How to build a Gaming PC?
Looking to build an awesome Gaming PC, there are two options on how to go about it.
1. Pay someone else to build it for you.
You get the relief to know your hardware is guaranteed to work from the moment you take it out of the box. If you’re not confident with handling all the components yourself, it’s always an option, sometimes a cheaper option, and averting disaster…
2. Learn to build it yourself
If you are an avid Gamer, the first option would be seen as blasphemy! You have full control everything that goes into your PC, and you get to understand about your gaming rig that you wouldn’t otherwise have. While saving a lot of cash by not paying someone to do the hard work for you.
I’ve always been part of the second trend, but we’re big enough to understand that a lot has changed over the last few years, and deciding which school to follow isn’t as straightforward as it once was.
Cheap as chips
Traditionally, self-builds had the advantage of being the cheaper option. The difference may have been slight in some cases, but it was generally always there. Even if a system builder had exactly the components you wanted to build your own machine with, you could generally shop around and pick up the exact same parts for less and save a pretty penny by putting it together yourself.
Many of the more expensive systems do still have the potential for decent savings, but that margin has disappeared in some of the machines we’ve looked at recently, especially at the cheaper end. This leaves the main reason to build as making sure you don’t waste money on components you don’t really need. You get to spend the money where it matters most to you.
Create your perfect PC with these fine ingredients. (Note that prices are approximate and may differ from the time of writing.)
Intel Core i5-4590 – €179
Intel has stolen a lead over AMD of late but there is still a great rivalry, and as games continue to make more and more use of multiple core architectures, I don’t see that lead dwindling. If you’ve got a bit more cash and have a knack or want for overclocking, then the unlocked Core i5-4690K is a great buy, but as overclocking isn’t guaranteed to net you a boost in your games, this Core i5-4590 makes more sense financially.
It still boasts a refresh of the Haswell core, turbos up to 3.7GHz from its base of 3.3GHz and has a healthy 6MB of L3 cache. The retail spin includes a cooler, which is fine if you’re not overclocking.
Asus H97M-E – €82
The H97 chipset that you’ll find powering this motherboard is almost identical to the top-end Z97 chipset, but with one notable exception it doesn’t officially support overclocking. The Asus H97M-E is a bargain motherboard, that give your Socket-1150 Core i5-4590 plenty of room to breath, while supporting USB 3.0 and SATA 6GB/s interfaces as well as an M.2 slot. The only other point of note is that this Asus motherboard only has one full-length PCI Express 3.0 slot, which means that SLI/CrossFire is out, but I don’t see that as an issue right now.
AMD Radeon R9 290X – €295
Nvidia may have incredible graphics chips right now, but when it comes to value for money, it’s hard to beat AMD’s R9 290X. Available for as little as €295 if you shop around, the R9 290X has benefited from successive driver updates recently, putting it neck and neck with the more expensive GeForce GTX 970. AMD’s chip runs hotter than Nvidia’s, but beyond that there isn’t much in it.
Crucial MX100 512GB SSD – €165
I can’t use a PC or Laptop that doesn’t have an SSDs, I refuse to waste my time on loading time and loading screens. There is a slight problem here of course, which is that games are getting bigger and bigger: GTA V weighs in at a whopping 65GB!
You will also have to think of the size of the OS itself and a few more games, and those affordable 128GB SSDs aren’t as tempting as they once were. Even the 256GB is the bare minimum these days, that’s going to be swallowed up by even a modest Steam collection. This is why I recommend an affordable option.
XFX Core Edition 550W – €55
Intel has worked hard on the power draw of their chips with its latest processors and motherboard chipsets, which means you don’t need a particularly meaty power supply in order to run them. SSDs aren’t as energy sapping as disc hard drives either, so it’s really only the graphics card that’s going to work your PSU.
Better yet, the R9 290X isn’t too demanding, so the whole system is still going to be sat at something under 400W, even under full load. The extra power capacity gives you options for upgrading as you go, and it also means that the PSU is running efficiently. Go with a name you can trust and you shouldn’t have a problem, which is why I’ve chosen the XFX unit.
Corsair 8GB (2x 4GB) DDR3 1,333MHz – €62
If there’s one area where modern games are more exacting than their predecessors, it’s on the memory front. Speed isn’t so important, but capacity is. These days, 4GB has become the absolute minimum, with 8GB now the recommendation. And if you can stretch to it, jumping straight to 16GB isn’t an awful idea.
In the interests of keeping the overall costs down, this machine has a pair of 4GB DIMMs. You don’t have to track down the exact model number, just go with whatever deal you can find as you’re buying the rest of the components. Big names make sense for easier upgrades later of course, but beyond that you’ve basically got a free rein.
Corsair Carbide 200R – €55
The Corsair Carbide 200R impressed me the moment I saw it, and it continues to set the standard. The tool-free design makes it easy to build in, and there’s plenty of room for the R9 290X, due to the fact the drive cages are split at just the right point to accommodate this long card. Cut-outs make cable management as easy as you could hope for, and there’s plenty of room for extra cooling should you need it as well. This is an incredible case for the money.
The Carbide 200R may be a tool-free case, but you’ll still need a screwdriver when it comes to securing your motherboard in place, don’t forget to have one at hand. Before you start, it’s worth pointing out that I’ve made some assumptions when it comes to kit you already own. For instance, that you already have a screen you can plug your new PC into. I also suspect you already have a keyboard and mouse, and without being too obvious, you’ve an internet connection, there’s no optical drive. I haven’t used one in the past 4 years… If you really need one, you can pick one up for €12.
1. Inside out
Remove the motherboard on top of the antistatic bag in which it arrived and then drop the processor in place. Slot in the two memory sticks and gently slide your graphics card into place.
Before you attach the CPU cooler to the board, remember to dab on a blob of thermal grease. This will ensure that there is good contact between the top of the chip and cooling plate, filling any small scratches and bumps on either surface with thermally conductive goo. A blob roughly the size of a couple of grains of rice will suffice. Don’t worry about spreading it; simply attaching the cooler will ensure that it spreads out in a nice even layer.
3. Power play
Connect the processor socket on this motherboard. Do this without the PSU attached to the mains, just to ensure that everything is plugged in before you give it a jolt. Make sure the main ATX cable is attached, as well as the 8-pin CPU power cable. You’ll need to attach the 6-pin and 6+2-pin PCIe connectors to the graphics card, too.
4. Naked boot
Don’t worry about attaching your drives at this point. Connect your screen to your graphics card and plug in your keyboard. Power up the PSU and start up the barebones machine, short the power pins on the front panel connector with a screwdriver to get your machine up and running. Check the manual for the PWRBTN location on the motherboard.
5. Bios beware
What we’re checking for here is that the machine starts up, its fans spin, it gets to the POST screen and it allows you into the BIOS. When it reaches the motherboard logo screen, hit [Delete] or [F10] on some motherboards and the rig should enter the BIOS setup. Make sure the motherboard is reporting the correct CPU and the right amount of RAM.
6. Start again
Hurrah, the core is working as it should so far! Now shut down the machine and unplug the PSU. Disconnect the power cables from the motherboard and remove the graphics card. You can leave the RAM, CPU and cooler in place as you drop it into your waiting case.
7. Steady supply
Before you drop the heart of your rig into its new chassis, get the PSU in place first. The Cthulhu’s maw of tentacles sprouting from the power supply is much more difficult to manage when the other components are already in place. Orientate the PSU so the intake fan is positioned to suck in air from the outside.
8. Board meeting
Now it’s time to get the good stuff in, so attach the mobo backplate into the chassis. Pulling the mass of cables out of the way – you don’t want to accidentally trap any leads – screw the mobo risers into the chassis and drop the board in place.
9. Drive time
The next component to add to your Carbide 200R is the MX100 SSD. You have plenty of options as to where you actually mount this drive, but I tend to go for the racks at the front bottom of the case. Attach the SATA cable and you’re ready to move on.
10. Be discrete
It’s now time to install your Radeon R9 290X. Ensuring you’re not trapping any errant wires, drop the graphics card into the primary PCIe slot and screw the bracket into the chassis to keep it safe and secure.
11. Panel power
Plug the chassis front panel connectors to the motherboard pins. It’s worth consulting the manual to locate the connector for the front panel audio and USB headers. You know where the power pins are, the reset switch, storage and power lights will be in the same place. Attach the cables securely.
12. Cable ties
Make sure not to obstruct the airflow throughout the chassis. Plug in the long motherboard power cable first, and then the CPU, GPU and storage power connectors, and make sure the fans are powered too.
13. Clear air
That’s all the essentials taken care of, so now you’re ready to connect your screen, keyboard and mouse. Leave the side off the case when you boot up for the first time so you can ensure all the fans are spinning properly. Press the power button and your build should spring into life.
14. RAM-ing speed
In the BIOS, check that the CPU temperature is normal (anything below 40-50ºC) and make sure the storage drive is now visible and set as the primary boot option. It’s also worth nipping in to check the RAM settings and get the sticks running at their rated frequency using the relevant profiles. Save your BIOS settings and exit.
15. OS Install
With modern rigs, you’re unlikely to have an optical drive to install your operating system from, so you’ll need to create a USB install on another PC. If you’re feeling brave (and haven’t bought a Windows licence), you can download an ISO of the Windows 10 preview installation.
16. Boot and go
With your chosen USB media attached, boot from it via the BIOS and go through the setup procedure. Whatever OS you’re running, this is pretty painless these days. Once completed, the most important thing will be to make sure that you have net connectivity. When you’re done, update your graphics card drivers.
A PC for the games to come
This has put together a great PC without spending a fortune. This is testament to the current state of the PC industry – there’s incredible hardware at the high end, but aim slightly lower than that and you have the perfect combination of great performance and fantastic value for money.
Here is a machine that will last you at least a couple of years of cutting-edge gaming, yet it doesn’t have the kind of price tag that you’d expect. With the hardware rolling in at under €910, there’s a lot to like here.
This machine is built with a specific use case in mind, getting the most out of the likes of GTA V, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt & PUBG. Whatever reason you’re building your machine for, the same underlying logic behind component selection and the building process remains the same.