Ready to dive into PC gaming, but don’t know where to start? No worries, I’ve sat in that seat before. If you have little or no computer experience, PC gaming can appear quite the daunting task. It’s easy to understand why.
There are dozens of misconceptions that keep many from experiencing PC gaming. The most common complaints are the high cost of building a machine that can play current generation games, followed by the uncomfortable idea of being forced to play games with a mouse and keyboard. Both aren’t true reflections of the PC gaming reality. Another misconception, perhaps the worst of the bunch, is that you need rocket scientist intellect to build a gaming PC. Also, not true. And we’ll prove it to you.
You’re probably wondering why you should go through the hassle of building a computer if you can buy a pre-assembled one. Think of it like this: If you build your machine, you can customize it to your liking. On top of that, you’ll learn how it works, and to troubleshoot if anything goes wrong. You just can’t get those experiences from buying a pre-built machine.
Yet, it’s not enough to simply put computer parts together; it’s also crucial to understand how each part works. Included below is a definition guide so you can tell a GHz from a GB — and how they help make your computer a computer. We’ll do this in an understandable fashion, so don’t feel intimidated.
RAM - Short for Random Access Memory. RAM is volatile memory which holds data that CPU processes. Since it’s volatile, all data stored in RAM is lost upon shutting down your machine. You can improve certain applications’ load times and decrease the instances of computer slow down (or “lag”) as you increase the RAM total. A minimum of 4GB is recommended.
CPU - Short for Central Processing Unit. Think of the CPU as your machine’s brain as it carries out the instructions of a computer program. CPUs can differ in their number of cores and clock speeds (the more cores and higher clock speed, the better). There are two major players in the consumer CPU scene: Intel and AMD.
Motherboard – Sometimes refereed to as the “”logic board” or “mobo,” a motherboard is a printed circuit board found in modern computers. Its main function is to hold many of the PC’s main components like RAM, CPU, and graphics card. This is easily one of the most important components. A good motherboard and CPU combo go a long way.
Graphics Card – These cards control output to a display. Motherboards typically come with integrated, on-board graphics, but if you want to game seriously, or have multiple displays, a dedicated graphics card is what you’ll need. It’s also important to know that there are dozens of distributors, but the technology is usually from AMD or Nvidia. What differs between distributors is pricing, build quality, over-clocking possibilities, and a few other features.
Hard Drives - Hard drives are storage devices. They store documents, pictures, apps, music, operating system, and a multitude of other things. They come in various sizes, the most common being Gigabyte drives and Terabyte drives. We’ll discuss the different sizes a bit later. Solid-state Drives (or SSDs) are made of flash memory, which allows faster boot times and increased durability. The tradeoff? Lower capacity drives due to the high cost.
Power Supply - The power supply is essential; without it, your computer won’t turn on. You’ll also need a power supply with enough wattage to power all the components in your machine.
Case - The computer case is a chassis where all the components are stored. There are various form factors that exist, so space and size have to be taken into consideration. For example, a full ATX tower is large and allows for multiple cards and drives (usually used for industrial jobs), while a mid-ATX tower is smaller, but highly upgradeable.
Fans/Cooling Solutions - With all the electronic components enclosed within a case, cooling solutions are needed. Most builds will suffice with fans, but if you overclock your PC, some form of liquid cooling will probably be needed. More on overclocking in a bit.
Now that you have a grasp of the components within a computer, you’re probably wondering what some of the terms used mean. Below you will find common terminology and jargon used when buying parts or looking up configurations.
Dual-Core – This is a type of processor. As the name implies it has two cores, so it functions as two processors within the machine. Dual-core is a bit dated, but you’ll still find them in some computers. There are different AMD and Intel variations.
Quad-Core – This is a type of processor. As the name implies it has four cores, so it functions as four processors for added processing power. There are different AMD and Intel variations.
Bus - The bus is a subsystem which transfers data between components.
Bus Speed - It’s important to have a decent bus speed especially if your processing speed is high. Think about it like this: Your processor’s speed won’t mean a thing if instructions can’t be delivered fast enough.
Clock Rate - This refers to the frequency in which your CPU performs its most basic operation. The clock rate can be increased by overclocking the CPU, but this increases the heat produced and can potentially damage the CPU. The CPU can also be underclocked to reduce heat, but this also decreases the CPU’s performance. Clock Rate is usually measured in hertz (Hz).
TB/GB/MB/KB - Different sizes of data storage units. 1 Terabyte (TB) is equal to 1000 Gigabyte (GB). 1GB is equal to 1000 Megabyte (MB). 1MB is equal to 1000 Kilobyte (KB).
PCI/PCI-E/AGP - These refer to different types of Bus slots. It’s important to check which slots are available on a motherboard before making a purchase. Graphics cards usually come in different variations to accommodate these slots.
USB - Universal Serial Bus. If you own a smart phone you probably noticed that weird looking rectangular connector which connects to your charger. That’s a USB cable. These cables and connectors are the standard used to connect peripherals to machines. As the name implies, it’s a common standard.
DVI/HDMI - These two are video interfaces used to for display output. There are older interfaces like VGA which are still widely used, but most modern motherboards and graphics cards come equipped with DVI or HDMI.
These are just some of the more common terms you’ll run into when purchasing parts. A basic understanding goes a long way when building your PC.
Now that you have the basics down it’s time to actually build a PC. Stay tuned as we’ll have a guide on building a entry level gaming PC for under $600.