How to Build a PC! Step-by-step
How to Build a Computer
This wikiHow teaches you how to build a desktop computer using custom parts. Successfully building a computer is largely contingent on defining your computer goals and budget, buying the right parts, and putting everything together in the correct order.
Planning Your Computer
Determine your computer's use.Before you buy any components or establish a budget, you'll need to know what you plan on using the computer for. Standard desktop PCs which are used for things like browsing and minor programs (e.g., Microsoft Word and Excel) can use older, less expensive parts, while gaming- or editing-focused computers will need more powerful, up-to-date parts.
- You can expect to spend under 0 for most basic desktops. Gaming and editing computers may run you anywhere from 0 to several thousand dollars.
Establish a budget.It's too easy to start buying attractive parts without sticking to a budget, only to realize that you're out of money and don't have all of the necessary equipment to build your PC. Figure out a soft limit (e.g., 0) and a hard limit (e.g., 0) and try to stay within that range.
- Common sense should guide your purchasing as well. For example, if the processor for which you budget is 0 but a nicer, newer model is discounted from 0 to 0 at your local tech store, spending the extra is probably a better long-term investment.
Know which components you need to buy.No matter how expensive your computer, you will need the following components for your project:
- Processor— Acts as the "brain" of your computer.
- Motherboard— Serves as an interface between all of your computer's components and the processor.
- RAM— Random Access Memory. Dictates the amount of memory your computer has for processing items. The more RAM you have, the faster your computer will be (to a point).
- Hard drive— Stores data. You can buy a traditional hard drive, or you can opt for a more expensive solid state drive (SSD) if you want an exceptionally fast drive.
- Power supply— Powers all of your computer's individual components. The power supply is also the interface between your computer and the wall socket into which you plug your computer.
- Case— Necessary for storing and cooling your components.
- Graphics card— Used to render images on your computer. While most processors have a built-in graphics processing unit (GPU), you can buy a dedicated graphics card if you plan on gaming or using your computer for intensive editing.
- Cooling system— Keeps the inside of your case at a safe temperature. Only necessary for gaming and editing PCs—regular PCs should be fine with fan circulation.
Know where to buy components.In-store locations such as Best Buy will stock computer components, but you can usually find comparable parts for cheaper if you shop online. Common online locations include Amazon, eBay, and NewEgg.
- Don't write off used parts, especially if the parts are listed as "Like New" or are in new condition. You can often buy such parts at a heavily discounted price for little to no change in function.
Research every component you intend to purchase.Read magazines and online consumer review sites for more information. Remember, this is one of the most important steps, because everything will depend on your hardware working correctly.
- Look for good reviews for your preferred product, both on the site from which you're considering purchasing it and elsewhere.
- Once you've found a decently reviewed component, look for negative reviews of the component. You may find that the component is great for certain uses, but inappropriate for your own preferences.
Find a processor.The processor (or CPU) is the core of your computer's performance. The higher the processor's speed in gigahertz (GHz), the faster it can process data and the more RAM it can use.
- The processor will usually entail the largest part of your budget.
- Processors typically come in dual-core and quad-core varieties. Unless you're building an ultra-high-performance gaming PC, you should stick to dual-core processors.
- Intel and AMD are two of the main processor manufacturers.
Get a motherboard which fits your processor.You'll want to select a motherboard which is compatible with your processor, which can be accomplished by checking your preferred motherboard's list of supported processors (some sites will also show a list of supported motherboards for your processor). Other aspects to look for in a motherboard include the following:
- "Onboard Wi-Fi" (ensures that your computer will have wireless capabilities)
- Multiple RAM slots
- Support for graphics cards if necessary
Purchase RAM cards.RAM is responsible for storing data from running programs, so having enough of it is important. Before buying RAM, be sure to check both your processor and your motherboard for the type of RAM which is supported.
- There is a limit to how much RAM your computer can use, and that limit is dictated by your processor's maximum memory. For example, installing 16 GB of RAM in a computer which only supports 8 GB will be a waste of money.
- Depending on your motherboard, you'll usually buy either DDR3 RAM or DDR4 RAM. The type of RAM that is supported by your motherboard will be noted in the motherboard's documentation.
Buy a hard drive.Comparatively speaking, purchasing a hard drive is easy—most hard drives are compatible with virtually all motherboards and processors, though you may need to make sure the hard drive you find will fit in your case. You'll want to buy a SATA hard drive which stores at least 500 gigabytes, and be sure to buy from a reputable manufacturer such as Western Digital, Seagate, or Toshiba.
- Your average hard drive has a speed of 7200 RPM.
- Hard drives can also use IDE instead of SATA as their connections, but SATA is newer and thus supported on all modern motherboards.
- If you want a smaller hard drive with faster data retrieval, you can instead purchase a solid state drive (SSD). These drives are significantly more expensive than most standard computer hard drives.
Purchase a graphics card if necessary.A dedicated graphics card is essential for playing the latest games, but not a major issue for a computer you plan on using for daily tasks. If you watch or edit a lot of HD video or play a lot of games, you'll want a dedicated graphics card.
- As with any other component, make sure that your graphics card is compatible with your motherboard.
- Nearly all Intel CPUs have integrated graphics, so you don’t need a dedicated card if you’re planning to use the computer for office work, web browsing email, and a little bit of online gaming.
- Graphics cards are also referred to as "video cards".
Make sure your power supply can handle the load.The power supply powers all of your components in your computer. Some cases come with a power supply already installed, but others require you to provide your own. The power supply should be powerful enough to charge all of your components; don't worry about it being so powerful that you waste electricity by powering more than you need, as it will only output as many watts as you use and the number on its wattage is only its max capacity.
- Choose a power supply from a reputable manufacturer like EVGA or Corsair.
- If your computer is for gaming, you will need a power supply with 550W or more power.
Pick up a case that is both functional and easy on the eyes.The case is what holds your computer components. A few cases come with a power supply included, but if you are making a gaming build then getting a separate power supply is recommended, as the power supplies that come with cases are usually not very high quality.
- The size of the case will be based on how many drives bays and card slots it has, as well as the size and type of your motherboard.
- Be sure to select a case which can fit all of your components, including your hard drive.
Assembling Your Computer
Ground yourself.Use an antistatic wrist-strap cable to prevent electrostatic discharge (ESD) which can be deadly to computer electronics.
- If you can't get an antistatic wrist-strap cable, plug your grounded power supply unit to an outlet (but don't turn it on), and keep your hand on the grounded unit whenever you touch any ESD-sensitive items.
Open the case.Unscrew the side panel (or slide it toward the back of the case) to do so.
Install the power supply.Some cases come with the power supply already installed, while others will require you to purchase the power supply separately and install it yourself. Make sure that the power supply is installed in the correct orientation, and that nothing is blocking the power supply's fan.
- The power supply will usually go near the top of the case. You can determine where the power supply is supposed to sit by looking for a missing section on the back of the case.
Add components to the motherboard.This is usually easiest to do before you install the motherboard, as the case can limit your ability to wire components:
- Attach the processor to the motherboard by finding the processor port on the motherboard's surface and attaching the processor's cable or connector to the port.
- Attach your RAM to the motherboard by finding the RAM slots and inserting the RAM cards appropriately (they should only fit one way).
- Attach your power supply to the motherboard's power supply section.
- Locate (but do not attach) the motherboard's hard drive SATA port. You'll use this to connect the hard drive to the motherboard later.
Apply thermal paste to the processor if necessary.Put a small dot (around the size of a grain of rice) of thermal paste on the CPU. Adding too much thermal paste will create a mess, such as getting paste into the motherboard socket, which may short circuit components and decrease the motherboard's value if you plan to sell it later.
- Some processors that come with heat sinks do not need thermal paste because the heat sink already has thermal paste applied by the factory. Check the bottom of the heat sink unit before applying paste to the processor.
Attach the heat sink.This varies from heat sink to heat sink, so read the instructions for your processor.
- Most stock coolers attach directly over the processor and clip into the motherboard.
- Aftermarket heat sinks may have brackets that need to be attached underneath the motherboard.
- Skip this step if your processor has an installed heat sink.
Prepare your case.You may need to knock the plates out of the back of the case in order to fit your components into the correct positions.
- If your case has separate shelving units to hold your hard drive, install the units using the included screws.
- You may need to install and wire your case's fans before you can install any components. If so, follow your case's fan installation instructions.
Secure the motherboard.Once the standoffs are installed, place the motherboard in the case and push it up against the backplate. All of the back ports should fit into the holes in the I/O backplate.
- Use the screws provided to secure the motherboard to the standoffs through the shielded screw holes on the motherboard.
Plug in the case connectors.These tend to be located together on the motherboard near the front of the case. The order in which these are connected will depend on which is easiest. Make sure that you connect the USB ports, the Power and Reset switches, the LED power and hard drive lights, and the audio cable. Your motherboard’s documentation will show you where on your motherboard these connectors attach.
- There is typically only one way that these connectors can attach to the motherboard. Don’t try to force anything to fit.
Install your hard drive.This process will vary slightly depending on your case, but should typically go as follows:
- Remove any front panels on the case (if you're installing an optical drive, you will usually install it near the top of the case).
- Insert the hard drive into its slot (again, usually near the top of the case).
- Tighten any screws needed to hold the drive in place.
- Plug the hard drive's SATA cable into the SATA slot on the motherboard.
Connect the power supply to any necessary components.If you haven't already connected the power supply to components which need power, make sure that it is connected to the following locations:
- Graphics card(s)
- Hard drive(s)
Finish your computer assembly.Once you've placed and connected the various internal components for your computer, all that's left to do is ensure that none of the wires interfere with circulation and close up the case.
- If you bought a cooling system, you'll want to install it before you proceed. Refer to the cooling system's installation instructions in order to do so.
- Many cases will have a panel which either slides back into place or screws onto the side of the case.
Running Your Computer
Attach your computer to an outlet.Using your power source's power cable, plug your computer into a wall outlet or power strip.
- You may first have to attach the electrical cable to the power source input on the back of your computer's case.
Plug a monitor into your computer.You'll typically use the graphics card output that's near the bottom of the case, though some motherboards may have this port on the right or left side of the case.
- The output here is usually a DisplayPort or HDMI port.
Turn on your computer.Press the computer'sPower button on the front or back of the case. If everything's properly connected, your computer should start up.
- If you encounter issues during the startup process—or if your computer fails to start—disconnect it from the power source, re-open the case, and check the connections again.
Install Windows or Linux.Windows is compatible with all PCs and will make full use of their various features (e.g., Bluetooth), but you will have to purchase a copy of Windows if you don't have a product key. Linux is free, but may not be able to use all of your computer's hardware.
- If you don't have an installation USB drive, you'll need to create one on another computer before you can install your operating system.
Install your drivers.Once your operating system is installed, you will need to install your drivers. Almost all of the hardware that you purchased should come with discs that contain the driver software needed for the hardware to work.
- Modern versions of Windows and Linux will install most drivers automatically when connected to the Internet.
QuestionWhere can I get price comparisons for computer parts?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerUse a website called PCpartpicker.com It will help you choose compatible parts and also determine the cheapest website to buy from.Thanks!
QuestionIs it possible to get Windows without having to insert a disc into your optical drive? If yes, how?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerWindows 10 purchased from a store or online comes on flash drive now, all you have to do is plug in the flash drive and boot from that. You can also download the ISO and, using Microsoft USB Download Tool software, create your own bootable installation flash drive if you have a spare.Thanks!
QuestionAfter building my PC with all new parts, I plugged it in but only got power for a second then nothing, what went wrong?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIt's possible that there is a grounding issue with the motherboard. If the motherboard is contacting the case, it creates a path to ground, which kills the electric charge in the circuits. Check to make sure there are spacers separating the motherboard from the metal of the case.Thanks!
QuestionWhat if the CPU doesn't go in?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerCheck the arrow on the bottom left part of your CPU, and line it up to the little arrow on your motherboard. It should just drop in. If not, you might have bought the wrong motherboard for your CPU.Thanks!
QuestionIs a heat sink the same as a CPU cooling fan, or does it come with it, or do I need to purchase it separately?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerMost of the time, a CPU comes with a heatsink, but if it is Intel and has a K on it (ex. Core i7 6700k, Core i5 6600k), you will most likely need to buy a separate fan.Thanks!
QuestionDo I need a heat sink too?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes. You need a heat sink to prevent the computer from overheating and shutting down automatically.Thanks!
QuestionIs Bluetooth compatibility built in to motherboards or does it require a special chipset/addon?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIt is built in to some motherboards but not all, you can always use a USB Bluetooth.Thanks!
QuestionCan I install a hard drive that already has an OS on it?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes, when you want to run that OS you will have to go into the BIOS or boot option menu to tell the computer to boot from a specific hard drive. If you are keeping a hard drive from an old computer, make sure it is compatible with the new parts and try to do a fresh install of the OS to wipe out any bloatware.Thanks!
QuestionWhat does a hard drive do?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThe hard drive is where all the data for the computer is stored. It is also where the operating system is run from.Thanks!
QuestionCan I use gloves instead of anti-static wristbands?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerOnly if they are anti-static also. The goal is to minimize the passage of electricity.Thanks!
Do you think my 13 year old son could build a PC?
When making a computer, how do you make the join a WiFi network function?
- Some power supplies have a built in 115/230V converter. If you are in the U.S., use the 115V setting.
- Each power supply cable will only fit in the correct orientation, but pressure will still be needed to push the cables in. If using a newer power supply with an 8-pin EPS 12V connector and a PCI Express 8-pin connector, don't attempt to force the cables into place.
- You can use zip ties to carefully bundle all of the cables and then route them to prevent them from blocking the airflow.
- If you bought an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) edition of Microsoft Windows and you have a license sticker, you may want to attach the sticker on the side of the PC for future reference when Windows Setup asks for it.
- If you install a water cooling system instead of a typical fan, you should run a 24-hour test to check for leaks before actually installing it in your computer.
- Avoid electrostatic discharge when installing components. Wear a static wristband or regularly ground yourself by touching a metal part of the case before handling components.
- Use care when working around the sharp, sheet metal edges of a computer case. It is easy to cut yourself, especially with very small cases.
- Don't touch the resistors and the pins on the CPU or the socket.
- Do not buy any computer parts from any untrusted retailer online; you might get scammed, or the computer part may be defective.
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