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How to Build a PC: All the Necessary Components

Building Your First PC: The Ultimate Beginner‘s Guide


Building your own PC may seem like an intimidating prospect, especially if you‘ve never done it before. But I‘m here to tell you from firsthand experience that with the right guidance, anyone can build a custom PC that‘s perfectly tailored to their needs and budget. Not only will you likely save money compared to buying a pre-built system, but you‘ll gain a much deeper understanding of how computers work and a sense of satisfaction that comes with powering on a PC you constructed with your own hands. In this comprehensive guide, I‘ll walk you through everything you need to know to successfully build your first PC with confidence.

Why Build Your Own PC?

There are several compelling reasons to consider building your own PC:

  1. Cost savings – In most cases, building your own PC using off-the-shelf parts will be cheaper than buying a comparably specced pre-built system. PC manufacturers need to cover the costs of assembly and support.

  2. Customization – Building your own PC gives you complete control over every single component that goes into it. You‘re not limited by the configurations offered by manufacturers. This allows you to allocate your budget towards the components that matter most for your needs.

  3. Quality components – Pre-built PCs, especially at lower price points, often skimp on the quality of certain components like the power supply and CPU cooler. When building your own, you can ensure that every part meets your quality standards.

  4. Learning experience – Building a PC will give you a much better understanding of how computer hardware works and goes together. This knowledge will come in handy when it comes time to upgrade or troubleshoot issues in the future.

  5. Fun! There‘s a real sense of satisfaction and pride that comes with using a computer that you‘ve built with your own hands. If you‘re reading this, you likely enjoy computers – building your own takes that to the next level!

The Parts You‘ll Need

Here are the essential components that go into every PC build:

  1. Case – This is the chassis that will house all your PC‘s components. Cases come in several sizes including small form factor, mid-tower and full tower. You‘ll want to choose one that fits your motherboard form factor and has adequate space and airflow for your other components.

  2. Motherboard – This is the main circuit board that acts as the backbone of your system, allowing all the components to communicate. Motherboards come in several form factors and chipsets. You‘ll need to choose one that‘s compatible with your CPU and has the features you need.

  3. CPU – The central processing unit is the brain of your PC. CPUs come in a variety of speeds, core and thread counts to suit different needs and budgets. It‘s important to choose a CPU that‘s compatible with your motherboard socket.

  4. CPU Cooler – CPUs generate a lot of heat and require active cooling to run properly. Some CPUs come with a basic cooler, but you may want to use an aftermarket air or liquid cooler for better performance and quieter operation.

  5. RAM – Random access memory is your PC‘s short term memory. More RAM allows you to smoothly multitask and run memory intensive applications. Be sure to choose RAM that is compatible with your motherboard and CPU.

  6. Storage – You‘ll need somewhere to permanently store your operating system, applications and files. The two main types of storage are solid state drives (SSDs) which are very fast but expensive per gigabyte, and hard disk drives (HDDs) which are slower but more affordable for large capacities. Most builders use an SSD for their operating system and a HDD for bulk storage.

  7. GPU – A graphics processing unit or video card is a must if you plan on doing any gaming or graphical work. It can also accelerate certain other applications. Some CPUs have built-in graphics, but a dedicated GPU offers far better performance. The two main GPU manufacturers are Nvidia and AMD.

  8. Power Supply – The power supply unit (PSU) provides electrical power to all the components in your PC. It‘s important to choose one that provides enough wattage for your components and has high build quality to provide safe, stable power delivery. Never skimp on your PSU!

In addition to the core components, you‘ll also need a display, keyboard and mouse to actually use your PC. Other optional add-ons include optical drives, sound cards, wireless network adapters and more. But the components listed above are the core essentials that every PC needs.

Tools You‘ll Need

In addition to components, you‘ll need a few basic tools:

  • Phillips head screwdriver
  • Anti-static wrist strap (optional but recommended to avoid damaging components with static discharge)
  • Thermal paste (for CPUs that don‘t come with coolers pre-applied)
  • Zip ties (for managing all the cables inside your case)
  • Flashlight (your case may not have the best lighting inside)

Most components will come with any necessary cables, screws or brackets so you shouldn‘t need anything too specialized. Just be sure to carefully check the contents of each component box.

Assembly: Step-by-Step

Now that you‘ve gathered your parts and tools, it‘s time for the main event – putting it all together! Here‘s a high level overview of the process:

  1. Install CPU in motherboard socket. Be very careful to line up the arrows and not bend any pins! If your CPU cooler doesn‘t have thermal paste pre-applied, you‘ll need to apply some before installing the cooler on top of the CPU.

  2. Install RAM in motherboard slots. This takes some pressure but should snap in with a satisfying click.

  3. If your motherboard has an M.2 slot for an SSD, install that now. Otherwise you‘ll install 2.5" SSDs and 3.5" HDDs later in the case.

  4. Install the motherboard I/O shield in the back of your case. Then place the motherboard in the case, lining up the ports with the holes in the I/O shield. Secure it with the provided screws.

  5. Install your GPU in the topmost PCIe x16 slot and secure it. If it needs additional power connectors, don‘t plug those in yet.

  6. Install any 2.5" SSDs and 3.5" HDDs in the provided drive bays. Smaller cases may have mounting points for 2.5" drives behind the motherboard tray.

  7. Connect the front panel connectors, USB and audio headers from your case to the motherboard. Consult your motherboard manual for the location and orientation of these small pins.

  8. Install your power supply and connect the 24-pin motherboard and 8-pin CPU power connectors. Connect SATA power to any drives. If your GPU needs additional PCIe power, connect that now too.

  9. Double check all your components are seated properly and cables are plugged in securely. This is a good time to tidy up the interior with zip ties to improve airflow.

  10. Close up your case, plug in the power cable, and connect your display, keyboard and mouse. Then hit that power button and enjoy that first successful boot!

  11. Enter your motherboard‘s BIOS by pressing delete, F2 or F11 while booting (it varies by model). Check that all your RAM and drives are showing up properly. You may need to enable XMP to have your RAM run at its rated speed.

  12. Install your operating system of choice on your bootable SSD or HDD. After that you‘ll be able to install all your favorite applications and get to using your new custom PC!

Of course, this is a simplified rundown and the specifics will vary based on your exact components. I highly recommend referring to your manuals and checking out step-by-step video guides for your particular parts. Channels like LinusTechTips, Bitwit, Paul‘s Hardware and JayzTwoCents have excellent build guides for all budgets and experience levels.

Choosing Your Parts
With so many components to choose from, it can be overwhelming for a first time builder to put together a parts list. Here are some general tips:

  1. Establish your budget – This is the most important factor as it will determine what level of performance you can get.

  2. Determine your needs – What will you be using this PC for? Gaming, video editing, office work? This will help you allocate your budget to the components that matter most. Gamers will want to allocate more to the GPU, for example.

  3. Consider upgradability – Planning ahead for future upgrades can help you save money in the long run. For example, choosing a motherboard with more RAM slots than you need now gives you the option to add more later.

  4. Don‘t forget aesthetics – Many builders these days prioritize looks as well as performance. Things to consider are case style, color schemes, RGB lighting effects and the overall presentation. Some parts like motherboards and RAM come in different colors to match a theme.

  5. Use PCPartPicker – This website is an invaluable resource for planning builds. It checks compatibility between parts and finds the best prices across multiple retailers. It even calculates the estimated wattage to help you choose an appropriate power supply.

  6. Read/watch reviews – Before buying any parts, it‘s wise to check professional reviews and user impressions. Reviews often point out issues or details that can be hard to find in spec sheets.

  7. Ask the experts – If you‘re unsure about anything, don‘t hesitate to consult communities like Reddit‘s r/buildapc or Tom‘s Hardware Forums. There are thousands of knowledgeable builders who will be happy to offer advice.

Common Mistakes to Avoid
Even the most experienced builders sometimes make mistakes. Here are some common pitfalls for first timers to be aware of:

  1. Not doing your research – It‘s important to thoroughly research your parts for compatibility before buying. PCPartPicker is great for this but you should still consult your manuals, especially for smaller form factor builds.

  2. Cheaping out on the PSU – A poor quality power supply can at best cause instability and at worst physically damage your components. Always buy PSUs from reputable brands with good warranty support.

  3. Forgetting standoffs – Standoffs elevate the motherboard off the case to avoid shorting. Forgetting them is an easy mistake to make but can have disastrous consequences!

  4. Not reading the manuals – It may be tedious but it‘s important to consult the manuals, especially for the motherboard and case. They contain important information about connectors, headers and proper installation procedure.

  5. Applying too much thermal paste – A pea sized amount in the center of the CPU is all you need. Applying too much is messy and can actually impair cooling performance.

  6. Handling parts roughly – PC components are delicate and need to be handled gently. CPUs and their pins are especially fragile. RAM also requires even pressure when slotting in. Be firm but not forceful.

  7. Forgetting the I/O shield – This is the metal plate that fits in the back of your case to cover the motherboard‘s ports. It‘s very annoying to have to remove the motherboard later to add it so don‘t forget!

Troubleshooting Common Issues
Even if you do everything right, there‘s always the possibility of running into issues. Here are some common problems and troubleshooting steps:

  1. System won‘t boot – First, verify that the power button is connected to the correct motherboard header. Next, remove the case panels and check that all power cables are connected properly to the motherboard, GPU and drives. If it still won‘t boot, try clearing the CMOS.

  2. No display signal – Make sure the monitor is plugged into the GPU and not the motherboard (if you have integrated graphics). Check that the GPU is seated properly and has power. If it‘s a new build, try reseating the RAM.

  3. System powers on but no POST/BIOS – This could indicate a CPU, RAM or motherboard issue. Remove all RAM except one stick in the primary slot and see if it POSTs. Try reseating the CPU as well. If it still doesn‘t work, you may have a faulty component.

  4. No internet connection – Check that your Ethernet cable is plugged in or that your wireless card is installed properly with antennas attached. You may need to install drivers for your network hardware.

  5. Loud CPU fan – First make sure the fan is plugged into the CPU_FAN header and not a case fan header. Try clearing dust from the fan and heatsink. You can also adjust fan curves in BIOS to run quieter at low loads.

  6. Loud GPU fan – Similar to CPU fans, first check for dust buildup. If it‘s clean, you may need to adjust fan curves using software like MSI Afterburner or EVGA Precision X1. Many GPUs have zero RPM fan modes that keep the fans off entirely at low loads.

Proper PC Maintenance
To keep your new build running optimally for years to come, it‘s important to do some regular maintenance:

  1. Dust cleaning – Over time, dust will build up on fans and heatsinks, reducing cooling performance. Use compressed air to regularly blow out dust, especially before summer. You can also use a damp microfiber cloth for stubborn buildup.

  2. Update drivers – Keep your GPU, motherboard and peripheral drivers up to date for the best stability and performance. Only update BIOS if you‘re having issues that newer versions specifically address.

  3. Monitor temperatures – Use software like Core Temp, MSI Afterburner or HWMonitor to check that your components are running within safe temperature ranges. High temperatures can indicate inadequate cooling or a failing part.

  4. Defragment HDDs – While not as important as it used to be, defragmenting HDDs can still help maintain performance, especially if they‘re close to full capacity. SSDs do not need defragmenting.

  5. Manage cables – Good cable management not only looks better but also improves airflow inside the case. Use zip ties or velcro straps to bundle excess cables and route them behind the motherboard tray.

Congratulations, you now have all the knowledge you need to build your very own custom PC! The first build is always the most challenging but it gets easier with practice. And the skills you gain will empower you to upgrade and troubleshoot PCs with confidence. If you ever feel overwhelmed, remember that there are many resources and supportive communities dedicated to helping builders of all experience levels. Now get out there and happy building!