Get Exactly What You Want
When looking into purchasing a new PC, you're sure to come across a common recommendation on internet forums: instead of buying a pre-built computer, build your own. But is it really better to build your own computer? We'll let you decide. Here are some tips for how to build a computer.
There are a number of reasons someone who is serious about their PC should build it themselves. We'll go over those reasons here — and once we've persuaded you to go this route, we'll give you a step-by-step guide on how to build a computer. Then we'll throw in some helpful tips for good measure.
Let's get started!
Advantages of Building a Computer
1. You'll Save Money
If you love saving money (which I hope you do), then this should be the primary reason you build your own computer.
Have you ever taken your car to the shop for some light work and left with a feeling that your bill was a little higher than you would have liked? That’s because you’re not just paying for the labor done, you’re paying for the skill it took to perform said labor as well.
The same principle applies to computers. Building a computer is no easy feat for the average Jill or Joe. Companies know this and will charge what they feel is appropriate for having built the computer for you. You’re also paying for brand value, and as a result, pre-built computers oftentimes are priced for more than they are worth in parts.
For gaming computers, the most prominent example of this is Alienware. Make no mistake: Alienware rigs use top-notch components. However, their computers are notoriously overpriced. You're looking at paying $3,000 for an Alienware PC that is about $1,500 value in components.
As such, building your own computer is a particularly good option if you are on a budget. If you’re a gamer on a $400 budget, for example, you'll have little chance of purchasing a pre-built computer capable of playing recent Triple-A gaming titles. But with a custom PC and investment in a solid GPU, this is more than possible. You’ll probably have to turn off things like anti-aliasing and shadows, but it’s a small price to pay in order to play modern gaming titles.
2. You'll be able to Craft a PC Tailored to Your Priorities
For the most part, you can split consumer computers into four categories: gaming rigs, computers for video editing, computers for audio/music production, and general usage PCs.
If you’re an avid gamer, but also aspire to be the next Timbaland, building a computer that is a balanced rig capable of meeting your gaming and music production needs is better than just buying a computer from Dell or Acer.
PCs are a long-term investment, and as such, you shouldn’t settle for something that isn’t exactly what you want. Building a PC allows you to build your PC.
3. You'll Feel More Gratified
This is a subjective point, but I find that building your own computer is easily one of the most rewarding experiences you can have. Just take a moment to process the very thought of building a PC. Even if you need help (because Talos guide you if you go into building a PC blind), building a computer is a one-of-a-kind experience.
Disadvantages of Building a Computer
1. It's Not for the Easily Frustrated
Was putting up a tent one of the worst experiences you had during your time in Scouts as a kid? Are you the kind of person who can barely follow the instructions laid out in the manual for an “easy to build” living room chair?
Well, I have news for you: getting your hands on expensive tech and trying to build a computer might not be the best idea. Building a computer is a very rewarding experience, but for neophytes, it can also be a very frustrating one.
2. It’s Very Easy to Mess Up/Buy the Wrong Parts
This disadvantage is something that can be avoided entirely by simply following a guide, but it’s still worth bringing up. It is very easy for you to screw up your PC build and/or purchase things you don’t really need.
Did you buy some liquid metal over standard thermal paste but you don’t care about overclocking? Then you wasted some money.
Is the CPU you purchased bottlenecking your GPU? That’s going to get annoying.
Did you insert your graphics card into the wrong PCI express lane? That’s going to weaken your computer’s overall performance.
Most of the mistakes you're likely to make when building a computer won't be fatal, but they will hamper how well your computer performs. And unless you show your PC build to someone who knows what they're doing, you'll never know in what ways your computer's performance is being hampered. As a result, your computer may never realize its full potential.
Parts You'll Need to Build a Computer
There are eight components you will need to build yourself a PC. Those components are:
- CPU cooler
- Power source
Your graphics processing unit, or graphics card, is a staple part of a PC. It handles the rendering of everything you see on screen, be it still images, animations, videos, etc. For gaming computers, the GPU is arguably the most important thing, and what you’ll most likely spend the most money on.
The central processing unit, or processor, is the brain of your computer. It receives data, processes information and executes instructions. The main thing to look for when selecting a CPU for your computer is the number of cores said CPU has.
The core is the part of a CPU that receives instructions and performs calculations based on those instructions. The current general consensus is to aim for a CPU with at least a quad-core.
CPUs are also where clocking speed comes into play, but CPUs are in such a good place in regards to clocking speed that this isn’t really something you need to worry about.
The GPU might be the most important component of a gaming rig, but for video editors and music producers out there, the CPU is significantly more important. Of course, the CPU is important for gaming rigs as well. If your GPU is top of the line but your CPU is sub-par, the CPU won’t be able to keep up with your GPU and bottlenecking is likely to occur (GPUs can bottleneck CPUs as well).
Being the brain of a computer is a lot of work, and because of this, your CPU can overheat. In order to keep this from happening, you need to invest in a CPU cooler. CPU coolers will keep your CPU cool and will improve the efficiency and stability of your CPU.
There are two kinds of CPU coolers: air CPU coolers, which are heat sinks and/or fans, and liquid CPU coolers. Air CPU coolers are the most common and are easier to install yourself. Some CPUs come with their own CPU coolers.
The motherboard, or main circuit board, got its name by being the mother of your computer’s components. The motherboard is what connects components like the CPU, GPU and RAM together and allows them to communicate with each other. The motherboard also connects the components to the power supply.
An important thing to keep in mind when choosing a motherboard is compatibility. Some components, such as the CPU or RAM, are not compatible with certain motherboards, depending on the socket type that said motherboard has and what generation your CPU is.
PCPartPicker is an essential resource when choosing the components for your PC. This website automatically eliminates components that are incompatible with the components you are considering purchasing.
Random access memory, or RAM, is essentially the short-term memory of your computer. RAM is needed to properly run operating systems, games and apps — all of which have minimum RAM requirements.
DDR4 is the most current and common form of RAM. DDR2 and DDR3 are outdated and should be avoided. Aim to have at least 4 GB of RAM, although a minimum of 8 GB is even better.
Storage is the long-term memory of your rig. There are two kinds of storage to choose from: solid state drive (SSD) and hard disk drive (HDD). SDDs are more expensive than HDDs and have less space and power draw, but are faster and more durable.
HDDs hold more than SDDs and are cheaper and have more power draw, but are less durable and are not as fast. It is generally recommended to have both an HDD and SDD and allocate storage where you see fit.
Once you've built your computer, you may want to format your hard drive for maximum efficiency.
The power source, or power supply unit (PSU), does exactly what it sounds like: supplies power. A rig doesn’t run on hopes and dreams, after all.
PSUs are one of the easiest components to buy. The most important thing to keep in mind when selecting a PSU is the efficiency rating. Don’t give any PSU that is sporting less than 80 efficiency rating the time of day.
PCPartPicker is again very helpful when selecting this particular component of your PC. You need a power source that can handle the rest of your hardware, and PCPartPicker will automatically make sure it does.
The final component needed for your PC is the case (also known as the computer chassis). The computer case holds the other components of your computer. There are multiple sizes of computer cases; how big your motherboard is will determine your computer case options. Certain cases, such as mini tower cases, can only support certain motherboards, whereas full tower cases can support all of them.
A lot of cases also come with fans pre-installed. In 2019, I would say this is the norm when it comes to cases, so that’s one less step you need to worry about!
Step-by-Step Guide to Building a Computer
Step 1: Prepare Your Tools and Workstation
The most important tool you will need is a Phillips-head screwdriver. Neophytes may also feel more comfortable with other tools like forceps, anti-static wristbands, and cable ties.
I also recommend getting your own thermal paste. CPUs generally come with a small amount of thermal paste already applied, but the amount applied is usually insufficient and of a lower quality brand. Gather all the tools you think you’ll need, and bring them to a flat surface.
Step 2: Install the CPU Into the Socket of the Motherboard and Apply Thermal Paste
This part is simple. Unlatch the clamp on the processor socket so you can access it. Next, line up the arrow on the CPU with the arrow in the CPU socket, and gently place it inside. Put the clamp back on, and you’re done.
After that is finished, apply a tiny drop of thermal paste onto the middle of your CPU — don’t lather it on; a small drop is enough.
Step 3: Install the Heat Sink
After you have installed your CPU, the next step is adding in your heat sink. Your heat sink should fit easily on top of the processor and you’ll need to screw it into place.
Step 4: Install the RAM
Take your RAM sticks and place them in the appropriate DIMM slots in accordance with the grooves. You will hear an audible click when they have been inserted properly.
Step 5: Attach the I/O Shield to the Case
Your motherboard will come with a rectangular piece of metal that fits over the ports of your motherboard. There is a slot in your case to place the I/O shield. You should be able to easily snap this in.
Step 6: Insert the Motherboard Into the Case
After your I/O shield is put into place, the next step is gently inserting your motherboard into your case. This is another easy step.
Step 7: Secure the Motherboard to the Case
Break out your Phillips-head screwdriver and the screws that came with your case, and make sure the screws are firmly in place to ensure your motherboard is secured. Don’t screw them in too tightly, or that might damage the motherboard.
Step 8: Install the GPU
Up next is the installation of your GPU. Place it into the proper PCIe lane until you hear it snap into place.
Step 9: Install the Power Supply
Yet another easy step. Install your power supply into the proper slot and screw it into place.
Step 10: Install the Hard Drive/Storage
Depending on your case, you will either be able to slide your hard drive right into the appropriate bracket and be done with it, or you will have to screw the hard drive into place. Either way, it’s a simple process.
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Step 11: Attach All the Cables
Once you’re done installing everything, the next step is putting all the cables into place. This isn’t hard — simply line up the cables with the appropriately shaped slots and firmly insert them.
Step 12: Connect the GPU Power Pins to the PSU (If Necessary)
Some processors need to be connected to the PSU. Some don’t. If your processor is one that needs to be connected to the PSU, find the 6-pin PCIe connector and connect them. Note that some processors need two connectors.
Step 13: Connect All the Pins to Their Corresponding Slots
Just like the cables, you’ll have to connect some pins before you can move on. Make sure you’ve connected the case fan, heat sink power cord, PSU 24-pin connector, etc. Just match the shapes and you’ll be good to go.
Step 14: Close the Case and Boot up Your PC
Once you’ve got all your cables and pins connected, close your case up and boot up your PC. As long as everything was done properly, it should start up normally.
Step 15: Enjoy Knowing You’ve Successfully Built a PC!
That’s it! That wasn’t so bad, was it?
Helpful Tip: Watch a Video Guide
Building a computer is a very hands-on task, and seeing it done is likely to help you far more than reading any guides will. Watching a video guide will make it easier to follow along with each step of the process and give you peace of mind that you are doing everything correctly.
There are a ton of video guides for building PCs on YouTube that will help you if you get stuck. Here are a few of our recommendations:
Are There Any Easier Options?
Building a PC seems a lot more intimidating than it actually is, but if you truly don’t think you're ready for it, I would recommend you head over to iBuyPower. It’s not as cheap as building a computer yourself, but it’s a lot cheaper than buying from retailers like Amazon, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, etc. iBuyPower regularly has flash sales and other deals that you can take advantage of, too.
How Much Does Building a Computer Cost?
For the most part, custom gaming computers and custom video editing computers have the same price ranges, depending on how powerful of a PC you are looking to build. For budget spenders, expect to shell out around $300-400. At this price, you'll be able to build a computer that will allow you to play older games and eSports games.
For a higher-class — but not elite — PC, expect to spend $700-$750. At this price, you'll be able to build a computer that will allow you to play modern games.
For an elite custom PC, you’ll be spending around $1,000. Spending more than this is often unnecessary as this is when diminishing returns can come into play. But if you want to splurge, that’s up to you.
That about wraps it up for this guide. We hope this article was helpful and gets you one step closer to crafting your very own PC. I know it may seem daunting, but mustering the courage to do it is honestly the hardest part.
The PC community is very helpful, especially when it comes to building PCs, so don’t be afraid to ask for help from your peers.