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There are eight core, required components for any gaming-grade PC build. It used to be the case that we considered optical drives a requirement, but those have now been faded into the “optional category;” operating systems can be installed via USB key now, invalidating the need for optical drives (ODDs). Even though an OS purchase often ships in the format of a CD, that CD isn’t required – just download the ISO from the vendor, burn to a USB device, then use the serial number included with your purchased CD.
But that’s a future topic – we’ll get there.
What is the required hardware to build a PC?
Required Hardware #1 – Motherboard
If the CPU is the “brain” of the computer, the motherboard and chipset (which is on the motherboard) would be considered the “brainstem.” Without the motherboard and chipset, nothing happens. The CPU’s got to be socketed somewhere – and that’s the board.
Motherboards have three primary form factors: ATX, Micro-ATX, and Mini-ITX (listed in descending size). ATX runs roughly ~12” x ~12”. Micro-ATX sizes at 9.6” x 9.6” (maximum size). Mini-ITX is sized at 6.7” x 6.7” (maximally).
As for compatibility, the CPU’s socket type must match the motherboard’s – that’s the starting point. Once you’ve validated that the socket types are the same, it’s good to check that the CPU’s memory, the memory you’ve selected, and the motherboard are all compatible. Skylake (Intel Core 6000 series processors), for instance, supports both DDR3L and DDR4. The actual memory used will depend on the motherboard, but both are supported by the CPU (note: DDR3L is not the same as DDR3).
Required Hardware #2- CPU & Cooler
The Central Processing Unit (CPU) – which is almost never called by its full name – is the component responsible for controlling almost all input/output (I/O) functions. It’s also responsible for tasking and scheduling neighbor components, like memory and the GPU (though that is becoming less common with the growth of Dx12 & Vulkan APIs).
A CPU should be selected based upon needs for the system. Gaming rigs can normally opt for something more middle-of-the-road (as a general rule), enthusiast and production machines (or high-end gaming – e.g. for 144Hz gaming) should generally go high-end. Budget-class machines round-out the low-end, of course.
At their heart, CPUs are comprised of cores and caches. CPUs are normally advertised as being dual-, quad-, or octo-core products (or more). One thing to know is that AMD and Intel – the only two noteworthy CPU makers in the desktop space – define cores vastly differently, and so 4 Intel cores does not equal 4 AMD cores. They are not linearly comparable.
Cores also operate at a certain clock-rate, or operating frequency. Some CPUs – often denoted with a “K,” or “K-SKU” – allow an increase in that frequency by overclocking, generally tuning a multiplier (base clock * multiplier = core clock). These parts are of interest for enthusiasts who may play with overclocking in an effort to get more “free” power out of their rigs.
Most CPUs include a CPU cooler, though they’re not very good. Aftermarket coolers are available for superior cooling-to-noise performance – that is, an aftermarket unit will significantly reduce temperature while sustaining a lower noise level.
Required Hardware #3 – Memory
Memory (RAM) transacts live, volatile files and requests to operate at higher speeds than a hard drive might sustain – but with no permanence. Memory wipes regularly. A complete shutdown, for instance, will clear memory. This is the counter to a hard drive, which is non-volatile (more-or-less permanent) memory.
RAM speeds are consequential – but not too much with gaming tasks. It is more important to focus on density – higher capacity-per-stick – than raw speed, though certain production tasks will benefit from the higher frequencies.
Required Hardware #4 – Video Card
After the CPU – or maybe before, in some instances – the video card (GPU) is the most important component in a gaming computer. The video card is directly responsible for graphics processing and outputting high framerates (but the CPU must also keep up, and does plenty of its own physics or queuing work).
With video cards, core specifications include the core count, clock speed, and memory capacity. AMD and nVidia define their cores differently (see: above section on CPU cores), and so are not linearly comparable. The frequencies are also not comparable cross-architecture. It is easiest to compare within a single brand, then check online benchmarks by professionals for performance in individual games. As for memory capacity, that’s also in flux – memory standards are changing for GPUs right now.
It is trending that more games push graphics demanding 4GB+ of video memory, but running lower settings will still allow 2GB capacities (depending on the game, of course).
The best advice is to search a particular card within your price-point – spend more on the GPU if building a gaming box – and then determine which card benchmarks best for your purposes.
Required Hardware #5 – Storage Device
Storage devices consist of hard drives (HDDs), 2.5” solid-state drives (SSDs), M.2 SSDs, PCI-e SSDs, and similar devices. Hard drives are currently capable of running lower prices for higher data densities, but are made of physically spinning disks with higher inherent reliability risks. Solid-state drives store data electrically on something called Flash (or NAND Flash). Because the storage mechanism relies upon transacting data with electrons rather than spinning platters and heads, SSDs are significantly faster than hard drives. They’ve got a trade-off with storage capacity, though, but that’s slowly minimizing.
Some machines run a single SSD, some run an SSD + HDD, and some just run a hard drive. If using an SSD at all, we suggest setting it up as the boot drive, using the HDD for large media like games and movies.
Required Hardware #6 – Case
Computer cases house everything. They’re uniquely important in that looks matter more than with most other components. You’ll be looking at this thing for years, potentially – so make sure it looks good. Cases are also somewhat relied-upon for their cooling, as the case stands as a gateway between the components and the outside world. Some cases focus more on silence than cooling, some vice versa – it’s always a trade-off – so just be sure to look for what suits your needs best.
Required Hardware #7 – Power Supply
Power supplies connect everything together. It’s common for new builders to buy power supplies that are “overkill” for the system. Check for GPU and CPU requirements and recommendations for power supply minimum wattages. Some websites have done power draw tests that should help give an idea for power needs.
Power supplies are provided “80 Plus” ratings that determine their certified efficiency ratings. Although 80 Plus certification is not required, some level of 80 Plus certification is recommended for a power supply. Bronze and Silver PSUs (though Silver is uncommon) are reasonable for budget and inexpensive builds. Higher-end builds with long uptimes may be best off with a more efficient PSU, as power savings over time can be significant.
There’s always more hardware you can use when building a PC
Every PC and every builder is different. The PC hardware you decide to use will vary greatly depending on your needs and budget. However, every PC will have the above components inside of it. – GamersNexus
Specific needs may necessitate some hardware configurations which are not globally “required.” An example would be wireless adapters – most desktop rigs can connect to an Ethernet cable, but some users still prefer wireless. Another example would be “bling” elements, like lights or RGB LED controllers. Optical disk drives have also faded from “required” into the realm of “optional,” as now the OS can be installed via USB key.
What is some optional hardware you can use when building a PC?
Optional PC Hardware #1 – Wireless Adapter
Wireless adapters come in a few forms. First of all, a few motherboards will include wireless M.2 cards with headers that extrude from the case. These are useful if you know pre-build that wireless is a demand. The alternative is to buy a wireless adapter after, and that can come in one of three primary forms: (1) a USB device, (2) a PCI-e expansion card, (3) an M.2 card/adapter.
All three are reasonable solutions. USB keys are more portable, but can sometimes drop-out if there are issues with USB connectivity. PCI-e cards are fixed and somewhat reliable (depending on make and model, of course), and M.2 devices are just an extension of those – they communicate on the same bus, even. The only difference is that not all boards support M.2, but those that do will benefit from more compact wireless adapters.
Optional PC Hardware #2 – NZXT HUE+
This offers a “bling” factor that’s useful for windowed cases. It’s easy to spotlight components with the LED strips, provide underglow, or general ambient light internally. The colors can also be matched with gaming events – like lower health – or audio events.
Optional PC Hardware #3 – NZXT GRID+ V2
Some cases pre-install fan hubs, but not all do – and an aftermarket fan hub like the NZXT GRID+ V2 can be useful in such instances. These are almost entirely for cable management, but can also provide over-voltage protection and additional ports for fan connectivity. The convenience factor is also useful, as a fan hub will centralize all fan headers into a single device. That makes management easier, initial installation trivial, and future troubleshooting equally simple.
Optional PC Hardware #4 – Optical Disk Drive (External or Internal)
Optical disk drives have gone the way of the dinosaur – but some folks still like their CDs, ripping/burning capabilities, and use discs regularly. There’s nothing wrong with that. An internal optical drive (5.25”) can be purchased for a permanent, inside-the-case solution for optical media. If you’re only accessing optical media occasionally – maybe for ripping music here-and-there – it’s worth looking into an external CD/DVD drive. These tend to be about as fast as the internal readers these days and are stowable/portable.
The hardware possibilities are limitless when building a PC
There’s too much optional hardware available when building a PC that making a list is nearly impossible. The best thing to do is stick to the basics and add more functionality as your needs dictate. – GamersNexus
The case and its components comprise the majority of the PC building experience – but the user experience is derived largely from peripherals. Display configurations alone are varied: a single, flat panel is certainly one option, but now there are 21:9 aspect ratio Ultra-Wide displays, surround display configurations, and – of course – VR headsets.
What are some peripherals you need when building a PC?
Required Peripheral #1 – Monitor
Monitors are one of the last components that go through the upgrade cycle. Gamers will hang onto monitors until they break or become woefully obsolete, often spanning years of use. Choosing the best monitor for your needs should be addressed carefully.
If you’re mostly concerned with competitive FPS gaming, a high-refresh rate display with low latency is of the most importance – something in the 120Hz to 144Hz range, for ultra-competitive players. The extra speed of vertical refresh will improve overall smoothness of frame delivery, without having to shell-out extra for proprietary adaptive refresh technologies.
Artists and designers would be wise to opt for an IPS panel, which will offer greater color clarity (and sometimes bit-depth) in exchange for response times. Marginally slower response is a reasonable trade when prioritizing color accuracy and depth of contrast – both important, deal-breaking points for artists.
Production users and enthusiast / power users may want to consider something like an Ultra-Wide. These displays are 21:9, effectively offering the usable workspace of two monitors, but have no bezel in the middle. They’re often curved (and often expensive), supporting resolutions upwards of 3440×1440 at the high-end.
It’s worth spending some money on a display. You’ll get years of use out of it and, more importantly, displays can be easily handed-down to other systems in the house.
Required Peripheral #2 – Keyboard
Mechanical keyboards offer the resolute, clicky satisfaction of solidly engineered switches. Multiple switch manufacturers exist, but most mirror (or are directly from) Cherry, a German-based mechanical switch manufacturer. Cherry has been developing keyboard switches since the early IBM keyboards.
Mechanical switch types are mostly judged by color, and the Kaihua (Kailh switches) mostly apply the same meaning to their colors as Cherry. Red switches have a higher actuation depth, and so can be pressed more easily. This is potentially a negative for folks who spend most their time typing (many accidental key hits while transitioning), but is a major positive for some gamers who prefer the extra millisecond of speed.
Blue switches are among the loudest and are generally recommended for typists. Brown switches offer a somewhat damped feel, providing the mechanical endurance and quality without going too heavy on the clicky aspect. Some keyboards will use rubber o-rings to further damp their switch depression, which helps absorb shock from the downstroke and lessen noise output.
We’d recommend going to a nearby electronics store and trying out the keyboards personally. Mechanical keyboards are highly individualized and bear with them many idiosyncrasies.
If you’d rather save the money, membrane keyboards run cheap and lower-quality switches with a somewhat ‘spongy’ feel, but are easily afforded by most.
Required Peripheral #3 – Mouse
Another highly personalized item, mice are first-and-foremost selected upon their feel in the palm of the user, and secondarily (but not that far behind) selected based upon sensor accuracy and speed. Some gaming mice have more frequent report rates, use higher resolution sensors, and abandon irritating technologies like Mouse Smoothing and Acceleration (or, more accurately, “speed-related accuracy variance”).
Endurance is important. Selecting a mouse with a long run-of-life rating for its switches will ensure that the product lasts years, in-step with the keyboard and other peripherals. Accuracy is, of course, also important. Most gamers will want mice without any form of automatic mouse acceleration or smoothing. Mouse smoothing isolates spurious motion in mouse input, then smooths it into a straighter line. This might be useful in some artistic applications, but could seriously throw-off the game of a veteran gamer.
Required Peripheral #4 – Headset
Gaming headsets like to brandish their multi-channel (e.g. 5.1 or 7.1) support as a selling point, but digital surround isn’t all there is to it. Comfort, again, is ranked top of the list. Microphone and wireless features should be taken into consideration prior to hard specs. Do you need a microphone? How about wireless functionality?
Both features will immediately narrow the selection.
But there are the hard specs, too. Driver technology dictates the depth of bass and quality of overall sound output, and wireless signal strength determines just how far away from the receiver the headset can be.
Pick a headset based on what you need most. There is no such thing as a headset that does everything well. There are headphones fine-tuned for music – is that the most important to you? Buy that – or headphones tuned for competitive games, immersive games, etc. There is no “one size fits all” solution to headphone selection. It’s all preference.
Choose peripherals wisely when you build a PC
The best part about peripherals when you build a PC is that they will last a long time. It’s not uncommon for builders to use the same keyboard/mouse/monitor setup for several years and builds. Take the time to research peripherals before you buy them because you’ll probably be using them for a long time. – GamersNexus