, always buy Gold rated supplies or better.
This piece is not worth cheaping out on. If you get a bad power supply, you could fry your entire system.
Recommended Brands: Corsair, EVGA
Price: $40-100, depending on your needs
Step 7: Monitor
Most gamers only need one monitor (very few games work well with more than one). Here you’ll need to consider the power of your graphics card. Don’t bother getting a 4K monitor for gaming if you’re getting a mid-range graphics card. Your computer simply won’t have the horsepower to drive a display that big. Also be aware of the inputs. If you buy a VGA monitor and your Graphics card only has HDMI and DVI, you’ll be out of luck unless you have an adapter. Avoid this trouble and check before you buy!
Despite what others may tell you, using a TV works reasonably well. Most TVs have an option to treat the input as a game, so make sure you use that.
Amazon usually has good sales for monitors; I recommend never paying full price for one.
Recommended Brands: Acer, BenQ, ViewSonic
Price: ~$80 for 1080p
Step 8: Case
Finally, we have to put everything somewhere. Determining which case is right for you can sometimes be very difficult.
One thing to watch out for is motherboard mounting. Make sure the case supports your size: ATX, mini ATX, micro ITX, etc.
Also, check the number of drive bays. HDDs usually need 3.5” bays and SSDs 2.5”, however most 3.5 bays allow for mounting SSDs.
Consider the overall size of the case. The bigger the case, the easier it will be to work inside, but the more room you’ll need to store it. For beginners, I recommend a large case simply because it is easier move around in.
Recommended Brands: CoolerMaster, Thermaltake, Fractal Design
Price: $50-150, depending on your needs