I’m here to explain, in simple terms, how you can build a computer. It’s rewarding, it’s fun and most of all, it’s better than a store bought desktop PC. Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for easy. The pre built desktop computers are available from the main manufacturers like Dell, HP, Lenovo, Asus and Acer.
Given where technology is, you might first question whether anyone needs to build a computer. Afterall we have laptops, tablets and smartphones. Those all have places in our lives but the desktop PC is far more useful than any of those devices. If done properly, a nicely build PC can be your entertainment hub also. Mouse and keyboard is not dead and nor should it ever die. I don’t think computing needs to change from what really works. Lousy laptop keyboards at home? No thanks. Trackpads? No thanks. A 5 to 10-inch screen? No thanks. Not at home anyways.
So perhaps you thought you needed a smart TV box. Perhaps even a blu ray player. In fact maybe you thought the only way you can game on your television is with a PlayStation or Xbox. A computer that you build yourself can be all those things.
The guide and tutorial is for the first timers out there. It’s for people who might never have considered taking on the task of actually building a computer on their own. I can tell you that it’s not what I consider difficult. It’s not something that’s going to take a lot of time when it comes to building. However what might take time is in picking the parts to go into your computer. I’m here to help in that regard and certainly I’ll point you towards the best online resources for deciding what’s best given the point in time we’re at. I want this guide to be timeless and as a result, I may avoid specific products or model numbers just so that in 3 years from now, this guide will still be worth reading.
Picking Computer Parts
These are the components or parts that you’re going to require or at least consider:
- RAM aka memory
- graphics card
- power supply
- operating system
- hard drive(s)
- heatsink fan
- dvd or blu-ray drive
Some computer parts I’ve mentioned here are optional because you may not need them or you may have some old parts around your house.
Let’s look at some shopping considerations and how you should spend your money. I will list what I feel at the most important considerations first.
- CPU. This really comes down to AMD vs. Intel processors. These days, it’s pretty mych Intel. AMD has put a lot of effort into integrated graphics which to me is fine, but if gaming is on your mind, then an Intel processor will suffice. If you’re not going to be heavy into gaming, then AMD might be worth looking at. There used to be quite a savings many years ago between AMD and Intel, but that gap has shrunk. In large part this is because you don’t need the top end Intel processor, even for gaming. If you’re looking for a powerhouse and have a generous budget, then certainly look at the fastest Intel processors. Although I’ve been an AMD fan and used their processors for most of my previous PC builds, I am going to suggest you look at Intel processors. The key detail you need is the processor socket. That in turn will dictate the motherboard that you’re going to shop for. I will say that for processors (and like most every piece of technology out there) you will pay more for the newest processor on the market. If you’re okay with a year old CPU, or a previous generation, you might save money with a big performance sacrifice.
- Motherboard. Once you’ve determined what processor socket you’re getting, then it’s the time to shop for motherboards. There aren’t nearly as many manufacturers of motherboards these days, but there are many options in any given socket. So a company like Asus for example is going to have many variations of the same socket motherboard. Here is where it gets interesting. I personally think that when it comes to a motherboard, you should choose carefully. Future proof yourself on this one. How? Look at the newest connectivity and whether the motherboard supports it or not. You can (and I have many times) updated an older motherboard with a new processor and upgraded RAM. When it comes to ports and slots, you may not be so lucky. You may be considering a mini PC, which is a mATX motherboard. I say don’t do it. I’ve written an article here about microATX (min) vs. ATX (regular) size motherboards.
- RAM. This can be a tricky purchase because the variety of speeds can be confusing. On top of that you can by 4GB sticks or 8GB sticks. I can make a recommendation based on my experience over the years. Simply max out each slot available on the motherboard. If the max is 8GB per slot, then get a single 8GB ram and not two 4GB ram (memory) modules. By the time you decide you need more ram a couple years down the road, you will pay incredibly high prices for obsolete ram. As part of “future proofing”, I suggest maxing out each slot. This doesn’t mean I’m suggesting you plop 32GB (8GB x 4 slots) of memory into your PC.
- Case. Here is where you can save money. This is also very much a subjective purchase. I’ve had one philosophy. Bigger and heavier is better. I say this because if a thief breaks into my house, I want my PC desktop tower to be a last choice. If it’s big and bulky are they going to take off with it? I say that have jokingly, but honestly the bigger the case the better the airflow, the less heat, the less noise and more options for bigger heat sink fans. If you’re looking for a computer that’s highly visible like in your living room and it will double as an entertainment hub, then certainly look at more compact or “easy on the eyes” cases. There are LOTS to choose from. Key features to shop for include: size, front facing ports, extra padding for silent operation, and
- Graphics Card. Here is where you can really have fun! The fact is the newest cards will be very highly priced. Yes, you can buy the latest and greatest but make sure you’re not the type of person who is going to get angry when you see that same card being sold a year later at about half the price. The market is always changing when it comes to graphic cards so you need to do your homework. Now depending on what processor you decided on, it’s possible you’ve settled for an integrated graphics solution and you don’t even need to buy a graphics card. What I will advise when it comes to graphics card buying is that you figure out if you want to play current games or not. Then decide if you want to play those games at pretty much maxed out eye candy settings. That will give you an idea of what tier graphics card you need. If you go super cheap, just keep in mind that the newest games might not play well when you’re attempting to play with the highest settings possible. The best aspect of building your own computer is the fact that you can upgrade your card in the future if you decide to get more heavily into gaming. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on a graphics card unless you are interested in maxing out your settings on the latest and greatest games. Decide which kind of person you are, and shop accordingly. I look at it this way. A graphics card that is two years old, is most likely able to play games that are two years old on a maximum setting. This is what I like about PC gaming. You can enjoy the ground breaking visuals from yesteryear games with the settings completely maxed out.
- Power Supply. Here is another somewhat tricky purchase. Your main consideration is going to be your PC usage. If it’s gaming and or you are putting in a mid to top tier graphics card, then a fairly hefty power supply is advised. In fact you will see recommended power supply specs listed with whatever graphics card you have. I urge you not to go cheap. I recommend that you get one of the main power supply name brands like Antec or similar. You will see from customer reviews on websites like Newegg if it’s reliable or has shortcomings. The reason not to go cheap is because quality parts used in a power supply mean a better warranty and it means longer lasting. Trust me when I say a power supply will likely fair in your future if you have your computer for a long period of time. It can be a nasty experience and I would have much more trust in a name brand failure than a cheap brand failure. I would opt for a great wattage power supply than you think you need. You are much better to have extra juice than to have not enough juice later because you’ve upgraded your graphics card or are using your PC for some heavy lifting tasks.
- Hard Drives. Simply said, buy a SSD drive for you programs and OS installations and have a standard hard drive for you file storage. The prices of SSD drives has been dropping and something around 500GB is a fair consideration. When you see your new computer boot up in about 5 seconds, you will realize how worthwhile a new build really is.
(work in progress…check back over the coming days)