March 20, 2012

766 words 4 mins read

Building a new Desktop (Gaming) PC: Step 1 – Planning

In all my 20+ years of computer experience, I have never bought a prebuilt desktop PC (for personal use). In the early days, my desktops were hand-me-downs that I upgraded. Later when I had the money, I built or rebuilt machines to fit my needs/wants. About 5 years back or so, I gave up my desktop PC and switched entirely to laptops. My gaming had migrated primarily onto the Xbox, my desktop was outdated and I had brand new laptops (plural) from work. A few weeks ago, I decided that this needed to change. I wanted needed a desktop of my very own again. Of course, the idea of buying something prebuilt didn’t even occur to me.

How much can you spend?

The first question to figure out is how much money can one spend on such a glorious project? I didn’t want to spend more than about $1,000 on a desktop. Not that I couldn’t afford more, but I simply didn’t see the need to go totally crazy. If you’re young and don’t have a lot of money to spend, then this item is very critical, but if you’ve got more spending money… the amount you pay matters less.

How soon do you need it?

The second question (which ties closely into the first) is how soon do you need to have a completed machine. If you’re in no rush, you can take time to buy components one at a time as they are on sale (and use the slower/cheaper shipping methods). Keep an eye out on sites like Slickdeals, /r/buildapcsales, newegg and Amazon. You can save yourself a pretty penny by waiting to purchase items when they are either on sale or have mail-in-rebates. Taking your time will also allow you to potentially save money by waiting that extra week/month for the latest and greatest to come out… therefor reducing the cost of the parts you’re buying (assuming you aren’t buying that week’s latest/greatest).

What is the box gonna do?

In the title, I specified I was building a gaming box, well that’s not entirely correct. My personal goal was to build a relatively inexpensive desktop that had upgrade potential, and would run all the photo software (Photoshop, Lightroom, etc) very well. As a side bonus, if it only cost a little more, I also wanted it to play games well. So what do you want your desktop to do? I wanted to “play games well” which is relatively unspecific making it easier to attain. If you’re requirements are a desktop that can support Quad-SLI graphic cards in order to run Crysis at max graphics, 3840 by 2160 — then you’re going to have to spend a good deal more to hit that requirement. My goal is to get 80-90% of the way to what would be “sweet” (or uber). Besides, that last 10-20% is where most of the expense comes into play. In short, instead of hoping I can run BF3 at stupid high resolutions and get 90fps, I’ll settle for 30fps at 1080.

What is in the box?

Here’s the fun one, figuring out what exactly you want in the PC. In the good old days of building PCs, that meant doing a prodigious amount of research to figure out exactly what worked with what, in advance. Now you can just go to! It might not be 100% accurate, but it’s darn close. Start with something like a motherboard and it will filter CPUs down to what fits that mobo, RAM that supports the mobos speeds, etc. It caught a few mistakes I had made before I found the site. It also gives you a price breakdown by vendor and overall. If you’re working on a budget, this site is king.

This step, the part picking, will take the most time (or at least it should). When you build a house, you have blueprints. When you’re building a computer, this step is your blueprints. You want to know exactly what you’re doing before you buy your first part. If you don’t, you’ll end up taking longer, spending more, and generally not having a good time building the computer (which should be fun). If you want help, hit up /r/buildapc (even I did, and I consider myself an expert) and ask for their opinions. Reddit’s community is great and they’ll give you feedback on your potential build. Speaking of which, you can check out my MicroATX based plan.

In my next post, I’ll discuss what to do when all the parts finally make their way into your hands (aka building the box).