How to Build Your Own PC – Part 1: Knowing Your Needs

Previously, we discussed how important computers have become in our lives and how important it is to understand how your PC works.  Today, we’ll be going a little more in-depth – the first steps of building your own computer.  This will be done over several articles and walk you through the process step-by-step.  It may also be a good idea to take a look at these tips for buying new tech, as they apply to computer parts, too.

Most of the people who go to the effort of building their own PC from scratch are gamers, but don’t let that scare you off.  The process will be exactly the same, whether you want face-melting graphics from the latest RPG or just a simple that your daughter can do her homework on; the primary differences will be in the price and level of nit-pickiness you need to have regarding parts.

Our computers are no longer novelties or simple tools we use to do our taxes or homework – they’ve become extensions of ourselves, much like our cars or furniture.  So if you want something that’s unmistakably yours, rather than whatever the Best Buy salesman could con you into buying, the best solution is to make your own PC.  It can be as powerful or docile as you like, and it’s up to you whether you want a box that will beg to be stared at or a plain little piece of plastic that gets hidden in a cubby in your desk.

Anyone can build a PC, and that includes your grandma who’s been using the same toaster since 1963.  The first step is knowing what you need your PC to do.  Sites like PC Part Picker are a great start – they provide build-guides from other users (lists of parts, like a recipe), so that you can find a build similar to what you’re trying to make and work off that, rather than blindly looking for parts online.

Computer Parts

For example, let’s say you’re an ‘average user,’ meaning you use internet searches, YouTube, and iTunes on a regular basis, or something in that ballpark.  That tells you that you’re looking for a simple, cheap build.  You want something that will be reliable and won’t need replacing in two years, which means a bit of research to avoid buying shoddy parts, but you won’t need to pay attention to things like clock speed or threading.  Your budget is about $200, so you can go to PC Part Picker, click on “View the Build Guides,” click ‘Desktop’ to narrow the search, then set the price range to$100-250 to narrow it even further.  I recommend going a little higher than your ‘max’ price, because sometimes you’ll miss something that costs $10 more but is exactly what you want.  Also, for items that you expect to cost more than $50, it’s often smart to set a minimum above zero to prevent things like individual computer parts or completely irrelevant products getting caught by your search.  It’s often a good idea to re-order the list by price or user rating if you can.

Now that your search parameters are set, take a look at the results.  Scan through until you see something like “Affordable Everyday PC Build.”  If something says “gaming” in the title, but the price is reasonable, then take a look anyway.  Remember, we’re looking for a baseline build, something to refer to when choosing parts – think of it like being an architect borrowing ideas from someone else’s blueprints.  You can alter it to suit your needs, but having someone else’s blueprints around gives you a good idea of where to start.  Look at several possible builds before settling on one, and keep these things in mind.  How well is the build-guide written?  Does the writer sound authoritative?  Is the build designed for your needs?  Is it affordable?  Are all of the parts listed in the build available?

Once you’ve chosen a build, start copy/pasting the various parts into your search engine of choice.  Look at prices, but reviews as well – they can warn you off of crappy products.  If you’re an average user, don’t worry about any techno-babble you may see in the product reviews, but pay close attention to things like “reduced performance” or “works well with part X.”  For gamers, you do want to pay at least some attention to the techno-babble, because what you’re looking at could well be a good part unless you pair it with Video Card X, which is exactly the one you had your eyes on.


After you’ve done this for every part recommended in the guide, if it looks good, then congratulations – you’ve got a blueprint for building your own PC.  However, if you’re intent on getting things just right, I do recommend a little more research before calling it a day.  See if you can find comparable parts that may be even cheaper or more to your liking than those in the build (sites like GPU Boss can help with this).  For gamers, this is a must.  Even if you got your build from a friend whose computer works great, the market changes – new products get released all the time, and prices fluctuate like the tide during a full moon.  This is your PC, your baby.  Make it the best one it can be.

Next, we’ll discuss individual parts, how to determine which ones you can’t afford to go cheap on, and which ones are likely to make a big difference in performance.