What’s in a PC?

If you’re stuck at home now is the perfect time to build your own custom gaming PC, but where do you start? When I first started building PCs I remember having no idea to where to begin. I researched parts for hours, identifying all the pieces I’d need to build my new machine. I ordered expensive graphics and sound cards, what was, at the time, a lot of memory, and so on. I installed all of my components, Windows, and a game I had been dying to play. I sat nervously while I loaded the game, and as it ran for the first time on maximum graphics, I felt a sense of accomplishment that I’ve never forgotten.

Since then I’ve built dozens of PCs, mostly from kits, and each time I get that sense of satisfaction, of having put something together that works. Having done it many times now I realize how simple it really is, once you boil it down to the essentials.

What's in a PC?

Motherboard

A motherboard (or mobo for short) is what everything else in your computer plugs into. The CPU (central processing unit) is housed in your motherboard. The graphics and sound cards will fit into (probably PCI Express, a.k.a. PCIe) slots located on your motherboard. RAM will plug into your motherboard. Your hard drive will be connected to your motherboard.

Motherboards have a number of specs you need to be aware of:

  1. What chips does it support? Typically, a motherboard will support a limited number of chips, as they are not one-size-fits-all.
  2. What slots does it support? For a gaming PC you’re looking for at least two, if not four, PCIe slots
  3. How much memory does it support, and at what speeds? The more memory, and the faster the memory, the more fluid your gaming experience will be.

Modern gaming motherboards typically come with LAN (wired and wireless internet) capabilities built-in, so you won’t have to worry about that. If your motherboard doesn’t come with a networking solution you’ll have to buy a network card. Likewise, you may have not on-board audio, or you may have it and choose to buy a more advanced sound card. Other considerations include the number of USB ports.

Power Supply

Buying and installing a power supply is a straightforward endeavor, just make sure it has enough power with all of your new, fancy components installed!

CPU

The CPU (central processing unit) is the brain of your PC. CPUs have a number of cores (the number of things that can be simultaneously processed, more or less) and a clock speed (the number of cycles per second the CPU can handle out of the box). Surprisingly, more cores does not necessarily mean a better gaming machine, because games don’t tend to use all the cores. However, clock speed is very important: choosing an appropriately high clock speed will mean speedy gaming.

Memory

Memory, a.k.a RAM (Random Access Memory) is a confusing subject. There’s so many different types of RAM available, and it can feel overwhelming to a novice. Luckily, memory manufacturers offer tools to help you discover if your RAM will be compatible with your motherboard, e.g. Crucial’s memory adviser or Kingston’s memory search.

There are really only two considerations when choosing memory:

  1. What speed of RAM do you need? High is better for gaming, but make sure it’s compatible with your motherboard.
  2. How much RAM do you need? Again, more is better, but only to a point, and make sure your motherboard can support both the number of sticks and the total amount.

Hard Drive

You’ll need a hard drive on which to install your operating system, not to mention a place to put all of your digital stuff! Considerations for a hard drive are similar to those of memory:

  1. What size hard drive do you need? I’d recommend at least 1TB.
  2. What type of hard drive do you want, spinning disk or solid state (SSD)? Once again make sure your motherboard supports your choice. Odds are your motherboard supports SATA (Serial ATA) devices, which also include CD/DVD/Blu-ray drives, should you want to install one or more.

Graphics Card

This is a fun section, and it’s where most people that are building a custom gaming PC spend the most time. There’s a ton of options, but ultimately it will come down to NVIDIA or AMD, and your mileage may vary no matter your choice.

And Everything Else

You’ve now got everything you need for your custom gaming PC, but you’ll probably want a few more things for comfort and fun.

The Case

Get a case that supports your mobo and your power supply and whatever (and however many) drives you’ve chosen. Cases are a fun part of building a PC, customize to your hearts desire!

Keyboard and Mouse

Don’t forget a good keyboard and mouse. A lot of gamers choose keyboards with mechanical switches as they support more simultaneous inputs, and they feel better.

A good mouse is important too, ensure you get one with a high enough polling rate (e.g., at least 500Hz).

Need Help?

There’s a lot that you can do when you build your own PC, if you’d like help selecting parts for your custom gaming PC, or if you’d like us to build it for you, reach out to us today!

A Newbie’s Guide to Budgeting for a Gaming PC

When it comes to budgeting for a gaming PC build, most newbies don’t do much work here. They tend to just figure out what they can afford, get the parts that look the coolest or whatever they find first and then just put it together. To a lot of new builders, finding the parts isn’t what they’re there for. No, that’s just the annoying bit that gets in the way of them doing the fun bit of assembling their new toy and playing games. And this is fine but by not taking the time to specifically set their budget or shop for particular parts, they are opening themselves up to some potential problems.

A Newbie's Guide to Budgeting for a Gaming PC

First, this sort of shopping approach can unintentionally bottleneck your system. If you aren’t picking your CPU and GPU based on relative performance and how much of the budget they consume then you will almost certainly end up with one of the primary pieces of hardware in your machine performing far better than the other which can lead to the performance of the superior part being degraded as it has to reduce the level it runs at in order to accommodate the weaker and slower hardware it works alongside.

There is also the risk of hardware having its support cut. If you buy a motherboard, for example, without researching it and then learn that the manufacturer will be cutting all support for the BIOS that motherboard runs despite a fatal flaw leading to bluescreens on systems using it then you are unlikely to be pleased. This kind of scenario is unlikely but far from impossible and is one reason why you want to do extensive research rather than just picking whatever parts work and running with it.

A general rule of thumb to avoid this sort of problem is that you want to spent 2x as much on your GPU as you do the CPU. This is a gaming PC, after all, and the GPU is what will be pushing all those fancy images to your monitor. It’s also a good idea to have at least double the amount of system RAM as your graphics card does VRAM. If you have a GPU with 8 gigs of VRAM then you need at least 16 gigs of system memory. Of course, these are more of guidelines than hard rules so feel free to alter them if you want. Still, this should give you a basic idea of how to budget for a gaming PC.

If you still feel like you need some help budgeting for your gaming PC build then contact us today!

When to Replace a Laptop Hard Drive

Lifespans vary considerably, but many modern hard disk drives last around five years. You might need to replace your laptop’s drive when you notice these signs of failure:

When to Replace a Laptop Hard Drive

1. If files vanish or become unreadable, a faulty hard disk may be to blame. Filenames might get scrambled as well. However, keep in mind that malware could also trigger these problems.

2. When unusual errors start to appear as you manage files or run software, it’s a possible sign of impending failure. Some messages may report disk I/O problems.

3. Do you experience long pauses when opening files? If so, your HDD might soon fail. Remember that other things can also slow down your computer, including certain anti-virus programs.

4. Peculiar noises may foretell a hard drive crash. Listen for abnormal humming, grinding, clicking or scratching sounds that you didn’t hear in the past.

5. A failing laptop HDD might prevent the operating system from booting when you power up the computer. It may boot a few more times if you restart it repeatedly.

6. When the machine frequently freezes up or displays blue-screen errors, it could need a new drive. This is more likely to happen as you open or save files.

7. If you don’t find any viruses, try running a disk check. This scan may detect bad sectors. Complete failure could be near if it finds many of them.

8. Has your notebook computer simply stopped detecting the hard drive? If so, the unit may need replacement or isn’t properly connected to the motherboard.

Hard disk failure is more likely if you notice any of these symptoms after the laptop suffers some type of harm. For example, it may have overheated or been dropped.

It’s wise to back up your files and take action before the drive completely fails. If you need help diagnosing the problem or replacing hardware, please contact our knowledgeable technicians today.