Do yourself a favor and check out all the upcoming PC games headed your way in October. Then take a nice, long gander at all the new games 2015 has in store. Done with all that? Good--now say some parting words in honor of your wallet, as it is, at this exact moment, leaping from the nearest cliff out of sheer panic. Though there's a lot to choose from, you must first make the most important decision of all: which platform will you play them on?
Well, if you're reading this, then the answer to that question is easy. For you, PC is the only platform. And what better way to celebrate your loyalty than by building a custom-made machine of your own? Whether you're familiar with the process or are a first-time builder, these parts will serve as the foundation for an excellent gaming rig, one that will allow you to crank the video settings to max while playing pretty much anything. A few notes before we get started: The primary build listed here is a really solid mid-range setup, but it'll cost you a pretty penny--nearly $1300. If you're looking to spend less than a grand, follow the recommended budget build alternatives for a decent (but comparatively inexpensive) rig.
Note: Listed prices are based on current street pricing on Amazon and Newegg, and may vary depending on date and store.
Chassis - NZXT Phantom 410 ($80)
Your chassis determines how big your PC will be, and, consequentially, how much airflow it'll have. The more air, the cooler (and healthier) your machine will be--if you can fry an egg by putting it on the top of your case, that's typically not a good thing. After something discreet? Mini towers are hardly bigger than a shoebox. Want your gaming PC to double as a nightstand? Grab yourself a full tower. When shopping around, pay attention to build materials, and be sure that the case you choose has all the features you're after, such as top-mounted USB ports, fan speed control, cable management cutouts, and other connection ports.
For this build, I went with a high-quality mid-tower chassis, the standard size you might find when looking at pre-built systems from Dell or its competitors. NZXT produces some quality cases, and the 410 series is not only sturdy, but has some great features--such as cable routing and fan speed control--packed in as well.
Budget build alternative: NZXT Source 210 Elite ($50). A basic plastic chassis with tool-less internals. Nothing fancy here, but it'll get the job done.
Power supply - Corsair CX750M 750W ($77)
All those fancy parts in your computer aren't going to do much unless you feed them some electricity. You'd do well to invest in a quality power supply (PSU). Don't skimp here--buying a garbage unit will endanger your machine. If your power source takes a dump, it could fry your whole system.
Thermaltake, Corsair, Antec, and Cooler Master are some of the most reputable brands when it comes to power supplies, which is why I've gone with Corsair's CX750M 750W. It's got more than enough capacity to power your system, and can even handle dual GPU setups with ease. Plus, it's modular, meaning you can plug in only the power cords you need, which will help keep the insides of your case tidy, thus improving airflow.
Budget build alternative: Corsair CX500 500W ($50). Another reliable unit from Corsair, the CX500 will power budget builds without any issues.
Motherboard - Gigabyte GA-Z97X-GAMING ($170)
The motherboard is a PC's foundation that you plug all your components into. Definitely do some research before picking one at random; the motherboard, or mobo, determines what kind of components your rig can even support. First, be sure its socket type matches that of your CPU--the recommended i5-4670K requires an LGA 1150 socket. Next, take note of what types of RAM the board can run, its max memory capacity, and whether or not it has enough secondary connections, such as USB ports and expansion slots, to fulfill your build needs. This Gigabyte board is packed with some really great features--such as enhanced on-board audio--that most mid-range setups simply don't offer.
When shopping around, also pay attention to the motherboard's chipset. These are the electronics that allow each of the PC's components to communicate with one another, so you'll want to be sure your board's chipset is up to date. Intel's Z97 chipset, featured here, is about as good as it gets.
Budget build alternative: MSI 970A-G43 ($75). You'll need an AM3+ socket to support the recommended budget AMD chip, and this MSI board is affordable and packed with great features.
CPU - Intel Core i5-4670K ($220)
It's very likely your computer will never become self aware, but even so, the central processing unit--or CPU--is your PC's brain. It's here where a majority of a computer's calculations take place, and while faster is better, there are more important things to consider when selecting a CPU. For instance: socket type. This will affect your motherboard choice, and, more importantly, your ability to upgrade years down the road.
Intel's got the edge in the CPU market, so I went with the i5-4670K, a chip with incredible performance for the price. It's plenty fast, and can withstand a good amount of overclocking if that's your thing (just be sure to grab an aftermarket cooler, such as the Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo, if you plan on doing so).
Budget build alternative: AMD FX-6300 ($125). Intel is the way to go if you can afford it, but this AMD chip will handle most of today's games just fine.
Video card - EVGA GeForce GTX 760 ($245)
If you're going to drop a huge wad of cash on any one particular component, this is the one. The graphics processing unit (GPU / video card / graphics card, whatever you prefer to call the thing) is one of the most important parts of a gaming PC, as it does a bulk of the heavy lifting when it comes to pushing pretty pictures to your display. Nvidia and AMD (formerly ATI) have a fierce rivalry in the GPU space, and you'd be fine with a card from either manufacturer.
For this build, I chose Nvidia's GTX 760, which is hands down the best card for the money. Plus, going with the EVGA version means the GPU comes equipped with an ACX cooler, which will keep your video card running cool and quiet. As a general rule, the higher the clock speed and on-board video memory capacity, the better, though other factors such as architecture design will also affect performance.
Budget build alternative: Sapphire Radeon R7 265 ($160). Will this go toe-to-toe with the GTX 750? Hah, no. BUT! It'll get you decent performance for a decent price.
RAM - 2x 4GB Kingston HyperX DDR3/1600 ($80)
Your PC stores data in--and retrieves data from--the hard drive in a predetermined order. Meaning: the process is mega slow, at least compared to the speeds of random access memory. Think of RAM as the temporary storage device where your PC stores data that it's using at that exact moment in time--video game textures, that sort of thing. The more you have, the better your gaming experience, because if your PC had to retrieve all game data from the hard drive alone, you wouldn't have much fun.
Unless you're hardcore into overclocking, you can pretty safely ignore RAM timings when selecting your parts. You will, however, want to pay attention to speed (the recommended setup runs at 1600MHz, which is great for gaming purposes) and capacity. 8GB is pretty much the standard these days, gaming rig or no. Keep in mind most motherboards don't support more than 32GB of RAM, and you'll definitely want to buy it in pairs to take advantage of a dual-channel (or triple, depending) configuration, which provides a nice speed boost to your system.
Budget build alternative: 2x 4GB Kingston HyperX DDR3/1600 ($80). Yep, same as the recommended build. Cut it down to 4GB if you're strapped for cash, but 8GB is the norm, even for budget PCs.
Solid-state drive - 250GB Samsung 840 EVO ($130)
A solid-state drive (SSD) is probably the single-best upgrade you can add to system that doesn't already have one. This super-fast hard drive is perfect for use as a dedicated storage device for your operating system and frequently-played games, as doing so substantially decreases loading and boot times.
The fact that you can pick up Samsung's 250GB 840 EVO for less than $150 is proof that SSD's are dropping in price at a crazy rate. Two years ago, you'd have to spend a few hundred dollars for that capacity. Get on it.
Budget build alternative: Beggars can't be choosers. SSD's are nice, but if you're cutting costs, this one can go.
Hard drive - Seagate Barracuda 1TB ($53)
You don't need to be well versed in computer hardware to understand the basic purpose of the hard drive. This is your computer's filing cabinet, the component that stores all of your data so you can easily retrieve it later. The only big decision you need to make here is how much capacity you need.
One terabyte is a really good starting place, and Seagate is a trusted manufacturer. For most, that's plenty of storage, especially considering you can always just delete junk you're not using anymore (AKA all those installed Steam games that have gone unplayed for a year or two). That said, if you want more or less space, you can always just adjust capacity to fit your needs and budget.
Budget build alternative: None. Sure, you could drop down to 500GB of space, but why bother when that'll only save you a couple bucks?
Optical drive - Samsung SH-224BB/BEBE ($22)
Do you absolutely need an optical drive? Nah--they're fast approaching obsoletion. But considering you can grab one for $20, you might as well. There's really not much to know about these drives, as the read/write speeds don't mean a whole lot these days.
The only thing you'll really need to consider is whether or not you want to get a traditional DVD drive, or spring for a more expensive Blu-ray drive, which would only be really useful if you watch a lot of movies on your PC. Seeing as most PC games are obtained digitally, a Blu-ray drive won't do you a lot of good otherwise.
Budget build alternative: If you're really strapped for cash, you're probably safe to forgo an optical drive entirely. You could always pick one up later if need be.