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How to Choose Parts for A Gaming PC Build

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through how to choose the right parts for your gaming PC.

How to Choose Parts for A Gaming PC
You’ve decided to build your own gaming PC. It’s now time to pick parts for your system. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know in order to choose the right components for your needs and budget.

This guide is over 17,000-words long. It covers every step of choosing the right parts for a PC build, including what parts you’ll need, all compatibility and clearance issues, and how much money you should allocate to each component.

We’ve tried to provide as many real-world examples as possible to help you understand what goes into choosing components.

By the end of this guide, you’ll be ready to pick parts for your PC build and have confidence that they will all be compatible.

Here’s a breakdown of the topics we’ll discuss:

Bookmark this page: This guide is a lot to digest. Consider bookmarking it so you can come back to continue reading or to use as a reference when you start choosing parts for your build.

I. Budget & Performance Requirements

The first thing you’ll need to do is determine exactly what kind of system you want to put together. The kind of system you build will be determined by two factors:

  1. How much money you have to spend
  2. What types of games you play

Obviously, the more money you have to spend, the better the PC you can build.

The more demanding the games you play are, the more powerful your system will need to be, and, as a result, the more money you’ll need to spend.

Let’s look at some examples of common use-cases to give you an idea of why your budget and what games you play will matter when choosing components:

Example #1: Extreme 4K Performance

Goals: Max out Starfield at 4K
Budget: Unlimited

Starfield just came out and you’re a huge Bethesda fan. You want to fully immerse yourself in the new game and you’re willing to do whatever it takes to build a PC that can run Starfield at ultra settings on a 4K display.

Since Starfield is incredibly demanding, you’re going to need the best graphics card possible. At the time of writing this guide, that would be an RTX 4090. Most benchmarks show that even the RTX 4090 has trouble running Starfield at 60 FPS on a 4K resolution.

An RTX 4090 will cost you at least ~$1,700.

If you assume a minimum of $1,000 for the remaining components, you’re pushing close to a $3,000 PC build.

Example #2: High FPS for Competitive Gaming

Goals: Play competitive titles at 1080P
Budget: Unlimited

Perhaps you’re particularly good at a competitive title like Valorant. You’re looking for every advantage possible and you’ve decided that having a 1080P 360Hz monitor will give you an edge.

You’ve already ordered the monitor. Now you need to build a new PC that will give you enough performance to where you can run the game at a very high average framerate so that you can utilize your fast monitor.

Do you need to spend ~$3,000 in order to build a PC to accomplish your goal?

No, you do not. In fact, you could probably spend ~$1,000 or less and be able to build a PC that could push Valorant at over 300 FPS. This $1,000 PC build will do it with no problems. Even this $800 build could probably pull it off.

You could always spend more of course. But, for this particular use-case, it isn’t absolutely necessary.

Example #3: 1080P Budget Gaming

Goals: Get into PC gaming
Budget: $500

All your friends game together on PC. Sometimes they play Minecraft, other times they play League of Legends or Rocket League, and sometimes they play Fortnite.

You really want to be able to join them but you need a computer and you have a limited budget.

Your friend has an old 1080P monitor, keyboard, and mouse you can use. You need to get the desktop and you have $500 to spend.

Can a $500 budget accomplish your goal?

Absolutely.

While a $500 budget isn’t going to allow you to build a PC that will max out games like Fortnite on a 1080P monitor, it will be able to run it on lower-to-medium settings with a decent average framerate.

And, for non-demanding titles like Minecraft, League of Legends, and Rocket League, a $500 PC build will be able to handle them with no problems.

So, if you’re someone who just wants to jump into PC gaming on a 1080P monitor, you can build a decent system for an affordable price.

Important: These examples are meant to show you that the parts you should choose for your build will vary significantly depending on your budget and needs. Once you have set a budget and you know what games you want to play on your PC, you can start looking for components. Also, consider checking out the Budget Allocation section at the end of this guide to get a rough idea of how much you should spend on each component.

II. Parts Needed to Build A Gaming PC

Parts Needed to Build A Gaming PC

In order to build a gaming PC you’ll need the following parts:

We’ve put together individual How to Choose guides on all of the components you’ll need to build a PC. These are extensions to this guide. It would be a good idea to read through each of the guides linked to above. There will be some overlapping content, but reading both will give you a complete look at the component choosing process.

It’s also important to note that not all components are compatible with each other. So, you need to make sure you choose parts that will actually work together. In the next section, we’ll discuss component compatibility.

What about cables? All the cables you need generally come with the parts you purchase.

What about additional fans? Your case should come with at least one fan to help with airflow. Higher-end cases will come with more pre-installed case fans. If you’re working with a tight budget, one case fan should hold you over for the time being and if you want to improve your airflow, you can always add additional fans later.

II. Component Compatibility

Part Compatibility

Not every processor will work with every motherboard and not every case will hold every graphics card. Some power supplies will not be powerful enough to run the graphics card you’ve selected. And, some RAM will not fit in the motherboard you’ve chosen.

Or, in other words, not all components are compatible with all other components.

And, really, this is the most difficult part of choosing parts for a PC build: making sure everything works together properly.

Of course, you could always use a site like PCPartPicker. This site will allow you to start building a list of components and will automatically filter out components that aren’t compatible.

But, there are other soft compatibility issues that can arise that aren’t as straightforward as two components simply not working with each other. PCPartPicker also cannot account for things like RAM height clearance, or radiator clearance issues.

And, it’s also just a good idea to have the ability to know which components will work together.

For the sake of this guide, we’ll cover two different types of compatibility issues:

  • Hard compatibility issue: two components that will physically not fit together
  • Soft compatibility issue: two components that will physically fit together, but one limits the other, or simply causes the other to not work (basically, a bottelneck)

In the proceeding sections, we’ll highlight the most common compatibility issues and how you can avoid choosing components that shouldn’t be put together.

Here is a list of compatibility issues we’ll discuss:

  1. CPU-motherboard compatibility
  2. RAM compatibility
  3. CPU-CPU Cooler compatibility
  4. Power Supply compatibility

Note: We’ll talk about clearance issues separately in the proceeding section.

1. CPU-Motherboard Compatibility

CPU-Motherboard Compatibility

Not all CPUs will work in all motherboards. You cannot put an AMD CPU in an Intel-based motherboard (and vice-versa). Also, sometimes you cannot put an older generation CPU in a newer generation motherboard (and vice-versa) even if the newer motherboard can physically hold the older CPU.

Then there is the scenario where a certain motherboard will work with a certain CPU, but will limit the CPUs performance.

The five main things to consider when choosing a CPU and motherboard combination are:

  1. CPU capabilities
  2. CPU socket
  3. CPU generation
  4. Chipsets

Lets discuss each below.

CPU Capabilities

We’re taking a bit of a detour here.

Before we can explain how to determine if a motherboard and CPU are compatible, you first have to understand the different options you have for a CPU.

There are a ton of different CPU options available on the market and they offer a wide range of performance and features.

In this section, we’ll discuss how you can differentiate between the different processor options currently available, which, in turn, will help you choose the right motherboard.

CPU Levels

Below is a general look at both AMD’s and Intel’s modern CPU offerings.

For the sake of clarity for this guide, we will refer to the different designations (Ryzen 9, Ryzen 7, Intel Core i9, etc.) as “levels” even though that is not their official title.

AMD CPU Levels:

  • Ryzen 9: Most performance, highest cost
  • Ryzen 7: High performance, high cost
  • Ryzen 5: Good performance, moderate cost
  • Ryzen 3: Least performance, lowest cost

*All AMD CPUs have unlocked multipliers, which means they all can be overclocked when paired with the right motherboard.

Intel CPU Levels:

  • Core i9: Most performance, highest cost
  • Core i7: High performance, high cost
  • Core i5: Good performance, moderate cost
  • Core i3: Least performance, lowest cost

*Not all Intel CPUs are unlocked. Only CPUs with the ‘K’ designation are unlocked and can be overclocked. Unlocked Intel CPUs also require a motherboard with the appropriate chipset to be overclocked.

It should be noted that, within a given generation, both manufacturers’ -5, -7, and -9 options don’t differ that much in terms of gaming performance. At least not as much as their price differences would indicate. This is because most games are so GPU dependent that they don’t typically utilize the extra power that higher CPU levels offer.

This is important to know when choosing a CPU for gaming, because you may not need a higher-end CPU and, therefore, you may not also need a high-end motherboard.

CPU Series/Model

After processor levels, you’ll next need to look at the options within a given CPU level.

As an example, there can be multiple Intel Core i5 SKUs within a new generation of Intel CPUs and there can be more than one Ryzen 5 SKU within a new generation of AMD CPUs. And, the same goes for the other levels of CPUs within a generation.

Here are some of the 13th Generation Intel Core i5 options:

  • Intel Core i5-13600K
  • Intel Core i5-13600KF
  • Intel Core i5-13600
  • Intel Core i5-13500
  • Intel Core i5-13400
  • Intel Core i5-13400F

Here are some of AMD’s new Ryzen 5 7000-series CPUs:

  • AMD Ryzen 5 7600X
  • AMD Ryzen 5 7600
  • AMD Ryzen 5 7500F

With so many options, how do you know which one is better?

The higher number designates the more powerful CPU. So, the i5-13600K is more powerful than the i5-13400 and the Ryzen 5 7600 is more powerful than the Ryzen 5 7500F.

What about the Xs, Ks, and Fs or lack thereof?

Below is a list of what the different letters mean at the end of CPUs:

Intel Designations

  • K: The CPU can be overclocked, generally uses more power
  • F: The CPU does not have integrated graphics
  • KF: Both of the options above

For an Intel CPU like the i5-13400 that has no K or F designation, it means the CPU cannot be overclocked and uses less power, but it does come with integrated graphics.

AMD Designations

  • X: The CPU comes with a higher clockrate, generally uses more power
  • F: The CPU does not have integrated graphics

For an AMD CPU like the Ryzen 5 7600 that has no X or F designation, it means the CPU does not have a boosted clock rate, but it does have integrated graphics.

Performance Between CPU Generations

Newer generation CPUs are generally going to offer more performance than previous generation CPUs at the same level.

And, in many cases, lower level CPUs from a new generation can outperform higher level CPUs from older generations.

So, for instance, a new AMD Ryzen 5 7600X will offer a little more overall performance than the older Ryzen 7 5700X, despite the fact that the 5700X was a higher level CPU for its generation.

Overclocking

Overclocking is also an important topic to discuss regardless of whether you want to overclock your CPU or not.

If you do want to overclock your CPU you will need both an unlocked CPU and an overclocking motherboard.

The higher the overclocks you want to hit, the more robust of a power design your motherboard must have. Certain chipsets are going to provide better a power design by default. And, within a chipset, different motherboard manufacturers will offer even higher level power design options.

You will also need adequate cooling, but we’ll discuss that a bit later in this guide.

Intel Overclocking

To overclock with an Intel-based system, you will need an unlocked Intel CPU (designated by ‘K’) and a Z-chipset motherboard.

AMD Overclocking

All AMD CPUs are unlocked. So, to overclock with an AMD-based system you’ll need any modern AMD CPU and a B- or X-chipset motherboard.

A Quick Rundown of TDP

TDP (or Thermal Design Power) is a rating designated by Intel and AMD that tells the maximum amount of heat that a CPU’s cooling system needs to be able to dissipate.

TDP can be helpful in determining the proper cooling solution for a CPU, and can give a hint at how power hungry a certain CPU is, which, in turn, will help you choose an appropriate motherboard for that CPU. (The higher the TDP on a CPU, the more likely you will need motherboard that has a higher-end power design.)

It’s an unperfect rating as Intel and AMD measure it differently and it should be used in unison with other factors to help you determine component compatibility. We cover it a bit more in the section on CPU/CPU Cooler Compatibility.

Intel vs AMD

You should now have a decent understanding of CPU naming. And, so we’ve come to one of the more important factors in determining which CPU is best for your system.

AMD and Intel have been making CPUs for a long time and the general consenus over the past decade is that both manufacturers make CPUs that are adequate for gaming.

Single & Multi-Core Performance

In the past, AMD processors have typically offered better multi-core performance, whereas Intel processors have typically offered better single core performance. This has translated into AMD CPUs often providing better performance in productivity tasks like video editing and graphics design and Intel offering better performance in gaming.

Over the last couple of CPU generations, though, the performance gap in both instances have closed. AMD’s newer CPUs offer single-core performance on par with Intel and Intel’s newer CPUs offer multi-core performance on par with AMD.

So, while there may be many differences between AMD and Intel, the reality is that in terms of real-world in-game performance, the two manufacturer’s perform fairly close to each other at similar pricepoints.

What this means is that, for gaming purposes, the newest generation ~$200 CPU option from AMD is going to perform similarly to the newest generation ~$200 Intel CPU. There still may be a better option of the two at a similar price point when all things are considered, but you won’t be making a dire mistake by choosing one over the other.

Choose What’s Best for Your Budget

Your best bet is to keep an open-mind on which CPU manufacturer you will choose. You can use a guide like Tom’s Hardware’s CPU Hierarchy list to help you drill down on performance differences, or you can read/watch benchmark comparisons from reputable PC hardware outlets like Gamer’s Nexus.

We’ve also put together a buyer’s guide on the best CPUs at a variety of pricepoints to help you find the right option for your needs.

In our opinion, you should choose whichever CPU offers the best performance for the budget you have set.

And, to be more specific, that doesn’t mean just the best priced CPU, but also the best priced combination of the CPU and compatible hardware (motherboard, cooling, memory, etc.)

Because if you find a good deal on a Ryzen 5 CPU for ~$130, but a compatible motherboard will cost you ~$100, you wouldn’t be getting as good of a deal as if you could get the competing Intel Core i5 option for $140 and an appropriate motherboard for $70.

We’ve taken quite a large detour here and have given you a lot of information on how to differntiate between different performance levels of processors. Hopefully you can now look at a CPU model, like a Ryzen 5 7600X or an Intel Core i7-13700K, or an Intel Core i3-13100F and have a good idea of where they sit on the performance spectrum and what differentiates them from the other options.

If so, we can finally get back to discussing CPU-motherboard compatibility.

CPU Socket Compatibility

CPU Socket Compatibility

The CPU socket is a hard compatibility issue, which means that you cannot pair a CPU with a motherboard that doesn’t have the socket specifically designed to hold that CPU.

As an example, let’s do a quick search experiment on Amazon to see if the first CPU and first motherboard that come up are compatible with each other.

The first non-sponsored result when I search “cpu” on Amazon is:

AMD Ryzen 7 5700G

The first non-sponsored result when I search “motherboard” on Amazon is:

ASUS TUF Gaming Z790-Plus

If you’ve read the section above, then you probably know that these two components are NOT compatible with each other. The Ryzen 7 5700G is an AMD processor and the ASUS TUF Gaming Z790-Plus is an Intel-chipset motherboard.

But, how can you tell if a motherboard has the right socket for the CPU you’re looking at?

If you’re not familiar with CPU sockets already, the best way to do so is to simply search Google for the CPU you are considering and go to the manufacturer’s page (Intel or AMD) for that model CPU.

Let’s do that with the AMD Ryzen 7 5700G right now.

After searching for “ryzen 7 5700G,” I’ve come to the 5700G’s product page on AMD’s website. From there, I want to search through the specs on the page and locate the processor’s socket.

Under General Specifications, I can see that the 5700G utilizes the AM4 socket.

Finding CPU Socket Example
Knowing what socket a CPU is compatible with is crucial in choosing the right motherboard for your build.

I now know that I need an AM4 motherboard for the 5700G.

You can do this with any processor, whether it’s an AMD or Intel CPU, or an older or newer CPU.

However, socket compatibility is not the only thing you need to consider. There’s also soft compatibility issues when dealing with CPU chipsets. But, before we talk about chipsets, we need to cover CPU generations…

CPU Generations

Intel and AMD release new generations of CPUs once every 1-2 years. Sometimes the CPU sockets get upgraded with the launch of a new generation of processors. Sometimes they don’t.

That means that Intel or AMD could (and usually do) release multiple generations of CPUs that will all work on the same socket.

For instance, the Ryzen 7 5700G from above is a Ryzen 5000-series CPU that works on the AM4 socket. However, the Ryzen-1000 series, Ryzen 2000-series, and the Ryzen 3000-series CPUs all work on the AM4 socket as well (AMD skipped from 3000 to 5000.)

AMD Ryzen 7000 Series
AMD’s newest generation of CPUs, the 7000-series, utilizes the brand new AM5 socket.

But, AMD released their new AM5 socket when they launched their 7000-series CPUs. AMD’s older Ryzen CPUs will not work in this new socket and their new CPUs will not work in the older AM4 socket.

The same thing happens with Intel CPUs, although Intel rarely goes more than a few generations before they introduce a new CPU socket.

Intel's 14th Generation CPU
Intel’s newest 14th generation CPUs will likely be the last series to utilize the socket LGA 1700.

A CPU’s generation is important to understand. In some cases it can help you identify CPU and motherboard compatibility.

As mentioned above, the first thing you will need to check for is a motherboard’s CPU socket to see what CPUs it can physically support.

But, there’s another important motherboard feature you’ll need to check in order to ensure a motherboard is the right option for the CPU you have chosen.

With each new CPU generation, we typically get new motherboard chipsets. And, motherboard chipsets are incredibly important when considering what motherboard you should pair with your CPU.

Motherboard Chipsets

A motherboard chipset directs communication between your CPU and the other important components in your system. Chipsets play a big role in determining what kind of components you can use in your system.

And, chipsets can create soft compatibility issues that you need to be aware of.

Generally, with each new CPU generation or architecture, a few new chipsets are released. Typically, you get a high-end chipset, a mid-range chipset (or, in Intel’s case, two mid-range chipsets), and a budget-oriented chipset.

Chipsets can determine the following:

  • Which CPUs you can use
  • Whether or not you can overclock your CPU or memory
  • Which DDR memory generation you can use
  • Which generation PCIe you can utilize for your GPU and NVME SSDs
  • How many SATA and USB ports you have access to
  • Which generation of USB technology you can use

They determine a bit more more than that as well, but those are the main features you should consider when building a gaming PC.

What A Motherboard’s Chipset Means

Modern chipsets are listed with four digit codes, like:

Z790

This is an Intel chipset, where:

  • Z = the tier of the chipset (Z being the highest)
  • 7 = the series of chipset
  • 9 = the features on the chipset (the higher the more features)
  • 0 = a filler number that means nothing

It’s important to note that the second number (in this instance 9) isn’t always instructive. For instance, all Z-tier chipsets will have a second number of 9. There is no Z770 chipset. And, as you’ll see below, the second number isn’t instructive at all for AMD chipsets.

Z790 Chipset
Intel’s Z790 chipset is meant to accommodate serious overclocking and should be paired with a ‘K’ designated CPU.

However, Intel’s H-chipsets do offer different feature options. There’s the H670 and the H610 chipsets, where the H670 chipset offers more features than the H610 chipset. This is really the only case where the second digit offers us more information than the letter and first number.

AMD’s chipset naming works similarly, but unlike Intel, there are no instances where the second number gives us any additional information. Take for example the following AMD chipset:

X670

The numbers in this AMD chipset mean:

  • X = the tier of the chipset (X being the highest)
  • 6 = the series of chipset
  • 7 = a filler number that means nothing
  • 0 = a filler number that means nothing

Now that you have a better idea of what a chipset looks like, let’s discuss how you can tell whether or not a chipset is the right option for your CPU.

Chipset Tiers

Before we list chipsets you’ll likely use if you’re building a PC right now, let’s first define three chipset tiers and what they generally offer:

High-end chipset:

  • Better VRMs to run high-end CPUs
  • Allows for overclocking
  • More connectivity options (PCIe, USB, SATA, etc.)

Mid-range chipset:

  • Decent VRMs to run mid-range or high-end CPUs
  • Allow for overclocking for AMD CPUs, not for Intel CPUs
  • Decent connectivity options (PCIe, USB, SATA, etc.)

Budget chipset:

  • Weak VRMs suited for power efficient CPUs
  • Doesn’t allow overclocking
  • Minimum connectivity options (PCIe, USB, SATA, etc.)
List of Modern Popular Chipset Options

Below is a list of Intel’s and AMD’s most popular chipsets right now for both the current and previous generations. If you’re building a PC in the near future, you will likely use one of these chipsets

Intel 13th Generation Chipsets (Socket LGA 1700)

  • Z790: higher-end, allows CPU overclocking
  • H770: mid-range, doesn’t allow CPU overclocking
  • B760: mid-range, doesn’t allow CPU overclocking

Note: Intel’s 14th Generation CPUs have been released, but no new chipsets have been introduced as of early November 2023. H710 chipsets were also never released for 13th Generation CPUs.

Intel 12th Generation Chipsets (Socket LGA 1700)

  • Z690: higher-end, allows CPU overclocking
  • H670: mid-range, doesn’t allow CPU overclocking
  • B660: higher-end, doesn’t allow CPU overclocking
  • H610: budget, doesn’t allow CPU overclocking

AMD Ryzen 7000 Series Chipsets (Socket AM5)

  • X670: higher-end, allows CPU overclocking
  • B650: mid-range, allows CPU overclocking
  • A620: budget, doesn’t allow CPU overclocking

AMD Ryzen 5000 Series Chipsets (Socket AM4)

  • X570: higher-end, allows CPU overclocking
  • B550: mid-range, allows CPU overclocking
  • A520: budget, doesn’t allow CPU overclocking
So Many Chipset Options…

Certain processors are going to be better utilized by certain chipsets.

Here are some generalizations:

  • Newer CPUs will probably benefit using newer chipsets.
  • Older generation CPUs may benefit using newer chipsets.
  • Higher-end CPUs will benefit using higher-end chipsets (and may even require them).
  • Higher-end chipsets would be a waste of money for lower-end CPUs.
  • Some motherboard are better-suited for overclocking.
  • Some motherboards don’t allow overclocking at all.

And so on…

So, before you can pick the right chipset for your motherboard, you first need to have a good idea of what kind of performance and features a CPU will offer. (Now you see why we spent so much time discussing CPU capabilities above.)

Let’s say you’ve decided to get an Intel Core i7-13700K CPU and now you’re looking for the right motherboard to pair it with.

You already know how to find the right socket. You’ve determined that the i7-13700K is using the LGA 1700 socket and, therefore, you need an LGA 1700 motherboard.

Now, you’ve gone to an online retailer to search for LGA 1700 motherboards. But, there are a ton of options.

Which one is right for you?

As mentioned above, Intel typically releases four different chipsets for each CPU generation.

However, as there are usually a few different generation of CPUs available for a given CPU socket, that means that if you searched for “LGA 1700 motherboard” at on online retailer, you could potentially see as many as twelve different chipset options.

And, that’s not to mention that each motherboard manufacturer (ASUS, MSI, Gigabyte, ASRock, etc.) could have multiple options for each of those twelve chipsets. So, you could potentially be seeing well over 50 different motherboard options!

LGA 1700 Motherboards
A search for “LGA 1700 motherboards” on Newegg returns 18 pages of results.

While all of those motherboards will physically hold the i7-13700K (as designated by the socket), some of them may not utilize the 13700K to its full potential, and some may not work with it at all.

So, how do you know which one is right for you?

Using the process of elimination, we can narrow down our search to make finding the right motherboard easier.

Narrowing Down Chipsets…

From the section on CPU capabilities above, we know that the Intel Core i7-13700K is…

  • A higher-end CPU (as designated by the i7)
  • A newer generation (as designated by the 13, for 13th Generation)
  • The ‘K’ designation means this CPU can be overclocked

And, we already know it’s an LGA 1700 CPU because we checked Intel’s website. From the i7-13700K’s product page we can also see that it has a Processor Base Power (Intel’s replacement for TDP) of 125W and a Maximum Turbo Power of 253W, which means the CPU will require a decent amount of power to operate.

So, with all of that information and everything we’ve learned so far, can we narrow down to an appropriate chipset?

Yes, absolutely.

We need a higher-end motherboard that can support Intel’s 13th Generation CPUs that will allow for overclocking.

There’s two chipsets that will work:

  • Z790
  • Z690

Of the two, it would be better to opt for the newer generation Z790 chipset.

Let’s do another example where price is taken into consideration.

Example:

You are working with a moderate budget and you want to build a gaming PC for ~$700. You’ve determined that a slightly older AMD Ryzen 5 5600 would be a good option for your build as it comes in around ~$130.

Which motherboard chipset should you be looking for?

To help us narrow down chipset options, let’s identify some important information about the Ryzen 5 5600….

  • CPU capabilities
  • Socket
  • TDP

From what we learned above we know that the Ryzen 5 5600 is a mid-range processor. It doesn’t have the ‘X’ designation so it doesn’t come with a boosted clock rate, which probably also means it doesn’t require as much power to run.

We also know we can find its socket information and TDP from AMD’s product page. It is compatible with the AM4 socket and has a default TDP of 65W.

Which chipset should we use?

For starters, we can eliminate all AM5 socket chipsets (X670, B650, A620) as the Ryzen 5 5600 will not work in the newer socket.

But, this one is a bit trickier because you could technically use a lot of different AM4 motherboard options.

You could use the higher-end X570 chipset. It will provide you more than enough power to run the Ryzen 5 5600 and it will allow you to overclock it as well.

Remember, though, we are somewhat budget restricted, so price is going to be very important.

If we search for X570 motherboard on Amazon we can see that, at minimum, we’ll need to pay ~$200 for an X570 motherboard.

X570 Motherboards on Amazon
X570 chipset motherboards offer more features, better power designs, and are better-suited for overclocking.

That means we’ll be designating over half of our budget to our CPU and motherboard. This will almost assuredly mean that we won’t be able to spend as much on our graphics card, which is going to limit how much gaming performance we get.

In our opinion, while an X570 motherboard is technically compatible with the Ryzen 5 5600, when you consider your total budget for building a PC, it probably isn’t the best option.

What about B550 and A520 chipsets?

Both options would be suitable for the 5600.

For pricing, a B550 chipset motherboard can be had for a minimum of ~$80-$90, whereas an A520 can be had for ~$70.

B550 Motherboards on Amazon
The B550 chipset is budget-friendly option for users who still want a good amount of features and the ability to overclock.

A B550 chipset board will allow you to hit mild overclocks on the 5600, offers PCIe 4.0 support for your graphics card and SSD, and comes with a bit more connectivity (USB and SATA) options.

An A520 chipset board will not allow you to overclock, only offers PCIe 3.0 support for your graphics card and SSD, and comes with less connectivity options.

The real question we need to ask is, can we fit the $10-$20 extra that the B550 motherboard costs into our budget?

In our opinion, it should fit in just fine without forcing us to sacrifice in other areas. (Check out this $700 gaming PC build that uses a Ryzen 5 5600 and a B550 chipset motherboard.)

So, we think the B550 chipset is the perfect option given the CPU choice and total budget.

Really, this example goes to show how imporant your budget is in the process of choosing components. We could have used the superior X570 chipset motherboard (we could have also chosen a higher-end CPU as well), but that would have taken a lot of money away from the rest of the components we will need to build a PC.

You need to strike a balance in the parts you choose. And, if gaming is your primary objective, your goal should be to spend as much money as possible on the GPU without opting for such low-end options on your other components as to limit the performance of your GPU.

In the Budget Allocation section, we’ll discuss how much of your budget you should allocate to each component. But, first, we need to cover more compatibility issues that you need to be aware of.

It’s also important to note that we have finally come to the end of discussing CPU-motherboard compatibility. It took a long time, but we are finally ready to move onto other compatibility issues you should be aware of. Fortunately, these shouldn’t take as long to explain…

2. RAM Compatibility

RAM Compatibility

Technically, RAM compatibility could—and maybe even should—be discussed in the CPU-motherboard compatibility section, because in some instances, motherboards of the same chipset might support different options.

However, it’s a broad enough topic (but not quite as broad as CPU-motherboard compatibility) to where we’ve decided to give it its own section.

When looking for memory that is compatible with your build, there’s a few things you’ll need to consider:

  1. Form-factor
  2. DDR generation
  3. Capacity/DIMM Slots
  4. Speed

Most of these are soft compatibility issues, but a couple, like form-factor and DDR generation (and in some cases, capacity) are hard compatibility issues. We’ll start there.

RAM Form-Factor

Form-factor refers to a standardized size of a given component.

There are a couple of different form-factors for RAM that you should be aware of:

  • DIMM: desktop memory
  • SODIMM: laptop memory

*There is also microDIMM, but in your search for components, you likely won’t see microDIMM as an option at online retailers.

For your build, you only want to consider desktop memory.

DIMM vs SODIMM
Desktop memory (or DIMM) is about twice the length of laptop memory (SODIMM).

But, it’s important to note that, when you search for something like “16GB DDR5 RAM” on an online retailer’s website, SODIMM options may pop up. These are easy to spot as they are a lot smaller and will have SODIMM listed in their title.

Just make sure you do not accidentally purchase SODIMM RAM.

RAM DDR Generation

DDR stands for double data rate and is a technology that increases the amount of data that can be transferred from your memory within a single clock cycle. The technology has been improved on a handful of times over the past two decades and we are currently in the 5th generation of DDR technology (DDR5).

Each motherboard is designed to work with one DDR generation. You cannot mix and match different generations of DDR memory. For instance, you cannot put a stick of DDR5 memory in a motherboard designed to hold DDR4 memory (and vice versa.)

So, DDR generation is a hard compatibility issue.

Support for Multiple DDR Generations

Some CPU generations offer support for two DDR generations. This typically happens when a new DDR generation is introduced and there is a sort of transition period between one generation to another.

Intel’s 13th Generation CPU chipsets can come with either DDR4- or DDR5-compatibility.

ASUS TUF Gaming Z790-Plus DDR4
ASUS’ DDR4 version of the TUF Gaming Z790-Plus WiFi motherboard.

For instance, ASUS offers their TUF Gaming Z790-Plus WiFi motherboard with either DDR4 or DDR5 technology.

ASUS TUF Gaming Z790-Plus DDR5
ASUS’ DDR5 version of the TUF Gaming Z790-Plus WiFi motherboard.

Other CPU generations, like AMD’s new 7000 series only offer chipsets with DDR5 technology.

And, it’s likely that Intel’s next new socket will do the same.

So, when choosing memory for your system, make sure that you are matching the DDR generation on your RAM with a motherboard that is designed for that DDR generation.

How to Tell DDR Generation

Identifying DDR generation is fairly easy. For both RAM and motherboards, it will usually be listed directly in the product listing on online retailer’s websites.

For instance, do an Amazon search for 16gb ram and scroll through the listings. Every option will list either “DDR4” or “DDR5” in the product’s name.

Now, do a search for either AM5 motherboard or LGA 1700 motherboard.

Again, every option will list either “DDR4” or “DDR5” in the product name. The AM5 motherboards will all list “DDR5” because that is the only option available for AMD’s new socket.

If it’s not in the name, check the product’s spec sheet, which can either be found on the manufacturer’s website, or it will likely be listed in the product specifications section on whatever online retailer you’re shopping at.

RAM Capacity/DIMM Slots

Motherboards have a limit to how much RAM they can hold. However, most motherboards can hold far more memory than most users will ever need. So, while you can technically run into compatibility issues with RAM capacity, it will only be in very extreme cases.

What you do need to be aware of is how many DIMM slots the motherboard you are considering comes with.

While standard ATX motherboards offer four DIMM slots, mini-ITX motherboards come with only two DIMM slots. Micro-ATX motherboards can come with either four DIMM slots or two DIMM slots.

Some RAM kits are sold in kits that contain four sticks of RAM.

So, as an example, let’s say you purchased this memory kit:

Corsair Vengeance RGB DDR5 RAM 64GB (4x16GB) 6200MHz
This Corsair Vengeance DDR5 memory kit comes with four sticks of 16GB of RAM for 64GB total.

You would not want to use that memory kit on this motherboard:

ASUS ROG STRIX X670E-I GAMING WIFI AM5
The ASUS ROG STRIX X670E-I GAMING WIFI only has two DIMM slots.

You would only be able to use two of the four sticks of Corsair Vengeance memory because the motherboard only has two DIMM slots. The other two would just sit unused. So, while you purchased 64GB of RAM, you’d only be able to use 32GB total.

In this scenario, if you truly wanted 64GB of RAM, you’d need to choose 2x32GB kit.

How Do You Tell How Much RAM A Motherboard Can Hold?

To tell how much RAM a motherboard can hold, you’ll need to check the manufacturer’s product page.

Let’s take the motherboard from the example above.

We’ve searched for the ASUS ROG STRIX X670E-I GAMING WIFI and have found its product page on the manufacturers’ (ASUS) website.

2 x DIMM, Max 96GB
Most motherboard manufacturers will list the maximum RAM capacity under the technical specifications section of the product’s listing page.

Under Tech Specs, we can see that this motherboard can hold a maximum of 96GB of memory (capacity) across two DIMM slots (number of sticks).

Another way to tell the number of sticks of RAM a motherboard can hold is to simply look at a picture of the product.

DIMM slots are easy to identify because, on consumer-level motherboards, they are located directly to the right of the CPU socket.

DIMM Slots
The standard ATX motherboard (left) has four DIMM slots, the micro-ATX motherboard (center) has four DIMM slots (but some mATX motherboards only come with two DIMM slots), and the mini-ITX motherboard (right) has two DIMM slots.

Again, standard ATX motherboards will have four DIMM slots. Micro-ATX motherboards can have either two or four slots. And, mini-ITX motherboards will only have two DIMM slots.

RAM Speed

A soft compatibility issue you need to be aware of when it comes to choosing RAM is its speed.

RAM speed, or its frequency, is measured in MHz and refers to the number of cycles of data transfer that can be performed in a second.

In theory, the faster your memory’s clock rate is, the faster it can transfer data. Also in theory, the faster the memory, the more it costs.

What about latency? Another important component to memory speed is latency and memory timings. These are less important for compatibility issues, but they describe how quickly memory can respond to a new command. The lower the latency and the tighter the timings, the more responsive your system will feel.

However, just because a memory might have a high clock rate does not mean you will actually be able to utilize the memory at its advertised speed.

Other factors contribute to whether or not you can utilize faster memory.

For instance, certain motherboards may only support up to a certain memory clock rate. And, if you were to purchase memory that is faster than the motherboard can accommodate you will have wasted money.

The memory will still work just fine with the motherboard, but its clock rate will be capped to what the motherboard can support.

One modern example of this is with Intel’s H610 chipet. All H610 chipset motherboards can only support memory clock rates up to 3200 MHz. Therefore, if you purchased 3600 MHz RAM for an H610-based build, your memory would be capped at operating at 3200 MHz. You could have saved a little bit of money by opting for a 3200 MHz kit of RAM. (Although, the price difference between 3200 MHz and 3600 MHz memory isn’t significant right now.)

AMD Benefits from Faster RAM, Intel Doesn’t As Much

Another important things to consider is that AMD and Intel CPUs are impacted differently by RAM speeds. Traditionally, Intel CPUs have not benefitted as much by utilizing faster memory. However, AMD CPUs have been able to produce higher benchmarks when paired with faster memory.

What is the real-world performance advantage by choosing faster memory? Ultimately, it will be tough to notice a big difference between 3200MHz and 3600MHz RAM on an AMD CPU in real-world scenarios. (Or, between CL16 and CL18 (latency) memory, for that matter.)

But, if you want to optimize your system for the best performance possible, as well as get the most out of your budget, it’s a good idea to ensure you are choosing RAM that has a clock speed that can be supported by your motherboard.

3. CPU-CPU Cooler Compatibility

CPU-CPU Cooler Compatibility

CPUs generate a lot of heat. If they get too hot they have built-in functionality that will restrict how fast they’re able to operate in an effort to cool down. This means that if your CPU is running too hot, you’ll see a sharp decrease in your system’s performance.

So you have to keep your CPU cool enough to where it can operate to its full potential.

Some CPUs come with stock coolers. These are the bare minimum in CPU cooling solutions. For budget-oriented systems running CPUs that don’t require as much power to operate, a stock cooler can be good enough.

CPU Stock Coolers
This photo shows Intel’s (left) and AMD’s (right) stock coolers. AMD gets bonus points for putting some effort into their stock cooler. Intel does not.

And, if you are going to opt for such a system, you won’t have to worry about CPU cooler compatibility, as the stock coolers that come with either AMD or Intel processors will be compatible out-of-the-box.

If you’re opting to build a higher-end PC and you want a better CPU cooler either because you want to overclock, or your CPU demands it, or you just want to keep your CPU as cool as possible, you’ll be including an aftermarket cooler in your partlist.

And, for aftermarket coolers, there are some compatibility issues that you’ll need to be aware of so that you can choose a cooler that will work with the other parts you’ve chosen for your build.

Compatibility by Clearance

We are not going to dive too much into clearance issues right now, as they will be discussed for all components in the section on Clearance Issues. However, not every CPU cooler will be physically compatible with the parts you’ve chosen. So, before you finalize your part list, you’ll want to check to make sure the CPU cooler you’re considering will physically work with the other components you’ve chosen.

The main CPU cooler clearance issues will be:

  • Cooler height & case depth
  • RAM clearance (some air coolers restrict how tall of RAM sticks you can use)
  • Case radiator support (for liquid cooling)

Again, we’ll discuss these in detail below.

Compatibility by Socket Type

Most CPU coolers nowadays come with a variety of brackets that will allow them to work with most modern CPU sockets. However, some simply won’t be compatible with your motherboard’s socket.

So, the first thing you’ll want to do when searching for a CPU cooler is to make sure you choose an option that will fit on the CPU socket on the motherboard you’ve chosen.

CPU Cooler Brackets
Most aftermarket CPU coolers will come with multiple brackets that allow the cooler to work with a variety of CPU sockets.

This isn’t difficult to do as most CPU cooler options will list their socket compatibility directly in their online retailer listing. And, if you can’t find it there you can definitely find it on the manufacturer’s website.

For example, take the popular Thermalright Peerless Assassin 120 SE air cooler. If you search for thermalright peerless assassin 120 se on either Amazon or Newegg, you get the following product listings:

https://amzn.to/3QJQnpG
https://www.newegg.com/p/0VE-01P6-00006?item=9SIBFKMJ673374

Notice on both pages the socket compatibility is listed directly in the product name, with the following line:

…or AMD AM4/AM5/Intel LGA 1700/1150/1151/1200

That essentially covers compatibility for any modern motherboard.

However, a cooler like Noctua’s NH-L9 does not offer a variety of brackets so that it can accommodate a range of sockets. Instead, it has specific versions available for specific sockets.

LGA 1700: Noctua NH-L9i-17xx
AM5: Noctua NH-L9a-AM5

It’s rare for CPU cooler manufacturer’s to handle CPU socket compatibility in this way, but this example shows that some do handle it this way. So, when choosing a CPU cooler, you need to check for CPU socket compatibility to ensure the cooler will work with the CPU-motherboard combination you’ve chosen.

Note: While we’ve chosen an air cooler as the example here, AIO coolers work the same way in that most of them come with a variety of brackets to offer support for multiple CPU sockets.

Cooler Compatibility by A Coolers Performance

Not every cooler is a good fit for every CPU even if that cooler can physically be paired with a specific CPU.

Some processors require more cooling than others. Some CPU coolers provide superior cooling than others. And, some CPU coolers will not provide adequate cooling for certain CPUs.

You shouldn’t pair a budget CPU cooler with a high-end processor.

Budget Cooler
ID-COOLING’ FROSTFLOW X 240mm AIO is generally regarded as being a solid value cooler. However, you probably wouldn’t want to use it if you’re trying to hit extreme overclocks on the new power-hungry Intel Core i9-14900K.

You also shouldn’t pair a budget processor with a high-end CPU cooler, because high-end CPU coolers cost a lot of money, and you’d be better off allocating that money to other components.

So, how do you know which CPU coolers will adequately cool your CPU?

Choosing the Right Cooling Performance for Your CPU

There are two methods you can use to identify whether or not a CPU cooler will adequately cool your CPU:

  1. By checking TDP
  2. By checking benchmarks

Let’s discuss each below…

Checking Cooler Adequacy by TDP

We gave a brief overview on what TDP is in the section on CPU Capabilities listed above. Essentially, it tells you how much heat a CPU will need to have removed when under load.

All CPUs come with a TDP rating and most CPU coolers come with a TDP rating. So, one easy way to check and see if a CPU cooler would work for the CPU you’ve chosen is to match the TDP numbers.

You can find a CPUs TDP rating on the manufacturer’s product listing and you can do the same for a CPU cooler.

In theory, if a cooler has a TDP rating higher than the TDP rating of the CPU, it should do the job.

However, checking cooler compatibility by TDP is not the most perfect way to find a CPU cooler that can adequately cool the CPU you’ve chosen.

For starters, there is no standardized way to calculate TDP. Intel and AMD calculate TDP differently.

This has resulted in some gamesmanship between Intel and AMD, where they use TDP as marketing material instead of as a way to help consumers choose the right cooling solution.

Some CPU cooler manufacturers, including the renowned Noctua, don’t even provide TDP numbers in their specs because of the flaws in the way Intel and AMD generate TDP ratings.

In fact, you should read through Noctua’s document on their Standardised Performance Rating as they detail the problems with TDP.

Noctua NH-D15
Noctua’s legendary NH-D15 has set the standard for high-end air coolers. Unlike most manufacturer’s, though, Noctua does not provide TDP ratings for their coolers.

This means that if you were searching for a CPU cooler solely based off of TDP numbers, you’d have to skip over Noctua coolers. However, Noctua’s coolers commonly outperform the competition in cooling benchmarks.

So, while TDP can be helpful in choosing the right CPU cooler, it isn’t the perfect way to do so.

A more accurate way would be to check benchmarks carried out by experts…

Checking Cooler Adequacy by Comparing Benchmarks

The best way to see how a particular cooler will work in cooling the CPU you have chosen for your build is to check the results of benchmarks carried out by experts.

What better way to see what kind of results you will get with a particular cooler than from someone who A) has used that cooler, and B) has tested that cooler against other coolers?

There are a handful of tech reviewers who put out thorough reviews and benchmarks on CPU coolers. Here’s a few that are worth checking out:

We’ve also put together a guide on the best CPU Coolers currently available based on our experience using a variety of coolers in builds throughout the years, as well as reading benchmarks and expert reviews to fill in the gaps where our hands-on experience with specific coolers is limited.

Search PC Hardware Forums or Reddit

It’s also worthwhile to search for the cooler you are considering on Reddit or on a PC hardware forum to see what kind of experience others are getting with it.

For instance, if you were considering the Arctic Liquid Freezer II 240 AIO cooler, and you were to search arctic liquid freezer ii 240 reddit in Google, there are a ton of threads on Reddit that will pop up that will give you a general consensus on how the cooler performs.

And, really, it is a good idea to do a Reddit or forum search for all of the components you are considering. Often times, individual users can provide insights on that particular component that you may not be able to get even from experts.

Now that you have a good idea of how to choose a compatible CPU cooler for your build, we can now move on to talking about cases and the compatibility issues you need to be aware of when choosing one.

4. Case Compatibility

case compatibility

While PC cases are often chosen for their aesthetic features, they play an integral role in determining what kind of system you can build. Not only that, but the case you choose will have a big impact on cooling potential of your system.

The main case compatibility issues are:

  1. Motherboard form-factor
  2. PSU form-factor
  3. GPU clearance
  4. CPU cooler clearance
  5. Radiator compatibility
  6. Storage device compatibility

We’ll cover each of these topics below.

Important : Many of the compatibility issues regarding cases have been covered in detail in the Clearance Issues section. To avoid redundancy, we have provided a quick overview of thoses already-covered topics below and included a link to where that issue is discussed in further detail. Otherwise the case-related topic will be covered in detail in this section.

Motherboard Form-Factor

Motherboard form-factor refers to the standardized sizes that are available for motherboards.

There are four common motherboard form-factors that you should be aware of if you’re building a gaming PC:

  1. Standard ATX
  2. micro-ATX
  3. mini-ITX
  4. Extended ATX

Every case can accept one or more of these motherboard form-factors.

Form-Factor Differences in Regards to Case Support

The smaller the case, the fewer motherboard form-factors it will likely support. On the flip side, the larger the case, the more motherboard form-factors it will support.

This is because smaller motherboards use the same mounting hole pattern (for the most part) as a standard ATX motherboard. They just have less mounting holes because they are smaller.

Motherboard Mounting Diagram
This diagram shows all of the mounting holes and sizes for the four main motherboard form-factors. Note how this case (DeepCool CH560) can hold any of the form-factors.

So, while mini-ITX cases can only hold mini-ITX motherboards, micro-ATX cases can support either a micro-ATX or mini-ITX motherboard, and cases that can hold an ATX motherboard can support all three options. Cases with extended ATX support can hold any motherboard form-factor, including the larger e-ATX form-factor.

Then there are mid tower and full tower cases, where “mid tower” and “full tower” are more of marketing terms.

However, the term “mid tower” is typically associated with a moderately sized case that can hold a standard ATX motherboard.

“Full tower” usually refers to a larger and roomier case. These cases can often accommodate extended ATX motherboards.

However, it is important to note that not every full tower case can hold an extended ATX motherboard. And, in fact, where some full tower cases don’t support e-ATX motherboards, some mid tower cases do (see the DeepCool CH560 above.)

How to Check for Compatibility

The easiest way to check a motherboard’s form-factor is directly in its product listing title on an online retailer listing. Whether its on Newegg or Amazon, or any other online retailer, every motherboard will have their form-factor listed directly in the title of their product listing.

Cases will usually list their motherboard form-factor compatibility directly in the title of their listing.

But if you’re having trouble looking for the motherboard form-factors a case supports on an online retailer’s listing, your best bet is to go directly to the manufacturer’s product listing on their website and check the specs.

Example

Let’s say we’ve already chosen the majority of our components, including an ASRock B650 PRO RS motherboard. From this motherboard’s listing on Newegg, we can see right in the product’s title that it is an ATX motherboard.

ATX Motherboard
Right in the ASRock PRO B650 PRO’s product listing on Newegg we can see that it is a standard ATX motherboard.

Our friend has a Lian Li LANCOOL 205M case and we’ve always admired how it looked. We’d like to use that case for our build as well.

Will it work with the ASRock B650 PRO RS?

Unfortunately, after finding the LANCOOL 205M on Newegg, we can see right in its product title that it is a micro-ATX case. So, the LANCOOL 205M will not work with the ASRock B650 PRO RS motherboard.

Micro ATX Case
Lian Li’s LANCOOL 205M Mesh is a micro-ATX case and, therefore, cannot hold a standard ATX motherboard.

We’ll now either have to decide whether we want to switch to a micro-ATX motherboard, or find a case that can hold a standard ATX motherboard.

That’s really all there is to choosing a compatible motherboard and case combination.

Power Supply Form-Factor

We have discussed the issue of power supply form-factor in depth below, but the main takeaway is that you’ll need to ensure that the case you have chosen can hold the power supply you have chosen.

This will only really be a problem if you decide to build a small form-factor gaming PC.

Certain SFF cases can only hold small form-factor power supplies (SFX or SFX-L). Some larger mini-ITX cases can hold standard-sized power supplies, though.

ATX vs SFX-L vs SFX Size Comparison
ATX, SFX, and SFX-L are PSU form-factors that most builders will use for their gaming PC.

So, if you’re building an SFF PC, make sure that you check the manufacturer’s specifications for your case to see what kind of power supply form-factor it supports.

For the majority of builders, though, you will want to use a standard ATX power supply form factor.

GPU Clearance

The case you choose will dictate how large of a graphics card you can include in your build. Some graphics cards are really long and will not fit in all cases.

To determine GPU clearance, you’ll need two numbers:

  1. The physical length of the graphics card
  2. The graphics card clearance supported by the case

If a graphics card’s length exceeds the clearance supported by the case, then that graphics card will not work with that case.

Graphics Card Clearance
To ensure that your graphics card will properly fit in your case, check 1) the length of the graphics card, and 2) the max graphics card length allowed by the case.

However, there is a bit more that you need to know on GPU clearance. We have discussed this topic in detail in the Clearance Issues section below.

CPU Cooler Clearance

Like graphics card clearance, certain air CPU coolers will not fit in every case.

To determine whether or not a specific air cooler will fit into a specific case, you’ll need to check:

  1. The height of the air cooler
  2. The air cooler height clearance supported by the case
Air Cooler Clearance
You’ll need to make sure that the air cooler you are considering is not too tall for the case you want.

Again, this topic has been discussed fully in the Clearance Issue section. Be sure to hop down there to get an in-depth look at the compatibility issues between CPU coolers and cases.

Radiator Compatibility

If you want to use a liquid cooling setup in your build, the case you choose will dictate what kind of configuration you can use. Since this guide is geared towards helping first-time builders build a system, we will assume that you are not planning on using a custom liquid cooling setup.

With that in mind, the case you choose will determine how big of a radiator you can use. So, if your case only supports radiators up to 280mm long, you will not be able to use a 360mm AIO cooler in your build.

Radiator Compatibility
Many case manufacturer’s are starting to provide these types of diagrams in their marketing materials to help you determine radiator comaptibility. (Corsair’s 4000D / Phantek’s P400A)

To further dive into radiator and AIO cooler compatibility, we cover the topic in detail in the Clearance Issues section below.

Storage Device Compatibility

We are a big proponent of using NVME SSD drives in builds because, not only do they provide better overall performance, but they also cut down on the space and cables that are required when using SATA SSDs and HDDs.

If you opt for an NVME SSD, you won’t really have to worry about case compatibility issues as it pertains to storage devices.

And, really, even if you were to opt for a SATA SSD in you build, they are so small and thin, that those won’t really cause any issues either. Almost all cases can house SATA SSDs in discrete locations that won’t take up space.

However, traditional 3.5-inch hard drives do require more space for mounting. Before the rise of SSDs, it was common for manufacturer’s to dedicate large areas, or “cages,” in their cases for the mounting of hard drives.

HDD Cage
A look at Thermaltake’s older Core V71 case and it’s enormous 8-drive HDD cage.

These hard drive cages could cause clearance issues, especially with longer graphics cards.

Newer cases don’t typically come with large hard drive cages anymore and, of the options that do (like the Phanteks P400A), the HDD cage is usually optional.

If You Do Need an HDD…

Still, there are many reasons why you may want to use a hard drive in your system…

Maybe you want to bring the HDD over from your old system as it has a lot of important files on it.

Or, maybe you do a lot of work with large files and you want to utilize a bigger secondary HDD to hold it all.

If that’s the case for you, you’ll need to be aware of a couple of compatibility issues:

  1. Graphics card clearance
  2. HDD compatibility

Note: We’ve dicussed graphics card clearance in depth below (as well as provided a modern example of how an HDD cage affects GPU clearance).

The main point to consider in terms of storage compatibility is that, if you want to use a traditional hard drive in your build, you’ll need to…

  1. …choose a case that offers support for mounting 3.5-inch drives (of course, you could opt for a smaller 2.5-inch HDD and forego this issue altogether)
  2. …ensure that the mounting of said hard drive won’t conflict with the installation of your graphics card.

That’s really all there is to it.

The good news is that, if you do want to use a 3.5-inch HDD in your build, most modern cases still offer at least one or two 3.5-inch mounting locations.

5000D 3.5 HDD Support
Despite its modern design and features, Corsair’s 5000D still offers a couple of 3.5-inch HDD bays.

To tell if a case has 3.5-inch mounting, you’ll either need to check its specifications on the manufacturer’s website, or you might be able to find it listed directly in the listing on a retailer’s website.

For instance, Corsair’s 4000D shows how many internal 3.5-inch drives it supports both on its listing on Corsair’s website and on its listing on Newegg and Amazon.

5. Power Supply Compatibility

Power Supply Compatibility

A power supply is responsible for delivering electricity to the components in your computer. However, not every power supply is suitable for every configuration of components.

Power supplies vary in how much power they can deliver. Some power supplies can deliver a ton of power. Some power supplies deliver less power.

A high-end PC build with an RTX 4090 graphics card is going to require more power (and, thus, a better power supply) than a budget PC build that has an RX 6500 XT graphics card.

RTX 4090
NVIDIA’s flagship RTX 4090 GPU requires at minimum an 850-watt power supply.

So, when choosing a PSU for your build, you have to pick something that will deliver enough power to ensure your system operates correctly. You’ll also need to make sure that the power supply you choose is the right form-factor and has the right cables/connectors to hook up your graphics card. And, finally, you’ll need to ensure that the PSU you choose is a well-built unit that you can rely on (some units are built poorly and can damage your system in extreme scenarios.)

Let’s start with how to determine the PSU capacity your system will need in order to run your build…

Choosing the Correct Wattage for Your System

To calculate the wattage your system will need to run your PC build, you’ll need to add up the amp draw of each of your components at their full load and multiply that by the voltage of each of your components, to get the wattage your system will need in order to run properly.

Sounds easy, right? Not really…

Tracking down the maximum power draw of each individual component is going to be tedious, especially for a first-time builder.

Fortunately, there are many power supply calculators available that can do all of this for you.

We use OuterVision’s PSU calculator, but Newegg, and Seasonic (to name a few), also have accurate options. Any of these will help you get a good idea of what kind of PSU capacity you should be looking for for your build.

OuterVision's PSU Calculator
OuterVision’s PSU calculator will allow you to input all of your PC components and specs and give you a recommendation on what wattage rating your PSU should have.

The process is simple:

  1. Go to the calculator
  2. Input in the components you are going to use
  3. Use the provided number as a guideline

As a good rule of thumb, getting some headroom on your PSU is a good idea so that you can guarantee your system is covered even under the most extreme scenarios.

Some calculators already bake in headroom into their calculation, but as a good rule of thumb, choosing a unit that is 50-100W over the calculators output is a good idea.

The more extreme of a system you’re planning on building and the more you’re planning on overclocking your CPU, RAM, and GPU, the more headroom you should get on your PSU.

Not All Units Are Created Equally

It is very important to understand that a power supply that has a high wattage rating isn’t necessarily a good power supply.

There are a lot of PSU manufacturers who produce cheaply built units, but label them with high wattage ratings. If you find an 800-watt power supply for $39.99, there’s a really good chance it’s a terrible unit and not one you should use in your build.

There’s a lot that goes into whether a PSU is of a good quality or not.

Like a computer system, a PSU has many internal componets. Cheaper units typically come with lower-quality capacitors (will blow easier), weaker and louder fans, less protection if something goes wrong, and worse cables.

PSU Teardown
A view of the internal components inside Antec’s Earthwatts Gold Pro 750-watt power supply.

A quality unit will be less likely to fail in demanding scenarios. A low quality unit will be more likely to fail in demanding scenarios.

If a PSU fails, there is a chance that it could ruin all of the components in your system. Is that a chance you’re willing to take to save $30-$40 on your PSU?

But, how do you tell a good PSU from a bad PSU?

How to Tell A Quality PSU from A Low-Quality PSU

The best way is to read reviews carried out by experts who tear down the power supply to inspect the internal components, put it through rigorous testing, and compare it to other units they’ve also tested.

Here’s an example of a thorough power supply review. Read through it to get an idea of the kind of effort goes into properly testing a PSU.

This review was done by Aris Mpitziopoulos, who is regarded as one of the top experts on reviewing PSUs. He produces reviews for his own YouTube channel Hardware Busters as well as for Tom’s Hardware and TechPowerUP.

Other Options

We’ve compiled a list of some of the best PSU options available right now based on our experience with a number of PSUs and from reading reviews of units we have not been able to use. Instead of just picking the absolute best PSUs, we’ve selected options not only on their level of quality, but also the price they come in at.

Cultist Network also has an excellent list that places the best units into tiers. It’s a good list to consult with if you’re trying to determine whether a unit is a good option or not.

Power Supply Form-Factor

Now that you know how to choose a quality power supply that will deliver enough power to run your system, there are a couple of other things you’ll need to know in order to choose a compatible PSU for your build.

For mainstream PC building, there are three power supply form-factors you’ll need to be aware of:

  1. Standard ATX
  2. SFX-L
  3. SFX

The majority of builders will use a standard ATX power supply as that will fit in the majority of cases.

ATX vs SFX-L vs SFX Size Comparison
ATX is the most common PSU form-factor size, but if you’re building a SFF gaming PC, you’ll likely use either SFX-L or SFX.

If you want to build a small form-factor gaming PC, though, depending on the case you choose, you will likely have to choose a smaller SFX or SFX-L power supply.

Differentiating between the two when searching for components is relatively easy, as most list the form-factor directly in their listing title on online retailers. You can check this by searching either Newegg or Amazon for 850 watt psu and scrolling through the listings, making note of whether the power supplies list ATX or SFX (or SFX-L).

And, of course, you can always check the manufacturer’s spec sheet on their website as well.

When determining PSU compatibility, you’ll also want to check and see which specific PSU form-factor the case you are considering accepts. Not all small form-factor cases require a small form-factor PSU. For instance, the Silverstone SG13 is a compact mini-ITX case that can hold a standard ATX power supply.

Silverstone SG13B
Despite the extremely compact nature of Silverstone’s SG13B, it can still hold a full-size ATX power supply.

So, how do you check to see what form-factor power supply a case can hold? As always, either on the product’s listing on an online retailer’s website, or directly from the product page on the manufacturer’s website.

Let’s take the popular Cooler Master NR200P mini-ITX case and see if we can find what kind of PSU it will accept…

We’ll search for cooler master nr200p on Newegg.

NR200P PSU Compatibility
On the Cooler Master NR200P product listing page on Newegg, under the Specs section, we can see that the NR200P can support either SFX or SFX-L power supplies.

From this product listing, under the Specs section, we can see that the NR200P will accept either an SFX or SFX-L power supply. So, you will not be able to put a standard ATX PSU in this case.

If you’re not building a small form-factor PC, though, choosing the correct form-factor PSU should be fairly easy. The majority of consumer PSU options come in the the ATX format.

Power Supply CPU and PCIe Connectors

If you’re purchasing a power supply based off of your system’s needs, you will more than likely get a PSU that will have all of the necessary cables to assemble your system.

However, in rare cases it is possible that a PSU may not offer the correct cables to power the CPU and graphics card you have chosen. This will most likely occur if you are purchasing older components.

CPU Power Connector

Most modern motherboards come with an 8-pin CPU power port. And, most modern power supplies come with at least one 8-pin (usually 4+4) CPU connector.

However, some older PSUs may only come with a 4-pin CPU connector. In this case, you may be able to plug the 4-pin connector into half of the 8-pin port on your motherboard and the CPU would work (usually on the side closest to the CPU) but it wouldn’t get as much power as necessary. This is not ideal and should be avoided. Fortunately, if you’re choosing a modern power supply, you probably won’t run into this issue.

4-Pin CPU - 8-Pin Port
If you’re shopping the used market, make sure the PSU you choose has the correct connectors to deliver the appropriate amount of power to your CPU. In this image, the motherboard has an 8-pin CPU port, but the CPU connector on the right is only 4-pins.

It’s also important to note that some newer motherboards come with the standard 8-pin CPU port, but also offer an additional port to plugin power to your CPU. These are geared towards overclocking and are optional.

So, while it’s not ideal to plugin a 4-pin connector from your PSU to an 8-pin CPU port on your motherboard, you will be fine to plugin your 8-pin CPU connector from your PSU to an 8-pin CPU port on a newer motherboard and leave any additional CPU power ports empty.

overclocking motherboard 2x 8-pin ports
This high-end Z790 chipset motherboard from Gigabyte offers dual 8-pin CPU ports. You would be fine just connecting one 8-pin connector to the right-most port, but if you want to do any serious overclocking, you should connect both ports to your PSU with dual 8-pin connectors.

If you’re planning on overclocking, though, it would be a good idea to get a PSU that offers additional CPU power connectors so that you can deliver extra power to your CPU.

PCIe (Graphics Card) Power Connector

Another common issue for PSU compatibility is that the chosen power supply does not come with the connectors necessary to power the graphics card.

Again, this issue is a bit more rare now. This is because most PSU manufacturers now account for the variety of connection options that graphics cards come with.

It’s still something you should check, though, because there would be nothing worse than getting to the end of your build, where one of the last steps is to plug power into your graphics card, only to find out your PSU doesn’t have the right connector to do so.

8-Pin PCIe Connection
A diagram showing the most common PSU-to-graphics card connection, using an 8-pin PCIe connector.

And, if it’s going to happen, it will most likely happen for users who choose extreme graphics cards for their build as they typically require more power connections.

As a modern example, some RX 7900 XTX graphics cards require 3x 8-pin connections. If you were to choose one of these graphics cards for your build, you’d want to make sure that the power supply you have chosen offers 3x 8-pin PCIe cables.

3x 8-Pin PCIe Connections Needed
Some graphics cards, like this RTX 7900 XTX from XFX, require as many as three separate 8-pin PCIe connections.

If it’s a modular PSU, you’ll also want to make sure that the unit has enough PCIe ports available to accommodate all of your needs.

Here’s an example…

Let’s say you want to choose XFX’s Speedster MERC310 RX 7900 XTX graphics card. (Pictured above.)

This graphics card requires 3x 8-pin PCIe connectors from your PSU.

Based on benchmarks and manufacturer recommendations, a quality 850-watt power supply should be enough to power a system that features an RX 7900 XTX.

So, you’ve searched for an 850-watt PSU and are considering getting ADATA’s XPG Core Reactor 850W unit.

Will this PSU have the required cables to power your graphics card?

850W Core Reactor PCIe Connectors
ADATA’s spec sheet for their 850W Core Reactor unit states that it will come with six PCIe connectors.

According to the XPG’s website listing for the Core Reactor 850W, this unit provides 6x 6+2-pin PCIe connectors. So, this PSU will supply enough connections to run the XFX RX 7900 XTX.

But, does it come with enough ports on the power supply itself?

Don’t Always Trust Manufacturer’s Images on Retailer Websites…

In researching whether or not the XPG Core Reactor 850-watt PSU would have enough 8-pin connectors to run the XFX RX 7900 XTX, I noticed a small discrepancy on the PSUs listing on Amazon…

If you go to the 850W listing for the XPG Core Reactor on Amazon (pictured below), you will notice that the third image in the listing shows how many CPU & VGA (PCIe) ports the unit has: 4.

XPG Core Reactor 850-Watt PSU Dimension Image
XPGs listing on online retailers displays the 650-watt unit regardless of whether or not the listing is for a bigger version of the PSU. This may lead some potential buyers into thinking that the 850-watt unit only has four available ports for CPU and GPU connections.

So, taking the example from above, that means three of these ports will be used to power your graphics card and one will be used to power your CPU.

But, from the section on CPU connectors above, we know for overclocking, you can use as many as two 8-pin CPU connectors. So, does that mean you would not be able to run two 8-pin connections to your motherboard’s CPU power connector and three 8-pin connectors to your graphics card with this specific 850W unit?

Well, actually, you can. Because the image in Amazon’s listing is for the 650W unit and not the 850W unit. The 850W unit offers 5x 8-pin ports for CPU or VGA (PCIe) connections as shown below…

XPG Core Reactor 850-Watt PSU CPU & VGA Ports
Looking through more of XPGs marketing material, we see a unit that offers five total CPU/VGA connections. This is either the 750-watt unit or the 850-watt unit. This means that the 850-watt unit would have enough connections to run two 8-pin connections to the CPU and three 8-pin connections to a graphics card.

However, this brings up two important points…

  1. Don’t always trust the images manufacturer’s provide on listings. The spec sheet will be more accurate.
  2. What happens if your PSU doesn’t have enough CPU/PCIe ports available?

The first point doesn’t need any explaining. The second does…

Additional CPU Power Connections

If we take the example above and we do want to utilize the second CPU power connector on the motherboard, and we also assume that the PSU we’ve chosen does only have four CPU/PCIe ports, could we set it up?

Technically, yes you could set it up through the use of daisy-chaining. We’ll talk more about daisy-chaining in a second.

The reality, though, is that unless you are trying to hit extreme overclocks, you likely won’t need to connect the extra power to the second CPU power port. Just connecting a single 8-pin power connector to the CPU port will give your CPU enough power to where you can still hit decent overclocks.

So, even if you were to have a power supply unit that only had four CPU/PCIe ports and three needed to be used by your graphics card, you’ll be fine just connecting to one of the 8-pin power connectors on your motherboard.

Daisy-Chaining

You’ll notice that some power supplies come with single PCIe cables that have two separate 8-pin (usually 6+2) connectors that come off of them.

There is a lot of debate on whether or not it’s a good idea to use one of these daisy-chained connectors to connect to two 8-pin slots on your graphics card.

PCIe 8-Pin Daisy-Chain Cable
While daisy-chained PCIe connectors will work fine in most scenarios, it is always more optimal to use two separate 8-pin PCIe connectors.

JayzTwoCents did a video on this subject and found that, while your graphics card will still run if connected via daisy-chained 8-pin connectors, it is more optimal to use separate cables for each 8-pin slot.

Actually Hardcore Overclocking also made a video on the subject and suggested that daisy-chaining is probably fine in non-extreme scenarios.

Our recommendation would be to ensure that the power supply you choose will offer enough 8-pin connectors to run a separate cable to each port, as it should be as simple as just doing a little bit of research on what connectors come with the PSU in question. Then you won’t have to worry about having to use a daisy-chain connection.

But, if daisy-chaining is your only option, you’ll probably be okay as long as it’s not an extremely power-hungry graphics card and/or you aren’t trying to hit extreme overclocks.

IV. Clearance Issues

PC Build Clearance Issues

Clearance issues are basically compatibility issues, but we’ve decided to cover them in their own section.

For clearance issues, we are mainly discussing the instances where you will not be able to use a certain component due to physical limitations.

Clearance is typically dictated by the case you choose, but there are other important clearance issues that you should be aware of as well.

The four most common clearance issues are:

  1. Graphics card clearance in case
  2. CPU cooler height clearance in case
  3. RAM height clearance (under CPU cooler)
  4. Radiator clearance/compatibility in case

We have touched on a few of these topics above in the section on case compatibility. Below we’ll dive a bit deeper in…

1. Graphics Card Clearance

Graphics Card Clearance

Graphics cards can be really long. As an example, Gigabyte’s AORUS RTX 4090 Master measures in at 358.5mm long (14.1-inches.)

Not every case can hold a graphics card this long.

So, when choosing your case, you need to make sure it can hold the graphics card you’ve selected.

This is not difficult to do as it simply requires you to check the manufacturer’s specifications for both the graphics card you’ve chosen and the case you are considering.

We found the AORUS Master’s length by doing a Google search for gigabyte aorus master rtx 4090, going to the Gigabyte product listing page for the graphics card, clicking the Specifications tab, and checking the length in the Card Size section.

AORUS Master RTX 4090 Length
The length of the Gigabyte AORUS Master RTX 4090 taken directly from Gigabyte’s website.

Also take note of the card’s width (~163mm) and height (~75.1mm), as those can prevent installation in certain cases as well.

Let’s see if we can find a couple of cases that will can fit the Gigabyte AORUS Master…

Example #1: Phanteks P400A

How about the popular Phanteks P400A, one of the best value cases currently available?

Doing a Google search, we find Phanteks’ product page for this case.

Unfortunately, clicking the “Specs” tab at the top of the page doesn’t give us the information we are looking for. However, if we scroll down about 75% of the page, we find the “Technical Specifications” section. This section lists all of the clearance restrictions for this case.

Under GPU clearance we see that the case can hold graphics cards as long as 420mm. We know the Gigabyte AORUS Master comes in well under that, so this case will hold this monstrous card.

PHANTEKS P400A VGA CLEARANCE
With room for graphics cards as long as 420mm, the Phanteks P400A will easily hold Gigabyte’s AORUS Master RTX 4090.

However, it’s important to note that Phanteks lists another GPU clearance number directly below. It says…

280mm (11.0) When optional HDD brackets installed

This means that the Phanteks P400A comes with the option to install hard drive brackets. And, those brackets would be installed in a location that would prevent longer graphics cards from being used.

If you were to get the P400A and you wanted to utilize those hard drive brackets, you would not be able to use the AORUS Master RTX 4090. In fact, with only a clearance of 280mm, you would be somewhat limited in your graphics cards choices.

The good news is that with the introduction of SSDs, hard drives (and, subsequently, hard drive cages) are rarely necessary. The P400A can also hold two 3.5-inch hard drives in the PSU shroud towards the front of the case as well.

So, the for the majority of users, the HDD cage won’t be needed and the P400A will hold the AORUS Master just fine.

Example #2: Cooler Master NR200P

Cooler Master’s NR200P (or NR200) is a popular mini-ITX case. Let’s see if it can hold the AORUS Master…

This time, instead of going to Cooler Master’s product page for the NR200P, we’ll see if we can find the GPU clearance on an online retailer…

We’ll try Newegg…

After searching for the NR200P on Newegg, we’ve found this product page.

We don’t have to scroll at all to find this line in the product’s bullet points:

Full-size GPU Fitment with Vertical Mounting: Up to 330mm long triple-slot GPU support. PCI Riser included for a stylish vertical mount option.

A maximum length of 330mm. Unfortunately, the AORUS Master will not fit in the Cooler Master NR200.

COOLER MASTER NR200P CLEARANCE
As far as mini-ITX cases go, Cooler Master’s NR200P is fairly roomy. However, even with 330mm of clearance, it does not have enough room to house the AORUS Master.

That was probably to be expected as there aren’t a whole lot of mini-ITX cases out there that will be able to fit the AORUS Master.

It’s also important to note that even if the NR200P would have provided enough clearance length for the AORUS Master, it’s specsheet (available under the Specs tab on Newegg) states that it can hold graphics cards that have heights over 156mm and widths over 60mm. So, the AORUS Master is not only too long, but it is too bulky as well.

Let’s do one more example…

Example #3: BitFenix Nova Mesh ARGB

The BitFenix Nova Mesh ARGB is one of our favorite PC cases for budget PC builds thanks in part to the fact that it comes preinstalled with four RGB fans.

It’s not the case we’d use to house a high-end system, but for gamers working with a moderate (or lower) budget, it is a decent option.

So, for learning purposes, let’s see if it can hold the RTX 4090. This time we’ll check Amazon.

Here is the Nova Mesh ARGB’s listing on Amazon.

The graphics card clearance isn’t listed in the main product bullet points, but if we scroll down about half-way down the page, there is a graphic under the Capability section that tells us this case can fit graphics cards up to 315mm.

BITFENIX NOVA MESH CLEARANCE
With just ~315mm of clearance for graphics cards, the budget-friendly Bitfenix Nova Mesh cannot hold the large Gigabyte AORUS Master.

So, sadly, another case that cannot hold the RTX 4090. But, as the BitFenix Nova Mesh ARGB is a budget PC case, it probably isn’t an option you’d want to use with such a high-end graphics card anyways.

Some Cases that Can Hold the Gigabyte AORUS Master

  • Lian Li Lancool III
  • Fractal Design Torrent
  • Fractal Design Meshify 2
  • Corsair 7000D
  • NZXT H7 Flow

Note: This isn’t all of the cases that can fit the AORUS Master, but a handful of some popular options that can.

2. Air CPU Cooler Clearance (Height)

Air Cooler Clearance

Some air CPU coolers are incredibly bulky and, as a result, if you’re planning on using an air cooler in your build, you need to ensure they will work with the other components you’ve chosen.

The two ways air CPU coolers can create clearance issues are:

  1. They are too tall to fit in your case
  2. They block the installation of memory sticks that have taller heat spreaders

In this section, we’ll focus on CPU cooler height. (We’ll discuss RAM height issues below.)

Checking for CPU cooler height restrictions is the exact same process as checking for graphics card length restrictions.

To find whether or not a CPU cooler will work in a given case, first you find the height of the cooler you’re considering, and then you find the CPU cooler height restriction for the case you want to use.

Let’s use the ever popular Noctua NH-D15 CPU cooler and try and find some cases that it will and won’t work with.

So, first, we need to find the height of the NH-D15.

This is as simple as doing a Google search for it, pulling up the product page on Noctua’s website, and finding the listed dimensions.

On Noctua’s product page for the NH-D15, it lists two different heights: one with the fan installed, and one without the fan installed.

NH-D15 Height
Noctua’s NH-D15 is one of the bulkiest air coolers on the market and measures in at 165mm tall.

You will definitely will want the fan installed. So, the full height of the NH-D15 is 165mm.

Now, let’s try and find some cases that can fit it.

Example #1: Fractal Design Torrent

The Fractal Design Torrent is widely regarded as being one of the best PC cases in terms of airflow and cooling potential.

But can it hold the Noctua NH-D15?

Let’s check by searching for fractal design torrent on Google to find the product page on Fractal’s website.

Clicks on the Specifications tab and scrolling down to the Compatibility section we can see that the Fractal Design Torrent can support CPU coolers up to 188mm tall.

FRACTAL TORRENT CLEARANCE
With 188mm of clearance height for CPU coolers, the Fractal Torrent is one of the few cases available that can easily fit the NH-D15.

So, you can safely fit the Noctua NH-D15 into the Torrent.

Example #2: Lian Li Lancool 205M

Lian Li makes a lot of good cases. But their Lancool 205M is a great value option for anyone who is looking for a slightly smaller case.

Despite its compact nature, can this micro-ATX case hold the beastly NH-D15?

Let’s check Amazon this time to see if we can find the Lancool 205M’s CPU cooler height restrictions directly from a retailer…

Putting lian li lancool 205m into Amazon’s search bar pulls up this product page.

Scrolling down about a third of the way down the page, we get to a table that lists some specifications, including the CPU clearance.

From this table, we see that the Lancool 205M can fit CPU coolers up to 160mm tall.

LIAN LI 205M CLEARANCE
While 160mm of clearance will be enough to fit many solid air coolers, it is not enough to fit the NH-D15.

Or, in other words, the Lancool 205M cannot house the 165mm tall NH-D15.

Example #3: Corsair 4000D Airflow

Corsair’s 4000D Airflow is the smallest and cheapest option in Corsair’s x000D lineup, but it is by no means a low-end case. In fact, with a roomy interior and good airflow out-of-the-box, it is one of the best case options for under $100.

But, can it hold the NH-D15?

We’ll pull up the 4000D’s listing on Newegg to see…

Searcing for 4000D airflow on Newegg, we find the case’s product listing here.

By checking the Specs tab and scrolling down to the Dimensions & Weight section, we can see all listed clearances, including that the 4000D can hold CPU coolers up to 170mm tall.

Corsair 4000D CPU Cooler Clearance
Corsair’s 4000D offers 170mm of clearance height for CPU coolers. That gives it just enough room to fit in the NH-D15.

So, the NH-D15 will just fit into the 4000D.

More Cases that Can Hold the Noctua NH-D15

  • Lian Li Lancool III
  • NZTX H7 Flow
  • Montech Air 903 MAX
  • DeepCool CH370
  • Phanteks NV5

Note: This isn’t all of the cases that can house the NH-D15, but a handful of some popular options that can.

3. RAM Height Clearance

RAM Height Clearance

Now we come to a slightly more difficult clearance issue to sort out: RAM height clearance.

Some air coolers are so big and bulky that they extend far out over the DIMM slots on your motherboard. And, as there are certain memory kits that have tall heat spreaders, there are scenarios where these bulky CPU coolers won’t physically be able to be installed because of the taller RAM sticks.

Furthermore, there are still alot of CPU cooler manufacturers that do not provide us with a specification that will tell us the maximum height of the RAM we can use.

So, choosing the right memory kit may not be as simple as finding the RAM height from the manufacturer and comparing it with a listed RAM clearance from a CPU cooler manufactuer.

You can do that in some cases. But not all.

If no direction is given from the manufacturer, the best way to find RAM that will work with the CPU cooler you want to choose is to do a Google search for the cooler in question and then add terms like ram clearance or ram comptibility to the end of it.

Using the DeepCool Assassin III As an Example

We’ve used the Noctua NH-D15 as an example in some of the scenarios above, but Noctua actually provides us with a RAM height clearance number (32mm). So, we’ll use an air cooler that is equally as large and bulky air for our RAM height clearance example: the DeepCool Assassin III.

The spec sheet on DeepCool’s product listing for the Assassin III doesn’t give us any information on RAM clearance, with exception of the following image:

DeepCool ASSASSIN III Dimensions - Ram Clearance
The DeepCool’s dimension diagram is a bit misleading in terms of how tall of memory it can fit. While it says there are 49mm of clearance between the heatsink and the motherboard, it doesn’t mention how much clearance there will be below the fan and the motherboard.

We can see that there is 49mm of clearance between the bottom of the heatsink. However, that number will clearly be less with the left-hand fan installed as that will be the fan that hovers over your DIMM slots. And, you don’t want to spend ~$90 on this CPU cooler and not be able to use both of its fans.

So, to get a more accurate mearure of RAM clearance for the Assassin III, we’ll have to do a search for deepcool assassin iii ram clearance.

The first result for me is a listing from BH Photo & Video, which states:

With its 2″ clearance height for RAM and 5.4″ width, this CPU cooler is made to fit onto most ATX, M-ATX, and ITX motherboards…

However, the 2″ figure is just representing the 49mm of clearance under the heatsink. So, on we search…

The second result for me is a Linus Tech Tips forum post that ends up giving us the information we are looking for, but I initially skipped over it for the third result, which was from DeepCool’s support site…

It says…

The RAM clearance for the Assassin III air cooler is 32mm, and the height comes in at 165mm tall. If you want to clear more room for RAM with higher profiles, you can mount the fan higher up the heatsink to a maximum of 54mm of RAM clearance, but you will have to keep in mind, for every mm higher you mount the fan, the taller the unit’s overall height will be. So, make sure that is taken into consideration.

Or, in other words, when the Assassin III is configured as intended (with both 140mm fans installed), the cooler only allows for RAM with a maximum height of just 32mm. I can tell you from experience that if you were to stick to the 32mm guideline, you will mostly be limited to using a memory kit that doesn’t come with a heatspreader.

Of course, that won’t really effect your memory’s performance, and the Assassin III is so big it won’t be a problem from an aesthetic standpoint.

However, you could use RAM taller with the Assassin III by adjusting the mount height of the fan that will sit over the DIMM slots on your motherboard (as the support article above mentions). This won’t be the ideal setup, but if you need the extra RAM clearance, this will be the only way to get it.

Just note, though, that the higher you move that fan, the taller the cooler will become. So, if you purchased the 165mm-tall Assassin III to go with your Corsair 4000D case (which offers 170mm of clearance for CPU coolers), you will only be able to move the Assassin III’s fan up 5mm.

Ultimately, the Assassin III represents the extreme in CPU cooler/RAM height clearance issues. Even other well-regarded air coolers (like DeepCool’s AK620 or be quiet!’s Dark Rock Pro) will work with the majority of memory kits. But, it is definitely a clearance issue you should be aware of.

You could always forego the issue of CPU cooler and RAM clearance height by opting for an AIO cooler. But then, of course, you might run into clearance issues there as well…

4. AIO/Radiator Clearance

Radiator Compatibility - Clearance

We probably could have included AIOs as a compatibility issue in the section above (we did touch on it briefly) as radiator sizes are standardized.

However, there are certain instances where an AIO (and its radiator/fan configuration) might be compatible with a case, but due to its thicker radiator, or because of a large VRM heatink on your motherboard, or because you’re using a memory kit that has a tall heatsink on it, the AIO’s radiator might not actually fit.

Or sometimes, a specific radiator size might only be compatible with a case in a certain configuration (as you’ll see in an example below.)

In this section we’ll discuss both how to tell what size radiator a particular case can fit, as well as how to ensure that the AIO cooler doesn’t cause clearance issues with the rest of your build.

AIO/Radiator Compatibility

Since radiator sizes are standardized, it is fairly easy to pick a compatible AIO cooler for your build.

You will just need to check and see if the case you have chosen can accommodate the radiator length of the cooler you are considering.

Radiator Compatibility
Along with listing radiator compatibility in their spec sheet, many case manufacturers are also providing marketing materials like this that show the radiator sizes their cases can hold. (Corsair’s 4000D / Phantek’s P400A)

And, since case manufacturer’s provide the lengths of radiators they can support in their spec sheets (and sometimes in their marketing material), and because AIO coolers often list their radiator length right in the product name, the process for determining compatibility is simple.

Let’s take an example…

Example: Finding A Compatible AIO for the Phanteks P400A

Let’s use the P400A as our case of choice and let’s see if we can find an AIO cooler that will work with it.

From the P400A’s product page on Phanteks’ website, we see that the case can hold 360mm, 280mm, and 240mm radiators at the front of the case.

Note: It can also hold 120mm and 140mm radiators as well, but smaller AIO choices aren’t usually great options for non-SFF builds.

That means you can focus your search on 360mm, 280mm, and 240mm AIOs.

One top AIO cooler option is Arctic’s Liquid Freezer II lineup. Will the P400A fit a Liquid Freezer II in it?

Let’s see what options Arctic has…

From their product page, they offer the Liquid Freezer II in the following sizes:

  • 420mm
  • 360mm
  • 280mm
  • 240mm

So, the answer is: all of Arctic’s Liquid Freezer II AIO coolers will fit in the P400A, with exception of the 420mm option.

And, really, finding a compatible AIO cooler is as simple as seeing what size radiators a case can accommodate, deciding which of the compatible radiator sizes you want to use, and then searching for that specific radiator size follow by the term aio cooler.

However…

Radiator Clearance Issues

Just because a case says it can hold a 360mm radiator does not necessarily mean it will hold any 360mm AIOs in all scenarios.

Some AIOs come with thinner radiators and some, like Arctic’s Liquid Freezer II lineup, come with thicker radiators.

If you account for the thickness of the radiator and the fans that must be mounted on the radiator, AIOs can take up a decent amount of space inside your case.

Often times, people purchase AIOs based solely on radiator length and find that the AIO won’t physically fit with their other components.

In other situations, a radiator may only fit in a specific configuration like the following…

Example #1

Take this Reddit post for example…

The user purchased a 280mm AIO to go on the top panel of a Lian Li 011 Air Mini case that lists support for 280mm radiators on its top panel in its spec sheet.

Kraken x63 - Lian Li 011 Air Mini
The 280mm Kraken x63 will not fit inside the Lian Li 011 on the top panel when the 7-slot motherboard mounting panel is used.

However, as you can see from the picture, it does not fit because the bulky VRM heatsink prevents it from sliding all the way back.

In this scenario, the user could have avoided their mistake by diving further into the case’s listing page on Lian Li’s website.

While the 011 Air Mini’s spec sheet says it can support 280mm radiators on the top panel, the section on modular back panels shows that a 280mm AIO can only be supported in the 5-slot mode.

Air Mini 011 - 7 Slot Mode
As you can see from the provided graphic from Lian Li’s website, the 011 Air Mini cannot hold radiators on the top panel of its case when the 7 Slot motherboard mounting panel is used.

This is a bit confusing, but what it means is that the Air Mini comes with two different panels that you can use to mount your motherboard. One is designed for holding standard ATX motherboards (the 7-slot panel) and leaves less clearance at the top of the case.

The other (the 5-slot panel) is designed to hold mini-ITX or micro-ATX motherboards and mounts the motherboard lower in the case so that it provides enough room to house radiators on the top panel of the case.

All this is a long-winded way of saying that the Air Mini will only hold a 280mm radiator on the top panel when the 5-slot panel is used.

It’s pretty easy to see how the user got mixed up in this scenario. The spec sheet makes no mention of this discrepancy. Lian Li should have mentioned this difference in the specifications as that is where most users will go to determine compatibility. Instead, they placed this information in a section that looks more like marketing material.

Example #2

In this example, this Reddit user finds that he cannot install his memory because the fans on his radiator are getting in the way.

Example #3

Here is another instance where an AIO’s radiator and fans cannot be installed. This time it is the bulky VRM at the top of the motherboard that prevents installation.

In most of these scenarios, the user will either have to move their AIO to the front panel of their case. If it won’t fit there, they’ll have to return it and get something that is compatible.

However, even if it will fit on the front panel, just remember that installing your AIO’s radiator and fans at the front of your case will likely reduce the length of graphics card clearance you have. So, if you’ve purchased a graphics card that will just fit in your case, you may not be able to mount your AIO’s radiator to the front panel either.

Ultimately, if you want to put an AIO cooler in your system, a bit more will go into it than just choosing an AIO that has a radiator length that is supported by your case.

In most scenarios, if you follow the basic compatibility and clearance guidelines provided by component manufacturers, you should be fine. But, you’d be much better off going the extra step when picking parts to ensure everything works together when it comes time to assemble your system.

How to Tell if An AIO Will Work

You can check the specifications on your AIO cooler to find the total thickness of the radiator and fan configuration to give you more insight.

For instance, Arctic’s Liquid Freezer II AIOs come with 38mm thick radiators. And, the 140mm fans they offer (on their 420mm or 280mm AIOs) are 27mm thick for a total thickness of 65mm.

Arctic Liquid Freezer II 360
Thanks to thicker radiators, Arctic’s Liquid Freezer II AIO coolers are able to outperform a lot of their competitors.

Their AIOs that feature 120mm fans (360mm or 240mm AIOs) are a bit thinner at 25mm thick and with the same 38mm radiator, brings the total thickness to 63mm.

In some instances, case manufacturers will tell you how thick of radiators they can support. As an example, Lian Li’s LANCOOL III offers compatibility for up to 420mm long radiators on its top panel at a maximum of 75mm thickness.

Lian Li LANCOOL III Fan & Radiator Compatibility
Lian Li’s LANCOOL III can support up to 420mm long and 75mm thick radiators on its top panel.

So in this instance, an Arctic Liquid Freezer II will likely fit on the top panel of the Lian Li LANCOOL III.

But, as we saw in the example above, sometimes even checking the manufacturer’s specifications won’t be enough.

The best way, then, to ensure that our AIO will be compatible with our case is to search and see if anyone else has successfully used the same combination.

Let’s check and see if anyone else has used the Arctic Freezer II 420mm AIO inside the Lian Li LANCOOL III just to make sure we won’t run into any problems…

We’ll search for lancool iii arctic 420 on Google…

Here’s a YouTube video of someone who was able to fit the Arctic Liquid Freezer II 420 in the LANCOOL III.

And, here’s a forum post on LTT of a user who was also able to get the two to work together.

In both scenarios, the builders appear to be using motherboards that have bulky heatinks on them and, in the case of the YouTube video, the builder is using Corsair’s Dominator memory, which features a fairly tall heatsink.

So, given what the spec sheets say for both components and real examples of others who have used the Liquid Freezer II 420 in the LANCOOL III, we’d feel pretty confident using these two components together.

The bottom line is that, if you want to use an AIO in your build, you’re really going to have to do your due dilligence to ensure compatibility. Using a cases spec sheet and supported radiator lengths will work a lot of the time, but if you want 100% accuracy, you should search for others who have used the same configuration.

And, really, it’s not a bad idea to use this strategy for all of your components.

V. How Much to Money to Allocate to Each Component

There’s no best way to decide how much money you will spend on each component.

If you’re going to use your PC solely for gaming, then it makes sense to allocate more money to your GPU.

If you’re going to use your PC for some gaming, but you’ll also be using it for productivity tasks like video editing, machine learning, graphics design, content creation, etc. then you’ll want to allocate less to your GPU and more to your CPU, RAM, and storage (SSD).

Below we’ve highlighted a rough guideline for budget allocation for both large budgets and small budgets.

High-End Gaming PC (over $1,000)

  • GPU: ~40-50%
  • CPU: ~15-20%
  • MOBO: ~8-12%
  • PSU: ~8-12%
  • CASE: ~5-10%
  • COOLER: ~3-7%
  • STORAGE: ~3-7%
  • RAM: ~3-7%

Budget Gaming PC (under $1,000)

  • GPU: ~35-45%
  • CPU: ~15-20%
  • MOBO: ~10-15%
  • PSU: ~10-12%
  • CASE: ~7-10%
  • STORAGE: ~5-7%
  • RAM: ~5-7%

Note: These estimates are rough, geared towards pure gaming performance, and not meant to be taken as absolute guidelines.

GPU Allocation

For pure gaming performance, as your budget increases, so should the amount you allocate to your GPU.

This is because once you’ve hit a certain threshold, moving to the next higher tier on your CPU, RAM, and SSD will provide minimal in-game performance gains, whereas moving to the next GPU tier will provide a noticeable increase.

The opposite is true as your budget decreases—especially into extreme budget ranges. You’ll need to spend less on your GPU in order to be able to fit in all necessary components.

Example Partlists

If you want to see what a list of compatible components for a given budget looks like, check out the following posts:

Both of these posts feature multiple partlists that you can use as-is, or customize to your liking.

It’s Time to Build…

Once you’ve chosen your components, you’ll next need to learn how to assemble all of your parts into a working computer. There are a ton of excellent build guides on the internet to help you out.

We have one you can use here:

How to Build A Gaming PC (Step-By-Step Guide)

If you’ve made it all the way through this guide, you are as ready to start choosing your components as you will ever be. We hope you have a lot of fun choosing the parts for your build and putting it all together.

Get Help: We’ve tried to cover the entire scope of choosing components for a gaming PC build. However, it is such a broad topic that we have likely missed some information. If you have a question, or you want to point out something we should have included, please let us know in the comment section below.

Hey, I’m Brent. I’ve been building PCs and writing about building PCs for a long time. Through TechGuided.com, I've helped thousands of people learn how to build their own computers. I’m an avid gamer and tech enthusiast, too. On YouTube, I build PCs, review laptops, components, and peripherals, and hold giveaways.

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