Many people see building a PC as something they will simply never be able to do. It can seem intimidating and it is understandable that many would assume you need specialised training or even a degree in computer science. Really it is a lot easier than you might imagine.
Modern computer components are designed to fit together in an almost fool-proof manner. With access to endless resources on the internet it’s easy to figure out how to do it yourself. Building your own PC is a very rewarding process and at the end of it you have a PC that you built yourself, designed to your needs.
Where to Start?
Choose your components. The components you choose will depend on what you plan to use the computer for, how powerful it needs to be and ultimately how large your budget is.
It is best to start with the CPU as this will mostly determine the power of your computer and it will also determine what other components you can use.
Compatibility is key. If your components are compatible they will snap together simply and easily. The most you will have to do is screw in some screws. Researching to ensure components are compatible is the most important part of building a computer as once you have bought them it can be very frustrating to have to send them back and get new ones.
Intel and AMD are the two main processor manufacturers on the market. Each manufacturer sells a number of different socket types. The socket type of your CPU must match the socket type of your mother board.
The motherboard allows your CPU to communicate with all of the other components that will allow your computer to work properly. There are many different motherboard manufacturers and some are better quality than others. Your motherboard will have specific expansion slots and will be able to use specific types of RAM.
Random Access Memory or RAM comes on narrow chips referred to as “sticks”. Typically a motherboard will have between 4 and 8 RAM slots that can accept a variety of RAM types and speeds, allowing you to increase the amount of RAM through the life of your computer. It is important that all of your RAM are the same exact speed, make and model.
Most hard drives now connect through SATA sockets. The number of SATA sockets on your mother board will limit the expansion of your memory via additional drives. You should also keep in mind that new optical drives and similar peripherals connect via SATA, further limiting expansion.
You will need a monitor to see what the computer is displaying and you will also likely need a DVD drive, at least to install your Operating System. You will need a mouse and keyboard too for navigating your OS.
One of the main benefits of a prebuilt system is that the Operating System comes pre installed and is included in the price. Of course buying the OS separately means you have more choice as to which type of OS you want.
You can purchase a motherboard with onboard graphics processing but if you want to use any high level graphics applications or play the latest video games you will want a separate graphics card. There are a wide variety of graphics cards with power and cost to meet your requirements. You should make sure that your motherboard has the proper expansion slots to make the most of your card. The current standard is the PCI Express x 16 format.
Case and Power Supply Unit (PSU)
So that your computer isn’t just a pile of exposed circuit boards lying on your desk you will need a case. Make sure it is large enough for your motherboard to fit in. Case sizes are described in terms of motherboard form factors such as ATX and Micro-ATX to make this simple.
Your case may come with a power supply but whether it does or not you should make sure your power unit has a high enough wattage for the components you are using especially if they include a graphics card.
Putting it Together
First, be aware of static discharge that can damage your computer components. Use an anti-static wristband or mat if possible.
Fit your motherboard into the case and screw it in place. Install the PSU and plug in the corresponding power cables to the motherboard.
Fit the CPU into its slot. Different CPUs have different methods of attachment so follow the manual here. Your CPU should have come with a fan, you can clip that on now if it had thermal grease already applied. If not, you will need to apply a thin layer of thermal grease to the cooling element face of the CPU fan.
Insert the RAM into their slots, again following the manual to ensure you have them correctly paired in the motherboard.
You can then fit your hard drive into the hard drive bay and any optical drives into the front bays. Connect them to the power supply and to the motherboard SATA sockets.
If you have a graphics card install it in its place and ensure it has any required additional power supply.
Double check to make sure all components and fans are plugged in then plug your computer into the mains. Turn it on and install your operating system.
This is a simplified overview and you may run into difficulties here and there but essentially this is all there is to it. As long as all of your components are compatible it is just a matter of plugging everything in.
Tom’s Hardware is one of the best resources on the internet for helping you build a PC and make sure your components are compatible.