Your CPU is the best of the best when it comes to processing information sequentially—one message after another—it does this lightning-fast, millions of times per second, but that’s still not quick enough to run a graphically demanding game at a high frame-rate.
For that you need a special kind of processor, one that’s not designed for sequential processing, but for parallel processing. Your GPU can process thousands, millions, of things at the same time–think about all the things your GPU is rendering any time you play a game. Every rock, every tree, every gun, every player, every enemy, and on and on. She’s got to think about all those things all at once and weave them into a coherent three-dimensional environment for you to explore and enjoy.
Buying advice: Even though they’re more available than they have been in years, graphics cards are among the most in-demand PC components, and their prices still swing a bit higher than MSRP in some cases. That’s why the picks on this list are generally mid- to high-end. In my opinion, it’s better to put the bulk of your budget toward a graphics card. The higher you go now, the longer it’s going to last—like buying a $100 pair of shoes that lasts you years, instead of a $20 pair of shoes that fall apart every couple months. Cheap graphics cards are penny-wise but dollar foolish for gaming PCs. For a regular old home office PC, any cheap card from the past couple years will do you just fine.
Suggested Nvidia GeForce Hardware
Nvidia has recently released its latest generation of graphics cards, the GeForce RTX 40-series, but there aren’t any on this list. As of this writing, they still have some kinks to work out (not the good kind), they’re extremely expensive, and the 30-series is just a better value for performance that’s almost as good and sometimes better than the latest, most expensive cards.
- MSI GeForce RTX 2060: If you’re looking to get into medium-end gaming, this card strikes a good balance between power and price. Also a great pick for an office computer that will do some video editing or some light gaming.
- Asus ROG Strix RTX 3060: Nvidia’s 30-series graphics cards are often out of stock due to the global chip shortage, but if you can find one for a reasonable price, the RTX 3060 is a killer 1080p and 1440p gaming graphics card.
- Zotac GeForce RTX 3080: Honestly, this is still one of the top performing graphics cards on the market right now, even if you’re running games at 4K with ray-tracing on. Add on to that the fact that it’s under $1,000, and it’s a very appealing card. For an Nvidia build, you can’t do much better.
Suggested AMD Radeon Hardware
A note for anyone looking to buy a Radeon card right now: Don’t! The newest generation of Radeon graphics cards, the 7000-series, is likely to be announced in early November. Even if you’re not interested in a top-end, bleeding-edge card, the imminent release of the new generation will drive current (6000-series) graphics cards down further, so you’ll save a little extra if you wait.
- Radeon RX 6600: The RX 6600 is a really solid pick for 1080p gaming on an AMD chip.
- Radeon RX 6800 XT: If you’re going all-out, the RX 6800 XT is my top choice right now. It’s a beast of a GPU that can handle anything you throw at it, even Cyberpunk 2077 at full 4K resolution.
This is your PC’s walk-in closet. This is where you store all your files, your games, your movies, your documents, your photos, your everything. You can always add more storage later.
- Samsung 980 Pro M.2 SSD: Samsung’s M.2 drives are always a good choice. They’re quick, durable, and itty-bitty (about the size of a stick of gum), so they can pair with just about any other internal SSD you’d like. Most motherboards have an M.2 slot either on the front of the board or around back, and you don’t even have to mess with any cables. This one clocks in at around 6,980 MB/s read speed, and 4,876 MB/s write speed.
- Samsung 970 Evo M.2 SSD: The Evo line is cheaper though a bit slower, but it’s still an excellent buy for any build. This M.2 drive tops out at around 3,500 MB/s read speed and 3,300 MB/s write speed. Slower than others on this list but still pretty quick—quick enough for gaming for sure. If you’re on a budget, go with the Evo.
- Corsair MP600 M.2 SSD: Corsair’s MP600 drive comes with a built-in heat sink to keep temperatures down while it transfers your data at blazing speeds. It features a 4,950 MB/s read speed and 4,250 MB/s write speed.
- WD Blue 1-TB Internal SSD: It’s reasonably quick, with plenty of storage space but this Western Digital model is better for a secondary storage drive—not the one you run games or your operating system off of.
You’ll see a lot of the same terms when you’re looking at memory and storage, but they’re very different. Memory is more like that one table you toss things on to deal with later. It’s scratch paper; it’s short-term. It’s very important, though, because software uses memory to cache (temporarily store) data in a place where it can be retrieved quickly.
Power Supply (PSU)
Your power supply unit is a little box that keeps the electricity running to every component. It determines how quick and powerful your PC can be. The faster it is, the more power it needs, and you always want to have a little more than you need, just in case. Just like GPUs, PSUs are also in and out of stock right now.
Case & Cooler
Your case is just what it sounds like. It’s a metal box. It might be covered in glass panels and etched aluminum, but inside it’s just a big metal box that holds everything together. Make sure you match it up with your motherboard size. For example, if you have an ATX motherboard, you need an ATX (or “full-size”) case.
- Corsair Obsidian Series ATX Full Tower: There are lots of kinds of cases. Some are super small, others are enormous. And your decision will ultimately come down to the design you like as much as anything else. If you’re unsure what to get, this one is great for your first build. Other case manufacturers we like are NZXT, Fractal, Phanteks, Cooler Master, and Lian Li.
- NZXT H710i ATX Mid-Tower: This is one of my faves. It has a slick aesthetic and slightly compact silhouette without compromising cooling capability or accessibility.
- MSI Gungnir 110R ATX Mid-Tower Case: This budget-friendly case is a solid option for most people. Be aware that it’ll be a tight fit—there’s almost no wiggle room for bulky cables or hyperspecific configurations. It looks nicer than you’d think for the money, and the RGB button syncs up your lights with very little effort. The smokey tempered glass allows them to shine through without turning your office into an EDM show.
When you build a PC, you don’t automatically have Windows included. You’ll have to buy a license from Microsoft or another vendor and make a USB key to install it. Or you can check out the newly released Windows 11. Here’s a little more information about what all you get out of the newest version of Windows.
Putting It All Together
The internal layout of every gaming PC is a little different, so we’re not going to get too far into the weeds here. Your best bet for specific instructions for your hardware will be referencing your manuals and searching for your components on YouTube. It can be super helpful to actually see a person handle and install your exact hardware, especially when you’re stuck and can’t quite figure out what the hell your manual is talking about. But here are some general tips for putting all these components together.