To build a gaming PC without spending a year’s salary, Razor512 from our chat room recommends these five tips:

  1. Pick a good CPU for gaming. High end doesn’t always mean better performance in terms of you noticing it. When it comes to gaming, video card requirements increase much faster than CPU requirements. Many companies will try to offer $1000-$1500 CPUs and claim things such as “ultimate performance,” but in reality if you look at gaming performance benchmarks from sites like Tom’s Hardware, it only performs slightly better than $150-200 CPU (generally only a performance boost of about 1-3 frames per second). Put more money toward a good video card and quality system memory. (And if you overclock using the stock cooler, try to keep the CPU temperatures under 70 C.)
  2. Pick a video card that gives good performance for the money and avoid SLI or CrossFire. If one card gets very laggy performance in a game, two cards won’t do much better and you will just be wasting money. In most benchmarks, SLI and CrossFire will only give you about a 20% performance boost (SLI and CrossFire = twice the cost, twice the energy usage). Another thing you will notice is that when a new GPU series comes out, it is generally much faster than an SLI or CrossFire setup or the previous series of GPUs.
  3. Avoid getting the top of the line video card — they are always outrageously expensive while only benchmarking slightly higher. For example, at the time of release, the Nvidia GTX 280 was nearly twice the cost of the GTX 260 while only being 7% faster (the proof is here). The GTX 260 can be safely overclocked by up to 25% with very little change in GPU temperature (you can go higher if you alter the video BIOS to increase the GPU voltage).
  4. Pick memory that overclocks well (you can get a idea of the overclocking ability of the memory by reading product reviews). Memory that is able to handle around a 15-20% overclock will give you a lot of head room when working with the memory dividers as you increase the CPU clock speed (in case you are planning on overclocking your CPU).
  5. Don’t skimp on the motherboard. Cheap motherboards don’t overclock well and, in many cases, they won’t even offer you enough overclocking options to get a stable overclock out of your system. While it is good to avoid cheap motherboards, there is no need to go for super high end $300 boards because they generally don’t overclock much better than the mid-range motherboards (and, even then, the CPU and memory will reach their max overclock before a mid-range motherboard becomes unstable).

    In short, a gaming PC with a mid-range CPU and a high-end video card will run modern games much better than a system with a high-end CPU and mid-range video card. Be sure to read reviews on all of the hardware and pick out parts that wont be a bottleneck for the other hardware in your system; the benchmarks at Tom’s Hardware will allow you to see which parts will be a bottleneck for your system.