What Should I Buy?
One question I hear often on Twitch is “I want to get a new computer, what should I get?”. The answer is different for everyone, but I figured I should make a post to help answer this question regardless. First things first, when looking to build a new PC, you need to consider how comfortable you are working on a PC yourself or getting a friend to do so. You have three routes you can go:
1. Build a Computer Yourself (or Have a Friend Build It)
- Often lower price
- You have more control what goes into it
- You learn some valuable skills in assembly
- You can bargain hunt easier, picking up pieces over a long period of time
- Can be faster than ordering a custom built rig
Selecting the parts you want and building yourself or having a friend help build it will get you some geek cred. It is also good to learn about PCs if you want to get into PC gaming. That said, this option isn’t for everyone. It can have it’s draw backs. When something goes wrong it’s on you or a friend to trouble shoot it. You have multiple warranties to deal with in the event of an issue as well.
Also, your cable routing / show piece building skills may not be up to snuff compared to some of the experts at the boutique builders. I consider myself skilled at cable routing but the one time I ordered a computer from Digital Storm it arrived looking like a damn masterpiece inside, with super neat cable routing and tie downs along with carefully configured lighting. Consider those things when making the choice to build.
2. Buy a Custom Rig From a Boutique Vendor
- No worries about configuration
- Most vendors allow you to customize your build
- In rare cases, it can be cheaper than DIY if the vendor buys in bulk
- Expert presentation (Cable routing, lighting and paint schemes)
- Solid tech support
- Vendors test your rig to make sure it works well
This option is what I consider the happy medium between building yourself and buying a store bought PC. A boutique vendor is a small company that offers custom built PC’s with mostly off the shelf parts. You get most of the benefits of building yourself with the quality assurance of a store bought PC. If something doesn’t work, you call your vendor. They offer tech support and troubleshooting. Most vendors offer everything from small form factor cheap rigs to super expensive luxury beasts. For a price, most boutique vendors will bling out your PC with lights, paint jobs and other flair.
My personal recommendation for a boutique vendor is Digital Storm. I was impressed with the presentation of the rig I bought and they have been a pleasure to work with for any troubleshooting. I have since built another PC myself but I would buy from them again if the need arose. Another boutique vendor I have heard good things about is Origin PC.
3. Buy a PC From a Big Name Brand
- No worries about configuration
- Expert presentation
- Solid tech support
- Name brand recognition
- Unique styling
I’ll be honest, I personally prefer to stay away from big brands like Alienware, HP, Toshiba, Lenovo and other big names. The exception to that rule is laptops. The world of custom built laptops is rather small at the moment so the big name brands are kind of the only game in town (with some exceptions). For PC’s, brands like Alienware can be very expensive. It seems like there is around a 30-40% premium tacked on to their prices. That said, some of the big name rigs such as the new Alienware Area 51 have very innovative cases with unique layouts and software not seen anywhere else. If money isn’t an issue for you, by all means, go for it.
There are of course exceptions, not all name brand PC’s are style over substance and there is value to be found in some of them. But as a rule of thumb, I recommend pricing out the individual parts in some of these PC’s and seeing just how much extra you are paying for that name brand. Also, some PC manufacturers tend to over sell their PC’s capabilities. Example: I have seen several Lenovo “gaming rigs” that are not fit for much gaming at all. Be wary when buying a computer like this.
What Parts Should You Pick?
This is also a question with many answers, depending what your goals are and what your financial situation is like. New parts are always being released. Prices are always shifting. My recommendations this week may be different from what I would recommend next week as a result. However, there are a few golden rules to PC building:
- Always prioritize spending on your GPU*: In most cases, this will be your biggest bottleneck and limiting factor in your build. Unless you play a ton of real time strategy games which require high CPU power, a weaker CPU will not limit you as much as a weak GPU. Stay reasonable though, I wouldn’t go out and buy two GTX 980’s and pair them with an FX-6300 from AMD. *The caveat is that when streaming, a good CPU is absolutely needed. If capturing a console via capture card is your primary concern, put more money into your CPU.
- Get a quality power supply. Nothing is worse than getting a cheap power supply and having it either lack the power to fuel your PC or have it crap out and kill your other parts. I have heard horror stories about bad power supplies killing parts. Stick with respected brands like Corsair, Seasonic and Thermaltake. Also, if you plan on adding a second GPU in the future, buying a slightly more powerful power supply will prevent you having to upgrade in the future possibly. Plan ahead.
- Get at least 4gb of RAM. 8gb is better. This is really the minimum you need for gaming these days. Also, make sure the GPU you select has appropriate VRAM for the resolution you want to play at. More and more games require high VRAM these days as a result of the new consoles offering more for developers to work with. Go for 2gb of VRAM for sub-1080p resolutions. I would shoot for at least 3gb of VRAM on a GPU for 1080p / 1440p.
- Get second opinions on builds! Everyone has that one friend who “know’s PCs”. However, humans are fallible! Make sure your friend knows what they are talking about, ask around on forums and check compatibility on sites like PC Part Picker. I hear horrible recommendations all the time from people listening to friends who think they know what they are talking about. Hell, maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about! Double check! It pays to do your research.
If you are looking for some recommendations for specific builds, there are several websites that offer great analysis and breakdowns. Tom’s Hardware often makes great recommendations with a focus on getting good bang for your buck. Their System Builder Marathon they run each quarter often produces some great example builds. Both Digital Storm and Origin, mentioned earlier, have a solid catalog of high performance builds you can look at for inspiration. Maximum PC is another great resource for build / part recommendations.
Personally, I tend to stick with Intel for their high performance CPUs. It comes at a price, but for gaming, it is the way to go I feel. It’s not to say that AMD CPUs or APUs aren’t good, they just do not offer the performance I like. However, if you are on a budget and have a low-mid tier GPU, there’s nothing wrong with using some of AMD’s offerings.
For GPU’s, I tend to go back and forth. I use NVIDIA more often than not, but as of the time of this writing AMD has been making waves with the amazing power / performance of some of their GPUs. I think you really need to look at what each company offers and decide what matters to you. I personally like a lot of NVIDIA’s exclusive tech such as PhysX and GSYNC. That’s not to say I would never consider switching if I felt AMD offered the better value to me. It’s good to have a preference, but don’t get caught up in the “fanboy” scene and have a blind devotion to one brand over another that could end up causing you to miss out on some great products.
I hope the above tips and recommendations help you to make the right decisions and give you some inspiration when thinking about what to build. Like I stated before, it pays to do some research. I love talking about this kind of stuff so feel free to message me or ask me while I’m streaming. Leave your thoughts in the comments if you agree or have a differing point of view. Good luck with your new build!