Let’s Stream! Part 2: Building our mid-range Game PC (English)
Today we’re properly starting off our streaming-system adventure with a decent mid-range gaming system. Whether you’re out looking to buy a new system or already own one, we figured a gaming pc is probably what most would-be streamers would start their adventures with. So for this project we build a brand new one based around the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060, not really considering the streaming aspect just yet as we want to start a fresh experience system with this system in place, and improve things along the way. Streaming might be a new topic for us, but we know gaming systems, so let’s start there.
For this build we wanted to make sure most of our budget went into real performance. As soon as you pass the 1000 EUR (or USD roughly) marker we generally consider it ok to start investing a little bit into a nice matching look, but we didn’t want that to be more than a few percent which turned out not to be a problem for our “Aorus” theme. Below build costs about 1400 EUR at the time of writing excluding screen and peripherals (we checked Alternate.nl, prices may differ per region).
For the real step-by-step build we’ll have a video up soon. In this part we mostly talk about our component choices.
The graphics card
The GPU, graphics card or videocard is the prime factor in gaming performance and as such the first part we’ll build around. Even though processors and cooling and such are not irrelevant, in essence their task is to simply not be a bottleneck while a graphics card will mostly be used fully by a gamer. So basically, the more graphics power, the better!
However it’s well known at this point that GPU pricing is in a terrible spot. GTX 1070’s and GTX 1080’s are almost impossible to get by, at least in our region, or are insanely expensive. For our mid-range build we opted with a Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 because even though they are a bit more expensive than a while back, they’re still in an OK spot; around the 400 euro marker we can find some. The upsides of the GTX 1060 is that it has plenty of power to drive all games on the 1080p / Full HD resolution with nice settings, that it’s much stronger than the GTX 1050 Ti, and that AMD’s counterpart, the RX 580, simply isn’t available at all for a reasonable price at this point. The GTX 1060 is a very decent gaming card on it’s own, but the state of the rest of the market makes it pretty much the only choice at this rough pricepoint.
We’re opting for the Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1060 Aorus Xtreme. It is one of the fastest factory GTX 1060’s, one of the quietest, and at the time of writing available for 419 EUR in our region; bargain GTX 1060 price for a fancy model. Having said that, even GTX 1060 supply is volatile at the moment and what’s a great deal one day can be a terrible deal the next, just keep your eyes out when you’re looking to buy one of these cards.
Now in theory you could consider an older model GPU, like a second hand GTX 970 or 980, even though it’s important to remember than a GTX 1060 is more powerful, has some technical advantages (and a more memory since we’re going with the 6GB variant, we cannot really recommend a 3GB model in this sort of system) as well as we have to ask how long game developers will optimize for older generations. Chances are the GTX 1060 will pull further ahead of the GTX 980 in newer games.
Processor and motherboard
As far as motherboards and processors go you can go up or down the ladder a bit depending on your budget. If budget is tight even an Intel Core i3-8100 with a GTX 1060 is not a bad place to start, especially now that Intel has four cores in their i3 series. We’re opting for the slightly more expensive six-core i5-8400 which just offers a bit more headroom for the future, which is already being utilized when looking at larger multiplayer games like Battlefield 1. Obviously an i7 is even better in some cases, but a lot more expensive, so we’ll keep that one for our high-end build in a few days.
For both the Intel Core i5-8400 and the Core i3-8100 you’ll need a Z370 series motherboard, even though Intel will release more budget chipsets later this year for now that’s what we have to work with. Because neither CPU is a powerhouse pretty much any half decent motherboard will suffice from a power delivery point of view, so in-depth VRM discussions are close to irrelevant at this point. You will want to take some time to figure out which features you want, such as WiFi for example if you need that in your house.
For our build we set a pretty basic standard: we want a decent audio chip which means an ALC1220 based board, and we want it to look a bit fancier without spending too much. ALC1220 motherboards start at about 140 EUR and the closest alternative we had was the Gigabyte Aorus Gaming 3 which would be a fine fit. However we opted for the second most affordable Z370 motherboard on our shelves, the Gigabyte Aorus Z370 Ultra Gaming. For about 20 euro’s more it offers more RGB, a bit stronger visuals, and an optical out which isn’t a bad thing to have for many speaker setups. Considering the price bump is small we decided to go with that.
The Intel Core i5-8400 comes with a cooler, yet it’s basic, pretty ugly to look at and it won’t quite be quiet under full load. Now with “Aorus” as our main theme we’re opting for the Aorus ATC700 dual-fan tower cooler here which will match great visually and offers some RGB as well. Now RGB generally makes coolers more expensive, however having said that, considering that this sells for about 80 EUR here we have to make it very clear that we really are overspending for the visual aspect here. An i5-8400 is not a high power CPU and a half decent towercooler costing half as much will suffice from an objective point of view. We’re not making a bad choice here, but we don’t want to leave any questions that we’re simply spending a fair bit more on RGB and matching visuals. Then again, that premium is little in comparison to what a proper RGB watercooler would cost that would offer a similar low level of noise output.
As we said we’re not going to go through all the details of the building, but some practical tips never hurt anyone. Some prefer to build a motherboard into a case first, but we tend to prefer installing the CPU cooler first before the motherboard goes in, especially with such a big tower it’s often extremely difficult to install them once the motherboard is in. For these CPU’s, the grain-of-rice cooling paste application is plenty safe and easy.
Similar to the GPU market the memory market is also in a tricky spot at the moment. Prices are up across the board, and that means we want to choose wisely and not overspend more than we have to. Having said that, we don’t have that much of a say in the matter, as for mid range gaming systems buying a 16 GB (2x 8GB) Memory kit is pretty much the only reasonable choice. 8 GB is already proving tight in some games, and 32 GB is simply way too expensive while not benefitting games at all. Now keep in mind we’re talking gaming only at this point, we’ll find out in a later part if 32GB memory benefits recording and streaming!
For most systems we build we grab a 3000MHz memory kit, but we say that primarily because that usually doesn’t cost us more than a 2400MHz or 2666MHz kit, 2133MHz kits we would ignore due to slightly more significant performance differences. Which kit though? Well you could look at the QVL of your motherboard to see which memory is officially compatible, but those lists are so often not up to date at all that we simply don’t bother. At our local shop Alternate we saw 2666MHz and above 16GB DDR4 kits start at 179 euro’s, and this 3000MHz GeIL Evo Potenza at exactly that price fit the bill: It looks a lot cooler than those ugly green PCB kits while we’re not spending extra for it. RGB would be nice but does cost a fair bit more, so we’ll save that for the high-end build too.
Case and PSU
At this point choices get even tougher because selecting a case is pretty much subjective. Our only requirements were that it fits on a desk and that it had a window, after all would-be streamers want to show off their systems right? With our Aorus Theme we had basically one obvious choice as there is only one Aorus branded case. Priced at around 100 euro while offering some practical features like a PSU shroud and some more RGB to match it’s not an unreasonable case to build around. Having said that, there is no lack of options for an i5-8400/GTX 1060 based system, so you can pretty much follow your heart there (just check to make sure the cooling isn’t terrible 😉 )
As far as power supplies or “PSU’s” go, a system based on this i5-8400 and GTX 1060 will generally not even pull 300 Watts from the wall even if you really tried. That means any decent 450-550W PSU will suffice and more than that (like the 650 Watt Gigabyte PSU we use here) is a bit of overkill. Now with a PSU shroud having a modular PSU is not really that important, even though it does make it a bit easier if you’re worried about cable management. In hindsight however, we probably would have considered an alternative with completely black cables which this model doesn’t offer, so we’ll be upgrading to the G750H semi modular (and black cabled) 80+ Gold rated PSU for the higher end build.
As far as storage goes you have a large amount of flexibility depending on your budget. Even though SSD’s don’t really impact actual game performance we do find it a vital part of any new system, it simply makes everything feel snappy and we wouldn’t miss it for the world. So, in goes the 500GB Samsung EVO SSD which will be enough for Windows and our most played games.
Now there is some room for saving here, for example by taking a smaller SSD (but really, don’t bother going smaller than about 250GB) and putting more on a mechanical hard drive. With many modern games taking up dozens of Gigabytes we think even 500GB SSD’s are often not enough for most users, and 1 TB SSD’s aren’t exactly cheap. So we add a Western Digital Blue 2TB HDD for some extra storage here, especially since we’ll be recording later it’s an easy guess that we’ll run out of storage soon enough.
Actually with the CPU cooler and memory installed, there is very little else to be done to build a fully functional system other than simply putting it in and connecting it all. We can tell you that it’s really not nearly as scary as it may seem and it’s hard to do wrong if you take a bit of time, but we’ll have a video for that soon to guide you in a bit more detail.
As we said with the build above we end up around the 1400 EUR marker, which fits the ‘midrange game-pc’ title even though we didn’t skimp on some matching visuals. We’d be looking at savings of about 100 EUR if we did cut down one some of the visual aspects (mostly down to the cooler really) and we could cut it a bit more if we opted for a smaller SSD at the base, but we feel this is a decent, well-rounded place to start our streaming adventure from. If we were to spend a bit more we could look at some things like RGB memory, but for an actual power-upgrade? We’ll be looking at a significant budget-boost to try and get a stronger graphics card, something that we’ll look at with our upcoming high-end gaming system.
In the next update we’ll look at the gaming performance of this baby first. We already tested this GPU with an Intel Core i7 at the base, let’s find out of our cheaper platform impacts our actual gaming performance.
Overview of all “Let’s Stream” articles:
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Building a mid-range Game PC
Part 3: Building a high-end Game PC
Part 4: Let’s Game: Performance baseline for streaming
Part 5: Recording and streaming with Nvidia Shadowplay
For those that missed dit, one lucky person might save a bit more on their new gaming system if they manage to win our Gigabyte Z370 Gaming 3 Giveaway 😉