How do they differ from regular home and business computers? Gaming PCs have a few major focus points that makes 3D applications look prettier and run more smoothly.
1. The CPU (Central Processing Unit) is the “brain” of your PC.
Think of it like an automobile, in this case the CPU would be the engine. Without the engine, your automobile wouldn’t work. Well the same goes for your computer. A CPU, also called a processor, is the driving force of your PC. It is called a processor because all data is processed by your CPU. Now what makes a processor a gaming processor? A much easier question answered today that in earlier times.
Today we have multi-core processors, capable of processing data much quicker and smoother than single core processors. But in building a PC, there is much more to it than just going and grabbing a Quad-core processor and slapping it in your moms old Dell desktop and calling it a gaming PC. Processors, depending on which, have multiple pin patterns which must match the pattern of the socket on the motherboard where the CPU is seated.
So it is a must to match both the CPU socket and the motherboard socket. These pin patterns are given names to make this easier. A couple examples are AM2 and AM3. So an AM3 socketed processor will only seat into an AM3 compatible motherboard. Fairly simple once broken down.
Now the next dilemma we have is the company to use. There are two major companies that put these processors on the market. If you have any knowledge at all of how computers work, I’m sure you’ve heard of both of them, Intel and AMD. We aren’t going to get into differences or which to go with, because as of date, both of these companies supply good gaming CPUs.
We just need to be sure that if we are buying/building a PC for gaming, that we research both the processor and the motherboard and make sure that the sockets match. In most all cases we are going to want a multi-core processor and the more cores, the better. It all really depends on how fat your wallet is. The cooling of these devices is very important. (see #4 Cooling)
2. RAM (Random Access Memory)
RAM (Random Access Memory), also known as virtual memory, is hardware that relieves some of the stress off of the CPU when running applications. Video games and other programs today, usually have a listed minimum RAM requirement to run them individually. But we are building/buying a gaming PC! Do we want minimum requirements? Heck no! We want enough RAM that we can comfortably run these applications and not put too much stress on our other types of processing hardware in our PC, and the more the merrier.
But like our CPU, RAM also has socket requirements needed to be compatible with the motherboard. Some examples of these different types of sockets are DDR, DDR2 and DDR3. So in building a gaming PC, we not only have to match the socket type of the CPU with the motherboard, but also match the socket type of the RAM with the motherboard. Also, most motherboards have a maximum supported amount of RAM. So if the motherboard only supports 8GB (8 gigabites) of RAM, then anything over 8GB is just wasted.
So how much RAM do we need? Well RAM comes in “sticks” sized differently by an amount of memory. Examples: 1GB, 2GB and 4GB. I won’t mention anything less than a 1GB stick because they aren’t used very much today and frankly, they shouldn’t be in a gaming PC.
One thing to keep in mind when thinking of an amount of RAM you want in your computer, is the fact that some motherboards have two RAM slots, some have four, and some even have more than four. So its very important that if we are shooting for 4GB in our PC, that we achieve it with a 4GB stick or two 2GB sticks.
It’s crucial that we leave enough room for expansion in our computer, so that if we decide we want more, we can always add more later. With the ever changing world of technology that we live in, the average amount of RAM needed to push todays 3D applications could easily increase and eventually will. So we want to make sure we leave room to expand with the times.
What is a good RAM amount average? Well as of summer 2011, I would say that 4GB is a good cheap average for today’s gaming computers. Of course, as long as your motherboard supports it, the more RAM the merrier. But we are trying to do this cheap! So I would say 4GB.
3. The GPU (Graphics Processing Unit)
The GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) is what we know as the graphics card or video card. This is what makes our applications look pretty! Now, the graphics card is one of the most important pieces in a gaming PC. Some motherboards have an integrated graphics card (meaning it is already a part of your motherboard).
But since we are going for our best bang for our buck, I would not recommend using an integrated card. Graphics cards also have a socket type, but most cards these days are PCIe (PCI express). So make sure that your motherboard supports the card you’re going with before hand.
These cards, like CPU’s, have two major companies pumping them out. Nvidia and ATI. Again, we won’t go into differences or which is better, because both make good video cards capable of pushing today’s 3D applications. It’s really all a matter of personal opinion and which one you would like to support in the ongoing race to “out-do” the other. Just do a little research and pick which one you prefer.
Graphics cards are rated by an amount of memory and a series number. The series number starts at 0 and works its way up to the newest series of cards. In most all cases, in memory amount, the more the better. Examples: 256mb, 512mb and 1GB. If you are building/buying a gaming PC, you should always pick the highest series you can that will fit your budget. This would mean that the newest series would be up to date and compatible with the current version of DirectX etc.
We do this to keep up and get as much of a head start as we can on technology before it starts getting better (which I promise, won’t take long). Another thing we need to keep in mind when selecting our video card is our display monitor. Are we using a 20 inch Desktop monitor or are we using a 40 inch LCD HDTV?
You should always do your research and make sure that the resolution your display uses is supported. Personally, the way I do this to make sure it is going to look good on my display is I generally like to spend about as much cash on my graphics card as I did on my monitor. Now that is no rule to follow just a suggestion!
Graphics cards also have multiple types of sockets that your display will plug into to transfer your display from your PC to your monitor. Examples: DVI, VGA, and HDMI. It’s important that we research this before hand so that we can make sure that our monitor will be compatible with our graphics card. If it is not compatible, there is always other options. There are adapters out there that can cure any situation and are very cheap. Examples: VGA to DVI adapter and DVI to VGA adapter.
4. The cooling in our gaming PC is very important and often looked over.
Our gaming PC is going to have powerful hardware, capable of producing mass amounts of heat. If all this heat just sits in our computer it can and will eventually damage your hardware. Before talking about the general cooling of a gaming PC, I’m going to talk about CPU cooling. If you are going to build your PC, NEVER power up your computer without a heatsync installed on top of your CPU.
The amount of time it could take to damage your CPU without proper installment with a heatsync and fan mount is merely seconds. Anytime a CPU is purchased I recommend getting packages with heatsync and fan included. I never purchase packages with just the CPU. Now, with that being said, we will continue with the general cooling system of a gaming PC.
We want our PC cooling to go as follows for best results, we want at least 2-3 entry points for external air to circulate through our computer, and have at least 1 exit point. That way we are bringing cooler air into our computer, and doing away with the hot air that has been sitting in our computer.
A cheap and easy way to do this, is when we are purchasing our case (if we are building our pc) is to get a case with fans mounted on the side panel. This will bring cooler air in, right on top of our main heat generating components (CPU and GPU). Keeping these two components cool will greatly increase their performance. The cooler the better.
These are the main focuses in building a gaming computer. Now you may know exactly what you’re doing after reading this and understand everything you need to do to get started. You may be completely lost and did not understand any of it, that’s okay too. Because I will walk you through the entire process, from purchasing your hardware to powering your PC up for the first time! Visit my step-by-step page for a how-to of the entire process. The page includes helpful information and video tutorials, to building a cheaper gaming PC.