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Build a Gaming PC with Slickdeals (Part 4)
Since the early days of personal computing, the hard disk drive has been the default internal storage device, offering ever-growing capacity and reliability. Advancements in technology have introduced new options, specifically solid-state drives and hybrid drives, but the term “hard drive” is still used to colloquially refer to all types of internal storage devices.
Hard Disk Drive
The traditional hard disk drive (HDD) is the bread and butter of PC storage. The technology is reliable, mature and inexpensive — a 3 terabyte (TB) HDD can be had for around $85. Just for perspective, my first HDD in the early 1990s was 80 megabytes (MB) and cost around $50!
An HDD is like a magnetic record player with spinning platters and a read/write head. But because the platters have reached a peak of 7200 revolutions per minute (RPM), data transfer speeds are capped at around 200 megabytes per second (MB/s). And that's under ideal circumstances — most commercial HDDs can only hit around 150 MB/s.
Performance-wise, a HDD is the slowest option when compared to a hybrid or solid-state drive, but the appeal is in its large capacity and low price. For gaming and everyday tasks, like photo and video storage, an HDD is a good value-based choice.
With no moving parts and data transfer speeds up to 550 MB/s, solid-state drives (SSD) are by far the quickest storage solutions to date. Using nonvolatile flash memory, SSDs can access data incredibly quick, which translates into dramatically reduced program startup and load times — the animated Windows logo doesn’t even have a chance to complete before my desktop appears.
Of course, in the PC world, faster means more expensive, and a 250 GB SSD will cost around $88 depending on the brand. But those who’ve tasted its nectar will all agree that the performance gains from an SSD are well worth the premium pricing.
Small form factor and less heat generation are also popular reasons for going the SSD route. Many new cases allow for SSDs to be mounted vertically and out of the way of incoming airflow, providing a clear path for cool air to find the biggest heat generators.
Hybrid Hard Drive
A hybrid hard drive is exactly what it sounds like: a traditional HDD paired with a small amount of flash memory that’s invisible to the operating system. The hybrid drive’s flash memory is essentially a cache, storing the most frequently accessed files to give SSD-like performance, while still maintaining large overall capacities.
Because the hybrid drive must learn which files it should cache, you won’t be getting peak performance right out of the box. Constantly installing new programs or accessing infrequently used files will also result in the hybrid drive defaulting to HDD-like performance because it’s not able to establish a pattern of which files it should be storing in the faster flash memory.
But since hybrid drives are only slightly more expensive than a traditional HDD (2 TB for around $95), it’s a good compromise between capacity and speed.
Brands You Can Trust
Storage technologies have had many years to evolve, and reliability has increased immensely, but a corrupted drive still occasionally rears its ugly head to ruin your day. Hard drive failures are becoming less common (around 1%, depending on manufacturer), but they still happen due to age, non-ideal operating conditions, overheating, etc. You can try to minimize the chances of failure by sticking with seasoned manufacturers like Seagate, Western Digital, Toshiba, Samsung, SanDisk or HGST (formerly Hitachi).
As gamers, we’re all too familiar with the words “now loading” — it’s something we can’t avoid as modern games get larger and larger, but the Slickdeals PC is going to combat the dreaded load time with a Samsung 850 EVO 250 GB SSD. I was able to score one of these popular drives from Newegg.com for $65.99 (down from the retail price of $99) using an instant discount code. There have been a few similar deals on this model quite recently, so be sure to keep an eye out or set up a Deal Alert if you're interested in this particular SSD.
The 850 EVO is able to load game levels about 15 to 30 seconds faster than my old 3 TB HDD — not a life-changing difference, but it can be a big advantage for online multiplayer games if I'm already capturing objectives while others are still loading in.
If you need more pure storage, you can add a large capacity HDD as a secondary drive to hold files that don't require quick access.
If you want to stick with an SSD though, here are some additional options that are recommended and budget-friendly:
SanDisk Ultra II 240 GB SSD: Currently on sale for $74.99 at Amazon.com (Retail price $119)
Mushkin Enhanced ECO3 240 GB SSD: Retails at Newegg.com for a very affordable $64.99.
Random access memory (RAM) is a crucial component that allows a PC to operate smoothly and quickly. Once a program is loaded, it runs from the RAM because, as its name indicates, the data can be accessed randomly, resulting in the fast responses we’re used to seeing from modern computing.
Having the wrong type or not enough RAM can really make a computer feel slow, especially if there are multiple resource-heavy programs running at the same time. RAM is identified by type, speed, capacity and number of channels. Your CPU choice will determine what kind of RAM should be used.
The current standard for system memory is double data rate type 3 (DDR3) RAM, although DDR4 RAM was recently released for use with Intel’s 6th generation CPUs. The improvements in DDR4 RAM aren't noticeable for gaming purposes, so it's safe to stick with DDR3 for the time being.
Check your CPU’s specs to find out if it supports DDR3 or DDR4 RAM.
Just like the other processing components of a PC, memory speed is measured in megahertz (MHz). You can find RAM with speeds ranging from 1600 to 4133 MHz, but again, the CPU will determine which speed works most efficiently with the system.
Each CPU is designed to work optimally with one or two speeds, and it’s best to find RAM with a base speed that matches the CPU’s desired default. For example, an Intel i5-4670K processor specifies DDR3 1333 or 1600 MHz. Purchasing RAM that operates slightly faster or slower than the recommended 1333/1600 isn’t bad, but it may cause the system to default to a speed much lower than the memory’s true potential.
Unless you’re good at tinkering with memory voltage settings, do your best to match the CPU’s recommended memory speed.
Memory capacity is a popular topic of debate between PC builders, but the general consensus is that 8 GB is adequate for typical gaming needs, especially when there’s a dedicated graphics card involved.
Having more memory isn’t bad, but in most cases, it’s the equivalent of buying a 200 mph sports car and then never going over the speed limit. There are few applications that need more than 8 GB of RAM, but some newer games have started to recommend at least 16 GB of RAM. You can always start with 8 GB and add another 8 GB later on if your PC starts to feel bogged down.
Depending on your processor, you may be able to take advantage of dual, or even quad, channel memory. If you're looking for 8 GB of dual channel RAM, the kit that you purchase will come with two pieces of 4 GB RAM instead of a single 8 GB piece. In this setup, efficiency is increased by about 15% because the CPU can now access the RAM via two lanes instead of one.
The Matching Game
Since the CPU determines what type and speed of RAM to purchase, the only real decision after determining capacity is brand name. Popular memory manufacturers include Crucial, G.Skill, Mushkin and Corsair, to name a few. As always, it’s just a matter of preference since RAM technology is mature and reliable.
The Slickdeals PC is running an Intel i5-6500 processor that supports dual channel DDR4-1866/2133 RAM, so I’ve decided to go with the Corsair Vengeance LPX 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4 2133MHz memory kit. Amazon offered this kit for $75, a steep discount from it’s $135.99 price just a few months earlier.
You could also take a look at the well-rated DDR4 options listed below, but again, check your CPU specs first:
G.Skill Ripjaws 4 16GB DDR4: Retails for $69.99 at Newegg.com.
Crucial Ballistix Sport 16GB DDR4: $74.99 at Amazon.com. (MSRP is $179, but it can typically be found for less than $100.)
At this point, the hardware build portion will be complete for most people. Assuming you’ve owned at least one store-bought computer in the past, peripherals like a monitor, keyboard and mouse can be reused from the old computer.
To wrap up our core build, let's take a closer look at the components that I've purchased, their upfront costs and the amount of money that was recouped via rebates or bonuses.
Upfront component costs:
$104 - NZXT Phantom 530 case
$139.99 - Corsair HX850i power supply
$175.30 - Intel Core i5-6500 processor
$139.99 - Asus Z170-A motherboard
$29.44 - Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO
$649.99 - EVGA GeForce GTX 980 Ti SC+ GAMING ACX 2.0+
$65.99 - Samsung 850 EVO 250 GB SSD
$75 - Corsair Vengeance LPX 16 GB RAM
$1,379.70 - total upfront component costs
$30 - EVGA GeForce GTX 980 Ti mail-in rebate
$20 - EVGA GeForce GTX 980 Ti price protection claim
$20 - Corsair HX850i mail-in rebate
$25 - Asus Z170-A mail-in rebate
$5 - Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO mail-in rebate
$500 - Cash back from Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card
$600 - total recouped money
With the components that I've chosen and the cash recovery methods that I've employed, the net hardware cost for this high-resolution gaming PC is $779.70, which is equal to 56.5% of the total retail cost.
It's worth noting that this particular journey is specific to me and the deals available at the time of purchase. Due to fluctuating prices and offers, it's unlikely that you'd be able to totally replicate this build. But it is an example of what can be achieved with the right knowledge and resources.
Like what I'm doing? Think my setup is overkill? Hop on over to my forum thread and give me your two cents!
Missed the previous articles? Get up to speed with the links below:"
Photos by Andrew Chen, Samsung and Corsair.
Any product or service prices/offers that appear in this article are accurate at time of publish, and are subject to change without notice. Please verify the actual selling price and offer details on the merchant’s site before making a purchase.