Figuring out all the parts needed to build a gaming PC might seem daunting, but there isn’t too much to learn. And once you know which gaming PC hardware components are essential, building a gaming PC should be pretty simple.
Importantly, building one yourself should work out cheaper than buying a prebuilt gaming PC, and will allow you to customise your setup exactly how you want it. Plus, you’ll get to learn a lot about your computer and how to maintain it and upgrade it in future.
But learning the names of all the different components you’ll need is only half of the battle, because you should also understand what these different components do and how they interact with each other. Learning this will help you make the best choice of hardware and will leave you confident that you can handle any problems your computer might throw at you in future.
PC Parts Compatibility
Before we begin discussing which parts are needed to build a gaming PC, it’s important to keep compatibility in mind. Many components only work alongside certain types of other components, so if you don’t check for compatibility between them all you could end up building a computer that doesn’t work.
Fortunately, there are ways to check compatibility between your gaming PC’s different parts. You can check the manufacturer’s website—for example, if you know you want an Intel Core i5-12600K CPU, you can check the CPU’s ‘Compatible Products’ section on Intel’s website and find the names of compatible motherboard chipsets.
It can take a while to do this for every component, but thankfully there’s an easier way. A website like pcpartpicker will not only find some of the best deals for components you select but will also check to make sure they’re all compatible with each other.
Gaming PC Components List
Here are the essential components for building a gaming PC:
- Central Processing Unit (CPU)
- Random Access Memory (RAM)
- Hard Disk Drive (HDD) or Solid-State Drive (SSD)
- Graphics Card
- Power Supply Unit (PSU)
The only time you might skip one of these components is when you want to build a super cheap gaming PC, in which case you might opt for a CPU with integrated graphics instead of buying a dedicated graphics card.
The motherboard is the circuit board that other PC components on this list connect to so that they can communicate with one another. There are three main things to check a motherboard for: its voltage regulation, its compatibility, and its expansion capabilities.
Voltage regulation describes how well the motherboard delivers voltage to all the different connected components. To discover how good a particular motherboard’s voltage regulation is you should check reviews and benchmarks online.
Regarding compatibility, the main thing to check is whether it supports the CPU you want to use. You should also check that it supports the same DDR version that your RAM uses (DDR4, DDR5, etc.). You’ll also have the choice between different motherboard form factors, with ATX being the most common.
Finally, you should ensure that the motherboard has enough of the correct expansion and storage slots for whatever devices you’ll be using, and that these expansion slots use the standard that you want (such as NVMe for some SSDs or PCIe 5.0 for some expansion cards). You should also think about how you want to connect to the internet—if you need WiFi and it doesn’t come built into your motherboard then you’ll need to buy an adapter.
Further Reading on Motherboards
- The Best Motherboards for Gaming
- How to Choose A Motherboard: 3 Quick Things You Need to Consider
- Micro-ATX vs Mini-ITX vs ATX: What’s the Difference?
Central Processing Unit (CPU)
The CPU is often called the ‘brain’ of the computer because it’s what processes and computes all the instructions given to it by a program. You can think of the CPU as the ‘computer’ itself, and all the other components as devices that the CPU delegates different tasks to for efficiency.
Most current-gen, midrange, four- or six-core CPUs are good enough for gaming today—you often don’t need one of the very best gaming CPUs. But if you want to use apps that require more horsepower, it’s worth opting for something high-end.
Just remember to ensure the CPU will be compatible with your motherboard by checking the manufacturer’s site or using pcpartpicker.
You’ll also need to buy a third-party CPU cooler if the CPU doesn’t come with its own, or if you want a better one. AIO liquid coolers are a great choice if you can afford one—good ones are quiet and cool the CPU very efficiently.
Further Reading on CPUs
- Intel Core i3 vs i5 vs i7 vs i9: Which CPU is Best for You?
- AMD Ryzen 7 vs Intel Core i7: Which is Better for Gaming?
- APU vs CPU: Which Processor Type is Better for Gaming?
Random Access Memory (RAM)
RAM is like your computer’s short-term memory, feeding the CPU instructions to process. It also stores the most important data that the CPU will need to rely on temporarily while it runs programs.
Because the CPU relies on RAM to feed it instructions and data, to get your computer running as fast as possible you need RAM that can feed the CPU this info as fast as the CPU can process it. And it needs to have enough capacity to store as much data as your CPU might need.
Two 8GB RAM sticks (16GB total) running in dual channels on the motherboard is usually more than enough for gaming today. The RAM’s speed (higher is better) and latency timings (lower is better) should also increase performance.
You should also ensure RAM is compatible with your motherboard and CPU by checking whether these support DDR3, DDR4, or DDR5 RAM.
Further Reading on RAM
- DDR4 vs DDR5: Which Should You Choose?
- What Does RAM Do? (Computer Memory Explained)
- How Much Does RAM Affect FPS in Games?
- Is 8GB RAM Enough for Gaming in 2023?
Hard Disk Drive (HDD) or Solid-State Drive (SSD)
HDDs and SSDs are types of mass storage and act as your computer’s long-term memory. Data stored on them—operating system, files, folders, and programs—persists after the system’s been shut down. They feed program instructions and data into RAM which then gives this to your CPU for processing.
HDDs are a good choice if you need lots of cheap storage, but SSDs are much quicker than HDDs. NVMe SSDs are the quickest of the bunch and transfer data according to the NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express) specification on compatible motherboards. They’re not too expensive anymore, either, making them the perfect choice for a gaming setup.
If you can afford it, a 1TB NVMe SSD should give you enough capacity to store many games and files and it should also be speedy enough to allow for quick Windows booting, file access and transfer, and game loads.
Just remember to check that your motherboard supports NVMe SSDs, and make sure it supports your chosen SSD’s listed PCIe generation, too.
Further Reading on SSDs/HDDs
- SSD vs HDD for Gaming: Do SSDs Make Your Games Run Faster?
- Western Digital Blue vs. Black vs. Red
- What to Look for in an SSD & Hard Drive
The graphics card is what handles the rendering of in-game graphics, which it does better than the CPU because it has many ‘shader cores’ that work on geometrical and other such computations for rendering.
Although the CPU is the most important component for any PC, once you’ve got a midrange (or better) CPU, getting one of the best graphics cards should give you the biggest performance boost for gaming.
The best way to figure out which graphics card to go for given your budget is to check online reviews and benchmark comparisons. There are other things to consider, too, such as that 20-series and 30-series NVIDIA cards offer hardware-accelerated Ray Tracing technology.
Any graphics card should work in any motherboard that has a PCIe slot for it to plug in to, so compatibility isn’t usually an issue. However, you should try to use a modern motherboard that can offer some of the fastest PCIe transfer speeds for the graphics card if it supports it.
Finally, if you’re trying to build a cheap system, you might opt for a CPU that has an integrated GPU and forego a dedicated graphics card. These systems won’t run games as well as ones with dedicated graphics, but some of them will be able to run modern games at 1080p on low or medium settings at playable framerates.
Further Reading on Graphics Cards
- Best Budget Graphics Cards for 2023
- How to Choose A Graphics Card
- GDDR5 vs GDDR6: What’s the Difference?
Power Supply Unit (PSU)
The PSU is what takes AC current from an outlet and converts it into DC power for your computer to use. When deciding on a power supply there are three main things to consider: whether it’s modular or non-modular, what its wattage is, and what its efficiency rating is.
A modular PSU is one that lets you connect or disconnect cables from it as needed, allowing for easier cable management. And while non-modular power supplies might be slightly more efficient in their power conversions, the difference is usually very small.
Each power supply is rated to give a certain maximum wattage, and this needs to be more than enough to power all your components. To figure out what PSU wattage you need you should add up the maximum wattages of all your components and make sure the PSU can output a little above this. In most systems, a 750W PSU with a good efficiency rating should be sufficient.
A PSU’s ’80 PLUS’ efficiency rating tells us how efficiently it converts AC to DC power. The lower the rating the less power will be converted from the outlet to power your system, which might mean that, for example, a 750W PSU will only actually give your system 650W. Opting for a ‘Gold’ rated PSU or higher is preferable because these are rated to be about 90% efficient or better under all load levels.
Further Reading on PSUs
- The Best Power Supplies for 2023
- What is A Modular Power Supply? Modular vs Non-Modular PSUs
- How to Choose A Power Supply: 5 Things to Know Before Buying A PSU
The computer case is what houses all the above hardware. Cases come in many different shapes and sizes, but most often you’ll want a full or mid tower to house an ATX build.
Apart from checking that the case can hold your kind of motherboard, you should also consider whether your other hardware will fit. For example, you’ll want to check whether it’s big enough to fit your graphics card and CPU cooler.
Other considerations mostly come down to convenience. More expensive gaming PC cases will often give you easier options for managing your cables and will have more room to add extra case fans. They might also have a shroud for your PSU to keep it separated from the rest of your system.
Further Reading on PC Cases
- Which PC Case Size is Best
- The Best Budget PC Cases (Under $50)
- How to Choose A PC Case: 4 Things to Consider Before Buying
The monitor is the screen that displays everything your computer tells it to. There’s little point having a monster gaming rig if you’re playing on an ancient screen that can’t show you what your system’s capable of.
Which monitor you should go for depends on several things, the most obvious being how powerful your PC is. If your gaming PC can run games smoothly at high resolutions, then you might consider a 1440p or even 4K resolution monitor. And if you like to play competitively, you might consider a monitor with a high refresh rate.
Most gamers with a midrange or high-end system will probably want to opt for a 27-inch monitor with 1440p resolution, or a 24-inch monitor with 1080p resolution and a high refresh rate, depending on whether you play casually or competitively. This is very dependent on your own gaming needs, though.
You should also consider buying a G-Sync or FreeSync monitor, because this technology is now relatively inexpensive and should prevent screen tearing in games with a minimal performance hit.
Further Reading on Monitors
- Is 60Hz Good for Gaming?
- Response Time vs Refresh Rate: What’s the Difference?
- Ultrawide vs Dual Monitors: Which Should You Choose?
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to choosing between different peripherals. It all comes down to your own gaming needs and your budget. For competitive gaming, you should prioritise the mouse and mouse pad, but for casual gaming you might prefer to prioritise audio gear, and if you do a lot of typing you might prioritise a quality mechanical keyboard.
Once you have your system built, the rest is down to you—go for whichever peripherals catch your eye, install Windows, and enjoy!