You’ve probably heard that building a PC is more cost-effective than buying one pre-assembled.
Plus, you get to pick all your favorite components and optimize performance.
If you’ve never built one before, you’re probably wondering if it’ll be hard.
You may even worry that you’ll wreck some parts and have to pay extra to buy new ones.
Fortunately, assembling a PC is easier than you think.
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know to build your first PC.
Is Building A PC Hard?
Building a PC is a straightforward, safe, and highly enjoyable experience.
You only need to plug the components into the motherboard and tighten a few screws to mount the motherboard in the case.
There’s almost no chance of plugging the components into the wrong slots, and you definitely won’t break anything.
Assembling your first PC takes two to four hours, depending on your components.
For instance, RGB lights and water cooling take longer to install, especially for first-time builders.
Before building your PC, you must pick the parts based on your budget and compatibility.
Once you have all the components, find a large dust-free surface at a comfortable height, such as a kitchen counter or dining table.
Assemble the CPU, RAM, NVME drive, and CPU cooler on the motherboard before mounting the motherboard in the case.
Then connect your SSDs, hard drive, graphics card, and RGB to the motherboard.
Finally, connect the power cables from your power supply unit to the motherboard, storage drives, graphics card, and fans.
Now, if you connect your computer to a monitor, you should see a bunch of text on the screen that indicates your RAM and storage have been detected, and everything is fine.
From there, you need to install Windows and your drivers.
With that brief explanation, let’s cover the PC building process step by step, so you don’t have to feel nervous about it.
How To Build A PC From Scratch
Assembling a PC isn’t just about putting the parts together.
It requires a fair bit of planning and research.
Here are the steps to building your first PC.
Step 0: Set Your Budget
There’s no limit on how much you can spend buying computer hardware.
Without a budget, you can spend north of $6,000 for the most high-end gaming components.
You won’t necessarily get the best performance by buying the most expensive parts.
Before splurging on the latest CPU or graphics card, think about how you’ll use your computer and how much you want to spend.
You can throw together a high-performing gaming PC with less than $1,000, and you may even be able to spend as little as $500 if you compromise on a few things.
Of course, you can’t play 4K games or edit high-resolution videos on a budget PC, but the point is that you should decide how much you want to spend before getting started.
If you only want to do everyday tasks, such as browsing online and word processing, you don’t have to go over $600.
For light gaming, you can spend just under $1,000 for a machine that also lets you run more resource-intensive applications like SolidWorks and Adobe Premier.
If you’re a hardcore gamer, though, set aside between $1,500 to $2,500 to get a top-of-the-line CPU and GPU with all the RGB you want.
Anything beyond that is overkill!
Note: If you’re on a tight budget, a reasonable option is to buy a used machine. You can find high-performing computers at a fraction of their original price without compromising performance. You can also easily upgrade these machines for a small budget.
Step 1: Select Your Parts
Picking the parts is the most critical step in building a PC.
Your system needs seven main components: CPU, motherboard, graphics card, RAM, storage, power supply, and case.
When choosing components, you need to consider compatibility and performance.
Not all PC parts work with each other.
Most importantly, you need a matching CPU-motherboard pair because different CPUs require different sockets on the motherboard.
Intel CPUs typically use the LGA standard, while AMD CPUs rely on AM4 and AM4+.
Additionally, the chipsets on motherboards are specifically made to match processors from a single manufacturer.
In other words, you can mount an AMD CPU on a motherboard with an Intel chipset.
Although AMD offers better backward compatibility, buying the same CPU and motherboard generation is best.
This way, you can be sure that the motherboard has all the features you need and can take advantage of all the CPU’s functionality.
You can even buy CPU-motherboard combos to take the guesswork out of the equation.
Your choice of motherboard affects all your other choices as everything plugs into the motherboard.
First up, RAM!
Different generations of DDR RAM aren’t cross-compatible, so you must see which generation goes with your motherboard.
DDR4 and DDR5 are the most common types these days.
Second, consider your storage type.
Modern motherboards have multiple slots for NVME SSDs, which are incredibly fast.
However, different generations and standards aren’t necessarily compatible.
Alternatively, your motherboard may only have SATA ports for a standard 2.5-inch SSD and regular hard drive.
In that case, you can’t install an NVME drive on the motherboard.
Third, see how many expansion slots your motherboard has and which generation they are.
Your graphics card needs to work on the same PCIe generation.
Furthermore, high-end graphics cards, such as NVidia’s RTX 3090, take up more than one slot.
Make sure there’s enough room on the motherboard to install the card and for future upgrades.
Finally, you need a case that fits your motherboard and graphics card.
You need a full or mid-tower if you’re buying an ATX motherboard.
Bulky graphics cards, such as the Nvidia 30 series, which have three fans, also require at least a mid-tower.
Full towers are larger and more challenging to move, but they offer better ventilation and cable management opportunities.
Mid towers are more popular among regular users because they don’t require as much space.
If you have a smaller motherboard, such as a micro-ATX or ITX, you can opt for a smaller case that easily fits on any desk.
In most cases, the CPU is the component that determines your system’s performance.
When choosing a CPU, use the number of cores, threads, and base frequency to compare different products in a lineup.
However, remember that these numbers can be misleading when comparing different CPU generations or architectures.
Also, note the difference between the base and turbo (overclocked) frequencies.
If you’re a regular user who won’t overclock their CPU, buying a 3.8 GHz processor can be more beneficial than a 3.4 GHz one with a maximum speed of 5 GHz.
If you’re an advanced user, compare cache capacities and the number and versions of PCI lanes the CPUs support.
The same principles apply to GPUs.
You can only use clock speed and memory capacity to compare the same generation of GPUs from the same manufacturer.
Manufacturers even go as far as putting large amounts of slow memory on their low and mid-range graphics cards to deceive users.
The best approach is to read performance reviews and compare benchmark performances to make an informed decision.
Also, see if the graphics card has other features such as hardware video encoding, real-time ray tracing, and DLSS.
Now, let’s move on to the motherboard.
The most high-end board won’t necessarily give you better performance than a mid-range unless you want to overclock everything on your computer.
Two motherboards with the same chipset will have almost identical performance.
Buy a decent motherboard with enough ports and slots to meet your requirements, and call it a day!
In terms of storage, you definitely need an SSD as your boot drive.
If your motherboard supports it, an NVME drive is the fastest technology available.
However, ensure the drive has a DRAM chip as manufacturers sometimes exclude it to save costs.
Also, pay attention to your drive’s terabytes written (TBW) value since SSDs have a finite number of write cycles.
Avoid anything below 300 TBW or five years of warranty.
Finally, let’s talk about RAM.
In general, having more RAM allows your system to run more applications in parallel without slowing down.
These days, you need at least 16 GB of DDR4 RAM that runs at 2,133 MHz or higher.
Some CPUs prefer memory that runs at a specific frequency because their memory controllers run at matching speeds, resulting in more optimal performance.
For example, modern AMD CPUs work best with memories running at 3,600 or 3,800 MHz.
Many people, especially gamers, prefer personalizing their rigs with custom RGB lights and accessories.
You can create almost any look you can imagine.
However, you’ll have to set aside a sizable budget if you want a truly custom look.
The first thing to consider is the case.
If you plan to show off your cool graphics card and elegant cable management, you need a case with tempered glass side panels.
Most computer cases are black, but you can easily find white options, too.
Some manufacturers even allow you to customize the color and give you matching cables.
The shape of the case can be anything you want as long as it provides adequate ventilation and fits all your parts.
RGB fans and RAM add glowing effects to your parts, but they come at an extra cost and won’t improve your performance.
Plus, your motherboard has to have enough ports for the fans. Otherwise, you need an extra controller.
You can also add RGB strips if you want more special effects.
Finally, you can choose custom-loop water cooling if you like the appearance.
These cooling solutions also tend to be more effective than simple fans.
If you’re going for an integrated look, also consider the mouse, keyboard, monitor, and speakers you’ll use.
D. Allocating Your Budget
Many people cite lower prices as the main reason they build their own PCs.
You can hunt deals for individual components throughout the web and even buy used parts that are in good shape.
Use PCPartPicker to see which retailers have deals and discounts for the parts you want.
Newegg, Aliexpress, Wish.com, and eBay are also places to consider when buying PC parts.
Another way to save some money is to buy last-gen parts.
However, carefully consider your options to avoid being locked into parts that limit your upgradability down the line.
You may also have to deal with more limited driver updates since support for older generation products ends sooner.
The graphics card is most probably your most expensive component, especially if you want to build a gaming rig.
Allocate between 30 to 40 percent of your budget to the GPU but never go beyond 50 percent because you won’t have enough to buy other parts that give you optimal performance when paired with your GPU.
It’s also wise to save a few dollars on unnecessary features and buy a better GPU instead.
If you’re not into gaming or video editing, you can splurge on the CPU and RAM but get a more affordable GPU.
Intel sells its overclockable chips (K series) at higher prices than their locked ones.
They also charge more if the CPU comes with an integrated GPU, so for an F or KF series Intel CPU if you’re on a tight budget.
In contrast, AMD’s chips are overclockable, and the company sells its GPU-enabled processors (G series) at a lower price than its standalone CPUs.
Non-gamers with modest computer use don’t have to spend extra for custom cooling.
The stock cooling on your CPU and case will be enough if you only browse the web and play light games.
Warning: Never use a secondhand power supply in your rig as you risk damaging your components and may even lose your data.
Step 2: Prepare Your Workstation
Once you’ve purchased all your parts, it’s time to assemble the rig.
Find a clean, dust-free surface at a comfortable height—for example, a kitchen counter.
Ground yourself before getting started to avoid damaging your components.
Although modern hardware is highly resistant to electrostatic shocks, CPUs are still highly vulnerable.
If possible, wear an anti-static wrist strap while you build the rig.
Otherwise, touch a metal part of the case regularly.
You also need a Phillips head screwdriver and a few zip ties for cable management.
Your parts will have the necessary screws in their boxes.
If you bought used components, though, you can easily find more screws online.
Step 3: Assemble The Parts
Start with the motherboard.
Take it out of the box and peel the plastics but don’t mount it in the case yet.
First, mount the CPU and RAM sticks.
It’s best to install your RAM in dual-channel: two lower-capacity sticks instead of a larger one.
This arrangement lets your system boot even if one of the sticks fails, and it gives you a slight performance edge.
Insert the DIMMs in the slots with identical colors.
If you have an NVME drive, mount it before putting the motherboard in the case.
You need to identify the slot that hosts the NVME drive and tighten the screw to hold it in place.
High-end motherboards may come with a tiny heatsink for your NVME drive that sticks onto the drive.
Installing the heatsink isn’t necessary, but it can increase your drive’s longevity as it’ll run cooler.
Finally, mount the CPU cooler before putting the motherboard in the case.
Install the radiator and connect the CPU block and pump if you’re using water-cooling.
If you have extra fans, now is the time to mount them and connect them to the motherboard.
The next step is to connect your SATA storage and graphics card.
Then, put the PSU inside the case and tighten the screws.
Then connect the 24-pin motherboard cable and the six or eight-pin cable.
Fans, SATA, and the graphics card should be next.
Step 4: Test The Setup
Once you’ve put everything in place, don’t close the side panel.
Connect your PSU to an outlet and your monitor to your graphics card.
Press the power button and see if the computer turns on.
You should hear a short, loud beep that indicates your hardware is functioning normally.
You’ll also see a few lines of text on the screen indicating that the RAM and storage are detected.
However, this is as far as you can go with a machine without an operating system.
Step 5: Install An Operating System And Drivers
The final step is to install an operating system, the software that allows your hardware to communicate and execute commands.
You need an installation medium to copy the OS files to your boot drive.
In the old days, we used to have CDs and DVDs that were inserted into optical drives.
These days, you must install your OS from a USB thumb drive.
Windows and Linux bootable thumb drives are easy to create and don’t require any special hardware.
You can download the installation files from another computer and make the drive bootable using a few commands or a small utility.
You can also buy ready-to-go USB sticks from Microsoft or reputable vendors.
The OS will have most of the drivers for your hardware, but the graphics card and audio output usually require separate installations.
The drivers will come in the box or be available for download on the manufacturers’ websites.
Note: You should download your audio and LAN drivers from the motherboard manufacturer’s website.