Build a Gaming PC, Pt 1: Defining the Requirements

By Published February 02, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Building a gaming computer is exceedingly easy: If you can use a screwdriver, have at least one thumb and a couple of bucks, and can read, you're already off to a great start. It can be intimidating when looking at all the options for gaming PCs and figuring out if X is compatible with Y, if you should get an SSD, the differences between a 7950 and 7970, NVIDIA vs. AMD/ATI, and so forth, but it's actually quite simple once we define our requirements in this first part of our multi-part First PC Build Guide for Noobs.

Future installments of this guide will look at "where to start" when shopping, if you'd like to build budget PCs in the manner that we do, how to pick a CPU, video card differences, and anything else that gets asked of us. Write a comment below or post on our hardware forums if you have questions!


Defining the Requirements

PC gaming is getting bigger and more affordable than ever before in gaming history, as proven by Steam's recent 100% increase in profit, their 1 billion gigabytes of bandwidth used, and our ability to consistently make $400-$600 gaming rigs that blow any console out of the water. Keep in mind that as soon as a console hits the shelf, it is obsolete. Even the cheapest of modern gaming PCs will outperform a console on every level of the competition, and considering PCs are more versatile and required for every day use, you may as well go the route of the PC gamer. There's no reason you can't do both, of course.

The simple fact is that building a PC yourself -- even a non-gaming rig -- is FAR cheaper than purchasing a pre-built from the store.

Let's define the requirements. After you do this, you can continue on to our next installment (which will be updated here when available, or on our home page) and start picking out parts.

Defining: Price

Before anything else, it's best to look at your price range and your flexibility. Answer these questions:

What is the maximum amount you are comfortable with spending?

What is your preferred range? Be realistic, saying "the cheapest possible" doesn't help anyone.

Of course, if you've never done this before, it's quite hard to understand what, exactly, "reasonable" means. Let's look at common price ranges:

Items Budget Gamers Hardcore Gamers Enthusiasts Developers
Components Only* $430-$600 $600-$900 $1000-$1500 $1500-$2500
Need an OS? +$95 +$95 +$95 +$150
Need all peripherals?** +$60 +$100 +$120 +$150
Need a monitor? +$100 +$130 +$150 +$200-$450


* Components Only, in this context, means "the box and what's in it."

** Peripherals assumed under this table are: Headset or speakers, keyboard, and mouse.

Cutting Costs

See also: cutting corners. If you find yourself struggling to fit an extra $20, $50, or more into your build -- especially if another flood happens -- there are a lot of tricks that can be played to cut corners. Answer these questions to find out what you might be able to re-use:

  • Do you have a PC made in the last 5 years?
  • What about a laptop? Do you still need it?

$20 - Optical Drives

If you have an old PC (2005 or later preferred) that you won't be using very often, you might be able to salvage the optical drive (CD/DVD RW drive) and save yourself $20. Most people don't read/write discs very often, but it's still necessary in many instances. If you have a computer that will be put in the corner (or recycled) after you build this one, you can probably pull out the old optical drive and re-use it. The only requirement is that you either have one which is SATA compatible or purchase an adapter to convert IDE to SATA (you might also need a power adapter), at which point, honestly, you may as well just buy a new optical drive.


Given the volatility of the hard drive market in a world still recovering from the Thailand floods, hard drives are still quite overpriced as of this writing (2/2012), but we expect them to return to normal by the end of 2012 (hello, future people, I'm from the past - did I just blow your mind?). You can save anywhere from a small $30 to quite a nice $100+ by re-using an old hard drive. To find out if you have a re-usable drive, check that it:

  • Is a size you'll be happy with.
  • Is something you can re-format safely. If not, can you back-up the data elsewhere? If not, can you use it as a storage drive instead of an OS drive?
  • If it will be a primary (non-storage) OS/gaming drive, is it of a SATA II connection or higher and of 7200RPM or better? Check the label on the drive.
  • If it will be a storage drive, is it of 5400 RPM or better? SATA II or higher? Check the label.


SSDFlow2Stolen from our SSD article, this image shows the bottlenecking potential of HDDs. Don't cut corners if it'll screw your performance.

Certainly there are other methods to cut corners, but we won't spend a lot of time on them. Check for these popular, re-usable items:

  • Do you have a copy of Windows 7 that has multiple installations remaining?
  • Have any monitors, keyboards, mice, or other peripherals that can be re-used?
  • What about recently upgraded video cards in other machines?


Defining: Usage

Now we need to figure out what you're actually going to use your system for! Whether or not you're building on a budget, have a bit of cash to throw around, or are a serious developer or enthusiast-padawan, this is an extremely important category to define and -- if you didn't already decide from the above -- will help figure out reasonable expectations of your rig.

Pick a usage category from this list or build your own by combining multiple options. We've assumed that "gaming" is included in every category as a base requirement.

  • Only gaming.
  • + Video Editing -- Consider a stronger CPU (cores, cache) and more HDD space.
  • + Game modding -- Consider more HDD space and a small SSD for your tools.
  • + Game development -- Consider a very strong CPU (cores, speed, cache), an SSD for tools, and a strong GPU. You may need multiple GPUs for testing, if affordable.
  • + Programming / Web Development -- Consider a small SSD for tools and an HDD RAID array for redundant backups.
  • + Graphics design -- Consider an NVIDIA graphics solution for best compatibility with Photoshop.
  • + 3D Modeling -- Consider a strong video card and an SSD for your tools.


None of these are requirements, just suggestions. Always check your tools' websites for recommended requirements. This "Defining Usage" section will be important throughout the rest of the guide.

Game-Specific Research

Are you building your rig almost entirely for one game? Many users loved our hardcore SWTOR Jedi build and budget Sith rig for this reason. If this is the case, research that game and search around for benchmarks. You'll want to know if it's more CPU or GPU-intensive, if it favors one brand over another, and what the potential bottlenecks are (some games only natively support 2GB of memory, for example, while mods will expand that potential).

We can help you research this on our forums.

Hopefully that helped get you thinking about what you need! The next guide covers some of the fun stuff and compatibility questions, so stay tuned!

Last modified on February 02, 2012 at 1:23 pm
Steve Burke

Steve started GamersNexus back when it was just a cool name, and now it's grown into an expansive website with an overwhelming amount of features. He recalls his first difficult decision with GN's direction: "I didn't know whether or not I wanted 'Gamers' to have a possessive apostrophe -- I mean, grammatically it should, but I didn't like it in the name. It was ugly. I also had people who were typing apostrophes into the address bar - sigh. It made sense to just leave it as 'Gamers.'"

First world problems, Steve. First world problems.

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