Gaming PC Parts Buying Guide: Get the Perfect Build
Building a gaming PC can be an intimidating endeavor. But it doesn't have to be. Use this comprehensive gaming PC parts buying guide to get the perfect build!
For the newly initiated, building a gaming PC is an insanely intimidating endeavor. Even coming from a non-technical background, the process isn’t as scary as you might imagine. It’s less akin to computer engineering and more like to building a Lego set, if the Legos were much fewer in number and much pricier.
Like any problem, it helps to break it down in parts, in this case, computer parts.
What do you need to build a gaming PC and what to consider in terms of gaming PC part compatibility? Here’s a comprehensive list, with a caveat we give from experience: be wary of part compatibility and do your research before you buy any individual part!
- Central processing unit (CPU)
- Graphics processing unit (GPU/graphics card/video card)
- Power supply unit (PSU)
- Hard drive (SSD/HDD)
- Gaming peripherals/accessories
- Gaming monitors
- Gaming mice
- Gaming keyboards
- Gaming speakers
- Gaming headsets
Most first timers will choose to build a gaming desktop, but if portability is more your style, read more about building a gaming laptop here.
Gaming Computer Case
Out of all the gaming computer parts, the case is one of the cheaper ones. Rejoice, your wallet! However, you need to consider the size of your motherboard when selecting your case, as well as any additional fans or cooling systems you plan on putting into the case.
Some considerations when buying a case are:
1) Motherboard size — ATX motherboards are the gold standard of motherboard sizes, giving builders ample ability to expand. However, if you’re looking to build a gaming PC with a smaller form factor, an M-ATX or Mini-ITX motherboard may suit your needs. The spectrum of motherboard sizes from smallest to largest is Mini-ITX > M-ATX > ATX > EATX.
2) Form factor — Will you be getting a full tower, mid-tower or mini-ITX?
Mid-tower cases, the most common case size, have a standard height of 18” and width of 7.5” and are suitable for ATX motherboards, which have a standard length of 9.6” and below. However, some mid-tower cases can accommodate EATX motherboards, which are typically 13” long.
Full tower cases have a standard minimum height of 22” and 8” width and can comfortably hold EATX motherboards, plus a plethora of additional cooling components and fans to keep your PC cool and your airflow optimal.
Mini tower cases, while they can give you better portability and a smaller desk footprint, limit both your ability to scale your gaming desktop and your potential selection of motherboards (must be either M-ATX or Mini-ITX). They are 14” in height and 7” in width and below.
3) Graphic card length — While not quite the problem it used to be, your graphics card could be too long for your case. Be wary of your graphic card’s dimensional specs to make sure it’s compatible with your case.
Ready to buy? Shop computer cases.
The CPU is hugely important in your gaming desktop build. It is the silicon soul of your PC and is the differentiator of a highly capable gaming machine from a tame laptop for web browsing and word processing.
At the time of writing, the two main CPU chipmakers are AMD and Intel. Both brands are competitive and make powerful processors for gaming. It is important to note that an Intel motherboard and AMD CPU will not be compatible, and vice versa.
Some considerations when buying a CPU are:
1) Core count and thread count — Cores are the processor’s processors. Today’s CPUs range between two and 64 cores, and each processor contains four to eight cores. Each core can perform a task, or work together to do one job more efficiently and make some software work faster.
The number of threads determines the number of tasks your PC can run concurrently. Most modern processors have hyperthreading technology, adding an additional thread per core, so it’s essentially an additional virtual core.
2) Clock speed — A measure of processing speed, measured in gigahertz (GHz). Currently, a clock speed around 3.5 to 4.0 GHz is considered enough to run modern games. However, having an adequate single-thread performance is thought to be more important. If you want to overclock your CPU, make sure you check your desired CPU’s ability to overclock first and make sure you plan on gauging your case’s temperature and adequately cooling your case.
Ready to buy? Shop CPUs.
Need to know more? Read our in-depth guide to choosing a CPU.
GPU (Graphics Card/Video Card)
Besides your CPU, here are the primary considerations when buying a GPU:
GPU Memory (VRAM) – Graphics cards generally contain between 2GB and 12GB of video RAM, or VRAM. You’ll need a 4GB VRAM video card minimum for 1080p gaming, but a 6GB VRAM video card is best, particularly if you want to crank up your refresh rate. Any resolution beyond 1080p such as 1440p (2K) or 2160p (4K), an 8GB VRAM video card is best. Beyond 8GB VRAM is generally used for GPU-intensive tasks such as video editing, graphic rendering, AI and VR applications.
Budget – GPUs vary widely in cost. You could spend as little as $80 on a very basic GPU for old computer games or as much as $3,000. Your budget will depend on what resolution you want, be it 720p up to 4K. For most typical gamers, allocating $200-$500 toward your GPU should suffice for most games.
Ports — It’s essential your GPU has the ports that are compatible with your monitor(s), be they HDMI, DisplayPort or DVI. Almost every modern monitor will have at least one HDMI port.
Games – Look up the graphics requirements of the games you’re looking to play. If you’re looking for a trip down gaming memory lane, you may not need a top-of-the-line GPU. However, if you’re itching to play the latest graphically photorealistic games at high settings, prepare to pay the GPU piper.
Monitor Refresh Rate — iI you’re getting a gaming monitor with a >144Hz refresh rate and 1ms response time for smoother gameplay, that will certainly tax your GPU more.
Power supply (PSU) — Mid- range graphics cards (4GB-6GB VRAM) will typically require at least a 450W PSU. If you’re looking to future-proof your rig or are getting a GPU with 8GB VRAM or more, a 600W PSU minimum is your best bet. Also make sure to keep in mind the supplemental power connectors your PSU has. Some cards have 1,2, 6 and 8-pin ports on the same card.
Case — Make sure your case can fit your GPU! Look at all dimensions and also consider GPUs come in half-height, single-slot, dual-slot and potentially triple-slot formats. Dual-slot is most typical. Keep in mind as well that although your card may technically take up 1 or 2 slots in your motherboard, the heatsink or fan could block a slot.
Ready to buy? Shop GPUs.
Want to learn more? Read our in-depth guide to choosing a graphics card.
Under CPU and GPU, RAM plays the next most important role in the performance of your rig.
Your RAM needs will depend on what tasks you’re looking to do with your gaming PC, if more than gaming. Typically, most users can get by with 8GB-16GB of RAM. 16GB RAM minimum is best for a high-end workstation for video editing/graphic design/AR/VR, but 8GB is a fine start for most gaming needs.
It’s very simple to upgrade your RAM in the future if your needs change, you simply add another stick to your motherboard!
Other considerations when buying gaming RAM:
1) DDR generation — check to ensure your motherboard will support whatever DDR generation of RAM you bought. DDR3 RAM won’t work in a motherboard that supports DDR4 DIMM slots and vice versa.
2) Motherboard form factor — Micro and mini-ITX motherboards may only have two slots for RAM.
3) RAM form factor (DIMM vs. SO-DIMM) — all you need to know is SO-DIMM is for laptop form factors, so get DIMM RAM for your desktop gaming rig.
Ready to buy? Shop RAM.
Power Supply Unit (PSU)
The PSU converts electricity from your wall socket into low-voltage, DC current for PC component consumption. It plugs directly into your powered parts including your motherboard, fans and graphics card.
When selecting a power supply for your gaming PC, here are your main considerations:
1) Electrical Size/Wattage — Your PSU needs will depend on what you select for your other parts. Modern PSUs typically range between 400W-1200W. For instance, using an online power supply calculator, if you have an AMD Ryzen 7 Series CPU, a mid-tier NVIDIA GeForce RTX GPU, two 8GB sticks of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and 1TB HDD, your power consumption will be approximately 576W, making a 600W power supply at a minimum your best choice.
If you decide to upgrade any individual part in the future, however, this will bump up your power needs. For the average gaming PC, 700W and up should sufficiently cover your needs.
2) Efficiency Rating — A higher efficiency rating typically indicates better components and less wasted power and heat. For instance, a power rating of 80 Plus means 80% of its rated wattage gets consumed by your system, with 20% lost as heat.
For your average computing Jane or Joe, 80 Plus or 80 Plus Bronze will do the trick. Beyond Bronze, there are 80 Plus Silver, Gold, Platinum and Titanium, which each level granting you about 2-3% efficiency more. With greater efficiency comes greater cost, however, although you will save slightly on your electric bill with a higher efficiency gaming PC.
Ready to buy? Shop PSUs.
Want to learn more? Read our in-depth guide to choosing a PC power supply.
The hard drive is a data storage device that can store games, images, movies, music and any other files you want to slap onto them. Here are your main considerations when buying a gaming hard drive:
1) Capacity — We’d recommend a minimum of 512GB if you are looking to play modern games. Some newer games (looking at you, Call of Duty: Warzone) can take up over 200GB of space alone! You can keep games on the cloud and download/remove from your hard drive when you want in game distribution services or app stores, but if you want to generally avoid this inconvenience or know you want to play a lot of today’s games, 1TB or more is advised. Don’t worry, if you make the wrong choice and run out of cash/space you can always scale up later.
2) SSD vs. HDD — SSDs, or solid-state drives, have no moving mechanical parts, whereas HDDs use magnetic storage technology and retrieve data with rotating platters. The moving parts also make HDDs particularly vulnerable to damage and cause noise from the spinning.
SSDs typically have faster read/write speeds (~500-600MB/s on normal SSD, 3000-3500MB/s on newer NVME SSDs), faster transfer speeds (can exceed 3,100MB/s) and are typically more expensive per unit of memory. If you’re simply looking to store files on the cheap, HDD may be what you want. However, for modern gaming, an SSD is a must for quick load times and run times.
Ready to buy? Shop hard drives.
Want to learn more? Read our guide to choosing between HDD vs. SSD.
Cooling is essential to keeping your CPU’s/GPU’s thermal output in check and efficiency optimal and is particularly important if you’re looking to overclock your gaming PC or to perform system-intensive tasks in high temperature environments. For most typical PC gamers, air cooling will suffice.
Here’s what you need to consider for PC cooling:
1) Air Cooling — The cheapest and most basic method of cooling, it is accomplished using heatsinks and fans. Air cooling solutions can get bulky and heavy, requiring good air flow, meaning more noise than liquid cooling solutions.
2) Fan size — A larger fan means less noise and higher air flow.
3) Liquid Cooling — These systems use distilled water typically as the cooling medium. The water is pumped through the system and absorbs heat off the heat block. Water has a significantly greater ability to absorb heat (heat capacity) than air, meaning you can keep components cooler than air cooling can for the same workload.
There is a variety of liquid cooling solutions, from closed-loop to open-looped systems, to ones fully submerged in water and more.
4) Case size—Logically, the bigger the case the better the airflow. The GPU and CPU should have vents nearby, however, cases with less vents reduce fan noise and dust in your system. Dust insulates heat and results in less cooling efficiency over time.
Ready to buy? Shop cooling systems.
Want to learn more? Read our guide to choosing between liquid cooling and air cooling.
Gaming Peripherals and Accessories
As previously mentioned, your choice of GPU will determine your best monitor fit, or if you have your heart set on a gaming monitor, it may dictate your GPU selection. See the above GPU section for more information.
1) Monitor Resolution — Simply put, higher resolution = better picture. You’ll need 1920 x 1080 (1080p/Full HD) minimum. 3840 x 2160 (4K/UHD) will provide the sharpest image available for today’s monitors.
2) Refresh Rate — this is a measure of how many times per second your monitor image is updated, measured in Hertz (Hz). The higher the number the better, but you should aim for at least 75Hz refresh rate for gaming.
3) Response Time —the lower the response time the better. Typically measured in milliseconds (ms), it indicates how long the monitor takes to change a pixel from black to white. Long response times causes motion blur during gaming or while watching action scenes in high res. Almost every modern gaming monitor will have a sub-5ms response time. For most individuals, it is nearly impossible to discern between a 0.5ms and 5ms response time.
Ready to buy? Shop gaming monitors.
More to consider? Read our guide to LED vs. LCD monitors.
The types of games you’re looking to play has the biggest impact on type of gaming mouse you should buy. If you’re playing real-time strategy games or roleplaying games (RPGs), you may want a gaming mouse with lots of buttons you can map macros to. For first-person shooters (FPS) games, you may lean more toward a mouse that’s simpler. If you want to play it all and at a competitive level, you may want to investigate customizable gaming mice.
1) Sensor (laser vs. optical) — Laser mice adapt to different surfaces, whereas optical mice are sensitive to surfaces and may require a mouse pad. Optical mice tend to be more responsive and reliable, however, but are less portable due to the need for a mouse pad.
2) Buttons — For RPGs, a mouse with plenty of programmable buttons is the way to go. You can smoothly cast spells and set up macros for a seamless gameplay experience.
3) Weight — For FPS games, you need a lightweight mouse that’s easy to move and responsive. Some FPS mice you can even adjust the weight to your preference.
4) DPI — Meaning “dot per inch”, this measurement indicates how many pixels you move on your screen per inch of mouse movement. E.g., if you move your mouse one inch and your DPI is 1200, that one-inch movement causes your mouse pointer to move 1200px. The average DPI for a mouse is 1600 and enough for most gaming, but higher DPI could be significant for some FPS gamers.
Ready to buy? Shop gaming mice.
Want to learn more? Read our in-depth guide to the different types of mice.
Like gaming mice, the types of games you want to play has a significant impact on the type of gaming keyboard you should get. However, unlike gaming mice, there aren’t quite as many variations to consider:
1) Membrane vs. Mechanical — Membrane keyboards contain a thin membrane that translates your key press to a conductive circuit underneath. Some say they have a “mushier” feel and are quieter. Also, with membrane keyboards, you can only register one keypress at any given moment, which can produce errors. Mechanical keyboards have mechanical switches underneath each individual key, which tends to be more reliable (and more expensive) and produces a “clicky” feel. They are very accurate and customizable if changing out keycaps is your thing.
2) Keys — For RPGs/MMOs, you may want to search for keyboards with plenty of macro keys for binding actions. Most keyboards for RPGs will have six to 12 macro keys. Consider that the more keys you have the larger the keyboard will be, so make sure you have the desk space to support your keyboard selection!
3) Lighting — If you chose PC parts with flashy RGB lighting or chose a singular color scheme for your PC guts, you may want a keyboard to match. In terms of function, the lighting isn’t terribly helpful and RGB lighting will increase the price. If flashy isn’t your thing, this could be a good area to save a few bucks.
Ready to buy? Shop gaming keyboards.
Want to learn more? Read our in-depth guide to different keyboard types.
1) Wired vs. Wireless — Wired gaming headsets don’t need to be charged and wireless headsets do. Wired headsets tend to be cheaper, and a wireless headset of comparable quality will always cost more because of the additional tech needed. Unless a wireless headset has AptX encoding, transmitting sound via Bluetooth can cause sound quality loss.
2) Comfort — You want something that doesn’t give you a headache and isn’t too heavy sitting on your head, which can cause neck pain. Things to look for include headband cushioning, memory-foam velour/high quality material for ear cups, and adequate (but not too tight) clamp force for your head. Cheap plastic gaming headsets can creak and cause tension, which adds up after hours of gameplay.
3) Microphone — Some headsets have detachable mics if you aren’t all about the voice chat all the time and use them more as ordinary headphones. You may also want to do your research to make sure the mic is adjustable. Plus, you may not need one at all if you use an external mic.
4) Sound Quality — When compared to gaming headphones of a comparable price, headsets will almost always have lesser sound quality. For FPS/shooters, you should also consider getting surround sound for omnidirectional hearing, since environmental sound cues can mean the difference between life and death! If you’re more about RPGs/MMO, surround sound may not matter as much.
Ready to buy? Shop gaming headsets.
More to consider? Read our guide to choosing the best headsets for you.
The Bottom Line
The beauty of building a gaming PC is that you can always upgrade individual parts or add in RAM sticks/SSDs whenever you want or whenever your budget allows. You can’t get this kind of modularly with a traditional gaming console. We hope your build is fun and runs the first time you start it up. Happy gaming!