TECH DEN / GAMING PC BUYING GUIDE

GAMING PC BUYING GUIDE

A step-by-step guide to choosing components for a gaming PC
Written by Darren | 15 minute read
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INTRODUCTION

In this guide, we’ll be covering everything you need to know about choosing the components for your next gaming PC. Don’t worry, we’re not going to get overly technical. Instead, our goal is to help you get an overview of what each component does, and how it affects overall gaming performance.

Manufacturer, brand, and style are mostly down to personal preference. We would recommend sticking to reputable brands though, as they will generally have a better reputation for build quality, reliability, and after-sales service.

In this guide, we’ll give you a quick overview, as well as a few tips on the following topics:

  • Setting a budget
  • Intended use and requirements
  • Types of games you’ll be playing
  • How each component works – understanding the difference between them and how they all fit together

Right, so grab your coffee and let’s get stuck in.

SETTING A BUDGET

When buying new, we recommend starting with a budget to help set your expectations. Gaming PCs start at around R8,000, but these are generally considered entry-level and wouldn’t perform at higher settings for a lot of newer games.

For better performance and solid framerates, R12,000 – R15,000 is a more realistic budget. Breaking the R20,000 mark, you’ll start to notice that your returns in actual performance begin to diminish. This is commonly known as the price to performance ratio.

This type of high-level performance may only be necessary if you’re looking to play games on ultra-settings, or plan on streaming/content creation for your Twitch and/or YouTube followers.

amd ryzen radeon setting budget
Image source: AMD

INTENDED USE AND REQUIREMENTS

With a budget set, it’s time to think about which games you’ll be playing and what other use you may have planned for your PC.

Most competitive titles these days such as Fortnite, CS:GO & League Of Legends are made to run decently on entry-level PCs and, in most cases, played on lower settings to help keep FPS (frames per second) consistent while reducing input lag (the time it takes for user input to register in-game).

If you’re only interested in these games, you can probably start at a budget of around R10,000 and keep a little extra for a monitor, keyboard, mouse, headset and any other peripherals you may need. The same applies when choosing your peripherals. You may not need the most expensive gear, but having a solid setup can make as much difference as having a smooth frame rate.

We’d also advise budgeting for a gaming monitor with a higher refresh rate – around the 120Hz mark. A system pushing out 100 FPS on a 60Hz monitor isn’t going to look great.

If you’re planning on also using your PC for rendering, content creation and streaming, a more powerful CPU is a must.

WHAT DO YOU NEED TO BUILD A GAMING PC?

It’s time to choose your core components. Below is a brief breakdown of what you’ll need & how each component affects gaming performance.

It’s always important to check the compatibility of your components in addition to making sure the system is balanced. If you’re utilising a high-end graphics card and pairing it with an entry-level processor, it will cause what is known as “bottlenecking”. Bottlenecking refers to a part of your system that is holding back the overall performance.

PC component checklist

  • Processor / CPU
  • Motherboard
  • Graphics Card / GPU
  • Memory / RAM
  • Solid State Drive and Additional storage
  • Power Supply Unit / PSU
  • Case / Tower
  • Cooling

GRAPHICS CARD

The graphics card will have the biggest impact on gaming performance… and budget.

When it comes to choosing a graphics card, the manufacturer specs provided aren’t that helpful and things like clock speed & boost speeds, while useful for comparing the same card across brands, still won’t give you a true indication of in-game performance.

When comparing graphics cards, the best thing to do is decide which games you’ll be playing, then comparing benchmarks across a few review sites. This way you’ll be able to judge how it performs in particular games, and any pitfalls it may have in others.

VRAM (Video RAM) is worth noting when choosing your card. Current generation cards generally use GDDR5, GDDR5X, GDDR6, and HBM (High Bandwidth Memory).

  • Between 2GB & 4GB will have decent performance in 1080p titles with standard-definition textures.
  • 6GB will have good performance in VR & 1440p with high-definition textures.
  • 8GB & above will have good performance for 1440p on highest-definition textures & good performance in 4K.

It’s very difficult to achieve a smooth frame rate on ultra-settings in 4K, but this shouldn’t stop you from enjoying these games on a slightly lower setting.

PROCESSOR / CPU

For gaming, the processor is the second most important component that will affect FPS, with the graphics card being the first. When setting your budget, make sure to factor in a good CPU. This will help you avoid bottlenecking your system in CPU-intensive games.

If you’re looking to do rendering & content creation, however, it’s probably just as important as the graphics card.

Intel processors have better single-core performance, making them the preference for gamers. AMD has better multi-core performance, making them best suited for professional use & multitasking.

With the introduction of Ryzen, AMD is quickly catching up to intel with their single-core performance. There is also a matter of the price to performance ratio, so it’s definitely worth looking at the charts to see what suits your budget & requirements.

There’s a lot more to processors but the three most important things to know about a processor are its clock speed, cores, and threads.

Clock speed refers to processing speed, measured in gigahertz (GHz).

Cores are a CPU’s processor. Each core focuses on a single task. This means CPU’s with multiple cores, are able to handle multiple tasks. For the purpose of gaming builds, we’ll stop there, as games don’t benefit from an increased number of cores (for now).

Threads are when a process called multithreading and hyper-threading allows cores to split into virtual cores, creating an additional core. This means a quad-core with hyperthreading, would run 8 threads, giving it a total of 8 cores recognised by the operating system.

For gaming, a quad-core or hex-core CPU will be more than enough in most cases. We’d suggest looking at the Intel Core i5 & AMD Ryzen 5 as a good starting point.

MOTHERBOARD

The main difference between an entry-level motherboard and a high-end one is overclocking potential and features. High-end boards will also have better audio, cooling, RGB lighting and a few extras that may or may not appeal to you.

It’s important to check compatibility, as an older motherboard may not be compatible with newer CPUs, or requires a BIOS flash in order to be compatible.

For instance, while Intel uses the LGA1151 socket, Z370 motherboards were made for the release of 8th Gen CPUs and thus would need to a BIOS flash to be compatible with a 9th Gen CPU. In order to flash a motherboard, you’ll require a compatible CPU.

If it’s your first build, it’ll be much easier making sure it’s all compatible straight out of the box.

If you’re looking to overclock, we’d recommend the Z series for Intel, and the B or X series for AMD. While Ryzen chips are all overclockable, only the K models from Intel are unlocked.

In terms of reliability, build quality and aftermarket support, we’d recommend Asus, MSI & Gigabyte. While these are our personal preference, there are many great manufacturers. What is most important is choosing a reputable brand.

Motherboards have the least effect, if any, on gaming performance. You don’t need to buy a specific “gaming” motherboard to build a great gaming PC. However, they all come with different features that may appeal to you.

MEMORY / RAM

RAM is the third most important item for gaming performance. Without going into great detail, RAM affects your CPU performance and can create a bottleneck if you’re running too little.

When choosing RAM, make sure it’s:

  • DDR4 – it’s the current generation.
  • Dual or quad-channel. Single-channel will cause severe CPU throttling.
  • Enough capacity. While 8GB is the recommended amount, 16GB is quickly becoming the standard.

In the case of content production, you may need to go for at least 32GB but 16GB should be more than enough to handle most workloads.

If you’re overclocking, make sure to check the speed, voltage, and latency. For first time builders, this really isn’t a big factor if you’re buying from a reputable memory manufacturer as most memory is plug and play these days.

We’d recommend starting out with 8GB x 2 of DDR4 between 2666Mhz and 3000Mhz.

STORAGE (SOLID STATE DRIVES AND HARD DRIVES)

Solid State Drives have no moving parts and are much faster, but come at an increased cost per GB of storage space. Hard Drives, while slower, offer a more affordable cost per GB of storage.

Solid State Drives will help with reduced game load times and faster boot-up. Hard Drives will be better for storing media and games that don’t require faster load times.

We’d recommend at least a 128GB SSD and 1TB Hard Drive. If you have the budget, a 250GB SSD is really useful as current games are all sitting between the 30GB and 70GB mark.

This will allow you to keep your operating system, applications and games on the SSD for reduced load times, and your media on the Hard Drive.

POWER SUPPLY / PSU

We’d recommend choosing a power supply from a reputable manufacturer. Unbranded, cheaper PSUs come at lower prices, making them a lot more appealing, but at the risk of frying your system.

Corsair & Cooler Master both come with a good track record and RMA policy and have put measures in place to make sure that if anything does go wrong, it won’t blow your whole system.

Most components will recommend a much higher wattage requirement than what is needed. If you’re overclocking, it’s worth taking these into account. Almost every manufacturer has a calculator that will help you find a rough estimate of what size power supply you’ll need.

We’d definitely recommend checking out this calculator when putting together your list. Bigger doesn’t always mean better when choosing a power supply.

Cooler Master: https://www.coolermaster.com/power-supply-calculator/

The 80+ ratings refer to the efficiency in terms of power usage and heat. We’d recommend going with a PSU that has at least a basic 80+ certification.

A high-quality power supply can outlive the lifespan of most generations of components, and also provide peace of mind knowing that if anything does go wrong, it’s not going to take out anything with it.

Semi-modular & Modular power supplies have removable cables to help with cable management but again aren’t totally necessary.

CASE / TOWER

Choosing a case may either be the simplest step or the most complicated.

There is such a vast variety of cases that choosing can be as quick as selecting the one that meets your budget and requirements, or going down the rabbit hole of RGB controllers, front-panel options and making sure it’s tempered glass panels do your components justice.

This ultimately comes down to personal preference, but a few things to check before setting your heart on a case:

  • Enough space for longer graphics cards
  • Front and/or top radiator mounting dimensions (if you’re opting for water cooling)
  • Space between motherboard and side panel (if you’re opting for air cooling)
  • Cable management systems
  • Airflow and fan mountings
  • Front headers for USB 3 and audio jacks

Once you’ve figured this out, the rest will just come down to brand, build quality, ease of use and personal preference. Things such as thumbscrews and hinged side panels make life a lot easier, but come at a cost and are not totally necessary.

COOLING AND AIRFLOW

If you’re looking to overclock your system, some extra case fans will make a noticeable difference in temperatures. Case fans also come in a variety of colours and addressable RGB to add some style to your system.

Besides improving airflow and keeping everything cool, fans can also help reduce both noise and dust.

The most commonly used setup is a push/pull fan configuration. This refers to your system using one set of fans to pull cold air in while the other set acts as an exhaust to pull hot air out.

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