How To: Build a PC
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The best summer of my life was spent building functioning PCs from a dump-heap of tech that was given to me by a retiring IT professional. I was 13 years old and knew very little about PCs, but I had a passion to build a PC that could handle Quake. Since then, I’ve built PCs both professionally and for fun. Below is a guide to help you on your path to PC building. Read, learn, build, and go play some Quake!
- Motherboard: The motherboard is where all of your components connect.
- CPU (processor): The CPU is the brain of your computer. The CPU takes your instructions and determines the most effective pattern and speed to process them.
- RAM: Random Access Memory, or RAM, allows your operating system (e.g. Windows 10) to quickly access the files it needs in order to execute the instructions you’ve given it. 16GB is the current norm for gaming PCs.
- GPU (graphics processor): The GPU is the most important component responsible for the performance of your video games. The current mid-level GPU is the NVIDIA GTX1060 with 6GB of dedicated graphics RAM.
- Storage: Unlike RAM, this is long-term storage. Your operating system is housed here along with all of your personal and application files. For the best value, you’ll want a solid-state drive (SSD) for your operating system and a hard-disk drive (HDD) for your games and personal files. If you can afford it, a single 1TB SSD is another option and makes your build a little bit easier to implement.
- Power Supply: Every component needs power, and it’s important to power all of them adequately. The power supply sits inside your PC and distributes power to each component – some of them directly and others (e.g. RAM) through the motherboard.
- Case: The computer’s case is where you’ll house all of your components. Some folks like to personalize their case, while others prefer a subtle, small build.
Where to Shop
Personally, I love to buy my components in a brick & mortar store. As a veteran, walking out of the store with every component makes the experience more fun. In doing so, you can actually build the PC in a day. Whereas buying the parts online can drag your experience out by several days or weeks.
There aren’t many options these days, so I’m going to recommend the only place I know of that has all of the PC building components you’ll need: Fry’s Electronics. They offer price matching and have a very good selection across the board. The other big brick & mortar retail chains have all disappeared. Best Buy offers some of the components you’ll need, but very few of them.
While many brick & mortar retailers price match online stores, there is much convenience from shopping at a single online retailer. Comparing products is easy, and since you’re already in a browser, you can open another tab and check for reviews, performance benchmarks, and compare prices. I like to sop on Amazon. The interface is clean, prices are great, shipping is fast (if you have Prime) and returns are very easy. Another option is Newegg. You can sign up for their Prime-like service, which increases shipping time. Most importantly, they’ve been known by PC builders for years as a great place to buy components. Consequently, their inventory is very good and you can generally trust their crowd-sourced reviews.
The biggest obstacle occurs when you buy components that don’t work together. Thus, you must look for compatibility, and it all starts with the motherboard. Motherboards support particular RAM and CPUs. Otherwise, you shouldn’t have any issues with compatibility of the other components. You can purchase CPU + motherboard bundles, which reduce the pain. Otherwise, just make sure you know the socket type supported by the motherboard so you can purchase a CPU that pairs with it. The latest 8th generation CPUs from Intel use socket LGA 1151. Intel has helpful support information on their website. It’s possible for each new generation to have a different socket type. You should, however, try to buy the latest CPU so you can better support your build if there is a problem with the motherboard or CPU later on. In the PC building world, warranties matter and replacing your components is often the best strategy to solving a problem. If you have an older motherboard or CPU, they may be out of stock soon after purchase, causing replacement issues.
As CPUs are related to motherboard, so is RAM. Make sure you have compatible RAM, which nowadays isn’t as hard to come by. PCs have been using DDR4 regularly since 2015. I first heard of DDR5 last year, so we may see it hit the market in 2020 or 2021. As for the speeds associated with DDR4, the right choice is a matter of budget, not compatibility.
How to Start Your Build
- Open your case and remove the bags of screws and cables that it may have come with. There may be base screws already attached inside the case. These are for your motherboard and will be addressed next. First, you need to install the power supply. You’ll notice a giant hole in the back of your case – this is where the power supply is mounted. There should be 4-5 screws that you affix through the back of the case and into the power supply. Keep your power supply’s cables bundled and out of the case for now.
- Place the motherboard on the case and make sure the base screws align. Most buyers use the ATX motherboard standard, so the base screws may align already. But don’t blindly trust this or you’ll get a electric short in the build. Start by laying the motherboard on top of the base screws and ensure each screw is accounted for. Once this is aligned, screw in your motherboard but do not yet connect it to the power supply.
- Connect the RAM to the RAM slots (dimms) and gently press until they lock into place. you’ll hear a clicking sound. You may have 1 or more RAM sticks – that’s a purchase decision. Install them all. Note: the bottom of the RAM sticks have a separation. Align that separation with the RAM slot before pressing firmly.
- Gently place the CPU into the socket – be cautious here as there is one correct position, often denoted by an arrow. Take a good look around the CPU and the socket to ensure there are no gaps and the CPU is properly seated. Lock it into place and then place the CPU fan on top. Make sure the fan is properly connected before moving on.
- Now find a secure slot in the case for your SSD and/or HDD. These will screw into the case and need a power and data cable running to them. We’ll do the cabling later.
- Your GPU is large and heavy so be careful you don’t drop it onto your motherboard while securing it into an open PCI slot on your motherboard. Like the RAM, the GPU can only go in one way. You’ll want to line up the rear ports of the GPU with the rear of the slot. Slide it in and after you’ve aligned the bottom to the PCI slot, firmly push it into place.
- Now you’ll need to run the data cable(s) from your motherboard to your SSD and/or HDD. These are small data cables and likely came with your motherboard.
- Finally, return to your power supply and grab the power cables. You’ll see the motherboard has a white power port on it. This is for the primary power. You’ll also need to supply power to the CPU and any storage devices you’ve installed. The latter are more straight forward. The CPU power is often a small, white, 4-pin power plug. The GPU also requires a rather large power connector.
Finally, you’ll want to install your OS. The large majority of gamers use Windows 10. You can buy it on a DVD or USB drive. The latter implies you do not need to purchase a DVD drive for your build, which you’d likely never use. Microsoft has a simple guide for installing Windows 10 from a USB drive.
Hopefully at this point you have Windows finalizing it’s installation and you’re ready to play some games and enjoy your new rig! If you have questions, the best way to reach me is in our Discord server: discord.gg/gww.
If you are interested in having the heavy lifting done for you, build your own pc with fierce.
Note: I’m planning on updating this post in the future to include images and a video. Stay tuned.