How to build your own PC & what is needed
If you’ve been blaming yourself for not doing anything productive during the lockdown, get rid of those quickly. Sometimes nothing is exactly what you need – just do "nothing" for a change. But sometimes it is nice to create something with your own hands. That’s what this guide is all about: how to rebuild a PC from scratch.
This can be daunting for many reasons – it’s expensive (borrowing money is not uncommon in this) it’s complex, it can get messy. But we want to make it clear: If you can build an Ikea table, a bookshelf, a bed, or anything else, you can build a PC. The tricky part? We cannot tell you how you should build your PC. Not really. Not until we know exactly what hardware you are using. However, we can explain what each component does and what our recommendations are for each category.
What do you need?
No matter how much experience you have, it is recommended to use a site such as Mindfactory for example. Not only can you find everything you need to buy, but you can assemble your PC piece by piece right on the website to make sure all your hardware fits together nicely. There are even some examples of the structure, which you can customize according to your needs.
Regardless of what type of PC you are building (home office or gaming), the components you need are always the same. You need a motherboard, a central processing unit (CPU), memory, RAM, a power supply, a case, and a monitor. The only thing you might not need if you’re using this PC mainly for home office tasks is a graphics processing unit (GPU), but it’s necessary for editing photos or videos and for games. That’s a lot of stuff. Below is a brief overview of what each component does, as well as some hardware recommendations.
But before you dive in, you should know that there is currently a worldwide shortage of PC components, especially graphics cards, and that overall prices continue to rise. When parts are not available, the best advice we can give is to wait. eventually things will get back to normal.
Every other component is connected to this board. It is the highway through which they communicate and collaborate. They come in different sizes and configurations, and each looks a little different, but they all perform the same function. One thing to watch out for: Before you buy a motherboard, make sure you know which processor you’re going to use. Motherboards come in different types, but the most important thing is which socket it has.
There are basically two types: LGA and AM. They are always listed with a number after the socket, z. B. LGA1150 or AM3. The exact numbers behind the LGA and AM parts of these port names change over time to indicate which generation of Intel or AMD chips they support, but the current standards as of 2021 (which work with the latest chips from both manufacturers) are LGA1200 for Intel and AM4 for AMD.
Motherboards also come in a variety of sizes, the most common being ATX (or "full size"). This is what I generally recommend, especially if this is your first build. Your PC case will state what motherboard size it supports, so make sure they match up.
- ASUS ROG Strix B450-F (Socket AM4): For a system designed for 1080p gaming, you should start here.
- MSI MPG Z490 (Socket LGA 1200): This model is great for Intel processors and mid-tier machines.
- MSI Prestige X570 Creation (AM4 Socket): If you want to build a high-end computer, you should go for the X570 Creation Edition.
- ASUS ROG Maximus Hero (Socket LGA 1200): As the name suggests, this is a high-performance motherboard for gaming machines. If you want to use an Intel i9 processor, this is our recommendation.
This is the brain of your computer. It has a direct connection to the motherboard and is the most important component of your PC. That doesn’t mean it has to be the most expensive, though. We’ll get to that later. If the CPU doesn’t mention that thermal paste is included, be sure to get some. Don’t eat it. I know it looks tasty, but it’s not food.
- AMD Ryzen 3 3200G 4-core 3.6 GHz: Since 1080p gaming isn’t particularly CPU intensive, this is a good all-around choice. It pairs well with the included Wraith cooler, but the CoolerMaster Hyper 212 is also a good choice.
- Intel Core i5-11400 6-core 2.6 GHz: Intel’s latest i5 offerings are a good choice for everyday workloads and won’t be slowed down by your games, as long as you have the GPU power to carry the bulk of that load. Also available on Amazon.
- Intel Core i7-10700K 8-core 3.8 GHz: An Intel i7 will see you through most heavy workloads and 4K gaming. It works well with an NZXT Kraken M22 liquid cooler.
- Intel Core i9-11900K 8-core 3.5 GHz: Intel’s high-end gaming option, the Core i9 of 11. Generation, is an incredibly versatile performer. This device pushes games to their absolute limits and shreds content creation workloads.
- Ryzen 9 5950X 16-core 3.4 GHz: AMD’s 16-core behemoth is a killer CPU for high-end 4K or 144 Hz gaming, but right now it’s hard to find. Use it with the Kraken X72 Liquid Cooler from NZXT.
Graphics Card (GPU)
If you want to play games on this PC, you’ll need a graphics unit (also called a graphics card). This is a special processor designed and optimized for processing visual data like the graphics in games. It’s also used for video and photo editing and other graphics-intensive tasks. These cards are currently hard to find in stock (or at a reasonable price), so you may have to wait a while.
- MSI GeForce GTX 1660: This graphics card is a good choice for gamers on a budget. As a reminder, prices are unusually high due to GPU shortages. This graphics card typically costs around $180.
- MSI Radeon RX 570: The RX 570 is getting a bit long in the tooth, but it’s a good buy for budget builds.
- MSI GeForce RTX 2060: If you want to get into medium-high end gaming, this card offers a good balance between performance and price.
- Asus ROG Strix RTX 3060: Nvidia’s 30-series graphics cards are often out of stock due to the worldwide chip shortage, but if you can find one at a reasonable price, the RTX 3060 is a great 1080p and 1440p gaming graphics card.
- Asus TUF Gaming GeForce RTX 3080: For 4K gaming on an Nvidia chip, the RTX 3080 is hard to beat. Their new onboard technology, DLSS, does wonders for in-game rendering, making your games look and run better. Like the 3060, these chips are hard to find at the moment.
- Radeon RX 5700: The RX 5700 is a really solid choice for 1080p gaming on an AMD chip.
- Radeon RX 6800 XT: If you’re going all out, the RX 6800 XT is my first choice right now. It’s a beast of a GPU that can handle anything you throw at it. Even Cyberpunk 2077 in full 4K resolution.
This is your PC’s walk-in closet. Store all your files here, your games, your movies, your documents, your photos, just about everything. You can always add more memory later if you need it.
- Internal WD Blue 1TB SSD: It is fast and offers a lot of storage space.
- Samsung 980 Pro M.2 SSD: The M.2 drives from Samsung are always a good choice. They’re fast, durable, and tiny (about the size of gum), so they can be paired with just about any other internal SSD. Most motherboards have an M.2-Slot either on the front of the board or on the back, and you don’t even have to mess with cables.
- Samsung 970 Evo M.2 SSD: The Evo series is cheaper, but also a bit slower. It’s still an excellent buy for any build. If you have a small budget, choose the Ego.
- WD Black 1-TB M.2 SSD: Western Digital’s Black Series gaming storage offers lightning-fast transfer rates to keep up with your latest games.
- Corsair MP600 M.2 SSD: Corsair’s MP600 drive has a built-in heatsink that keeps the temperature down while it transfers your data at blazing speeds.
If you look at RAM and storage, you’ll find a lot of the same terms, but they’re very different. RAM is more like a table you throw things on to work on later. It is a scratch paper; it is short term. However, it is very important because software uses memory to cache (temporarily store) data so it can be retrieved very quickly.
- Corsair Vengeance LPX 16-GB 288-pin RAM: High-end gaming rigs always come with 32 or 64 gigabytes of RAM, but a good old pair of 8GB sticks will do for most 1080p gaming and everyday tasks.
- G.Skill Ripjaws V series 32-GB 288-pin RAM: With this amount of RAM, you should be good to go for everyday tasks and gaming.
- Corsair Dominator Platinum 64GB 288-pin RAM: If you need more power for content creation or high-end gaming, upgrade to 64GB of RAM.
Power supply (AC adapter)
Their PSU is a small box that provides power to all components. It determines how fast and powerful your PC can be. The faster it is, the more power it takes, and you always want to have a bit more than you need, just in case. Just like the GPUs, the power supplies are also hard to find at the moment.
- EVGA SuperNOVA 750 GA power supply: You should always make sure you have more power than you need, and this power supply offers just that.
- NZXT E850 850-watt power supply: This 850-watt power supply provides enough power to run even the most demanding high-end builds.
- EVGA SuperNOVA 1.000-watt power supply: For PCs with multiple graphics cards or a lot of storage, the 1.000 watt power supply from EVGA a good choice.
Its case is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a metal case. It may be covered with glass panels and etched aluminum, but inside it’s just a big metal box that holds everything together. Make sure it fits the size of your motherboard. When you z. B. have an ATX motherboard, you need an ATX case (or a case "Full-Size").
- Corsair Obsidian Series ATX Full Tower: There are many different types of enclosures: some are super small, others are huge. And your decision will ultimately come down to the design that appeals to you the most. If you’re unsure what to buy, this enclosure is ideal for your initial setup. Other case manufacturers we like are NZXT, Fractal, Phanteks, Cooler Master and Lian Li.
- NZXT H710i ATX Mid-Tower: This is one of my favorites. It has a sleek aesthetic and a slightly compact silhouette without compromising cooling performance or accessibility.
The operating system
When you build a PC, you don’t automatically have Windows with it. You will need to purchase a license from Microsoft or another vendor and create a USB stick for installation.
We won’t go into too much detail here, as every PC is built a little differently, but in general this is how you should go about putting all these components together.
Prepare a clean workspace first. This can be a dining room table, a cleared desk – just a surface large enough for your case to lay flat on its side, with enough space around it for the rest of your components to fit. You’ll also need a Phillips screwdriver to match the screws in your case. When assembling parts, be sure to dissipate static charges and work on a non-metallic surface like a wooden table. You can also just assemble the motherboard on the box it comes in.
There are instruction manuals included with most of the components you purchased; keep them handy. We start with the motherboard, so refer to the manual on the installation page. It can be pretty intimidating – there’s a lot to look at – but think of it like a big Lego set. Every part fits into every other part. With the motherboard, the first thing you need to do is install your CPU.
Installing your CPU (processor)
Depending on what type of CPU you bought (Intel or AMD), the chip will have either small prongs on one side (don’t touch them) or small gold contacts on one side (don’t touch them). Do not touch this side of the chip under any circumstances. Oils from your fingertips can damage the contacts, or you could bend a pin. If you do either, your processor will become an expensive lump of silicone.
Installing your processor is pretty simple. First, check your motherboard’s instructions and make sure you have unlocked the processor’s connector. The socket is a large square with a series of small holes (or contacts) and a lever or button next to it. Your motherboard’s manual explicitly states how to unlock the connector so that you can easily use your processor.
Once you’ve made sure it’s unlocked and ready, simply find the corner of your processor that has a small gold triangle and align it with the same symbol on the motherboard’s socket. Carefully lower the processor into the socket, then carefully flip the latch or locking mechanism over. You should not have to struggle with it. If you have to press very hard, double check that the processor is properly socketed.
Next you need your thermal paste. The little plastic syringe with the silvery goo is very important for this step. Now that your processor is in place, take a look at the shiny silicon square in the middle. It is the place where the heat sink will sit. Your processor came with a heatsink, on one side of which you will see a copper circuit. After we apply the thermal paste, you will place the heatsink directly on the processor with the silicone square and the copper circuit perfectly aligned.
Carefully squeeze a small ball (no bigger than a pea) of thermal paste onto the silicon square of your processor. It should be as close to the center as possible.
Now align the heatsink with the screws surrounding the processor and carefully lower it into place. You will be crushing the thermal paste, and the goal is to create a thin layer on the back of the processor. It’s fine if it drips a little, but if it runs over the edge of the processor, you’ve used too much. Take some isopropyl alcohol, dab it on a lint-free cloth, and wipe down the processor and heatsink. Wait until they are thoroughly dry and try again.
If everything is in order, screw the heatsink into place. Refer to your motherboard’s manual and find the correct location near the base for your heatsink’s fan. It should be very close to the socket. Once you find it, plug it in – congratulations, you just installed a CPU. This was the hardest part, and now it’s over, good job.
Installing memory and RAM
The memory is perhaps the easiest thing to install. See those little vertical sockets next to the CPU? Align and insert your RAM sticks, starting with the left slot. They snap into place as soon as you insert them correctly. If you have two RAM sticks, you have to leave out one slot in between. Your motherboard’s manual should indicate which slots to use.
Locate an empty bay on the front of your case for your hard drive or solid-state drive (SSD). Slide the drive in and screw it down tightly. If you have a M.2 drive (a tiny SSD the size of chewing gum), there should be a place on the motherboard where you can plug it in directly. Check your motherboard’s manual to find out where the M.2-slot located.
Installing the motherboard and power supply
The rest of the process is relatively simple. Begin to install your motherboard into your case. Refer to your motherboard’s manual, align the screw holes in the case with those on the motherboard, and get to work.
Next you need to install your power supply unit. Near the top or bottom of the case, there should be a large square space where your power supply fits perfectly. If you can’t find it, look at the back of your case: There is a large empty square there. That’s where the power supply belongs (and that’s where you’ll plug in your PC when you’re done). Once you find the spot, insert it and screw it in place.
Make sure all the cables coming out of the power supply reach your motherboard without getting too tight. Don’t plug anything in yet; we’ll come back to the power supply in a moment.
Installing your graphics card
Your GPU will be quite large. Even a moderately powerful GPU like the GTX 1060 is quite large compared to your other components. That means how it fits into your case is important. Once you have your GPU installed, you will run out of space.
Refer to your motherboard’s manual again and look for a PCIe slot. It is a horizontal slot with a small plastic latch next to it, near the middle or bottom of your motherboard. This is where the GPU plugs in. All you need to do is identify the back of your GPU (the side with the HDMI and DisplayPorts), align it with the back of your case, and slide the GPU into the horizontal slot. It should snap in easily, and if it doesn’t, you should make sure you plug it in properly.
Find another one of those tiny screws and attach the GPU to the case. There’s a small spot for this on the same piece of metal as the HDMI connectors. It should be easy to find.
Now take a look at the cables coming out of your PSU. Some should look like they fit into the square (or rectangular) socket on the side of your GPU. It should look like six or eight small holes in a rectangular shape. If you’re having trouble, check out this YouTube video from hardware manufacturer Asus. Some of the details will be different, but it’s a great insight into installing a GPU.
The motherboard needs to be connected to all your devices. The power supply we used for this build is what’s known as a fully modular power supply, which means you can choose the cables you need and leave the rest out to avoid clutter. Otherwise, power supplies have a ton of cables, and you’ll have to deal with unused power connectors dangling in your case. You need to connect the power supply to the SSD and the motherboard.
You will also need to connect the motherboard to the case, d. h. With the power buttons, audio ports, and USB ports on the front of the case. For each type of connector there are special headers distributed throughout the board. So you should check your manual to see where each pin group is located and what their function is. These tiny pins need to be plugged in a certain way, and they are incredibly tiny. There is also a connector for the case fan – in the case I used, there was only one connector on the motherboard, but three fans were installed. Then there is the SATA cable for your SSD that plugs into the motherboard.
This part really depends on the hardware you bought. So check the manuals for each component to make sure you’ve connected them properly to your motherboard and power supply.
Boot up and install Windows
The final step of your setup is simple: press the power switch. When the PC comes to life, you’ve probably assembled it perfectly! If not, do not despair. There are a lot of possible problems that can cause a PC not to boot up the first time. This video from Kingston explains some pitfalls that could cause you headaches. So if you can’t get your PC to boot, watch the video and go through your steps again.
There is also a possibility that you received faulty components. If you have problems with a particular component, YouTube is generally your friend. There are tons of helpful guides to building a PC.
However, once it has started without any problems, the next step is simple: turn it off. Remember the Windows flash drive you created earlier? Plug it into the PC and start it again. If you have configured it correctly, it should start easily. You may need to open your BIOS first (check your motherboard manual for how to do this) and select the USB drive as "Start device" set. Here’s a quick overview of this process, starting with step 3.
You have made it!
Congratulations on building your first PC. It’s a bit tedious, but it’s a great way to spend an afternoon. Or a few days, depending on how many unforeseen problems arise. Since the pandemic is not over yet and we are still (mostly) stuck inside, you can use your new PC to spend all those hours productively.