Building a Gaming PC

<prev | top | next>

Building a gaming PC in 2022…my nephew is looking at putting one together for the first time I’m adding some notes here to help him find his way.

One other item that will be needed is a Windows license (Linux is possible for some things and free but really limits game options). I’d go with a reputable source for this, probably more expensive but less likely to get a license key that has problems. Not sure the best place to go as it has been a long time since I built a machine myself.

The parts needed for building a PC are:

  • Video Card: Probably the most important component to think about for a gaming system. The two main manufacturers are Nvidia and AMD/ATI.
    Personally I have found Nvidia to be the better choice lately but a good deal on an ATI card would work fine too in most cases. Over time they swap places as one or the other take the lead spot.
  • CPU: The processor chip runs the computer. This matters somewhat in most gaming systems but is generally secondary to the graphics card. The CPU should be fast enough no to slow down the graphics.
    Intel is the main manufacturer of processor chips and currently in the lead from what I’ve been seeing. AMD also makes CPU chips and is a possible choice. I’ve been buying Intel chips lately and don’t really have a good feel for the AMD parts. I expect that a mid to high end core i5 Intel CPU would be a good choice for a gaming system.
    It IS important to understand that the CPU (and in particular the manufacturer) must be supported by the motherboard in the system. Your choice of a CPU and vendor will constrain the motherboard you buy.
  • CPU Cooler: Modern CPUs need a cooler to keep them from overheating. If the processor you buy comes with a cooler, that is probably the best option starting out. Beyond that you can get much larger air coolers (most are a fan, a metal block with fins and perhaps some copper tubes to help move the heat to the fins) and water coolers (that are much more involved to install and potentially messy if you get a leak) that are largely only necessary if you want to overclock something in your system.
  • Thermal Paste: You’ll need a small tube of thermal paste to make sure that the CPU connection to the cooler works well. This is generally a white, somewhat sticky paste that you put a small blob on the CPU before seating the cooler on it. Don’t use too much or you’ll end up with a mess as it squeezes out. Oh…also some CPU chips or coolers come with paste pre-applied or a ‘thermal pad’ that is just a solid version of the normal goop. If available and your first build, I’d just use what is provided if something is there at the start.
    There are more expensive thermal paste options. These are generally messier, much more expensive and often electrically conductive as well (so a spill of the material onto the chip can be a big deal, shorting things out rather than just a mess). Overclockers go for this stuff because they’re pushing their chips well past their rated speeds. I don’t think they’re needed for a stock build.
  • Motherboard: The motherboard (sometimes called a mainboard) is the big board that everything else (mostly) plugs into. These are very specific to the CPU you buy and you must make sure that the motherboard you’re using supports the exact CPU model you’re going to put into it. The AMD/Intel choice is the big one, but each manufacturer has various different ‘socket’ types and it is sometimes possible that a board supports the right socket but doesn’t support the specific CPU model you’re using. There should be a supported CPU list available for every motherboard that is on sale and if you can’t find such a list you should probably look as a different choice.
  • Memory: This is the working memory of the computer when it is running. You’ll also hear this called DRAM as the chips that implement system memory are ‘dynamic random access memory’. There are two types of DRAM that are currently being used in desktop computers, DDR4 and DDR5. DDR5 is a bit faster and a bit more expensive. It is also important to make sure your motherboard supports the type of memory you’re buying.
    Memory comes in ‘sticks’ that plug into the motherboard and most boards support between two and eight sticks. Generally on modern machines these must be installed in groups of two or four. Memory sizes between 8GB and 64GB are common (total) and I’d look at around 16GB as a good memory size for a new machine.
    I’ve found that pretty much any reputable brand of memory works fine. Be aware that there are shorter sticks of memory that are used in laptops that will not fit into a desktop motherboard.
  • Storage: You’ll need a hard drive or SSD (solid state drive) to store your operating system and games on.
    Hard drives probably aren’t something you want in a gaming machine. They’re the older technology that actually contains a spinning disc inside. They have huge capacity (I’ve seen them up to 18 TB) but generally range from slow to very slow. Great for archival storage but not really something you want for a game machine.
    An SSD stores information on flash memory chips. They’re much, much faster than the spinning disc version. They are also a bit more expensive and smaller but you’ll want that speed for a pretty much any system at this point. They come in two (mostly) versions. One looks like a small (2 1/2 inch) hard drive and connects with old-style cables (SATA cables) to the motherboard. The newer and faster type plugs in to a small connector on the motherboard or a separate adapter card. This version comes in SATA or NVMe versions. They both look very similar but the slots cut in the connector end keep you from plugging the wrong one in. NVMe is faster and not much more expensive at this point but you also need to be sure that the board you’re plugging the drive into supports the type of drive you buy.
    I’d suggest at least 1TB for a gaming system as games can get pretty big. These go up to 4TB but the larger sizes can get expensive.
  • Power Supply: You’ll need a power supply to run the machine. Be aware that there will be separate cables to power your video card and your motherboard. Make sure the power supply you buy has the necessary outputs to run everything. The video card and motherboard should list the conections they need. Beyond those there will likely be connectors t power separate hard drives and other items. Shouldn’t be a big deal there…in a modern machine you will almost certainly have enough of these to do the job. In addition to having the right connectors the supply will have a ‘watts’ rating. This tells you the total amount of power it can supply…while it is a bit more involved than that in the details, you want to buy a supply that can comfortably power the whole system…the CPU and graphics card are likely to be the biggest power draws.

Sites for information:

  • Tom’s Hardware: is a good site for general reviews of hardware components and will often have lists of gaming related rankings for CPU Chips and Video Cards. Good place to start looking.
  • Sells computer components. You can also guy thing through Amazon but newegg specializes and has good information on most parts and a selector option that lets you filter down to the items that meet your needs.
  • YouTube: Has a broad range of videos from hardware reviews, system builds and system teardowns. Lots to learn and a very visual walkthrough of many things worth knowing.

Thoughts and Considerations…