How Not to Build a Gaming PC

My phone rang.  It was a client of mine.  Her son just turned 13 and wanted to build a gaming PC for his birthday.  We talked about what he wanted to get out of the PC and what the budget was.  He had some wild ideas as a first time builder and made a lot of the common mistakes that one would.  After about an hour we had a game plan and three weeks later, he had a gaming PC that made his friends green with envy.

Forget About Planning

I like to compare cars to computers.  For me, it makes a lot of sense.  For other people, they may not understand computers, but they understand cars.  Just like there are different cars that are good for different things, there are different computers that are good for different tasks.  Let’s face it, you wouldn’t buy a Honda Civic to go off-roading.

After you decide that you want to build a PC for gaming, you need to ask yourself some questions.

  • What is the budget?
  • What kinds of games do I want to play?
  • What features do I want?
  • What resolution do I want to play at?

Budget is the big one here.  Budget will help you answer some of the other questions.  For example, if you have a budget of $700, you’re probably not looking game on a triple-4K monitor set-up.

Once you determine your budget, you have to take a look at the features you want.  Do they fit in the budget?  Can you live without some of them?  Make a list of the features you want and order that list from most important to least important.  If your budget allows for all of those features, great.  If not, time to make some sacrifices.

Different games have different hardware requirements.  Racing games and MMORPGs tend to have lighter hardware requirements than open world games or first-person shooters.  If you’re looking to play first-person shooters, you will want a powerful graphics card and CPU.

Buy Older Hardware

Sure, you might save a few dollars by buying older hardware, but you lose value going that route.  Granted, building a gaming computer that was top of the line two years ago will save a few dollars and can run a lot of today’s games just fine, you’re losing out on upgradability.

With the release of Intel Skylake and the new LGA1151 platform, we have seen prices for LGA1150 parts drop.  You can build a capable gaming rig around an i7-4790K and a Z97 motherboard.  The problem with the Z97 platform is that it is now end of life.  Manufacturers will not be releasing new Z97 motherboards and Intel will not be making new CPUs for LGA 1150.  The i7-4790K is the absolute best CPU that you can get if you go with a Z97 motherboard.

Now, if you go with a motherboard based on LGA1151, that opens up your upgrade options.  You can start with cheap i5 to get going and upgrade to an i7 when funds allow.  Buying the latest platform with also help with future-proofing.

Go Overboard

Building a gaming PC is about balance.  Just like dropping a 5.0 in a Focus doesn’t make it a race car, throwing a GTX1080 in your mother’s Dell doesn’t turn it into a gaming PC.

The rule of thumb is spend as much on a graphics card as you do on the CPU.  This will make for a more balanced PC and enable you to have a good experience no matter what types of games you play.  This also serves to prevent bottlenecks caused by a slow component.

Another common mistake I see is people will build a nice PC with a GTX1060 and an i5-6600K and a 1500 watt power supply.  This is much more power than the PC will ever need and is a waste of money.  Power supplies are most efficient when they are at 80% load.  Use a power supply calculator to help size a power supply for your build.  Remember to buy one with a little bit more wattage than what’s recommended to have room for future upgrades.

Get Any Cheap Case

I had a client call me up and ask me to assemble a gaming PC for his son.  He had already bought the parts and I had to put them together.  As I assembled the tower cooler and got ready to install the motherboard into the case, it became apparent that it wasn’t going to fit.  Sure enough, the side panel would not fit as the tower cooler was too tall.

Pay attention to the dimensions of a case when selecting your components.  You want to be sure that they will actually fit.  Things to look at would be maximum CPU cooler height, maximum video card length and maximum power supply depth.

Other features to look for may include mounting for liquid cooling components, fan controller and provisions for cable management.

Cable management features are important for two reasons.  First, unkept cables can be detrimental to air flow and cooling.  Second, nobody wants to peek through the side panel window and see a mess of cables.

Cases haven’t changed a lot in the last 10 years.  Buy the most case you can afford as it can potentially last you through several generations of hardware upgrades.

What mistakes did you make or have you seen made when building a gaming PC?  Share them in the comments.