PC Primer

Guidelines:

  • This guide assumes you are building a gaming PC. If you are building an HTPC, workstation, NAS, supercomputer cluster, or anything else that isn't a gaming PC, much of this guide will not apply to you. Go ask /tech/ instead.
  • All prices are in United States Dollars.
  • The prerequisite components of a "build" are a CPU, GPU, RAM, motherboard, HDD and/or SSD, case, and power supply. A build may also include an optical drive, aftermarket CPU cooler, wireless network adapter, or other components. Monitors, mice, keyboards, speakers, and headphones are NOT parts of a build.
  • This guide was last updated January 10, 2017. If you are reading this more than a few months from that date, much of the information on specific components will likely be obsolete, but everything else will probably still apply.

General tips and FAQ

(IF YOU READ NOTHING ELSE ON THIS PAGE READ THE FOLLOWING)

  • You don't need a sound card.
  • You don't need a network adapter.1
  • Ask yourself if you actually need an optical drive.
  • Pirate Windows. If you are enrolled at a university, they may provide Windows to you for free.
  • Always buy the cheapest RAM you can find that is compatible with your system. There is zero real-world performance difference between slow DDR3-1600 RAM and 51CK GAVMUR DDR4-300000 RAM.
  • PCs are basically space heaters; most of the power drawn is converted to heat. If your machine has a power draw of 400 watts, that is like having a 395 watt space heater.
  • If you live in driving range of a Micro Center (or Fry's to a lesser degree), then get your parts from there. They will be far cheaper than online (around $200 less for a beefy rig), and have tend to have excellent customer service to boot. Most locations will even allow you to test the build in-store!
  • If you live outside of the United States or Canada, you're fucked. If you live in western Europe, you're slightly less fucked. R£P In Pieces UK.
  • Don't take Logical Increments at its word. It's a decent starting point if you are new, but suffers from many inaccuracies and outdated information, as well as simply bad advice.
  • Don't take PCPartPicker at its word, at least for some things. Prices listed often do not include various retailers, and are sometimes outdated. It is also lacking listings for many peripherals.
  • "What is the minimum I can spend and still have a decent2 PC gaming experience?" Around $400, not including peripherals. It can dip even lower if you don't mind buying used.

CPU

General tips and FAQ:

  • Only buy products in the i5, i7, Xeon, FX, Athlon X4, A8, and A10 product ranges. With few exceptions, everything else is either too old or not powerful enough for a gaming rig.
  • Don't buy an i3 processor. These are low-end, and AMD provides a much better value at this pricepoint.
  • "But I heard the Pentium G3258/G4400 was a good low-end processor?" While the G3258 and G4400 have incredibly impressive IPC and clockspeed, they only has two cores and no hyperthreading, and therefore isn't very useful for modern gaming. Many titles will run fine, but many will also dip down to under 10fps for several seconds before recovering. It also has compatibility issues with Windows 10, so it's unlikely you'll be able to utilize DirectX 12.
  • "Should I buy an AMD APU?" Only if you're on a shoestring budget. While surprisingly good for their price, they still do not perform very well, especially on modern releases. Only purchase one if you plan on only doing very light gaming. Do note, however, that performance on older releases (pre-2010) is relatively good, so if you don't want to play newer titles, they are a viable option. A bottom-of-the-barrel APU build costs approximately $240; a "high-end" (if you can call it that) one will run you approximately $300. If at all possible, save another $80 worth of pennies and get a dedicated GPU.
  • "I heard that AMD was facing a lawsuit over false advertising regarding its cores." They are, but it's mostly nonsense. The lawsuit is based on the fact that Bulldozer chips don't have completely independent cores. While this doesn't effect performance in any meaningful way, you could make the argument that it isn't a truly x-core processor. It's speculated that the lawsuit will be thrown out.
  • Used CPUs in good condition are generally safe to buy, however, you should only expect a roughly 20% saving over buying an equivalent new CPU.
  • Don't expect to be able to upgrade an Intel processor to a new one with the same motherboard. Intel switches to a new socket more often than upgrades are worthwhile.
  • Don't buy an AM3+/FM2+ motherboard expecting to use it with Zen or new APUs. AMD has already confirmed that new CPUs and APUs will use AM4.

Why do some people recommend AMD over Intel? Because Intel:

Conversely, AMD is practically sinless. So why do people still suggest Intel over AMD? Because for the past several years, AMD's single-threaded performance (sometimes somewhat-incorrectly referred to as IPC) has been piss-poor. Single-core performance of Intel's lowest-end processor, the $60 Pentium G3258, is nearly double of that of AMD's highest-end processor, the $150 FX-8350. As a matter of fact, AMD hasn't released a new processor in over three years. AMD even used an Intel processor in video demonstration of their new GPUs.
This is not to say that AMD CPUs are a bad value, quite the opposite. Whereas AMD's highest-end CPU is $150, Intel's i7-6700K is $420. As a general rule of thumb, AMD CPUs offer a better value than Intel if your budget is under $650.
YOU SHOULD PROBABLY WAIT FOR RYZEN PROCESSORS. Assuming AMD isn't lying or being misleading, then they will compete with Intel at every level and be much cheaper to boot. Their release is imminent, and many people are surprised they haven't already been released.

CPU Cooling

If you're enough of an amateur to be reading this guide, chances are you don't need watercooling. Though it was a rather useful practice a decade ago, efficiency has increased to the point of where your processor will run significantly cooler, but you need to use a pretty extreme overclock before you see any actual benefit from that. There are exceptions of course, but oftentimes aftermarket air-cooling will be much cheaper, quieter, and easier to install than watercooling. If you do opt to do watercooling, don't skimp and get something cheap like a Corsair H60, as high-end air-cooling (Noctua NH-U12, anyone?) will yield better performance for the same price.
Again though, unless you're looking into doing some ridiculous overclocking on your high-end processor, air-cooling will do you fine.

Motherboard

General tips and FAQ:

  • It's pretty much a crapshoot when it comes to quality, though ASUS seems to maintain a slight edge in this regard, but they have a shitty RMA process. The following process is recommended:
  1. Go to Newegg/PCPP's motherboard section.
  2. Filter out undesirable motherboards.
  3. Sort by price.
  4. Work up in price until you find one with an acceptable failure rate. Be sure to check multiple sources (Newegg's customer review section is particularly useful). A typical mobo will have around 20% of reviews saying it failed (note: this does not mean that 20% of all of that motherboard failed).

GPU

General tips and FAQ:

  • GPU prices tend scale very well. Starting at $200 and moving upwards, a 15% increase in price will likely net a 15% increase in performance, a 90% increase in price will likely net a 90% increase in performance, and so on.
  • AMD's current RX 400 series GPUs are good, but budget- and mid-end oriented. Nvidia has a range of products, but the performance per dollar typically loses to AMD where applicable.
  • One-generation-old GPUs can be bought used at amazing savings, up to 75% lower than the aforementioned bang-for-the-buck efficiency range. While normally true, the incredible leap in technology in the latest generation of GPUs has resulted in used older ones actually maintaining the same value as new ones, in most cases.
  • If you're buying new, only buy from AMD's RX series or Nvidia's 1000 series. Everything else is either not powerful enough or too old to be worth the money.
  • If you're buying used, stick with AMD's R9 series and HD 7000 series or Nvidia's 900 series and 700 series.
  • If choosing between buying a single good card, and two lesser cards in SLI/CrossFire, choose the single good card.

Why do some people recommend AMD over Nvidia? Because Nvidia:

  • Utilizes a technology stack called "GameWorks". In exchange for helping the publisher advertise the game, the developer will implement "features" such as HairWorks and PhysX. Though the effects are kind of neat, they are ultimately rather gimmicky, and have more of a performance impact than what they're worth. While the current state of GameWorks isn't very well-known, as of a few years ago they were keeping the libraries under lock and key, meaning that developers could not view the code (so as to optimize it for AMD cards), and AMD could not implement it without adding code to their GPUs that they were unaware the actual contents of were. The chairman of AMD even alleged that developers were strictly forbidden from optimizing games for AMD cards in any form whatsoever if they used GameWorks. Recently, these features have been having significant performance impacts on Nvidia cards as well (such as Fallout 4's God Rays). A while back when some AMD users attempted to purchase low-end Nvidia cards to utilize these features, Nvidia noticed it and promptly blocked the practice.
  • Frequently lies about the specifications of graphics cards, the most atrocious being the GTX 970. It was purported (and still advertised) as having 4GB of VRAM, but upon inspection, it was revealed that it actually only has 3.5GB of usable VRAM, with the last 0.5GB being near-useless. It was also advertised as having 64 ROP units, but in fact only has 56. It was ALSO advertised as having 2048KB of L2 cache, but actually only has 1792KB. Nvidia denounced all of these as lies for months before eventually apologizing and offering refunds. They are currently facing a class-action lawsuit over the debacle.
  • Has pushed developers to add unnecessary tessellation to their games, the most famous example being Crysis 2. Nvidia cards were able to handle high amounts of tessellation better than AMD cards at the time, and the devs added in crazy-high amounts of tessellation (much of it being under the map in the form of water) that resulted in zero graphical improvement, but a high performance impact on AMD cards.
  • Newer drivers seem to hinder older cards more than they should. Whether this is simply a result of poor programming, or deliberate sabotage to help encourage the sale of new GPUs, it isn't a good sign.
  • Requires a valid email address to download drivers.
  • Is still pushing G-SYNC over FreeSync (see the monitor section for more detailed information).
  • Instituted a ~%15 launch tax on their 1000-series cards. For the first month or so that they launched, only "Founder's Edition" versions were available. These cards are the exact same (save for the shell) as normal cards, except that they cost more. If you wanted to buy these cards at launch, you had to pay extra. Just 'cause.
  • You may also hear mockery over Nvidia cards for their high thermal output WE'RE BACK BABY, using wood screws, and 1.7% yields, but these haven't been issues in years.

This is a rather good video rundown of the situation.

RAM

General tips and FAQ:

  • You don't want to get less than 8GB of RAM.
  • You don't need more than 16GB of RAM.
  • If you have a DDR4 motherboard, be sure to get DDR4 RAM. If you have a DDR3 motherboard, be sure to get DDR3 RAM.
  • Speed and CAS don't matter unless you are using integrated graphics.
  • Practically all consumers brands source their RAM from the same factories, so brand isn't a factor.
  • In order of importance: Type, Physical size (some RAM and HSFs have clearance issues), Capacity, Price, Aesthetics, Speed, CAS, Voltage, Brand.
  • If RAM is listed as having a higher voltage or speed than your motherboard supports, it will likely automatically undervolt/clock.
  • Don't bother overclocking RAM you retard.

PSU

General tips and FAQ:

  • A shitty PSU can and will damage your other components, so don't skimp here.
  • 80+ is a measure of power efficiency, not necessarily quality. That being said, highly-efficient power supplies also tend to be high-quality power supplies.
  • Very few OEMs actually manufacture their own power supplies, so brand does not necessarily guarantee quality, as many OEMs source their's from multiple sources.
  • Generally good brands: EVGA, Corsair, SeaSonic, be quiet!
  • Popular brands to avoid at all costs: CoolMax, Logisys, Raidmax
  • Always check reviews for the specific PSU you are looking to buy. JonnyGURU.com, Hardware Secrets, and HardOCP are some trusted sources for professional reviews.
  • SeaSonic is a very popular "people's" brand, and they do indeed almost exclusively produce high-quality power supplies, but you can likely find an equally adequate unit for less. For example, the EVGA SuperNOVA G2 series is (mostly) manufactured by SeaSonic, but often much less expensive, and just as reliable as SeaSonic-branded supplies.
  • A 100 watt surplus on top of your estimated TDP is advisable. Not only will it guarantee you will have enough power no matter what, it also allows you to install or upgrade to components that require more wattage than your current setup. There's also the fact that PSU efficiency typically peaks around 75%, so headroom will keep your system running more efficiently while under load.
  • Depending on your case, a non-modular power supply can lead to a mess. If possible, get a modular or semi-modular power supply instead. A semi-modular supply will only have essential cables, so don't worry about unused ones hanging about.
  • PSU fans almost always take air in, rather than push it out.

Case

General tips and FAQ:

  • Small form-factor cases can be a pain to work on, especially if you don't have prior experience building a computer.
  • Windows do not dampen sound as well as a solid side panel.
  • Generally good brands: NZXT (fantastic customer service), Fractal Design, Corsair.
  • A mini-ITX/micro-ATX motherboard will look stupid inside of an ATX full tower.

This is the most subjective area of a build, so you're pretty much on your own here. Just find a case that you like the look of and read the reviews to see if its actually shit.

Recommended low-end cases: NZXT Source 210, Corsair 200R, Cooler Master N200, Fractal Design Core 1000/1100, Deepcool TESSERACT.
Recommended mid-tier cases: Corsair 200R, Corsair 300R, NZXT S340, NZXT H440, Fractal Design Define R4/R5, Phanteks Enthoo Pro.
Recommended high-end cases: Fractal Design Define R4/R5, NZXT H440, NZXT Switch 810, Phanteks Enthoo Pro, Corsair 400R, Corsair 500R, Corsair 900R

Monitor

General tips and FAQ:

  • It's hard to buy an out-right bad monitor. Amazon sells $80 monitors that are perfectly fine, if lackluster. The only thing you need to make certain of is that it has a resolution of at least 1920x1080.
  • Low (i.e. 1ms) response times are a gimmick. The time in between frames of even a 144hz display (7ms) is greater than the 4ms difference in response time between a standard 5ms and "gaming" 1ms display.
  • 144hzmonitors.com maintains a very good updated and comprehensive list of monitors (including non-144hz ones!).

There are a few questions to ask yourself when purchasing a monitor:

  • Resolution (1080p, 1440p, 4K?)
  • Aspect ratio (16:9, 16:10, 21:9?)
  • Size (21", 24", 26"?)
  • Display type (TN, IPS, OLED?)
  • Refresh rate (60hz, 90hz, 144hz?)
  • Adaptive sync (FreeSync, G-SYNC, None?)
  • Adapter type (DisplayPort 1.3, HDMI 2.0, DVI-I?)
  • And, of course, price.

You may also want to consider the monitor's dead-pixel guarantee, overclocking capability, mounting compatibility, and general quality of construction.

What is adaptive sync/FreeSync/G-SYNC?

Adaptive sync refers to a monitor's ability to change its refresh rate on the fly. Monitors (LCD ones at least) have traditionally run at a fixed 60hz, with some high-end ones reaching 144hz. The issue comes with screen tearing. If a GPU sends a rendered image to the monitor faster than the monitor can draw it, the monitor will draw multiple images on the same frame, leading to a tearing-like effect. V-sync solves this problem, but is usually limited to 60fps, and has other limitations as well. This led companies to produce two competing standards: AMD's FreeSync and Nvidia's G-SYNC.
FreeSync currently has wider industry adoption, costs significantly less (due to not having to pay licensing fees and implementing a special chip), is an open standard, has no performance penalty, and supports a wider range of refresh rates (9 - 240hz) than G-SYNC. HOWEVER, FreeSync is currently only supported on AMD GPUs. Conversely, G-SYNC has more limited adoption, requires manufacturers to pay a licensing fee of approximately $150 to Nvidia, purchase a special chip from Nvidia for $50 (which isn't even necessary), has little documentation so that people from outside of Nvidia can work on it, a small (but measurable) performance impact, and a more limited refresh rate range (30 - 165hz). HOWEVER, Nvidia cards exclusively support G-SYNC.
"Adaptive Sync" (capitalized) is also the name of the recent VESA standard, which is essentially just codified FreeSync. One important note is that Intel has announced adoption of this standard, so it's relatively likely that Nvidia will also eventually and bregrudingly adopt it as well.

Putting all the pieces together

General tips and FAQ:

  • Use a magnetic screwdriver.
  • The first thing you should do is put the IO shield on. Too many an anon have assembled their computer, only to find that they forgot to install it, and have had to un- and remount their motherboard as a result.
  • There's "knowledge" that has been going around for several years about how it's "dangerous" to work with your motherboard on the included anti-static bag. This is complete nonsense that appears to stem from a single forum post made in 2008.
  • Be sure to plug your monitor into your graphics card and not your motherboard, retard.
  • No seriously use a magnetic screwdriver.

Other people have made plenty of superb build guides, so I'm not going to reiterate on what they've already done. Carey Holzman is well-respected and does in-depth and comprehensive videos. Newegg, Linus Tech Tips, and NZXT also have good guides.

Canned Builds

Entry level: $400

This build will allow you to play most new games at high settings at 1080p 60fps, and should remain relevant for at least the next couple of years.

Component Part Cost (at Newegg or Amazon, including shipping and discounts)
CPU Intel Pentium G4560 $64.00
Motherboard ASRock H110M-DGS $50.98
GPU PowerColor Radeon RX 460 2GB Red Dragon $103.98
GPU (Alternative, will provide ~200% better performance for ~%165 cost) Sapphire Radeon RX 470 4GB $169.99
RAM Kingston 8GB (1 x 8GB) DDR4-2133 $33.00
Storage Hitachi Ultrastar 2TB 3.5" 7200RPM $54.00
Case Rosewill FBM-01 $27.99
PSU Rosewill 450W 80+ Bronze $39.99
Total $373.94
Efficient: $1000

This is a very high-quality build that will run all recent games at at least 1080p, 60 fps, max settings, and typically at higher resolutions. Expect to not need to upgrade for years after building.

Component Part Cost (at Newegg or Amazon, including shipping and discounts)
CPU Intel Core i5-6600 $219.99
Motherboard MSI B150 PC Mate $91.98
GPU EVGA GeForce GTX 1070 8GB SC GAMING ACX 3.0 Black Edition $389.67
RAM Team Elite Plus 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR4-2133 $84.99
Storage Kingston SSDNow V300 Series 120GB $47.49
Storage Hitachi Ultrastar 2TB 3.5" 7200RPM $54.00
Case NZXT S340 $69.99
PSU SeaSonic S12II 520W 80+ Bronze $54.99
Total $1002.10
Cream of the crop: $1600

This build will allow you to play with the highest settings possible for years to come without just completely burning money.

Component Part Cost (at Newegg or Amazon, including shipping and discounts)
CPU Intel Core i7-7700K $349.99
CPU Cooler Noctua NH-D14 $66.99
Motherboard Asus PRIME Z270-A $173.98
GPU Zotac GeForce GTX 1080 8GB AMP! Edition $591.48
RAM Team Elite Plus 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR4-2133 $84.99
Storage Samsung 850 EVO-Series 250GB $99.99
Storage Hitachi Deskstar 7K2000 2TB 3.5" 7200RPM $54.00
Case NZXT S340 $69.99
PSU EVGA SuperNOVA G2 550W 80+ Gold $85.98
Total $1577.39
Meme build: $5000+

I want to kill myself. Yes, there are actually people who spend this much on computers.

Component Part Cost (at Newegg or Amazon, including shipping and discounts)
CPU Intel Core i7-6950X $1642.99
CPU Cooler NZXT Kraken X52 $149.99
Motherboard Asus Rampage V Edition 10 $571.98
GPU NVIDIA Titan X (Pascal) 12GB $1603.44
GPU NVIDIA Titan X (Pascal) 12GB $1603.44
RAM G.Skill TridentZ Series 64GB (4 x 16GB) DDR4-3466 $579.99
Storage Samsung 960 Evo 1TB M.2-2280 $479.99
Storage Hitachi Deskstar NAS 4TB 3.5" 7200RPM $159.99
Storage Hitachi Deskstar NAS 4TB 3.5" 7200RPM $159.99
Storage Hitachi Deskstar NAS 4TB 3.5" 7200RPM $159.99
Storage Hitachi Deskstar NAS 4TB 3.5" 7200RPM $159.99
Case Corsair 900D $333.92
PSU Corsair AX1500i 1500W 80+ Titanium $409.99
Thermal Paste Prolimatech PK-3 Nano Aluminum High-Grade 30g Thermal Paste $43.04
Optical Drive Pioneer BDR-209DBK $60.99
Sound Card Creative Labs ZXR $220.35
Total $8458.10
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