How Hard Is It To Build A PC?

Since relatives and friends know I work in IT, I am sometimes asked how hard it is to build a PC yourself, and the truth is - it's really not difficult at all. Once you have the correct parts, the actual assembly is not too challenging. Essentially, you are just plugging in fairly modular components and connecting some cables. Well, quite a few cables.

Why would you build your own computer? The reasons I do it boil down to the fact that it's fun and that you can more easily keep to a budget. By picking up parts on sale, you can get some great deals and come up with a nice PC for not a lot of money.

For a newcomer to this sort of project, the hardest thing may just be knowing which parts to buy and what you actually need. There are plenty of guides online, as well as YouTube videos and even sites that can let you pick matched components. See links at the end of this post.

The basis of the PC project is the motherboard, the CPU and the memory; those components are the foundation. In the real world, unless you need a high performance gaming PC, a well-reviewed inexpensive motherboard will serve.

Intel and AMD are the two main CPU (or "processor") makers; motherboards are made by various manufacturers to work with either an AMD or Intel processor. There is a perception that AMD is a less expensive/less powerful option than Intel, and while in an overall sense there may be some truth to that, there are good range of powerful AMD processors in most price ranges.

The type of motherboard would then determine the specific type of memory (RAM) chip(s) you would purchase. Some computer websites will also offer "combo" deals, where you can get a packaged motherboard/CPU/RAM combo, and that can be a good way to start (as you know those components will work together).

When installing the CPU and memory in particular, it is important to avoid any build up of static electricity. This can be done by wearing an inexpensive antistatic wrist strap with one end attached to the computer case.

The CPU usually has a clip on fan to keep it cool, and it's important to make sure the fan makes good contact with the processor itself, as the CPU can generate a lot of heat - burn your fingers type of heat.

Some CPU's may just have a big "heat sink" with no fan - metal cooling fins that attach snugly to the CPU, but more often than not, there will be a fan/heat sink as mentioned above.

Most motherboards these days have built-in ("integrated") audio, network and video systems - eliminating the need for separate plug-in video (or "graphics") cards, sounds cards or network cards. You can add a better plug-in video card for game playing if needed, but an integrated card will work for most other purposes, including watching HD videos.

The computer case is where all the components will fit and connect together. Again, you can spend a little or a lot on a case. Sometimes a case will come with it's own power supply installed, or you can buy a supply separately - when adding a high end video card, you will need a power supply capable of supporting the extra requirements of the card.

Installing a power supply is pretty much securing a few screws. The video card maker will usually indicate any special power requirements (e.g. "we recommend a minimum 650W power supply").

You will also need a hard drive (either a traditional drive or a solid state "SSD" drive), and probably a DVD drive. The hard drive is where the operating system (Windows for example) will be installed, and all your data will be stored. SSDs operate cooler and faster that a traditional "magnetic" drive, but cost more per GB of storage.

traditional hard disk drive

When assembling the computer, you basically screw the motherboard onto the mounting points in the case, install the power supply if it's not part of the case, then connect up the power and other connections - on/off switch, USB ports, indicator lamps, that sort of thing.

You may be dismayed to see a lot of wires with a wide variety of plugs, but everything is typically labelled, and a consulting the motherboard manual will show exactly what goes where. Things like the power connector and hard drive cables can only be connected the correct way; it's hard to screw those up unless you are really creative.

The other cables would be for things like connecting the power switch, indicator lamps, USB ports and so on to the motherboard. Good practice is to try to route all cables sensibly to avoid restricting air flow in the case. Most cases will come with at least one cooling fan, and more can be added if desired. Heat is the enemy of computer components, and keeping a nice breeze travelling through the case is A Good Thing.

Once you have the hardware assembled you can load up Windows or Linux or whatever - that part is usually trivially easy these day.Pop in a CD or DVD, respond to a few questions, and wait.

Helpful links -

How-to Videos: - how to build a $500 gaming PC (short, but gives a nice overview of how it all fits together)

Links below are longer, more step-by step.

Design your system web site:

PC Part Picker

Choose My PC

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