Your First Custom-Built – Before You Begin

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So, your old workhorse PC died and it’s time a new work machine, or you’re tired of hearing about your friend’s GTX 590 rocking Diablo 3 at Ultra settings and you finally want to build your own Game Machine 9000+ by hand. An admirable pursuit, building one’s own PC by hand, but you’ve never built your own PC from the chassis up. Where do you start? Right here! There’s plenty to learn before you start your spending spree at your local Fry’s or on, so let’s get started.

Research, Research, Research

We know: you want to start slapping electronics together, flip the power switch and cackle in triumph as your Franken-PC rises to wreak havoc on the world that has spurned you… or at least let you play Crysis 2 with maxed-out graphics. That time will come (oh, will it come…), but first you need to do your homework.

Before you start ordering parts make sure you know:

  •  What do you want this new computer to do?

Is this going to be a cost effective work/play machine? A high-end gaming monster? It’s a waste to buy a cutting-edge video card to check your email and a shame to watch a gaming PC held back by a lack of processing power.

  • How much do you want to spend?

You can get a whole lot of computer for under $1,000, but don’t spend more than you need to. Keep that whole “What do I want this PC to do?” question in-mind when you’re picking out parts. Even if money is no object, remember there are tons of sweet peripherals that you could be spending that cash on, instead. (Dolby Surround, anyone?)

  • What all your various components do (more or less).

If you don’t know the difference between a CPU and a GPU or VGA from DVI, don’t be afraid to look it up. Building your own computer doesn’t mean you have to get a degree in consumer electronics, but its in your own best interest to be able to understand a basic technical explanation about your PC’s innards. You can always ask the always-helpful folks at the ars technica forums (for example) for help, if you need it.

What Parts Do I need?

After you feel good and educated, you’ll need to put together a basic parts lists. Here’s an example list :

  •   CPU (aka. The Processor)
  •   Motherboard (The Mobo)
  •   Case (The Chassis)
  •   Memory (The RAM/SDRAM)
  •   Video Cards (The Graphics Card/GPU)
  •   Hard Drive (The Hard Disc/Disc Drive/HDD)
  •   CD/DVD/Blu-Ray Drive (The Optical Drive)
  •   Power Supply (The… Power Supply)
  •  Peripherals

◦          Keyboard,

◦          Mouse,

◦          Monitor(s),

◦          Wireless Card / Ethernet Card

◦          Speakers / Headphones, etc.

There’s tons of good advice to give about parts, kits, setup, etc., but let’s keep it basic. This guide should be primer for building your perfect PC. To keep things simple, here are a couple important things to keep in mind:

  • Pick out a couple Processors and Video Cards that look promising, then start looking for a Motherboard that will support them.

Not all processors will work with all motherboards: different types of processors require different sockets. Most video cards made later than 2010 need PCI-E (PCI-Express) slots and most motherboards made during the same time supply them, but not always.

  • Know how much power you’re going to need.

If you end up with a powerhouse CPU and GPU and a wimpy power supply, you’re going to be very unhappy. Underpowered components don’t work properly, if at all. Make of note of how many Watts your chosen power supply puts out and make sure it’s a reasonable amount more than you need (so you don’t have to upgrade your power supply if you decide to add more components down the line.)

  • Does your new Hard Drive come with an operating system pre-loaded?

No OS mean you’ll be showing your friends how fast you can boot into BIOS and not much else. Make sure you either pick up a HDD with your chosen OS pre-loaded, have your installation discs handy or, at least, budget for buying a new operating system.

Make sure you know where you closest reputable electronics store is.

If you have more questions than answers or need help troubleshooting down the road, sometimes asking in-person makes all the difference. Most electronics salespeople like talking about computer-building (and who knows, they might even sell you something!) so don’t feel bad asking them for help, should you need it.

Don’t expect everything to go smoothly.

If you build and boot up your first DIY PC without a hitch, you are abnormal (in a good way.) Buying the power supply will happen. Installing memory backwards isn’t uncommon (or that big a deal). You’re learning as you’re doing, so remember that every mistake you make is a chance to gain hands-on experience as to why something is a bad idea.


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