You want to get into PC Gaming?... But you don't know where to start and think it'll cost you the earth?
Ner, lets get straight in here and say, you can spend as much or as little as you like, but you do not ever need to break the bank and certain parts of your built machine will be with you a long time.
What am I talking about? Well, unlike your console which you buy off the shelf as a complete unit a PC is really a whole collection of different pieces, which over time you can upgrade and keep current.
In general I consider there to be four main sections to your PC:
1. Processor (CPU), Memory (RAM) and motherboard (main circuit board)
2. Graphics Processor(s) (GPU)
3. Case, Power & Cooling Accessories
4. Screen, speakers, controls (Mouse and Keyboard)
Different sections of these pieces are upgradable at different rates and for different price brackets. Yes ultimately as a PC Gamer you have to buy a whole system.
But in the longer term you can save money by buying a system with some of these parts to last.
A good example is that you could buy a Dell PC straight from them, and pay slowly with their finance deals, however, I can tell you now you'll never be able to use that case again! You can never rip the 5 year old guts out of a Dell and put the latest CPU/Motherboard/RAM package into that case.
So, this is where I'd start, buy a good case, which is large enough to handle any motherboard. The key specification here is "ATX" this is the standard side. Many Dell and other manufacturers cases are "BTX", and you can also get shrunk down "mini-ATX" and even "micro-ATX" cases. But the standard size case is "ATX".
When considering the case you must also make sure there is room for drives to be added inside. And space for cooling and power equipment.
My case (as seen here) was purchased in 2007, and has now had three different machines built within it's walls. It's the same, unmodified, working case I bought for about £90. Which means it's cost me about £13 a year to own that case, and it's still going strong, still has my main gaming PC within!
My power supply, the power supply sits inside the case, and again so long as it's a standard power supply it will power any machine, what you might want to ensure however is that you have a fairly decent amount of "watts", this is the unit of measure for the total output of your Power Supply Unit (PSU), and you're going to need about 250 watts for a basic desktop processing/internet machine, 350 watts for a simple media center, 450 watts for a basic gaming machine and 650 watts or more for a powerful gaming machine.
As you add more equipment into the machine, the more power draw it has, so the more regulated (safe) power the PSU has to handle and dish out to each component inside.
Fans, or cooling, if you're new to PC's then just understand when you come to PC Gaming the components inside the machine pump out a lot of heat, this has to be extracted from the machine, and fresh - colder - air has to be drawn in from your room. To do this we mount fans in our case, either drawing in from the front and pushing out the back, or in from the bottom and pushing out the top.
Some components like your processor and your graphics card can arrive with fans equipped, but you still have to change the air inside the machine regularly with fans. To keep them quiet you can go (as I explained in my article) with specialist build fans, or for simplicity just get the largest slowest revolving fans you can, the larger and slower a fan - drawing enough air - the quieter. It's no good having too slow a fan however, you still need to get air through, just doing it gently makes for less noise (90% of people I meet complaining their PC is stuggling, slow or too noisy, either have tiny fans spinning at crazy high speed making lots of noise, or simply don't have any ventillation; other horror stories about how dirty a PC case can get can be found on the internet).
So, your case, the power supply and your fans can pretty much move from build to build to build as you progress, investing in them now makes for much cheaper new systems as you move up the scale.
Next your PC needs some storage, you need for gaming fast storage, so I'd recommend you get an SSD (or solid state drive) for your games to run from, and then a fast (7,200 RPM) hard drive for the main storage of data. You can find much better guides to this than here, so for now get what you can afford, one decent 7,200 RPS SATA hard drive is sufficient!
This drive can then be used in any machine you put together later.
That's the end of the sort of "unchanging" part of your machine, obviously a keyboard, mouse, screen and speakers can also be lumped into that "unchanging" category, spend as much or as little as you can afford... There's obstensibly no difference between a £5 keyboard from Asda and a £90 mechanical from Cherry when you're starting out... One day you'll use a better keyboard than your own and want the other, but by them you'll know whether PC is the thing for you.
So, now onto the most malliable, and upgradable, part of your system... The Motherboard, CPU and memory.
You need to pick what you want from your gaming experience, and I'm going to talk about Intel processors, the current three classes of Intel processors are "i3", the "i5" and the "i7". You can get these in many flavours, but you can change them later, if you have a budget, look for a CPU which fits your budget and note down the connector type (or socket type) for it, then look for the top processor with that same connector type.
This will give you a good idea of the upgrade path your machine will take as it ages, because yes, you can change the processor up from a cheaper one to a more expensive one, or even find the current most expensive one on discount/auction sites later on and upgrade your machine.
Lets say today we've found a Core i5 processor which has a clock speed of 3.0ghz, and we know it has a contemporary Core i7 with the same socket and a clock speed of 4.02ghz, this will be our upgrade path.
What we need now is to find a motherboard with that connector and which supports both chips. This essentially is a fiddly google search, but do check with the supplier of your parts if you're unsure, and also ask for their confirmation that the motherboard you buy from them supports both chips - this way if it actually doesn't you can sort things out with them!
So, now armed with information about the Motherboard and processor together we need think just about two more things.
The first is the Memory for the machine, you need to buy memory which is compatible with the motherboard you purchase. Luckily the manufacturers of mainboard come to our rescue, once you've got an idea of the board you want you can just go to their support website and download the manual, before you spend a penny.
Reading this will give you a list of the compatible, or even recommended, memory, you can then simply purchase this for use.
This is the "safest" thing to do, because lots of people will simply dive for the cheapest memory thinking it makes no difference, this will result in their having a poor time with stability; meaning their machine will crash a lot.
Memory gets hot, so you may want to consider a memory heat-sink (this is a metal fin which attaches to the memory to spread heat away from the electronic chips) though some memory already come with fins attached. You can also get fans for your memory to cool it even more, the cooler the better.
Your CPU has to have a CPU too, both AMD and Intel CPUs (purchased in a proper box) come with a cooler sufficient for their standard use, when you're starting out this cooler will be more than enough. However a high performance cooler could be yours for around £30 and last you a long time, the only complexity is again any cooler you buy has to fit the processor socket on your motherboard.
So, in review, you can buy a PC built off of the shelf, ready to go, however, you won't know what parts are inside it, nor if any of the parts can be upgraded as the system ages.
There are services you can use whom will build systems exactly to your specification, PC Specialist is one such offering.
Or of course, for a small fee, or gifts, I can help!
Any questions, post them below or e-mail me!