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Building a PC is just plain fun…
It’s the DIY attitude that builds, and builds, and builds…the projects get bigger, ambitions greater, and payoffs ever more exciting. System assembly is a functionally useful (and even employable) skill and is well-worth learning – but it’s still ultimately a fun weekend project to build a new gaming PC.
That’s not to say someone couldn’t just build a PC as a one-off project, of course. There are many merits to building a PC, and not all of them have to be rooted at a personal level. Paramount to PC building benefits, it’s cheaper than buying off the shelf, allows for fine-tuning of hardware and software, easier to personally maintain, and easier to extend service life.
What are the benefits of building a PC?
Benefit #1 – Building a PC is More Affordable
The value proposition with building a PC is exceptionally high. With some DIY projects – building a bike, for one – it’s fair to expect a high-end rig to exceed the cost of an off-the-shelf model. PC building is unique in its dissent from this; it’s almost always cheaper to build systems with a DIY approach, and that’s true at all price ranges.
There are various types of PCs, but here are some top-level ‘template’ examples:
- ($300) “Internet PC” – Need something for the living/guest room? A parent or kid? An office? If it’s just a “Facebook machine” with the ability to stream video content and answer emails, the system cost could easily sit in the $300 range. An APU or IGP takes care of the graphics needs, and further cost reduction could be done by using a Linux distribution – no reason to buy licenses if just running web browsers.
- ($550-$650) Budget Gaming PC – And it could be done cheaper, too – but then you start cutting corners, and that’s a risk-vs-reward scenario we’ll discuss later. This type of box will play simpler games easily, often at medium-to-high settings (think: DOTA and CS:GO), and can still run moderately intensive titles at lower settings.
- ($700-$1,000) Entry-Level to Low Mid-Range PC – These are capable of playing almost anything at ~1080p and often with reasonably high settings.
- ($1,000+) High-End PC – After this point, it’s enthusiast and production rigs that start pushing serious horsepower for high-end gaming or work tasks. There is somewhat of an asymptotic curve to performance-per-dollar, but that’s true anywhere.
Buying a pre-built system off the shelf might run a similar price to the above “templates” (which are really just very basic price points), but will often be much lower in its performance capabilities. An i5 CPU and R9 380X or GTX 960 could be packed into a powerhouse of a ~$700 build, and that’s tough to get without the DIY approach.
Benefit #2 – Building a PC Lets You Fine-Tune Hardware and Software
This is a major point of importance. Personal selection and culling of hardware means absolute control over what’s in the system; there’s no wasted money on, for example, a wireless card if you know you’re doing intranet transfers with gigabit+ requirements. No wasted money on a 700W PSU if building a system capable of being powered with a 450W supply.
Money can be redirected to mission-critical components – densely threaded CPUs and memory, for example, hold more significance in video production PCs than in “just gaming” PCs. Video cards are high on the priorities list for gaming, but completely unnecessary for an “internet box.” Unique requirements like silence or low-power/low-thermal (is it expensive to run AC where you live? Don’t dump heat into the room with a high-TDP build) can also be accounted for with the DIY approach.
Fine-tuning of hardware internals means appropriate allocation of budget, yielding a higher-performance rig with a stronger performance-per-dollar proposition.
Benefit #3 – Building a PC Provides the (Relative) Ease of Maintenance
When relying on external sources for technical support, it’s not uncommon to be without a PC for days or weeks at a time. Matters are made worse when relying on non-local services for RMA repairs, easily spanning several weeks for part repair or replacement. That’s not to mention the pain of data backup and protection in such instances.
The truth of the matter is that, once you’ve built your rig, it’s generally pretty easy to troubleshoot and maintain. The processes to troubleshooting and resolving the most common (and some advanced) issues will be contained within this guide; once you’ve picked-up those details, fixing future defects can normally be done entirely independently from outside parties. This is especially the case if a part simply “dies” (which is rare). If it’s not able to be saved, replacement is trivial – why pay someone and send off the PC for weeks to do what you can handle in minutes?
Benefit #4 – Building a PC Offers Extended Service Life & Upgrades
This benefit is a major one. Building a PC lends itself to service life extension by nature of being easily upgraded by the user. You can plot your own upgrade pathways in the initial building phases.
If building a gaming PC, it makes sense to build with a platform that may go through one or two GPU upgrades in its life. A strong motherboard and CPU selection allow this. Render rigs might start with “only” 16GB or 32GB of RAM, but make the allowance for 32GB or 64GB upgrade pathways, if editors find themselves using more warp stabilizers or FX.
Upgrades are easy. It’s screws and slots – that’s all there is to a PC upgrade. If you build your own machine, you know precisely what’s in there, and that means better ability to make sensible upgrades. Service life on the whole is extended as a byproduct. CPUs can often last several years for gaming rigs, but GPUs (especially as new APIs continue to shift commands to the GPU) will need the occasional refresh to continue accommodating max graphics settings. No reason to upgrade both at once if it’s avoidable.
This furthers the first point we made: Value proposition. It just makes sense to take the DIY approach. System building and planning is awfully fun, too – and even teaches skills usable in the workforce.
Benefit #5 – Building a PC Means You’ll Have a Strong Support Network
There’s a large presence of knowledgeable enthusiasts in the PCDIY community. Outside of the customer service teams from various manufacturers – like NZXT’s Customer Service team – there are subreddits, forums, comment systems, social media pages, and more. This system means that troubleshooting is never truly done alone; it’s easy to find people who’ve had the same problem, and resolution is normally just around the corner.
There are even more benefits to building a PC
The PCDIY community is impressive in its eagerness to help newcomers to system building. It’s easy to find new gaming friends during the process of building, and those relationships can last years. Besides all the benefits listed above, making friends through building and asking questions is our favorite. – GamersNexus
On average, there are approximately 14 screws involved in building a computer – maybe 18, depending on case. One Phillips screwdriver, some screws – provided, by the way, and some parts. That’s how you build a PC.
Building a PC is easy.
The fact of the matter is that building a PC requires effectively no hardware (read: garage hardware, not PC hardware) experience – just a screwdriver. But it’s not the only misconception. We’ve seen fans of console camps argue that it takes $2000 to build a good gaming computer – utterly false – or that PC building takes a lot of time. We’ve seen people say it’s easy to destroy parts, or that it’s hard to assemble them, or that special tools are required.
What are the common misconceptions about building a PC?
Misconception #1 – Building a PC is Hard
We’ll walk you through the entire PC building process and help you understand each component install procedure, but here’s a quick recap of how to build a PC:
- Parts selection and purchase
- Socket the CPU (drop it into place), socket the RAM (drop it into place), mount the CPU cooler (a few screws, if that)
- Connect a few power headers and test that everything works
- Migrate the build into the case
That’s, at an excessively high level, the process of building a computer. The hardest part is normally installing the CPU cooler – but NZXT’s liquid coolers make that easy – or troubleshooting unexpected issues.
Misconception #2 – Building a PC is Expensive
|Part||Price After Rebates/Promos|
|CPU||Intel i5-6400 2.7GHz||$190|
|Motherboard||MSI Z170A SLI Plus Motherboard||$120|
|Video Card||MSI GTX 960 4GB||$175|
|Memory||HyperX Fury 8GB 2133MHz||$38|
|Power Supply||Rosewill Valens 500W Modular||$52|
|HDD||WD Blue 1TB 7200RPM||$54|
|Case||NZXT S340 Mid-Tower||$75|
A middle-of-the-road PC build. You could easily drop down to the $500-$600 range, or scale up to the $1500+ range.
Building a PC scales massively in price. A few hundred bucks can buy the parts needed to build an “internet box” or home-theater TV-attached PC, deployable for the likes of Netflix or Hulu or YouTube or what-have-you. It’s also easy to build a $1500 rig, but such a machine could play games for years on end – or maybe be used for video production (or both – the parts often overlap).
When you decide to build a PC, you control the price. It’s your build! Don’t let someone insist that a $2000 budget is required to compete with a console for graphics – it’s simply not true. Such a machine could be assembled in the mid hundreds, and – this part’s a big deal – it can be used for other things outside of gaming. Video production, school work, work-work, game streaming, and so forth.
Keep in mind that, along with price, you also control the time-scale. If your budget or pay cycle is best-suited for buying one or two parts at a time, that works perfectly fine with the PCDIY approach! No need to buy the entire system all at once. If a PSU happens to go on sale for $30, there’s no harm in grabbing it and buying the next part a week or a month from now. Just be sure that everything is compatible, though.
Misconception #3 – Building a PC Takes a Lot of Time
My day job is being the Editor-in-Chief of GamersNexus. My team builds PCs on a daily basis – sometimes an hourly basis. We’ve been doing it for years, sure, but the entire start-to-finish assembly of a build now takes us about 5-10 minutes. I still remember my first PC build – that project took an entire afternoon of checking manuals, but it worked flawlessly when done. That was also before the internet made these types of guides so easy to reference.
With a little bit of research, you’ll soon be able to work toward quick, effortless assembly. That first one is fun and requires a little more time – mostly just learning where things are and what they do – but it’s not inherently difficult or time consuming. We’d generally suggest that a first build might take a few hours (including assembly, OS install, environment/peripheral setup).
Even so, a few-hour project isn’t a bad deal. It’s fun the whole way through, it’s educational, rewarding, and interesting.
Misconception #4 – Building a PC Makes it Easy to Damage Parts
Damaging parts during PC assembly happens only one of two (common) ways:
- Forced Installation – the component doesn’t fit in the slot or is misaligned, and could undergo forces that cause damage (or you’ve managed to force it to fit, in which case it could be electrically damaged). Follow the rule “monkey tight, not gorilla tight” and this won’t be a problem. If it doesn’t fit, don’t force it. Look closely and try again.
- Electrostatic Discharge (ESD) – If building a PC in a cool and dry environment, it’s easier for the user to build up a charge of static electricity. Touching a car door and feeling a shock is an example of electrostatic discharge; if you can feel such a discharge, it’s easily thousands of volts – PC components are only built to handle, in the case of sensitive silicon, around a volt of electricity. Taking measures outlined in this guide will mitigate or eliminate ESD risk!
Don’t worry too much about ESD. Grounding yourself will all but guarantee component safety, and taking care when installing components means no real risk of forceful installation (entirely a user error, if it happens – that means you control the risk). Most likely, a failed boot more likely means a DOA part than anything else.
Building a PC doesn’t have to be expensive, difficult, or risky
That recaps the most common misconceptions with PC assembly. PC building doesn’t have to be expensive (and often isn’t), it doesn’t have to be difficult, and it doesn’t have to carry any risk of component damage. – GamersNexus
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 HUE+ lighting kit 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. – GamersNexus