Ever wanted to learn how to build a PC? It’s easier than ever and you don’t have to be tech savvy to do it. Here’s how.
POST – Power On Self Test: The process a PC goes through when it starts up to ensure everything is in working order
CPU – Central Processing Unit: Performs complex mathematical calculations and logical operations
GPU – Graphics Processing Unit: Renders graphics onto the screen
Bottleneck – The least powerful part of your PC that’s limiting performance is called a bottleneck.
RAM – Random Access Memory: The working memory of your PC
HDD – Hard Disk Drive: A type of secondary storage, cheaper but much slower than SSD
SDD – Solid State Drive: A type of secondary storage, more expensive but much faster than HDD
Why Should You Build Your Own PC
There are a number of reasons why you would want to build a PC instead of buying a prebuilt.
It’s easier than ever
Building your own PC has been called ‘Adult Lego’ which goes to show how easy it actually is. You don’t need any technical skills or specialised equipment – it all quite literally just fits together. Today, most PC components’ ports and connections are standardised making things easier than ever.
You have control over your PC’s specs
One of the hassles of buying a prebuilt computer from a store is finding one that meets your exact needs. You want a PC that’s powerful enough for what you need it for, but not excessively so that you’d be wasting money on features you won’t use. Building your own PC allows you to control precisely which parts and features to include to meet your exact needs. Nothing more, nothing less.
It’s cheaper than store-bought
Broadly speaking, it’s cheaper to buy the components separately and assemble a PC yourself than it is to buy a prebuilt PC from the store. This is because you’re excluding the cost of labour, and the store’s own markup, from the price.
This is especially true today when, as of writing this article, AMD and Intel are currently engaging in a competitive battle to own the market, which is a win-win for end users since it helps keep prices low.
Side note – the only caveat to this point is that, for several reasons, certain PC components may currently be more expensive than usual or unavailable to purchase. These reasons include the COVID-19 pandemic, current global chip shortage, and high demand due to cryptocurrency mining which can drive up prices. This is further exacerbated by scalpers who snap up high-demand products quickly using bots and then sell them on with a massive markup. Note however that this only applies to high-end GPUs and processors, such as the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080.
Improve your tech skills
Learning how to build a PC yourself is a great way to improve your tech skills. As mentioned previously, it doesn’t actually require much skill and knowledge to do, but will massively improve your understanding of how computers work, what goes where, and what the different components do. This blog is all about self-improvement and learning, so this is exactly in line with what we do.
Sense of accomplishment from making it yourself
Lastly, nothing beats that rush of endorphins when seeing your home-built PC start up for the first time. Seeing a successful POST (Power On Self Test) after hours of research and work gives an unmatched feeling of accomplishment.
Note: Having said all of the above, there is no shame in wanting to skip all the hassle and buy a pre-built anyway. This guide is meant for those who wish to build a PC themselves, but if you’re getting a store-bought pre-built and are planning to upgrade it, I’d recommend reading through the guide anyway so you have a good idea of what parts to get when you do upgrade.
Picking Parts For Your PC
Now that we’ve gone through the reasons to build a PC yourself, let’s talk about how to choose your parts. Which parts you include in your build depends on what you’re going to use it for. And that’s the beauty of it – when you build a PC you can customize it exactly to your needs – nothing more, and nothing less. You don’t need a top of the range graphics card if you’re only going to be using it for work and Facebook. Similarly, if you’re going to build a PC mainly for gaming, you don’t want it to be underpowered. What you want is to find a sweet spot between having enough power and functionality to suit your needs, and still staying within budget.
A PC to Suit Your Needs
If you’re only going to be using your PC for browsing the internet and social media, or for work that’s not processor- or graphics-intensive, you’ll probably only need an entry-level CPU and won’t need a GPU at all – provided your CPU supports integrated graphics.
If you’ll be using your PC for work that involves programming, you’ll want to get a better CPU and more RAM. If you’re doing graphics-heavy work, such as video-editing or 3D rendering, you’ll want to get a decent GPU as well.
If you’re looking to build a gaming PC, you probably won’t need to buy a gaming console as well (although that in itself is a separate discussion) and can instead use one device for gaming and work. In this case, you might want to consider adding what you would have spent on a console to your PC’s budget. If you’re interested in reading more, check out Business Insider’s article on PC vs Consoles: 12 reasons why gaming on a PC is better than game consoles.
How much does it cost?
The price of your build depends on the price of the individual components you include and purchase, and these all depend on your needs.
Generally speaking, a starter build will cost you around $500, a mid to high-range build will be $800-$1000, while a top-of-the-line build will set you back around $1500.
Consider how much you’re willing to spend to build a PC and set a budget for yourself. Think about what you’re going to be using your PC for and how fast and powerful you want it to be.
Now that you have a budget in mind, let’s get started with picking the parts for your PC.
PC Part Picker
PC Part Picker is one of the most useful websites you’ll use when picking parts for your PC and is an invaluable tool for builders. It allows you to plan your build ahead of time, select which component you want to use in each category, and compare prices and features of different components. You’ll be referring to it constantly so you may as well bookmark it in your browser. I recommend creating an account as it allows you to save your parts list for your build to come back and edit or complete later.
There are 2 additional features of PC Part Picker that make it invaluable:
The first is that, once you’ve chosen your parts, it automatically checks for compatibility issues with the parts you’ve listed, and will alert you if there are any conflicts. The last thing you want is to spend a small fortune on parts only to find out that your CPU is not compatible with your motherboard. With this feature of PC Parts Picker, you’ll get a warning beforehand.
The second feature is that it automatically calculates the estimated wattage that your chosen parts will require. This is helpful when choosing a power supply unit for your PC, as it has to be able to power all your components with a bit of wiggle room as well.
Once you’ve created your account with PCPartPicker and are logged in, click on ‘System Builder’ in the top left corner. This whole create a new, empty system build. This is the blank slate onto which you’re going to add all your chosen components for your build. The PCPartPicker algorithm will then automatically determine if the various parts are all compatible with each other, and let you know if there are any issues.
|Note: If you’d rather skip the hassle of choosing every individual part yourself, PCPartPicker does have a selection of predetermined builds to choose from, in various price ranges and categories. Just click Build Guides in the main menu bar and select a build that suits your budget and needs. This will bring up the build page with a description of the build and chosen parts, followed by the part list. You can tweak any of these guide builds to suit your individual needs by clicking on ‘Customize This Part List’. You can also find build guides from reddit’s /r/PCMasterRace community.|
If you’re unsure, reddit’s Starter build is a good starting point for beginners, with a great balance between performance and cost. If you are going with one of reddit’s builds, remember to still plug the parts into a PCPartPicker list and save it, to make things easier in case you want to tweak the build a bit or upgrade later on.
Choosing your Parts
This brings us to the first fun part – choosing the parts for your PC (the second fun part is actually building the PC). We’ll go through each component that you may need and help you decide which part is right for you.
I’d recommend reading through this section even if you choose to use a build guide from PCPartPicker or reddit, as it gives you a good idea of how to pick parts for your PC and what to look out for. This will be helpful if you choose to do another build in the future or to upgrade your current build.
Choosing a motherboard is probably the most important decision you’ll make for your build. It is the heart of any computer. All the parts of your PC are connected to the motherboard and all communicate with each other through the motherboard. The motherboard determines how powerful your computer can be – it must have the right socket for your CPU, and enough slots for your RAM, hard drives, and other components. When choosing a motherboard, consider not only how powerful you want your PC to be, but also how powerful you would like it to eventually become as you upgrade – all future upgrades will have to be compatible with your motherboard. Many PC builders find it useful to select certain core components first – such as the CPU, GPU, and RAM – and then choose a motherboard that is compatible with all of those parts.
You will also need to determine the physical size of the motherboard, also known as the form factor. There are 3 different sizes:
ATX – the full-sized motherboard
Mini-ATX – a smaller sized motherboard
Micro-ATX – smaller still than mini-ATX
An ATX motherboard will have more features and capabilities than a mini- or micro-ATX but will need a case large enough to house it (more on cases later). Mini- and micro-ATX motherboards are smaller but useful if you want to go for a smaller form factor for your PC.
Starter – High-end:
- A cost-effective motherboard suitable for a range of builds from entry-level up to high-end PC, with excellent potential to upgrade.
- Micro ATX
- AM4 CPU socket (supports AMD CPUs)
- 4 x DDR4 RAM slots, up to 64GB memory
- 2 x PCI-E x16 slot, 1 x PCI-E x1 slots
- Supports USB 3.2
- Supports AMD Quad CrossFireX
- Aesthetics: Black/white, with RGB lights
- LGA 1200 CPU socket (supports Intel CPUs)
- 4 x DDR4 RAM slots, up to 128GB memory
- 2 x PCI-E x16 slots, allowing Crossfire with 2 GPUs
- 3 x PCI-E x1 slots
- Supports USB 3.2
- Aesthetics: Black/Silver color
The next part you want to consider is the case (also known as the chassis). This is the external shell that will be housing all the components of your PC. The motherboard will be screwed onto the case, and all the other components will be mounted into dedicated positions onto the case and connected to the motherboard.
Which case you buy is determined by your own personal preference as the case is largely for aesthetic purposes. You’ll want to choose a case that you find aesthetically pleasing and that you won’t get tired of looking at everyday.
Many modern cases have a glass panel on one side to show off your components on the inside. This is usually chosen if the case has lighting on the inside to show off your parts, especially RGB lighting, or if you are a particularly skilled builder and want to show off your cable management.
Many builders these days also choose to create a themed build, where all the parts of the PC fit one aesthetic theme or colour scheme. Some good examples are this NASA themed build from reddit user LSX_Nation and this all-white build from Corsair.
The other factor you’ll have to consider when choosing a case is the size of your motherboard – your case has to be big enough to house it. PC cases come in different sizes to fit micro-ATX, mini-ATX, or ATX motherboards. While micro-ATX, mini-ATX, and ATX motherboards will all fit in an ATX case, an ATX motherboard won’t fit inside a mini-ATX case. In other words, you can get a case that’s bigger than or the same size as your motherboard, but not a motherboard that’s bigger than your case.
MIcro-ATX: Rosewill SRM-01B MicroATX Mini Tower Case
ATX: Cougar MX330-G Air ATX Mid Tower Case
Central Processing Unit (CPU)
If the motherboard is the heart of a PC, the CPU is the brain. It’s responsible for performing complex mathematical calculations and processes that your computer needs to run properly. There are 2 main CPU manufacturers – AMD and Intel. Historically Intel dominated the CPU market, but lately, AMD have broken out with their Ryzen line of CPUs, which are both powerful and cost-effective compared to Intel CPUs. When there is competition in the market like this, we end consumers are the winners as it means quality products at lower prices. Windows Central has a great article on Ryzen CPUs: How to pick the right AMD Ryzen CPU for your PC.
Whichever CPU you choose, your motherboard needs to have the correct socket to match it. This is another reminder to always plug your components into PCPartPicker – it will automatically let you know if there is a compatibility issue.
Also remember that you if you choose not to get a GPU with your build, you’ll need a CPU that supports integrated graphics.
Starter: AMD Ryzen 3200G
- Supports integrated graphics
Mid-range: AMD Ryzen 5 5600X 3.7 GHz 6-Core Processor
High-end (overkill for most people): AMD Ryzen 7 5800X 3.8 GHz 8-Core Processor
Graphics Processing Unit (GPU)
Also known as the graphics card, many people consider this one of the most important decisions when choosing parts for your PC. Note that you don’t need a GPU if you’re not going to be using your PC for gaming or for work that requires graphics rendering eg. video editing, 3D rendering, video game design, graphic design etc. If you’re only going to be using your PC for internet browsing, word processing such as for blogging or writing, or other office work such as working with spreadsheets or administrative tasks, then you can save some money and skip the GPU – provided that your chosen CPU supports integrated graphics.
If you’re using your GPU for gaming, consider what your goals are and your budget. Most PC gamers want to match the performances of current generation gaming consoles (PS4/XBOX One). This means your PC should aim to render games graphically in a resolution of 1920 x 1080 (1080p) at a frame rate of 60 frames per second (fps) on high graphics quality settings. This will be enough to not only keep up with but usually beat the graphical output of current-gen consoles. Most TVs or monitors only support up to 60 fps anyway, but there are gaming monitors available which support higher frame rates.
Note: the GPU is a vital part but not the only part that determines your PC’s graphical output – it is part of a triad formed by your GPU, CPU and RAM. The weakest of these is what will limit your PC’s graphical performance – this is known as your bottleneck.
If you’re using your GPU for video processing or rendering, you’ll want to get a card with a decent amount of Video RAM (VRAM) – 4GB-8GB should do the trick.
GPU chipsets are only manufactured by 2 companies – AMD and NVIDIA. These chipsets are then packaged into GPUs by other companies – such as EVGA, NZXT, and MSI.
Another factor to consider is the concept of Crossfire or SLI. This refers to the ability to use 2 or more GPUs in the same system to provide more graphics processing power. Crossfire refers to AMD’s technology and SLI refers to NVIDIA’s technology – but they’re both conceptually referring to the same thing i.e. using more than 1 GPU in the same system. This is generally for advanced builders who know what they’re doing, but you need to make sure your motherboard supports Crossfire/SLI if you’re going this route.
[bernie sanders meme – i am once again asking you to use pcpartpicker]
As mentioned previously, high-end graphics cards such as the NVIDIA Geforce 3080 series are hard to come by and expensive at the moment, due to chip shortages as well as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’re looking to get a high-end graphics card, it might be worthwhile to wait it out and see if prices stabilize, or consider buying a second-hand card.
Starter – mid-range: Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1650 SUPER 4 GB OC Video Card
RAM stands for Random Access Memory. If the CPU is the brain of the PC, RAM is the attention span – it determines how many processes your PC can work on and pay attention to at once. RAM is primary storage, which means it has the unique property where the data in RAM is constantly being overwritten, and all data stored in RAM is lost when the PC is shut down. RAM effectively functions as the ‘working memory’ of the PC and is not meant to store data long term – that’s what your disk drives are for.
Most motherboards have 4 RAM slots. RAM can be bought in sets of 1, 2, or 4 sticks – most people go with a set of 2 sticks.
Note that if you choose to buy 2 or 4 RAM sticks, the sticks need to match exactly – same manufacturer, type of DDR, and channel. It is possible to buy one RAM stick for now, and buy another stick to add on at a later stage when you’re ready to upgrade – again, the sticks will need to match exactly.
Starter – high-end builds: GeIL EVO SPEAR Phantom Gaming 16 GB (2 x 8 GB) DDR4-3000 CL16 Memory
Storage – HDD vs SSD
Your next decision is what type of secondary storage to use. This is what you’re going to be storing all your files on – documents, pictures, videos etc. Traditionally PCs mostly used Hard Disk Drives (HDD), but Solid State Drives (SSD) have since gained widespread use.
HDDs are generally cheaper than SSDs, even at high capacities. SSDs are more expensive than HDDs, and as a result, the higher capacity SSDs are sometimes prohibitively expensive. SSDs are, however, much faster than HDDs and the benefit gained from this far outweighs the cost. This is the type of drive that’s been added into the Playstation 5 and Xbox One X, accounting for their lighting fast load times (PCs have had SSDs for years). In my personal opinion, a Solid State Drive is the single best upgrade you can get if you want your PC to run smoothly and quickly. Since installing my SSD I have seen my PC boot up daily with under 30 second load times from boot to ready-to-use. I could never imagine going back to using a HDD where you’d wait at least 2 minutes for your PC to start up.
Seriously, get an SSD. While the price can be high, an excellent compromise is to get a small SSD (say, 128GB) to use for installing Windows on only, and a larger HDD (500GB – 2TB depending on your needs) to use for the rest of your storage. Yes, you can have more than one storage drive, as long as one drive is designated as the primary drive which contains your OS. I went this route with my first build and it’s worked superbly and still going strong.
And if I haven’t said it enough times, trust me – get an SSD.
Power Supply Unit
The power supply is fairly self explanatory – it provides power to your entire PC and therefore needs to be able to provide sufficient wattage. Once you’ve plugged all your components into PCPartPicker, it’ll give you the estimated wattage required.
It’s a good idea to add another 100W on top of this as a buffer and also to allow for future upgrades.
Never cheap out on a power supply. If it’s not powerful enough or you buy a dodgy brand, it can fry all your components and turn them into useless paperweights. PC parts are expensive so you don’t want to throw all that cash down the drain.
Fans are needed to cool your PC and prevent it from overheating.
Your case will come with at least one fan so check the product description to see how many you’ll get. A good idea is to have at least 4 fans in total – 2 intake fans and 2 outflow fans.
If you’d like to read more about cooling fans and how to set up an optimal airflow in your PC, check out this article from HowToGeek: How to Manage Your PC’s Fans for Optimal Airflow and Cooling
Fans are also available in various colour and lighting options in case you’re going with a themed build, including RGB lighting.
Building your own PC is a great way to improve your tech skills. It’s easier than ever especially with useful tools like PCPartPicker. Consider carefully your budget and the intended use of your PC when choosing parts and make sure they’re all compatible with each other.
That’s it for part 1 of this guide – watch out for part 2 where we’ll go into how to actually build the PC and put everything together. For those of you who can’t wait and just want to start building, there are many helpful videos on YouTube detailing the process – here’s a good one by JayzTwoCents:
We hope this guide gave you a good idea of why you should build your own PC and how to select the parts that are right for you. And remember to use PCPartPicker when Picking Parts for your PC. How’s that for a tongue twister 😉
Check out these links for more useful info and further reading:
PCPartPicker – A PC builder’s best friend.
Business Insider’s 12 reasons why gaming on a PC is better than game consoles.
Windows Central on How to pick the right AMD Ryzen CPU for your PC.
And finally, How to Manage Your PC’s Fans for Optimal Airflow and Cooling by HowToGeek.
Feel free to leave a comment if you found this guide helpful or if you have any other suggestions.