The most difficult and time-consuming part of the PC building process happens long before you start looking for the screwdriver. You can’t even begin to think about assembling the individual components until you buy them – and that means doing a lot of research into the options (of which there are thousands).
Let’s go through all the steps and parts you’ll need to choose to build your gaming or office PC.
How to assemble a computer: gamer or office?
The first, and most important, thing to consider is: What do you want your PC to do?
Main internal components of a PC and peripherals! Hardware and software!
Is your PC overheating? Check out these 10 tips to solve the problem!
Are you looking for a really cheap system to put in the children’s room?
Do you want a compact, video game console-like desktop that fits right next to the TV that you can use to stream media, or perhaps as a gaming machine?
Is it a dedicated work PC for your home office?
Or do you want the best and most advanced gaming PC?
We cannot answer these questions for you. But once you’ve come to a decision, you’ll have a better idea of what you need to buy and how much money you’ll have to spend. And then you can go to the real shopping.
The nuances of what the components do, and how best to get them to serve your needs, is beyond the scope of this story. But the descriptions below of their functions and what you need to look for when shopping should give you a solid idea of where to start collecting all the parts you need for your PC.
If you’re building a gaming PC on a budget, you’ll probably want to start by choosing a graphics card (see below). But everyone else can start with the central processing unit (CPU) or processor, the “brain” of the computer that, well, processes all the instructions it receives from the software and the other components you’ve installed. Because of the considerable difference it will make in how well you run all the programs on your PC, paying special attention to their capabilities is crucial. Here’s what to look for:
1. Number of cores
Back when each CPU contained only one processing unit or core, clock speed was the easiest way to measure performance. But virtually every processor today is a multicore CPU, and the more cores a chip has, the more it can do immediately (if supported by software).
2. Number of processes or threads
Most processors today can simultaneously operate multiple Processing Threads per core. As not every processor supports this, make sure yours does if you expect to be running a lot of multi-threaded applications.
3. Clock speed (operating frequency)
This is the frequency at which each core in a CPU runs or the number of cycles it is capable of executing per second. The higher the number, the faster the CPU will generally be per core. These days, clock speed is measured in Gigahertz (GHz), or billions of cycles per second.
4. Cache (L2 or L3)
A processor uses memory installed on the chip itself to store and speed up operations before using external system RAM. This on-board memory is stored in one or more caches, which are labeled L2 or L3. More powerful processors will be equipped with larger caches.
5. Socket type
CPUs come in different sizes, identified by the type of socket they plug into. You will need this information to determine which motherboard to buy.
It is worth remembering that some sockets may limit or expand the options for connections to other components, in addition to connection speeds.
6. Manufacturing technology.
Every year or two, processors get thinner and more efficient. Knowing a chip’s manufacturing technology (measured in nanometers, or NM) will give you some insight into its capabilities, but it’s not strictly necessary. Briefly, the smaller in NM the process, the more efficient the processor is in terms of energy consumption.
7. Cooler or cooler
Most processors come with a fan rated by its specific speed and estimated heat output; Unless you’re planning to overclock your computer or put it through particularly traumatic steps, you probably don’t need to buy another fan or liquid cooling system. But if you decide to buy one separately, or if you choose a high-end CPU that doesn’t come with its own cooler, make sure the cooler you get is designed for the processor family you have or plan to buy.
If the CPU is a computer’s brain, the motherboard is its nervous system. Most of your other components will plug into the motherboard, so the one you use for your build needs to be exactly what you need now and what you expect to need in the future. Here’s what to look for:
1. Socket type
The motherboard socket type must, must, must match the CPU you plan to use on it.
2. Form Factor or Form Factor
Motherboards come in a variety of sizes, or Form Factors, from the mini-ITX mini to the massive E-ATX. For most full-size desktop builds, you’ll probably regularly want ATX or the slightly smaller micro ATX. The form factor you get will drastically affect both the number of other components you can install and what type of case you are able to install them in (see that section below for more details).
Be on the lookout for several different attributes of how your motherboard handles memory. You need to know the memory type and the default, which are usually listed together.
For example, if your motherboard supports DDR4 2133 memory, buy that. Many motherboard manufacturers certify certain brands of memory for use with their motherboards; look for the motherboard on the web to find out what is officially supported.
The number of memory slots tells you how many individual modules or DIMMs you can buy; you will also be told the maximum memory supported, or the total amount of all the individual DIMMs taken together (such as 32 or 64 GB).
You may also see motherboards labeled as tri- or quad-channel, meaning you can expect a noticeable performance benefit if you fill in the correct number of RAM slots.
Note: many times a motherboard will be listed as supporting a number of memory types with the designation “OC” after them – this refers to memory that is overclocked. If you don’t plan on overclocking your memory (which we don’t recommend unless you know what you’re doing), you can safely ignore these numbers.
4. Expansion Slots
The most common main form factors, ATX and Micro ATX, will have between four and seven PCI Express (PCIe) slots for adding expansion cards. These can use the current high-end standard, PCIE 3.0, 4.0, above, or the older (and slower) standard, with designations based on the size of the slots and the number of PCIE lanes they use. The longest slots are X16, although some identical ones can run on X8 or X4; In addition, there are noticeably smaller X1 slots. On a mini itx motherboard, however, you should only expect one X16 slot.
SATA is one of the most common interfaces for connecting internal storage devices to your motherboard. You can also find other interfaces; M.2, in which a flash-based storage module plugs directly into a slim slot on your motherboard. There may be other storage models, and your board will explain this in the data sheet.
Regardless, you’ll want to have enough of the right kind of entries for whatever storage you want to buy. (Learn more about this in the storage section below.)
6. Technologies on board
Almost every motherboard will feature onboard stereo sound and Ethernet, most will include built-in Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth, and many will also include the ports to take advantage of the processors’ built-in video capabilities. (You won’t find the latest on motherboards for high-end processors, which are designed for use with discrete graphics cards, and you can bypass these ports on lower-end or midrange motherboards if you plan on installing a standalone graphics card. ) It’s worth checking the specs so you don’t anticipate something you really want.
Your computer’s random access memory, or RAM, is where data is stored while the processor is waiting to crunch the numbers. More is pretty much always better, within the limits of your budget and your system (if yours is 32-bit, it’s limited to around 4GB; 64-bit PCs can support up to 192GB, which is way more than any consumer desktop motherboard can
These days, if you use simple apps and aren’t an avid multitasker, you can opt for less RAM. The good thing about building your own PC: if it happens and you need more memory, this is one of the easiest things to add. Here’s what to look for:
Memory is only useful to you if your motherboard supports it. Each new standard offers some speed and additional features, but not in every situation, so don’t feel like DDR4, DDR 5, 6, or newer, rather than DDR3, is an automatic power for you if you’re building from scratch. Just remember that RAM is not backward compatible, so DDR4 will not work in a DDR3 slot.
The higher the number in a memory standard, such as DDR 2666, the faster it is generally. Faster memory designed for the same type of slot will work in a slower slot, but save yourself some money and don’t leave any performance on the table that you don’t need.
DIMMs for each type of memory come in a variety of capacities, so you can buy what you need and what you can afford. It’s best to buy at least one chip for each memory channel (three for triple channel, four for quad channel), and memory often comes in “kits” to facilitate this.
And we don’t recommend mixing and matching capabilities within any build. If you see a capacity listed as something like “8GB (2 x 4GB),” that means the total amount of RAM is split between a number of chips (in this case, two DIMMs of 4GB each, for a total of 8GB).
3. Memory timing
Most memory specifications include a series of four numbers, separated by hyphens, which provide a quick way to tell how fast the memory is. The first number, CAS latency (the amount of time between when the memory controller requests data and when it becomes available) is the most significant and can be listed by itself. The smaller the numbers, the faster you can expect the memory to be.
4. Other Specifications
Error Checking and Correcting (ECC) memory is intended for high-performance systems such as workstations and servers; you’ll need a motherboard that specifically supports this type of memory if you want to use it (and most common users won’t).
Voltage numbers offer specific information about how memory uses power, with higher voltages often meaning faster RAM, but this is something only more technical people will really need to know.
Computer video card
While integrated graphics systems are more common today than ever before, even the best versions of the latest processors cannot deliver what you can get from even an inferior discrete graphics card. If you’re into games of any kind, a graphics card is a must, but any programs designed to take advantage of graphics hardware acceleration, from Windows to Photoshop and beyond, can benefit from offloading video processing to a dedicated subsystem. Unless you’re blowing up a tight build, there’s no good reason to forgo a graphics card. Here’s what to look for:
1, Processing cores
Like your CPU, your graphics processing unit (or GPU) contains multiple processing cores solely for churning graphics. The more your graphics card has, the better a performer it is likely to be (and the more it is likely to cost). AMD calls their versions “Stream Processors” and NVIDIA named their own “CUDA Cores” – However, that while you can’t directly compare the two types, the numbers of cores are good indicators of relative power within families of processors chipset of each company.
2. Clock rates
As with your CPU, this is the speed at which the graphics processing unit, or GPU, runs. It’s not uncommon to see cards with fewer processing cores and faster clock speeds, or vice versa, so try to find the best mix for the amount of money you have to spend.
Video memory (VRAM) serves a function for video cards that is similar to common RAM for the rest of your computer: it stores data until it is needed for processing. This is less important if you’re playing at lower resolutions, where there aren’t as many pixels and other visual effects to keep, but as a general rule – as with RAM – more tends to be better. Also pay attention to the memory clock speed, which can also work on performance.
A video card isn’t worth much if it’s not connected to at least one monitor. Look at the list of your ports to determine if your card is capable of DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort.
If you’re using your computer with a monitor you already own, you’ll want to know in advance if you need to purchase an adapter. Another good idea is to check how many monitors the card can drive at once: it might not be the same as the number of output ports on the card.
5. Energy requirements
Graphics cards are among the most power-hungry PC components you can buy, so know what you need to get from your power supply. There will usually be a minimum value that you must abide by, and you will also be told the specific number of PCIe power connectors (six, eight, or more pins) you will need for the card to work, as well as the number of amps required from the card power supply.
Even if you love smartphones and tablets, you have to admit that storage is one of your biggest weaknesses: you rarely have that much, and you’re pretty much stuck with what you buy. When you’re building your own PC, this isn’t a problem – it’s easy to add or change more at any time you want.
But even if you don’t have to worry too much about capacity, you do need to make some other crucial decisions. Here’s what to look for:
1. Hard disk and SSD
The average price of solid state drives (SSDs) , which store data in flash memory, has dropped a lot in recent years, making them a better choice than ever to add to your computer if speed at startup and accessing files is what you need you crave. But overall, they’re still punishingly expensive on a cost-per-gigabyte basis compared to slower, traditional mechanical hard drives.
Because of this, the classic advice is still the best: pair a smaller-capacity solid-state drive to install Windows and your most important programs, with one or more spinning hard drives to house your data.
Another option might be a hybrid drive, which stores most of your data on a cheap hard drive but uses a small amount of flash memory for things you use most often; This can save you a lot of money, but because of how the underlying technology works, the performance won’t always match what you get from a true SSD.
Serial ATA (SATA) connections are still common, especially for hard drives, and your motherboard will undoubtedly have plenty. But for big speed advantages, you can also buy newer SSDs on PCIe cards that install directly into your motherboard’s expansion slots and use that bus much faster. Other interfaces such as MSATA and M.2 are also common and even faster.
Just make sure your motherboard supports whatever standard you intend to use.
3. Form Factor or Form Factor
This refers to the size of the drive, with hard drives coming in 3.5-inch or 2.5-inch varieties and SSDs coming in 2.5-inch or 1.8-inch models. For desktop computers, the form factor doesn’t always matter, although you’ll need to have the right kind of space in your case for whichever drive you choose.
4. Hard disk specifications
A couple of extra details might show up in hard drive listings that you won’t see when searching for SSDs. Most consumer hard drives spin at 7,200 or 10,000 rpm, with the faster drives costing more and using more power.
You can also select the amount of cache memory with hard disk usage (up to 128MB) to increase performance. This information is useful for detail-oriented purists, but is of limited use if you don’t plan on using your hard drive as your boot drive (which, as mentioned above, we don’t recommend).
5. DVD and Blu-Ray
Now that most software is purchased and delivered digitally, an optical drive may not be a necessity for you, particularly if you don’t plan on installing many older programs. If you don’t want an optical drive, you’ll need another strategy to install the OS. Use another computer to create an installation USB, for example.
If you want a drive, it might be worth spending a little on a Blu-ray, so you can watch high-definition movies that you might have at home.
Computer power supply
You can buy the best components to be found on the web, and they will be useless if you can’t turn on your computer once you’re done building it. A power supply unit (or PSU) might be the nastiest of components, but without it, nothing else will work, so be sure to give it the thought it deserves. Here’s what to look for:
1. Maximum power
This is the largest amount of power the PSU is capable of directing to its components. The less complicated or intense the build, the lower a number you can get away from – for most people, 500 to 750 watts will be fine. But if you’re using high-end parts, particularly power-sucking video cards (or more than one), your power needs could increase to 1,000 watts or even more.
Checking your component’s power usage or thermal design power (TDP) is vital – get a power supply that’s too weak and your computer might not even turn on.
2. Tension rails
Simply put, voltage rails are like individual power circuits inside your PSU, with each of the main varieties (+3.3V, +5V, and +12V) powering different types of components. In most cases, the most important thing to pay attention to is the +12V rail, as this is what will power your graphics cards; One of those capable of delivering 34-40 amps should be enough for the most powerful boards you can buy, and is likely to be more reliable than using multiple +12V rails for the same job.
3. Form Factor or Form Factor
Like other components we’ve covered here, power supplies come in a variety of form factors that determine the types of hardware you can use with them and under what circumstances. The most common for mainstream motherboards right now is the ATX12V, but you might also see others (like eps12v), and you might need to buy a smaller power supply if you’re building a very miniature system, say.
Power supplies come in two varieties: one in which all cables are pre-configured and another (called modular) which allows you to connect only the cables you need. In either case, your PSU still has to have the correct connectors, whether it’s six- and eight-pin for video cards, SATA for newer hard drives and SSDs, or Molex for older drives and other devices.
The good news is, if you don’t have all the connectors you need, adapters aren’t too hard to find. Still, it’s easier to verify that you have what you need ahead of time; PCIe connectors for the graphics card are more likely to give you problems, so find out what your graphics card needs so your PSU can properly power it.
Yes, you’ll need a case to house all the other components you buy, and that’s what we’re going to focus on here. But remember, it’s also the outward expression of your computer’s personality – and yours.
How big should it be?
Do you want a transparent part?
Make those decisions too, so your final computer will each look as good as it runs. But as far as specs go, here’s what to look for:
1. Form Factor or Form Factor
While a case can basically be as big or as small as you want it to be, what matters most is which motherboard form factor is designed. One intended for ATX motorcycles will have room for the board and the proper number of expansion slots; A micro ATX motherboard is smaller and will have fewer slots, although the case itself may not necessarily be smaller.
Even smaller form factors like Mini ITX may require further adjustments to your component choices (less storage, for example, or perhaps a smaller power supply). Many larger ATX cases can also be used with other form factor motherboards; As long as yours is supported, you should be fine.
2. Front Panel Ports and Controls
You’ll definitely want to access all your computer’s features, and its front panel ports are the way to do that. Each case will have power and reset buttons and an activity light, and most will also have headphones and mic jacks and USB ports;
Some may even have lighting controls and fans. Just remember that you will need to connect any front panel ports to the motherboard, so comparing specs ahead of time is a good idea.
3. Storage bays
You’ll need somewhere to store your hard drives and SSDs and any other devices you might be using. Generally speaking, cases can have one or more external 5.25-inch bays for optical drives from other enthusiast gadgets and multiple bays for 3.5-inch or 2.5-inch hard drives and SSDs.
Some cases also have externally accessible 3.5-inch bays for easily swapping hard drives in and out. The smallest cabinets, however, may have very few of them, so pay attention or risk not being able to perform necessary updates later.
4. Fans, coolers and filters
Cooling is one of the most important functions of a case. Your case will likely come with one or more intake or exhaust fans, and have room to add more (in various sizes, from 80mm and up) if you want. Removable filters, which capture dust to maintain your PC’s interior and are easy to clean, are also common in higher cases.
How to assemble a computer for: Games step by step
Once you’ve decided and bought your parts, it’s time to do the really exciting/fun/scary thing: assembling them all. Believe it or not, this is less difficult than it sounds, especially now that tool-free cases are more popular and you won’t need your Phillips screwdriver to install much more than the power supply and motherboard. But doing things in the right order will help a lot.
The following is the basic procedure we use when building a superior system for testing hardware here in PC labs. It illustrates most of the points you’ll find in your building, though the details differ slightly depending on the components you buy. Basic techniques, however, rarely vary greatly from build to build.
1. Get ready
Just as a chef wouldn’t fire the stove without everything in place, nor should he. Unpack all of your components, remove their packing material, and arrange them neatly on a large, flat surface. The floor will absolutely work if that’s all you’ve got, but try to avoid doing this on a carpet static electricity remains a big danger to electronics, and frying your system before you even use it is a shock you don’t want.
If you’re worried, you can either use an anti-static wrist strap or if that’s enough, touch some bare metal, like the frame of your empty case, before starting to work with anything else. Also, open the main side panel of your case, because that’s where your build will begin.
2. Install the power supply
You won’t need the power supply until much later in the build process, but you’re better off installing it first because once the other components are in place, it becomes much harder to get the supply where it needs to go. Position the PSU in the bay with the fan pointing down many cases will have a vent there and the screw holes line up with the holes on the back of the case.
Secure the power supply with the screws provided, then run the cables along the side of the case to keep them out of the way while you work on everything else.
3. Install the processor
Most of the time, it will be easier to install some components on the motherboard before putting the motherboard in the case – you will have a lot more space to work that way. The processor definitely qualifies for this treatment. Start by opening the socket. If you are using an AMD CPU, simply lift the lever to release the locking mechanism.
You will also need to do this for Intel chips, but note that a metal cover will also secure the chip in place, and this needs to be lifted as well. Once the socket is open, use the arrows printed on the socket and chip. To properly align the CPU, gently lower it into the socket.
With AMD processors the pins are on the CPU so they need all the proper holes and the chip is flat before proceeding. Once the chip is in place, secure the socket again, reversing the procedure you used to open it.
4. Install the CPU cooler
Some fans and coolers may come with the necessary thermal compound already applied. If yours doesn’t, screw a small notch into the center of the top of the processor. You can spread it out evenly with something like a business card if you like, but that’s not strictly necessary. With most coolers, you just line up the support posts for the cooler around the socket and secure them in place.
Each cooler is slightly different in that regard, so refer to their instructions for the exact instructions on doing this with the model you have. If you are using a liquid cooler (like the one shown in this paragraph) or other aftermarket cooler, you may need to install mounting hardware on the underside of the motherboard or configure a universal bracket mechanism for use with your motherboard and specific processor – and is another good reason to install the cooler while the motherboard is still out of the case.
5. Install RAM
The RAM bays are open with the small clips on either end (some motherboards only use one set of clips, but most have two) – just push them down. Align the notch on the memory connector to the raised “key” in the memory bay (you can damage the DIMM if not oriented correctly), then push the DIMM firmly into place.
When correct, the clips should spin back and lock memory. Repeat with your other memories.
Note: If you are using multi-channel memory, DIMMs must be installed in the appropriate channels if you want the speed boost. It’s pretty easy if, say, you have a quad-channel card and only four memory bays, but it can be messier in other situations, although the bays were often hardcoded to clean things up. Consult your motherboard manual if you are not sure.
6. Place the I/O or I/O board
Each motherboard comes with a specially designed I/O or I/O board that tracks each of its ports and helps close the back of the computer from dust and other intrusions. You absolutely don’t need it, but it’s a really nice thing to have. Align the right plate up. You might want to compare it to the back of the motherboard, just to be safe, place it inside the wide space on the back of the case, and push it in – until it locks into place on all four edges.
7. Mount the motherboard
While some cases come with pre-installed motherboard risers, which prevent the board from directly touching the metal of the case, most do not. To find out where the risers should go if you’re not sure, place the motherboard in the case and see which holes match which holes in the case, then screw the risers that came with your case into those holes.
Some cases have the necessary holes for the various form factors marked so you don’t have to do this or guess.) Once the risers are in place, tighten each one as much as you can. Guide the motherboard gently into the case by pushing its backplane ports through the correct openings on the I/O board, and then placing the motherboard on top of the risers so you can see them through the screw holes. Insert and tighten halfway through all screws.
Once they’re in place, and you’ve verified that the motherboard’s position is correct, go back and screw up all the rest of the way. Be careful not to respect the screws.
8. Install the video card
The graphics card plugs into the longest (x16) PCI-E slot on the motherboard, the first in the series of slots. Open this slot on the case, either by unscrewing the cover locking it or using your case’s tool-free mechanism. Align the board with the input and the gold connectors (avoid touching them) with the input itself. Then press the card until it clicks. Secure the card in your position using whatever method your case undertakes.
Note: If you are using an extra-wide graphics card or multiple graphics cards, you will need to open more than one slot.
9. Install your storage drives
As each chassis is different, it is difficult to provide a single general explanation for how to install the specific drives for your build. Most 5.25 inch drives, if you are using them, will either bolt in place or use a simple tool system on one or both sides of the drive cage.
It’s not uncommon for 3.5-inch storage drives to install using caddies or trays, though they can also screw up a smaller cage below 5.25-inch (almost always on top of the drive shaft). And many of those same trays will also have space for 2.5-inch drives, although some of these drives come with adapters that let them work easily in 3.5-inch bays, or other entryways (such as on the floor of the case or under the floor of the case or motherboard tray) may be provided to install them.
Other drive form factors, such as MSATA or M.2, install in special slots on the motherboard itself; and still other drives can be placed in PCIE slots. The manuals for your motherboard and any unusual drives will have the necessary information about this.
10. Connect your cables
With all your hardware installed, it’s time to start connecting everything together. Run the data cables from your drives that need them to the appropriate ports on the motherboard. (SATA ports are often located along the edge of the motherboard.)
Make sure everything you need power to get it: connect the appropriate cables from the power supply to the motherboard (you’ll probably need two for this: one that ends in 24 pins, the other in a four-pin plug or 8-pin), to your graphics card (one or more 6-pin or 8-pin cables, probably labeled PCIe), and to your drives (the connectors are thin and black).
For bonus points, I route your inner cables through the holes on the inside of the case and around the back of the motherboard if I can; most non-budgetary cases today are designed to facilitate this. Yes, the inside of your computer will look better (nice if you have a window), but you will also be improving airflow and thus the way your computer handles heat.
11. Connect your cables
The final step in making it possible to interact with all the various parts of your computer – and see that they operate correctly – is connecting all the wires. Connect the power wires of your CPU cooler and any case fans to the proper pins on the motherboard; the sets are clearly marked for “CPU Cooler”, “Chassis Cooler” or “AUX Cooler”.
Then connect the front panel wires to the appropriate headers: USB will be common here (note that the 2.0 and 3.0 standards headers look different), as will the headphone and microphone jacks (which will connect through the same USB header) audio), but you may have other esoterics to deal with as well.
Last but not least, connect the bunch of tiny front panel wires connected to your activity and power lights and reset buttons to the pins on the motherboard. These are almost always labeled on the board itself, but can be difficult to see, and it can be difficult to know which of the two-pin connectors go where.
Again, check your motherboard manual if you have any doubts about what goes where – you won’t do any permanent damage if you screw this up, but your buttons might not work and your lights might not flash properly, and that could be even more irritating.
12. Start using your PC
That’s it. You’ll still need to install Windows and software and tweak the BIOS or UEFI settings to your liking, so there’s a fair amount of work still to be done. But remember that this doesn’t have to be the end of the process. Want more speed? Change the processor to a faster one. Tackle more demanding projects by increasing RAM.
Make your games more exciting by replacing your graphics card with the latest and greatest model. Add another hard drive, or two, or three. The choice is yours, and you can change your mind at any time – and upgrading individual parts (besides the motherboard) is invariably easier than starting from scratch.
Either way, rest easy knowing you’re doing it all on a PC you’ve built especially for you, and it will always reflect your needs and wants in a way that no tablet or laptop easily makes possible.
And if you have any questions, leave them in the comments below!