Build the Best Gaming PC: A 4K Desktop Computer, Cooler, Quieter, Stronger, 10+ years of use.

Build a Gaming PC
Build it, or Buy it?

That's the couple-thousand-dollar question, isn't it. 

If you were a computer user around in the 2000's and you remember things like the Y2K bug, then you probably also had some experiences with pre-built box computers that invariably filled themselves so full of bloatware as they cruised the AOL that they would grind to a halt and eventually be incapable of even loading Windows. If you happen to be brave, you may have even clean re-installed Windows and got to bring it back to life. If you weren't so technically inclined, then you probably just threw this old PC in the garbage.

"To the curb!"

Old Gaming PC

For too many, this cycle of; Buy a PC for "cheap", use it for 2-3 years, throw it away, buy another cheap pc, is all too familiar. Not only is it a frustrating experience over the ownership of your PC, but it's also wasteful in terms of generating excess electronics waste, and for you personally it does not build confidence in technology, keeps you feeling like you don't trust these things. This is the real cost, of a Cheap PC. 

On the flip side, consider how your experience may differ if you had a PC that lasted 10 years. Or if something broke inside, you could easily and cost effectively replace it. Or if you wanted to change something, add more power, more ram, upgrade the video card, you could reasonably do all that, cost effectively. Building your own PC also will instill a sense of accomplishment, that YOU did it, and you can do other seemingly technically complex things. 

In terms of price, it can actually go both ways, you can easily over spend on parts if you just go for the newest and best top performing parts. you'll build a great machine, but at great expense no doubt. You can also build yourself into something nearly completely useless if you go too cheap and don't pay attention to the details and features on the parts your buying. Where you want to be, is in the "It depends" category. So, how expensive is it to build your own gaming PC? It Depends.
Build a New Gaming PC

You need to have a plan, spend some time on PC Part Picker or equivalent, and start putting together a short list of what you will use this computer for, what does it need to be able to do? That will guide your decision making on how many cores you need, how much ram, and what graphics solutions. Personally, I tend to lean towards the Pareto Principles between price and performance, meaning, 100% top performance pieces will cost too much, but parts that are around 80% of the way to the top, that's the sweet spot where you get great value per unit of performance, but more importantly you get some degree of Future Proof built into your Gaming PC.

Why does Future Proof matter? Because of support, in the form of drivers, bios, and firmware, as well as support in operating systems, and instruction sets in the CPU, all of these things have life spans for which companies will support the software updates. You need to keep things up to date if you want to keep them running smoothly well into the future. So you build your own PC, 80% of the way to the top of performance, and it costs you maybe twice (2x) what it would've cost you to just buy a cheap pre-built PC, and all your friends tell you they //~CoUlD hAvE bUiLt SoMeThInG fAsTeR fOr LeSs MoNeY~.     :|
Cost Effectively Building a New Gaming PC

Maybe... But, as time goes on, you'll mostly find that while others have replaced their PCs twice, 3 times, yours still runs fine. Almost to the point where annoyingly you wish your now decade-plus old PC would actually stop working so you can finally justify building a new PC. That eternal internal argument goes back and forth between, don't stop using it if it still works, and it's had a good life, it's time to upgrade and build something new. I'll turn this old thing into a print spooling server or NAS or something.

The point being, while you maybe spent $3000 building your 80% power Gaming PC, your peers have bought 3 (4 if you're super unlucky) computers at $1500 each. So, let's do the math, $3000, or (4x$1500) = $6000. 

This is just an example for demonstration purposes, but in general You will actually save money over the long term by investing a little bit more up front. The added bonus, is you get to have a wicked fast gaming PC for a long while before it starts to be considered slow. Build your own Gaming PC, every time, don't shy away from it. 
Old Windows XP Gaming PC

This was my old pc, it ran windows xp, could play some steam games on low settings, and could browse the internet. Couldn’t edit videos, could barely edit pictures. Even MS Excel was a struggle. But I got 10 years of use out of my overclocked cpu and ram with only one video card upgrade in that time. The specs were:
  • DFI LanParty NF4 SLI-DR Expert
  • 2GB DDR400 OCZ Platinum CL7
  • AMD Athlon 64 X2 4400+ OC'd to 2.5GHz (2005)
  • Nvidia Geforce 680GT 1GB PCIe (2012)
  • WD Raptor 10K rpm 36GB
  • WD 250 GB SATA
  • Plextor PX716-SA SATA DVD Burner
  • ThermalTake 560 Watt PSU
  • ThermalTake modified Armor Case
  • 2 x 6GB IDE Raid 1 HDD's
  • 3-1/2" Floppy drive
This was a top of the line gaming pc for its time, and even at the end of its long life, I managed to sell it on ebay for $50. so I packed it up and shipped it off to the buyer.

Step 1, is always going to be to make a plan, in this case that means selecting the parts for a new computer build, checking for compatibility issues, price optimization and then finally get to assembly.
Replacing an Old Gaming PC with a New 4K Gaming PC

So the first question you need to answer is “Why am I building this PC and what do I need it to be able to do?” – I wanted to build a computer that would endure another decade – just like my last one did. I also wanted it to be fast, workstation-esque, but still capable of gaming. It should be able to edit high frame rate 4K video, and I was definitely interested in overclocking this build. Overclocking, when done correctly, is one of the best ways to increase performance and power with very little cost. I typically like to aim for the sweet spot where you get good power without creating huge amounts of heat. Sort of like 80% of the attainable maximum.  ;)

~Pseudo-Related: I ended up using this build as a base for mining crypto; How much profit can you make mining ETH?

So, let’s run through a quick beginners guide to selecting your parts. First you decide which CPU you want to use based on your needs and budget, number of cores, frequency, cache size, check which socket it requires, find a motherboard for that socket, check that the features of the motherboard meet your needs, integrated graphics support or standalone GPU, onboard audio, lan, USB ports. Then check the motherboard QVL specs for memory and select your memory ram amount, configuration (single, dual, or quad channels) and speed needs. That’s the main compatibility risks in your system build. Mobo, CPU and ram. Now you can choose any video card or cards if you want multi-gpu, your solid state storage, hard drives, optical drives, operating system, PSU, case form-factor dependent, and peripherals like keyboard and screen.
Price Analysis for Parts to Build a Gaming PC

Ok now lets talk about price strategy. in 2015 I decided on intel’s X99 platform, and went to check the 5 most popular online retailers that would ship to me for pricing on each one of my items, which gave me this table grid, and allowed me to highlight patterns and see that I could get the lowest possible spend by purchasing from 3 different retailers.

All you have to do is layout your parts in rows like this, then stack prices from the most popular vendors accessible to you in columns and highlight the best prices per row. Wherever you have the most highlighting, that shows which stores are the best for which parts. I finished my price analysis, placed the 3 orders from 3 different vendors, and parts arrived shortly after. Some people look at this bottom line and would say this is a crazy amount of money to spend on a new PC (in 2015 no less), those people probably don’t have the same needs of a PC that we do here, so again, you build a PC based on your own needs. Also, consider the amortization and useful life! What I mean by that is, I have already proven before I could build a PC and use it for 10 years+, so if you take what it cost me back then and spread it over 10 years, compare that to the total sum of money you might spend on laptops and desktops over 10 years and how they always seem to SLOW DOWN. 
Gaming PC High Air Flow Case

Once all the parts have arrived, do a quick unboxing. First up the PC Case. I  needed something that could accommodate Extended ATX, and I liked the corsair Air 540’s design, it has great reviews, good air flow, good cable management, great use of internal space with the divider between PSU and SSD cage vs the rest of the hardware.

For more details check out this build video and podcast episode:

For the Power Supply (PSU) I went with the same brand, a Corsair AX860 Watt Platinum Certified Modular power supply should be capable of providing enough power for multiple sli video cards and everything else. Nice clean looking black cables. A big 140mm smart fan to keep it quiet and cool.
860 Watts Platinum Certified Power Supply Unit PSU

The motherboard is the legendary MSI X99S XPower AC, OC Series with LGA 2011-3 socket, this motherboard was used to set a new world record for memory over clocking speed, they achieved 4,351 MHz with a HyperX Predator DDR4 3333MHz module. I opened it up to take a look, the specs on this board are:

Quad Channel DDR4-3333(OC) Memory, Turbo M.2: x4 SSD, SATA Express + USB 3.0 + SATA 6Gb/s, 4-way Multi-GPU, OC Certified: Military Class Burn-in Test, Wi-Fi 802.11AC, and Bluetooth 4.
Intel Socket Gaming and Overclocking Motherboard

So WHY this board for me? Well because like my last one; I fully intend to be using this board 10 years from now, so future compatibility is huge when considering upgrades a few years away. The same reason I opted for the 5930K CPU actually, the future ability to run 4 GPUs is big, It seems that GPUs will be useful in machine learning and AI, which I am slowing getting more interested in myself.
Intel Core i7 CPU

The CPU is Intel’s 22nm Core I7 5930K, it’s a 64 bit, 6 core, 12 logical CPUs, 3.5GHz w/ turbo to 3.7. it has a 15mb L3 cache, and has a 140 Watt TDP. It’s a thing of beauty, yet comes with no CPU cooler, and anyone buying one of these new Haswell core CPU’s likely know these chips like to run hot, really hot compared to some of the other cpu’s out there.
Intel CPU Core i7 5930K unlocked

That’s why it makes sense to spend the extra $40 it takes to go from a giant air cpu cooler to an AIO all in one dual radiator liquid cpu cooler. The H100i from Corsair had decent reviews, a fair price and I liked the control capabilities of the Link system. Comes with all the adapters you might need, 2 fans, cables, and the cooling block for the cpu.
AIO All In One Liquid CPU Cooler Dual Radiator

For memory I opted for a 32GB kit of the G.Skill RipJaws4 DDR4 2666MHz quad channel low latency ram. Ram is like your deskspace working area, the more you have, the bigger the surface you can open more things simultaneously with, and trust me we will use ALL 32GB in video applications.
Quad Channel DDR4 Ram Memory 2666MHz

Then comes the video card, sticking with MSI I went for the GeForce GTX980 4GB Twin Frozr, for now I’m just running a single card, but we can SLI it x2, 3 or 4 when we need more power. This card is a beast on its own, with a couple of display ports and DVI, it has some really nice cooling and heat pipe designs.
NVidia 980 GTX Gaming X GPU

For the solid state drives, I wanted a dedicated M.2  SSD to run the operating system as fast as possible. This is  a Plextor M6E 128GB-2280, it’s small and fast as hell.

For an SSD to run programs, games and software, this Samsung 850 Pro was one of the best value buys on the market at the time, very fast and great warranty. Also small – relative to a hard disk.
SSD Solid State Drive Samsung Pro

For mass storage a Seagate 2TB and a 4TB hard drive – all these devices run over SATA3 6gb/s and take sata power.
Seagate 2TB HDD Sata 6

For reading/writing this SATA LG BluRay burner can handle everything.

Windows 8.1 pro 64 bit oem install, which got me a free windows 10 pro upgrade.

I also wanted to switch to mechanical keyboard, so I went with the corsair K70 RGB with cherry mx red switches. I’m not a huge fan of the color, mostly keep mine orange/red back light but it’s a wonderful keyboard to type on. Except for the fact I had to RMA it once already.

And Finally, a new screen. We have a habit of cheaping out on the peripherals but when you consider the screen, mouse and keyboard are the primary ways you interact with your computer, they should probably be on par with the system you build. I had been using an acer 24” 1920x1080 60hz, not bad, but this new screen is ages ahead. The 27” Asus ROG Swift PG278Q, will do 2560x1440 @ 144Hz refresh rate, 1ms response time, and it has G-sync which makes almost every game look phenomenal as the screen will be tuned to the maximum refresh rate the video card is putting out.
BIOS Setup Gaming PC

So, let’s build this gaming PC. First you prep the motherboard, install the cpu, the ram and the cpu cooling block. Put all of that into the case and screw it down. From there it’s just a matter of connecting the power cables, installing the drives, and video card.

First test power on – it works. It’s got a couple of lights going on in there, top right is the debug led codes in case you have issues. Corsair cpu cooler, msi xpower light, the debug led screen and the OC Genie external controls, MSI’s audio boost independent circuit design for better quality sound and less interference. That’s the Main OS SSD activity light, this MSI logo from the video card can be controlled to light/dim cycle, and made to look like it’s breathing based on load or temp. On first boot you need to go into the bios and set it up to run correctly. 

Once up and running, I began transferring files over from my old PC to the new, while setting up windows and installing drivers. You're ready to go. Build complete. see you in 10 years. 

The Next Steps: A Look at Overclocking and Why all the cools are doing it. What you need to know and what you might be missing out on.

Update: Having built this PC back in 2015, I am still using it today in 2022/23, since the initial build I have upgraded the motherboard to an ASUS Rampage V Edition 10, the gpu from a 980 GTX to 1070 GTXs in SLI, and then back down to just a single 1070 GTX now, and the hard drives I swapped when the Seagate died, for two WD 4TB Gold's that run in Raid 1 Striping Array, for a usable 7.5 TB of storage and a read write speed twice that of a regular HDD. That's it, 7 years, heading into the 8th year, and everything still updates, but, due to lack of instructions in the CPU this computer will never run Windows 11. Which is perfectly fine, for another 2 years, and it will also achieve it's decade + life span.