As a computer and PC gaming enthusiast since my teens and combining that with my engineering background, I’ve seen many mistakes in how people choose components for their gaming PC. I used to work at a fairly large gaming PC builder that allows customers to choose their components. While we designed the online configurators with a certain selection of components so that there shouldn’t be any compatibility issues, I’ve found that many people don’t understand the priority of components and what makes a great gaming PC versus just another computer.
I won’t mention any specific components and model numbers in this article as new components are released on a yearly basis so this article is basically a general guideline. Additionally, if you are building a new gaming PC at one of these online gaming PC companies with their configurators, you will be able to see the range of components from their list so you would see high-end components down to low-end versions just based on the pricing alone without having to know model numbers.
GPU vs CPU
The number one priority for a gaming PC is the graphics card. I’ve seen many customers spend $700-$1000 on the CPU and choose a low end graphics card and then complain that they can’t play the game on the highest settings. The good blend of GPU to CPU would be high-end GPU and mid-range CPU. If you’re on a lower budget, then go with a mid-range GPU and low to mid-range CPU.
There is no need for an extreme $1k CPU as almost 80% of the processor power won’t be utilized for gaming. However, with any GPU, you would be able to utilize all processing power depending on your game settings and monitor setup so you would want a higher end GPU to be able to maximize the available settings in order to see the awesome graphics of the game you’re playing.
Should you go with a dual graphics card setup such as Nvidia’s SLI or AMD’s Crossfire configuration? My suggestion is no. I know Nvidia and AMD would not want to hear this but I’ve seen games not be able to utilize SLI or Crossfire setups so those games would only use the processing power of one graphics card so you just wasted money. I would rather buy a single higher-end graphics card instead of two mid-range cards just because of this issue.
How much memory do you really need? I’ve seen some customers build gaming PC’s with all memory slots filled to capacity, which I’ve seen up to 64GB of memory. In my opinion and based on testing we’ve done, you’re wasting your money. Of course, from the company’s perspective, they’re happy since the customer is spending a ton of money. In my opinion, you’ll need a minimum of 8GB of memory but there’s no need to go higher than 16GB.
Also, based on testing we’ve done in the industry, going with two 4GB memory modules is better than going with a single 8GB memory stick. The same concept applies with setups capable of triple channel and quad channel memory. Think of it as lanes in a highway. If you only have a one lane highway, how many cars can pass through in an hour at a constant speed of 65mph? If you have a two lane highway, theoretically you can have double the amount of cars pass through in the same time frame. However, it’s not exactly double the performance when it comes to memory, but it’s a good analogy to show that going with a multi-channel setup is better than using a single stick of memory and tests have shown increased performance by going with multi-channel configurations.
HDD and SSD
By now, you should know that SSD’s are faster than HDD’s. However, cost per GB is not the same and if you want to be able to store terabytes of data, you’ll still need an HDD. My preferred setup is a multi-drive configuration.
With a two drive setup as a starting point, primary drive should be a fast SSD for the OS and your game installations. Keep in mind that some games can be fairly large and larger SSD’s are still costly but I wouldn’t get anything smaller than 300GB. Your second drive in this two drive setup would be a regular HDD of at least 1TB or more depending on your storage needs for your personal media such as pictures, videos, etc.
With games installed on the SSD, load times are much faster than if the game was installed on the HDD. Without getting too technical within SSD’s, you’ll see certain specifications such as Sata II and Sata III type drives. Well, just to keep it easy to understand without delving into technical specs, I’ll keep it general and say that Sata III drives are faster.
Lastly, but not least, is the power supply. Do not skimp on the power supply! I equate the power supply of the computer to the heart in your body. If you have a weak heart, you wouldn’t be able to enjoy many physical activities. Same with your computer. I’ve seen too many people make this mistake as they try to use the lowest and cheapest power supply and spend more money on components that require lots of power. It doesn’t make sense. All components in your PC use power.
The largest power users are the graphics card and CPU and their power requirements are always part of their specs. Add up the power requirements for both the graphics card and processor. Add another 10% to roughly account for all the other components. Then above that, add another 30% as a buffer. This number should be the absolute minimum power rating for your power supply. When you’re gaming, you don’t want your power supply to be at or close to 100% usage. The life of your power supply will suffer if you do.
One last tip, choose a name brand power supply. Working in the industry and knowing how these power supplies are built, it really does make a difference in choosing a good brand. Never choose a generic no brand power supply from any gaming PC builder as the power ratings on those are not even close to the actual power they can put out. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for so don’t go cheap on the PSU.