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THE STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE TO BUILDING YOUR OWN PC

Building your first PC can seem like a daunting, impossible task, especially if you don’t know much about computers. However, putting together a homemade PC is not an impossible task. In fact, building your first PC can help you better understand how a computer works and what components go into it. If you don’t know where to start, don’t fret. Our comprehensive guide will help you gather what you need and put it together like an expert.

The Ultimate Guide to Building Your Very Own PC

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WHY BUILD YOUR OWN PC?

​​In today’s marketplace, desktop and laptop computers are both ubiquitous and varied in price. You can spend a little more than one hundred dollars on a machine or you can spend thousands on a store-bought computer. Depending on what you want to do with your computer, building your first PC might save you some money.

If all you need to do is browse the internet and use some apps for work, it’s probably more cost-effective to go with a store-bought (or even refurbished) machine.

But if you want a specialty build, such as for gaming, animation, or editing film, you could save yourself a large chunk of change by building a PC yourself. A store-bought gaming computer can cost more than 2000, but you can build one yourself for around 400-500.

However, if you are going to commit to building your first PC, the real reason you are doing it should be because you want to. This is precise work, and, even for experts, things can go very wrong. If the idea of building your own computer excites you, then this is a task you should undertake. If you dread the idea of doing it, this guide is for you.

This is something a beginner can easily pull off, but only if they want to put in the time and effort to get it right. Assembling a homemade PC can be a lot of fun if you have the right attitude about it. Just don’t go it alone. There are plenty of resources on the internet that can help you, including this very guide. Keep reading to see what would be in store for you, and this will help you decide if this is a challenge you want to accept.

WHAT YOU NEED TO BUILD YOUR OWN PC

PC Rig Setup in Dark Room

Of course, when you are building your first PC, you will need computer components. We’ll detail those below. But before you start putting everything together, you need to make sure you have all the tools and supplies you will need.

The first thing you must have is a large, clean space to work. These are fragile components, and it won’t work if you try to put the thing together on your kitchen counter or a dirty garage workbench. Lay down plastic or some other protective material to ensure that everything stays pristine. You will also need some tools and other supplies to finish the job.

The only hand tool you really need is a Phillips-head screwdriver. Any will do, but here are some recommendations to help make things a little easier. First, use a longer screwdriver, so you don’t have to worry about not having great leverage to secure the tiny screws needed for the components. Second, you should ensure that your screwdriver has a metallic tip.

Without one, you risk dropping the tiny screws and setting your progress back, almost to the beginning if you can’t remove it. Spare screws are also a good idea, in case you lose some outside of the machine. You will also need wire cutters, but not for any of the components. Those you will use for zip ties or Velcro wraps you will use to bind up the cables and cords inside the machine. Finally, keep a pair of clean rubber or latex gloves nearby specifically for installing the CPU.

HOW TO INSTALL YOUR PARTS

Step-by-Step Guide to Build Your Own PC


​Below is our general guide offering up the best step-by-step instruction possible for a home-built computer. Your particular situation may vary, depending on your components, the case you choose, and what sort of build you are going for. However, the below suggestions should guide you through building your own PC.

​Step One: Start With Your Case

PC Case

There are many important components to consider when you build a PC yourself, but the literal foundation of your creation is the computer’s case. The case is both practical and cosmetic. It must be able to hold all of your components, including things like speakers and extra cooling systems. Also, if this matters to you, the case is how you present your PC to the world (or, at least, your friends and family).

Like with anything except fashion, the functionality should outweigh the cosmetic appearance. If you want to splurge on a fancy case with custom designs, go for it! This is your computer, and the case may be the component that will be with you the longest. Just make sure that the case you choose has room for the components you need and room for future expansion.

The interior of the case is far more important for how well your home-built PC will work. The primary concern is that the case should have room inside of it for the brains and heart of the computer, namely the motherboard and the processor.

You also have to ensure that there is sufficient room for your power supply, the storage you wish to install, and a cooling system, necessary for gaming builds that run very hot. However, you won’t just need room for these components, but also room in which to stash and run the wires, cables, and connections that will turn your homemade PC into a working computer. If you plan to upgrade your machine frequently, say switching out the graphics cards or adding more memory, you will also want space in the case to work.

Step ​Two: ​Install the Power Supply

PC Power Supply

Actually, if anything can really be called “the heart” of your home-built PC, it’s the power supply. Whether you want to run the latest, most graphics-intensive games or simply create a home media system, you will need to know how much wattage your power supply needs to deliver. In this case, you can’t really go overboard.

If you know for certain your power needs will be low, you can risk going cheap for your power supply. Just know that after a few years of heavy use, you will probably have to replace it. And, when it goes, you also have to hope that it doesn’t take your other components with it.

To that end, consider picking up a power supply unit that provides more power than you need. This way, should you decide to upgrade or expand the use of your homemade PC, you will have plenty of power to do it.

Choose the power supply that offers the highest sustained output, because they can only operate at peak power for short intervals. Make sure you test the device first, because if it’s not in proper working order your computer will not start up.

Place the power supply in the case and use the screws to properly secure it inside the machine. As you install the rest of your components, you will need to plug the internal connector cables to the power supply unit.

Whether you want to build a PC yourself or just want to learn how to do simple repairs, installing a power supply is a simple task. At least, so long as you know how to install (or re-install) the components that make your computer tick.

​Step ​T​hree: ​Install Your CPU

There is a lot to consider when it comes to choosing the proper central processing unit for your device. The CPU, as it is more commonly known, is where your computer will do all of its calculations.

What sort of CPU you need to install will depend directly on what you want to do with your homemade PC. There are two kinds of CPU configurations you need to know about, and they are not interchangeable.

Some processors, like Intel chips, use Land Grid Array surface mounts. There are pins on the CPU that need to be carefully inserted into the corresponding circuits on the CPU bed of your motherboard. Other processors, like some AMD chips, reverse this configuration.

Either way, you will want to make sure that your motherboard can hold your CPU, and that the sockets and pins are compatible with the other. Consult your manuals to be sure.

It’s best to install the CPU before installing the motherboard inside the case. Essentially, installing this component is as easy as plugging the pins into the sockets.

Usually, there is a lever that you must first lift up before you can install the CPU. When installing the component, you may want to wear gloves because you don’t want to touch the surfaces.

Line the marking on the corner of the CPU up with the corresponding marking on the CPU bed. Holding the component by the edges, press down until you feel the CPU settled into place. Then, you pull the lever back down, which secures the component in its bed.

Next, you will want to dab some thermal paste on the top of your CPU. Use anywhere from a dab the size of a grain of rice to the size of pea. This helps transfer heat from the CPU to the cooling unit. Then you want to install the cooling unit, which has a plate that will evenly spread the paste.

You will have to first screw in the mounts, install the CPU cooler, referring to the manuals for the CPU, the cooler, and the motherboard. Without a cooler, especially in a gaming right, you risk damaging the machine.

​Step ​​Four: ​Install the I/O Shield and Motherboard.

PC Motherboard

When choosing your motherboard, you will need to consider the space available inside your case and the other components you want to install. There are myriad forms of motherboards, and the type determines its size and how many expansion slots you will have at your disposal.

The smallest of these, Mini-ATX and Micro-ATX have a very limited number of slots available. The other most common forms, the ATX and the EATX, are the preferred choices for homemade PCs, especially gaming builds. These latter two have space for high-end graphics and sound cards, as well as more slots for RAM.

When you unbox your motherboard, read the manual and keep it close by. When it comes time to add the other components, you will almost certainly need to refer to it.  

First, install the I/O shield in your case, usually as easy as snapping it into place. Your case should have some sort of risers, either built-in or those you attach, on which you will rest the motherboard. If you just slapped it down in the metal case, your computer would short out in an instant. Install the risers with a mind to where the corresponding screw-holes are located on the motherboard.

Also, ensure that the connector ports are lined up with the I/O shield. Take the time now to locate all the PCI expansion slots, the connector ports, and other areas on the motherboard that will support your other components. Ensure that you can safely run connector cables to every area where you need to and that those areas have access to the power supply connectors.

​Step ​​F​ive: ​Install Your RAM

RAM Install

​When you build a PC yourself, you likely have a specific use for it in mind, are trying to save money, or both. Thus, the amount of random access memory you choose will determine how much you can do and how fast you can do it.

​But how much RAM do you need?

How many slots you have for RAM sticks and the amount of memory on the components themselves will determine this. If you run a multiple memory intensive programs at once, then you will likely want to stuff as much RAM in as possible. However, you may not need all the RAM you can install.

For gaming or home media, 16GB of RAM is more than sufficient. In fact, at the time of this writing, 8GB of RAM should suffice for gamers or everyday usage. So, if cost is a concern start small. You can always add more RAM later.

Again, installation of these components is about as easy as it can be. Simply, you just plug the RAM sticks into their corresponding DIMM slots. However, you still have to be careful because if you make a mistake you can damage your motherboard, the RAM components, or both. First, make sure that your CPU cooler doesn’t block the DIMM slots. If it does, you may need to install the RAM first or get a different CPU cooler.

Examine the bottom of the RAM components and look for a notch in the bottom. This notch corresponds with the DIM slots. Lift the small plastic lever on the end of the DIMM slot and carefully insert the RAM sticks until you hear or feel them catch. When you flip the plastic lever on the end down again, it should be flush.

If you are not filling all of the DIMM slots, make sure you consult your motherboard’s manual to find out which specific slots you need to fill first. Otherwise, your performance will suffer.

​Step ​​​Six: ​Install Storage Drives

Hard Disk

The next item you will need to install in your computer is the drive (or drives) you will be using for storage. There are two types of storage drives to choose from, 3.5-inch hard disk drives or a solid-state drive. The former uses a spinning disk, storing data in paths arranged in a concentric circle. These tracks, divided even further into sectors, on the disk, which is also called a platter.

Many large drives will have more than one platter stacked on top of the other. These drives have moving parts, wear down with use, and can take time to recall data. An SSD is a drive that utilizes flash memory, similar to RAM, to store data with no moving parts.

It retains the data even if the power is cut off, which RAM cannot do. The amount of storage on SSDs is typically smaller than you can find on HDDs, but you can put both in your home-built PC. Mounting an HDD in your homemade PC is perhaps the most difficult part of installation.

You have to carefully place the HDD in the space allotted for it. Usually cases can fit two to three HDDs in the drive cage, and some even have clips that make mounting easier. The ports for your data and power cables may face to the rear, so attach those before screwing the case in place. You can attach those cables to your motherboard now or once everything is secure.

Usually, it takes about four screws on the sides or bottom to secure an HDD, but it all depends on your specific model. If you plan to move your computer, it’s recommended that you screw-in the drive even if there are clips for them.

An SSD takes up less space and can be mounted to the sidewall or the “floor” of the case. These are less like to be damaged by movement than HDDs. Typically, if you decided to build your own PC, you will use an SSD for your operating system and certain apps, while installing a hard disk for media and game storage.

​Step ​​​Seven: ​Install Graphics Card, Soundcard, or Other PCI Expansions

If you are building your own PC to use as a media center or for general computing uses, you likely don’t need a graphics or soundcard. “Onboard” soundcards have improved over the past few decades, and many graphics cards also come with all you might need for sound.

Still, if you have one you want to install, you can do so in the corresponding PCI slot. If you plan to do gaming or other graphics-heavy work, like animation, you will want to install a graphics card. Modern versions of these components are large. They usually take up the space of two or even three expansion slots, and they come equipped with small fans to help prevent overheating.

With a graphics card, you want to install it in the PCI slot closest to your processor’s heat sink. Make sure that this area inside the computer is clear of cables.

Remove the expansion slot covers, usually a simple process involving removing one or two screws. Once this is done, carefully insert the graphics card into the machine. Just like with the RAM sticks, apply pressure to the card until you feel it “click” into place.

Then, you simply secure the card with the screw(s) you removed to open up the slot. You will need to make sure that you have the proper eight-pin cord to attach your graphics card to the power supply. Almost all of them need their own power. Once that’s done, you’re ready to move on.

​Step ​​​​Eight: ​Install Case Fans, If Needed

PC Case Fans

Many of these computer components run hot, especially if you’ve overclocked the processors so that run faster. If your homemade PC is designed for gaming, you will need plenty of cooling equipment, on top of the fans on your case, graphics card, and CPU cooler.

Some systems use liquid cooling systems, but these are only for experienced PC builders. In most instances, so long as you have space for airflow inside the case, you can likely get by with a pair of additional cooling fans that can be mounted on the case.

You can either put the fans in the front, to draw air into the machine, or near the top of the case, to act as exhaust fans since heat rises. You will also want to ensure you have air filters installed (and can change them easily) or soon the inside of your machine will be coated with dust.

Installation is simple, and your case usually predetermines how many fans you can add. Three additional fans are ideal but install whatever there is space for. This is a matter of simply removing the area of the case, front or side, exposing the fan slots. Then you should be able to fit the fans into the slots with relative ease.

With just a few turns of screws, your additional fans should be secured. From there, it’s just a matter of connecting the power cords. Check your manual for how to do that, as there are many varieties of fans on the market.

Cooling systems, for everything from the CPU to the outer fans, are all highly specific. If you find the manual instructions hard to parse, consider checking out social media to see if someone did an installation demonstration with your specific model.

​Step ​​​​​Nine: ​Secure Your Cables and Add Cosmetic Electronics

Cool PC Rig Setup

There are only a few more things to do before you can close your case and boot up your home-built PC for the first time. Some builders like to include to LED accents in their machines, which are purely there for cosmetic effect. These tiny lights, which you can find on self-adhesive strips, will shine while your computer is operational.

It’s purely aesthetic, but if you want to use them, they are easy to install. Just stick them on the case, ensuring they aren’t interfering with any components or blocking airflow to your vents.

When completed, your computer will look like it belongs on the bridge of starship rather than on your computer desk. Any other sort of cosmetic lights or other decorations you want to add are best left for the penultimate step.

The last thing you want to do if you build your own PC is to ensure that all of your cables are connected and stored out of the way. A jumble of cables can make repairs more difficult and can interfere with the performance of your machine. You should have been connecting the cables, at least on the motherboard side of things, as you went along. You can leave the final connection to the power supply until the end, however.

Once everything is connected, use your zip ties or Velcro wraps to secure cables together where appropriate. Then, tuck them away either along the sides or in the “basement,” an open area usually found at the bottom of the case. You can also find plastic wire clips you can use to organize your cables, but they can be more trouble to install than using a simple zip tie or wire. Ensure that you clip off the plastic ends of your zip ties with wire cutters or scissors, and you are ready to seal up the case.

AVOIDING COMMON MISTAKES WHEN BUILDING YOUR OWN PC

Awesome PC Rig
​​Even for the most talented engineer, there are always learning curves when doing something for the first time. Usually when you are focused on the important aspects of a task like building your own PC, you can overlook the small but equally-important things. Find our list of common mistakes below.

1.Check Your Components Before You Begin

Carefully unbox everything to make sure that nothing is damaged and test what products you can. Before installing the components in your case, do as much of a dry-fit as you can.

Ensure that there are no obstructions, such as the CPU cooler blocking the DIMM slots. Make sure that you have room for everything you need and try to strategize about where you will have extra space to play with, should you need it.

3.Make Sure All Parts Are Compatible

During the research and purchasing phase of your quest to build your own PC, you are likely seeking the best possible components you can afford.

However, don’t forget to ensure that the components you get are compatible with each other. At best, your computer won’t work, and, at worst, you could ruin the components.

5.Ensure RAM Is Inserted In Proper Configuration And Slots

​RAM is a relatively easy thing to install, but first-time PC builders tend to get caught up in some common errors. The most common is that the RAM sticks are not fully seated in the DIMM slot or placed in the wrong one entirely. Refer to your motherboard’s manual to find the correct slot.

7.Using Too Much or Too Little Thermal Paste When Installing the CPU Cooler

​As mentioned above, the best amount of thermal paste to use is equivalent to a grain of rice or a single pea, depending on your CPU surface area. If you use too little or too much, it won’t work as well. This puts your CPU at risk of burning out.

9.Point the Fans the Correct Way

When installing cooling fans, or components that have cooling fans attached, ensure that those fans are aimed in the right place. Make sure that the fans on the internal components are pointed towards some sort of exhaust opening.


Otherwise, you will just recirculate the heated air inside the machine. Also, make sure that your fans are rotating in the correct direction, meaning pushing the hot air out of the computer.

2.Ensure PCI Cards Are Installed in the Proper PCI Express Slots

If you install any PCI card components, you can’t just stick them in any old slot. Check both the manuals for your components and your motherboard when installing them.

For example, some motherboards have both 16-lane and 8-lane PCI slots, and choosing the wrong one means that particular component won’t work.

4.Ensure All Components Are Properly Connected or Plugged In

​One of the most common mistakes and easiest to understand is leaving something unplugged. Especially if you save your cable connections for the end of the build, there is a good chance you will forget something. It might be a big thing, like the CPU cooler or the graphics card, or something small, like the LED lights on the front of the case or the “reset” button. This is why it’s best to connect as you go.

6.Remove Unneeded Risers

​If you have more risers to hold up your motherboard than the component has holes, you need to remove the superfluous ones. Especially for the risers that are made of metal, an unneeded connection could cause a major short. After you put in all that work to build your own PC, one errant riser could wreck the whole machine.

8.Register All Hardware and Save Your Warranty Documents

​Sometimes, you do everything right in putting together your homemade PC, but things just don’t work anyway. This is why you will want to ensure that you both register your hardware and save all the documents you get with them. If the time comes that you need your proof of purchase and your warranty, registering the product will help that process go more smoothly.

1.Check Your Components Before You Begin

Carefully unbox everything to make sure that nothing is damaged and test what products you can. Before installing the components in your case, do as much of a dry-fit as you can.

Ensure that there are no obstructions, such as the CPU cooler blocking the DIMM slots. Make sure that you have room for everything you need and try to strategize about where you will have extra space to play with, should you need it.

2.Make Sure All Parts Are Compatible

During the research and purchasing phase of your quest to build your own PC, you are likely seeking the best possible components you can afford.

However, don’t forget to ensure that the components you get are compatible with each other. At best, your computer won’t work, and, at worst, you could ruin the components.

3.Ensure RAM Is Inserted In Proper Configuration And Slots

​RAM is a relatively easy thing to install, but first-time PC builders tend to get caught up in some common errors. The most common is that the RAM sticks are not fully seated in the DIMM slot or placed in the wrong one entirely. Refer to your motherboard’s manual to find the correct slot.

4.Using Too Much or Too Little Thermal Paste When Installing the CPU Cooler

​As mentioned above, the best amount of thermal paste to use is equivalent to a grain of rice or a single pea, depending on your CPU surface area. If you use too little or too much, it won’t work as well. This puts your CPU at risk of burning out.

5.Point the Fans the Correct Way

When installing cooling fans, or components that have cooling fans attached, ensure that those fans are aimed in the right place. Make sure that the fans on the internal components are pointed towards some sort of exhaust opening.


Otherwise, you will just recirculate the heated air inside the machine. Also, make sure that your fans are rotating in the correct direction, meaning pushing the hot air out of the computer.

6.Ensure PCI Cards Are Installed in the Proper PCI Express Slots

If you install any PCI card components, you can’t just stick them in any old slot. Check both the manuals for your components and your motherboard when installing them.

For example, some motherboards have both 16-lane and 8-lane PCI slots, and choosing the wrong one means that particular component won’t work.

7.Ensure All Components Are Properly Connected or Plugged In

​One of the most common mistakes and easiest to understand is leaving something unplugged. Especially if you save your cable connections for the end of the build, there is a good chance you will forget something. It might be a big thing, like the CPU cooler or the graphics card, or something small, like the LED lights on the front of the case or the “reset” button. This is why it’s best to connect as you go.

8.Remove Unneeded Risers

​If you have more risers to hold up your motherboard than the component has holes, you need to remove the superfluous ones. Especially for the risers that are made of metal, an unneeded connection could cause a major short. After you put in all that work to build your own PC, one errant riser could wreck the whole machine.

9.Register All Hardware and Save Your Warranty Documents

​Sometimes, you do everything right in putting together your homemade PC, but things just don’t work anyway. This is why you will want to ensure that you both register your hardware and save all the documents you get with them. If the time comes that you need your proof of purchase and your warranty, registering the product will help that process go more smoothly.

DON'T FORGET ABOUT THE SOFTWARE

Windows 10 abstract

​​Now that you’ve put together your own home-built PC, you probably can’t wait to fire it up and get to gaming. However, you’re still not done. You’ve taken care of the hardware in the computer, but now it’s time to load some software on your machine. You will need an operating system and to install the drivers for all of your components. Again, the manuals provided with your equipment should have clear instructions about how to go about this.

First: Choose an Operating System

The operating system is your window into the world of your homemade PC. But which OS should you choose? The answer all depends on your preferences and familiarities, but there are some things to consider. First, there is iOS, the operating system used for Apple Devices. They are not keen on homemade PCs running their software, but you can get it installed if you want.
Still, it’s a process that leaves you with a computer that enthusiasts lovingly call a “Hackintosh.” You have to be very careful and decide this before you buy your components. Only select brands and components will work with a Hackintosh, but if you ride or die with Apple this might be the choice for you.
The other options are two other big-names, designed for two very different types of users. You can install Windows 10 or a Linux OS. The former is the most popular desktop OS ever. Though it’s very resource heavy, it is great for users who aren’t great with software. You have access to all sorts of apps and programs, and the OS will update at no additional cost for life (or until Microsoft changes its mind and releases a Windows 11). A Linux-based OS is cheaper, and its open-source.
However, this is not an OS for beginners or casual computing users. If you are as good at the keyboard as you are putting a home-built PC together, this might be the choice for you.

Second: Install Drivers

Every piece of equipment in your homemade PC requires a driver. These are groups of files that help each discrete device in your home-built PC communicate with the OS and each other. Your devices will likely come with a DVD or maybe a flash memory device to facilitate the initial install of the drivers.However, you will need to use the internet to download the latest versions of those drivers, for optimum performance. If you don’t want to risk it or perhaps just want to save time, you can download the most current drivers from another computer, put them on a USB stick, and use that for your initial install.Thankfully, most of these processes are automatic, especially if you use Windows as your OS. Still, if your equipment isn’t working as expected, make sure you update all the drivers to the most recent version before you start tearing your home-built PC apart.

Third: Get More Software (Including Some for Free!)

Now that your home-built PC is up-and-running, it’s time to start loading up your HDD and SDD with programs, apps, games, and media files. There are many apps and programs worth paying for, especially if your homemade PC is meant to be used for work as well as play.However, for everything from anti-virus software to productivity apps to versatile media players, you can find a bevy of free software online from reputable developers. But you need to be wary, because sometimes these free apps come with spyware, add-ons, and other extraneous things. These extra programs will eat up your resources and slow down your machine.There are also free programs out there that will deal with these sorts of unwanted digital intruders.Here’s a short list of some free software that can help make your homemade PC safer that you don’t have to spend money on.
  • ​Ninite - finds free software from browsers to security apps
  • ​Malwarebytes - Free anti-virus software
  • ​PC Decrapifer - Manages bloatware and other unnecessary programs
  • ​CC Cleaner - clears data, cleans registry
  • ​Launchy - Fast app launcher and file manager

BUILDING YOUR OWN PC IS A BIG JOB BUT CAN BE A REWARDING EXPERIENCE

For whatever reasons you decided to take on a project like building your own PC, finishing it gives you a great sense of accomplishment. It is a great way to get hands-on experience with computers. You will know what they are made of and how those components work together, because you are responsible for making it happen.

It’s a big job, and not one that should be taken lightly.

But it’s not impossible.

Building your first PC is a great way to get useful experience and helps you appreciate these little magic boxes that have come to so dominate our lives. 

Take pride in what you’ve accomplished, and don’t be discouraged if you hit a few road bumps along the way. Soon enough, you’ll be playing video games, editing your first movie, or whatever else amazing things your homemade PC will allow you to do.