Finished PC Build

How to build a PC:

Building a PC can be a useful and rewarding undertaking for a number of reasons: First and foremost, you have complete discretion over what components you want to buy and what amount you’re willing to spend. You can craft a PC that suits your specific needs, allowing you to pay the least amount while getting a computer that’s tailored to your preferences.

The only alternative is allowing a computer shop to custom-build your PC, and this will result in markups ranging from $100 to upwards of $1000, depending on the build and the shop’s pricing. Secondly, assembling your own computer provides you with a deeper understanding of how the computer works and how the specific parts interact. It equips you with a useful knowledge base that you wouldn’t otherwise have. You’ll be able to troubleshoot hardware issues more effectively, and you’ll be able to upgrade components on your own as the need arises, saving even more money in the long run.

If you’ve ever wondered how to build a PC, you’ll find this guide to be very useful. It covers how to build a PC step by step, from start to finish, and will help you pick the right components for your specific needs. Regardless of whether you’re building your PC for gaming or office work, or just want to learn the basics of computer hardware, you’ll find everything you need here.

Table of Contents

Part 1: Parts Overview

Motherboard:

The Motherboard is the heart of the computer, so to speak. Everything connects to the motherboard in some way, shape, or form. When you plug in a mouse or an ethernet cable, you plug it into the motherboard. Graphics cards, RAM, the CPU, and storage drives all connect to the Motherboard. The most important factors to consider when choosing a motherboard are compatibility with other parts, most notably with your CPU.

An ASRock B560M-HDV motherboard with components installed

Central Processing Unit (CPU):

The CPU, also frequently called the processor, is one of the most important components of a computer. Without it your computer is useless. Almost all processes on a computer are performed by the CPU; it even generates the image on your screen if you don’t have a graphics card (assuming your CPU has integrated graphics).

It is monumentally important to pick a CPU that will be able to handle the workload you demand of it. Shown below is what the front and back of a typical CPU looks like.


CPU Cooling System:

The cooler keeps your CPU’s temperature in a safe range. Many processors come with a base-level cooling system which will suffice for many builds. If you have a high-powered processor with high clockspeeds, however, you may want to invest in a higher-quality CPU cooler. Thermal paste applied between the cooler and CPU helps the cooler remove heat from the CPU and keep it from overheating.

Shown above, an Intel stock cooler

Graphics Card:

The graphics card, often also called the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) or video card, generates the images you see on your screen. Typically, graphics cards are only needed by people building a PC with the intent to run games or graphical design software, although some people use lower-end graphics cards in conjunction with CPUs that don’t have built-in (integrated) graphics. A better graphics card usually translates to higher framerates when running games.


Storage Drive:

The storage drive(s) in your computer are what determine its storage capacity. There are two main types of drive: HDD and SSD. Furthermore, the SSD category is broken into 2 types of its own: NVMe and SATA.

HDD: HDD stands for Hard Disk Drive. Hard drives have been around for much longer than SSDs. Hard drives are more cost-efficient (meaning you can get more storage for less money) but not nearly as fast at data retrieval.

SSD: SSD stands for Solid State Drive, the more recently-developed storage drive. SSD’s retrieve information much faster, making them highly desirable. This means your system will also boot faster when using an SSD. The downside of this is that they cost a bit more per gigabyte of storage, so it isn’t always feasible to have an SSD if you’re on a budget.

  • SATA: SATA stands for Serial Advanced Technology Attachment, and refers to the motherboard port that SATA SSDs plug into. These SSDs are slower than their NVMe counterparts, but still much faster than traditional hard drives.
  • NVMe: NVMe stands for Non-Volatile Memory Express. This type of SSD is the fastest money can buy, more than 5 times faster than most SATA SSDs. This means that data is transferred to and from the drive much quicker than even a standard SSD, but as a result they cost more.
Inland Platinum NVMe SSD
An Inland Platinum NVMe SSD

RAM:

RAM stand for Random Access Memory, and the amount of RAM you buy will determine how much temporary data you can store for near-instant access. It allows you to switch between different programs or tabs quickly. For example, if you had a lot of tabs open in Chrome, more RAM would allow you to switch between tabs without having to reload a page each time you switched back to it.

OLOy RAM
A 16GB kit of OLOy DDR4 RAM

Power Supply:

The power supply unit, sometimes abbreviated as PSU, is your computer’s power source. It directs electricity from a wall outlet to your computer’s motherboard, where it can be distributed to all of the components as needed.


Case:

The case is the part of the computer you see. Sometimes called the tower, it comes in three main sizes: Full tower, Mid tower, and Mini tower.

Unless you need to store your computer in a very small compartment, Mid or Full towers are the best option, since if you get anything smaller, you will probably need to get a significantly downsized motherboard.

The case holds all of the components inside, and is the hub to which you connect almost all external cables (display cables like HDMI and DisplayPort, USB connectors, Ethernet cables, and more).


Monitor:

The monitor is not technically part of the PC, but it is essential to the function of the computer. It is the screen that displays the images your computer generates.

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Shown above, an Alienware AW25HF

Part 2: Picking Your Parts

Selecting the parts that will make up your PC is, perhaps, the most important part of the process. The hardware you select will determine how fast your PC runs, how quickly it is able to open up programs, what games (if any) it is capable of running, how much information can be stored, and much more. You will also need to check for compatibility. The best tool for this, in general, is www.pcpartpicker.com.

PC Part Picker allows you to create a custom build, and they have essentially every component available. It will only show you parts that are compatible with the other parts you have added. If you don’t want to go through the hassle of picking parts, try checking our Parts Lists for compatible components you can use in your builds, as well as the performance they’re benchmarked for in-game. Additionally, see our Buyer’s Guides to find the most cost-efficient and highest performing components.

Regardless of whether or not you opt to use a pre-compiled list of parts, I’d recommend reading this section, as it covers the function of each component in further depth, and highlights the differences between popular brands and types. Below is a general guide on what to look for in each specific part.


How to choose a motherboard:

You don’t need to spend big on the motherboard. The main factors to consider when choosing one are the number of RAM slots and compatibility with the rest of your components. In specific, CPU compatibility varies greatly between motherboards, since different generations and brands of processors feature different chipsets and socket types.

Chipsets:

Chipset is the term used to describe a specific hardware configuration of a motherboard. All motherboards with the same chipset have a certain group of features in common, such as the same CPU socket, PCIe generation supported, RAM generation, and overclockability.

Intel’s most recent motherboards are the 400 and 500-series. These feature an LGA 1200 socket, so they support Intel’s 10th and 11th generation CPUs. Their 300-series motherboards support Intel 8th and 9th generation processors, and have an LGA 1151 socket.

AMD’s most recent motherboards are also 400 and 500-series (Intel and AMD use the same naming conventions for their motherboards to ensure it’s easy to compare between AMD and Intel hardware).

There are specific chipsets within a series. For example, within Intel’s 500-series there are currently four different chipsets: H510, B560, H570, and Z590. These all have different features, such as different numbers of PCIe lanes, different USB and SATA port counts, and different overclockability.

On AMD’s side, their latest generation motherboards have an AM4 socket and include the A520, B550, and X570 chipsets.

Socket Types:

There are many different socket types, and each brand has their own exclusive types. Below, we’ll list both AMD and Intel’s most recent sockets, as these are the ones you’re most likely to come across or use in a build.

Intel:

  • LGA 1200 (Intel 10th and 11th generation), 400 and 500 series motherboards
  • LGA 1151 (Intel 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th generations, 100, 200, and 300-series motherboards (Note that 8th and 9th generation CPUs are only compatible with 300-series motherboards (known as LGA 1151 Revision 2), while 6th and 7th generation CPUs will only work with 100 and 200-series chipsets (Revision 1).

You’re unlikely to come across any sockets other than these if buying new, as LGA 1151 is over 5 years old. There is a vast array of other socket types, though, so be sure to do your research if using older parts to ensure chipset and socket compatibility between your motherboard and other components.

AMD:

  • AM4 (Ryzen 1000 to 5000-series), 300, 400, and 500 series motherboards

AM4 has been the standard socket type for AMD since the introduction of their 1000 series (Zen 1) CPUs in early 2017. Additionally, 500-series motherboards are not compatible with 1000 or 2000 series CPUs, despite having the same socket type.

NVMe Compatibility:

If you opt to use an NVMe storage drive in your PC (which we highly recommend), make sure any motherboard you’re considering buying has an M.2 slot. Otherwise you won’t be able to use your NVMe drive without buying an expansion slot.

Motherboard Form Factors:

Unless you’re building a rig with dual graphics cards (which I wouldn’t recommend) you won’t need more than one PCIe x16 slot (the largest PCIe slot, which the graphics card plugs into). There are three main types of motherboard: ATX, Micro-ATX, and Mini-ITX. While there are many other sizes, they are not nearly as common as these three.

  • ATX: This is the full-sized motherboard, and comes with multiple PCIe slots and four RAM slots. It costs more and takes up more space than the other two sizes, but in exchange allows for greater customizability; you can have more RAM and run dual graphics cards if desired.
  • Micro-ATX: This is the mid-sized motherboard. It is generally cheaper than its smaller counterpart, and comes complete with two to four RAM slots and one PCIe slot. This should be enough for just about any PC build, since theoretically you could have 128GB of RAM and just about any graphics card.
  • Mini-ITX: This is the smallest motherboard, but it’s typically more expensive than a Micro-ATX. It is usually only used when you need to fit your PC in a very tight compartment.

The best course of action is usually to decide what CPU, RAM, graphics card, storage, and case to use first, then choose your Motherboard based on this.

Resources:


How to choose a CPU:

The CPU is probably the most important component, so it’s important to consider thoroughly when picking one. There are two main brands to choose from: Intel and AMD. There are many generations of CPU’s (Intel is on its 10th generation, and AMD’s Ryzen processors are on their 5th) Within each brand, there are four main categories to choose from:

  • The 3 category: Intel’s Core i3 and AMD’s Ryzen 3 processors. These are the cheapest processors, but also the least powerful. These are typically the best choice if you’re looking to build a PC for basic office-type functions since they’re the most cost-effective Core processor. They’re also great for budget gaming; recent i3 and Ryzen 3 processors like the i3-10100 and Ryzen 3 3100 can easily run AAA games at upwards of 144FPS, making them ideal for budget gaming rigs.
  • The 5 category: Intel’s Core i5 and AMD’s Ryzen 5 processors. These are considered by many to be the ideal gaming processors; they’re not as expensive as an 7 or 9 category, but get similar in-game performance. An i5 or Ryzen 5 is good if you’re looking to build a high-mid tier gaming rig, or if you need to run office-type software (like word processors, Internet browsers, or spreadsheets) at maximum speed.
  • The 7 category: Intel’s Core i7 and AMD’s Ryzen 7 processors. These are extremely powerful processors and are capable of running games at very high framerates when paired with a good graphics card, and capable of running many programs at the same time with no trouble. 7-category CPUs are best if you’re building a PC for more than just gaming, and will be doing things like video editing that will require more cores. They may also be the best option for you if you plan on having a very large number of programs running simultaneously.
  • The 9 category: Intel’s Core i9 and AMD’s Ryzen 9 processors. These are the most powerful CPUs available, and consequently the most expensive. You will only ever need an i9 or Ryzen 9 for extreme multitasking.

Designations:

Another thing you might notice as you search for processors is that some CPUs have a letter tacked on at the end, like the i7-9700K or the Ryzen 3 3200G. These letters at the end of the model denote certain traits. The most common processor suffixes are listed below:

Intel:

  • K: means that a specific processor is unlocked, and able to be overclocked. Intel processors are locked by default, and are not overclockable unless they are a “K” model.
  • F: means that a processor requires discrete graphics to operate. Intel processors come with integrated graphics by default, but F-designated processors lack this feature, and need a graphics card to generate an image.
  • T: These processors are power-optimized, and generate much less heat than their standard counterparts. They’re also less powerful.

Ryzen:

  • G: means that the processor has integrated graphics. These are also known as APUs, or Accelerated Processing Units.
  • X: means that the processor is has a slightly faster factory clock speed than its non-X counterpart. For example, the Ryzen 5 3600x is slightly faster than the Ryzen 5 3600. In other words, it’s overclocked out of the box.

It’s worth noting that there is a great deal of overlap between these categories in terms of performance. This means that the best i3 is far better than the worst i5, the best i5 is a lot better than the worst i7, and the same goes for the i7 and i9. The Ryzen 5 5600x, for example, outperforms Intel’s i9-9900k in gaming benchmarks.

As a general rule, however, when comparing same-generation processors the i9 is the best, followed by the i7, i5, and i3 in that order. The same applies to Ryzen processors.

Which is better: AMD or Intel?

It’s impossible to say whether one of these two brands are superior. AMD and Intel both manufacture excellent processors, and in the current state of the market neither brand is the definitive best. In terms of gaming performance, Ryzen currently holds the top 4 spots according to the Tom’s Hardware CPU Benchmark Hierarchy (which I’d definitely check out before settling on a processor), but Intel’s high-end processors are still a force to be reckoned with.

While neither brand is definitively better, there are some notable differences between the two. Standard Ryzen processors don’t come with integrated graphics, while Intel ones do. This won’t matter if you intend to buy a graphics card, but if you want a basic PC that doesn’t need high graphics performance, you may want to opt for an Intel CPU and skip the video card.

The other larger difference impacts overclocking. Ryzen CPUs are unlocked, so you can overclock them if you want. Intel CPUs are locked and therefore not overclockable, unless they have a “K” designation, as mentioned above.

Conclusion:

When choosing a CPU then, it’s best to choose based on these general guidelines. Once you have narrowed your choice down to a category, you need to decide which specific processor you want (for example, there are 12 9th-generation i7 processors). When building a gaming rig, decide what kind of performance you want from your PC and what resolution you intend to run it at, and run benchmarks. First, I’d start by looking at this list to get a good idea of how each CPU compares to its peers. Once you have a general idea of what price/quality range you’re interested in buying from, I would test different CPU/Graphics card combinations here to get a reasonable estimate for what framerate you will be able to get, in what games, and on what settings.

If you want to compare two different CPUs with the same graphics card, use this tool. If, say, you’re looking to run Modern Warfare on low settings at 144FPS in 1080p, try different combinations of CPU and GPU to see how cheap you can get your build while still getting the quality you want. Consider the benchmark an overestimate and leave some margin for error, so if you want 144 frames, look for a CPU-GPU combination that gets around 180 in order to play it safe. Games can become less optimized over time (see Fortnite Battle Royale for a great example of this), so it’s best to leave some wiggle room. If you’re building an office-grade PC and don’t intend to buy a graphics card, double-check that the processor you want has integrated graphics before you order it. Without integrated graphics, your processor can’t create an image on the screen, rendering  it worthless (I’m sorry).

Resources:


How to choose a CPU cooler:

Unless you plan to overclock your CPU (boost the speed it runs at to get better performance from it), the default cooler that comes with your processor should be more than adequate. Most high-end processors don’t come with one though, so it’s important to know what to look for when buying one.

The most important factor to consider, by far, is a cooler’s TDP, or Thermal Design Power, rating. TDP actually refers to the amount of heat that a component puts out, but coolers are rated based on how much heat they are able to disperse. A cooler with a TDP of 250W, then, should be able to keep a CPU with a TDP of 250W cool. For reference, the large majority of CPUs are 125W or lower, so a 250W cooler is very powerful.

The best way to decide on a cooler, then, is to look up your CPU’s TDP and buy a cooler that can handle that amount of heat. This is only if you bought a high-end processor, or if you’re looking to overclock yours.


How to choose a graphics card:

The graphics card is another monumentally important part of your PC build. You won’t need a graphics card for basic office utilities, but for things like gaming, 3D rendering, and high-resolution video editing it’s essential to have a graphics card. The graphics card market, much like the CPU market, is dominated by 2 brands. AMD has its Radeon line of graphics cards, while Nvidia has its Geforce line.

Geforce cards can range in performance from can’t-run-Valorant-at-30FPS office-grade GPU’s to the RTX 3090, which is a beast of a graphics card to say the least (It’s the indisputable best consumer-grade card available). Meanwhile, Radeon cards mostly fall into the lower-to-mid tier, but offer a better performance-to-cost ratio.

Choosing your GPU is fairly straightforward. Similar to the CPU-selection process, the best way to decide on your ideal graphics card is to look up benchmarks and figure out what card will meet your needs. Make sure to take your time and whittle your options down before making an ultimate decision. As I recommended when picking a processor, this is a great tool for comparing framerates with essentially any GPU-CPU combination. Tom’s Hardware has also graced us with an excellent GPU hierarchy list, which you can view here, which should help you find where your prospective graphics card sits in relation to others.

Between these resources, it should be fairly simple to find your ideal graphics card. Find the general range in the hierarchy list that you think will give you the performance you need while not exceeding your budget, pick a specific card, and run a benchmark. If it performs better than necessary (ie. It gets 300 frames per second in the game you will be playing when you’re only planning to buy an 144hz monitor), you might want to try a less-expensive card in order to get more value while still getting the performance you’re looking for. Picking a graphics card is a trial-and-error process, so it will probably take a decent amount of research before you finally find the exact one you’re looking for. Keep in mind that your CPU heavily influences your computer’s in-game performance as well, so it may be beneficial to try a different CPU in the mix as well.

Designations:

Graphics cards sometimes have suffixes added to the end of them, which denote better performance than the standard version. For Nvidia, these include “Ti” and “Super“, while Radeon cards use “XT.” For example, a 1660 Ti or 1660 Super is better than a regular 1660, and a Radeon 5700XT is better than a 5700. In general, “Ti” cards tend to be marginally better than their “Super” counterparts, but the difference is typically negligible.

A Note on Bottlenecking:

If you buy a CPU that is significantly more powerful than your GPU, or vice versa, this can result in a CPU or GPU bottleneck. What this means is that one piece of hardware is maxing out while the other is not using close to its full potential.

For example, a CPU bottleneck would occur if your processor was running at 100% of its capacity while your graphics card is only at 40%. At the most basic level, this means you inefficiently spent money. Your frames are capped by your CPU’s performance, so even though your graphics card can handle the workload demanded of it easily, its extra power does you no good. You’d be better off buying a more powerful CPU and spending a little less on your graphics card, since this way you will get more frames per second at the same cost. Ideally both your processor and GPU will be at similar percentages when running games at full blast, as this indicates that your system is efficient.

It’s also worth noting that some games are more CPU-reliant, sometimes referred to as being “CPU bound” or “CPU locked”. The benchmark tool I showed earlier should account for this, but keep in mind that if you plan on playing multiple games, you should be aware of which ones are CPU bound so you can get a more powerful processor if you think that you will be playing these.


How to choose your storage drive(s):

When deciding on a storage drive, the first consideration should, of course, be how much storage you need. If you know you’ll be using your computer to create and store videos, download photos from your phone, install massive games, or house clips you’ll need a decent bit of storage.

I wouldn’t recommend getting less than 1TB of storage most of the time, since storage is immensely cheap (Seagate has a 2TB hard drive for less than 60 bucks).

The one exception to this is if you know you won’t have any storage-heavy media on your computer (i.e. games, videos, or photos). In these instances, you probably don’t need a terabyte and could likely get away with buying 500GB of storage, or even 250 in some instances.

After storage capacity, the real quandary is whether or not to buy an SSD. Solid state drives are a little bit pricier, but they are well worth the money. Your computer will boot much faster, and you can search for and transfer files much more quickly.

Moreover, prices have dropped significantly in the past few years. Cost used to be a major factor when deciding between a solid state or hard drive, but now there are some 1TB SSDs available for under $100. Unless you don’t care at all about boot speeds, spend the extra money on an SSD. The difference is significant, while the cost is not.

Assuming you’re getting an SSD, you must now decide between a NVMe or a SATA model. In the end, it will come down to how much you are willing to spend.

NVMe drives are about 7 times faster than SATA SSDs. For example, the Team GX2 1TB SATA SSD has a max read speed of 530 MB/s, while the PNY CS3030 1TB, an NVMe SSD that costs a tiny bit more, has a max read speed of 3500 MB/s. Read speed is important because, among other reasons, it directly affects how fast your computer boots.

In other words, an NVMe is almost always better in this day and age. If you’re on a tight budget get a low-capacity NVMe for your boot drive (they sell them in sizes as small as 250GB) and use a hard drive to store large files.

To summarize, you need to make sure you get enough storage for your needs. That should be your first priority.

The good news is that all modern motherboards support multiple storage drives, often up to four, so you can always buy another if you’re running low on storage in a year or two.

Secondly, if at all possible, you should purchase an SSD, and preferably an NVMe. It’s worth every penny.

What to look for in an NVMe:

Not all NVMe drives are made equally. Aside from storage capacity, you should look at their maximum read and write speeds. The higher, the better.

Most of the time, read/write speeds are all that matters. If you know you’ll be using your storage drive to write large files frequently, you should look into NAND flash types and how they impact sustained speeds.

We covered this concept in this article, so if you think this will be applicable to you give it a read.

PCIe generation is also important in order to be as cost-efficient as possible. Any modern NVMe drive you look at will be labeled as either “PCIe gen 3″ or PCIe gen 4.”

Gen 4 drives are faster, but they also cost more. If you opt for a gen 4 drive, make sure your motherboard has a 4th-generation M.2 slot. Otherwise, you’ll be paying for faster speeds that you won’t be able to utilize.

Resources:


How to choose your RAM:

RAM is another component that is typically worth spending a little bit extra on. If you’re on a tight budget you can get by with 8GB of RAM, but you should never drop below that.

There’s only about a $20 difference in the cost of typical 8GB and 16GB RAM, and the smoother performance is well worth the slight uptick in cost. For this reason, we’d recommend a 16GB RAM kit unless your budget is extremely limited.

It’s also important to note the DDR type of your RAM. DDR4 is the most recent RAM technology that is commonly available on the market, and is about twice as fast as its predecessor DDR3.

Always get DDR4 RAM. In addition to being faster, it has a different form factor than DDR3, meaning you can’t use DDR3 with modern motherboards.

If you expect to have a lot of Chrome tabs, spreadsheets, text documents, videos, or anything of that nature open simultaneously, you may want to invest in a higher amount of RAM (32, 64, or even 128GB in extreme cases).

If in doubt, know that the majority of people never have occasion to use more than 16GB of RAM unless they frequently have a very large number of windows/tabs within a program open at the same time (think stock traders switching back and forth between spreadsheets and things of that nature).

Resources:

The Best Ram of 2021


How to choose a power supply:

Wattage

When choosing a power supply, your primary consideration should be its wattage. This is incredibly straightforward. The safest method is to use NewEgg’s Power Supply calculator or a similar tool to see exactly how much power your system will drain. Multiply this number by 1.3 and then round up to the next multiple of 50. That’s the power supply wattage you want.

If that didn’t make sense, here’s an example:

If NewEgg estimates that total system wattage will be 600W, we take:

600 x 1.3, which is 780. Now we round up to the next 50W interval, which is 800. Based on this, We’ll buy an 800W power supply. This is a good rule of thumb to use in order to account for any sudden spikes in energy usage that may occur.

Modularity

The next most important aspect of a power supply is its modularity. Modularity means, essentially, the customizability of a power supply. Fully modular means that every single power cable can be removed, allowing you to only use cables that are needed. On the other end of the spectrum, non-modular power supplies have all of the cables built-in, and you are unable to remove them.

This means that, with non-modular power supplies, you will probably end up having excess cables that aren’t connected to anything that are still taking up space in your case. The only benefit is that non-modular PSU’s are cheaper.

When choosing a power supply, I would recommend opting for a semi-modular design (a hybrid between non-modular and fully modular), as they are usually the most practical.

The essential cables, such as the ATX cable that powers your motherboard and your CPU cable, are built in. Other cables like the 8-pin used for most graphics cards are modular, so you can use them if needed, but not have extra unused cables in your case.

Efficiency

Lastly you should give some thought to efficiency, which is usually listed as the “80-Plus” rating. When a PSU sends power to your computer, some percentage of the power from your outlet never reaches the computer, and is instead released as heat.

The more heat is released, the less power reaches the computer and the less efficient the PSU is. This is where the rating system called the “80 Plus system” comes in.

80 Plus Power Supply Ratings and What They Mean - Make Tech Easier
80-Plus Criteria

If 18% of the total wattage coming from the wall is lost in transit to your PC, your PSU is 82% efficient, and thus would earn a Bronze rating based on the chart shown above. If only 8% is lost, it would be 92% efficient, and would earn a Titanium rating. This is the premise of the 80 Plus rating system.

Which power supply should you get?

In theory, then, you should always buy a Titanium-rated PSU, right? Not exactly. Take this EVGA fully-modular 650W PSU, for example. At the time of writing, it costs $155, nearly twice as much as the $80 price tag on its bronze counterpart shown here, for only a 9% jump in efficiency at full load.

It would take nearly 10,000 hours, or over a year, of your computer running at full speed to save the $75 extra you spent on the Titanium (assuming a $.12/kwh electricity cost).

Which should you get, then? This entirely depends on your computer’s intended use. If you’re building a PC that you intend to use an absolutely monumental amount, such as for computations or very long-term crypto farming, then it may be worth it to buy a more efficient PSU.

Otherwise, save your money and stick to the Bronze. For 99% of people, the difference in efficiency is negligible, while the price difference is not.


How to choose a case:

The case is one of the more fun parts to choose, since usually it boils down to aesthetics. If you need a case with a CD/DVD tray, SD card reader, or anything else specific make sure to ensure that the one you order has those features.

Look for a case that comes with fans installed, as this will help keep your entire system cool and allow for good airflow. Ideally, you’ll have at least one in both the front and back. Alternatively, you can buy extra system fans if your case is compatible.

If you know you’re going to have to store your tower in a cabinet or tight space, it’s good to check the dimensions and make sure your chosen case will fit. Likewise, if you already have your heart set on a certain motherboard, you will need to double-check that the case is compatible with that motherboard. Cases will have a set list of motherboard types they support so, for example, a smaller case probably won’t support a full-sized ATX motherboard.

It also helps to read reviews and find a case that gets good airflow, especially if you expect your PC to be working hard. Good airflow means you’ll be able to demand more of your computer while still keeping your components in a safe temperature range.

Additionally, different cases have different cable management features. These include compartments that cables can be threaded to, in order to keep them out of sight. These cable management features are invaluable if a messy case bothers you.

Aside from these considerations, picking a case boils down to what you want your PC to look like. Take your time, because you’ll be looking at the case for as long as you have your computer.  


How to choose a monitor:

Last but not least comes the monitor. You may already have one if you’re upgrading from an old computer, but if not, you’ll need to select a new one. The four main factors to consider with a monitor are size, response time, refresh rate, resolution, and adjustability.

Size boils down to personal preference and how much space you have. In my experience the ideal size for a monitor is between 24 and 32 inches.

Secondly, response time is important (mainly in conjunction with a gaming PC). Response time is the time it takes for a monitor to switch from one color to another. It sounds abstract, but in essence a lower response time means your monitor will be more responsive when playing games, and display the image in closer-to-real-time. It’s difficult to notice any difference between a 10ms and 1ms response time, but you should aim to buy one that’s 10ms or lower. Most good monitors these days are in the 1ms to 5ms range anyway, so it doesn’t make sense to settle for less.

At this point you should have already decided on the rest of your components, and should have a good idea of what frame rate you’ll be running games at. Your monitor should make full use of the frames your computer gets, so if your PC gets 144FPS on most games, you should buy an 144hz monitor. If it gets 240FPS, get a 240hz monitor. When on a budget, 144hz is usually the golden standard, since the jump from 60 to 144FPS is massive compared to the jump from 144 to 240. If you can’t afford that, 60hz is still fine, especially if you’re not playing games competitively, but shoot for 144hz if at all possible. They’re very affordable; there are even some for less than $140 with a 1ms response time. If you won’t be playing games on your PC, refresh rate still affects your overall experience, as it makes everything feel smoother, not just games, so a 144hz monitor may be worth the extra money.

Next is resolution, which goes hand-in-hand with refresh rate. Your monitor’s resolution will directly impact the framerate you’re able to get, and the refresh rate you need. By this point, you should already have a specific resolution in mind, so buy a monitor that supports your desired resolution.

As a last consideration, look into your monitor’s adjustability. Some come with an adjustable arm that allows you to move the screen up and down, which will allow you to view the screen at the desired height, rather than having to strain your neck. If this is important to you, make sure you get a monitor that includes this feature.


Conclusion:

As a final precaution, before you order anything put all of your parts into PC Part Picker if you haven’t already done so. It doesn’t take much time, and it should catch any compatibility errors that may arise. Doing this will ensure that you don’t buy all of your parts just to find that they won’t work together.


In this section I’ve put together several parts lists that have already been double-checked for compatibility. They’re listed, more or less, in ascending order of power (meaning the higher-quality PCs will be further down). Keep in mind that the market is constantly changing, so use these as suggestions and do your own research before buying. You can look up benchmarks for essentially any GPU-CPU combo here.


Office Work PC:

Graphics Card:ZOTAC GeForce GT 710Check Price: Amazon | Newegg
Processor:Ryzen 3 3100Check Price: Amazon | Newegg
Motherboard:Asus Prime A320M-K MotherboardCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg
RAM:G.Skill Ripjaws V Series 8GB DDR4 RAM (2x4GB) Check Price: Amazon | Newegg
Storage:TEAMGROUP GX2 1TB SSD (530MB/s)Check Price: Amazon | Newegg
Case:Rosewill FBM-06 CaseCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg
Power Supply:Corsair CX 450M 450W Bronze Semi-ModularCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg
Monitor:Asus VP228HE 21.5″ 1ms 1080p Check Price: Amazon | Newegg
Cables:HDMI CableCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg

This PC build won’t be able to run most games, but it will excel at basic word processing, emailing, and watching videos on the web on a budget.

AMD 1080p 60FPS Budget Gaming PC:

Graphics Card:Radeon RX 560 4GBCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg
Processor:Ryzen 3 3100Check Price: Amazon | Newegg
Motherboard:GIGABYTE GA-A320M-S2H MotherboardCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg
RAM:G.Skill Ripjaws V Series 8GB DDR4 RAM (2x4GB)Check Price: Amazon | Newegg
Storage:TEAMGROUP GX2 1TB SSD (530 MB/s)Check Price: Amazon | Newegg
Case:Fractal Design Core 1100Check Price: Amazon | Newegg
Power Supply:Corsair CX450M 450W Bronze Semi-Modular Check Price: Amazon | Newegg
Monitor:Asus VP227HE 21.5″ 1ms 1080pCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg
Cables:HDMI CableCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg

This gaming PC is designed with the lowest cost possible in mind, and should be able to get 60 frames per second on low settings in most games. If you’re on a really tight budget, and want to run games at 60FPS, this may be your best bet. Granted, nothing’s really cheap in the current state of the market.

Intel/Nvidia 1080p 60FPS Budget Gaming PC:

Graphics Card:Geforce GTX 1050 Ti 4GBCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg
Processor:Core i3-10100FCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg
Motherboard:ASROCK B460M-HDVCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg
RAM:G.Skill Ripjaws V Series 8GB DDR4 RAM (2x4GB) Check Price: Amazon | Newegg
Storage:TEAMGROUP GX2 1TB SSD (530 MB/s)Check Price: Amazon | Newegg
Case:Fractal Design Core 1100Check Price: Amazon | Newegg
Power Supply:Corsair CX450M 450W Bronze Semi-ModularCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg
Monitor:Asus VP228HE 21.5″ 1ms 1080pCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg
Cables:HDMI CableCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg

If you’re looking for a budget 60FPS gaming PC but prefer Intel and Nvidia, this is the build you want. Currently the i3-10100F is about $70 cheaper than the Ryzen 3 3100, so this build is slightly more affordable. It will get 60FPS steadily in any game. Before you buy a CPU, check the standard 10100’s price; sometimes it’s cheaper than the 10100F, and it’s the exact same processor, but with integrated graphics.

1080p 144FPS Budget Gaming PC:

Graphics Card:Radeon RX 570Check Price: Amazon | Newegg
Processor:Ryzen 5 3600Check Price: Amazon | Newegg
Motherboard:Gigabyte B450M DS3H V2Check Price: Amazon | Newegg
RAM:G.Skill Aegis 16GB DDR4 (2X8GB)Check Price: Amazon | Newegg
Storage:PNY CS3030 1TB NVMe SSD (3500MB/s)Check Price: Amazon | Newegg
Case:CoolerMaster MB311LCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg
Power Supply:EVGA BQ 500W Semi-Modular PSUCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg
Monitor:Asus VG248QG 24″ 165hz 1080pCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg
Cables:For 144hz: DisplayPort CableCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg

This gaming PC should be able to get 144 frames per second on most games on low settings, and as such is a great mid-range PC.

1650 | i3-10100 Build:

Graphics Card:MSI Ventus GTX 1650 Check Price: Amazon | Newegg
Processor:Core i3-10100F Check Price: Amazon | Newegg
Motherboard:ASRock B560M-HDVCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg
RAM:G.Skill Ripjaws 8GB DDR4 (2x4GB)Check Price: Amazon | Newegg
Storage:PNY CS3030 1TB NVMe SSD (3500MB/s)Check Price: Amazon | Newegg
Case:Fractal Design Focus GCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg
Power Supply:EVGA 550W B5Check Price: Amazon | Newegg
Monitor:Dell S2421HGF 24″ 1ms 1080pCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg
Cables:For 144hz: DisplayPort CableCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg

This was our Build of the Month for March 2021. It is very affordable, and can push 120 frames in almost any game. For steady 144FPS or running games at higher resolutions/settings, try a 1660 Ti or 1660 Super.

1660 Super | Ryzen 5 3600x Build:

Graphics Card:GIGABYTE GeForce GTX 1660 SuperCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg
Processor:Ryzen 5 3600xCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg
Motherboard:ASRock B450M PRO4Check Price: Amazon | Newegg
RAM:Corsair Vengeance LPX 16GB (2x8GB)Check Price: Amazon | Newegg
Storage:PNY CS3030 250GB NVMe SSD (3500MB/s)
Seagate BarraCuda 2TB (220MB/s)
Check Price: Amazon | Newegg
Check Price: Amazon | Newegg
Case:Corsair 275R AirflowCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg
Power Supply:Corsair CX 550M 550W Bronze Semi-ModularCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg
Monitor:For 1080P: Asus VG248QG 24″ 165hz 1080p
For 1440P: Acer KG271U 27″ 75hz 1440p
Check Price: Amazon | Newegg
Check Price: Amazon | Newegg
Cables:For 144hz: DisplayPort CableCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg

This build should easily get 144FPS in most games at 1080p and 60FPS in 1440p.

1080p 240FPS High-end Gaming PC:

Graphics Card:GIGABYTE Geforce RTX 2080 TiCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg
Processor:Intel Core i7-10700KFCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg
CPU Cooler:be quiet! Pure Rock 2 150WCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg
Motherboard:MSI Z490 A PROCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg
RAM:G.Skill Ripjaws V Series 32GB DDR4 (2x16GB)Check Price: Amazon | Newegg
Storage:PNY CS3030 2TB NVMe SSD (3500MB/s)Check Price: Amazon | Newegg
Case:Corsair iCUE 220T RGB AirflowCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg
Power Supply:EVGA 750 BQ Semi-Modular PSUCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg
Monitor:Alienware AW2518HF 240hz 1ms Response Time 25” MonitorCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg
Cables:DisplayPort Cable: you’ll need this for 240hzCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg

This PC will run most games on 240FPS on low settings, and many games at 240FPS on higher settings. It packs more than enough power to run any game at 240FPS at 1080p, and can handle high resolutions and settings while still maintaining a competitive framerate. Before you order, check the price of the 10700K on Newegg and Amazon, since sometimes it’s cheaper than the 10700KF.

The Ultimate Gaming PC (360+FPS):

Graphics Card:Geforce RTX 3090 Graphics CardCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg
Processor:Intel Core i9-11900KCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg
CPU Cooler:Corsair H100i RGB Liquid CPU CoolerCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg
Motherboard:Asus ROG STRIX Z590-E MotherboardCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg
RAM:Corsair Vengeance RGB Pro 128GB DDR4 RAMCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg
Storage:PNY CS3140 2TB NVMe SSD with Heatsink (7500MB/s)Check Price: Amazon
Case:Corsair iCUE 680X Smart Case RGBCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg
Power Supply:Corsair RM 750W Gold Fully Modular PSUCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg
Monitor:Asus ROG 360hz 1ms MonitorCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg
Cables:DisplayPort Cable: you’ll need this for 360hzCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg
Additional:Thermal Paste: Not included with the Corsair H100iCheck Price: Amazon | Newegg

This build is the most powerful one available on the market. It should easily run any game at upwards of 360FPS, but its cost is proportional to its performance. Keep in mind that this build is largely for fun, as it would not be economical to build, and you could achieve 360FPS in most games with a cheaper build.


Part 4: Assembling the PC

This is the part you’ve been waiting for: assembling the parts and completing the masterpiece that is your PC. Keep in mind that it’s impossible to write a perfect step-by-step guide to assembling a PC since there are too many variables at play, especially in case design. As such, some steps may vary slightly when building your own PC, but the bulk of the process should follow these steps. I would recommend looking up videos of someone assembling a PC with your specific components, or ones that are similar.

Before you start, I’d like to throw in one last note: your parts aren’t nearly as fragile as you think. If it’s your first time building, you may feel like you’re going to break the motherboard when putting the RAM in (and you might feel like you’re breaking the RAM sticks too), but PC parts are far sturdier than you think. Don’t be careless or use more force than necessary, but know that your parts can handle a lot more than you think.

  1. Take the side panel off of the case to access the interior. This should be held down by several large screws, which you can typically remove by hand.
  2. Find the standoff screws. Usually these are found in a plastic bag inside of the case (shown below).There are many small holes in the case, usually labeled with a letter next to them (usually “A” for ATX, “M” for Micro-ATX, or “I” for Micro-ITX). Screw the standoffs into the holes that match your motherboard type.
  3. Find the IO plate, the shiny metal plate that comes in the package with the motherboard. Place it so that the text is readable and right-side-up when looking from outside of the case. Snap all four corners into place, making sure it is firmly secured.
  4. Carefully remove the motherboard from its packaging. Set it on top of the box it came in.
  5. a lot easier to use tweezers, as these cables are truly miniscule. 
  6. For Intel CPUs: Remove the plastic cover from the CPU slot on the motherboard. There is a small spring-loaded metal arm to the right of the CPU cover, which you’ll need to pull to the right and then lift up. Once the CPU cover is up, you’ll see the CPU socket. Remove the CPU from its package and line up the notches on the side with the notches in the motherboard. Wiggle it a little bit if necessary, but don’t push it in. It will settle into place without too much force. Once it is sitting down in the CPU socket, close the cover over the processor, and lock the metal arm into place the way it was to start with. If you have a Ryzen CPU, the process is slightly different, since the pins are in the CPU, not the motherboard. For more information, watch this video.
  7. Take the CPU cooler from the packaging. Check on the underside to see if it has thermal paste on it. If there’s a gray-silver liquid on the bottom-side of the cooler, you’re good to go. If not, put a small dot of paste on the top of the CPU.
  8. If the fan has a standard four-pin design (if it came with the processor, it should fall in this category) line up all four of the pins with the holes in the motherboard surrounding the CPU, so that the center of the cooler is directly on top of the CPU. Make sure the pins drop into the holes in the motherboard, then press the pins in from the top. Press the top right and bottom left down first until they click into place, then press the top left and bottom right. Verify that the cooler is secure by pressing on it gently. If you bought an aftermarket or AMD cooler, the setup may be different. Consult the instruction manual for aftermarket, or this link for AMD coolers.
  9. Take the 4-pin cable that’s attached to the CPU cooler, and plug it into the nearby fan slot, usually labeled “CPU FAN.”
  10. Find the RAM slots and push down the tabs at the top and bottom (if applicable) of the slots you’re going to use. If your motherboard has four RAM slots but you’re only using two sticks, install them in the 2nd and 4th slot.
  11. Now take the RAM sticks and line them up with the slot, making sure that the notch in the middle of the slot lines up with the notch in the middle of the RAM module. If not, it’s probably backwards. Press one end of the RAM stick down until it snaps into place, then press the other end down until it does the same. Do this for all RAM sticks.
  12. If your power supply is fully modular, you will need to find the 12-pin ATX power cable and plug it into the power supply. Do the same with the CPU cable. Now plug the other end of the cables into their respective slots. The ATX power cable usually plugs into a large slot on the right side of the motherboard, while the CPU cable’s plugin is usually found towards the top-left of the motherboard near the processor. The usual plugin locations are shown below.
  13. Find the SATA power cable that came with the power supply and plug it into one of the power supply’s 6-pin slots. Now connect the other end to your storage drive(s). If you have multiple storage drives, you can connect them to the same power cable, since it will have multiple plugins running along the cord.
  14. Install the Power Supply. This step will vary based on your case, so you may need to consult the manual. Usually there is an opening at the bottom of the back of the case. Place the power supply inside the case, making sure that the fan faces downwards and the port for the power cord is on the exterior of the case. There will be screw holes in the power supply, and you can use the screws that came with the case to secure it.
  15. Now find the SATA cable that came with the motherboard and connect it to the storage drive. Plug the other end into the motherboard in the slot labeled SATA, usually found on the right edge of the motherboard. If you have multiple storage drives, you’ll need to run a SATA cable from each one to the motherboard.
  16. Secure the storage drive(s) in the case. This will vary significantly from case to case. Drives are commonly stored in trays, screwed into the case, or attached to rubber gaskets that lock into the case. You will need to consult your case manual for this step. Make sure that your drive is secured in some manner to the case so that it’s unable to move around and possibly dislodge one of its cables.
  17. Now install the motherboard in the case. Slide it into place so that all of the ports on the left side of the motherboard stick through their respective slots in the IO plate, and all of the screw holes in the motherboard line up with the standoffs. It may take some force to position the motherboard correctly, since the IO plate has spring-like metal strips facing inwards.
  18. Once the motherboard is in place, secure it using the screws that came with the case (these are usually found in the same bag as the standoffs). Tighten them a little at a time and make sure that the screws are snug but not overtightened, since this could crack the motherboard. You can tell the screws are tight enough when you are able to press gently on the motherboard without it rocking or wiggling.
  19. Install the Graphics card. First, make sure to remove the protection cover over the PCIe slot, if present. In most instances there is a panel on the back of the case, directly to the left of the PCIe slots. Unscrew this panel, then unscrew the metal strip that’s on the same vertical plane as the PCIe slot in which you intend to install your graphics card.
  20. The PCIe slot will have a tab on one or both sides, much like the RAM slots did. Push down these tabs and line up the slit in the graphics card with the notch in the PCIe slot. Press the graphics card into the slot, first on the left side until your feel it snap into place, then on the right. If the tabs that you pressed down in the beginning pop back into place, this means that the graphics card is seated correctly.
  21. Using screws that came with the case, secure the metal part of the graphics card outside of the case. If there was a metal plate that covered this, screw it back in as well.
  22. If your graphics card requires an external power source, plug the 6-pin cable(s) into the power supply and connect them to the graphics card as needed.
  23. Connect the case connectors to the Motherboard. These are usually coming out of the right side of the case, and include cables associated with audio, power, the reset switch, and LED’s. You should always consult your motherboard’s instructions at this point, since most motherboards are a little bit different from one another. Find the section in the motherboard’s installation guide that looks like the one shown below. It will tell you which module to connect these cables to. From there, you need to find the module (it’ll be labeled on the motherboard as well) and connect the pins in the exact layout shown on the manual.
  24. Put the side panel back on and plug the cable that runs from the wall to the power supply in. Plug in your ethernet cable, HDMI or DisplayPort cables, and any peripherals that you want connected. You’re finished with the build process, and ready to boot.

Part 5: Troubleshooting

Ideally, when you press the power button for the first time your LED’s light up, your case fans will start spinning and your computer will boot up perfectly. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always go that way. The good news is that the issue is frequently fixed with ease, and can be solved with some simple troubleshooting. Here are some common things to try if your PC doesn’t boot up on the first try.

  1. Make sure your case cables are plugged in correctly. Consult your motherboard manual and make sure that you lined them up correctly. Since one of these cables controls your power button, if it’s not in the right place your power button may not work, making it impossible to boot.
  2. Make sure that your CPU cooler is plugged into the connector labeled “CPU FAN.” If you plug it into another connector, your computer may erroneously think that a CPU cooler is not connected, and shut down to avoid overheating.
  3. Disconnect all but one stick of RAM, and make sure that it is seated perfectly. If the computer boots when this is done, you either have a bad stick of RAM or one of the sticks weren’t seated correctly the first time you put it in.
  4. Disconnect the power from your storage drive. If your computer boots when this is done, it usually means that either the power cable or storage drive was faulty. Try with a different power cable if your power supply came with more than one.
  5. If you have integrated graphics, take out the graphics card and try booting. If it boots without the graphics card, reinstall it and try again. Your graphics card may have been incorrectly seated the first time. If this doesn’t work, you probably have a faulty graphics card or power cable running to your card.
  6. Flash your BIOS. Your motherboard’s BIOS may need to be updated to be compatible with newer processor models. Learn how to flash your BIOS here.
  7. If all else fails, unscrew your motherboard and place it on a cardboard box. Try booting your system up outside of the case. If this works, check for anything that could have been touching the bottom of the motherboard. It’s possible that you installed an extra standoff that didn’t belong, and was touching the bottom of the motherboard causing a short.
  8. If none of these options work and your PC still won’t boot, it’s worth ordering a new power supply and trying with that one. If this doesn’t work, it’s likely that your motherboard has been damaged. You can take your build into a shop if you’re willing to spend the money, or order a new motherboard and start from scratch.

If you’re reading this before you build a PC and thinking of all the horrible things that could go wrong, just remember that the majority of the time first-time PC builders are successful. Follow the instructions carefully and be gentle with the components, and you probably won’t have to make use of this troubleshooting section.


Part 6: Startup

When you boot up your PC for the first time, you will need to have a boot device. The best way to do this is to buy a USB flash drive and download the Windows boot media using another computer. You can find the Windows boot media creation tool here.

After creating the boot media, insert it into a USB port on your newly-built PC and press a key. This will open the Windows 10 setup wizard, and it will guide you the rest of the way through the setup. It will prompt you to enter an activation key, but you don’t have to have one. If you do decide to buy it, you can download it here.

If you don’t buy Windows 10, the vast majority of your experience will be exactly the same as that of a paid user. The only difference is that you’ll have limited access to security patches, updates, and a few other features, but these may not be worth the hefty price tag.

As a final note, if your PC was built for gaming, you may want to optimize Windows 10 for maximum gaming performance. You can find our guide to doing so here.


Conclusion:

That’s it. If you’re reading this, having already built your PC, congratulations! You’ve accomplished something that most people haven’t. Your family and friends will, for better or worse, think you know everything about computers from now on. I hope you enjoy using your PC for years to come.

If you’re reading this but haven’t built yet, I’d like to wish you good luck. Remember that even if you feel unprepared, everyone who has ever built a computer started out in the same exact spot you’re in. The best way to learn is to do it.

Additionally, there’s a massive amount of resources out there, should you encounter difficulty. I’d recommend r/buildapc and Tom’s Hardware Forums, as these are excellent resources to check out if you ever encounter trouble.

Either way, thanks for reading. I hope that you found it helpful in some way. If not, let me know. I’d like to make this the best and most complete guide to building a PC on the internet, so I’m open to any and all feedback.

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