Why a practical guide, you ask? If you google how to build a gaming PC, there’s an inordinate amount of guides that’s either collated by actual PC builders or those who have an agenda (read: sponsored). Either way, you’ll be able to deduce the structure behind all of these guides: not all brand name products are the best, you can’t skimp out on power-related components, and always get help when you need it.
Anyway, let’s get started.
The Theme of Your PC
As someone who was alone when I first built my PC and guided many first-time PC builders, I can definitely tell you that about 95 percent of them just wanted what’s compatible with the parts. Half of them returned to me, and asked if I wanted to help with a build again. This time, with a more thought-about theme to their personal computer.
So before you go searching for parts, think about what kind of design you want for your PC. Building an all-black PC is easy, as most components come in black (or thereabouts) paint. There’s certainly choices, but apart from red and white, color options are limited. Unless you really look for these parts and are willing to forego questionable build quality (which you don’t want to do), stick with what’s you can check physically or can return easily.
The Size of Your PC
My first PC was a full-size ATX tower. I thought it was glorious. Three months later, I wish I could’ve built something small. Something I could’ve popped on my desk would’ve been a lot easier to manage, which is what I did for my second PC.
To brief you, there are three main tower sizes you can choose from: ATX, micro-ATX, and mini-ITX. These sizes also correspond to the size of your motherboard, so that’s something you need to keep in mind. ATX are the full towers; search for the NZXT S340 to get a general idea of the size. It’s the biggest one you can get, and the one I got. Micro-ATX cases are smaller, around 30 percent less footprint than ATX. This is a good middle ground, and one I recommend to all new PC builders. A good example of this case is the Fractal Design Node 804, a box-sized case that you can put just about anywhere. Mini-ITX is the smallest one, cases that really approach the size of shoe boxes. There’s a lot of space compromise here, and it only recommended if you don’t have much space in your place. The Cooler Master Elite 110 should give you a rough estimate of how small these cases are.
One important note: you can use a micro-ATX or mini-ITX motherboard in an ATX case because there are screw nodes dedicated for smaller boards.
The Processor and Motherboard of Your PC
Your processor is probably the second most expensive component of your gaming PC, given that it’s for 1080p gaming. You’ll see a lot for sale, only either from Intel and AMD, but always stick to the current-generation chips. That’s because the PC component manufacturers always prioritize producing motherboards that are compatible to current-gen processors. Also, it would align your gaming PC to the current benchmarks.
Currently, Intel are on their 9th-generation processors but since we’re reasonable people, let’s hold back and opt for the 8th-generation processors. The 9th-gen chips are just too expensive and too powerful. You have a lot of options For AMD, their categories are Ryzen and Ryzen Threadripper. But before we choose the ideal processor for 1080p gaming, let’s delve into sockets. Think of a socket as the second name of your processor, much like there’s a brand name in a drug label (i.e. Prozac) and there’s a second name (fluoxetine) that is the drug’s main ingredient. It’s the main thing you should be looking for in a motherboard, as it need to correspond with the processor’s socket.
To focus on what you actually need for 1080p gaming, let’s eliminate a few things. For 1080p gaming, the 8th-gen i3 8100 is sufficiently powerful. AMD’s Ryzen 5 2600 is more powerful and a bit pricier. Now, why these two? For one, these are non-overclocking processors. With how powerful these chips by default, you’ll be able to render all the frames your video card can render (more on that later). Also, these processors balance their performance to their price. Whatever you saved here, it’s best to spend it on another component. To sockets: the i3 8100 corresponds to the LGA 1151 300 series, something like aGigabyte B360M. Notice the 360 in B360M? That’s the 300 series. For AMD Ryzen 5 2600, something like an Asus Prime AM4 motherboard correspond to the AM4 socket that the processor requires. Convoluted, yes, but you’ll get the hang of it by reading more.
In the end, it’s worth to spend a bit more for the Ryzen 5 2600. Essentially, it has more than the i3 8100. It has more cores and a higher clock speed, which means that the processor can handle heavier workloads (read: bigger AAA games) for the foreseeable future. More than that, it comes with a reliable CPU cooler that will serve you as well as other third-party brands. That is, until you start gaming heavily. Then, you’ll probably want to buy a bigger cooler or a liquid cooler.
The GPU of Your PC
Your graphics processing unit (GPU), or video card, is the most expensive part of your gaming PC. Since we’re aiming for 1080p, the absolute best video card you can buy right now is the Nvidia 1060 6GB. There’s a 3GB variant of the 1060 as well, so why not that one? The memory allocation is too small on the 3GB variant, especially if this is a gaming PC that you’re not going to upgrade for a long time.
The Nvidia 1060 6GB retails at around $250 right now. At that amount, you can be sure that this is a card that you’ll be using for a few years. An old Nvidia 780 ti that has 3 GB holds up to current games, so there’s no reason why you would need to replace a card with a 6GB memory when in 1080p, the most demanding games only require 4 GB to run max settings.
The Memory and Storage of Your PC
One thing you need to remember is that RAM is memory, memory is RAM. The two are the same thing, so don’t get confused once you start looking for parts. Now, the motherboard I recommended only has room for two RAM sticks. Many still prescribe 8 GB of RAM, but there’s 16 GB should be the standard now. Whether you’ll only use your gaming PC purely for gaming or you need it to be a bit of a workhorse, 16 GB of memory is all you’ve ever need.
As for storage, you only need one kind of internal storage: a solid-state disks (SSD). Here’s a brief explanation of SSDs: if you’ve never used it in your life, it’s a game-changer. Fast boot times, fast load times, fast everything. There are so many brands to choose from, but Samsung, Intel, and Sandisk are the ones you’ll see the most. But there are other brands that will serve you as well as these brands, like Crucial, Kingston, and Adata. The important thing about your SSD is that it should be 500 GB at minimum. It should have enough space for your Windows and probably for the games you’ll want. In addition, stick to SATA SSDs rather than the M.2 SSDs. M.2 is faster and more expensive, but if this the first time you’re going to be using an SSD, a SATA is plenty fast enough to show an incredible difference in performance compared to regular hard drives.
Furthermore, many guides are still pointing new PC builders to use internal hard drives for storage. In my experience, it’s a lot better to use an external storage. Carrying all the data you need is just more practical than it just sitting in your PC waiting for you to use them.
The PSU of Your PC
The power supply unit (PSU) of your gaming PC is one of the more important parts of your PC. To break it down, PSUs are rated in efficiency, meaning that the higher the rating, the better it is at delivering power to your PC. But, it’s actually come to a point that almost all of the PSUs from respectable brands are as good as advertised. Corsair, Super Flower, and Seasonic are leading the way here, with Antec, Silverstone, EVGA, and FSP coming a close second.
As for efficiency ratings, there are six: 80 Plus, 80 Plus Bronze, 80 Plus Silver, 80 Plus Gold, 80 Plus Platinum, and 80 Plus Titanium. For our conversation let’s eliminate the Gold, Platinum, and Titanium. PSUs at these efficiency ratings are too expensive and too feature-heavy that your 1080p gaming PC won’t need. As such, an 80 Plus Silver is your best price-to-performance tier. It should deliver all the power you need without a hitch.
Note: choose a modular PSU, as this will come with detached cables. This means that you’ll be able to manage your cables much better once you start building your PC.
The Monitor of Your PC
If you’re aiming to game at 1080p, why not aim for the best experience in gaming today: playing at 144hz. This is the refresh rate that will make you dizzy for how amazing it is, and you won’t go back to anything less once you start gaming at this refresh rate. Your monitor is the one that can deliver this refresh rate, but your video card must be able to render at this resolution and at this speed. The 1060 6 GB I recommended is perfect for gaming at this level, as it will render almost all games at max settings.
Your holy grail is to reach 60 frames per second (FPS). So, why a monitor that can refresh 144 frames per second if you’re only aiming for 60 frames? 60-FPS monitors are capped at 60 frames per second (duh), and it doesn’t have the refresh rate to deliver all the 60 frames all the time. 144hz monitors, however, are more than capable to render all 60 frames all the time since their response times are usually much quicker.
This is the meat of every PC building experience, and there’s still a lot to learn after your first one. For example, do you need a mechanical keyboard or is a headphone better suited to your auditory needs? It will be easy to figure out now that you know the most technical aspects of the task. The only thing you need to ask yourself is if certain parts are worth the money or not.