In the driving seat

How to build a racing simulator PC

By Charlie Hart - 1st/2nd Line Support Engineer

It is no secret that in this day and age gaming has skyrocketed in popularity and with the effects of a global pandemic, many people have turned to keyboard, mice and controllers to start racking up hours on their favourite video game. From first person shooters to puzzle and platform, the different types of gaming genres have massively differed back from the early days, presenting fresh experiences with new exciting ways to immerse and completely engross the player.

A known and well-established gaming genre is simulating. The concept is simple… on paper. Take something that you either do every day or something you’re not able to do, virtualise it and enjoy this experience from the comfort from your own home. There are thousands of different types of simulator games, but to name a few, some common ones would include:

  • Aircraft Simulators
  • Vehicle Simulators
  • Imitating a specific role (also known as Role Playing Genres)

Again, this is just scratching the surface of different types of games, but you may be asking yourself how do you play these types of games? Do I need specialist equipment? What kind of a cost could I expect to pay? Valid questions indeed but the answer is far from straightforward.

Computer Care…help!

Recently I was contacted by one of our customers (Richard) who had expressed the need for a Simulator PC for his son (Edward), a professional Go Kart driver. With lockdown in effect across the UK and major racetracks being shut, Edward needed a means to practice. This is where Computer Care and I come in.

Most modern simulator games are “Graphical Intense and Resource Demanding” meaning in layman’s terms that the specification of the computer would need to be very good and what we refer to as “High End”, meaning that the games can run perfectly without constraints to the hardware.

My immediate question to Richard and Edward was what types of games he would playing on the machine, as well as any other planned usage. This would give me a very good indication into what type of hardware should the machine have as well as give me a rough idea of a budget. Most modern games come with a “Recommended Requirements” specification sheet, so even if I was unaware of what game Edward was planning to run, I would be able to research this and correctly spec the machine based on this.

After some time talking over the phone, we concluded that the machine needed to have a high-end graphics card for the gaming and then a fairly powerful processor in order to deal with other external applications that Edward might be using.

If anyone is interested in final geeky specification of the machine, I have listed it at the bottom of this article.

Building the PC

The whole build took about 8 hours to fully complete, this timeframe included all the game testing and just general optimisation of the hardware.

Case and point – I started by removing all the panels on the case to allow easier access to the nooks and crannies of the machine, this also gave me room to remove pre-installed fans on the case to be replaced with the better ones. The fans were installed in a way so that the two front fans acted as air intakes and then the top and back fans acted as exhaust fans, a common cooling practice. A little bit of cable management was done here in order tidy things up going forward. I then proceeded to size up where the motherboard and the graphics card was going to fit.

Mad with power – now I had the base case ready, I then inserted the Power Supply Unit (PSU), this was facedown to intake air from the bottom and exhaust it out the back, again a common cooling practice. I then pulled through a couple of the cables to get a rough idea of where they would sit. As this power supply is Semi Modular (meaning that some cables are already attached and cannot be removed) it made sense to do this now rather than later.

Like a little Lego – Once everything was prepped case-wise, I then took the motherboard out of the box and the antistatic sleeve. I then placed the motherboard on top of the box to act as a firm cushion whilst I installed other components. I quickly inspected the board to check for any damage and then installed the Random Access Memory (RAM), this is a simple process and can be compared to putting Lego together…click click!

Next was the Central Processing Unit (CPU), this must be done very gently to make sure no pins are damaged. Undue care here will stop the whole process completely. I lifted up the lever that holds down the CPU, aligned it up and gently dropped it in. No pressure, no force, just gravity.

Normally at this point in time, I would be applying something called thermal paste. This special paste conducts heat and assists with heat transfer onto the CPU cooler. I was fortunate here that the CPU cooler had thermal paste pre-applied – top marks to AMD(Advanced Micro Devices) for this.

I then installed the mini ‘M.2 NVMe SSD’ (Solid State Drive), with its very small screw but was still able to pull it off.

Once all this was done, I connected up the CPU Cooler to its power header on the motherboard, very easy as its all labelled and then was ready to install the motherboard into the case.

Coming together – Next was to put it all together! Easier said than done. I installed the motherboard into the case making sure that the ports were easily accessible. You know the flimsy bit of metal that surrounds all of the USB ports and other ports on the back of the computer? This is called the IO shield, or input/output shield. This doesn’t come with the case; it comes with the motherboard as every motherboard has different ports and layouts it’s up to them to provide it. The reason why I mention this tiny bit of metal is because lots of people forget to put it in and then must completely dissemble the machine. Remember your IO shield!

Now that everything is sitting comfortably, I can now start to install the graphics card. Gigabyte has done a really good job with this Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) and it is very nice to look at. Not to mention, it is HUGE.

I’ll first remove the Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI) Slot Shields, this will make the ports of the graphics card accessible from the back of the computer – from here I will drop it in its respectable PCIE 4.0 Lane (the slot the graphics card connects to on the motherboard) and it will click it place, like a little Lego #JerryRigEverything.

Cables & Cables – The next thing to do is to cable the machine, now this can take time and effort and its important to make sure that your cables are not blocking any key air intakes or exhausts. This can affect airflow, which can affect performance, which can then affect gaming, which can then affect your score, which can then get you laughed at by your friends when you crash out of game due to your CPU overheating… yes this happened to me. I used cable ties and NZXT’s fantastic cable management system to make a neat and tidy job. A clean computer is a happy computer.

People always ask me how hard it is to connect the cables and the short answer is. Not hard at all.

If you pay attention to the motherboard manual and you correctly read the headers (the little plugs on the motherboard) you should have no issue at all. Rushing can cause mistakes here and hours of troubleshooting, if not done correctly. Once the machine is fully hooked up, you need to make sure that the switch on the power supply is set to ‘On’, and then from here we can perform our first boot.

Windows, Software and Games – The first boot was successful, and I was able to access the motherboard menu to make some changes. Once this was complete, I could then go ahead and install Windows – this is an easy process and is as simple as creating what we call ‘bootable media’ onto a USB stick and then tell the computer to read from the USB on start-up.

I then installed the base copy of Windows 10, applied all updates and drivers and then started to begin loading some games on the machine. We downloaded Steam, a common PC gaming market and installed the required racing games (Assetto Corsa).

Now that everything was fully setup and tested, I then wanted to perform some tests on the graphics card to make sure that it was functioning correctly. I used an application called 3D Mark to fully benchmark the graphics card and make sure it was giving the correct readings for its specification. It ticked all the boxes and was producing a decent frame rate.

Everything else on the machine was left stock (no overclocking here I’m afraid) and I took some temperature readings. Computers need to be cool in order to run efficiently, so making sure that the CPU / GPU is running cool is vital.

Delivery Time

Everything is now done and can be packed away! I use the same box the case came in to carefully transport the machine (worth keeping if you are going to be moving the machine a lot) and loaded it up in my car ready to meet Richard and Edward. Because of Covid-19 I couldn’t show Edward first-hand his new machine and we had to meet in a car park to safely hand over the machine. However, with our remote software I can provide support and show Edward what is what with his machine if needs be.

It is to my understanding that Richard had also purchased some Fanatec racing equipment to further heighten the emersion in the racing world. This includes a professional steering wheel and racing peddles… very cool stuff.

Conclusion

This was a very fun build, bottom line. I always love working with new equipment and very much enjoy building new machines. Post build Edward has raced a few times and is getting on well with the machine. I’m not sure if he has had a win with other players yet as Assetto Corsa is online based, but only time will tell, with what is a very cool Racing Simulator Gaming PC.

What happens when a part fails and how to do you quickly fix it?

A few months after the initial build, unfortunately the machine suffered a power supply failure. Although rare, this can happen and normally is caused by a manufacturing fault. I was contacted by Richard on a Friday evening and asked him to bring it the office for a special out of hours view & repair. The first thing I done was rule out Motherboard failure, I had another power supply available and I installed this into the machine. The machine powered on and I was able to boot into Windows like nothing had happened. I was pretty certain at this point, it was Power Supply Failure but just to be sure, I performed what is known as the “Paper Clip Test” which involves jumping two pins on the 24 pin motherboard connector to test basic power supply functionality. After doing this it came back that the PSU was dead and an advanced replacement was ordered, by Sunday the new PSU was fitted and the machine was presented back to the client for some more racing fun! – from here we RMA’d the unit back to the manufacture. Corsair was very prompt with their responses here and had no trouble returning the faulty unit. This was a rare but satisfying end result and just another way we like to go the extra mile for our clients.

Please note if you have a suspected PSU failure on your machine, please DO NOT perform the Paper Clip Test if you do not know what you are doing, high voltage is present during this test and without the correct training and equipment – risk of electrocution is highly likely. Do not try this at home.

The Techie Stuff

Operating System: Windows 10 Pro

CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 3600 Processor (6C/12T, 35MB Cache, 4.2 GHz Max Boost)

CPU Cooler: AMD’s Wraith Cooler that comes with the Ryzen 5 3600.

GPU: Gigabyte Radeon RX 5700 XT Gaming OC 8G

RAM: Corsair Vengeance RGB Black PRO 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR4 3200MHz

Storage: Samsung 970 EVO V-NAND M.2 1TB SSD

Motherboard: MSI B450 GAMING PLUS MAX

PSU: Corsair 650W TX650M

Case: NZXT H510i Matte Black

Monitors: 3 X AOC C27G1 27" Curved VA LED FHD (1920x1080) Freesync 144Hz Height adjustable Gaming monitor

Case Fans: 4 X Arctic P12 PWM - Pressure-optimised 120 mm Fan with PWM