Many people build their own computers, so that they can have a better system for their needs. Here's an introduction to building computers.
What do you want and need from a computer?
We don't all need the same computer, parts or components. So depending on the tasks you want the computer to do, you are able to choose the quality and price range for each component you have. This guarantees the best performance for the price, when it comes to your computer.
Having said that, it's not always about saving money. You might want the best performing parts, parts which are probably not included with most stock PCs.
Gamers - people who play computer games - usually want a fast video card and processor.
Graphic Design artists might require an expensive monitor.
And video professionals might need a fast processor and lots of memory.
Some people want the best, the fastest, the latest, the quietest, or even just the cheapest.
Building your own computer is easier than you think. It doesn't require any soldering or special skills, because you simply plug, screw or connect the parts and components together.
After realizing how simple and rewarding building your own PC can be, you might not buy another stock PC again!
How do you start?
First decide your needs and your budget.
Why do you want a PC? Are you replacing an old one? Why? What is wrong with the old one? What will the benefits of having a new one be?
You will need to research PC parts, but if you like window shopping online, it can be plenty of fun. It's all about your needs, the parts to do the job, price, performance and compatibility.
The parts you need:
The CPU or processor (Central Processing Unit) is the main brain which processes information.
There are 2 main CPU manufacturers. Intel and AMD. Intel CPUs and AMD CPUs are different. They have a different connecting pin configuration and therefore require motherboards with the appropriate SOCKET type for those pins to attach. Because of this, manufacturers make motherboards that cater for either an AMD CPU or an Intel one.
As the years progress, Intel and AMD produce newer CPUs which require a newer and different socket type. The motherboard manufacturers then make the appropriate motherboards to cater for these latest socket types.
There are many types of CPU available for purchase. Some have more cores (like brains or engines) which allow for multiple tasks to be done at the same time, which helps to speed up workflow or get things done more quickly.
Many CPUs have built-in graphics engines too, so you might not need to buy a separate video card for your PC - if you're video needs are on the less intensive side.
The motherboard is the main board onto which the other components attach or connect.
After deciding what kind of CPU suits your needs, you will need a motherboard which will run it.
You can choose a motherboard first and then choose the CPU to go with it. It's up to you.
When deciding on a motherboard we have a few things to consider.
A. How big do you want your computer to be? Motherboards come in various sizes.
B. How many CPUs do you need? Most people only need one, and most motherboards cater for one CPU. But some cater for two.
C. How many graphics cards (GPUs) are you going to need? Most people need only one, but many motherboards can run up to 4.
D. How many PCI slots to you need for any other cards like a TV Tuner card for example?
Many motherboards can support up to 2, 3 or 4 graphics cards at the same time.
However, you can't mix 2 different GPU manufacturers together. ie. you can't have one AMD GPU and one NVIDIA GPU plugged into the same motherboard at the same time.
Edit: You will be able to have 2 different manufacturer's cards in the same system in the future with DirectX 12's new mode called Explicit Multi-GPU, along with the appropriate in-game support.
Most people only require one graphics card for their system. Some gamers however like to have 2, 3 or even 4 cards connected together to try to improve their graphics performance or frame rates (fps: frames per second) when playing games. For these people it's necessary to find a motherboard capable of holding this many cards.
Some years ago, the GPU manufacturers developed their own technology to allow for 2, 3 or 4 of their own cards to run connected together. ATI (now AMD) called their technology CROSSFIRE, and NVIDIA called their technology SLI. These terms are still used today.
GPU / Video card
The GPU (graphics processing unit) or video card or graphics card, displays everything you see on the screen.
Now, you might not need a video card if your CPU has integrated graphics, and your video needs are on the less intensive side. If, however you want to play the latest games in high quality, or produce or edit lots of video, you would be advised to get a decent video card.
Just like there are 2 main CPU manufacturers, there are also 2 main GPU manufacturers. NVIDIA and AMD.(It used to be NVIDIA and ATI, but AMD bought ATI.)
Unlike CPUs, GPUs usually share a similar connector type or plug, so they can be used with most motherboards.
There are many types of video cards for different budgets, each with different levels of performance. Obviously the more powerful the card - usually the more expensive it is. You might want to check the reviews and make sure it doesn't get too noisy under pressure, either. The more they're pushed - the faster the fans spin to keep them cool. So, some run quieter than others.
Programs and files are installed and stored on hard drives and or solid state drives.
For data strorage we need traditional hard drives (HDDs) or Solid-state drives (SSDs). Solid-state drives don't have any moving parts, are less likely to fail, and are faster than traditional hard drives.
By faster - we are talking about the time it takes to read or write data, open and close apps, and start and shutdown your computer.
When choosing our drives, we need to have enough room for the OS (Windows, Etc.), apps, music, videos, games and any other files you expect to use or store. Fortunately, you can have a few hard drives or SSDs in one system to store whatever you want.
When choosing the SSD or hard drive, just weigh up capacity, read and write speeds, and reputation.
The memory or RAM allows the computer to temporarily store and remember information, which it can quickly access when required.
Memory or RAM is pretty cheap nowadays and it's probably advisable to get at least 8 gigabytes of it. You will need to check which type of RAM is compatible with your motherboard.
If you are going to be overclocking, then you might look into getting higher performing sticks of RAM for your system.
Depending on your requirements, you might benefit from a powerful 3rd party cooling solution like this Noctua NH-D14 CPU air cooler. Or you could go for liquid cooling.
Most CPUs come with a fan and heatsink to keep the CPU cool and stop it from overheating. If you are looking to overclock your PC, or if you live in a hot summer climate, or if you want a very quiet system fan, then you might look into a 3rd party higher-end cooling solution which can do a better job at keeping your CPU cooler. The two most common methods of cooling are air cooling or water cooling. Both of these methods have a variety of cooling solutions for different budgets.
(Some fans have colored lights. This is just for decoration or visual effect. It is however a convenient way of checking that the fans are spinning properly.)
The PSU (power supply unit) is the power supply which powers your computer.
Many power supplies are modular. This means that all of the cables that run from the PSU to the computer components can be removed or unplugged from the PSU - if they are not being used. This reduces clutter inside the case, and helps to improve airlfow and cooling.
Make sure that the power supply you buy is powerful enough to handle the computer you are building. How many GPU's will you have? Will you have lots of fans, watercooling pumps, hard drives, CD drives and other powered devices? There are a few sites online which can help you calculate your power needs.
The case or tower is the main housing or frame that everything else sits inside.
There are many styles of case for all tastes, portability needs or space requirements.
Make sure that there is enough space inside to house everything, while having plenty of room for good airflow around the components.
Case fans are usually supplied with most computer cases. They are used to provide good airflow into and out of the case - to keep everything inside cool, and stop components from overheating.
Although most cases come with fans, you can add more, better or quieter ones if you want to. Just make sure they are the required size for your case.
Like a TV, the monitor displays all of your visual information.
For many of us the monitor is really an important choice. Picture quality for design, viewing angle and screen technology for quality and convenience, screen responsiveness for gaming, and screen size for screen real estate. It's worth taking your time and finding the right monitor for your setup. You might consider buying 2 or more monitors, depending on their sizes and your needs.
Most motherboards have onboard sound, but many people consider (especially in the past) a separate sound card to produce better quality audio.
Nowadays, the onboard sound quality on motherboards is good enough for some, and those wishing to improve their audio experience are questioning the advantages of sound cards and their promise of producing clear noise-free audio.
If you're looking for a better audio experience, or you're producing audio for others to hear, or if you are building a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), you might be advised to consider researching other audio interfaces, or digital-to-analog converters (DACs) - depending on your needs.
The keyboard is used to type information, letters and characters, and control various things.
The mouse is used to help you point to and control things on your screen
A keyboard and mouse are fairly straightforward. Of couse there are hundreds of different types, for all budgets and styles.
Many keyboards have buttons for controlling the music and other media on your PC. Many mice have extra configurable buttons for gaming or other functions. You would be advised to check the variety of options available - especially if you have particular accessibility requirements or preferences.
Although strictly not necessary, and avoided by many builders nowadays, a DVD drive is still used by some people to install software which comes on a DVD. (You can still use it to listen to CDs, watch DVDs and record and save data to DVD-Rs.)
Bear in mind that many Operating Systems and programs bought from a high street store, still come on a DVD, although Windows 10 now comes on a USB flash drive.
Regular builders know that new motherboards and other components come boxed with their own drivers supplied on a DVD. They also know that it's usually sensible to ignore the contents of the DVD and get the latest and newest versions of software straight from the manufacturer's website.
An Operating System too (like Windows) can often supply the minimum driver requirements to get our PCs up and running, but not everything is guaranteed to be supplied by the OS.
So, if you're building your first and only PC, and your motherboard's ethernet (internet connection) driver only exists on the supplied DVD, then you might have trouble connecting to the internet - if you don't have a DVD player with which to access and install that internet driver.
Drivers are like instructions or code which helps to connect hardware with software or software with software.
The Operating system or OS, is the main software that is and runs your computer. This could be Windows 10, 8.1, 7, OS X, or any of the many free flavours of Linux.
A good security suite is necessary to keep your PC healthy and secure. You can find out more about security apps on the Free Security Apps page, and keeping your PC in good shape on the Computer Maintenance page.
Gaming peripherals can be inexpensive and fun, adding a level of realistic control to your favorite game or simulator.
Performance & Reputation of your PC parts
To find out about the performance and reputation of your computer parts, you can visit hardware sites or online shopping sites which have tests or customer reviews.
A site like Tom's Hardware offers performance charts for CPUs, GPUs and other components.
A large online shopping site like Newegg has lots of customer reviews for all of their products.
PCPartPicker.com has some great guides and compatability charts for computer components and builds.
With these types of resources available, plus many online forums, you can easily focus in on the ideal parts for your computer.
This was an introduction to building computers. It's enjoyable, probably easier than you thought, and a good way to balance your budget while building a better computer for your needs.
Let us know in the comments if you'd like to see a video on building computers.