Building a gaming computer (or any PC for that matter) for the first time can be an exciting endeavor. It can also be very complicated, and difficult if you don’t know what to do to get started. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be. In fact, as long as you understand some key things about computer components, it can be very easy, fun, and you can save a lot of money!
First thing you’ll want to decide is what type of case you want. The case houses and protects all your components. While you don’t really need anything above $100 for a good case, quality still counts. Make sure it has good airflow and room for lots of cooling fans, because a gaming machine can get HOT.
You also want to figure which motherboard size standard you want. The most common is ATX, for mid-size tower cases. Also common are mATX (micro-ATX) boards, which are smaller and, naturally, designed for smaller cases. Both work, but remember: The bigger, the more room you have to expand your setup with multiple hard drives, DVD/Blu-Ray drives, video cards, etc. If you don’t need more than the basics, an mATX case might fit your needs and save some space (and money!) Don’t worry, you can still pack a hefty punch in a small machine. In fact, I use mATX!
Here are a couple recommendations for both ATX and mATX.
ATX: CoolerMaster CM690 ATX Mid-Tower Case
mATX: AeroCool M40
Also keep in mind that if you find an mATX motherboard that you really like, you can put it in an ATX case!
See if your case comes with fans. If not, get some.
2. Power Supply
The power supply is the device that, well, supplies power to your computer. It is important that you invest carefully here, as a power supply needs to deliver a clean, steady current to keep your machine healthy.
You want to make sure you get a supply that provides enough watts to all the components in your machine. For full ‘future-proof-ability,’ I would recommend at least 750 watts(W). Here is a quick table of average PC power-consumption:
Current CPUs (Processors): 80-140W
RAM: 7W per 128MB
PCI add-in cards: 5W
Low to Mid-Range Video Card: 20-60W
High End Video Card: 60-100W
Hard Drive: 10-30W
Optical Drives (DVD/Blu-Ray) 10-25W
As you can see, with a high-end video card, advanced CPU, and lots of RAM, and all the little extras, the wattage requirement can add up pretty fast. Give yourself some headroom to expand, as you may want to in the future when you upgrade your machine.
Here is a power supply you may want to consider:
Ultra LSP750 750-Watt Power Supply
Now on to the REAL fun stuff!
If the power supply is the heart of the machine, then the CPU is definitely the brain. This is where all the processes of your computer come together, so you want to make sure you have a solid processor that can handle anything you throw at it. For the purposes of building a gamer beast under $1000, I would have to encourage you to get an AMD processor. While Intel is currently ahead with there latest and greatest CPUs (the i7), They have yet to beat AMD as far as bang-for-your-buck. The new Phenom II X2 550 provides 3.1 GHz with 7MB cache, and 2000 MHz FSB for only about $110. While those numbers may sound jargon to some of you, that is a steal of deal for such power. I can’t commend AMD enough for their fantastic CPUs at such great prices. Keep in mind Intel ALSO makes fantastic CPUs, you’ll just have to pay more.
I can’t really single out a specific processor for you, because your needs and budget may vary. Here is where you can compare Intel and AMD processors.
Make sure your CPU comes with a CPU cooler or fan of some sort. If it doesn’t (which is rare), you will have to get one or your CPU WILL FRY!
The motherboard could be considered the neural network of the computer; it physically connects all the components together on a single platter. CPU, RAM, video cards, sound cards, all your drives, power supply, fans, etc. are all connected one way or another to this board. Determining which motherboard you will use depends on the processor you choose.
When choosing a motherboard, there are several connection standards you have to consider, including RAM, hard/optical drives, and video card connections to name a few. Make sure if you choose a DDR2 motherboard, get DDR2 RAM to match. If it has PCI Express 2.0, get a PCI Express 1.0 or 2.0 video card. If it has SATA ports, get SATA hard/optical drives.
Quick note: nVidia and ATI SLI/Crossfire boards have the capability of linking 2 or more video cards together. Look into that if you wish to add even more graphical prowess to your setup.
Bottom line, make sure the standards of the MB match the specs of the components you plan hooking up to it. Also, make sure the size matches your case (ATX/mATX)!
Here are a couple good AMD Motherboards, but shop around for Intel boards if you wish.
Put simply, the more RAM installed, the zippier the machine will run. Programs will launch, load, and run faster. Your computer may even boot quicker! Having faster RAM doesn’t hurt, considering DDR2 RAM is dirt-cheap nowadays with the introduction of DDR3. But no worries, DDR2 is blazing fast (dual-channel) and will handle all your tasks quite competently.
Just remember; the more, the better. Also, it’s one of the easiest and most effective upgrades to boost the performance of your machine. Just pop in more RAM and your computer is guaranteed to run faster.
Here are some good, solid DDR2 RAM options that will fit nicely with the aforementioned motherboards:
6. Hard Drive
Picking a hard drive shouldn’t be too stressful, considering you can find amazing drives for amazing prices. For a gaming beast, you’ll want a 7200 RPM and at least 16MB cache. How much total space you want is completely up to you. The more, the merrier! Take a peek at some hard drives here:
7. Video Card
Ah, the infamous graphics card. This is where all the graphical prowess of your games will truly come out, depending on the power of your GPU (Graphics Processing Unit, as it is sometimes referred to). Fortunately, you don’t have to auction off your kids to afford a decent GPU. I would recommend an ATI-branded GPU for two reasons: One, they are better known for offering more bang-for-your-buck performance ratio over nVidia’s chips. Second, as they are one with AMD now, they’re CPUs, motherboards, and GPUs play especially nice together. An ATI Radeon HD 4850 might just do the trick for now, and when you get more mullah you can upgrade if you feel the need!
8. Optical Drive (DVD/Blu-Ray)
Right now, getting a Blu-Ray drive may put you over the $1000 mark when you add everything up. Never fear, though, Blu-Ray is not yet a very integral part of the PC experience, especially when it comes to gaming. DVD Burners are cheap and awesome, and should fulfill all your GAMING needs for many years to pass. Here’s a good one:
9. Operating system
Most of you are probably going to install Windows, and that’s just dandy. However, if you don’t feel like, um, paying for an OS, you can get Linux! If you’re a first-time builder, though, I would not recommend this. Shell out for Vista Home Premium (about $110) to get you started. Has everything you need for a gaming computer and nothin’ ya don’t.
With a little ambiguity here and there on some of the items I priced, along with the progression of time affecting prices, none of the prices I listed are EVER final. Shop around on Tigerdirect.com, Newegg.com, Xoxide.com and others to keep finding deals.
The ideal gaming system I tried to build for you here proves you can have a beast of a machine by sacrificing very little. Things like DDR3 an Blu-Ray are pretty much overkill at this point and only for those who like to be on the cutting edge, with little practical benefit. Hope this helps you get started with an affordable gaming rig. GAME ON!