How to build: A good, cost-effective gaming rig

In the recent months I decided to buy myself a new computer seeing as my old PC (which I like to call the Tin Can), pretty much had it and was crashing on a regular basis. However I am no default ‘buy one from the box’ person who pays extra for a Dell or even more for an Alienware, nor am I a Mac user. I am one of those people who like to get their moneys worth and go for the custom-built option.

So what exactly did I want out from my PC? A work computer? A dedicated gaming rig? Or an all-rounder? Well, on the whole I wanted it to be on the border of being a gaming rig and an all-rounder PC. What I mean by this is, I wanted the computer to be flexible, so when it comes to gaming, I can push the demand for memory and power to maximum whilst when working on an office document, it can remain silent and calm.

After extensive study into each components performance statistics, reviews and general cost (See my earlier article for a detailed review), I decided to go for these components:

CASE: NZXT Phantom full-tower chassis (White + Red)   £99   Overclockers.co.uk

CPU: Intel i5-2500k Sandybridge 3.3Ghz (3.6Ghz turbo boost)   £169.99   Overclockers.co.uk

GPU: (AMD) MSI Radeon 6970HD 2GB 880Mhz   £199.99   Overclockers.co.uk

Motherboard: Gygabyte GA-Z68AP-D3 Micro ATX   £75.86   Ebuyer.co.uk

RAM: 2x 4GB Ripjaws DDR3   £38.98   Ebuyer.co.uk

HDD: Seagate Barracuda 1TB 7200RPM   £74.99   Overclockers.co.uk

PSU: OCZ ZX-Series 850w   £115.58   Ebuyer.co.uk

Optical Drive: Samsung DVD Optical Drive   £12.99   Ebuyer.co.uk

CPU Heatsink: Asaka Venom Voodoo   £45   Overclockers.co.uk

(All of these prices are dated to June/July 2012. Parts and prices may vary or have become obsolete)

Overall Price: £848.16 ($1,333.13) (With VAT and P&P)

 

For what I’m getting, that there isn’t a bad price. Those components can just as easily perform as well as a mid-range Alienware for a fraction of what you’d be paying for one. However because it is a custom-built PC, it is entirely up to YOU, the owner, to decide on what parts are suitable for the jobs you carry out. For example, if you want a PC solely for working, you do not need a massive £200 graphics card inside of the case.

After I ordered my parts (and after some talking to my bank account about why they put a block on my card) I waited until the next morning where I noticed that the parts from Ebuyer had already come. It was free delivery as well, which made this even more of a bigger shock. The parts from Overclockers came the following three days.

So now I had all of my parts with me, It was time for the fun bit. With the next sections I will guide you through the process of building a custom-made PC (If you’ve got one ready to build.)

All of the computer components are laid out and ready to be installed

STEP 1: Checking the contents of each component and setting up your workspace

Okay so now your excitement has gone down a notch, you may want to check each box to see what they contain and how you assemble them. Some products such as the RAM will come in a simple plastic package whilst others such as the motherboard or CPU heatsink will come with a massive set of instructions and installation guide. It is also a good time to get several items such as a wristband that grounds any static from your body and a screwdriver. I would also recommend that you open up your case and see where each component needs to go and find a way that best suits your method of building. Because I bought a full-tower chassis, I will attach several components onto my motherboard before I secure it to the case as it will be easier.

STEP 2: The easy bit!

This step will require you to pull your motherboard out of its anti-static bag. Be sure to have your wristband connected to your case before you touch the motherboard or any exposed circuit board! Once the motherboard is out of the bag, place it gently on top of the bag to prevent any dust or dirt from your work surface from clinging onto the underside of the board. Take your RAM out of the packaging and pull down on the plastic tabs on the RAM slots of your motherboard. (There are 2-4 long identical sockets side-by side each other, they’re the RAM slots.) Place the RAM in their designated slots (Be sure to have the sticks next to each other) and push down on them until they snap into place. (The white tabs will secure themselves back into place when you push down hard enough.) When that’s done, leave them as they are in place and ready to go!

STEP 3: The point of no return!

Now we will attach the CPU into its socket on the motherboard! This is a very VERY delicate process and you must use caution at all times. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this step, get an experienced person to do it for you. If you do feel comfortable, GREAT! However don’t take the name of this step to heart, when I say the ‘point of no return’ I mean that if you bend even one of the gold pins that are located under the CPU, it will NOT work! That’s a lot of pressure on your shoulders right? It is, but make sure to hold the CPU by the corners and gently place it in the right position on the socket and you’ll be just fine. The processor’s instructions do show an example of how to release the socket lever and which way round you place the processor. When it is in, do NOT jiggle it. Just simply pull the metal lever back down towards the motherboard. Don’t worry about crushing your CPU or the pins. They will remain undamaged if you placed it correctly. Keep pressing down, you will feel some resistance but just keep going until the lever is secured back into its original place. It’s in! Excellent! Now that is out of the way, you can now concentrate on setting up the heatsink that goes on top of it.

STEP 4: Cooling off

Okay so now you’ve successfully attached the RAM and CPU to your motherboard. This is a good start, but you cannot celebrate just yet. Without proper cooling on your processor, it will easily burn up and destroy itself. To prevent this, you will need a heatsink. Heatsinks come in many shapes and sizes. There are also different types of cooling methods: Traditional airflow via fans or Water-cooling. In this set up I will talk you through on how to set up a large dual-fan heatsink. The Asaka Venom Voodoo was my weapon of choice. It is big, brash, bulky and very effective. Just being under the price of most watercooling options, this heatsink will give you optimal cooling for your CPU. However its sheer size means that only full-tower or some mid-tower cases can realistically fit this monster. So the first step is to place and secure the heatsink platform that lies underneath the motherboard. (This is the reason why we don’t automatically place the motherboard into the case at the beginning) Be sure to follow the provided instructions carefully as this component is possibly the most complex out of the entire list. You should receive some sort of syringe or tube filled with a special paste. Place some of the paste, NOT all of it, onto a flat piece of card or cardboard and gently spread it over the top surface of the CPU. This paste will allow the heat to easily transfer between the CPU and the heatsink. Once that has been done, you then place the large metal grille over the CPU. Make sure that the cooling pipes are with contact with the paste.When you have done that, you will now need to screw the grill in place with the provided screws and washers. Make sure to do it tightly, but not too tightly as you may bend the motherboard or apply any unwanted extra pressure on the CPU. You should now see a free-standing tower that is sitting comfortably on top of your CPU. The next stage is to attach the dual fans on each side of the grill. The Venom Voodoo has very simple snap-on fans with designated arrows on the tabs to show you which way round they go. Once you have done that, you can then place the wire into its designated socket which should be located right underneath it. Check your motherboard layout in its designated manual.

STEP 5: Contact

Okay so now you have got the RAM, CPU and its heatsink all attached and ready to go, but first you need to mount the motherboard into the case. To do this safely, you will need to lay the case onto its side. The NZXT Phantom has a small box underneath the HDD trays at the front of the case. (It took me a while to find that out.) Inside the box it should have the motherboard standoffs and screws, as well as the case instructions. If you do not have the NZXT Phantom, don’t worry. The case should have an easy screw type guide embossed in the metal panel to show you where each screw for the motherboard sits. Because I have a Micro-ATX I have to place the standoffs in each hole that has the Micro-ATX lettering above it. If you have a different motherboard, you may want to check where your version will sit. Once you have secured each standoff in place, you can then gently place your motherboard on top. Get your screws and secure each one-by-one until the motherboard is fixed in place. Finally your PC is starting to take shape!

STEP 6: Applying the juice

So far so good, you now have a secure motherboard with the vital elements in place, but you’re only about halfway there. A computer cannot run without power, and the only way you can get it is through a power supply unit, or PSU. For my computer I have chosen the OCZ ZX-Series which gives me 850 watts of power. If you are only using your computer for work, you do not need this amount of power, 500 watts would be more than enough. The main reason why I went for 850 watts was because of my massive graphics card, but even so, 850 watts is still quite excessive. BE ADVISED that you want enough power to make your PC stable. Insufficient power can result in your PC becoming unstable and possibly damaging it. To set up your PSU you need to attach each cable into the front of the unit. Each socket and wire plug will be labeled to make it easier for identification. Once each wire is in place, you can then place the PSU in its designated area in the case. In my case, the PSU area in the Phantom is at the bottom. Most full-tower cases have the power supply at the bottom whilst other cases have it at the top. To secure the PSU in place, you will need to attach numerous screws in their designated holes at the back of the case. Make sure to secure it well to prevent any unwanted vibrations. Lastly you can now attach each wire in their place on the motherboard and other components. If you are unsure of where each wire goes, check your motherboard manual.

STEP 7: Adding the HDD

Up until now your PC can stop being a massive paperweight. The Hard Disc Drive allows you to store pretty much everything you install and save on your computer. The HDD is also where your OS (or Operating System) will be, therefore without this component you can only really just set up the BIOS and nothing more. To secure the HDD in place, the Phantom comes with seven, that’s right, SEVEN hard drive slots! SO take your pick on which one you want your HDD to sit in. The trays have four holes that are designed to keep the HDD in place. Without them, your HDD will vibrate and possibly damage itself, thus resulting in your PC to crash. Take out the metal pins that sit inside each hole in order to slot your Drive into place. Once it is aligned with the pin holes, you can then screw the Hard Drive in place with the screws provided in the white box which came with the case. Once you have done that, slot the tray back into its place in the case. You now need to connect the drive to your motherboard in order to work properly. To do this, you will need to take apart the other side of the case. Because your motherboard and everything else on it is secured in place, you can now bring your case back up to its normal vertical position. Take apart the other side of your case and feed the small blue SATA wire from your hard drive to the SATA socket on your motherboard. You will also need to feed a power wire from your PSU to your HDD in order to make it work. At this point in time, it is also a good chance to attach all of the case wiring to their designated plugs on the motherboard.

STEP 8: Securing the Disc Drive

Okay so now you should have a fully functional computer at your disposal, however it is very limited to its capabilities seeing as it doesn’t have a disc tray. Disc Trays are simple and extremely cheap pieces of hardware that allow you to install programmes or use media from a CD or DVD. Literally these things could possibly be bought in bulk if you really want. I went for the very cheap Samsung DVD/CD reader. It is very basic but it is also very practical. If you have enough money you can get a Blu-Ray reader however they cost around £60. To install the drive to your case, you need to detach one of the black drive covers from the front of the case. With the Phantom, it is very easy to do so. At the side of the case you will notice several securing pads by the disc tray locations. These are used to keep the disc tray in place with two strong metal pins at the side. Pull off the pad and slide the disc drive into place. Once it is in line, you can then push the pad back into place and the pins should be sitting comfortably in the holes at the side of the drive. You will now need to place another SATA cable as well as another power cable from your PSU into the back of the drive in order for it to work.

All of the components have been successfully installed inside the case and are ready to go!

STEP 9: Unleash the beast!

Finally, this step is for the gamers (or those who still want a graphics card, i mean, who doesn’t?) Take out your card. For those of you who are PC gaming enthusiasts, this is your gloating reference, your trophy as it where. For me, I went for the powerful and somewhat expensive MSI Radeon 6970HD. This monster holds over 2GB of memory and is clocked at 880Mhz. In the battlefield between cards, this sits comfortably in the top quarter. However it is up to YOU, the owner, to decide on which card you think is best for you. Some people prefer Nvidia cards to AMD and vice versa. I hold a mutual view between the two. I think they both have their good and bad points and each are just as good as the other. But let’s get back to business. Carefully take your card and place it in the graphics card slot on your motherboard. If your card is too big you may need to place it at the lower card slot in order to keep clear of your RAM sticks and CPU heatsink. However that only depends on the situation and most of the time you should be fine. Just like what you did with the RAM sticks, open up the white tab at the end of the slot and gently push down on the card until it snaps into place. Take your power cables and attach them to the upper end of the card. Congratulations, your PC is virtually complete! You now need to attach the side panels and test the start-up with a monitor and keyboard!

STEP 10: It lives!

Hopefully everything should be running smoothly, if not, open the case and make sure that each cable is attached to their designated plugs. You now need to set up the BIOS and install an operating system. Check your motherboard manual to see how you go about with the BIOS set up, and make sure to install your drivers when your OS has loaded!

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