When deciding that you’re interested in purchasing a gaming system outside of a console or portable console, knowing what to go for can be very difficult. It’s not always as easy as just purchasing a pre-built computer either, because most of the time, these offer way less value for money than building your own machine.
But building your own PC is not necessarily the way to go for all people, either. For instance, if you’re interested in productivity and are more inclined to enjoy the Apple ecosystem, even MacOS devices now offer gaming support functionalities with further compatibility added to many titles on Steam. A review of the latest update shows you just how far this performance is being pushed.
So - where do you begin? How are you supposed to know how much to spend? And most of all, what’s right for your actual needs, instead of thinking you need to spend thousands upon thousands no questions asked? In this post, we hope to ask all those questions and more - to help would be computer gamers get a grip on this process more readily.
Without further ado, let’s consider:
Set Your Budget Limits
Before we get started on purchasing anything, or even researching too deeply for that matter, it’s important to set your budgetary limits. How much are you willing to spend? For some people, spending a few thousand on a brand new machine with top of the line parts is customary, and that kind of computer can last around 5-6 years before you may think about upgrading again.
Of course, it’s also important to consider if this is a hard or soft limit. For instance, it might be that for certain functionalities, such as a higher refresh rate monitor, you’re willing to go a little above your usual budget and wait a little longer to save that much. Or - perhaps you can use credit repayment schemes to pay three instalments to make sure you get a better part instead of purchasing it brand new right now.
In some cases, purchasing components on eBay or other reseller/auction sites can be worthwhile. As of the time of this writing, a global shortage of silicon chips means that some of the latest hardware is hard to find at the recommended retail price. Auction sites can be a second best option.
Understand What Each Part Does
Of course, it’s essential to know what goes into a machine before you can think about buying the parts. We’ll give a small list of what it takes to build your own gaming computer and a laymans idea of what each part does.
- PC Case - this is the case used to house your motherboard and all its components. They can range from mini-PC cases all the way up to extra large ATX towers. They provide you with the means to securely house your components, a power and reset button, headphones and microphone jacks, the ability to install fans, and sometimes cages for hard drives or SSDs. They are technically optional, but it’s strongly recommended you purchase one that will fit your motherboard and its components as necessary.
- Motherboard - this is the governing piece of hardware that will allow all of your components to communicate with one another. It is filled with complicated technologies and may include certain features like sound cards, support for high-bandwidth PCI-E lanes (for graphics cards and more), as well as all your input/ouput connections at the back. Many include internal sound processing features, but make sure you check the details.
- CPU - this is the central processing unit that works as the ‘brain’ of the computer. AMD Ryzen and Intel are the two major competing brands as of the moment. It is slotted directly into the motherboard through a square slot.
- CPU Cooler - CPU’s tend to run hot thanks to all of the work they have to do. A CPU cooler, be that an installed fan or water-cooled all-in-one system connected to fans, or custom loop, will be necessary.
- RAM - Also known as ‘random access memory,’ this is the functional memory used to process temporary processes and aid in the CPU’s regular upkeep. Around 8-16gb is customary in modern gaming computers.
- HDD/SSD - This is where you store your files and operating system, and will be familiar to most. If you hope to install games, generally 250gb and above is recommended. SSD drives are known to be much faster than their HDD counterparts.
- GPU - the graphics processing unit is the hardware that will look the most imposing in your machine, looking like a slotted card with large fans to keep it cool. It processes and helps render all the graphics you see on screen. They are optional provided you have a motherboard that provides its own display functionality, but if you’re hoping to play most games, you will need one. Nvidia GeForce and AMD are the two major competing brands - with many proprietary offshoots of the GeForce technology being used.
You can use sites like Logical Increments to decide on your budget range, compatible components, and what brands are most popular.
Consider What Games You Most Enjoy
Ultimately, you don’t need a massive and top-of-the-line machine to enjoy great games. The indie gaming market has taken on a massive stride in recent years, and many of those games do not require overly powerful machines to play. Getting into the habit of checking the system requirements of most games will help you identify if your machine can run it - but be warned that not all developers are truly accurate with these readings.
YouTube can be a great way to discover people running a game on a machine similar to yours, as benchmarking channels are considered a worthwhile consumer good, but run by hobbyists just like you. Additionally, new technologies are lightening the load. For instance, DLSS, a new technology design to leverage RTX cards, allows computers to run games at lower resolutions while also upscaling them through the use of machine learning AI. This significantly reduces the processing power you may need.
With this advice, we hope you can feel a little bit more informed regarding how to acquire your first gaming computer.