When it comes to gaming computers, the most versatile graphic cards, best built motherboards and speediest RAM are beat in a matter of weeks. Worse yet, they become obsolete to the gaming fanatic in a year. It's an expensive, addictive hobby, but someone's going to have the fastest computer out there, and so the competition continues.
This instructable shows the simple task of putting together a top-of-the-line gaming machine. Remember, this rig won't be top-of-the-line for long. It has, maybe, a few weeks in the spotlight as the fastest computer on my block. It arguably has the best graphics on the market today, its one of the best overall gaming rigs out there, and sits in a unique and versatile case that won't become phased-out for some time.
Step 1: Case
Any case will do, as long as everything fits. Premium cases keep the computer colder with advanced airflow capabilities and have bigger interiors to keep everything neatly tucked away.
There are great products from Gigabyte (Aurora 3D 570) and Thermaltake (Kandalf Extreme Edition) but I chose Cooler Master's Stacker 830 Nvidia edition for it's cooling abilities and interesting design. The case has a side fan tray with four 120 x 25mm fans pushed it to the top of the list. It going to be loud, but cold. Plus the removable motherboard tray is an interesting bonus, making for a faster build and easier upgrade.
Step 2: Motherboard
For a gaming machine, expect to overclock the motherboard. Normally I use a motherboard that supports the Intel chipset like Intel's D975XBX2 which is in my other rig. This time however, Im choosing the nForce 680i chipset for an SLI configuration (with two graphic cards).
Since there are few alternative motherboards for this set up, I chose to stick with the Nvidia brand to boost compatibly and stability when overclocking. Also the layout of this board is extraordinarily well-designed. Just look at the way the power connectors, floppy /IDE/ SATA ports, and the front panel are located around the outer edge and close to the top of the board. The makes the wiring easy with shorter cable runs that can be bundled giving better airflow and a neat appearance.
To install the motherboard, first place the mounts onto the tray. Snap in the I/O shield. Place the motherboard over the tray line it up with the I/O shield and fasten it down to the chasse with the supplied screws. Be extremely careful not to over tighten.
Step 3: CPU
AMD held the title as the best CPU for a long time. Now it's Intel's turn with the introduction of the Core 2 and quad cores.
Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800 Is the chip of choice for gaming. Make note that no games take advantage of the quad cores as of yet. If you want to future proof your rig and sacrifice a bit of speed, though, get yourself a quad core.
To install the chip, locate the CPU socket on the motherboard. Unclip the retention arm by pushing down then move it slightly to the right now lift it up. Remove the protective covering.
Now apply some thermal paste to the top of the chip and spread it evenly across the surface. Align the notch on the chip with the notch on the socket. Close the lid and lock the latch. Attach the heat sink over the top of the chip and secure it with the supplied screws.
Step 4: RAM
I realize that 4GBs of DDR2 RAM is overkill. For instance I'm currently playing Battefield 2142 which only requires 512 MB RAM. But remember that what's on the game's box is the minimal requirement for the game to run. If you want to max out the textures, shading and lighting, the overall graphic quality, then install as much RAM as you can afford --at least 2GB.
This rig is going to get two sets of paired ram. The first set is Kingston HyperX PC2-8000 and the second is Corsair Dominator 9136. Different brands are ok as long as the timings match. The lower the better. Both of these are noted at 5-5-5-15. I overclocked them to go 4-4-4-13 and its still stable.
Insert them by color code --in this case, one set in the blue sockets the other in the black. Align the notches on the ram to the notches on the socket; push until they "snap" into place.
Step 5: Graphics Cards
The most important component in a gaming PC is the graphic card. Last year I built a rig using dual ATI's Radeon X1900 in crossfire mode. It was a great system then. But today, Nvidia's 8800GTX is the fastest card available. For comparison, the Playstation3 is running a tweaked version of the Nvidia 7900 graphic card architecture, and the 8800 GTX is approximately twice as fast.
When deciding on a card look for the most RAM and cooling power, and make sure it's Direct X 10 ready. Currently Nvidia's the only one that's works in Direct X 10. Keep in mind, Ati is a formidable adversary and the tides can turn quickly.
This PC is getting two graphic cards running in SLi mode. SLI (Scalable Link Interface) is the term for Nvidia's proprietary way of getting two cards of the same model linked to share the graphics load. This will improve the rendering performance, making it up to twice as fast.
To install them look on the motherboard for three PCIe slots, two black and one blue. Using the two black ones, connect each graphic card by aligning the card notch with the hook/release handle on the socket. Lastly, screw it to the back of the removable motherboard tray. Attach the Sli connector spanning both cards on the top.
Step 6: Sound Card
Motherboards usually come with onboard sounds. But you aren't going to settle for the squeak that comes out of the motherboard. Even a generic sound card usually does better. The only other brand I 've used is M-AUDIO , not a bad performer. But Creative has made a name for themselves on sound cards. In fact this card is over a year old an still holding first place. The X-Fi XtremeGamer Fatal1ty Professional(way to long of a name) allows you to hook up your computer to your stereo for surround sound that will wake up your neighbors.
Carefully place the card between the 2 graphic cards and seat it into the white pci slot. Align the notches and push down. It's a snug fit for this rig, but it does fit barely.
Step 7: Optical and Hardrives
This PC contains one optical and two hard drives. This is a good area to keep costs down because upgrades are easy and good components can come cheap.
For DVD drives, for example, even the cheapest component will do.
But when it comes to hard drives, you might want to be a bit more picky. The main drive, a Western Digital Raptor at 74 GB running at 10,000 rpm, is for speedy boot time. The other drive is a 500 GB Seagate that will handle all my gaming storage. This rig can handle way more storage. You could raid two drives together, which could increase both speed and storage, or just buy more harddrives. Since I'm only playing 2 or 3 games at a time, 574 GB total is all I require. Next time, however I'll be looking into measuring my storage in terabytes.
The install on these is straight foward.
For the DVD player, slide it in the front of the case, locking it in using the tool-less latch system.
the hard drives screw into the removable hard drive cage. Pop the cage back into the case.
Step 8: Power Supply
This rig is going to need a lot of juice to make it run. Not quite an entire Kilowatt, but, almost!
The Turbo-Cool 1KW-SR delivers 1000 watts (1 Kw) of continuous, power with a peak output of 1100 Watts. If you're not opting for this much power, still buy a bit more than you need in quality and power remember cheap power supplies burnout quickly without warning, sometimes frying other components with them.
Install by simply screwing it into the top back part of the case.
Step 9: Connect the Cables
Slide the motherboard tray back into the case and start connecting all the cables. Everything here has standard connectors, with corresponding socket that are keyed. Simply put, they only connect one way so you can't make a mistake unless you push really hard.
The real trick is to organize the wires so they are neat and out of the way. Use zip ties, double sided tape and Velcro to secure them down and maximize airflow efficiently.
With every component install and powered, connect the cases power switch to the motherboard and fire it up.