Knowing how to build a PC is only half the battle. The first part of any DIY rig should start with carefully picking out the right components. That whole process of picking a processor, graphics card, motherboard, memory, storage, power supply and computer case might seem daunting – but all it really takes is research and planning.
Luckily for you we’ve broken down the intricacies of figuring out the best parts to build a PC. We’ll set you on the right path even before you start comparing specs, as having a good sense of where you want your PC build to go is the first step of the journey.
Forget what anyone tells you, every build should start with two key things. A budget, and ambition. The budget is obvious, how much cash are you willing to drop on your shiny new rig. And ambition? Well that’s finding out exactly what you want to do with your brand new machine.
Crazy as this might sound, the value of the dollar in a system with a budget of 700 bucks, is far higher than the value in a system with a budget of 4,000 simoleons. The lower the budget, the more you’ll have to stretch every buck to acquire multiple computer parts.
As far as ambition goes, keep it simple to a single heart’s desire. Need to game at 1440p? Want to build a home theater PC? After editing video at 4K? Or are you about to jump into the ongoing crypto-mining frenzy? All of these require very different builds to maximize both savings and performance. Though all computers are undoubtedly capable of doing every task to some degree, it’s better to specialize in what you’re most passionate about.
Once that’s settled, you then need to decide on what form factor you want to build in, whether you want to go AMD or Intel and then you’re set.
We don’t call the CPU a central-processing unit for nothing, it’s literally the most essential part of any PC build and for that reason we’re starting here. Choosing the best processor starts with deciding between AMD or Intel as they’re the prevailing chipmakers in this category.
From there, it’s a matter of picking the right part for your budget. AMD Athlon as well as Intel Pentium and Celeron are affordable and best suited for basic computing tasks, media playback and simple lifestyle applications. Meanwhile, Intel Core and AMD Ryzen serve the widest gamut of users looking to build anything from a cheap HTPC to an enthusiast gaming PC. Lastly on the high-end tier, there are the Intel Core X and AMD Ryzen Threadripper for more intense workloads like video production, 3D modeling and streaming gamers.
Intel’s Core i5 series of processors has traditionally been the go-to chip for gamers. As most mainstream titles (outside of the odd strategy title) are more graphically intensive than processor intensive, you won’t need the most baller processor. And so for the best bang for the buck, the i5 was and still is ideal.The i5-8400 is the perfect chip for those on a budget, as it’ll keep pace with last gen’s top-end Intel Core i7-7700K in most computational tasks.
And of course, because AMD is finally back in action, we absolutely recommend the AMD Ryzen 5 2600X as well. Both Intel’s i5-8400 and AMD’s Ryzen 5 2600X pack a phenomenal punch when it comes to gaming. Intel slightly edges out on in-game frame rates single-core performance, while AMD swings back in computational tasks, and more demanding workloads.
So what do we mean by that? Basically, the Ryzen 5 2600X packs multi-threading, meaning six cores and 12 threads of unadulterated Ryzen fury, and a whole ton of spare processing power for any and all applications you’re running on the side, making it perfect for streaming.
The mother of all boards
No good CPU goes without a good motherboard. Depending on what chip you choose, you’ll be locked into a selection of mobos with a variety of different chipsets available to you. But the first question we’ll help you answer is, what size motherboard is right for you?
ATX, E-ATX and XL-ATX boards are geared towards vast storage solutions, and hefty graphics card setups. And if you’re after a smaller system, Micro-ATX or Mini-ITX is your jam, providing a more compact size – though at the cost of fewer slots for graphics cards and other PCIe add-in cards.
From there your choice of processor will also determine, which motherboard will work with your system. This includes ensuring the CPU sockets lineup as well as having the right chipset. For example, Intel Coffee Lake and Kaby Lake chips technically plop down on the same LGA1151, but the former requires a 300-series chipset while the latter was launched with the 200-series chipset. Similarly, Ryzen and Ryzen 2nd Generation both share the same AM4 socket, but the latest AMD chips see the most benefit from the latest X470 platform.
Depending on the size of your chassis and if you’ve gone with an Intel processor, this ASRock Fatal1ty Z370 Gaming K6 (for ATX), Asus Z370-G (for Micro-ATX), or Asus ROG Strix Z370-I Gaming (Mini-ITX) all fit the bill perfect for a modern Intel-powered PC.
For our AMD builders, we’d recommend the Aorus X470 Gaming 7 Wi-Fi for an ATX build, the MSI B350M Mortar (a real fine budget board), for Micro-ATX rigs, and the ASUS ROG Strix X470-I Gaming for the mini-ITX lovers out there.
Ultimately, whether you go with our suggestions or not, it’s always worth remembering that your choice of motherboard will ultimately dictate your feature-set, memory and storage, your case, and how well your chip will overclock (if you invest in an unlocked part).
Finishing out the trinity of every PC builds’ main components, graphics cards determines what your desktop will be able to visually render. While PCs can get away with just integrated graphics for simple tasks and even 4K streaming, creating your own media and gaming box requires the discrete graphical power that only an dedicated GPU can offer.
If your aim is to game at 1080p, the GeForce GTX 1060 3GB is your man. It’s the best bang-for-the-buck card out there is, capable of easily hitting 60fps in most, if not all AAA titles at 1080p. It won’t let you down for at least the next 3 years. If you really do need the extra VRAM for memory intensive games (here’s looking at you Witcher 3), then simply pump up for the 6GB variant instead.
Memory or RAM (random-access memory) is practically the lifeblood of any PC and you’ll need an ample amount of it for a healthy running machine. Similar to your short term memory, RAM holds bursts of information for a limited time to quickly complete tasks, so literally all of your data will pass through this component of your PC.
With this in mind we’ve typically always favored capacity over speed when it comes to performance. After all, nothing says ‘killer rig’ like having 38 Google Chrome Tabs open, plus Discord, and a game of your choice all at the same time.
The Corsair Vengeance LED, HyperX Fury, and G.Skill Rampage V are all memory kits of choice that mix together a blend of affordability, speed and reliability. 16GB (2x8GB) of dual channel DDR4 running at 3200 MHz is ideal for gaming at 1080p for now, and should future-proof you for the next 3 to 4 years at least.
For very basic gaming and web browsing 8GB is enough, but as a whole we recommend 16GB as the go-to for any build today. For video and photo editing, the more memory you have, the better.
It’s worth noting in regard to speed, that Intel CPUs typically doesn’t benefit from faster memory in day-to-day tasks, however Ryzen can see anywhere from a 10-15% performance increase, purely from utilizing faster memory. Ultimately anything close to or above 2,500MHz is golden – though you’ll find some modern RAM approaching close to 5,000MHz.
Keep in mind, motherboards don’t support unlimited memory speeds, so check the specification before buying incredibly fast memory. For example it would be a waste to get 4,000MHz speed RAM and find out it could only reach up to 3,000MHz because of the motherboard’s limitations.
If RAM is like short term memory, storage is essentially your computer’s long term memory. This is where all your data is stored, whether its a document, picture, movie, game saves, programs and even the operating system.
Likewise, storage comes in a myriad of forms and rated speeds. Hard drives are fantastic for holding a ton of data at a very low cost. Meanwhile, SSDs can be exponentially faster, but opting for massive capacities will cost you a lot.
Thankfully, SATA SSDs have become old hat at this point that an average Joe can find drives with one or more terabytes of capacity for little more than a much slower hard drive would cost. They’re all you need for a quick nippy system and we wholeheartedly recommend the Samsung 860 Evo. Install your OS on here, and some choice games and watch your load times and general user experience fly away.
NVMe drives are also all the rage as they can offer five-to-six times faster data transfer speeds and there are even some affordable options in the market now. The Adata XPG SX8200 is a fantastically affordable and quick drive. If you want to just jump into the top-shelf stuff, the Samsung 970 Evo and WD Black NVMe SSD are among the fastest drives you’ll encounter today.
For added oomf, we recommend picking up a 1TB old school HDD as well if you can. Western Digital’s Blue drives are usually a great place to start, and you can pick those up with a great deal most of the time.
A reliable power supply is the most crucial part of your PC build as it’s responsible for supplying power to run any and all of the other components in your computer. Without this crucial foundation, your PC will fail to even start and a system built on shaky ground is also doomed for failure.
In the real world it’s unlikely you’ll ever need more than a 650W for a single GPU build like we recommend here. When shopping for a PSU it’s advisable to get one with 20% more capacity than you’ll need: 10% for overclocking, and another 10% so you’re not running your PSU ragged at all times. The higher the efficiency rating (from good to best; bronze, silver, gold, platinum, titanium), the less electricity you’ll waste as heat.
If you’re ever unsure how much juice you’ll need, head over to PCPartPicker, enter your spec, and take a look at the top of the page to see just how many watts the system will draw from the wall.
Don’t skimp here. When a cheap PSU blows, it can take your whole system with it.
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The PC case you choose shouldn’t just be pretty; it should be as tool-less as possible, offer tons of cable routing options and ample room equal to your PC building ambitions. As far as chassis choice, it all starts with what motherboard you’re using for your build. We’re not talking manufacturer, but size. Make sure you pick up a case with good airflow, and one that’s the correct size for your new system.
You can always scrimp here, but the more money you spend, typically the more enjoyable your build experience will be. Not to mention, you’ll be looking at this PC case everyday, so you might want to make sure it’s a looker.
Our current favourite is the NZXT Hx00i-series, as they come in a variety of sizes while all featuring exceptional airflow, a tempered glass side panel, integrated RGB lighting, and a fan controller.
You’re going to need a decent CPU cooler to chill either the Ryzen or the Intel chip of your choosing. CPU coolers split into two main types: air-coolers and liquid-coolers.
Air coolers as you might have guessed use air to push heat through an array of heat pipes and fins called a heatsink. These types of CPU coolers are generally affordable and easy to install, but can sometimes interfere with the installation of memory with tall heat spreaders or oversized graphics cards.
Liquid-coolers on the other hand are a bit more complicated as they use a closed loop of coolant to keep processors chilled. These are often more efficient and can keep your CPU running at lower temperatures than an air cooler. The only downside is these liquid-cooling units can be more expensive and intimidating to install at first.
Thanks to the advancements in technology and an obsessive pursuit of dead-silence, there are also a few passive coolers that are nothing more than cleverly engineered heatsinks.
Regardless of which type of CPU cooler you get, you’ll want to make sure the product you choose is compatible with your system. If you’re going Intel, you’ll need the standard the LGA 1151 socket that supports most mainstream Core processors. If you’re going with AMD, the AM4 socket is what you should look out for.
Always make sure your cooler is compatible with your case, and the socket and processor that you’ll be mounting it to. Luckily, most coolers come with an assortment of accessories that make them compatible with either platform and even more.
The next step
Hopefully we’ve helped you create a complete list of components ready enough to construct a complete PC. The next step is building the actual PC and while it can be tricky, we’ve also created a complete step-by-step guide to ease you through the process.