Building a gaming PC could be fun, or it could be rather frustrating, depending on how you approach the pursuit, and of course your own personal circumstances. You may be constrained by a tight budget, and therefore experience difficulty picking the right parts to achieve what you want in terms of performance. Or you might be a relative tech novice, and unsure of how to best put together a PC which can cope well with modern games.
Don’t worry, because help is at hand. Beginners should head over to our article on how to build your first gaming PC, and then this guide gives you all the info you’ll need to subsequently put the thing together, all broken down into easy to follow steps.
That’s all the core stuff covered, then – but what about the trimmings? In this feature, we’re going to look at five additional tips you may not be aware of that will help make sure that your gaming PC is everything it should be.
1. Understand the silicon lottery
As you’re probably aware, processors aren’t created equal. For any given specific model of CPU, there’ll be slight variances in the manufacturing process that will mean some chips are a little better than others (although they will all be in the same ballpark).
So when you buy an unlocked processor – which can be overclocked – folks refer to the ‘silicon lottery’, essentially meaning that you’re keeping your fingers crossed that you get one of the better examples of that particular CPU model. Because these slightly superior products might overclock with considerably more headroom.
But you don’t have to rely on blind luck to secure a good CPU in this respect. That’s because there are companies out there who buy in processors, test them to see exactly how good they are, and then sell them on to PC builders who want a guarantee of what speed they’ll be able to overclock up to.
Silicon Lottery is one firm which does exactly this, and we recently mentioned the company in a couple of pieces about new Ryzen 3000 chips already running unusually close to their maximum performance in terms of clocks, generally speaking.
Now, a few caveats here. Of course, these operations – which also include the likes of Overclockers UK and German retailer Caseking – obviously charge more than the RRP for these CPUs, and some folks believe that you’re simply better off spending that extra money on upgrading other components to boost performance in your gaming rig.
Indeed, whether this makes sense or not, and how much mileage you might get out of going this route, will likely vary depending on the exact build and processor you’re looking at. In some cases, the expenditure might be such that it could simply be a better idea to step up to a faster (different) CPU (assuming there is one and you aren’t looking at the flagship already).
Also bear in mind that you may need to buy a certain spec of motherboard (i.e. not an entry-level model) to run a particular chip at the speed advertised by Silicon Lottery (or whoever you are buying from).
Still, this is certainly an interesting option for those who don’t mind forking out extra in some scenarios to achieve the absolute best build for their gaming PC. Finally, remember that these CPUs can be delidded by the company to lower the temperature they run at, which again is a useful boon for those looking to really push their processor to the limits.
2. Don’t skimp on the PSU
It’s not uncommon to see some pretty beefy gaming PC builds proposed online, where the builder has picked cheap, maybe even bottom-of-the-line, non-critical components. By which we mean the stuff which is normally considered not as important as the core components of the processor and GPU, motherboard, memory and primary storage.
We’re talking mainly about the PC case and power supply (PSU) here. These might seem like good areas to save money so you can afford that better graphics card – but hold your corner-cutting horses there a minute…
Do not – we repeat, do not – be tempted to purchase a cheap power supply for your gaming PC.
The CPU is generally regarded as the engine of your PC, but if that’s the brain of the machine, then the power supply is the beating heart that keeps everything running smoothly. Or not – if it’s a flaky second-rate model, it won’t provide much stability for any overclock you’re going to attempt. And if you get a cheaper model with a relatively low wattage rating, it may struggle to handle the load from a bunch of higher-end components when they’re really pushed.
Also remember when you upgrade your PC, maybe to a much beefier GPU down the line, say, you might need some room to breathe with that wattage. In other words, a low-wattage PSU may interfere with the future-proofing of your PC.
Furthermore, there’s also the prospect that a budget model might be so unreliable it completely gives up the ghost, meaning you have to buy another PSU (buy cheap, buy twice). And potentially worse still, when that power supply goes pop, it could take out some of your other components, leaving you well out of pocket.
All this said, there’s no need to purchase a hugely juiced-up 1,500W PSU or similar. Such units can be prohibitively expensive, and may not give you the best power-efficiency when your machine is idling (which may well be a good deal of the time). Indeed, these sort of high-powered PSUs will almost certainly be overkill for anything but the most over-the-top gaming PC.
Exactly how much power you will need depends on the sort of gaming machine you’re building – whether lower-end, or a beast of a rig. You can use a wattage calculator and enter your intended components to get an indication of what sort of PSU you might require, but be sure to leave a decent amount of headroom for future-proofing (at least 25% or so).
And get a PSU with at least an ‘80+ Bronze’ rating for efficiency, from a quality brand (such as Corsair or Seasonic – we have some recommendations for the best PC power supplies here). That way it will likely last you for a long time going forward, which will save you money in the long run (you can use that same PSU in your next gaming PC).
In summary, there’s no need to go stupidly overboard – but get a quality model, and do not skimp.
3. Coolest case
Following on from the above, while we wouldn’t place quite the same emphasis on purchasing a good case for your PC, at the same time: buy a cheapo one at your own risk.
A basic PC case which may not offer a huge amount of space could leave the internals feeling very cramped when all your components are inside (and heaven forbid something doesn’t fit, of course). And such a case might not have many options for cable management.
Well thought out cable management design involves leaving plenty of holes so you can run cables tucked away behind the motherboard tray, and a decent amount of tie-down spots to allow you to anchor cables more tidily.
Not having lots of cables – some of which can be quite thick – snaking around your components helps with better airflow throughout the case, and therefore better cooling of your critical hardware like the CPU and GPU. In short, not only does neat cabling have the additional benefit of looking cool, but it actually keeps your PC cool (or cooler, anyway).
Naturally, a better case is also likely to have a superior design in terms of fan and vent placement, and airflow in general, all to that same end. And as we’ve already touched on, cooling can be a pretty vital issue if you’re going to be overclocking hardware with your gaming PC.
A couple of quick general tips here: if you do go for a smaller case, it might be a good idea to buy a graphics card that vents heat out of the rear plate – away from the case – rather than inside the case. Because in a crowded environment, the latter is bad news. Also, make sure intake fans are guarded by dust filters, because dust is the other enemy of PC components when it comes to overheating.
Bearing that in mind, when you purchase your gaming PC, also buy yourself a can of compressed air, and every six months or so, use it to get rid of internal dust before this begins to accumulate in any quantity. Obviously turn off your PC first, and be gentle when doing this. When cleaning dust off the blades of a fan, be sure to hold it still (don’t spin the fan around with your air spraying, as that may damage it).
It might be a good idea to set up a recurring ‘clean my PC’ reminder on a calendar somewhere so you don’t forget.
Finally, remember that just like a PSU, a quality case can be carried over to your next build(s), leaving you set with a great foundation going forward.
4. Ask the experts
Once you’ve decided on your build, post the full list of proposed components on a techie forum populated by experienced PC builders (or preferably a few forums). This is a step that many folks don’t bother with – as it might take you a little time to sign up to these message boards, assuming you aren’t already registered – but it’s well worth the effort to do this just before you pull the trigger on buying all that hardware.
You’ll usually get some interesting feedback, and perhaps comments on alternatives or different configurations that may work better, or indeed things that you may have plain missed. You could well be glad of this advice prior to opening your wallet, and it could be a real money saver.
Don’t forget, PCPartPicker can be a useful resource when putting together and detailing/sharing your build – and can itself point out potential compatibility problems.
5. The importance of software
As well as all your juicy hardware, don’t forget the software side of the equation when you finally put together your gaming PC. When your rig first springs into action, HWiNFO (or alternatively CPU-Z) is a great little free utility for monitoring how your components are performing and highlighting any potential issues before they worsen.
MSI Afterburner is another smart piece of software which is invaluable when overclocking your graphics card, and fine-tuning the fan speed of your GPU (note that this isn’t just for MSI video cards).
And there are other top-notch free apps that are useful for any gaming PC which we’ve rounded up here, including f.lux which helps protect your eyesight when indulging in long gaming sessions that stretch into the night.
TechRadar’s PC Gaming Week 2020 is celebrating the most powerful gaming platform on Earth with articles, interviews and essential buying guides that showcase how diverse, imaginative, and remarkable PC games – and gamers – can be. Visit our PC Gaming Week 2020 page to see all our coverage in one place.