Over the past several years, DIY PC building has become easier and more accessible. As someone who hasn’t built a PC in quite a few years, I figured with the extensive amount of PC parts in today’s market, it’s an illustrious occasion for building a PC for gaming and productivity. For first time builders, PC Part Picker is a boon as it will automatically filter compatible parts to help avoid issues, and I use it regularly when looking for upgrades or when friends ask about building a new PC.

Processor – CPU (Central Processing Unit)

The CPU is the brain of the computer, without one the other components can’t function. When it comes to CPU’s, builders have two options, AMD or Intel. For a good portion of the last decade Intel was the platform of choice for the best performance. AMD, especially the FX series of processors, were easier on the wallet but could not keep up with Intel’s CPU’s in a realistic fashion. Luckily the release of the Ryzen series of CPU’s a few years ago closed the gap immensely.

For the Processor, I was considering:

  • AMD Ryzen 2600X – $194
  • AMD Ryzen 2700X – $295
  • Intel Core i5-8600K – $284
  • Intel Core i7-8700K – $369

Each of the processors mentioned, are unlocked, thus allowing for overclocking, which is a necessity. Ultimately, I went with the i7-8700K since there was a small price drop putting it well within the price to performance of the sub $300 processors. With over-clockers hitting 4.8 – 5.0 GHz with all-in-one coolers and custom loops, the 8700K will be extraordinary for 3D modeling and animating with Maya as well as running the latest games.

Intel Core i7-8700K

Motherboard

PC Motherboards connect all the different components and allow them to interact with one another. Motherboards can be one of the hardest parts to shop for as until relatively recently, they have not had the greatest in naming conventions. Even though the naming is getting better, the best way to pick a motherboard is to choose the desired CPU and, using PC Part Picker’s compatibility filter, find a motherboard with the features needed.

Motherboards that I had under consideration included:

  • AMD
    • MSI – B450 TOMAHAWK – $115
    • Asus – ROG STRIX B450-F – $135
  • Intel
    • Asus – Prime Z370-A – $269
    • EVGA – Z370 Classified K – $264
    • NZXT – N7-Z37XT-W1 -$299

All the motherboards listed offer support at least one NVMe SSD and a minimum of four SATA SSD’s which is quite exciting. Each motherboard also support up to 64GB of RAM via four DIMM slots and overclocking the CPU for maximum performance.

I ended up with the EVGA Classified K due to it being on sale at the time of purchase, saving $100 off the sticker price and having one NVMe bracket and six SATA ports for a lot of storage. The Classified K (and the NZXT board) includes three full-bandwidth(16x) PCIe slots which graphics cards, video capture cards, and some fast but expensive SSD’s use for data transfer. The other boards secondary and tertiary PCIe slots had bandwidth limitations.

The best part of building your own PC is finding the best price for the right job. All of those other motherboards are great, however, for my monetary needs, the EVGA was best suited.

EVGA Z370 Classified K

Random-access Memory – RAM

RAM can be a bit of a concern when shopping as there are a lot of different marketing terms that can easily confuse first time buyers. The best way to know what RAM to buy is by first reading the manual of the motherboard. If the manual says the board supports DDR4, then that is what is required. (DDR3 and DDR4 are not backward/forward compatible). After figuring out the type of RAM then there are a lot of brands and speed options.

  • Corsair – Vengeance LPX 32 GB (2 x 16 GB) DDR4-3200MHz – $229
  • Corsair – Vengeance RGB Pro 32 GB (2 x 16 GB) DDR4-3200MHz – $234
  • Corsair – Dominator Platinum 32 GB (2 x 16 GB) DDR4-3200mhZ – $259
  • G.Skill – Ripjaws V Series 32 GB (2 x 16 GB) DDR4-3200MHz – $200
  • G.Skill – Trident Z RGB 32 GB (2 x 16 GB) DDR4-3000MHz – $190
  • G.Skill – Ripjaws V Series 32 GB (2 x 16 GB) DDR4-2400MHz – $160
  • Kingston – HyperX Predator 32 GB (2 x 16 GB) DDR4-3000MHz – $211
  • Kingston – HyperX Fury 32 GB (2 x 16 GB) DDR4-3466MHz – $232

Kingston, Corsair and G.Skill tend to be popular and reliable, with G.Skill’s Ripjaws usually the best bang for the buck. I decided to go with 32GB of G.Skill Ripjaws V DDR4-2400MHz. Since choosing an Intel CPU, I decided on a somewhat slower RAM, but a larger quantity. Intel platforms prefer more RAM as opposed to faster RAM, even when overclocking. Had I gone with an AMD CPU, I would have bought a 16GB 3200MHz or faster kit as Ryzen prefers faster RAM over quantity of RAM. I also like the Ripjaws RAM as they have solid color heatsinks. The G.Skill trident RAM comes with RGB lighting but also a steeper price tag.

G. Skill Ripjaws V

Graphics – GPU (Graphical Processing Unit)

The Graphics Card (video card) is the pièce de résistance of any PC build. Graphics cards are used to help render images to a display. Some multimedia programs, such as Photoshop and Maya, now utilize GPU’s to take some of the workload off CPU’s for productivity. Builders have essentially two options for video cards, AMD and Nvidia. Similar to AMD’s CPU’s, their graphics cards have been better for lower budget builds but really lacked in performance compared to Nvidia, especially when Nvidia launched the Pascal cards in 2016. Luckily AMD has closed the gap in the GPU market comparable to the CPU market.

  • EVGA – GeForce RTX 2070 Black – $499
  • Sapphire – Radeon RX VEGA 64 NITRO – $440

I had my top GPU picks down to the Sapphire Radeon RX Vega 64 and the EVGA RTX 2070 Black as both offer similar price to performance out of the box. The Vega card was about $60 cheaper than the RTX card, but after seeing RTX in person, screen-space reflections just won’t cut it anymore. Another reason for going with the Black, is that an EVGA card will work seamlessly with EVGA’s Precision Overclocking software. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get an additional 100 – 300 MHz out of the card greatly increasing raw performance.

When picking a GPU for a build there are some good rules to follow in regard to budget. I needed a PC with productivity at the forefront, specifically 3D and video rendering. Modern GPU’s can help in my needs, but overall CPU is still king. When I was looking for a GPU I factored in the cost of the GPU with the cost of my overall budget. The 2070 Black came in at 25% (25% – 35% is the target) of my overall budget, where as if I had been building strictly a gaming PC, then my GPU budget would be more cost effective in the 45% – 50% of the overall cost of the PC, since the GPU is the most important aspect of gaming.

EVGA RTX 2070 Black

Hard Drives

Without at least one hard-drive, a PC is just a giant expensive paper-weight. I decided to go with one M.2 NVMe drive (attaches directly to the motherboard and uses the PCIe interface), a Samsung 970 Evo 512GB as the boot drive. By having the Operating System isolated to its own drive, I should negate problems, but Windows is far from problem free, so that’s a pipe dream. From experience, Samsung, Western Digital, Seagate and Toshiba are the most reliable drives. I decided to stick with Samsung for this build.

  • Samsung 970 Evo 512 GB – $167
  • Samsung 860 Evo 1 TB – $147
  • Toshiba – OCZ TR200 960 GB – $279
  • Western Digital – Blue 1 TB – $127
  • Crucial – MX500 1 TB – $129
  • Seagate – Barracuda Compute 1 TB – $139

The case I chose for this PC build has support for five SATA (fasted bandwidth available except for NVMe) based drives excluding the NVMe drive directly connected to the motherboard. I decided to go with five Samsung 860 Evo 1TB SSD’s which will house my applications, games, and files. Going with all SSD’s is not the cheapest option but with two external HDD’s for backup. I’m not overly worried about failure or redundancy.

Samsung 860 Evo SSD

CPU Cooler

Most CPU’s come with a cooler in the box, usually a small fan to help dissipate heat. The i7-8700K does not come with a box-cooler and thus I must seek out a third-party cooler to keep the CPU temperatures in check, especially when I start over-clocking the chip. To be fair, Intel’s coolers are not the greatest. Ryzen’s box-coolers are decent and can handle minor over-clocks with no issue. Builders, such as myself, want to get the maximum amount of performance out of the hardware and thus I will need to rely on water-cooling.

  • NZXT – Kraken X72 – $159
  • Noctua – NH-D15 – $89
  • be quiet! – Dark Rock Pro 4 – $86
  • Phanteks – PH-TC14PE – $79
  • Fractal Design – Celsius S36 – $115
  • EK Water Blocks – Custom Loop – $695

I originally planned to build my own custom loop using EK water-blocks, as I’ve done full water-cooling before but with soft, flexible tubing. I wanted this PC to be my first hard-line tube build. Unfortunately, due to cost, CPU and GPU water blocks, tubing and fittings totaled just south of $700 which would put me significantly over budget. Custom water loops require a lot of maintenance the average user probably doesn’t want to manage, such as a part not working, the loop getting clogged, the potential for algae or bacterial growth which all require draining and disassembling the system. Sadists like myself tend to deal with the listed issues as the performance gains on water-cooled PC components are too great to pass up.

I decided to go with the Fractal Design S36 which is an AIO (All-In-One) cooler / CLC (Closed-Loop-Cooler). I chose the S36 since it is the easiest AIO to work with as it has fan headers directly on the radiator and a single wire to plug into the motherboard thus eliminating excessive wires and keeping case airflow clean. Since the S36 is a custom Asitek cooler from Fractal Design, it will fit flawlessly with the Fractal Design case I chose to house all the components.

Fractal Design S36 AIO

Power Supply Unit – PSU

PC power supplies are needed to supply power to the various components of the PC. Power supplies come in three forms, non-modular, semi-modular and modular. Non-modular PSU’s have all wires permanently connected to the unit, not good for cable management. Semi-modular have the main motherboard cable permanently connected to the power supply while other cables are optional. For modular PSU’s all cables must be manually plugged into the PSU itself as well as the PC part. Modular PSU prices have fallen drastically over the past decade and I recommend always go with a semi-modular or fully modular power supply.

  • EVGA -SuperNOVA G1+ 1000-watt PSU – $189
  • Fractal Design -Integra M 750-watt PSU – $95
  • EVGA – SuperNOVA G3 750-watt PSU – $118

It is always a good Idea to get a power supply rated at a higher wattage than is needed for the PC build. Despite what some people might think, the wattage number is the maximum amount of wattage that the system can take, not the amount of power being pushed through the components. The build has an estimated power draw of around 500 watts. I was originally going to go with a Fractal Design semi-modular 750w PSU. I ended up going with an EVGA SuperNova 1000 G+ rated at 1000w as it was on sale and $10 cheaper than the 750w PSU. Having the extra headroom will help when I am able to custom water-cool the system and upgrade my GPU down the road.

EVGA SuperNova 1000 G+ PSU

Case

After getting all the different parts, builders will need a case to house all the components. There are probably more computer cases in existence than stars in the galaxy, so for first-time builders will not be a supply shortage. The only factors, other than personal aesthetic preference, for picking a case, is that it needs to fit the motherboard, power supply, and water-cooling radiators if applicable.

When I first started searching for a case, I was less than impressed. It was not until mid-2018 when Phanteks launched the Evolv X and Fractal Design launched the Define S2 that I found cases I was eager to build in. I eventually decided to go with the Define S2 for a series of features.

  • Fractal Design – Define S2 Blackout – $176
  • Phanteks – ENTHOO EVOLV X – $199

The Define S2 fits a full ATX motherboard, and has dedicated drive brackets behind the motherboard tray, two dedicated to SSD’s and three dedicated to SSD’s or HDD’s. The Define S2 was designed with water-cooling at the forefront. It has a dedicated fill port for a reservoir and supports a 360mm radiator at the front and 420mm radiator at the top of the case to accommodate full custom water loops. I also thoroughly enjoy the minimalistic Scandinavian design which I seem to appreciate more as I get older.

Fractal Design Define S2 Blackout

Overclocking

One of the reasons for the various parts I considered was for overclocking. The 8700K that I chose has a base clock of 3.70 GHz (Gigahertz) but can be pushed well above 4.50 GHz. The purpose of overclocking is to improve performance of the CPU (GPU and RAM can also be overclocked) by increasing operating speed. Unfortunately, the increased performance also amplifies the power consumption thus requiring greater cooling for heat dissipation.

Conclusion

Overall, building a PC is easier than it has ever been, yet can be overwhelming with the vast amount of parts that builders can choose from. With so many resources, PC building is attracting a much wider audience and, hopefully, this list will assist someone who may be skeptical of building a PC on the path towards frame-rate enlightenment. When all is said and done, may my frame-rates be high and my temperatures low.

About The Author

Christopher T
Staff Writer

I'm an old timer that started in 1988 with Tempest at the Disney arcade; in 1989 I was given an NES with Contra and Super Contra, thus sealing my fate forever. I moved onto the Genesis, followed by the original PlayStation, PC (mainly just for DOOM) and the N64. I got a launch day PS2 settling for the PlayStation family of consoles until 2015 when I renewed my interest in the PC world. Outside of gaming, custom PC water cooling and car parts are life.