Whether you plan to build a gaming PC from scratch or upgrade an old system, you have more choices than ever before. Above all, remember that you are building a PC for the unique ways you will use it. So, there are some essential things you should keep in mind before you start ordering parts.
Tip: Those with a PC running an AMD Ryzen CPU can easily overclock their RAM using the AMD Ryzen Master.
How much are you willing to invest in this venture? They say you can never overspend when building a PC. But fortunately, there’s always a way to maximize bang for your buck on any budget.
Provided you’ve put aside at least $700 to $800 for your build, you can put together a decent midrange 1080p gaming PC that can last you for years to come. Sure, you’ll have to make some compromises, but a pretty powerful machine is still possible on that budget.
On the other hand, if you have more money to spare, say, between $1200 and $1400, you can really splurge on high-end components that can deliver high-performance 1440p and even 4K gaming.
2. The games you want to play
Consider the type of games you want to play. A PC for running esports games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, League of Legends, or even Fortnite doesn’t have to be as high-end as the one required to run AAA titles like Cyberpunk 2077, Dying Light 2, or Horizon Zero Dawn.
The resolution you want to play at should also be taken into consideration. terms of image quality and performance.
Note: The higher the resolution of the game, the lower the performance.
In terms of performance, you have to consider how many frames you need to run your PC. While many agree that 60 FPS+ games should be the minimum standard these days, which may be sufficient for story-driven single-player games, you’ll need as many FPS as possible in more competitive multiplayer games.
In summary, you need to find a balance between resolution and frame rate. For gamers looking for the highest possible frame rates, the financial investment in the PC will increase considerably.
3. The upgrade path
The processor (CPU) and the motherboard are two of the basic components of a PC. These decide which platform you’re buying into (Intel or AMD) and the possible upgrade path you’ll have access to over the next few years.
It’s often tempting to choose one brand over another, simply based on personal favorites or convenience. But you should consider the upgrade path before locking yourself into one platform for years.
For example, Intel is widely known to upgrade its motherboard sockets almost every year which severely limits the upgrade path for users. AMD has continued to release new CPUs for its AM4 platform nearly six years after its initial launch in 2016. The company has promised to support the new AM5 platform launched in 2022 through 2025 and possibly beyond.
A long-lived motherboard gives you plenty of options to pop in a new, more powerful CPU every two to three years. This can significantly reduce the total investment in the PC compared to that of a platform that is updated every year.
4. Alternative uses
Gaming PCs pack a lot of horsepower, and this naturally makes them ideal for many non-gaming scenarios, such as professional video editing, image manipulation, and online streaming gaming.
While gaming PCs are versatile machines, they need to be set up if you have further uses in mind. For example, a 6-core, 12-thread processor will be more than enough for a gaming-only build, but for a productivity build that requires as much CPU power as possible, you might want to go with an 8-core or even 12-core processor for best results. Additionally, having extra memory or RAM will also improve performance on a machine you use for productivity.
Finally, the GPU on a productivity build doesn’t need to be the best of the best, but it should at least be powerful enough to keep up with the processor during graphically intense sessions.
Your PC’s graphics card will alone determine the kind of performance you can expect from the games you play. Currently, the two major desktop GPU manufacturers, NVIDIA and AMD, offer a variety of graphics cards in different price ranges.
Depending on your budget, you can choose a high-end card like NVIDIA’s RTX 3080 or AMD’s RX 6800 XT or a mid-range one like RTX 3060 Ti or RX 6700 XT. There are also lower-end cards like the RTX 3050 and RX 6500, but you’ll need to limit your expectations at those price points.
You can also opt for an older generation card to save some money. In addition to price points, factors like raytracing support can also influence your choice of GPU. NVIDIA’s RTX cards are known to be generally better than AMD’s offerings for games that support raytraced lighting, reflections, and shadow effects. NVIDIA’s FPS enhancement technology is also ranked higher than AMD’s.
However, if you’d rather focus on raw performance and save a buck, you should consider the higher-end but significantly cheaper AMD GPUs.
Good to know: Are eGPUs the new fad? Find out all the important aspects about them and decide for yourself.
PC storage is one of those areas where it’s easy to overspend. While there’s no longer any reason to choose mechanical hard drives, it’s also not prudent to spend hundreds of dollars on expensive Gen 4 or Gen 5 SSDs.
For most real-world scenarios, like system booting or playing games, a decent NVMe Gen 3 (PCIe 3.0) SSD is all you need to have a smooth and fast experience. Sure, the latest Gen 4 or Gen 5 SSDs advertise blazingly fast speeds, but you’ll rarely find a use case where you can feel this difference, except when you’re copying multiple large files day after day.
So as a rule of thumb, a sub-$50 500GB NVMe SSD should be enough for your operating system and some games. If you have some room in your budget, go for a 1TB SSD. And you can always get cheaper HDDs for secondary storage of your build.
7. Display and power supply
Achieving a certain frame rate at a certain resolution might be solely down to your GPU and CPU, but you really can’t experience it without a decent display.
If you have an older Full HD monitor with a refresh rate capped at 60Hz, your gaming experience won’t seem “high-end” at all, regardless of the other components in your build. This is where high refresh rate displays come into the equation.
In recent years, 1440p 144Hz monitors have gained traction as the perfect balance between price and performance. They offer significantly higher image quality and refresh rates without the prohibitive prices of high-refresh 4K displays. Our ultimate monitor buying guide sheds more light on various technologies related to gaming and non-gaming monitors.
Another often overlooked aspect is choosing a good power supply. A cheap power supply from a no-name brand can often limit the potential of your build, or worse, blow up and die, taking many other components with it. Always choose at least an 80+ bronze unit with sufficient power from a reputable manufacturer.
8. Aesthetics and dimensions
A gaming PC should also look the part as well as act like one. The case you choose to house your components determines not only the physical footprint of your PC, but also its appearance. Case aesthetics are determined by color, RGB fans, build quality, and more.
Gamers often leave the case selection for last, not doing as much research into it as compared to the other components. But your case goes beyond size and aesthetics. Cases with good airflow, cable management, and upgradability can enhance your building experience and daily satisfaction. They also allow for future upgrades instead of worrying about changing the case altogether.
To learn more about the factors that make up a good PC case, read our guide on how to choose a PC case.
9. The second-hand market
If your budget is a little tighter, you might want to consider checking out the used market. With the recent cryptocurrency crash and new CPUs and GPUs from Intel, AMD, and NVIDIA, there’s a surge in legacy products at great prices on sites like eBay, Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace. For example, you can get a 3070 Ti on eBay for as low as $300 and a Ryzen 5 5600X for as low as $113.
You may be reluctant to buy used products, especially GPUs, considering they may have been used for cryptocurrency mining. But with eBay’s buyer protection, you can rest assured that you’ll get a refund if a product is dead on arrival.
Tip: Stay in control of what’s going on under the hood of your PC with these fan control tools for Windows.
Is it cheaper to build or buy a gaming PC?
It’s usually cheaper to build a gaming PC than to get one pre-assembled (for a given configuration). Plus, building one can be a great experience and teach you a lot about PC hardware. Plus, you get full control over the components and customization of your build. Refer to our list of the best custom PC builder websites for pre-builds and custom builds.
How many years can a gaming PC last?
A gaming PC with a mid-range configuration like a modern six-core CPU and RTX 3060-like GPU can easily last three to four years, gaming at medium to high settings. A high-end system with an 8-core CPU and GPU similar to the RTX 3070 Ti will easily last more than five or six years before showing its age.
How hard is it to build a gaming PC?
It can seem daunting to build a gaming PC if you’ve never done it before. The learning curve is steep, and researching PC components can take many hours, if not days, before you can be sure of your chosen setup. If you’re willing to invest the time and want to learn a new skill, building a PC can be fun and save you money in the long run.
Image credit: Unsplash. All screenshots by Tanveer Singh.
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