Building a gaming PC seems like little more than a pipe dream to many people - There are budget concerns, space concerns, etc... In other words, dozens and dozens of reasons not to get started. However, as PC gaming becomes more and more accessible to newbies, these reasons start to become less relevant (You can build a great rig for as low as $500 now!).
Today, I'm going to teach you exactly How to Build Your Own Gaming PC - Just to show you that it's really not as complex or difficult as many think!
Newegg Video Guide - If you're more of a "Visual" learner, check out Newegg's step-by-step guide to building your own gaming PC. (Not owned by me)
PC Part Picker.com - Helps you find any incompatibilities between your components. Just enter your parts in, and let the website tell you if there's issues!
Power Supply Calculator.net - Helps you determine the minimum wattage your gaming rig will need. Once you've determined this, you'll know which Power Supply/PSU to buy.
Cloning Your Hard Drive/Data Migration - Have an old Hard Drive or SSD with data you can't afford to lose? No worries. Check out this article on transferring your data to a new SSD or HDD.
Contact Me - If you have any questions about any part of the PC building process, you can find my contact information here.
Step 1. Determining Your Budget
Picking a reasonable budget is the first step in building any rig. You need a build that will suit your needs, while also not pushing you to the brink of bankruptcy - As cool as PC gaming is, I don't think it's worth destroying your credit score over!
So, while we don't want to suck our wallets dry, we also need to be realistic - There's no way around it, gaming PCs just aren't as cheap as consoles. If you've made it this far, you're probably already smart enough to know this.
In light of this, I recommend setting a bare minimum budget of $400 to start with. If that number makes you cringe or shiver, just take a moment to consider the benefits of owning your own gaming PC...
- You will own a future-proof system that will consistently outperform consoles for years to come. While a $500 or $600 system will last longer, a $400 system will still give you an edge going into 2016 and possibly 2017 as well - Don't forget, you can always upgrade your parts later at a fraction of the cost!
- The ability to tweak game settings up to the very max. The sheer performance (FPS-wise) and graphical fidelity you can achieve with a PC is far beyond that of any console.
- The ability to fully mod your games. Most games (Even those without official mod support) have extensive modding communities. Want a needs system in Skyrim (Hunger, sleep, hypothermia, etc.)? There's a mod for that. What about a camping mod? Yup! Dragon riding mod? Check. Dragon transformation mod? Double check. There's so much potential here, it's a bit overwhelming sometimes.
- Swap and upgrade parts, peripherals and components at will. No manufacturer is telling you what you can and cannot do with your system (You cannot enhance the power of a console - No matter what). You have full control.
...And many, many more benefits you'll just have to discover for yourself. If you're still with me, great! This is obviously something you're passionate about. Read on, my pupil.
Step 2. What You'll Need - Tools of the Trade
Before we get started with the build process itself, we'll need to get a few basic tools (For assembling the computer). Additonally, I suggest you find a safe, quiet place to work (One without a lot of foot traffic - When it comes to building your computer, I suggest you err on the side of caution and assume everyone that isn't you is a clumsy oaf. You'll thank me later).
Here's what we'll need:
- A basic Phillips (Star-shaped) screwdriver. It should be small enough to fit into tight spaces - You don't want anything too big or bulky. If you don't feel like leaving the house, you can find a good, cheap screwdriver set on Amazon here.
- A basic flathead screwdriver. This is not essential, but depending on the case and components you choose to buy, it may be necessary to carefully pry certain things apart (A case's front plate, for example - Cheaper cases don't usually have latches). A flathead is great for this. If you don't already have one, you can get one on Amazon here.
- 2 Large towels. This is to give us a safe & cushioned place to set our components while we work, as well as provide us with our workspace itself. Things also don't tend to roll off of towels easily, so that's another benefit.
- A decent-sized workspace. I recommend using the floor, because parts can easily tumble off of desks and tables. I also suggest removing all children & animals from your work area. All it takes is one innocent mistake to ruin your entire build (And probably your day, too)!
- Zip-lock bags and a Sharpie. These will be used to store and label extra screws and other miscellaneous parts. This is not optional, trust me - I've lost far too many screws and other important parts because I was "Sure I'll remember where I left them". Don't make that mistake! If you don't have this stuff already, you can find them for under $5 at Wal-Mart.
- At least one SATA cable. It can be elbow or straight - Personal preference I recommend getting a pack of 3 in case you need to migrate your data from an old storage drive to your new SSD or HDD (Or if you want to do so in the future). Find a pack of 3 SATA cables on Amazon here.
Once you have all of that, we're ready to move on. Next, we get to actually select our components!
Step 3. Selecting Our Components - The Meat of the Build
Now that we have all that preliminary nonsense out of the way, we need to figure out exactly what components we want. This is where the real physical substance of our build is. Our components include the motherboard, video card, computer case, etc.
If you look up at the top of your screen website (In the menu), you'll notice two tabs - "Top Recommendations" & "Choose Your Budget".
My Top Recommendations are the peripherals I recommend above all others (Keyboard, mouse, headset, etc.), but they are not 100% essential. Any cheap old headset, keyboard, monitor, and mouse will be good enough to start with.
However, the "Choose Your Budget" option is a list of the build guides I've published to the site. At the time of writing this article, I've written two - a $800 budget build guide and a $1000 budget build guide.
These build guides are a full list of computer components I recommend for the given price point. If you're looking to start at a lower price point than what I've covered so far (Say, $600 or $700), you're free to email me for suggestions (Find my contact information here) drop a comment below this article, or wait for my next build guide. I'm working on a $600 guide right now, so look out for that!
The component selection process is extremely important. You need to ensure that every single part is compatible with the rest of your build, and that there are no performance bottlenecks (For instance, having a weaker CPU that can't support a higher-powered video card).
To check for basic part compatibility, I recommend using PC Part Picker.com. Just add all the parts you want into a new build on there, and it should let you know if there are any conflicts or incompatibilities.
I'll go over each part decision in detail below, to help you make a better choice (In case you aren't following one of my build guides).
Components - The Case
Picking the right case is a pretty big deal - After all, it's where all of your parts are going to be! The perfect case will look stylish (You should pick a case that reflects your personal design tastes - Most cases function pretty similarly, so go hog wild!), it will have room for all of our parts, and maybe even have a few extra cool functions as well (Case fans, dust filters, etc.).
One big thing to bear in mind when selecting a case is whether it's Micro-ATX, ATX, Mini-ATX, etc. (There are also "Full Tower" cases, which are a lot bigger and usually a lot more expensive). This just refers to what type of motherboard your case will accept.
There's no reason not to go for
I personally recommend the Corsair Carbide SPEC-01 for most PC builds. Again, it comes down to personal preference, so pick something you don't mind looking at!
Components - The Motherboard
This is where things can get tricky. I've spoken to friends in the past who purchased a motherboard that wasn't compatible with their memory or
Our entire build relies on two parts, mostly - The Motherboard and the CPU. They are the parts that the rest of the build depends on to function properly!
All you're really looking at here is whether or not the Motherboard is compatible with your CPU socket type (Use PC Part Picker to find out - It'll let you know if there's any incompatibilities), and how much RAM it can hold.
Generally I recommend getting a motherboard that can house at least 32GB of RAM (We won't be using all 32GB right away, but we might want to upgrade in the future). I'll talk more about RAM after I discuss the CPU, so read on!
Components - CPU
Your main decision here is whether to go with Intel or AMD. This is another personal preference decision (Notice how much of the build comes down to YOUR needs? That's the fun of building your own rig!)
I'm personally an Intel guy myself (Due to the increased performance), but AMD offers a better bang for your buck. It just comes down to your budget, and how important performance is to you.
Components - RAM/Memory
RAM (Or simply memory) is what allows you to multitask on your PC! Ever notice how the longer you have multiple processes open, the slower your computer becomes? This is because these programs and software each start to eat up more and more of your computer's memory over time.
Think of it as a resource that gets distributed out amongst the various programs you have open at any given time - Video games and web browsers with a lot of addons or extensions tend to be the biggest RAM hogs, and thus will contribute the most to any sluggishness you might be facing.
All you really need to think about with RAM is how much of it you want! Pick a good RAM kit that's compatible with your motherboard, and you're good to go. I don't recommend getting any less than 16GB of RAM myself - If you're looking for memory, I recommend the Kingston HyperX 16GB kit (Link goes to Amazon).
Components - Video Card
No, I did not forget about the power behind our build! The video card, with help from the CPU, will be the component that has the biggest impact on our gaming performance. This is what will allow us to boost game settings up to high/ultra and pump the resolution up as well - So long as our monitor can support it.
Picking a good video card is difficult. There's a LOT of choices out there, and the main video card companies we will need to choose between will be AMD and NVIDIA. There's plenty of individual manufacturers that each create their own versions of the same card (Usually just aesthetic differences, but sometimes there's a slight performance difference as well), but for now, let's just focus on the card itself.
If you're budget is tighter, I recommend taking a look at either the MSI R9 380 or the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960 on Amazon. Both are excellent cards with similar performance. As you can see here on GPUBoss.com, their performance is almost identical.
Components - Operating System
There's really not even much point in including this section, really. I'm already 90% certain most people are going to go with a Windows OS! However, there is one other alternative (Linux) that's free, but it's very complicated to setup and I don't know anything about it.
Instead, I'm going to dedicate this section to talking about the different Windows versions. If you don't already know, the three main ones we have out right now are Windows 7, Windows 8.1, and Windows 10.
I personally use Windows 10 (I loved Windows 7 if that's any comfort for you), as it took the best of Windows 8.1 AND Windows 7. We have the start menu (And search bar, etc.) of Windows 7, but we also have the clean, flat design of Windows 8.1
This is really a personal preference thing. It will have little effect on your gaming performance, but Windows 7 may let you run some older games a little easier than Windows 10 will. Pick your poison below!
Quick note: If you do decide to go with Windows 8.1 or 7 to start with, but later decide you want to try Windows 10, you can upgrade for free (As well as downgrade back to your previous OS within 30 days if you want). Learn more about the free upgrade on Amazon.
- Get Windows 10 on Amazon (Recommended)
- Get Windows 8.1 on Amazon (Not Recommended)
- Get Windows 7 on Amazon
Components - Power Supply Unit/PSU
This is a pretty straightforward decision, so there isn't much to discuss. All you need to look at is wattage and the user reviews for the product (To ensure there isn't any major manufacturing defects or issues - After all, one power screw up could destroy your entire motherboard!). To determine the minimum wattage your build will need, I recommend using a Power Supply Calculator.
They are fairly easy and straightforward to use. If they ask for a part you don't have (Such as an optical drive) or need, just leave it blank. Okay, moving on!
Components - SSD, HDD, or Both?
Here's another difficult decision. Do we go with exclusively an SSD, exclusively an HDD, or do we get both? It comes down to what you want in terms of performance. I suggest just getting an SSD exclusively. Yes, it's more expensive, but there's a whole plethora of benefits associated with getting one over an HDD.
Solid State Drives are significantly faster, more durable, and more resistant to shock damage than their HDD counterparts. The reason the prices for a similar capacity SSD are sometimes almost triple that of an HDD is that too many people still buy HDDs! While SSDs are technically not new technology, because they haven't been widely adopted by PC users, the prices must remain high to justify making and selling them.
Hard Drives are significantly more popular, and will likely continue to be for a few more years. As long as people still buy them, SSDs will be expensive. Anyway, that's enough ranting from me! If you want to go with an HDD, by all means do so - Here's a good one on Amazon. If you want to try an SSD instead, I wrote an article on the Top 5 SSDs of 2016 - Feel free to check that out.
If you're worried about storage capacity in an SSD, don't be - You'll find that deleting old junk is easier and faster than it would be with an HDD, and you'll likely avoid downloading that junk to begin with! Moving on.
Components - Optical Drive
There's really not much call for optical/CD drives nowadays, but if you really want one, here's a cheap option on Amazon - It's under $30 at the time of writing this article. All you'll be using this for is downloading your Operating System (If you're using 7 or 8.1, that is. Windows 10 comes on a USB) and your video card drivers (Though you can get them online easily), so no need to go crazy.
Step 4. Building The Computer!
Congratulations on making it this far! Most people would have given up by now. Okay, so by now you should have all of your parts ordered and sitting in front of you on a large fluffy towel. You should have your tools with you, and you should have a distraction-free environment. Still good? Great! Let's get started.
First things first, do not touch your components yet! Seriously. If you have any static electricity in your body at all, you need to discharge it - Find a spare piece of metal (Your case is fine, if it's made of metal) and touch it. Once you've done that, you can start unpacking your parts and laying them out.
Building The Computer - Setting Up The Case
This part is very easy and quick. Your motherboard should have come with an I/O panel (Your case may have come with one too). It's likely a silver-colored panel with a bunch of cut-out holes and horizontal boxes. This is where your audio jack, USB ports, HDMI port, etc. will be. Put this into place on your case.
You might also have some thin metal/mesh strips on the back of the case as well - Take these off, because this is where our video card's ports will be.
Building The Computer - Motherboard, CPU, RAM
Alright, so first things first - We need to set our motherboard up. Find your motherboard manual and take it out - It will explain how you need to hook up the RAM and CPU. I'll do my best to give you directions for hooking these parts up, but bear in mind that every motherboard is different - The manual is truly your friend! Refer to it often.
Okay, look on your motherboard for 4 large horizontal slots. You should see little DIMM tabs at both ends of each slot, perhaps with little ridges for your thumbs to press on.
Refer to your manual for specific directions on this, but essentially you'll just be taking your memory (However much you have) and sticking it in to the appropriate slots.
Make sure you snap open the DIMM tabs first - Once you apply pressure to the memory sticks, the tabs will snap into place automatically.
It is very important that you refer to the manual, because you cannot just stick both sticks next to each other! Your motherboard manual will have specific directions for setting up 1, 2, 3, or 4 memory sticks.
The CPU is pretty easy as well. It should come pre-installed with some thermal paste on the bottom, but if it doesn't, you'll need to use the included thermal paste tube to apply it yourself. If for some reason your CPU did not come with thermal paste, do not proceed yet! Thermal paste is NOT optional - You can find a very cheap tube here on Amazon (Under $10).
Once you've applied the thermal paste, consult your motherboard manual to find out exactly how to install it. Each motherboard is very different in this regard - Some of them have hinges that snap into place to secure the CPU, and others have levers that force it into place.
Whatever the case may be, once you've installed the CPU chip itself, you'll need to get your CPU cooler/fan (Just the stock fan is fine - You can always upgrade later) installed on top of it and plugged in to your motherboard. Again, the motherboard manual should explain this.
Once the CPU and your RAM sticks are installed, set the motherboard down safely and grab your computer case. Take off the side panel (Setting it somewhere safe) and tip the case over on its side, the open part facing up.
Now you need to place the motherboard into the case - Be very, very careful during this step. Your case should have come with screws or standoffs for you to use to install the motherboard. Refer to both your motherboard and case manuals for more detailed instructions on this. It would take far too long to explain in detail here!
Your case also likely came with a lot of small wires and cables for things like the case power and reset switches, case fans, LEDs, etc. I cannot possibly explain how to plug those in with this guide, because each motherboard will have completely different methods of doing this. Just refer to your case and motherboard manuals for assistance.
Building The Computer - Power Supply
Next up is the power supply. It's important to get this done early because a lot of other components will need to be plugged in to it. At the bottom or top corner of your case (Should be on the left, towards the back) there should be a pretty obvious area for your PSU to be installed.
Once you've located it, put the PSU in with the cords facing in (The cords that will plug in to our other components, not the power cord), and make sure the on/off switch is facing the outside of the case.
You'll need to find your case manual (If it came with one) to determine what case screws you need to use for your PSU (Or just use the ones that came with it).
After you've done that, screw it in securely (Do NOT overtighten!) and boom! We have liftoff. Well, we have power, anyway. Oh, also make sure you have the power cable for the PSU handy - don't plug it in yet, but we're going to need it later.
Building The Computer - Hard Drive
Next up is the hard drive or SSD - Whichever you have, the process will be pretty much the same. You'll need an SATA cable for this step. Take your SSD or HDD out of its packaging (Carefully!), and find the hard drive or SSD rack in your case. If you're using the Corsair Carbide SPEC-01, this is located on the right side of the case.
Use the screws that came with your case (Again, refer to the case manual to determine which screws are the right ones) and screw the HDD or SSD into place on the rack. Some cases (Such as the Corsair Carbide SPEC-01) actually have a screw-less setup - You just have to snap the storage device into a bracket. Quick and easy.
Once the device is secured to the case, grab your SATA cable and plug it in to the appropriate slot on the back of your SSD or HDD (Elbow cables are better for this, as they won't press against the side of your case). Take the other end and plug it in to the appropriate slot on your motherboard. Refer to your manual for the specific slot it needs to be plugged in to.
After you've done that, find the PSU cord with an L-shape at the end - This is going to give power to your HDD or SSD. Once you've found it, just plug it in and move on! We're almost done.
Building The Computer - Video Card
Last thing to plug in! Each motherboard and build will be different for this step, but in general you need to look for one or two large slots for your video card to plug in to. Once you've located it, carefully stick it in until it clicks.
The back of the video card (Where the ports and connectors are) will be sticking out of the back of the case - You may need to screw it in (To make sure the video card doesn't droop due to its heaviness, damaging the connections) to the case, so make sure you have your screwdriver handy!
Now you need to find a power supply cable that corresponds to the video card - This will give it power. Once you've found that and plugged it in, you're pretty much done!
Building The Computer - Optical Drive
You'll need to pop off one of the optical drive panels on the front of your case (Each case has a different method of doing this - Some may require you to take the entire front panel off), then slide your optical drive in to one of the trays from the front. The front of the optical drive should be facing the otuside of the case.
Now you'll need to plug your optical drive in to your motherboard and your power supply (Once again, each build will be different, so I cannot give specific instructions on what cables to use, etc.). Consult your various manuals to find out how to do this, but it should be pretty easy.
Step 5. Final Steps - The Start of Something New
You're pretty much done now! Make sure all of your components are plugged in to your power supply properly, make sure your case cords are plugged in to the motherboard, etc. - Basically, just double check that you've completed all the previous steps properly. If you have, congratulations to you!
Now all you need to do is pop the side panel back on and plug your computer in! If you have a monitor available, just use the included HDMI cable to plug it in to the back of your case.
Then, grab the power supply cord (The one I told you to keep handy - You haven't lost it already, have you?) and plug it in to both the PSU and the wall. Voila, you now have a working computer!
Finally, install your operating system (After plugging in your mouse and keyboard), via either USB or CD, depending on the OS you purchased.
Download your various drivers (Your motherboard, video card, and storage device probably came with CDs for you to pop in - Do so now) and plug in your WiFi adapter or ethernet cable.
You're now ready to start PC gaming! Not sure where to get games, software, etc.? I recommend starting with Steam for games, and check out this article for some software recommendations.
Congratulations! You're done! You're probably feeling a mixture of anxiety, relief, and frustration right now. Don't worry, that's how we all felt with our first build.
If you encountered any problems with the build process, or if you're having other issues with your new rig, please feel free to contact me for help. I'll do what I can! If I can't help, I can at least point you in the right direction.
Also, here's another cool thing about building your own PC - If you make any tweaks to a pre-built PC, you'll be voiding your warranty. However, because we are building our own, we have warranties on each individual part - If anything goes wrong, we are 100% covered (Usually for 1 or 2 years, sometimes more) by a refund or replacement policy in most cases.