Index: Part 1: Form factor Part 2: Motherboard Part 3: CPU Part 4: Graphics card Part 5: CPU coolers Part 6: Fans & Airflow Part 7: RAM Part 8: Storage Part 9: Power Supply Part 10: PCPP builds Part 11: GPU price/performance Part 1: Form factor First of all, the form factor, or the size of the motherboard and case. Below is a picture comparing motherboard sizes. For simplicity, I will refer to micro-ATX as mATX and mini-ITX as simply ITX. There are other form factors, such as XL-ATX, but they are very rare - XL-ATX in particular isn't even an actual standard. These four are the ones you'll find when building a gaming PC. EATX, or Extended ATX, is usually reserved for high-end platforms like Intel X99. Each form factor has its own advantages and disadvantages, and you should buy one appropriate for your use of the PC. ATX: Standard form factor, most PCs use it. Great for desktop PCs that won't be moved, and closed-loop liquid cooling. + Lots of room for upgrades (depends on the board) + Great airflow due to larger case size + Easy to build - Large and usually heavy if you move your PC often. mATX: Smaller than ATX, common in pre-built PCs. Best for desktop PCs that might be moved, or if you don't have enough room for a full ATX case. + Almost as upgrade-friendly as ATX + Good airflow + Cheapest form factor. Great for budget builds - Not ideal for liquid cooling due to smaller case size ITX: A very tiny PC. Great for a PC you'll have to carry around a lot, or a living room TV box. + Very small and lightweight + Can go pretty much anywhere - Hard to build or replace parts - Poor airflow - Might not fit large graphics cards or CPU coolers - Only 2 DIMMs (RAM slots) EATX: Very large. Only available for very high-end platforms. Great for high-end gaming rigs and custom liquid cooling loops. Avoid if you plan to ever move your PC as it can be a pain in the arse to carry one of these around. + Lots of room for custom liquid cooling loops + Up to 4 graphics cards + Great airflow + It's huge. - It's huge. And heavy. - Much more expensive than other form factors Part 2: Motherboard The most important part of choosing a motherboard is getting one that's compatible with your CPU. Below is was a table that shows the required chipsets and sockets for the current most popular CPUs. Forum update broke it so I made a much shorter list instead. Bold = high performance/overclock chipset Intel Haswell (iX-4XXX) Socket LGA1150 Chipset Z97/H97/Z87/H87/B85/H81 Intel Skylake (iX-6XXX) Socket LGA1151 Chipset Z170/H170/B150/H110 Intel Haswell-E (i7-5XXX) Socket LGA2011-v3 Chipset X99 AMD FX series (FX-XXXX) NOT FX-9000 Socket AM3+ Chipset [pretty much anything if it's the right socket] AMD FX-9000 series (FX-9XXX) Socket AM3+ Chipset 990FX AMD A-series APU (AX-XXXX) Socket FM2+ (older models might fit in FM2 as well) Chipset [pretty much anything if it's the right socket] The chipset is usually in the motherboard's name, so all you need to do is make sure the right number is in the board's name. For AMD CPUs, just make sure it's the right socket. As for which brand is better, most boards are good. Avoid the very cheapest boards. I like ASUS myself, but Gigabyte and MSI are also great. ASrock is good on the higher end but their cheap boards are crap, avoid. MSI boards are some of the best looking if you have a windowed case. Part 3: The CPU The CPU is the 'brain' of your PC - it does most of the processing work. For gaming, it's not as important as the graphics card, but an underpowered CPU could cause a bottleneck limiting your performance. There are way too many CPUs to list, but here are a few I recommend: Intel i5-6600K: Easily the best gaming CPU you can buy. Great single thread performance and good at overclocking, for a reasonable price. Overclocking requires Z170 chipset. If you can't afford a Z board get an i5-6600 instead. Intel i5-6400: The lower end of the Core i5 range, a great budget CPU - even in high-end builds, the lower cost might allow you to get a much better graphics card. Cannot be overclocked, but is otherwise very close to a stock clocked 6600K in terms of performance. Intel i7-6700K: Hyperthreading doesn't do much when gaming - but if you're editing video, this is the way to go. It's much more expensive than its i5 counterpart and has very similar gaming performance, but it's much better in a workstation PC. Overclocking requires Z170 chipset. If you can't afford a Z board get an i7-6700 instead. Intel Pentium G3258: If you're on a very tight budget, this is one of the best CPUs you can buy. For just over $60 (US) you get a dual-core Haswell CPU... That can be overclocked to match the single-threaded performance of a high-end i5 four times the price. Part 4: The Graphics card (GPU) The graphics card is the single most important part in a gaming PC. It's a dedicated expansion card to handle the, well, graphics. Everything from lighting calculations to texture rendering to screen output is handled by the GPU. Choosing the right card is a very important part of building a PC. As with CPUs, there are a whole lot of graphics cards, and on top of that you have several brands producing the same card with custom coolers, some better than others. Here's some great cards you should look for: Nvidia Geforce GTX 970: One of the best gaming cards in the market. It will max out almost anything at 1080p 60fps. Poor DX12 performance compared to AMD, unless you're building SFF get a 390. AMD Radeon R9 390: Direct competitor to the GTX 970. Twice the VRAM, but twice the heat as well. AMD's architecture also performs much better in DirectX 12, making this the better choice if your PSU and cooling setup can handle it. Nvidia Geforce GTX 980 Ti: Essentially a Titan X with half the VRAM (still a massive 6GB) and a slightly cut down core, and performs just as well even in 4K. With a good aftermarket cooler, it even outperforms a Titan X for 2/3 of the price. Able to max out mostly anything in 1440p 60fps. AMD Radeon R9 380: Great mid-range card, while it won't max out every single game in 1080p60, it's good enough for most, and should still run some very demanding games in high settings. AMD Radeon R9 390X: This card fills the gap between the GTX 970/R9 390 and the 980 Ti - at just over $400, it's slightly overkill for 1080p, but ideal for 1440p. AMD Radeon R7 370: At just over $130 it's the best budget card you can get. Won't max ou t the latest AAA titles, but you get what you pay for. It will still run almost anything in mid-high settings 1080p60. Nvidia Geforce GTX 750 Ti: It doesn't even require a power connector, drawing all of its power from the PCI-E slot. This makes it ideal for upgrading pre-builts with terrible power supplies. Also runs very cool even on tiny single-fan coolers. For a detailed comparison of gaming performance and value in modern GPUs, see Part 11: GPU Price/Performance comparison. Part 5: CPU Coolers Proper cooling is essential to ensure you're getting the most out of your hardware. If your CPU, or graphics card, is overheating, they will throttle down to stay within a thermal limit, thus limiting system performance. Of course, good airflow is key for a cool PC, so make sure you're getting a good case with decent fans. Cooling a graphics card is up to the card's heatsink, so make sure to choose a card that runs (and looks!) cool. CPU coolers are sold individually, however, and this section is dedicated to choosing the right cooler. There are three main types of CPU coolers: The Stock Cooler: This is technically an air cooler, but since it's included with CPUs and is what most budget machines will use, I put it in a category of its own. Not all CPUs include a stock cooler, however. The following are recent CPUs that don't: Intel i5-6600K Intel i7-6700K Intel i7-5820K Intel-i7-5930K Intel i7-5960X AMD FX-9590 The stock cooler is usually the bare minimum to keep the CPU running at stock, and is absolutely not recommended for overclocking. If you're planning to overclock at all, buy a good cooler. It's also usually loud due to a small heatsink and a small, high-RPM and not very high quality fan. However, if you're running a CPU at stock clocks, it's most likely enough. From personal experience: Intel's stock cooler cannot keep a 90W CPU below recommended operating temperature under load at stock clocks, so if you buy an i5-4690K or i7-4790K, you should buy a better cooler. Air Cooling: This is the classic way to keep your CPU cool. Use a heatsink. And if that don't work, use more heatsink. Air coolers are simple and reliable, essentially a big chunk of metal air goes through, taking away the heat. Few moving parts, few things to go wrong. They're good for light to medium overclocking, and usually much quieter than stock coolers. The following are a few recommended air coolers: Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo: Best value cooler in the market, period. It's the best selling aftermarket heatsink, and for good reasons: It's cheap. It's quiet. It's good, outperforming even some low-end liquid cooling solutions twice as expensive. It's easily expandable - you can add a second fan for even better performance. It's tall, so make sure it fits in your case. From personal experience, it works great with dual Corsair SP120's. Very quiet and very good. Also from personal experience: It's not easy to install. Noctua NH-D14: A dual-tower behemoth with the cooling capacity you'd expect from two massive heatsinks and two 140mm fans, upgradeable to 3. Noctua's fans are the best in the market, whisper quiet and very good at moving air. Needless to say, you should check your case dimensions to see if it fits. Not suitable for mATX builds. Noctua NH-D15: Someone decided the NH-D14 wasn't big enough. So they made it bigger. With dual 150mm fans, and room for a third, it has the cooling performance of a thin 240mm radiator. While more reliable than a liquid cooler, it's not much cheaper, and it's bloody huge. If you're planning to buy this cooler, don't buy tall RAM modules. They won't fit under the front fan. Noctua NH-L9i: This tiny heatsink, only slightly larger than a stock cooler, is surprisingly good - with a total height of only 37mm, it's ideal for ITX builds where space is at a premium. While it's not quite ideal for extreme overclocking, it can handle a lot without making a lot of noise. Liquid Cooling: In the last decade, liquid cooling has become mainstream. What started with hobbyists cooling their CPUs with fish tank pumps and car radiators, now has become a huge industry with large companies dedicated to the production of components for liquid cooling, and more recently, All-in-One liquid coolers, which come pre-built and pre-filled, and include a CPU block, pump, radiator, and fans. Since custom loop cooling is something usually done exclusively by experienced builders (and for very good reasons), I won't get to that in this guide (I also know next to nothing about custom liquid cooling). Instead, I'll talk about AIO coolers, the most popular option for overclockers and enthusiasts around the world. Liquid coolers have five main components: The CPU block: This is the part that makes contact with the CPU. Water flows through it, taking heat away from the CPU. Usually has fins inside to improve heat dissipation (like a small heatsink). The Pump: The pump makes the water flow through the loop. That's what pumps do. The Pipes: Water goes through pipes. The pipes and joints must be sealed. If they're not, water leaks out. Water + expensive electronics = bad. The Radiator: Water flows through the radiator, which is built as a series of very thin, flat tubes that maximise surface contact in order to disperse heat. The radiator is placed in the PC's air intake or exhaust slots. Note that placing a radiator as the only intake can cause high GPU temperatures, while placing a radiator as the main exhaust with an open-air GPU cooler can cause high CPU temperatures. The Fans: Fans move air through the radiator to cool the water flowing through it. They can be placed to push air through, pull it from behind, or both. They are more complex and fragile than air coolers - and when things go wrong, they can damage every component in your system - but recent models are very reliable and easy to install. They're ideal for pushing high clock speeds and overvolting. Some good AIO liquid coolers are: Corsair H100i GTX: Great cooler for a good price. Thin 240mm (2x120mm) radiator, ideal for placing on the top slots as an exhaust. Corsair's included SP fans are very good. Corsair H110i GTX: Like the H100i, but with bigger 140mm fans. It's quieter and has better cooling performance, but it's also more expensive and doesn't fit in all cases. Corsair H80i GT: A smaller, single 120mm radiator makes this cooler ideal for placement in the rear fan slot as exhaust. Also good for ITX builds. Note: The original H80i is very unreliable with very high failure rates. Avoid. The GT model is very good though. Part 6: Fans & Airflow Credit to @SixSixSevenSeven for the original text Heatsinks and radiators are very difficult to move air through. Lots of back pressure from fitting air through so many tiny gaps. As such you tend to require a fan capable of maintaining a high static pressure to get any air to force through. Fans like Corsair's AF120 have large gaps between the blades but a high angle of attack on the blade. They move a large volume of air which is great, but when it comes to maintaining pressure, that pressure can leak backwards through the large gaps. They cant easily force air through a heatsink or a radiator. Something like Corsair's SP120 or the stock fans on a 212 Evo have blades with a lower angle of attack (which tends to limit the total volume they can shift) but no gaps between the blades, so they can maintain that higher pressure more readily. Sandwiching 2 fans either side of a radiator or any air cooler, 1 fan effectively produces negative pressure within the heat sink, drawing air out. The other is trying to force it in. In combo does allow a greater *mass* of air through, but not necessarily volume. If you have 2 fans rated at 30cfm they will still only move 30cfm when compounded as an absolute max, but their ability to move that 30cfm is less impeded by obstructions, and higher pressure but same volume = higher mass to absorb heat. For getting air into the case, you have no obstruction, you want to look at airflow optimised fans like the F12 and the AF120, so main case intakes and exhausts should be these. For getting air through something with obstruction like a CPU heat sink or a water cooling radiator. You want a pressure optimised fan like the SP120. As important as getting the right fans is placing them correctly. Airflow should always be front to rear, bottom to top (with the exception of rare inverted cases where it should be top to bottom). There are three types of case fan settings: Negative Pressure: This is when there's more air being pulled out of the case than pushed in. Air pressure in the case is lower than atmosphere. + Best cooling with few (1-2) fans + Usually lower noise ~ Allows dust to settle fairly easily - Not possible with large amounts of fans (4+) without breaking airflow Neutral Pressure: This is when the volume of air being drawn out of the case is the same as the air being brought into it. Air pressure inside the case is very close to atmosphere. + Best cooling with many fans (4+) + Best in-case airflow for GPUs and CPU air coolers - Allows dust to settle very easily. Should be cleaned regularly - Bad cooling with few (2) fans, not possible with single fan Positive pressure: This is when the volume of intake air is greater than the exhaust volume. Air pressure in the case is higher than atmosphere. + Very good cooling with several fans (3+) + Good airflow for GPUs and air coolers + Less dust than negative or neutral pressure systems ~ Requires air being pulled in and out, intake-only systems will perform poorly - Bad cooling with few (1-2) fans. Part 7: RAM Make sure your RAM is compatible with the board. Skylake and Haswell-E use DDR4, Haswell and AMD CPUs use DDR3. As for how much you should buy, 8GB is usually more than enough for a gaming PC. If you do a lot of editing or host a dedicated game server you might want to go with 16GB. For DDR3 systems, RAM speed doesn't have a huge impact on gaming performance. 1600MHz is enough. With higher speeds (2133+ MHz) you might see a difference of a few FPS, but it's usually not worth the extra cost. In DDR4 systems, RAM speed is more important in a gaming PC. While still not essential (2133MHz is fine) you can get an extra 5-10 FPS out of faster RAM (3200MHz). The higher the framerates, the greater the benefit from faster memory, so if you're building a 144Hz rig it might be a good idea to invest in fast RAM, while for standard 60Hz gaming the money might be better spent elsewhere. Either way, never downgrade a CPU or GPU for faster RAM, the former are always on top of the priority list. Part 8: Storage How much storage you need really depends on how you use your PC; personally I've never exceeded 1TB of storage, but some people hoard software and fill hard drives very easily. If you can fit one in your budget, an SSD is really nice and much faster than a mechanical hard drive, but it should never be a priority over a faster graphics card or CPU. Part 9: Power supply It's very important to choose a good power supply for your computer. Why? The power supply distributes power to every component in your PC. A failure here could damage every part of your PC, so it's very important to get a power supply from a good, trusted brand. Which PSU brands are good? Corsair EVGA Antec Seasonic I'm probably missing a ton since I go straight to Corsair or EVGA for PSU recommendations. If you know another good PSU brand, post it here. Remember: Never, ever, ever go cheap on the PSU. Brand aside; wattage. A very easy way to calculate required wattage is to add up the TDP of your CPU and graphics card, add 25W for each hard drive/SSD/optical drive, and add 150W for the motherboard, RAM and fans etc. Then add 100-150W on top of that if you plan to upgrade. The result is always a bit overkill, but you'll get upgrade headroom and you'll be nowhere near peak load. An easier way for this is to use a PSU calculator. PCPartPicker has a wattage calculator, but you should add 100-150W on top of it to have some upgrade headroom. It's not a good idea to have a PSU at peak load either, so even if you're not going to upgrade at all add ~50W. Then there's efficiency rating. This only affects how much power your PSU draws; a more efficient PSU will draw less power to deliver the same amount. You'll notice most quality PSUs have an "80+" rating, of which there are several tiers. Below is a comparison table. (imported from here) The efficiency of a PSU does not affect its ability to deliver its rated power limit. However, a 500W PSU rated 80+ Bronze will draw ~610W at peak load, while one rated 80+ Gold will draw 574W. The difference is much more significant in high wattage PSUs of 800W and above. An 80+ certification is also a measure of quality - Usually, PSUs rated 80+ Gold or higher use higher quality components than those rated 80+ Bronze. Part 10: PCPartPicker build guides These are some builds I made for different budgets. $400 (G4400 + R7 370) - http://pcpartpicker.com/user/bluescreen1985/saved/6KzJ7P $500 (i3-6100 + R7 370) - http://pcpartpicker.com/user/bluescreen1985/saved/nN8p99 $600 (i5-6400 + R9 380) - http://pcpartpicker.com/user/bluescreen1985/saved/WgFV3C $750 (i5-6400 + R9 390) - http://pcpartpicker.com/user/bluescreen1985/saved/WGhbt6 $1000 (i5-6600K + R9 390) - https://pcpartpicker.com/user/bluescreen1985/saved/Zxxp99 $1500 (i5-6600K + GTX 980 Ti) - http://pcpartpicker.com/user/bluescreen1985/saved/sbRdnQ $2000 (i7-5820K + GTX 980 Ti) - http://pcpartpicker.com/user/bluescreen1985/saved/XmNMnQ Part 11: GPU Price/Performance comparison The following charts show a direct comparison of the most recent gaming GPUs, in both price and performance. NOTE: This comparison is based on DX11 performance. AMD hardware performs much better in DX12 making it the better choice for future proof builds. Data is from Anandtech Bench GPU 2015. All benchmarks used are 1080p highest settings. The following games are used: Battlefield 4, Crysis 3, Grand Theft Auto V, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Shadow of Mordor Final score for each card is the average of the 5 benchmark scores (in average FPS). No synthetic benchmarks were used since I wanted this to be based entirely on real-world data. Prices are in US dollars, lowest price from PCPartPicker (January 2016). GPUs placed in a grid by price (X axis) and average FPS (Y axis): Performance per dollar, sorted from best to worst: It's mostly what you'd expect - The R7 370 has the best raw FPS/$, but its average FPS is low, so it's not an ideal card. The R9 380 and GTX 960 are very close in the "value sweet spot", with the higher end GTX 970 and R9 390 just slightly lower. After that, FPS/$ drops quickly, and the difference between competing cards of the same 'tier' is much more significant.