Skip the Console, Build a Gaming PC

While the upcoming Xbox One and PlayStation 4 have impressive capabilities, they also have frustrating limitations, such as monopolistic digital download platforms and limited Internet browsing abilities. To play hardcore games without the restrictions, build your own gaming PC. While building a computer may sound intimidating, all you need is a little technological know-how and a solid handle on the components required.

PCs have the widest selection of both mainstream and indie titles, and PC games are often cheaper than their console counterparts. Because gaming PCs are usually more powerful than their rival consoles, the graphics look better and display at higher resolutions. Real-time strategy and simulation games are generally too unwieldy for console controls, giving PC gamers entire genres to themselves. Instead of just a few streaming video channels, PCs have the whole Internet at their disposal. Users can also upgrade PCs piecemeal rather than having to wait almost a decade between console releases.

If you're ready to get your hands dirty, there are a few things you'll need before you begin. The first is a willingness to deal with tangles of wires, very small screws and confusing instruction manuals. It doesn't take a tech wizard to build a PC, but if you've never taken apart a gadget or upgraded an existing computer, you may want to crack open your current machine first, just to see what everything looks like.

Also, whatever you do, avoid traditional retail stores like the plague. While they may sell the components you need, they will be extremely expensive. Stick to online shops or specialty tech outlets.

1. Motherboard

Whatever else you buy will plug into the motherboard, so make sure that it supports a separate graphics card (expensive ones do; cheap ones usually don't). Most motherboards also have integrated sound cards, which should be fine.

Price: $150 to $300

2. Processor

Your motherboard will be optimized for either an AMD or Intel processor, so be sure to coordinate the two components. You'll want at least 3.5 GHz, quad-core version from either vendor, but AMD is cheaper while Intel is more robust.

Price: $100 to $300

3. Memory (RAM)

Eight GB of RAM is good; 16 GB is better. Here, it's best to just check the reviews and make absolutely certain your RAM is the proper size for your motherboard. Your motherboard's instructions will let you know the right kind to buy.

Price: $50 to $150.

4. Cooling

The choice between traditional fans and liquid-cooled heat sinks can be difficult, but if you think you'll be gaming for more than a few hours at a time, at least consider liquid cooling. Fans are inexpensive but noisy, while liquid cooling is quiet but can fry your whole system if it breaks.

Price: $50 to $150

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  • drewhoo
    While there is no need to inundate beginners with technical details, there is a good cause for at least listing some citations for the claims this article is making, as well as resources for further exploration and learning. There are many build guides out there, but perhaps a beginner wouldn't know what words to use to search for them, so here are a few:

    Newegg's video series
    Tom's Hardware's

    A decent power supply calculator

    To a beginner, the power supply section seems to suggest that the actual units differentiate based on whether they contain bronze, silver, gold, or platinum, when those are just the names given to the different levels of energy efficiency certification.

    In addition, it would be worth noting that a large downside to playing on a PC has just been removed because the Xbox One and PS4 will both, for the first time, be using the same computer architecture as PCs, which at least means that PC ports will be of a higher quality and might even mean that more games get ported!
  • MasterMace
    Why give a beginner a guide and tell them to drop over $700?

    There are plenty of builds for $500 and under. You don't need to drop $100 on a power supply, especially not for a $100 graphics card. You don't want a $100 graphics card. You don't want a $200 graphics card with a $300 processor. There are plenty of coolers from $20 to $30 for builds that anybody can use.
  • Kurshu
    I think a $400-$500 build would go down a lot better with someone new to PC gaming than dropping as much as $700 on a machine.

    There are plenty of builds around for $400 that are extremely effective at playing newer games at medium settings. Just check you Tom's own forums for brilliant suggestions from the forum members.
  • Poul Wrist
    What motherboard doesn't fit a discrete graphicscard? I know some mini-ITX and smaller that don't, but any mATX and ATX? Huh?
  • xero141
    2003 called.. they want their article back!

    There are a lot of pretty good boards under $150... 99% of modern boards support external graphics and have on-board audio.. plus 2gb of visual memory... really, toms? you're telling newbies to look at video ram size as a basis for buying a video card?
  • cats_Paw
    These are sad times. PC games lowering their standards, corruption in Politics, economical crysis, and Tomshardware putting more ads than real articles.

    I need to find myself a girlfriend :D.
  • photonboy
    1. So vague as to be almost useless. Plenty of better articles.

    2. 16GB is not "better" than 8GB for gaming.

    3. Good PSU's below $100 exist. For $40 the Antec VP-450 is perfect for 450W builds.

    4. $150 to $200 for graphics card? Rather limited choices there.

    5. about $30 for Cooler Master Hyper 212/Evo (below $50 to $100)

    7. No mention of Game Controller for a GAME PC?

    Too vague. Prices issues. Omissions.
  • shaun_shaun
    what do u need 16gb ram for?? 8gb is more than sufficient atm....
  • rajesh com
    Sorry, I didn't mean to cause controversy. I suppose that science and math have changed, and perhaps there is truly IS more to learn. I have tried to keep up to an extent,
    <a href=>custom gaming pc builder</a>
  • rajesh com
    Well you can upgrade them very easily if you build them….ya
    <a href=>custom gaming pc builder</a>
  • tiret
    This article is stupid. If I were ignorant to Pc's this would in no way encourage me to give it a try. just by the way you did not include the cost of windows! Most of the other costs listed are too high.