10 mistakes when planning a gaming PC build

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Planning your gaming PC build can be overwhelming which can lead to oversights and mistakes. These mistakes are easy to make and are very common, I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t made them myself!

Buying a cheap power supply

Building your son or daughter’s gaming PC might put a dent in your bank balance and it can be tempting to choose cheaper options for components that don’t seem quite as important as your CPU, motherboard, GPU etc. The power supply is a component that will typically be hidden away so as long as it provides a reasonable amount of power then it’s doing its job, right? While in theory that’s correct, in reality picking a cheap power supply can be fraught with danger. For example, a cheap power supply might fail and cause a fire or damage your other components. This is a rare occurrence but more premium power supplies have additional protection (such as under/over voltage protection) and better circuitry. Many of these examples have poor quality circuitry which not only puts your components at risk but the power delivered to your components can be erratic, causing system instability.

If you are unsure if the power supply you are considering is of a good standard take a look at Linus Tech Tips PSU Tier List. This ranks those power supplies from being of such poor quality that they are considered dangerous through to those who sit at the top of the tier according to performance and build quality. Try and aim for Tier B and upwards if possible.

Your monitor doesn’t make the most of your graphics card

The graphics card will likely be your most expensive component within your build. It will allow you to play games with stunning graphics with immersive detail at high resolution. This investment may be wasted unless your monitor supports high resolutions and has a fast refresh rate.

Generally speaking, the more you spend on a graphics card the higher resolution and detail you can output. It may therefore not be wise to buy a high-end graphics card if your monitor can only support a 1080p (1920×1080 pixels) resolution. Many mid-tier graphics card can comfortably support 1080p but spending hundreds of pounds more on a superior model might not be worthwhile if you are held back by the monitor. A high end Nvidia GTX2080/3080/3090 will allow you to play in stunning 1440p (2560 x 1440 pixels) or 4k (3840 x 2160 pixels) resolutions. That will ultimately require a more expensive monitor to pair with your gaming PC. The same is true for the refresh rate. A higher-end gaming monitor will also support faster refresh rates (144Hz and above) which will smooth the motion in fast moving action scenes which is specially useful for first person shooter (FPS) games.

Not choosing a case with decent airflow and adequate cooling

If gaming is your primary use for your PC then you will aim to utilise as much of its performance as possible. The harder the components work to deliver this performance, the more heat is generated. Too much heat may lead to overheating which in turn may lead to instability or even your gaming PC shutting down to protect itself from damage.

We can address this by ensuring that we choose a suitable case with good airflow. Ideally, you want the air being sucked into the system at the front to introduce cool air and then have exhaust fans blow the hot air out the back and top of your case. If you pick a case with poor airflow then you will have limited cool air entering the case so you could run into problems. This can be overcome by choosing a case with a mesh front or gaps in the case for the air to enter. While my Corsair 465X RGB case has a glass front, it has many gaps around the glass to allow that cool air to be sucked in so this does not become a problem.

This can also be mitigated by using good quality fans to move the air around the case and a suitable cooling system for the CPU. It’s well worth checking reviews to see if any issues are highlighted with cooling to prevent you having temperature issues when you start gaming.

Choosing an unbalanced system

The key to a well-performing gaming PC is to have a nice balanced system across all of your components. We first need to identify the games we intend to play and then determine our budget. We then pick suitable components that would run the games in question and perhaps tweak the budget slightly if spending slightly more may yield considerably better results. There are always compromises to be made, however.

What we should avoid is spending a disproportionate amount on a single component which means we have to skimp and make too many compromises on another part of the system. For example, we may have a budget of £1500 and choose to spend £1000 on a RTX3080 for £1000, leaving £500 for everything else. The rest of the system will then be unbalanced with a bottom of the range processor and motherboard, a poor quality power supply and insufficient storage space. While we would have a fantastic graphics card, the rest of the system becomes the bottleneck. Another example may be spending too much money on a case and flashy RGB fans when, in reality, the money might be better spent elsewhere on other components which offers better performance and therefore a better overall experience for your son or daughter.

By removing the bottleneck, we eliminate any weak points or areas that would need to be upgraded far sooner than if we had a balance across the system.

Buying unknown/unbranded cheap components

The key components in your build, namely the CPU, motherboard and graphics card are straight forward and are manufactured by reputable manufacturers. Some people may prefer one brand over another (e.g. MSI rather than ASRock for a motherboard) but you are generally likely to get a quality product.

For other components such as the power supply, hard drives, memory, case, fans and perhipherals there are some real cheap and nasty products that are best avoided. While I am not suggesting you need to buy the best of the best for every component in your build (your budget will soon disappear!), I would suggest sticking to reputable brands. Not only is the quality likely to be better but you’ll also have a solid warranty process if you are unlucky and something was to go wrong.

Where you’ll notice the biggest difference in quality is when choosing the case. There are cases as low as £25 on amazon at the bottom end. For this budget it won’t be very pleasant experiencing building your gaming PC in . You’ll also miss out on a case window, good quality fans and the build quality of a higher end case.

Do your research, read reviews and decide whether you are comfortable comprimising on cheap components.

Checking availability/stock

Computer components have been seriously affected by global supply issues from COVID-19. Many retailers have next to no stock of power supplies and graphics cards especially. People are joining discord channels just to be notified that the new RTX30x0 series of graphics cards are in stock.

What does this mean for you? Well, firstly the amount of choice available to you is severely limited right now. If you search for “graphics card” on Amazon you’ll find next to no availability whatsoever. That might lead you to have to look at the used market where the lack of availability has pushed the price up of used components considerably. This means you’ll either need to be prepared to be patient and wait to find the component on your shopping list, or try and find a used component and risk paying more than you otherwise would in normal times.

It would be very disappointing to go through the process of buying some components and your son or daughter having their excitement but then find out the final component you need is not in stock anywhere!

Compatibility issues

Compatibility goes beyond just your key components. Of course you should always check to make sure the parts you are buying are compatible. Generally speaking if you buy a processor and motherboard with the same socket, there isn’t too much else to consider. Most coolers come with different mounting hardware and DDR4 memory is likely to work across AMD and Intel. If you are going to choose a NVME hard drive then make sure your motherboard supports it and you have enough sockets. All fairly simple stuff!

However, what you may overlook are more practical considerations such as making sure that your AIO cooler fits in the case. Sometimes you’ll be limited to where it can be mounted if you use memory with large heatsinks. If you are planning on using a large air cooler then will your glass window be able to close (I’ve had this issue many times!)? It’s always worth googling some of the component pairings you are using to double check.

Another point to consider is on the AMD platform new CPU’s are released which are often backwards compatible with older motherboards (i.e. B450, B550 etc), but they will require a BIOS update to make them compatible. Does your motherboard support a BIOS update without the CPU being recognised (tip: MSI boards do!)? These are the types of small issues that it pays to look in to in advance but is very easy to overlook unless you have experience and have possibly made that same mistake before!

Not shopping around

Our aim is to build a gaming PC that provides a great experience for our children while offering good value for money. There are many tools and price comparison websites to quickly help us make good decisions which will save us money. While I’m sure we have more important things to worry about than building a gaming PC, avoid the temptation to visit your local computer store and buying a prebuilt gaming PC without doing your own proper research.

I’m quite a skeptical person so I like to do my own research to make sure I am making informed decisions. Salespeople can prey on people who don’t know much about what they are buying. They are incentivised on the sale so do they have your best interest at heart?

We previously looked at the benefits of buying a prebuilt PC and in some cases it can make a lot of sense. It saves you time, removes the need to put the components together and sometimes can represent very good value for money. However, there are some quite frankly awful offerings availble off the shelf that are priced poorly and have old components which won’t last your son or daughter very long at all.

Some of the resources I use are:

  • Keepa Amazon price Tracker – Very useful for setting alerts and seeing what the price is like in comparison to historical pricing
  • hotukdeals – A community of people who post deals on products. You are able to filter by product type (i.e. Gaming PC, PC Parts etc)
  • Google shopping – A price comparison website but you need to be very specific with what you are searching for

Not budgeting for Windows 10

It’s easy to overlook and not budget for a crucial part of the system – Windows 10. While it’s free to download and install Windows 10 (we covered that here), you’ll need to activate it by entering a valid product key. A genuine Windows 10 key from the Microsoft site will set you back between £119 and £219 depending on the version you choose. It’s not cheap, especially if you haven’t budgeted for it, but it’s a vital part of your system.

You can pick these license keys up cheaper elsewhere but they tend to be re-used enterprise keys from large organisations. You’ll need to decide whether it’s worthwhile taking a risk as these can sometimes be against Microsoft’s terms and conditions.

Short term decisions vs future upgradeability

A gaming PC will be relevent for around 2-5 years depending on the games you want to play. As the complexity of games increase, the hardware required to run the games adequetely also increases. You’ll therefore need to upgrade/replace some or all of your key components.

While this might be daunting and frustrating having to go through this process again, it’s one of the great benefits of gaming on a PC. Your gaming PC adapts and evolves over time based on what you are trying to play. Call me sad but I actually look forward to upgrading my PC as I enjoy figuring out what to buy next and putting it all together!

It does pay to make good decisions to make sure you aren’t buying outdated hardware at the outset. For example, the latest Ryzen boards support B550 and X570 chipsets. It probably wouldn’t be a wise decision to buy a B350 or X370 chipset from early 2017. The difference to buy newer hardware shouldn’t be too considerable and you know your motherboard will be supported for longer.

Another example is the graphics card, the latest graphics cards are the RTX30x0 range. While they might be out of many people’s price range, a better choice may be to go for a used RTX20x0 range card rather than the original RTX10x0 range released in 2016. These cards might start to feel the strain soon and another upgrade is required!

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