For first time PC builders, the actual assembly of a PC might be the most daunting part; in reality, it’s actually relatively easy since it’s just more expensive Legos. If you follow the directions and read the manual, there shouldn’t be any issues. More often, the more challenging part of building a PC is choosing which components to use. In order to responsibly choose the components for a PC, builders need to consider aspects like budget, the use of the PC, any already owned parts, and for whom the PC is being built.
WHAT ARE SOME CONSIDERATIONS YOU SHOULD TAKE WHEN BUILDING A PC?
Consideration #1 – How much money can you spend on building a PC?
One of the biggest factors that determines how a PC is outfitted is budget. If not for budget, gaming PCs would constantly be filled with four of the highest-end GPUs, dual-CPU motherboards, and enterprise-grade SSDs — but that’d easily run several thousand dollars.
When planning a PC build, the first consideration should be how much a PC can reasonably cost. Generally, the value of PC components becomes worse at the ultra low- and ultra high-end. It’s sort of asymptotic. For example, a low end GPU – like a GT 710 – will have disappointing gaming performance for its price, and spending just a little more will give disproportionately better performance. Similarly, a Titan X may have higher performance than a 980 Ti clock-for-clock, but its price increase is disproportionately higher than its performance increase. For this reason, it is generally a good idea (there are exceptions, for example: servers, custom cases, and extravagance) for personal, custom-built PCs to not be incredibly cheap – e.g. $200 – or incredibly expensive – e.g. $5,000.
The chosen budget also should fit the needs for the PC. If a simple web-browser PC is needed, a multi-GPU gaming rig is unnecessary. Similarly, a $400 PC meant for playing games at 4K and high settings isn’t realistically going to provide a good experience. When planning a PC build, consider both what is a reasonable amount to spend on it and how much needs to be spent for the PC to serve its purpose. A budget shouldn’t bankrupt the builder, but at the same time, it should allow a PC that adequately fits the needs of the PC.
Consideration #2 – What are you building a PC for?
The use cases for the PC are the other most important considerations when picking components. PCs can fit a huge variety of niches, and depending on what a PC is going to be used for, some types of parts may or may not be needed. Generally, PCs that don’t require a lot of horsepower (e.g. web-browsers, HTPCs, basic NASes) can use more compact cases, since large coolers and high-GPUs aren’t required. On the other hand, high-end gaming PCs, servers, etc. will need to be larger in order to fit the parts needed (large GPUs, large CPU coolers, lots of hard drives, etc.). To help determine what parts are required for a PC, consider how large (or small) it needs to be, how powerful it needs to be, how quiet it needs to be, and other similar aspects like how easy it needs to be to take apart.
For an HTPC, as an example, it’s preferable for the box to be small and quiet so it can easily fit in a home theatre and not be noticed when running. Similarly, for a PC that’s meant to be regularly used – especially in situations in which long load times would be annoying or problematic – including an SSD instead of a regular hard drive allows for programs and the OS to load and respond faster. For something where response time isn’t as sensitive (like a NAS to periodically backup to), an SSD may not make a significant difference.
When building a PC, it’s also important to consider what components will be most stressed by the main programs being run. A high-end GPU and mid- to high-end CPU should be used for most gaming PCs targeting higher graphics settings, but if a PC is meant solely for transcoding video files on the fly, a high-end CPU can be used with a mediocre GPU – often in the form of integrated graphics – since the GPU doesn’t have to render anything complex. Similarly, when programs can be accelerated with a GPU – like Adobe Premiere or Blender – it’s a good idea to include a GPU for OpenCL or CUDA acceleration. When choosing components, be sure to consider the performance, noise, size, and similar needs of the PC.
Consideration #3 – Can you reuse parts when building a PC?
For those who have previously built PCs or already own systems, the cost of the a new PC can be reduced by reusing those old parts.
When planning how to allocate funds in a budget, consider what parts can be reused and allocate that budget to more powerful components elsewhere. For example, if reusing an SSD, now the money that would have been used to buy an SSD can go towards a better GPU or some other part. Components that can be easily reused generally without issues (if they are compatible with the new hardware) include RAM, CPU coolers, fans, and cases. These components don’t wear out quickly and remain compatible with other parts for many years. CPUs, GPUs, SSDs, HDDs, PSUs, and motherboards can be reused, but reusing these parts requires some consideration for performance, compatibility, and reliability.
Hard drives and SSDs – and even GPUs and PSUs, to a lesser extent – wear-out as they are used, and for this reason, it’s generally not a good idea to reuse them if they’re old or beginning to fail. Exceptions for old age can be made, like if the hard drive isn’t storing anything important or another old GPU is on hand to replace the card on failure. Older GPUs will also often have subpar performance compared to newer GPUs, so reusing an old GPU can be sub-optimal if the games are more modern in their graphics needs.
When reusing a PSU, be sure that it is not only compatible with the new parts, but that it can provide enough wattage safely. CPUs and motherboards are generally upgraded in a new PC for performance reasons, and oftentimes compatibility poses issues that prevent reuse.
It is important to note that companies like Dell and HP often use proprietary designs for motherboards, cases, fans, and coolers that prevent their parts from being used in other PCs. If reusing parts from an OEM PC, be sure to check whether it is compatible. Generally though, in OEM PCs, CPUs, GPUs, RAM, and SSDs/HDDs will follow common standards.
Consideration #4 – What do you want your PC to look like?
Building a PC lends itself to fully fleshing-out the look to fit the builder’s style. It’s just as easy to go with a sleek, discreet look as it is to go full-out RGB LEDs, and there’s no “wrong” choice. Adding a Gen 1 RGB Controller and some RGB LED components – popular with motherboards and video cards now, and even RAM – makes for a build that looks like it’s out of Tron. The colors can be individually tuned to match the room’s greater aesthetic, to strobe, or to just be your favorite color. With the advent of RGB LED peripherals, it’s quick-and-easy to get the system and peripherals all synchronized to the same color.
But maybe LEDs aren’t your thing – and that’s OK, too. Building a sleek, “sleeper” system is also easy when taking the DIY approach. Black-out components (or tinted windows – or no window) and quiet fans make for a more subtle gaming rig. With pre-built systems, you’re often stuck with a particular design or aesthetic with minimal tuning options. DIY resolves that.
Consideration #5 – How often do you want to upgrade your PC?
Finally, a major consideration is the user. This determines whether or not ease of upgrading is important. More importantly, if building a PC for somebody else, you will likely become the (payless) IT support for whomever the PC is meant. With that in mind, if building a PC for somebody else, be prepared to end up helping them when something goes wrong. Similarly, if building a PC for somebody else, it is important to ask them about how they want their PC to look and perform so that appropriate parts can be chosen.
THE BIGGEST CONSIDERATION IS UP TO YOU
Looks and performance are a function of the user’s demands and needs. Ultimately, building a PC is a very personal experience and everyone will have different reasons for wanting to build a PC in the first place. It’s up to you to decide what you want to build and that’s what makes PCDIY so special. – Michael Kerns, GamersNexus