Building a rig? There are a few things you should consider…

By Travis Wannlund

Building a computer is no easy task. That isn’t to say that the actual assembly is too terribly difficult; we are, after all, a generation raised on Legos and Ikea. However, the process leading up to the build itself can be rather taxing. Building a cutting-edge machine in a market where new technology is introduced every few months will inevitably lead to paying too much. On the other hand, buying older components to save money could result in the worthless purchase of a dying box. It can be tricky hitting that bang to buck ratio sweet spot. The key is to know where to splurge and where to skimp. Once you’ve got this down, the component search is rather straight forward.

There is nothing more important to gamers than their rigs. It is the tool of their craft, it connects them to their community, and it defines who they are. A good computer is tailored to both the user and the task, and a gaming rig is going to be set up slightly differently than a home office machine or a server. It is important to note this when selecting components. As far as your budget is concerned, there is a hierarchy of essential components that should be considered in the order described below.

The first question you need to answer is what kind of CPU do you want to run? This is the brain of your rig, meaning that it requires the most attention as far as both research and finances are concerned. Once you settle on a CPU, the rest of the computer is built to complement that processor.

Next up is the motherboard. This goes hand in hand with the CPU as far as importance is concerned. Expect to be picking the rig and the CPU at the same time. Though it may not be the biggest performance enhancing piece in your arsenal, it does set the stage for the rest of your build as far as compatibility goes. A good motherboard, like the Fatal1ty AA8XE, allows for high-speed communication between all of your components. The motherboard is the one component you will want to buy high-end. A high-end motherboard will allow for upgrades down the road whereas a budget motherboard will force you into doing an entire box swap when your rig starts to feel its age. If you have to take a “buy light and upgrade later” mentality with the other components in order to afford a top tier motherboard do it. Consider it an investment.

The next component is RAM. It’s not that expensive, but it’s incredibly important. In this day and age, anything under a gig is asking for trouble. Make sure your rig has it and in surplus.

Ah – and then the graphics card. This is the component on which gamers are most likely to go nuts, and is the favorite place for overkill. If you’ve got money to burn, go ahead with the quad 7900s and rub your hands together manically when you get a constant 200 fps at full resolution. For the rest of you, a solid 6800 will get the job done just as well. The way I see it, you should buy a competitive PCIe card now, and in a few years when your system starts to chug a bit and the prices have dropped way down, throw another one in there. With another graphics card, better Sli drivers, and some more RAM, the old girl should be able to keep up a bit longer before you put her out to pasture as a file server. Remember, you can always scale down the video setting in game if your computer is struggling to keep up. A rocket hits just as hard when it’s ugly looking.

Then there’s sound. A bad sound card won’t detract from the performance of your rig, but it will affect your gaming experience. Modern games rely heavily on 3D multi- channel sound, and if your sound can’t cut it, you’ll be missing a lot of what’s going on in game. If you aren’t going to invest in a decent pair of speakers or headphones, don’t bother spending a ton of cash on sound. That said, if you’re someone who wants to get the full experience of a game, make sure you include the price for a good 4.1 (or higher) speaker system or a nice set of headphones when making your sound budget. Also, if you’re going to be playing games with programs like Ventrillo or Teamspeak, don’t bother with speakers as they can cause some wicked feedback issues while playing.

Storage can be a tricky issue for gaming rigs. You want your primary drive to be as fast as possible to minimize seek time. If a lot of storage space is important to you, get a large secondary drive for all of your extra files. Keep all of your programs installed on your primary and use it for file storage as sparingly as possible. The less data it has to sift through, the better. As far as performance is concerned, the hard drive doesn’t have much of an affect once the game is booted up and running.

Now it’s time to wrap up the package. The budget placement of the case is going to vary greatly from person to person. Since the case has very little, if any, to do with the performance or with in-game experience, I placed it on the bottom of the list. If you’re looking to tick out your box with cathodes, leds, and UV sensitive components, however, the case is going to rank much higher on your list. From a performance stand point, the case is responsible for one very important task: cooling. Hot components run slower and eventually burn up. Keeping them cool is the job of the case and it can get a bit pricey. If you are going to cool your rig with air, make sure you have a large intake fan, air flow to all the components, and an exhaust fan. If you are going to go liquid cooling, you need to make sure your case can support it, your components have the proper heat sinks, and that you are still getting air to the non liquid cooled parts. You can’t really have enough cooling, especially if you are going to be running anything over clocked.

Now that the turkey is cooked, we can add the trimmings. Make sure you leave some cash left over for things like the power supply, DVD/CD burner, 3.5” floppy, games (duh), and any extra cables you may need. If this is your first build, set aside a healthy chunk of change for your input and output devices like your keyboard, mouse, monitor and audio. If you are an FPS gamer, do not cheap out your monitor and mouse. Get a mouse and a pad designed with gamers in mind. Pick out a keyboard that feels comfortable. Don’t go wireless with your inputs to avoid potential performance issues. As for your monitor, know that some people complain about LCDs causing blur effects while making quick movements. You will get a crisp, clean, and cheaper picture with a 17”+ flat screen CRT (the big boxy ones) but they are bulky and a pain to lug to LAN parties. If it doesn’t hamper your game and you can spring for it, go with an LCD. Audio was covered above. Just make sure that you have 3D sound and you know where things are coming from.

That should just about cover it. Now this is by no means a be-all-end-all of price hierarchy, but it should get you thinking about what is most important to you. Most people use their computer for a multitude of things, so make sure you build it to fit your lifestyle. The most important thing is that you research the compatibility of your parts. You could also always buy a pre-built gaming rig, but where is the fun in that? Take some pride in your hobby, get out there and build something you can showoff.