Choosing the right components for a gaming PC
When thinking about building a gaming PC or even buying an off the shelf model, components can be confusing unless you have done some research beforehand. Even after hours of trawling forums you can still come away all cloudy headed and confused about the whole thing. Today i thought i would try and make things a little clearer to make your buying much simpler. Everyone will have a different opinions on which components are best and which brands to go for. That said, there are some things that we can all agree on, and the basics don't often change. I aim to give you a head start and hopefully help you keep on track to get the most out of your budget. So, we'll start with the brain of the beast!
Processor (CPU) - Choose your side
There are two main competitors within the CPU world, Intel and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD)
AMD tend to be more budget friendly, but that doesn't always mean budget performance! Intel are indeed more expensive, but at the same time often require less power and in turn run cooler. Intel produce some absolute powerhouses for gaming and professional use, while AMD tend to go for raw power for gaming. That doesn't mean that AMD processors aren't good for anything else though, especially since they released their 8 core FX processors a couple of years back. Intel have the i3, i5 and i7 CPU ranges, and each one is aimed at different tasks and performance levels.
Intel i3: Dual core CPUs prominently aimed towards every day tasks, such as browsing and office work.
Intel i5: The next step up from an i3, with 4 core they are an ideal choice for gaming rigs as well as heavy tasks.
Intel i7: processors offer some heavy handed performance in pretty much everything you throw at it.
- Amazon currently stock the Intel i5 4690k for £174.90 - Click here
- AMD's FX 8350 CPU can be had at £129.99 at Ebuyer - Click here
Budget friendly options
- The AMD 6300 is not to be sniffed at and can be found for £74.89 at Amazon - Click here
- Intel's G3250 is a dual core CPU with some grunt when overclocked, It's worth heading over to Scan.co.uk where you can pick one up for just £51.75 delivered - Click here
Motherboards / Socket numbers/Types
Choosing a motherboard also ties in with your processor choice. Intel and AMD both have different sockets to connect your CPU. In short, if you have and AMD processor, you will need to make sure you get an AMD motherboard. This is also true of the Intel processors and motherboards.
Whether you chose AMD or the Intel route, you will have a selection of socket numbers to consider. Each socket number supports a certain generation of CPU. For instance, the Intel i5 3570k is a socket 1155 cpu, so the motherboard will need to match. The AMD FX 8350 is a socket AM3+ and the same goes there too. You will find that there is a fairly wide range for each socket, so you should be spoilt for choice really.
When building your PC you will need to make a decision regarding overclocking potential. You can opt for a quality budget motherboard that will do the job just fine although will limit your overclocking potential, or pay more and get something that is capable of a lot more and will hold your overclocks nicely. On the higher end of the spectrum, you will find motherboards that carry an OC button that will overclock your system automatically when pressed. This is a nice option, although these often give you higher voltages than actually required and doesn't always give you the best overclock for your CPU. It's always good to research and learn to manually overclock, but if this sounds like too much messing around for you personally, an Auto OC motherboard may be for you.
- Intel: Ideal for smaller builds, the MSI Z87i GAMING AC mini-ITX Motherboard Z87 Socket 1150 can be bought from Scan.co.uk for £65.33- Click here
- Intel: If you're going high end, the MSI Z97 MPOWER is a great choice. It comes in at £118 via Amazon - Click Here
- AMD: A well build mid range board - The Gigabyte 970A-UD3P Motherboard can be had for £65.22 delviered from Amazon Click here
Things to check:
- Motherboard CPU support - AMD / Intel
- CPU socket number
- Motherboard socket number
Getting the right amount ram for your PC is important. Many people assume that more is better, although in certain circumstances this is correct, the magic number for gaming is currently 8gb. Even if you are an avid photographer that likes to tinker with editing tools, or a musician that likes to use their PC for recording and mixing, 8gb tends to be sweet spot for most. 16gb would make little difference to performance in games right now though. There is definitely a need for 16gb+ although you would need to be running some pretty demanding software to utilise it.
If in doubt, start with 8gb and add more later if you need to. It's important to remember that not all ram will work in all motherboards. You can check your motherboards manufacturer website for a QVL (Qualified Vendor list) which should give you a list of compatible modules. If your ram isn't listed, it doesn't always mean it won't work! Although I would do a little research using a search engine, just search your motherboard and ram model numbers. You may find others that are running the same configuration already just fine.
Picking your ram speed.
When you shop around for ram you will find a few differences that affect the price, one of the big ones is the ram speed. Ram speed is displayed in Mhz and some of the most common speeds found in gaming rigs range from 1333Mhz up to 2133Mhz of DDR3. For gaming the difference between these two speeds in terms of performance, are minimal. You may get a few extra frames per second, although that is about it. Shop to your budget, and choose accordingly. I personally run DDR3 at 1600mhz and have done for the last few years, i currently have no reason to change! If you find a bargain, go for it!
- HyperX FURY Series 8GB (2x 4GB) DDR3 1866MHz for just £52.99 Via Amazon - Click here
- TeamGroup Vulcan RED 8GB (2x4GB) DDR3 2400MHz £52.24 delviered from OCUK Click here
Things to check:
- Amount of ram required
- Motherboard QVL list
Power Supplies (PSU)
The power supply is pretty much the most important part of a gaming PC, It's important to opt for a good brand as well as a suitable wattage. If you go down the super budget route, you may run into some serious issues later down the line if a fault occurs. Always remember that the PSU is pretty much the only component that can take your entire PC with it if it should fail! When buying a PSU, you should look for a good solid brand with a decent rate of reviews.
When looking at Power supplies you may have noticed the 80+ symbol in the corner of the box, although do you know what it means? I'm not about to go too in depth with it, as it can be a bit of a nightmare to get your head around. Basically the 80+ part is to certify that a particular PSU can run at 80% efficiency when running under 20%, 50%, and 100% of its maximum load when converting from AC from the wall to DC, which your PC will run from. Still with me?
As well as this there are further ratings to help let us know about even more efficient options. These are shown by the names of precious metals.
80+ Bronze, 80+ Silver, 80+ Gold, 80+ Platinum and even 80+ Titanium. Bronze being at the bottom of the scale in terms of efficiency and Platinum and Titanium being right at the top. With the rating system comes a pricing system to match, so choose wisely because Platinum and Titanium rated PSUs can set you back around £150 - £300+
In my experience the ratings don't always reflect quality, so this is where you need to make sure you buy a decent brand with good reviews. It can be confusing when trying to figure out who makes which models, as some companies will have certain units manufactured by different companies! Sounds crazy I know, but use reviews and do some research and you should be just fine. There are some fantastic quality bronze rated PSUs out there, so don't feel like you have to spend a lot to get good quality. Good branded power supplies tend to cost between £45 - £200+. If you come across a high wattage power supply by a company you are not aware of and seems to be very cheap. I'd leave it well alone.
- 500w - EVGA 500B 500W 80+ BRONZE PC Power Supply £39.81 from Amazon Click here
- 1000w - Cooler Master V Series V1000 Fully Modular PC Power Supply PSU £119.99 from Box.xo.uk Click here
When you are looking for a suitable power supply, you will come across power supplies for gaming PCs that range from around 430w to 1000w+. Ideally you would want to pick something that suits your PC, or something that allows for upgrades later.
If you look at 500w - 750w power supplies, these should cover you in most circumstances. 500w for most single graphics card set ups and 750w for duel graphics card set ups. Both allow for some overclocking too. Depending on your graphics card, you will have certain requirements recommended by the manufacturer. If you are unsure then you should refer to manufacturer website and make sure you are buying something suitable. A common misconception is that a 1000W power supply costs more to run than a 500w poser supply. This isn't entirely true, your PC will require a certain amount of power and ask for it, the PSU will deliver what it is asked for and not a lot more. So if you find a deal on a power supply that has a higher output than you need, it won't cost you more to run it until you start adding things that will require more power (Upgrades)
Things to check:
- Look for a good brand
- Choose the best efficiency rating for your budget
- consider future upgrading headroom
Graphics cards (GPU)
The graphics card is perhaps one of the most important parts of a gaming PC, alongside your processor. Although it seems simple enough to just get the best you can afford and whack it in your new PC, you can actually end up wasting performance! You need to make sure that the graphics card you are choosing will suit your CPU specifications, because if the processor isn't up to the job you might find that the graphics cards performance will be hindered and therefore wasted. I wouldn't worry too much, as long as you are not pairing up a super budget processor with a high end graphics card. i.e an AMD FX 6300 paired with a GTX 980 would be a pretty bad call. Currently an i5 or an fx8320 and above would cover pretty much all of your bases.
As time goes on, games become more graphically demanding. With the current standard resolution sitting at 1920 x 1080 and Vram requirements forever expanding, you may want to chose your GPU wisely. If you just want to get gaming and are happy with medium settings then a 2gb card would be fine. Although if you want to ramp things up to ultra settings then 4gb cards are available from both AMD and Nvidia. Keep in mind that the higher you want to go with your resolution the more Vram your card would need, so 4K gaming on a mid range 2gb card, just won't be enough. As you may know 4K gaming requires a heck of a lot of GPU power, so currently is very expensive to run.
Nvidia vs AMD
Nivida and AMD have dominated the GPU market for years now, of course both have their pro's can cons as well as huge fan bases. The benefits need to be weighed up before making a decision, although many would agree that AMD produce cards that tend to be cheaper and again directed specifically at gaming. Nvidia try to cover all bases and appeal heavily to those wanting compute power, although this does drive the price up and can be off putting if you want something purely for gaming. AMD are not to be sniffed at in the GPU world, they were top stuff when Bitcoin mining was all the rage! Both have software advantages too, where AMD have Mantle, Nvidia have Nvidia Experience and Physx. It's always a tough choice when weighing up price over features, so check out reviews and see where they take you.
- Nvidia Mid/High end: The Msi 970 is a fantastic card and should deliver very well in both 1080p and 1440p. Currently £274.99 delvered with a free game! From PC world - Click here
- AMD Mid/High end: AMD have their high end solution in the form of the MSi 4Gb 290x - Just £278.75 from Scan.co.uk - Click here
- Nvidia Mid range: It may not be the cheapest 960 at the moment, although this card is very nice! The Asus GTX 960 Strix 2GB from Ebuyer - Click here
- AMD Mid range - SAPPHIRE AMD R9 280 Graphics Card 3GB £139.98 via Amazon - Click here
Things to check:
- Your desired resolution
- Graphics card manufacturer
- Vram requirements
Hard Drives and Solid State drives (HDD/SSD)
Storage size is important especially if you have lots of media and games, although on the downside SSDs are still fairly pricey. So having a 1tb SSD is often out of the question. To remedy this you could choose a smaller SSD to use as a boot drive and set up a larger more budget friendly HDD to use for extra storage. You can direct programs like Steam and Origin to install on the back up drive and just keep selected programs and games on the SSD. Going down this route is very popular as it gives you fast boot times and lots of storage at the same time, without breaking the bank.
I would suggest at least a 250gb SSD paired with a 1tb+ HDD, with a speed of at least 7200Rpm. You can always add further drives later down the line, should you start to run out. Also available are Hybrid drives, which are basically a small amount of SSD and a larger HDD inside one unit, it's a nice middle ground if you are wanting to save even further, although they won't give you quite the same speeds as an SSD. As for reliability of drives. things have come a long way with storage, although If in doubt just check the reviews.
- SSD The OCZ Arc 100 240gb is down to £59.99 at Amazon right now and has great reviews - Click Here
- The best of both worlds in one unit! Seagate 1TB Solid State Hybrid Drive (SSHD) Hybrid 8GB SSD 3.5" Hard Drive is a very resaonble £66.95 from Scan.co.uk Click here
- Grab a Seagate 2TB Barracuda HDD for £58.98 via Ebuyer - Click here
Things to check:
- Check reviews
- Get a fast HDD - 7200rpm+ should be fine
- Make sure your SSD will meet your needs size wise
Hopefully you gained something from this article and now feel a little bit more confident choosing your components. There is a lot to consider and it can indeed be confusing when looking at benchmarks and reviews. There's no need to rush and no matter which parts you choose there will be someone that recommends something different. Make decisions based on needs and budget and you will be just fine! I can't emphasise enough how checking reviews out can help!
So, if you were building your ideal gaming rig what would you chose to power it? Let us know in the comments!
*All prices are correct as of the 1st April 2015 at 8pm