Building a gaming PC

Posted on: March 23rd, 2013 by Alexander Wright No Comments

In this article we will look at building a high performance games machine with the focus being not only on getting the latest games running at maximum detail levels, but long term value.

The CPU:

The CPU or processor of your machine has a massive bearing on performance as well as to some extent dictating which motherboard and ram you will have to select, not to mention cooling for the CPU itself.

The age old question is should you be buying AMD or Intel.  On paper AMD’s FX-8320 with 8 physical processing cores and a speed of 3.5GHz  certainly looks convincing. Even more so when you factor in that this CPU can be had for only £156, in practice however it is woefully behind Intel in terms of benchmark scores which are a good indicator of performance for a certain task.

This type of CPU would be more suited to applications such as Adobe Photoshop or video rendering where a large amount of cores are really taken advantage of by the software.

Core i5

In games more often than not only 2 and slowly becoming more common, 4 cores, are used with the main power coming from the graphics card.

With this in mind we would recommend the Intel Core i5 3570. This CPU has only 4 cores and a clock rate of 3.4GHz (with boost to 3.8GHz). Many companies will try and convince you that a Core i7 CPU is the way to go, but truth be told in games it makes little to no difference at all and we are trying to get the best value for our money !

CPU cooling:

The CPU we have recommended in this article comes with it’s own heat sink or cooler in the box which for most will be sufficient and for the vast majority of people. If you do wish to have something quieter then alternative 3rd party coolers such as the Corsair Hydro H55 are a good alternative but may require specific PC cases in order to house them properly. For the build we are discussing today though we will stick with the Intel reference cooler which comes with the CPU.

Motherboard:

The motherboard you choose depends heavily on the type of CPU that you are going to use and the Chip set (motherboard controller) but with a games machine in mind it boils down to only one real choice in terms of performance currently.

For the Intel Core i5 we have chosen motherboards which use the Z77 chip set are the go to choice. The cheaper option would be a motherboard with a H66 chip set but the features you loose versus the cost savings really don’t stack up.

The MSI Z77A-G43 motherboard has a good mix of features that you would normally expect so see on boards costing double the £85 retail price.

Z77A-G43

It has outputs for surround sound , eight USB ports (4x USB 2, 2x USB 3), 6 SATA connectors (4x SATA 2, 2x SATA 3) and all of the usual fan connectors and case headers you would expect to find on a high-end board as well as Crossfire support.

Overall this is a good platform which will be in use from the start but also has room for expansion should you wish to upgrade components such as RAM or the number of hard disks you have later on.

 

CASE:

The computer case you buy to house your shiny new parts is more important than many people seem to realize. Generally speaking only the higher quality cases will come with extra’s such as dust filters for fans, the fans themselves and a build quality that will make you wish it wasn’t stuck under a desk out of sight. It is also worth noting that higher end cases tend not to come with a power supply as the (quite rightly) assume that you will be choosing your own.

Fractal Design’s Define R4 case is one such case which although having a price tag around double that of the low end selection is a worthwhile investment. The case itself is of Scandinavian design which incorporates sound reduction matting and fans which have hydraulic bearings meaning long life and a virtually silent operating level. Unlike lesser cases the Define R4 also integrates features such as front USB 3.0 (most only have front USB 2) and a three speed fan controller behind the front door panel.

Define F4

Last but not least this case is also slightly wider than standard ones meaning that when it comes time to hide all of those power and data cables neatly it will be a simple task.

Still not convinced? Well have a think about how many times when you have bought a new PC you also bought a new case to go with it…….  Uh-huh. Now think about having a good quality one that can be used again in a few years time and it has just paid for itself.

RAM:

Ram is wholly dependent on the motherboard as to which type you are going to need to buy, the only ‘wiggle’ room that we get on this part is deciding which brand and how much of it we want to get.

Generally for a games machine we would recommend 8-16 gigabytes but with ram being rather cheap currently things tend to lean towards the 16.

Bearing in mind the motherboard we are going to use has the Z77 this means we will be using DDR3 ram. There are varying speeds of DDR 3 ram but for gaming the differences are minimal, therefore again we will be going with price over performance to a degree.

Corsair Value Select

Corsair are a well known and quality brand for RAM and even their so called budget options quite often outstrip their competitors.With this in mind we recommend the Corsair Value Select 16gb Kit (2x 8gb Dimms) at £100. There is a slightly cheaper option which would be to go for 4×4 gigabyte sticks but long term this is a waste as it would not only use all slots on the motherboard and therefore have to be replaced rather than just added to if an upgrade were to happen but it will use marginally more electricity. Although this may not be a lot, over the lifetime of the system depending on use this is enough to impact on the cost effectiveness of the overall system.

 

Power Supply:

Many companies will use the cheapest power supply in a case that they can. While this is good for them it is certainly a bad call for the customer. As mentioned in a previous article choosing the right power supply uses a lot of different factors.

As this has previously been covered we will get straight down to the part itself, in this case a Corsair CX750.

CX750

Although the system we are detailing in this article does not require the full 750watts (actually around 600) that this power supply can produce it does leave headroom for the future. This means that should you add an extra hard drive or change out your graphics card for a higher end component then in all likelihood  this power supply will be just fine and will not need to be replaced.

Hard Drive:

Many people will tell you that for gaming these days you will need a solid state drive. While this is partially true, we at User 2 have a slightly different take on things.

The main system drive (c:) in our games system will be a solid state drive, in this instance a Kingston V300 SATA 3 SSD. While the main games drive which will also double for storage will be a more mainstream standard hard disk, a Western Digital Black 1TB.

Kingston V300

The reasons for this are quite simple. The SSD will allow for blisteringly fast boot times of the system overall and for any day to day running of the system. That coupled with the 16 gigabytes of ram we have also chosen will allow us to turn off the hard disk caching in windows entirely again improving performance.

While the relatively small size of the 120 gigabyte SSD will host windows and any system related programs the Western Digital conventional drive will host any games, video, pictures etc that we wish to use.

This way we get the performance of the SSD but the storage benefits of a conventional drive also.

 

Optical Drive:

Liteon

While an optical drive may be rarely used in a PC these days it is still an essential part of the computer. Certainly without one you would not be able to install the operating system without jumping through hoops.For a games machine, although not essential we will be using a DVD-RW drive. This will allow us not only to install any games which may still come on a disk but also create system backups and watch DVD films. At £15 the Liteon iHAS124 is about as cheap as they come but without sacrificing quality.

Graphics Card:

While there is always debate in the battle over which is a better choice, Nvidia or AMD for a graphics card in this case we will be going with the AMD Radeon 7870 made by XFX.

Radeon 7870

This card offers a good compromise between price and performance. For any game currently on the market this will be able to handle it at a resolution of 1080p on high settings without having to worry.

For a full graphics card run down please see our previous article here.

 

Operating system:

Although Windows 8 is now readily available and buying the most current software for a new computer would usually be the best advice to give, in this case we can only recommend windows 7. Not only is the games performance from windows 7 to windows 8 negligible at a meager 2% on average some games simply do not work with it. That coupled with the horrific interface designed for touch screens ( which no gamer in their right mind would be using anyway) makes windows 8 the lame horse in this race.

windows-7-logo

Here is where things become tricky however, as we noted in a previous article windows 7 has varying limits on how much ram can be used.With this in mind we would still recommend Windows 7 64bit home premium but bear in mind that if you do plan to install more than 16gb of ram in the future you would need to purchase and then reinstall windows with the professional version.

 

Finished System:

Case: Fractal design, Design R4     £102.59

Motherboard:  MSI Z77A-G43     £85.69

Processor: Intel Core i5 3750     £198.12

Ram: Corsair Value select 16gb kit     £100.60

Graphics Card: XFX Radeon 7870     £213.10

Power Supply: Corsair CX750     £82.37

Hard disk 1: Kingston V300     £96.70

Hard disk 2: Western Digital Black 1TB     £78.91

Optical drive: Liteon iHAS124     £14.52

Operating system: Windows 7 64bit Home Premium     £84.25

Total cost £1056.85 Inc VAT

If you would like User 2 to build and test your system as well as install the operating system and all relevant updates ready for use then a fee of £50 would apply. This would also enable you to take advantage of our phone support and technical advice should the need arise.

Certainly there are far higher components that can be used when building a games machine but this represents a good solid foundation with which to currently use and also to upgrade in the future without  needlessly replacing parts.

All components mentioned in this article can be found on our web store.

All prices correct as of article publication date 23-03-2013.

All images are for illustrative purposes only, actual products may vary.

 

Author: Alexander Wright

Alexander Wright Alexander Wright (44 Posts)