Building or buying your own PC is pretty much the zenith of PC gaming. We all love that guilty moment we put our money where our mouth is and splash out on a build. The how and why we get there is different for everybody though, and that's why have hundreds of thousands of different PC build configurations represented here on GD.
Everyone has different priorities, and most of us have limited cash. When we build our PCs we're willing to spend more on certain components than others, depending upon which is the most important to us. Here we'll not only be running down a complete checklist of all the PC components you'll be needing in a built, but we'll also have a run-down of the order of importance, from myself and Felix.
Building Your Own PC - Complete Component Checklist
When buying all of your internal PC components, you always have to be mindful of the size of the case they are going in. PC chassis vary from console-like living room boxes all the way up to huge towers capable of fitting mammoth cooling systems, multiple graphics cards and ample storage.
The central processing unit, as the name implies, is where the bulk of your computer’s basic functionality will occur. Often likened to as the brain of a PC, your choice can have a large impact on both gaming and general computing performance. Multi-core processors are now the norm, the use of which will change from program to program.
Depending upon where you live and what you plan to do with your CPU, a CPU cooler can be a vital component. As you’d expect, this is responsible for cooling your processor, and it’s particularly handy for overclockers looking to extract a little more power out of their systems.
For those coming over from console, or for specific genres, a gamepad can be a must. These come in all sorts of varieties, but the most commonly used gamepads come from Microsoft and Sony. The same console controllers that work with PlayStation and Xbox also work with PC, including the Xbox 360 controller, Xbox One controller, the DualShock 3 and the DualShock 4.
The growling engine of any gaming PC, the graphics card does the lion’s share of visual processing. In terms of your gaming experience, this is the single component which will have the greatest impact on performance. Prices reflect this, ranging from extremely modest for lower-tier cards, all the way up to $1000+ for the best of the best.
The ultimate in large-scale storage, the ever-popular hard-drive stores data on a series of rapidly spinning discs. Hard drives vary in size both physically and with the amount of data they can store on them. Nowadays a 3 terabyte hard drive can be had for less than $100.
If the sound of traffic rumbling past your window is enough to pull you out of jungle rampage in Far Cry, then a set of headphones is the answer. The benefits of headsets over speakers are cheaper, easier to set up surround sound, all while taking up less space a lot of the time. The downside is headsets can make gaming a bit of a solitary experience.
Probably even more so than the mouse, the keyboard is one of the primary ways users can interact with their PC. Long gone are the days of bog-standard keyboards, and now there’s also sorts of variations depending on your needs. Keyboards can be tailored towards eSports players or MMO fans, and even shrunk down for use on laps.
Memory, which is typically ram, is a volatile data storage solution designed to be access by your processor for quick data storage. High speed memory can allow often-used data to be accessed more readily, and a shortage of it is a significant factor in poor gaming performance. DDR3 and the new DDR4 are the current standards.
This one should be fairly obvious. The monitor provides a visual display of what your PC executing. Monitors come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but the higher the resolution, the greater the number of pixels your PC needs to push.
The beating heart of a PC, the motherboard is the central hub through all of your other components interact, both internally and externally. The motherboard needs to match the socket of the processor you intend to buy, or vice versa. These can also include other niceties such as USB ports, wi-fi, audio chips and LAN support.
Don’t let anyone fool you, the mouse is the ultimate tool for gaming success. The ultra-high resolution of modern gaming mice make these the most accurate tools in a gamer’s arsenal, allowing lightning-quick reactions and actions, all with the flick of a wrist.
The dreaded operating system. You can spend all the money in the world on your beast of a gaming rig, but it’s all for naught without an operating system. Operating systems vary from free to $100+, and each comes with its own set of benefits and compatible games. Choices include Windows, Mac OS, Linux and Chrome OS.
There’s no denying the number of uses for an optical drive has waned over the years, but these are the components you’re going to need if you want to use all those old game discs you’ve got lying around. Likewise, if you want to run Blu Ray discs through your PC, you will a BD optical drive.
Without a power supply, you’re really not going to achieve anything. The PSU needs to provide enough watts to power your entire PC tower, including the motherboard, CPU, cooling and the ultimate power hog - the graphics card. The total wattage needed differs depending on just how powerful the PC is.
For many users, hard drives just don’t cut it any more. Solid State Drives (SSDs) are far faster than their hard-drive counterparts, delivering far quicker game loading times and near instantaneous system boot-up. The downside is the price. A 1TB SSD will set you back in the region of $350, while the same size hard drive can be had for just $50.
While some monitors come with built-in speakers, if you want a higher quality audible experience then speakers are a must. These can range from integrated audio all the way up to booming surround sound, providing a more immersive gaming experience.
If you’re going to be overclocking your hardware to extreme speeds, then watercooling is the way to go. Watercooling keeps components at cooler temperatures than air cooling, and also lengthens their lifespans.
Often overlooked, but if you’re going to be moving your PC around your house much, wireless network card is a must. This is typically achieved using Wi-Fi PCI cards, USB Wi-Fi adapters, or found on certain integrated motherboards. It allows your computer to connect to the network wirelessly, rather than using an ethernet cable stretching from your router to your PC.
PC Upgrade Priorities
- Graphics Card - Come on, how could it be anything else? While the graphics card isn’t necessarily the component I’ll spend the most on, it’s still the thing I want to get right first. Luckily the graphics card doesn’t really dictate the rest of the build, being as it is one of the first components likely to be upgraded.
- Case - Glancing over at Felix’s list, I can’t help but feel a bit vain. I think I spend far too much time staring at my PC, which is why the case is all-important. I’m not one for flashy lights, just something nice, small and simple that can fit into my front room.
- CPU - The processor is really important to me because it’s one of the areas I want to think long-term. If a new processor family is coming on a new socket, I’ll definitely hold out any wait.
- Gamepad - I’ve spent my life umming and ahhing over which I prefer, but eventually I settled on gamepads for the majority of my gaming. What can I say, I love sofas. A decent gamepad is really important to me, and it’s why I’m keeping an eager out for the Steam Controller.
- Motherboard - There’s nothing sexy about a motherboard, whatever ASRock’s latest zoomed-in pics try and make you think, but this can be one headache-inducing component that demands attention. Choose the wrong one and you’re upgrade path is screwed, choose the right one and you’ve got years of life in your new build.
- Monitor - For me, gaming’s all about those otherworldly sights and sounds you just don’t see in everyday life. And FIFA. When I’m thinking about a window into this virtual world, this is a fairly high priority. It doesn’t matter how capable your rig is, if the screen’s poor quality then it’s for nothing.
- Hard Drive - SSDs are all well and good, but when it comes to storage I’m all about quantity. Waiting 30 seconds for a PC to boot really doesn’t bother me.
- Power Supply - Now, the power supply is really important, and if you ever ask anyone about advice for it, it’s don’t skimp. There’s all sorts of horror stories out there from dodgy PSUs, and I myself had a PC actually set alight inside from a dodgy PSU. With that in mind, I try not to bottom out with this, but I don’t exactly crave a premium one either.
- Speakers - I love me some booming sound, and investing a bit more money into some decent speakers can make gaming better than ever. Many don't give a second thought to speakers and are happy with some headphones, but there's something great about your whole desk shaking from the bass of booming explosions.
- Keyboard - Comfort is king and it's important to find the right keyboard for you. My general thing is to try a few out before I can buy if possible. The quicker it feels like I can type on it, the more natural a fit it feels for me. I'm not too bothered by the extras, just a basic layout is fine for me, but the quieter the better.
- Operating System - My modus operandi when buying a new build is - get the latest Windows operating system. Obviously some are better than others, and Microsoft hasn’t been too great with Windows 8, but I find it nice and reliable to have the latest OS with the most up to date support.
- Solid-State Drive - Waiting 30 seconds for a PC to boot might not bother me, but spawning in last in Battlefield 4 and missing every vehicle does, sadly. For this singular, admittedly minor problem, a small SSD is my next priority. Just enough for my current online games of choice.
- Mouse - I love a nice sleek mouse, but having put up with some absolute atrocities over my time, I’ve become accustomed to just making do. The majority of my gaming is with a gamepad, but when I am forced to use a mouse, it’s usually for more sedate experiences like city-builders and CRPGs.
- CPU Cooler - More so than watercooling, I’m inclined to have a CPU cooler for a bit of light overclocking. These can usually be had for fairly cheap, and with some of the unlocked CPUs you can expect some decent performance gains that can save you from upgrading.
- Headset - On the odd occasion I might use a gaming headset, but in the flat I currently live in it would be a pretty antisocial experience. Occasionally I need to be a bit quiet however, and for this, a headset is invaluable.
- Wi-Fi - It’s a nice option to have but, again, in a small flat like me, pretty much next to useless. I like my downloads to whizz down as quickly as possible, and an ethernet connection does the job just fine.
- Water Cooling - I’ve sadly never progressed to watercooling, but I’m sure it’ll come in time. Pretty much exclusively the preserve of the high-end, I’ve generally not had enough horsepower to warrant squeezing out some extra few frames with some water-cooled overclocking.
- Optical Drive - I can’t remember the last time I wanted to put a disc in my PC. You can thank Steam for that.
- Graphics Card - I prioritise the largest proportion of spend to GPU. This is the core of a gaming PC build. A GPU is a computer in itself. It has a mobo a cpu and its own ram. Obviously built specifically for gaming. So it makes sense that this is where a gamer should focus a lot of their interest.
- Motherboard/CPU - Getting the right mobo/CPU combo goes hand in hand and is next in my build list where I try to spend proportionately more than items below
- Memory - This is a simple one for me. I don't really care much for Hz, I just want enough GB (currently 16) to see me through for the foreseeable future. For me, its often a case of buying the best value sticks at the time. My next PC will have DDR4 16 GB RAM
- Solid-State Drive - I love these things. They make all software and game loads happen in a flash. They deliver a big performance boost across not just your gaming but your entire desktop experience.
- Power Supply - This needs to be solid. Its too easy to skimp in this area and have a great computer stop working on you due to a shorted cheap arse power supply. Get a quality PSUs people. Look for the bronze, silver, Gold or platinum standards
- Monitor - Pay a bit more and get a good looking screen. Obviously, this is where your eye-feast happens, so if you spend cash on getting the hardware right, you want it to look good or what's the point.
- Mouse - Your primary input device. Shut up, the keyboard is second place to the mouse. You have to do stuff to the keyboard, whereas the mouse caresses the palm of your hand, gliding you through your gaming experience, providing the connection between gamer and imagination. Getting the right balance, sensitivity, textural feel of a mouse can up your reaction time in fast twitch first person shooters or make a slow paced adventure game, a sedate pleasure. Get the right one for you and it will make a big difference. This doesn't mean spending a fortune. This is high up my list because it represents the amount of time I will spend researching the right mouse for me. Often finding a good mid range price mouse will be perfect.
- Headset - I like the idea of cupping my ears into the music and voice acting of a great game like, the Witcher 3. Get some good ear snugglers and I reckon it will make a good game great.
- Speakers - I haven't really gotten into speakers before. But I reckon I should. I reckon if I got the right speakers, just once, then I would realise that a game can become even more of a sensory spectacle than just pretty graphics alone. I am still using some speakers I bought 14 years ago. They are creative and they did cost a fair amount back then. But I think it is time to level them up.
- Keyboard - For years I have had a keyboard that is slick, and a real pleasure to use 99% of the time. Its fricking annoying as hell the other 1 percent of the time though. You see it only understands a number of simultaneous keypresses, so while my fingers effortlessly glide to the right buttons in the blink of an eye (I wrote this entire paragraph in less than 2 seconds by the way), it wont let me “sprint”, “strafe” and “jump” at the same time, because that's too many button presses at the same time. So getting a gaming keyboard will get you past this, if it matters to you.
- Operating System - Get the right OS for you. Some are free. Some offer some great gaming performance boosts and some are evil crap. Dont get the last one.
- Wi-Fi - On a few occasions when my broadband connection has been lost I quickly turn my mobile into a hotspot net connection only to realise that I foolishly didn't bother to spec up a wifi connector in my build. These things are cheap and sometimes, on a dark and stormy night, super important
- Hard Drive - Yeah I suppose you need some back up storage space, you know, for all the porn we like to download.
- Case - Dont care what it looks like, as long as it has enough USB slots and space for all me PC gubbins to breathe then I am happy.
- CPU Cooler - I don't overclock so I just run with factory standard. I didn't use to. I use to buy all sorts of fancy go faster cooler blocks but in the end it all seemed a bit of a waste of money for me.
- Water Cooling - Never tried it. Although the geek in me wants to tell people that I have a water cooled system. Maybe I should just tell people that anyway.
- Optical Drive - Definitely don't bother with this anymore. Download everything or transfer stuff via USB stick.
So that's how me and Felix prioritise our upgrades, and as you can see there's quite a few key differences between the list. This ultimately means we end up with different builds tailored to our needs.
Now it's over to you. We want to know which components are the most important to you, and what you're willing to sacrifice to boost performance elsewhere. Let us know your own upgrade priorities in the comments below!