What else do you need to have a fabulous gaming computer?
There isn’t too much to learn here. Yes, there are better types of RAM and storage mediums than others, but you need to look hard to pick ‘bad’ choices.
So with that in mind, let’s look at what you need!
RAM (System Memory)
There have been lots of discussions on RAM speed vs timings, and the amount you truly need. Even demanding games tend not to require vast amounts of system memory. What people don’t think about is how much RAM do you need to run a game with other programs running at the same time.
So you need 16GB of RAM, 32GB if memory is available, cheap and your budget stretches that far. If you want to stream games you are playing on the same computer, try to aim for 32GB straight away if you can.
If you can, get RAM that is listed at 3200MHz speed or faster and ask if XMP (Intel) or DOCP/EOCP (AMD) is enabled. If it isn’t, ask why not and get them to enable it.
The one catch to this is prebuilt Intel systems. The RAM will probably max out at 2933MHz, and that’s fine for the new Intel chips. It’s the fastest RAM will run at without an ‘overclocking’ motherboard. This makes it look weird, but it’s completely normal.
Seriously, that’s it. Without getting into the ins and outs and pros and cons of it, that will give you plenty of memory to run lots of things at once and not lose the ‘snappiness’ of using your computer.
But there is more to RAM than that surely?
Yes, there is. There are lots of timings to take into account optimised for different workloads, for example. If you are going down that road, this guide is already too basic for the advice you need, so I don’t want to muddy the waters more.
By the time you need to look at what the pros and cons are, you are looking at a lot more specific usage than gaming and streaming. Even to do non-professional video editing and the like, these specs will still give you an excellent bang for your buck.
What is this XMP that everyone talks about?
If you don’t want to know what this is, skip this section.
Still here? XMP is the overclock to your memory that lets you use the RAM you bought its advertised speed. Without XMP (or DOCP/EOCP – functionally the same thing) enabled, your RAM will run at 2133MHz by default.
The bit that scares people is that O word – overclock. Not only does it scare new computer users, but it also scares some companies. XMP will give your CPU a small overclock, but still within spec. This means you aren’t ‘overclocking’ your computer like the world record breakers, but it is easy to get confused.
Overclocking means running something at higher than its intended specification. If you try to run 3200MHz RAM at 3600MHz, that’s warranty invalidating overclocking. XMP is settings from the factory that the memory was designed for, that’s where the difference lies. It’s settings from the manufacturer, so it’s covered under warranty.
If you are buying the computer and they want to sell you ‘fast’ RAM but say XMP invalidates your warranty, go somewhere else. Don’t argue, just go buy your system from someone not trying to take advantage of you. They know that you are paying a premium for the extra speed, but not letting you use it for it’s intended purpose. That’s predatory sales tactics, so you don’t want to buy from there anyway.
How much storage do I need, and what type?
If you can, you want a 500GB NVMe drive for Windows and your essential applications. You can get away with a 256GB drive to save some cost, but 500GB will be your sweet spot.
Then you want a second drive for your games and files. I would say at least 1TB, but there are pros and cons for the type of drive you get.
SSD (Solid State Disk) is the halfway house between the faster NVMe and mechanical HDDs. SSDs can transfer many small files at once or one large file quicker than an HDD, and there are no moving parts, so they are quieter as well. Not as expensive as NVMe drives, but still costly overall.
HDDs are the slowest type of drive, but if you are just loading your games from them with your other things running off an NVMe drive, you won’t see a massive slowdown in loading times. It will be slower, but nowhere near as bad as if Windows was running off the same drive.
Why look at HDDs then? Because for the cost of a 2TB SSD, you can get a 4-6TB HDD. It’s all about how much you want to spend really.
So, ideally, you want a system that you can put a small boot NVMe and expand with larger SSD/HDD drives.
If you are looking at laptops, a lot of them come with only 1 NVMe slot these days, so you need to pay for a larger capacity NVMe drive (at least 2TB) to be comfortable.
You can repurpose the now unused smaller SSD into an external drive, but you have to buy 2 drives this way, which pushes the price up a bit.
But what about power supplies? That’s something a lot of people talk about!
If you are buying a prebuilt system, then you should have the right power supply for that system. The power supply provided is designed to run with what came with the system, so you shouldn’t have to worry.
If you are getting a shop to build your selected components, they should help you here as well. There is such a thing as too much power though, so be careful.
Generally, you want a power supply these days of between 700 and 850 Watts. If you are looking at 1080p gaming, you are in the 700W range. If you are 4K gaming, you are in the 850W range. Unless you intend to run a lot of other things at the same time (like multiple USB capture cards at the same time or lots of RGB), you should always fall within this range.
If you get a quote outside of this range, ask why. If you have custom cooling and lots of RGB, you should have a ‘high’ power supply requirement. If it’s lower, you could be buying a computer that could be damaged by not being given enough power.
What cooling do I need? Do I need custom water cooling?
If you stick with my 6-8 core suggestion, you can get whatever cooling you want (within reason). The power drawn by these CPUs are in the ‘normal’ range, so cooling them isn’t as bad as the higher-end CPUs.
Air towers are reliable options. They are big and bulky, have only one part that can really fail and won’t break your computer if it does. If you get a ‘good’ cooler, they can be very quiet as well. The downside is they are big and bulky, so transporting them often can require some extra precautions.
AIO water coolers are premade closed-loop water cooling solutions that can be quite effective. They can be quiet, they can be noisy, and in the rare case something goes wrong they can damage your computer. Water and electronics rarely mix.
Because of this, reputable AIOs tend to come with a warranty that will also replace parts damaged by the AIO failure. It’s nice that your computer is covered, but you will have to wait for the warranty cycle, meaning you might be short a computer for a few weeks. This is rare, but it can happen, so keep that in mind.
Custom water cooling can be the most effective cooling (especially on high-end and overclocked CPUs). It is also the most costly solution, and because it’s custom rarely if ever comes with a warranty that protects your other components.
Here’s the catch – for the systems I am suggesting, go with the one you want. Air towers work well and are relatively easy to fix in the rare cases they go wrong. Full custom loops look cool but require work to maintain and can cost a mint.
Most companies have a tool where you enter your CPU, and they recommend a cooler that covers you your needs.
And finally – the case
This one is both easy and hard.
As long as it fits all your other components and you like the look of it, buy that one. Get one with good airflow, and preferably comes with fans to keep the cost down.
With prebuilt systems, you are typically given a case, so this isn’t really something to trouble you. If you are building one from scratch, stick with what you like.
As long as your parts can fit and the air has a clear path in and out, you are going to be okay.
And after all that, that’s it. You now know what you should be looking for in a gaming computer purchase. It doesn’t matter if it’s a laptop, prebuilt or custom system – all the boxes are now ticked.
Tomorrow I am going to talk about my overkill gaming computer, and why I say not to buy what I get just for gaming!
Until next time,