Do-it-yourself gaming

PC gaming has come to own a fair share of the market in the video game industry. The last 10 years have ushered in leaps and bounds of progress for network gaming as more and more gamers are getting addicted to the clicking of a mouse, the furious sweeping of fingers and the utter disregard for their bulging love handles.

PC gaming has come to own a fair share of the market in the video game industry. The last 10 years have ushered in leaps and bounds of progress for network gaming as more and more gamers are getting addicted to the clicking of a mouse, the furious sweeping of fingers and the utter disregard for their bulging love handles.

It’s totally possible to get into PC gaming without spending your whole term’s worth of financial aid, so long as you know what you’re doing. It’s sort of like going to the auto shop and not knowing a transmission from a piston ring, but with the evolution of technology and the simplicity of today’s market, saving bucks on a computer isn’t too hard. If you’re curious about getting into PC gaming, one of the best options available to you is to just build your own gaming rig, as they’re called in the PC gaming foray.

Gaming rigs get complicated, but this guide to building one is written as though you have a computer-savvy friend to help with the literal building, or at least a handy manual to show what goes where and when to put it there. Building your first computer is sort of like losing your virginity, except rather than babies or an incredible pain when you pee afterwards, you’ll be gaming in style.

The do-it-yourself computer


The standard PC only really needs a few things, starting with a processor, a motherboard and a hard drive. When building up a rig, you want to make sure that you buy a motherboard that has decent video and sound support. A good generic motherboard will have support for your basic gaming needs and cost about $60. The fancier motherboards will cost closer to $200, and these boards will carry the support needed for network gaming and high-end play.

A good processor is easy to find for under $200, and this is the most expensive and essential piece to the “build-your-own-rig” puzzle. Personally, I’m a fan of AMD processors, because they get the job done and they won’t break down, Pentium style, within two years. Technology has a habit of starting pricey and getting cheap real fast. A few years back there was a lot of buzz about dual-core processors and how fancy they were. Now, they’re standard in new Macintoshes and you can pick up a nice AMD 64 X2 from the same generation of processors as the Pentium 4 for $175, no problem.

Video cards

Video cards for gaming are also essential, as it helps to see what you’re doing. NVIDIA rules the graphics processing roost and their technology is actually used in the PlayStation3 and Xbox 360. Putting one in your gaming rig is a no-brainer and will run you anywhere from $30 to $200, depending on how fast and smooth you want it.

Cooling systems

Cooling systems are a big deal here too. To be honest, it’s risky to install one of these on your own, without some prior knowledge or a seasoned hand nearby. Once you’ve set up the power supply, installed your processor and configured your motherboard, your new gaming rig will get hot, and you’ve got to keep the processors cool or it’ll just burn up before you ever get to the gaming glory. Since this guide is written from a perspective of you doing the shopping and letting a professional handle the actual tinkering, just pick out a fan (about $10 online and sort of noisy) or a heat-sink system (closer to $50, though much quieter), and move on to picking out a hard drive.

Hard drives

Selecting a hard drive isn’t really all that challenging, either. Processor selection is all about how much memory you want. If you’re only going to play a few games with the normal settings, you won’t need to get much bigger than 40 GB worth of memory, which costs under $50 at most shops. Next up comes a disk drive, and since floppy disks are archaic these days, you want to consider an optical disk drive. If you just want to play CDs, you won’t spend more than $20. If you want to watch and burn DVDs, you’re looking at spending anywhere from $40 to $150, depending on the desired drive speed.


Of course, if you want to play dozens of games with custom settings for each, save full DVDs to your computer and store all of that German donkey porn that you love so much, you might want to think about an external hard drive. When you really need the extra memory, an external hard drive is the way to go, since most of them include USB support, meaning that your extra 100-400 GB worth of memory can be plugged into any computer with a USB port (all of the computers on campus sport a few of these). Just think of your external hard drive as a backup memory warehouse that doubles as a massive jump drive. Do some shopping and you’ll find a decent external drive and case for about $130.

Network cards

Network cards and adapters get a bit trickier. There’s no universal answer here, so for advice here it’s best to have a friend who knows a thing or two about networking visit you and tell you the best way to go. Make sure you know if you’re behind a DSL, cable, dial-up or fiber optics connection before they get there, or they’ll make you feel dumber with every question. Or you can just ask the landlord or that neighbor that always smells like pickles and KY Jelly–they usually know the best way to access the web in your area. Network cards are often attached to a motherboard these days, but bare in mind that connections also include a monthly fee from $10 to $75 a month, depending where you live.


The case that holds all of these computer guts comes next. If you want a standard black, gray or white tower case that just hides on the floor by your desk, you’ll spend $25 tops–just buy a used one online or visit a few garage sales. Of course, if you want a see-through, neon lit case that matches the color of your bedroom walls, you can go nuts and drop upwards of $200. This is typically for the idiots that want to convince their friends that they know how to game and that they’re elite, but unless you’re into over clocking and heavy modification of your rig, just keep it simple.


The last bits are all the stuff you can see: the mouse, the keyboard, the monitor and speakers. Any good gaming rig should have more than just the standard Gateway or Dell peripherals, and Logitech is your friend here. They make keyboards and mouses that are super durable and built to be plug-and-play, meaning that you just plug them in and they work, no installation required. A basic keyboard is about $30, though ergonomic hand support, shortcut keys and onboard volume control will cost closer to $50.

Mouses run from anywhere to $10 for a generic ball-supported mouse, to $30 for a decent Logitech optical mouse. Logitechs generally have the extra browse buttons on the side and they really do last forever, short of you testing its durability against a concrete floor. There’s a broad range of PC joysticks and mouses that range from looking like a Nintendo Wii remote to an old-school, eight-button arcade controller, most of which range from $35 to $75.

Monitors get tricky, too. If you want a standard 14-inch CRT monitor–the big, bulky things that you last saw during high school–you can find a used one for $15, easy. However, a decent 15-inch flat screen with full video support and a good lifespan will cost about $80 online. If you really want to see your games pop, shop for a 20-inch widescreen LCD display that will cost closer to $350. Most of the higher-end monitors have speaker support that sounds pretty clear and includes volume control, which saves you $15 for a set of cheap Cyber Acoustic speakers or the few hundred for a Bose sound system.

After all the essentials, it’s totally possible to have a decent computer and gaming system for under $400. When it comes time to put it together, if you don’t trust yourself to do it and don’t have a computer nerd of a friend who owes you a favor, then you can stop by a local PC shop to pick up your parts and tell them straight away that you know what you’re interested in buying and that you don’t want any of the frills they’re selling.

When the service guy says that it’ll be pricey to have a lab technician spend his day making it for you, tell that smarmy bitch that you know it really only takes about 30 minutes of software installation to get the computer ready to go and that you’ll pay them for one hour of service time if they can have your gaming rig ready by sundown.

The store-bought gaming computer

Of course, if you want to experience some real gaming nirvana and money just isn’t an issue, go ahead and drool over the new Alienware and Voodoo gaming rigs. These beastly machines sport the most cutting-edge video and sound cards that can make digital cable HDTV look like 1950s cable programming, and turn the sound of a low-bit MIDI file into a rival for the Boston Philharmonic.

The newest machine from Alienware is their Area-51 7500, and the basic model costs $2,200. This model comes equipped with current-generation dual core technology, Direct10X (the fanciest of all modern video drivers) support and it comes in a badass case that is shaped like an alien’s head and is super-quiet, despite all of that processing prowess. The higher-end models are liquid-cooled beasts that can include quad-core technology, which is complete overkill and costs about $5,000. If you can afford this, stop indulging yourself and donate your fortune to the fight against AIDS.

The other big dog of gaming rigs is Voodoo, and their new Omen system is a real powerhouse. It sports quad-core technology and is reputed to work at over 70 percent greater capacity than any current Intel dual-core processor. What this means is that your Omen will never slow down, even if you have multi-screen displays and several heavy-duty programs running at once. Seriously, you can be burning a DVD, running QuickBooks and PhotoShop, have 10 open internet browsers with pop-ups like crazy and be playing Warcraft without a second of lag. The Omen is damned loud though, and the casing isn’t nearly as cool as an Area-51. And it starts at $5,800… so again, if you can afford this, just give me the money and I won’t kill you for being so damn selfish.

Overall, it really comes down to your wallet and your interest in PC gaming to decide how much to spend. Whatever your choice, don’t forget that there is a world beyond the edges of your monitor and that sometimes it’s good to rest your eyes and fingers with a good night’s sleep. Happy gaming!