Gift Guide: Build A Custom Gaming PC

Is there a gamer on your Christmas shopping list? Perhaps they've been complaining their system isn't up to the demands of Dishonored or Call of Duty: Black Ops 2? Hook them up with a custom-built gaming PC and they'll love you forever.

We've featured some all-around PC builds before, but we're going to focus in on gaming this time around. We're breaking down our suggested builds into three categories:

  1. A modest but powerful machine that can play anything you throw at it, but with a few compromises.
  2. A solid and powerful gaming system that will let you turn up the effects and enjoy the most all of your favourite titles have to offer.
  3. The Crazypants Gaming Build: A high-end, ultra-powerful rig that will easily handle today's games and won't blink at tomorrow's GPU and CPU-testing tasks either.

We've suggested some parts here that we think will work in most cases, but if you want to make adjustments, we'll provide customisation options so you can tweak each build. Pricing is indicative, based on quotes from local suppliers via our favourite hardware shopping comparison site staticICE. Shop around for components, but keep postage in mind: buying from just one or two suppliers can work out cheaper than getting every element separately.

We've assumed that your recipient will be able to use a $99 OEM licence for Windows 8, even though Microsoft has been somewhat reticent to promote their availability.) We also haven't included displays or input peripherals in the price list.

The Modest And Affordable Rig

This entry level system hovers around the $500 mark, but it will still play anything you throw at it. Older titles will fly with all of the settings turned up and even newer titles will give you decent frame rates and smooth gameplay, although you may need to make some compromises in the graphics settings of the most intensive titles. We've generally given the nod to AMD's second generation APUs, which are quickly approaching Intel's processors in quality at a much lower cost.

  • Case and Power Supply: Aywun Mid Tower ATX With 500W Power Supply ($50)
  • Motherboard: ASRock A55M-HVS Micro ATX FM1 Motherboard ($65)
  • APU: AMD A8-3870K 3.0GHz Unlocked Quad-Core Processor ($115)
  • RAM: G.Skill Ripjaws X Series 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3-1600 Desktop Memory ($30)
  • HDD: Seagate Barracuda 1TB 3.5" 7200RPM Drive ($75)
  • Optical Drive: Asus 24x DVD-RW Serial ATA Internal Drive ($25)
  • Operating System: Microsoft Windows 8 (OEM) (64-bit) ($100)

Upgrade Options

If you want to take this build to the next level, here are some affordable upgrades you can swap out or add to the components above for a beefier system:

  • Get a bigger hard drive: 2TB Western Digital Caviar Black 7200 RPM Hard Drive ($170)
  • Get an SSD: 256GB OCZ Vertex Series 4 SSD ($250)
  • Double your RAM: G.SKILL 8GB (2 x 4GB) Ripjaws X Series DDR3 1600MHz Desktop Memory ($35)

That's all there is here. The beauty of AMD's APUs is that you don't need a graphics card as they come with AMD's graphics built-in. We didn't even have to go with the A8 here, we could have backed up to the A6 to save a few more bucks. If you run into a title that the APU can't handle, you can always add a card later (such as the 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX560 Ti for around $220).

The Powerhouse

Most PC gamers I know walk a very fine line when building their systems. They want machines that can play the titles they love now, but that will also be up to the challenge of forthcoming titles. They're willing to spend more to future-proof, but don't want to throw money away. Sound like your recipient? This is the build for you:

  • Case: NZXT Tempest 210 ATX Mid Tower Case (755)
  • Motherboard: ASRock Z77 Extreme4 ATX LGA1155 Motherboard ($115)
  • CPU: Intel Core i5-3570 3.0GHz Quad-Core Processor ($200)
  • GPU: HIS Radeon HD 7850 2GB ($210)
  • Storage: OCZ Vertex 4 128GB SSD ($120) and Seagate Barracuda 1TB 3.5" 7200RPM Drive ($79)
  • RAM: G.Skill Ripjaws X Series 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3-1600 Desktop Memory ($30)
  • Power Supply: Corsair Professional 650W Power Supply ($160)
  • Optical Drive: Asus 24x DVD-RW Serial ATA Internal Drive ($25)
  • Optical Drive: Asus 24x DVD-RW Serial ATA Internal Drive ($25)
  • Operating System: Microsoft Windows 8 (OEM) (64-bit) ($100)

Upgrade Options

  • Get a larger SSD: 256GB Crucial m4 Series SSD ($240)
  • Get a more powerful graphics card: EVGA GeForce GTX 660Ti 2048MB GDDR5 ($360)
  • Get an even more powerful graphics Card: Gigabyte AMD Radeon HD 7970 OC 3GB GDDR5 Graphics Card ($500)
  • Double your RAM: G.SKILL 8GB (2 x 4GB) Ripjaws X Series DDR3 1600MHz Desktop Memory ($35)
  • Upgrade or Overclock the Processor: Intel Core i7 3770K 3.5 GHz CPU ($350)

There's no doubt about it: this machine will fly. We stuck with 4GB of RAM, per our standard recommendation, but don't hesitate to add more if budget allows, especially if you run virtual machines or use other apps that can leverage the additional RAM.

The Crazypants Gaming Rig

Finished parking your BMW? Ride your Segway up to the PC parts store and pick up the components for this ultimate gaming rig. It's super-fast, water-cooled, and takes a no-compromises, money-no-object approach. It's not for everyone, but if little Timmy deserves only the best this Christmas, this is the system to build:

  • Case: Cooler Master HAF X ATX Full Tower Case ($150)
  • Motherboard: Asus P8Z77-V PREMIUM ATX LGA1155 Motherboard ($500)
  • CPU: Intel Core i7-3770K 3.5GHz Quad-Core Processor ($330)
  • GPU: EVGA GeForce GTX680 SuperClocked 2048MB ($600)
  • RAM: G.Skill Ripjaws Series 16GB (4 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 Memory ($80)
  • Storage: Samsung 830 Series 512GB 2.5" Solid State Disk ($420) and Western Digital VelociRaptor 1TB 3.5" 10000RPM Internal Hard Drive ($260)
  • Power Supply: Corsair 1200W 80 PLUS Platinum Certified ATX12V / EPS12V Power Supply ($320)
  • Optical Drive: Pioneer BDR-207DBKS Blu-Ray Combo Drive ($65)
  • Operating System: Microsoft Windows 8 (OEM) (64-bit) ($100)

Upgrade Options

  • Upgrade your PC case: Cooler Master Cosmos II ($370), the Silverstone TJ07 ($330), or the Thermaltake Level 10 GT LCS ($400)
  • Get an insanely powerful graphics card: EVGA GeForce GTX690 4096MB GDDR5 Video Card ($1400)
  • Get another SSD: Crucial 512 GB m4 2.5-Inch Solid State Drive ($450)
  • Max out your RAM: G.SKILL Ripjaws X Series 32GB (4 x 8GB) DDR3-1600 Memory ($140)
  • Add a larger (but slower) hard drive: 2TB Western Digital Caviar Black 7200 RPM Hard Drive ($175)
  • Your own homebrew watercooling setup: See our post on water cooling your computer ($150-$300)

It's hard to believe this behemoth could be upgraded further, but we did hold back a little bit. Nonetheless, this machine won't blink at anything you throw at it, and anything you're likely to throw at it likely won't even come close to using most of the resources available in this build. The motherboard in this build is so expensive because it's an overclocker's dream and comes with every possible port on the board than you could possibly ever want or need.

Putting Them All Together

Once you've got the parts, consult our computer building guide to learn how to put them together and get everything up and running nicely. Ideally, come Christmas day that special person can plug it in, power it on, and spend all their holiday hours getting their game on.


    The high end build here is crazy expensive for the sake of it. Buying the most expensive parts on the market doesn't mean you're going to get better performance with them. A $500 motherboard for a PC build with a Socket 1136 CPU and a single GPU? :\ You could use the same motherboard as the mid-range build and not see any difference, nothing that board offers is actually being used. I'd also question the need for a 1200W Power Supply. The 650W one from the mid-range build would be more than adequate to run an i7 and a GTX680 with a fair bit of room to spare.

      Ditto, also 32GB or even 16GB ram is completely useless unless you work for NASA or use professional apps like photoshop etc.
      Also a dual GPU graphics card card be a pain in the arse, the last few games I bought (AC3, Far Cry 3 and Sleeping dogs) either haven't supported it or were glitchy.

    If you are building a so called "Powerhouse" rig, put more than 4 gig of ram in it for crying out loud. Also, use the 3570K instead of the vanilla 3570 for CPU just for the sake of the option to go OC. And I don't see the reason not to pay an extra $50 for a Blu-ray drive if you have a full HD monitor.

    Last edited 10/12/12 2:58 pm

    Don't buy an Aywun power supply. i've had two fail, one under warranty one not. both within a year

    755 for a case!? Surely that's a mistake?

      Yeah, I was thinking that. What's wrong with using a cardboard box? Cost: Pretty much free seeing as anything you buy will come in one - if you're really tight, you can snag one from a company bin or something.

      And, to be honest, I'd laugh at the thought of it being a good joke "hey remember that computer you made out of a cardboard box for me? hahaha"

      Last edited 14/12/12 11:25 pm

    Who knows, maybe Yahtzee was right and people finally invented a PC case that shoots shurikens and lightning, and as an added bonus also had tits and was on fire.

    Hello, I need help. My [email protected] (email)

    The reason I have messaged you is wondering if you could help me choose the pc that best suits me. I am very new to this field, I am making the jump from console and I really need help on what custom parts i need to get.

    I want to play games like call of duty ghost, battlefield 4 games more the FPS genre. But I would like to play them with the highest graphics. I also want at least 1tr memory and I me thinking between 16gb ram or 8. Those are really all the parts I know it's function for.

    I am mainly going to use this computer for gaming. Now video editing or movie making. Some essays here and there for school. But the concern is making a very good gaming pc which can run most games with the highest graphics and run smoothly.

    I really need a smart judgment on how much you think I will be paying, and if you could tell me parts that you think best suits me!

    Thanks oliver Gruia.

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