Opinion PC

Build Guide: Foundation for a Windows 10 and DX12 Gaming PC

Windows 10 and DX12 PC Build.jpg

Greetings Fellow Gamers!

For those among us that want to get on the bandwagon with the glorious PC Race, but don’t want to shell out a massive fortune in getting a new gaming rig, then this little piece is just for you. It's not a budget build, for that check here, but it's also not top of the range.

I went through a phase where I was looking for silence from my machine. My graphics card is a bit on the old side and was starting to get noisy; but I had recently upgraded to an I5 4690K along with the Giga-Byte GA-Z97x-UD3H motherboard. It’s a solid kit; top-of-the-line chipset with a really good set of features. So, I ripped the graphics card out and went without for a while.

While it did have both its good and bad experiences - good being almost completely quiet, bad not being able to jam everything on high fidelity settings, I was nevertheless able to play my games with some loss of graphics fidelity, but I was able to play everything. I have since pulled the graphics card apart, cleaned and refitted it, and it’s humming once again… Now to just get the cash aside for my nVidia GTX 970.

For those interested, here are the 3Dmark benchmarks for my machine as is – with, and without, the graphics card (yes, it’s a GTX 480 – old but it still gets the job done – plays GTA V well enough without compromising image quality).

3dmark sky diver gforce 1.JPG

With the good old trust GTX 480 in the kit

3dmark sky diver intel 1.JPG

Using onboard only - It looks bad really on paper only...

That got me thinking. If I wanted to build a gaming rig on the cheap, and to be able to use stuff like DirectX12 and the other shiny features of Windows 10, what would need to go into it?

I don’t have any recent experience with AMD equipment, but I’m going to be changing that in the near future. For now, I’ll be using what I did with my own rig to re-kindle the flame, and to eventually turn it into a rip-roaring firestorm!

For sourcing of parts, I’m going with Takealot’s offerings – I am familiar with the necessary assembly procedures, and I like the challenge. If you’re not the type to build your own rig, check out W00tware or EveTech.

My build pick...

Here is a sample build. Keep in mind that I had hard drives, RAM and accessories lying around from my existing machine, which I recycled. This machine is just the just box bit itself. I’m not including monitors, keyboards, mice and the like, but there are plenty of choices to be had and beyond the scope of this article.

Parts selection: RAM

For RAM in your PC, generally, more is preferable versus the RAM being faster. You can easily insert Dominator RAM from Corsair, or the Kingston Fury stuff and generally get more performance, but the general rule of thumb is that you want more RAM to work with. Even the fancy stuff isn’t very useful if your PC going to be performing lots of page-swapping because having only 4GB of the fancy stuff just won’t cut it, over having double or more of the cheaper stuff. Trust me, more is better, even if it’s slightly slower on paper.

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Why am i shilling out so much for a bunch of sand and glass?!

RAM (You need 2 at any given time) Price
Samsung 8GB DDR3 1600MHz Desktop Memory R 927
Transcend DDR3-1600 Desktop Dimm CL11 - 8GB R 760
Kingston HyperX Fury Series Memory - 8GB DDR3-1600MHz - Black R 829

Parts selection: Power Supply

As a rule of thumb, your generic power supplies that come in your office PC’s aren’t great. They get the job done, but then again they’re not being asked to dump a boatload of power into either an APU, GPU or CPU that’s doing both gaming also while trying to calculate the payroll of a 500-person company. While gaming and payroll stuff are both important, gaming takes more juice. Construction of these power supplies uses cheaper commodity components, and usually don’t have any type of surge protection (generally a must in our load-shedding times now).

When choosing a rating, try and aim for a slightly heavier weight class than you think you’ll be needing. If you decide to eventually slap a graphics card in, having the beefier power supply in up-front will prevent having to shell out for another, beefier one.

Most graphics cards will say something along the lines of needing a 500 watt power supply or so; they don’t mean that they need 500 watts JUST for the graphics card; it’s a guideline for your whole machine, taking into account you’re going with one CPU, one or two hard drives, an optical drive, etc. - a normally-built machine, not including a built-in coffee maker. When the graphics card says it recommends a 500 wattpower supply, try go for a 750, if you can. But then again, we’re aiming for a budget machine, so 500 watts should be OK. As an example, a GTX 960 reference board recommends a Power supply rated at 400 watts – the card itself only draws 120 watts.

Power Supply Price
Cooler Master 450 GXII Series 450W 80+Power Supply - Black R 708
Corsair RM750 Series 750W ATX PSU 80 Plus Gold Certified R 1,894
Corsair - VS Series VS650 650W Power Supply Unit R 704

Parts selection: Motherboard

Between this and your CPU of choice, this is where you’re going to be spending quite a bit of scratch. From my perspective, I was looking for longevity a good feature set to keep this rig running for some time. I went with Gigabyte this time around, as I’ve had good performance in the past and the feature set was priced correctly for me (well, that, and a buddy said he had a spare M-SATA drive lying around which I could clip onto this particular motherboard).

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Like the good Lord said, build your house on a steady foundation...

If selecting a mid-to-high performance graphics card is in the mid-term plan for your gaming rig, then I’d recommend looking at the higher-spec chipsets. For this round the, Z97 chipset was what I was aiming for. Motherboards sporting this chipset tend to be more expensive and the price can vary wildly, but the feature set is generally better than, say, the B-series chipsets (business, cute features), and you get the most flexibility with graphics options later, especially if you’re going to go multi-card, but that’s going beyond the scope of this article. If you’re not considering a graphics card costing about 100-200% of the cost of a high-end motherboard, (or to put it another way, are you going for a mid-to-high-spec card later) then by all means, an H-class or B-class Intel chipset-based motherboard is just fine, and can be as much as 66% cheaper than the boards listed.

Motherboard Price
Asus Z97 Pro Gamer Motherboard - Socket 1150 R 2,532
MSI Intel Z97 Guard-pro Z97 Chipset R 2,088
Asus Z97 Gryphon Tuf series Motherboard - Socket 1150 R 2,828
MSI Intel H81M-P33 H81 Chipset Motherboard - Socket 1150 R784
MSI B85M-E45 Motherboard - Socket 1150 R1,199

Parts selection: Chassis

I’m not of any strong opinion here – If it fits, in it goes. For you, you may be one to want to show off your rig, or it will form a part of your living area, and it has to be aesthetically pleasing. You may want something subtle; bold; understated; flashy.

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mmmm - Delicious green goodness!

My old chassis was starting to get rusty though, and the vents couldn’t properly keep dust from collecting on the interior components, necessitating a periodic dis-assembly and cleaning timeframe. I got me a Coolermaster chassis with tool-less operation. It also has built-in mesh covers over the intakes and exhausts, which can be easily removed and cleaned as required, so for me this is a plus, considering  Mr Kitty Cat likes to hang around the warm PC…

USB-3 plugs in the front are nice though…

Chassis Price
Corsair Carbide 100R ATX Case - Black R 606
Cooler Master CM690 III Black ATX PC Black and Green Chassis R 1,211
Corsair Graphite Series 230T Battleship Grey Mid-Tower Chassis R 1,045

Parts selection: CPU

On the Intel side of the fence, from where I’m writing today, there are some differing schools of thought about whether the i7 is better than the i5 in the mid-to-top-tier gaming region.

The biggest difference between the i5 and i7 series of CPU’s is that the i7 series is endowed with hyper-threading. Hyper-threading, simply described, is techno-voodoo meant to make the CPU do two things at once, by making a processor work on two threads at once. Compound this with the i5 and i7 CPU’s already having four to six physical cores trying to make your game… game, that’s plenty of work that is being thrown around to be done simultaneously. Realistically up until Windows 8.1 games weren’t being written to properly use this feature – for that matter many games are only now really starting to properly and effectively use multi-threading natively, rather than being off-loaded by the processor. I can only really think of the Crytek and Arma series of games actually exposing this to the end-user as an option.

With DirectX 12 – integrated as part of Windows 10, this is being actively addressed, but it will still be some time that DirectX will be effectively used by games – not just for the shiny new graphical effects to wow us with, but to also properly and efficiently use the CPU evenly as well as off-load tasks to the CPU from the GPU. It is unlikely that existing games will see much in the way of performance buffs unless the software vendor re-writes part of the game to accommodate these new features.

CPU Price
Intel Core i5 4590 Processor 3.3 GHz - Socket 1150 R 2,945
Intel Core I5 4690K Processor 3.50Ghz 6MB Cache SKT 1150 R 3,535
Intel Core i3 4370 Processor 3.80Ghz 4MB Cache - Socket 1150 R 2,136

Parts selection: Graphics

Speaking of shiny graphics, the Intel HD 4600 graphics subsystem on these Intel CPU’s is what’s going to be carrying your gaming habits, either short-term or long term. Sadly here, generally, the AMD APU systems has Intel beat, especially on the value side of things.

Most games have some sort of optimization setting to allow it to automagically turn off features or lower quality settings in favour of speed. With the Intel graphics systems, most features will be turned off, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A little experimentation is required on your part to find the right flavor of settings that will allow you to play the game at good framerates while still not looking like a pro Quake 3 players graphics settings.

Personally, I was happily able to play Sid Meier’s Civ:BE with no noticeable downgrade in image quality. I was also playing Fallout:New Vegas with some enhanced texture packs installed without too much issue. World of Tanks, Diablo, CS:GO and Starcraft II played just fine, even if the unit portraits were static, but then again I’m not looking at those all the time, now am I?

Parts selection: Operating System

Windows 10 hasn’t seem to have reached all the retailers yet, so isn’t it lucky that the Windows 10 upgrade offer is still in place? Pick up whichever version works for you – Windows 8.1 Home or Pro.

The Home edition is cheaper than the pro edition and quite frankly very few “gamers” really need the extra features that the Pro edition comes with. If you don’t know what “Domain-joined” anything means, or you don’t need it, you can do without the Pro edition.

Windows 10.jpg

Meh - the Window 10 logo is BOOOORING!!

Just remember, like upgrades like. Windows 8.1 Home edition upgrades to Windows 10 Home edition. Once you’ve upgraded the first time, you shouldn’t have to worry about grabbing the license key once it has upgraded.

Important Windows 10 reading:

Operating System - Get this and upgrade to Windows 10 FREE Price
Windows 8.1 Home 64bit R 1,697
MS Windows 8.1 Professional 64Bit R 2,285

Parts selection: Mass storage

Hard drives are fairly cheap. Conventional hard drives definitely so. They are also fine for day to day operations. Windows 10 handles conventional drives with decent aplomb. I’ve included standard Hard drives into this build, but you can always add an SSD or mSATA or similar drives to your mix if you so prefer. SSD’s are nice but they are still pricey. Your game might load a bit longer, but you’ll get there. My work machine (which I really shouldn’t be playing games on – corporate policy being what it is), has great load times compared to SSD’s and that is using a 500GB Western Digital drive.

Me, my rig is fitted with a Samsung 840 Evo 120GB drive as boot drive along with a secondary Samsung 128GB mSATA where I have some critical apps and games on. Those apps, mainly being Virtual machines, Star Wars: The Old Republic and scratch disk for my girlfriend’s CS work. Everything else is on conventional drives.

Hybrid drives are definitely a consideration if SSD’s are out of your price range, but you want a little bit more oomph. They are conventional hard drives with a small SSD built into them used for caching purposes.

HDD Price
WD Blue 1TB 3.5 inch SATAIII Hard Drive - 64MB Cache R 765
Seagate Desktop 1TB HDD 64MB Cache - SATA 3 - 6.0Gb/s R 815

Conclusion

Building your own gaming machine is a fairly straightforward process. A bit of shopping around doesn’t hurt, but there is extra legwork to be considered if you’re shopping from multiple sources. Keep this in mind if considering the honoring of warranty claims, if they arise. Opportunity cost is a thing, but be aware of how much that will REALLY cost you, hence why I’ve sourced everything from a common source.

Molding your own machine is like what I imagine constructing a light-sabre would be like – unique, powerful and distinctly your own. Likewise, it is also a bit prone to needing some babying from time to time, but that’s how it goes. The skill required to assemble a rig is also fairly simple. If you can handle a Phillips screwdriver, you’re in the ballpark to “roll-your-own” Plenty of YouTube videos cover some of the nuances of artfully putting a rig together, rather than mine, where I just shoved the power cabling around the back and didn’t tie it down and make it go elegantly all over the place…

If you don’t feel up to it, or don’t feel like the hassle of assembling it yourself, check with your local PC dealer, or other chain – they will usually assemble the rig for you for free if you order the whole thing from them.

Also – it’s fun. Building the rig is as much fun as eventually playing with it and on it.

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Luckily, it doesn't look like this...

Keep an eye out – I’ll be repeating this process with AMD kit in the near future. Pricing does drop dramatically and you’d be surprised what the little AMD that could can pull off. Believe it or not, this is my first Intel CPU in a decade…

Comments, suggestions and your own personal experience is welcomed in the comments below!

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