Author: Steve Burke, GamersNexus
Building a PC is all about modularity. Exploiting that modularity takes some pre-build planning, but is well worth the extra few minutes. The nature of PCDIY is to avoid restrictions imposed by pre-built systems bought from retailers; the DIY approach, however, means that it’s equally possible to build a $300 “internet box” as it is to build a $2000 high-end rig for video production. All the between options are fully customizable as well, of course, and that includes budget, mainstream, and enthusiast gaming machines.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF PCS YOU CAN BUILD?
PC TYPE #1 – GAMING PC
Starting with gaming makes the most sense. Gaming drives hardware advancement in the PC space, so using gaming computers as a launching point into “production” and “streaming” machines simplifies some of the component searching.
This type of PC is primarily geared toward gaming; or, at least, gaming is the most hardware-intensive task the computer will have to sustain. Gaming PCs have a variable price range. It’s possible to build a cheap system – call it $500 – but high-end machines will naturally perform with greater image quality, framerate, and frametime performance. This is especially true when challenging the PC with high-fidelity, triple-A titles or with VR applications, which demand high sustained framerates with consistent frametimes.
We always recommend leveraging all available support channels (media outlets and forums, reddit, official NZXT or vendor support) to ensure that a computer’s specs meet your demands.
Here are a couple rules of thumb for building a gaming PC:
- The video card and CPU are most critical. The GPU, especially with the advent of Dx12 and Vulkan APIs, is easily the most critical component for stably running a game. That said, going disproportionately cheap on the CPU can create bottlenecks that limit GPU performance artificially. There will always be a bottleneck somewhere – but attempting to mitigate or eliminate bottlenecks will ensure the best value out of your purchases.
- Cooling matters. Pick a cool case and, if running a hotter CPU (higher TDP) or planning to overclock, also buy an aftermarket CPU cooler. Websites that run thermal benchmarks will help in this regard. Gaming workloads push components to their limits for long periods of time, and so the computer should be built with greater sensitivity to temperature & breathability than might be attributed to an internet box.
PC TYPE #2 – PRODUCTION PC
PCs specified for heavy workloads are usually referred to as “production” or “workstation” machines. We assume that most readers are doing some amount of gaming, so we’ll lay out this section as a “white box production rig capable of gaming,” rather than going full-workstation (as might be desired in a corporate CAD environment, or similar).
Production tasks considered herein are video editing and rendering, 3D modeling, and game development. All three share similar needs: They’re heavy on the CPU, RAM, and modern applications will utilize OpenCL or CUDA on the GPU. This last point is critical. You’ll want to research your applications of choice (maybe that’s Premiere, Photoshop, 3DS Max, etc.) and determine if the software supports CUDA or OpenCL acceleration. If so, shop for GPUs capable of accelerating those applications. GPU acceleration is parallel rather than sequential, and will substantially decrease render and encode times.
But the CPU is still critical in such tasks. CPU intensive workloads are growing less common in games these days (a joint effort of API groups and a movement of some game logic to the GPU), but still exist in production environments. Software like Adobe Premiere will more-or-less use every single thread and core available to it, unlike games with limited thread assignment. RAM is also heavily consumed by post-production effects, modeling, and rendering applications, as they will try to store all relevant materials, FX, and frame analysis in the memory for faster access and real-time preview playback.
Game engines tend to be CPU- and GPU-intensive, depending on what type of real-time calculations are going on in the engine. Production rigs can be expensive for all of these reasons, but if it’s something you’re hoping to use to make a living – on the side or full-time – it’s a worthwhile research project.
PC TYPE #3 – STREAMING PC
Game streaming PCs are still kind of new, largely thanks to the unstoppable rise of streaming sites like Twitch.tv and YouTube. Game streaming requires all the same hardware as gaming does – at least, specifically as it relates to the games you’d like to play – but has some extra recommendations.
If rendering and editing videos (for example, building a PC for a YouTuber), additional memory and more powerful CPUs can be advantageous. If strictly live streaming, it’s helpful to ensure a sufficiently powerful CPU and GPU for the live encode/decode happening on the hardware. You’ll want to research XSplit, OBS, or other relevant streaming software to determine their overhead and recommendations.
THERE’S MORE THAN ONE FUNCTION FOR A PC
One of the best things about building a PC is that you’ll be able to use your machine for more than its intended purpose. This means your “gaming PC” can also be your “homework PC” whenever you need it to. As long as you take the time to research the right hardware, you’ll be able to do a lot more with one PC than most people realize.