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.
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:
- What chips does it support? Typically, a motherboard will support a limited number of chips, as they are not one-size-fits-all.
- What slots does it support? For a gaming PC you’re looking for at least two, if not four, PCIe slots
- 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.
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!
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, 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:
- What speed of RAM do you need? High is better for gaming, but make sure it’s compatible with your motherboard.
- 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.
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:
- What size hard drive do you need? I’d recommend at least 1TB.
- 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.
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.
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).
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!