Whether you love first-person shooters or hunting for treasure in pixelated paradises, there are times when you’ve wanted a little more from your gaming experience.
Maybe you want to experience your virtual worlds in higher definition, or you’re curious about exactly what makes your computer run the way it does.
Building your own computer is the answer. Not only do you have complete control over which components you choose, you also get to peer under the hood and see what makes a PC run.
If that sounds intimidating, take a deep breath and relax. There’s no need to break out the soldering iron. All you need to build your first gaming computer is the right set of parts, a screwdriver, and some patience.
Here are the components you’ll need to build your first gaming PC.
Your central processing unit, or CPU, is often referred to as the computer’s brain. It controls the number of tasks your computer can accomplish at once and how quickly it can complete said tasks.
While there are a lot of specs you can use to compare central processing units, for your first build it’s OK to find one that’s a little cheaper but gets the job done. Ask friends who game what processors they have and how they like them. Research their recommendations and pick the one that seems best for you.
The motherboard houses the various components of your gaming PC. Like a flesh-and-blood mother, it takes the disparate pieces, sits them down in their proper places, and helps them behave well together.
Take some time to think ahead about the other members of your PC family—like the video card, memory, and other components you want to use—to choose a motherboard that accommodates them.
While many of us struggle to think of what we ate for lunch yesterday (fish tacos, maybe?), computers equipped with the right memory sticks have rock-solid short-term memories. Random access memory, or RAM, allows computers to access files quickly and run multiple processes at once without lagging.
You’ll want at least 4GB of RAM for your computer. Anything less than that and many games won’t run. As an upper limit, most online enthusiasts agree that 16GB of RAM is more than enough for your gaming needs.
Check out the motherboard’s specs to determine how many RAM sticks you need and what speeds and types are available.
Graphics processing unit
The graphics processing unit, also known as the GPU, graphics card, or video card, is a pretty flashy component. Not only does it look cool, but it makes your games appear photorealistic without crashing your computer or slowing your gameplay.
There are sites that stress-test graphics cards and publish reviews pointing out flaws in aesthetics and execution. Reading these is a great way to figure out what card to buy.
It can be tricky to know exactly how much storage you’ll need. Make your best informed guess. Look at how much space your current list of games requires and use this number as a benchmark.
Then there’s another choice you have to make. You can buy either a hard drive or a solid-state drive (SSD). Some sources recommend combining a lower-end SSD with a hard drive for the best of both worlds. But if you can cover your storage needs with an SSD alone, it may be helpful to go this route, as these drives can halve loading times, no problem.
If this sounds overwhelming, don’t worry. It’s possible to add storage to your PC in the future.
You’re going to need to harness the power of electricity to bring your PC to life. This is where a quality power supply unit, or PSU, comes into play.
Avoid settling for the cheapest PSU to plug into your new machine. If you buy nice components, but penny-pinch for your power supply, you may find that you’ve literally torched your investment.
The computer case is where everything comes together. Like a good power source, a nice case can last you multiple rebuilds over many years.
To invest in your “forever” case, look for one that’s made of metal rather than plastic, with plenty of space on the inside to keep your current components ventilated while leaving room for future replacement parts.
And, of course, always check the reviews. It can be tricky to tell from an online photo how well a piece will perform when you have it under your desk.
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The Goal amounts listed in this post are estimates. The actual cost of this gear may vary based on the specs of the parts you decide to purchase.