Computer Part Suggestions for Jacob

On episode 76 of Supercharged, Jacob wrote in with a question about what parts he should get in order to build a reasonably powerful gaming computer.  Although PC gaming is not necessarily my area of expertise, I do know how to build a powerful machine for a great price.  Here are a couple of builds I came up with and a few additional options to alter them for more (or less) power if desired.

Please note that prices indicated on this page were the current prices on Amazon at the time of this writing.  They may have changed with the passage of time, as many products on Amazon tend to do.

the Big Ass power tower

This is the most powerful machine and the largest, which increases expandability compared to building a similar machine in a more compact case (think Mini ITX).  It doesn't make a huge difference in the cost, but it will be a little bit more.  If expandability is an important factor this build is obviously the way to go.  If not, or if size is more important, skip to the next one.  They're almost identical aside from the case and motherboard.

  • Corsair Carbide Series Black 500R Mid Tower Computer Case ($107.99) - Even though I prefer the less-expensive and smaller BitFenix Phenom (discussed in the other build below) I only still own one of my homemade computers.  My boyfriend still has my BitFenix Prodigy build but the one I use as a media server (for its high processing power) uses an older version of this case.  They look almost identical but this one has some minor improvements.  While I love BitFenix's case, this one wins out on everything but size and, in my opinion, appearance.  It's easier to build in because it's bigger and it offers much more expandability.  If you really want to shove a bunch of drives in your machine today or someday, you'll want to build in a case like this.  Most people, however, will do just fine with a smaller and less expensive option (like the other build in this post).
  • Gigabyte GA-Z97X-UD3H-BK Black Edition ($149.00) - 
  • Intel Core i7-4790K Processor ($339.99) - Absolutely overkill in the processor department, but this is as fast as it gets.  If you want to spend less without taking a significant hit in processing power, you'll pay more than $100 less for the Intel Core i5-4690K.
  • EVGA GeForce GTX 960 Super Clocked 2GB GDDR5 128bit, PCI-E 3.0, 2x Dual-Link DVI-I, 3, DP, G-SYNC Ready Graphics Card (199.99) - Technically this machine doesn't need a graphics card because the integrated graphics are powerful enough to get most things done, but obviously aren't adequate for any serious gaming.  This card is plenty powerful but won't break the bank.  You may want to upgrade in a couple of years depending on what newer games require, but like many upgrades in a homemade computer you can do that pretty easily.  (Check out the "Other Options" section below for where you can find other graphics cards that can cut costs or add more GPU power to your system.)
  • Crucial Ballistix Tactical 8GB of DDR3 1600 RAM ($49.99): You'll probably be fine with 8GB of RAM, but for another $50 you can have 16GB instead.  If you're pretty sure you'll need more than 8GB, double up.  If you're not sure, you can always upgrade later.  You'll have built the computer after all, and this is about the easiest upgrade you could perform.  So I say wait and see unless you know you'll need 16GB (or more) for some reason.
  • Corsair CS Series 650 Watt ATX Modular and Efficient Power Supply ($89.99) - A 650W power supply is overkill for a machine that's most likely going to have a couple of drives in it, but it's the same price as the same series' 550W option so you might as well go with the bigger one!  Because this power supply is modular, it will make the building process easier since you only need to attach the cables you're going to use rather than find somewhere to stuff the ones you don't need in a dark corner of your case.
  • Samsung 850 EVO 250GB 2.5-Inch SATA III Internal SSD ($89.99) - You don't have to get an SSD.  You could get four times the space with a traditional hard drive for less money (see below).  That said, the speed difference is insane.  You're probably very aware of this, but it unfortunately doesn't go without saying that an SSD should be a mandatory component.  It technically isn't, but you get 250GB for under $90.  That's a really good deal.  My first 240GB SSD was $600.  It broke after two months.  Nowadays SSDs are much more reliable, faster, and very cheap for what you get.  Getting both an SSD (for the boot drive) and a hard drive (for excess data) is really ideal.  Even if you don't have a ton of data, you can back up to the internal drive (as well as to at least one other location not located in the same residence as the computer) and easily keep multiple copies of your data without much effort.
  • WD Blue 1TB Desktop 3.5 Inch SATA 6Gb/s 7200rpm Internal Hard Drive ($52.34) - You don't need to put in a hard drive and an SSD.  Feel free to leave one out if you like.  I say the SSD is more important to the general perceived speed of your machine, so I'd pass on the drive unless you need additional storage.  A terabyte only costs you about $50 so it's kind of a drop in the bucket compared to other things.  That said, if you don't need it now you can always get it later.  It's another upgrade that's pretty easy.  Also, if you already have external hard drives you can use those instead of adding an internal option.  That's less clean and contained, but it also keeps you from spending money on something you don't need.

Total Cost Range: $885.29 - $1219.26

As I will say for the other build (and pretty much any build), go with the cheaper option and through in an SSD.  An SSD will add another $90 to the cost but give such a major performance boost you'll never go back—something you and most people probably know already at this point in time.  If you leave out the hard drive it'll only be about $38 more, but I think it's worth getting both if you don't have an external to use for additional storage.  That said, unless I'm negligent my disk usage caps out around 200GB in most cases.  I only start filling up space fast with video editing, so I have an external on my desktop machine for that.  But if I didn't own a retina iMac for the great screen, I'd have built a computer similar to this one with a few internal drives.  It's just cleaner and takes up less space.

The Mini Power Package

This build offers a powerful alternative to the above in a smaller case (and a more attractive one, in my opinion).  The components aren't a huge departure from the Power Tower, but you'll save a little money and get a nicer case (in my opinion).  There are a few cheaper Mini ITX cases than the one recommended here, but I've never built in any other that I actually liked.  Most of the time they are simply too small and that make it extraordinarily difficult to get everything in the right place.  When a big graphics card is in the mix, it's better to have some size.  BitFenix's cases offer a nice compromise of size, space, and expandability.

  • BitFenix Phenom Mini-ITX Tower Case ($89.99) - I love this case.  It's not too small, not too big, and pretty easy to build in (aside from a few minor caveats that are easily resolved if you RTFM).  Despite its small size it is very feature rich and can fit a lot of components.
  • Gigabyte GA-Z97N-WIFI LGA 1150 Motherboard ($128.95) - A solid motherboard with a decent array of ports and built-in Wi-Fi capabilities.
  • Intel Core i7-4790K Processor ($339.99) - Absolutely overkill in the processor department, but this is as fast as it gets.  If you want to spend less without taking a significant hit in processing power, you'll pay more than $100 less for the Intel Core i5-4690K.
  • EVGA GeForce GTX 960 Super Clocked 2GB GDDR5 128bit, PCI-E 3.0, 2x Dual-Link DVI-I, 3, DP, G-SYNC Ready Graphics Card (199.99) - Technically this machine doesn't need a graphics card because the integrated graphics are powerful enough to get most things done, but obviously aren't adequate for any serious gaming.  This card is plenty powerful but won't break the bank.  You may want to upgrade in a couple of years depending on what newer games require, but like many upgrades in a homemade computer you can do that pretty easily.  (Check out the "Other Options" section below for where you can find other graphics cards that can cut costs or add more GPU power to your system.)
  • Crucial Ballistix Tactical 8GB of DDR3 1600 RAM ($49.99): You'll probably be fine with 8GB of RAM, but for another $50 you can have 16GB instead.  If you're pretty sure you'll need more than 8GB, double up.  If you're not sure, you can always upgrade later.  You'll have built the computer after all, and this is about the easiest upgrade you could perform.  So I say wait and see unless you know you'll need 16GB (or more) for some reason.
  • Corsair CS Series 650 Watt ATX Modular and Efficient Power Supply ($89.99) - A 650W power supply is overkill for a machine that's most likely going to have a couple of drives in it, but it's the same price as the same series' 550W option so you might as well go with the bigger one!  Because this power supply is modular, it will make the building process easier since you only need to attach the cables you're going to use rather than find somewhere to stuff the ones you don't need in a dark corner of your case.
  • Samsung 850 EVO 250GB 2.5-Inch SATA III Internal SSD ($89.99) - You don't have to get an SSD.  You could get four times the space with a traditional hard drive for less money (see below).  That said, the speed difference is insane.  You're probably very aware of this, but it unfortunately doesn't go without saying that an SSD should be a mandatory component.  It technically isn't, but you get 250GB for under $90.  That's a really good deal.  My first 240GB SSD was $600.  It broke after two months.  Nowadays SSDs are much more reliable, faster, and very cheap for what you get.  Getting both an SSD (for the boot drive) and a hard drive (for excess data) is really ideal.  Even if you don't have a ton of data, you can back up to the internal drive (as well as to at least one other location not located in the same residence as the computer) and easily keep multiple copies of your data without much effort.
  • WD Blue 1TB Desktop 3.5 Inch SATA 6Gb/s 7200rpm Internal Hard Drive ($52.34) - You don't need to put in a hard drive and an SSD.  Feel free to leave one out if you like.  I say the SSD is more important to the general perceived speed of your machine, so I'd pass on the drive unless you need additional storage.  A terabyte only costs you about $50 so it's kind of a drop in the bucket compared to other things.  That said, if you don't need it now you can always get it later.  It's another upgrade that's pretty easy.  Also, if you already have external hard drives you can use those instead of adding an internal option.  That's less clean and contained, but it also keeps you from spending money on something you don't need.

Total Cost Range: $847.24 - $1181.21

The base model machine is closer to the one I'd build.  The expensive version is not worth the extra money, I think.  I'd take all your cheapest options and throw in an SSD.  That'll cost you $937.23 which fits better into your budget and will feel as fast as the more expensive version with extra RAM and an unnecessarily fast Core i7 processor.

Other Options

What else?  I usually base my builds around the hackintosh king's (tonymacx86) selections whether the machine is going to run OS X or not.  His choices are very well supported and there's a low risk of compatibility issues.  While my builds are not hugely different from his, I made some price-conscious choices and centered my recommendations around a capable gaming machine.  These are not the most powerful options or the cheapest, so if you want to make some changes to these builds so they suit your needs better you should check out the CustoMac guide.  Again, his recommendations are OS agnostic.  In fact, they're probably more compatible with Windows than any other OS.  But the upside is that you can run pretty much any OS on them if you ever decide to swap or run multiple.  You can by less versatile components, but I have yet to see a price or performance advantage in builds that service the majority of people.  Super cheap builds and super powerful ones would require some departure from this plan in some cases, but we're not trying to build either of those types of machines.  In this case, his selections will service the very large majority of people's needs.

If you want more suggestions for graphics cards or whatever else, visit CustoMac for many, many more.  If that's not enough, ChooseMyPC will generate a build based on your budget.  You know, it'll do what took me an hour in a matter of seconds.

ADDITIONAL KNOWLEDGE

Buying parts is only the first step.  Building your first machine can be very intimidating without some help.  Whitson Gordon (editor-in-chief of Lifehacker) made a great series of videos on building a machine and many other resources.  Check these out for some assistance with the entire building process:

Good luck!  When you're done, send us a picture at supercharged@toasterdog.com.