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PC Buying Guide for Gamers
There is something to be said for the simplicity of console gaming. You purchase a Playstation, Xbox or Wii (if that's your thing), then grab a game or three, push a button and it works. Well, it usually works. At the very least you don’t need to worry about ever replacing the pieces inside the console. Everything in the box is designed to work together, and it does.
But as popular as console gaming is, there's an entire world of gaming that only exists on the personal computer. Jumping into PC gaming, however, means having to worry about all the parts and pieces. How fast a processor do I need? Will the game work with this graphics card? Do I need to upgrade the graphics card? Do I need to upgrade the motherboard before I upgrade the graphics card? So many questions!
Building a gaming PC can seem intimidating, but if you take it a piece at a time, it’s not nearly as terrifying as it seems. We’ll take you through each component, what it is, what you need, and what it will cost, so you know exactly what to look for.
The motherboard is a key component as it is the hub that all the other parts plug into. It will also dictate other parts of the system, like what RAM you can use (DDR3, we’ll talk about later) and what processor it’s capable of handling (AMD vs. Intel). It will also have a form factor, which will help determine what kind of case you need.
One of the benefits to building your own system is that once it’s done, you can upgrade individual parts over time, so you don’t need to spend the money on an entirely new system every few years. To make that work you’ll want to consider not just what sort of system you want now, but what you’ll want in the future. If you get a motherboard that is capable of using the best processor around, it doesn’t mean you have to get the best right now. But it does mean you can upgrade in a few years easily.
You can also get a perfectly solid motherboard for as little as $45. Or you can spend upwards of $200 to be able to overclock (push it beyond specified limits) the system. However, for a basic system that works, you don’t need to worry about that.
The processor is one of the two places (graphics card being the other) that will truly dictate the capabilities of your gaming PC. For that reason, they also have the potential to be one of the two most expensive parts of the system. If you want the best, you'll need to pay for it.
The two major processor companies are AMD and Intel. With Intel, you’ll be looking at the i5 or i7 series of processors. With AMD you’ll want to compare their FX series. It’s an ongoing fight among PC fans which company makes the better processors, but rest assured that either will do the job. A top of the line processor can cost you over $1,000 if you're willing to spend that much, but you can get a perfectly solid one for less than $200.
If you're looking to run the newest games on the highest graphical settings, you'll want to spend more to get more power and faster speeds, but if medium settings are good enough for you, you don't need to spend a lot. Still, if you can put some money into the processor up front, it may save you money in the long run.
Your graphics card, or video card, is probably the single most important part of your system. It can also be the most confusing. But, like your processor, you can cut through most of the noise and ignore a lot of the chatter.
Once again, there are really only two companies to concern yourself with: AMD (which purchased ATI) and nVidia. You’ll want to review the on-board memory for the card. Get a minimum of 1GB, but we’d recommend 2GB to make sure you don’t fall behind too quickly. Your graphics card will also help determine what power supply you need, as you’ll want to be sure you have enough power to run it properly.
Like your processor, this is a place where spending more will get you more. If you want the best, grab a GTX970 for around $350 if you can. Of course, you can also grab something that's going to run current games fine for less than half that. As Slickdeal member BKA experienced, even an older graphics card can run many modern games without issue.
Most of the hard decisions are now over. RAM is a fairly simple and easy item to deal with. You'll be looking at either DDR3 or DDR4 RAM. DDR3 is by far the standard. DDR4 is faster, but not all that much, so unless you're truly focused on the top end, it's safe to stick with DDR3.
If you get 8GB of RAM, you will have enough to handle all the gaming you want to do, but since RAM doesn’t cost much, there’s no reason to skimp on it. Most motherboards will give you the ability to handle 16GB, so if you need to add more for any reason, it won’t be a problem. Unless you’re looking to push your system to its limits, you don’t need to worry too much about RAM speed. You can get 16GB for around $100.
Your power supply is another area that luckily shouldn't break your bank or your brain. Six hundred watts should handle most of your needs, and you can get a quality power supply that size for around $60. If you want to spend more and be sure you’re covered, you can still get something over 700 watts for less than $100. While it's worth spending the money for a brand name like Corsair, you probably don't need to spend extra dough on more power. As user BlackLotus 777 says, 99% of systems don't need power beyond 500w.
There’s really only one question to ask here: How big a hard drive do you want? Like RAM, hard drive memory is cheap, so get as much as you want. Two TB of memory can be picked up for under $100 and that should last you for some time.
You’ll need an operating system to run everything. A new (legal) copy of Windows 8 will run you $99. The good news is that when Windows 10 is released at the end of July, you’ll get that upgrade for free, so you shouldn’t need to spend any more money on your OS for years.
Finally, you’ll need something to put all the parts into. The simplest way is to match your motherboard to a case design. ATX or mini-ATX are two of the most popular motherboard sizes, so you’ll want to match that with a case size. Just make sure it has the right number of 3.5-inch bays for your hard drive(s), and the right number of 5-inch bays for your DVD drives. Also, be sure that it has good cooling. One fan is enough (some cases have two or three), as long as the one doesn’t fail. You can get a quality case for $50. Spending more may get you some cool lights that make your PC look sexy, but they’re not necessary. Unless you need a small case to fit a computer in a small space, getting a nice big one will ensure you never need to buy another case again. Even if you end up replacing all the guts one day, you can still reuse the case.
Images courtesy of Newegg.com.
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