15 Jan Building a PC for Game Development
Hey there Dev Squad, Virtus here. Today we’re going to be taking a look at a guide to building the ideal development PC written by Dev staff Itsrainingben
Game development, 3d modelling and graphic design is becoming more and more accessible. With free programmes like Blender, Unreal Engine and GIMP, many people are turning their hand to making awesome artwork. One of the questions I get asked a lot is “What PC should I get for game development?” or, “is this CPU/GPU ok for this task?”
Unfortunately, there isn’t one simple answer to that. Many years ago, when there were only a few brands and technology wasn’t as advanced as it was, you were pushed down a certain path of components. However, with modern technology and all the brands that have hit the market over the past few years the amount of choice out there is simply staggering. The thing to remember is that underneath all the clever designs and fancy RGB, the components are still the same underneath, just tweaked slightly for each individual company.
Another factor to add to the discussion is gaming. We all want to kick back and enjoy a session on our favourite game after a hard day designing or even try out the game we are developing. The question you’ll be asking yourself then is “will the components I choose for my game dev PC be suitable for gaming?” Or, if you’re primarily building a gaming PC, “will that be OK to do some game dev work in my off-time?”
If you search the internet, the consensus is that the barrier for entry is low. Indeed, even the recommended specs on Unreal’s own website suggest components that were released in 2010 and many developers work on laptops using integrated graphics and dual-core CPUs. However, you will eventually encounter limits as to what you will be able to achieve and a large amount of time will be spent staring at your PC waiting for it to catch-up or render, rather than making awesome stuff. In addition, as newer software and updates roll-out, you’ll find yourself not actually being able to run the programmes due to the limitations of your rig.
It’s also very common for developers to have amazing ideas and blow thousands on an overkill rig with water-cooled systems and twin GPUs running in SLI or Crossfire when 3 months down the road they find that they aren’t pushing out anywhere near as much work as they thought and are left with a rig that isn’t being used to its full potential.
You’ll be pleased to hear that there is a sweet spot between cost/performance and need. The following sections set out what I think to be an ideal build for game development, general 3d art and design and gaming and I’ve provided a full build at the bottom of this article. This is by no means the only build out there, but I also give you some considerations to think about when choosing your various components so you can make informed decisions about your future build.
The CPU is a widely debated topic. Should I have higher core speeds, or more cores? Well, as a lot of answers in this article will say – it depends. The general view is that you’ll want a minimum of an Intel I5 or Ryzen 5. Games generally run on 1 or 2 cores and a higher clock speed will give you better performance (depending on your GPU, but more on that later). 3d applications, video editing software and Unreal Engine prefer a higher core count rather than core speed, and whilst some tasks are pushed out to the GPU, such a viewport performance and certain rendering tasks, you’ll primarily be using the CPU to bake lighting, compile code and push out your renders.
There is one exception to this, Blender has a new render engine called cycles which is solely GPU based and sees greater performance over CPU rendering, depending on your CPU. Other 3d software packages are utilising 3d party GPU render plugins (such as Redshift) but these come at a cost. So, have a think about what you’re going to be using the most when choosing a CPU.
My suggestion is a Ryzen 7, 1700x. It offers a nice price to performance ratio and has ample cores and processing power for your needs. If you want to go up a step, you could take the Ryzen 2700x or the intel I9-9900k.
For anything more than basic video game development, getting away without a dedicated GPU simply isn’t possible. A GPU will help enormously for viewport performance and will help you see all those polygons in your viewport in Blender or other 3d app. For unreal engine, whilst actual rendering and baking of lights is handled by the CPU, you want to have a smooth performance whilst you’re working. A decent GPU will help with all those materials and lights you have in your scene and you’ll be able to work at a higher resolution and quality settings so you can see all those amazing materials you’ve been working on and how shadows work in your world. A GPU can also help to increase render times for certain aspects of video production.
A dedicated GPU will also be able to help with your frame rates and resolution when gaming. There’s a balance to be had between the CPU and GPU when gaming, too low a CPU with a decent GPU will mean your CPU will bottleneck the framerates. On the flip side, too beefy a CPU with a low-end GPU will mean your resolution and framerates will be significantly reduced.
One final thing to mention, you have probably heard about Raytracing in games. At the moment, this is very early architecture and at the time of writing this, only one game (Battlefield 5) can use raytracing and even then, you’ll need a 2080ti to get decent framerates. For the next couple of years at least until it matures, I wouldn’t worry about attempting to implement this.
As a minimum you’ll want a GPU that is compatible with DirectX11 and at least 2gb of VRAM. My recommendation, which complements the CPU I’ve chosen nicely is the GTX 1060 6gb. It offers good performance to price for game dev work and allows you to run most current games at high settings.
The motherboard might not seem like it needs a lot of thought. However, future upgradability should be in the mindset of the buyer. At some point in the future will you may want to run dual GPUs in SLI or Crossfire and you’ll want to ensure your motherboard can handle it. Years ago, you could only Crossfire AMD GPUs on an AMD board and SLI Nvidia GPUs on Intel baords. Nowadays, you can SLI Nvidia GPUs on AMD boards and vice versa, but only if the board supports it. Another option to consider is overclocking. If you want to increase the clock speed of your CPU to get more performance out of it you’ll need to make sure your motherboard can support it. Other minor options to consider are whether you will be using devices with USB 3.1 or USB type C. My recommendation MSI x470 AM4 board. It supports overlocking (unlike the B450 boards which support the same chip) and has the option of SLI / Crossfire should you want it. It also has plenty of support for peripherals.
Generally, the amount of RAM you’ll need is 16gb. This will give a nice balance of being able to have at least 1 or 2 game dev programmes running without lag whilst running your favourite music playing app in the background. If you’re working with heavy scenes or performing some complex fluid simulations you can push that up to 32gb or higher as your budget allows. As a minimum, you will want 8gb but you’ll need to appreciate that multitasking won’t be possible.
RAM speed is something that is hotly debated. Does faster RAM really make a difference? Well, if you’re running benchmark programmes then you will notice differences between the top and bottom end speeds and there is evidence that Ryzen processors perform with RAM running at 3200mhz, but if you can’t afford it, then don’t sweat it. One point I am clear on though is that the differences in RAM timings (the numbers you see on the back of the stick such as 16, 38, 38, 38) aren’t noticeable at all.
I’d recommend getting at least a 256gb SSD for your operating system and applications which allows a fast boot and fast loading and running of your programmes. For storage of all your game dev work a 1TB hard drive is best. Feel free to adjust the capacity of these drives as your budget suits.
This is often the part that a lot of people skimp out on. My advice – don’t. If you’re going to spend upwards of $1000 dollars on your dream PC you’re going to want to make sure it has all the power it needs, ALL the time. Settle for nothing less than a PSU marked as 80+ Gold. This will ensure all your components receive constant adequate power with no loss of performance. I’m not saying that Silver or Bronze rated PSUs aren’t good enough, but they don’t often deliver power consistently enough to ensure your PC can always perform.
My choice is a is an EVGA Supernova 650w 80+ Gold edition and will be more than suitable for this complete build. As you move up in the performance and specs of your parts, consider whether you will need a bigger power supply to run it. Rigs with SLI setups and overclocked CPUs often require 800w with a platinum rating so take the time to run your rig through something like https://outervision.com/power-supply-calculator so you can check you have enough power for your parts.
Finally, you’ll need something to hold all your parts. You can spend literally hundreds of pounds on cases with custom parts and RGB goodness. However, for someone on a budget you can’t go wrong with a mid-range basic ATX case. Something like a Corsair Carbide R mid-tower will house everything with efficient cable management and a discrete black look. One important thing to remember is if you do end up getting more powerful graphics cards or a larger motherboard, make sure your case can fit them!
So that brings me to the end of my guide to building a game dev PC that can also game on the side. As you’ll see from the article, there are a few hard and fast rules, but largely it comes down to what you want to do. My complete build below gives you the best of both gaming and game dev for a reasonable price. If you have any questions about swapping out various parts of how parts compare to each other feel free to hop onto discord to ask any questions.
► Processor | Ryzen 7 1700X
► Cooler | Deepcool 400
► Memory | Corsair Vengeance LPX 16GB
► Storage | Samsung Evo 500GB SSD
► Storage | Western Digital 1TB Blue
► Graphics Card | EVGA 1060 SC 6GB
► Case | Corsair Carbide
► Power Supply | EVGA 650W 80+ Gold
► Motherboard | MSI x470 AM4
I hope you have all enjoyed this article and are now better informed on building the best development PC for the type of what you do.
Don’t forget, if you’re interested in purchasing any of the items recommended in this article you can check them out using the links abive.
As always guys, stay awesome… keep creating!
Your boy Virtus, signing out.