Intro to PC Building
Post written by Breshawn Wiley
For the easily intimidated, building a computer may sound a bit unsettling. Luckily, we are here to show you that assembling a PC isn’t as hard as building a 1/144 scale ZZ Gundam model kit. The fact of the matter is, putting together a PC is equivalent to building a Lego or K’NEX set. The most you need to do is educate yourself on the various components you need to buy. Once you understand the parts you need, you can then start planning the PC build which is the most fun part. To help get the fun started, we’ve curated this PC component shopping starter guide to upgrade your custom PC building skills.
There are many different price ranges when it comes to PC builds. If you plan on playing less-demanding games such as League of Legends, DOTA 2, or Hearthstone, then the PC doesn’t have to be expensive. Spending as little as $450 will get the job done. If you are looking to play the higher end games such as Witcher 3 in 4k, then you will be looking at the higher price tags that land in the thousands. There’s also a middle ground in which you would be able to play all the demanding games but lack the ability to crank them up to their highest settings. Thus, there is a ton of flexibility in PC building.
Your goal should always be to get the most bang for your buck. There will be occasions in which a component will cost more for only slightly better performance but shopping for the cheapest components may compromise performance down the road. This concept may seem difficult but iBUYPOWER is here to walk you through it part-by-part.
To start, we recommend a quad-core central processing unit (CPU). To understand a CPU, think of it as the brain of the computer. Think about how much the human brain can accomplish at once. Your brain sends signals to your muscled to make them move while also thinking about the million things you must get done during the week. Well, that is the same way the computer works. Therefore, you want a CPU that can handle powering your graphics processing unit (GPU) and multi task the other applications you may need to have open.
There are two main CPU providers: Intel and AMD. While it is questionable who remains “king” of processor performance, both provide amazing performance for different functions. If you are looking to solely game on your PC, Intel CPUs are your best bet. However, if you are looking to stream and create content, you may want to look for an AMD. Most critics will mention the Intel quad-core Kaby Lake 7700K CPU as being the best quad-core CPU for consumers. This component can usually be found for around $300. A great alternative is the Intel quad-core i5-7500 for roughly $200.
On AMD’s end, they just released their Ryzen 7 CPU and there are five different versions. The high-end model is the 1800x and is an eight-core, 16-thread CPU that is comparable to Intel’s eight-core i7-6900k in regards to productivity at half the price.
Most games are optimized to perform best with a quad-core CPU. If you opt to get more cores, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will get better performance for gaming. Thus, in most cases you would be wasting money if you wanted more than a quad-core just for gaming. If you plan on multi-tasking by using professional video editing software and streaming non-stop then you should consider more cores. If you ever have trouble deciding between two CPUs you can use a website called “CPUboss” that will allow you to compare the specs of the two processors and provide you a ranking for each. There are also benchmarks available for more detailed comparisons.
Here is a bonus tip: Look to see if the CPU is “unlocked.” An unlocked CPU can be overclocked which will allow better performance without having to spend extra money. Any AMD CPU made today is unlocked. For an Intel CPU, you want to look for SKUs that end with a “K” or an “E” as these are the models that can be overclocked. Each CPU has its overclocking limit. If you want to overclock, just know you should also consider getting an upgraded cooler so that the heat can be maintained – a topic we discuss below.
Once you have a good CPU, your Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) or graphics card will then become the component that affects you gaming performance the most. Although the graphics card will be one of the most expensive parts of your PC, it doesn’t mean you need to spend all of your budget on it. Graphics cards tend to get a little better over time due to companies releasing driver updates to enhance performance. This allows you to find a middle-ground rather than constantly purchasing the latest and greatest GPU just to play the newest games that release.
The way to pick your graphics card is by determining the settings at which you wish to play games. For instance, 1080p is the most common resolution with a minimum of 30 FPS (frames per second). The Nvidia GeForce GTX 970, AMD Radeon RX 480 and RX 570 are all capable of handling these settings. If you want to game at 1080p but also 1440p resolution, then look at GeForce GTX 980, 1060 6 GB, and Radeon RX 580. For better performance at 1440p you can also look at the GTX 1070 or R9 Fury X. If you truly want to take your gaming to the next level and want to play in 4K then at minimum you will need a GTX 1080. If you have a little extra money to spare, then you may want to upgrade to a GeForce GTX 1080 Ti which is arguably the existing “King” of gaming GPUs on the market.
If you don’t need to play with the highest settings and just want a bang-for-your-buck GPU, then the GTX 1050 Ti or RX 470 will suffice. These cards will provide a great experience at medium settings. If you only play games that aren’t as graphically demanding such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, League of Legends, Dota 2, or Hearthstone, then you can opt for more affordable options like the GTX 1050 or GTX 1050 Ti.
If you noticed, the GPUs that were just mentioned were either produced by Nvidia or AMD. Each brand has it strength and weaknesses but enthusiasts give the edge to Nvidia for its drive update experience. Nvidia comes with GeForce Experience which allows the ability to automatically enable optimal settings for your games. Even with all the features Nvidia has, AMD is still seen as the best bang-for-your-buck due to its dollar-to-performance ratio. Both companies provide quality graphic cards so you can’t go wrong either way. Generally, a way to determine better quality is to note the graphic cards video RAM (VRAM). VRAM is responsible for loading game texture which is determined by the resolution you are playing at. 2-4GB of VRAM is typically good for playing games in HD (1080p). 4-8GB is good for Ultra HD (1440p) gaming. If you want to play in 4K (3840×2160) then 6 or more GB is what you should be looking for.
If you are focused solely on gaming, at minimum, you will need an 8GB RAM stick. If you plan on multi-tasking and having an internet browser open while gaming, then it’s in your best interest to go with 16GBs. This component has different speeds but for your gaming needs, 1600MHz and above will work perfectly fine. For the most optimal experience you should opt to have two separate RAM sticks. For 8GB you should get two 4GB sticks and for 16GB you should get two 8GB sticks. When choosing your RAM be careful to get the correct RAM that fits with your motherboard. Check to see if DDR4 is compatible or DDR3.
When you have finally decided which CPU you will use, your options for motherboards will be narrowed down. Every motherboard is different and isn’t compatible with every CPU available. For example, if you have an Intel i5-7500 then you will need a motherboard that supports the LGA 1151 socket. If you chose the AMD Ryzen series, then you will need a motherboard that supports the AM4 socket. Like we mentioned before, all the AMD Ryzen series come unlocked. If you plan on overclocking the AMD CPUs then make sure the motherboard also comes with a X370, B350, or X300 chipset. Chipsets are also important as they will tell you which ports and features the motherboard will support. You want the most modern motherboards as they will support the newest connectivity technologies.
After you decide on the socket of the motherboard, the next decision will be what size you want. Motherboards come in the following four forms: Mini-ITX, MicroATX, ATX, and Extended ATX. The Mini-ITX board will fit in mini cases. Extended ATX will require a full-tower case, but will provide the most features and ports. It all comes down to the amount of video cards, RAM, and various ports you want. If you want two or more graphics cards, you should check if the motherboard supports Crossfire/SLI. You may also want to check how many PCIe slots are available because it will determine how many video cards you can slot into it.
Case sizing is the foremost important part of PC compatibility. As previously mentioned, motherboards have different sizes which forces cases to mimic the same guidelines. The Mini-ITX chassis are meant for the Mini-ITX motherboards. Micro-Towers will suite the Micro-ATX boards, Mid-Towers will match with the ATX boards, and full-towers are designed for Extended-ATX motherboards. You’ll also want to make sure the case fits all your components including video cards, power supply, or aftermarket cooler.
There are tons and tons of case designs. This gives you a chance to find the case that represents “YOU”. Are you basic or are you full of spunk? Whatever you are, just make it look sexy. Take for instance our iBUYPOWER Snowblind case. It allows total customization as it has LCD side panels that project anything your heart desires.
Most CPUs come with a cooler unless you’re buying the most elite high-end Intel CPUs. Stock coolers are good if you don’t plan on overclocking the CPU. However, if you do want to overclock then you want to upgrade the cooler. If you want a good budget cooler, then look at the Cooler Master’s Hyper 212 Evo. The more overlocking a CPU needs, the more efficient a water cooler needs to be. Thus, using a closed-loop water cooler should be used. Remember to check if the cooler can fit inside your case. While most cases support 120mm fans, there are some that will be able to use a 140mm fan.
SSD for gaming PCs are highly encouraged. 240GB SSD is the minimum you should aim for but more is better. An SSD will load your computer much faster if the operating system is placed on it.
The newer storage is the Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe) drives. These are very fast storages that come in two different forms. One requires a PCIe slot while the other requires a M.2 slot. Check the motherboard to see which slots are available.
Mass storage on SSDs can be very costly. Unless you have an extra $600 to purchase a 2TB SSD, you are going to want a much cheaper option. A 7200rpm 1TB hard disk drive is the most standard seen in gaming PCs. They are good for all your normal productivity applications as you should leave your SSD for the gaming needs.
Lastly, the final component you need for your ultimate gaming PC is a power supply unit. To make your life easier, account for any potential upgrades you may want to do to your PC in the future. If you are wanting to add an extra graphics card to your PC then that should be accounted for. As a rule of thumb, you should give yourself a 100-watt power buffer just in case you ever find yourself in a bad weather environment or power spike. There are a lot of power supply vendors out there like Corsair and EVGA with different supplies that range in tier. Select a tier tailored to your PC needs.