PC Gaming

How to Build an Affordable Gaming PC for Noobs


A year ago, I wrote a post detailing some of the reasons why I enjoyed playing games on the PC. However, the love affair started to crumble when I noticed consistent lags and performance issues whenever I play recent games like Assassins Creed or the Arkham series. I knew it was time to get a rig of my own after pushing my Macbook Pro 13″ (2011) beyond its capabilities. What did I do next? I went on Best Buy and Newegg to browse for a PC that could support my gaming needs. I didn’t even think about building my own machine at the time. Like many others, I’m a ‘noob’ when it comes to computer hardware and all these jargon about graphics. The only thing I really cared about was speed, affordability, and performance. I didn’t care about seeing each strand of Lara Croft’s hair. As long as I was able to play a game in it’s highest general graphics settings with no lags, then I’m a happy gamer. Of course, another important factor is the cost of the entire thing. Price eventually became a deciding factor in my choice to build my own machine. For roughly $700 I was able to build a PC that ran games like Sleeping Dogs and Crysis 3 with ease in the highest graphics settings possible. I can also run a multitude of programs simultaneously and switch in a flash. If I bought those packaged ones from Best Buy, it would have cost me $900 (that’s without a monitor and all the others too) or even more because it came with a lot of stuff that I did not need.

If you’re a simple gamer who simply wants a great machine for a good price, then this post is for you. Building a PC takes a lot of time, effort, and patience because you’re building everything nearly from scratch. Even the most experienced builders run into bugs and glitches. Thankfully, there are a lot of helpful forum and blog posts that can help you own with virtually any problem. Consequently, it is very beneficial for you in the long run. You will learn how to install and replace parts by yourself. The knowledge you will learn from troubleshooting on your own will save you a lot of money from taking your machine to Best Buy. I also know a lot of people who replaced their PCs simply because of one faulty part. This blog post chronicles my first time building a PC. I will share with you the resources that helped me build my rig and list some of the challenges I faced in the process.

I. Parts and Retailer

My friend recommended online retailer TigerDirect and I bought most of my parts from them. They constantly have a lot of good deals like my discounted video card came with Crysis 3, BioShock: Infinite, and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon for free. If you are not lazy about rebates, you can really save a lot of money. Lastly, one of my parts was shipped to the wrong address so the product and shipping fee was on the house. Some of the parts I bought were from a friend. People who build their own rigs constantly upgrade their hardware, so it’s wise to ask/buy from for second hand parts that are still in mint condition. You can also check craigslist, just be wise and do your research before you actually buy the parts.

Note: Click the links to see full specs. The prices listed are not current. These were the prices I bought these products either secondhand or during a promo. 

Motherboard: Intel DP55WB ($50)

Note: If I’m not mistaken, my motherboard has more slots for my RAM. So, I think I can even upgrade to 16 GB RAM if I ever have the need. However, I currently don’t see any need to do so at the moment.

Processor: i7 860 ($150)

RAM: Corsair XMS3 8GB (4×2) DDR3 PC3-10666 ($40)

Solid State Drive: OCZ Vertex 60 GB ($30)

Note: From my basic understanding, SSDs are superior to normal hard drives because they don’t run on discs. The only thing inside this is Windows 7 OS. This makes the OS run a lot faster! The difference is noticeable. Everything else is in the 1 TB. Warning: Don’t defragment an SSD. It’s very sensitive

HDD: Toshiba 1TB ($50)

Graphics Card: XFX Radeon HD 7950 ($280)

Note: As mentioned previously, got this at a discount with three video game freebies. It also supports triple monitor display if I remember correctly. I am currently using two right now.

PSU: BFG 550w ATX ($25)

Case: Cooler Master RC430 ($25)

NOTE: Sometimes, you have to consider the efficiency of case’s ability to circulate air. Pick the wrong case and you risk potential thermal overheating problems.

DVD: LG DVD Burner ($17)

Note: Most of the pre-built PCs on Best Buy had Bluray drive on them. Ask yourself if you really need that capability. It’s unnecessary parts like that are responsible for a pricey rigs. For my case, I already have a Bluray player so it wasn’t something I needed.

NIC: Asus ($28)

Note: I didn’t really need this since I’m connected via an Ethernet cable, but I chose to be prepared and got a wireless card for wifi capability anyway.

Before you buy the parts, you have to make sure they are compatible with one another. How would you know? Ask a friend to help you or check the manufacturer’s website because those resources will surely inform you about compatibility. Talking to customer service representatives helps a lot too, but make sure you do your research.

So, this is the basic set-up for just the machine itself. It will pretty much run because it has all the parts it needs to function. I pretty much installed the motherboard first because that’s where you connect all the wires hence ‘mother’ in the term motherboard. All you need is the manual to know where each wire goes. There are also helpful YouTube videos around if you need a visual guide. However, it’s worth noting that the manual comes with pictures too so it’ll be a piece of cake. When you’re screwing in the parts together, remember not to leave any of the tiny screws behind. Keep it clean and we want to prevent anything that can potentially damage the motherboard in the long run. With that said, it’s pretty sensitive so be careful when handling or connecting things.

Read on for the problems I faced and how I solved them. Plus, some benchmark stats from some of the games I play for those interested…

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II. Problems and Solutions

I was lucky enough to have an almost smooth build especially since it was my first time. I did have one problem that hounded me for days and I almost regretted building my own PC. However, it’s important to isolate the problem so that you’ll know if it’s just one part or more. So here’s my problem: Everything was working fine and great until I decided to play the video games I installed on my computer. What happened? My computer would shut down every 10 minutes or so and it would say “thermal overheating” each time I boot it up. I went online and I was advised to download this program called  CPUID HW Monitor to monitor the temperature of my CPU’s cores. So with that running on one monitor and a game on another, my CPU temperature would shoot up as high as 100 degrees Fahrenheit before systematically shutting down. That was a far from normal temperature. The highest temperature should be 70 and I heard that’s even pushing it.

I was able to isolate the problem to the motherboard. I unscrewed the fan on the motherboard and discovered that it was lacking some thermal paste (it’s a substance that helps the heat flow out). Normally, you don’t have to worry about this because thermal pastes lasts very long so I was puzzled. I bought thermal paste for less than $5 anyway and applied it. Alas, it did nothing and I was still facing the same problem. I realized that the thermal paste was not the problem. You will be amazed at how effective it is even if it looks dried up.

My next solution was opening up the case and pointed my huge fans toward it. Lo and behold, I was able to play my video games and the temperature would range from 50-65 Fahrenheit. It turns out that my video card and motherboard emits so much heat, that a set-up like that requires more than one fan. So, I ordered two from TigerDirect (which eventually became free) and everything worked out in the end. In addition, it’s important to read reviews about the case you will get because some products might have air circulation problems.

One other common problem are the drivers and connectivity. If you are sure that the parts are compatible, but somehow they won’t work. First check if the motherboard detects all your parts. Normally I check the BIOS settings on start-up to see if my parts are detected. Another thing is the drivers. Usually, Windows installs the drivers for you when you update your OS. However, there are some cases when it won’t. My wireless card wasn’t working properly, and I found out Windows couldn’t find a driver for it. When this happens, have no fear because all you need to do is google the product name with the term ‘driver’ and you’ll be able to find it.

III. Benchmark Stats

Sleeping Dogs. I can’t get the high-res textures thing because it’s something you buy through a DLC. Anyway I don’t know what these numbers mean exactly. I’m just posting this for people who want to know. I’ve had no complaints with my games and they’ve all run smooth with graphics on high or ultra high.

bench

Batman: Arkham Asylum

ShippingPC-BmGame 2013-07-01 18-09-04-77

IV. Closing

If this is your first time, you can use my build as a template for your machine so that you wouldn’t have to start from complete scratch. The beauty about building your own is that you don’t have to follow exactly what I did. You can copy the exact same thing I did if you want to play it safe, or get different parts of your own to try things out. I hope that my post has been helpful and I will post more topics about this in the future! Let me know in the comments if you have any questions.

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