PC sales may be slowing, as an ever-increasing number of mobile devices are sold around the world, but the PC Gaming industry continues to drive hardware innovation. The fastest, the latest and the greatest components all hit the gaming enthusiast market first, before trickling down into mainstream PCs.
We’ve featured a few PC builds here on We Got Served – mostly mid-range machines, targeted at home media server/HTPC use. But I’ve been itching to put together an Extreme Gaming PC for some time – a budget-blasting, high-octane racer that’ll chew up and spit out any AAA game in 2016 and for a good few years beyond!
Today, we’ll begin that journey – but rather than dive straight in and rattle through the build, I’ll be publishing a series of posts that talk through the planning process before we get hands on with the kit. If you want the full guide, with a host of content not published here on the website, then be sure to check out our Build a Windows 10 Gaming PC eBook – just click on the banner below fo find out more.
A new PC build presents a great excuse to talk through the latest technologies and components that have reached the marketplace. Whether you’re a gamer, or simply interested in getting up to speed with the latest developments on the PC front, I hope you’ll find the series of interest – and of use, of course! Many of the technologies I’ll be talking through are as relevant to desktop PCs, home theater PCs and home servers as they are to gaming rigs – although there’s going to be much more horsepower employed (alongside some unavoidable LED lighting, I fear) on this project!
Given this is my first Gaming PC build, I’ll be talking through the concepts in my usual, step by step way. I’m not going to assume any advanced knowledge, to ensure no-one is left behind! If you’re bamboozled by the prospect of liquid cooling, overclocking and you’re in fear if getting your FPUs and your GPUs mixed up, I’ll ensure that this is the guide for you!
Planning Your Extreme Gaming PC Build
Of course, anyone that has put together a PC build – any PC build, really – knows that you can’t just head to the nearest big box electronics store and buy the first bits you see on the shelves. The first stage of a PC build – the planning – is often the longest to complete and for good reason. Without a clear plan and budget in mind, it’s so easy to spend a healthy chunk of money on kit that isn’t going to be suited to your needs – or even worse, resulting in a severely overpowered or underpowered PC with components that may need to be quickly replaced.
Defining the Goal
Before you even get into researching the components that will comprise your gaming PC, it’s a really good idea to start out with a goal. You’ll find that many people will advise you to start with a budget. Obviously, cash is a vital consideration but until you’re clear on what you want to do with the PC, it’s almost impossible to make the compromises you’ll inevitably be faced with. Sure, you want to end up with a PC that can be used for gaming, but let’s break that down: what kind of games are you seeking to play and at what kind of quality?
Unlike a games console, like the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, where your gaming experience is preset, there’s far more flexibility available in PC gaming. As you’d expect, many of the latest games run at their best on the latest hardware, but you can achieve good results on many games with older, less powerful kit.
Build a shortlist of games you’d like to play and then check out the minimum and recommended system requirements – they’ll usually cover Operating System, Processor, GPU (Graphics Processing Unit), RAM, Storage, DirectX version (Microsoft’s Windows gaming APIs) and Input requirements (mouse and/or keyboard).
As an example, let’s take a look at Rise of the Tomb Raider’s minimum specs:
Rise of the Tomb Raider Minimum Requirements
- OS: Windows 7 64 bit
- Processor: Intel Core i3-2100 or AMD equivalent
- GPU: NVIDIA GTX 650 2GB or AMD HD7770 2GB
- RAM: 6GB
- HD Space: 25GB
- DirectX: DirectX 11
- Input: Mouse Keyboard
These are reasonably moderate specs for a modern, top-class game, but note that they’re classed as minimum for the game to run. Of course, what this spec list doesn’t tell you is the quality at which the game will run.
I’m paraphrasing here, but you’ll generally find that “quality” in the gaming world is expressed in two currencies: Frames per Second (FPS) and Resolution. Simplistically, the “best” experience is a combination of the highest FPS achievable at the highest resolution. Run a game at 60 FPS at a display resolution of 2560 x 1440 and you’re doing really well. It’s also going to require more powerful hardware than the specs you see above – a GPU such as an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Ti or, for 1080p resolution, a slightly cheaper GTX 970. To put the difference into financial terms, a typical NVIDIA GTX 650 graphics card (the minimum specification) will cost you just over $100 today. An NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Ti? Around $700. It’s a leap.
If your plan is to focus on older games, then you don’t need to spend your money on bleeding edge GPUs. An hour or so’s browsing over at Steam will help you roughly shape out a target specification and a ballpark budget.
If you’re building a supremely powerful PC, then its potential is far greater than just gaming. Serious processing power, graphics capabilities and a hefty case that can hold oodles of storage? Say hello to your new video editing suite, photo tweaking lab, audio recording studio and Blu-ray movie archive. Once you’ve made the decision to go large, the opportunities are limited only by your imagination. An extreme gaming PC should be able to handle most workloads, but think through your needs to ensure you choose the right kit for the job(s).
Of course, it’s not just about internals. When considering your hardware, you should also think about your environment. Where are you going to place the PC and how much space is available? High-powered PC components tend to generate heat (lots of it) and if you’re tight for space – say, if you wanted to cram the PC near the TV in your AV cabinet – you’re going to need a case and components that maximise cooling.
Put simply, smaller cases are better suited to more humble specs, while the most powerful rigs need space to breathe. The marvel of modern games consoles like the Xbox One and PS4 are that they manage to cram some serious horsepower into such compact cases.
More cooling can often (but not always) result in greater noise output from the PC – you may have hooked up your rig to an incredible surround sound system, but if all you can hear are cooling fans, you’re going to be frustrated pretty quickly. So-called “silent” components – cases, fans and other cooling kit – can help, but heat and noise should be primary considerations when you’re thinking through your build.
Of course, key for many gamers (but not necessarily this one) is aesthetics. Like the hot-rod tweakers of days gone by, there are a lot of PC builders out there seeking beauty, alongside brains and brawn! The current trend is for coloured LEDs to appear almost everywhere – inside and outside the chassis, with windowed cases enabling assemblers to showcase their builds. It’s not just about illumination either – matching components, in terms of colour as well as brand, helps create an overall aesthetic that can quicken the pulse. If you’re so inclined.
Also important to consider are supporting elements such as networking, audio and input devices – mice, keyboards and other controllers – which will complete your gaming experience. The cost of these items can quickly add up.
If your head is starting to spin, don’t worry, I’ll be pulling together posts walking through each of the hardware categories, sharing my planning as I work through the specs.
For an introductory post, I’m in danger of diving into the detail, so I’ll summarise as follows: don’t spend any money until you have a plan. Your plan starts with a goal and some objectives, which is then translated into a shopping list. Agree what’s important, where you’re flexible and where you most definitely aren’t. Define a budget and do your very best to stick to it!
I’m looking forward to getting started on the plan and working through the options. I hope you’ll enjoy the journey too!
Follow the rest of the series online – and grab our Build a Windows 10 Gaming PC eBook for the full guide:
1. So You Want to Build a Gaming PC?
2. Selecting a Powerful GPU
3. Choosing the Right CPU
4. Choosing the Perfect Motherboard
5. Selecting Your Gaming RAM
6. Powering Your Gaming PC
7. Selecting Your Storage
8. Finding the Right PC Chassis
9. Optimizing Gameplay With an Enhanced Display
10. Edging Your Competitors With the Best Controllers
11. Enhancing Your PC With Awesome Audio
12. Building Your Windows 10 Gaming PC
13. Exploring Your Motherboard BIOS (eBook Exclusive)
14. Installing Windows 10 (eBook Exclusive)
15. Configuring Your GPU Software (eBook Exclusive)
16. Overclocking the Easy Way (eBook Exclusive)
17. Streaming Games Around the Home (eBook Exclusive)
18. Broadcasting Your Gameplay (eBook Exclusive)