What You’ll Learn In This Guide
There’s a lot to cover for someone starting this journey, but don’t worry. We’ll go ahead and cleanly lay out the sections of this article for your benefit.
Step 1 - Deciding On Your Budget
First, you’ll want to decide on a budget for your PC. This is the first step for any major purchase, but it’s especially important for PC gaming.
- For someone with an average income, you’ll probably need to save up for multiple months or buy your PC whenever you get a tax return.
- For a below-average income, you may need to save for up to a year.
- For an above-average income, you might be ready to buy right now!
Think realistically about how much you’re willing to spend and how long you’re ready to save.
If the amount is at or below $300, we honestly recommend that you opt for a compatible prebuilt PC with a discrete, low-profile graphics card instead.
You can find great deals on prebuilts on sites like eBay, but be sure that you’re purchasing from a reputable seller and that the machine you’re buying can support a graphics card of your choice. If you’re going this route, we recommend investing in a low-profile GTX 1050 Ti or 1060.
You should have a general idea of how much you want to spend by now. Let’s see how this relates to your needs.
Step 2 - What Do You Want To Do With Your PC?
What are your needs for this PC?
Best gaming performance-per-dollar? Streaming and content creation? Recreational PC usage?
None of these make a wrong answer, but let’s go ahead and dive into what you’ll be spending for those needs.
Recreational PC Usage
Typical price range: $100 - $300 USD
The best possible gaming performance isn’t a concern for you. You need a PC for the reasons everyone else has: browsing the Web, consuming media at your desk and dealing with the occasional tax return or college paper.
Fortunately, if you buy intelligently, you can find some pretty great deals in this range.
For instance, a quality prebuilt machine with room for a GPU upgrade can often be flipped for $100-150. This allows the rest of your budget to go to a brand new graphics card that’ll turn a boring ol’ office PC into a formidable gaming machine.
However, prebuilts do not stand up in value past this range, where you really should start building your own PCs for the best performance.
Gaming performance is typically poor or mediocre at this price, with streaming and other high-end tasks rendered completely impossible by incapable, unreliable hardware.
Typical price range: $400 - $700 USD
You’re a gamer that wants the best performance-per-dollar. Whether this is because you tire of consoles or are simply looking to upgrade to a gaming-capable PC, your needs in this price range are focused on one thing and one thing only: gaming.
Due to the popularity of gaming among PC hardware enthusiasts, this price range is the most popular for fans and manufacturers alike. This is often called the “mid-range”, and it’s where you’ll see the most furious competition between manufacturers.
Gaming at this price range typically offers great value, often exceeding that of the consoles. The only real downside of gaming in this price range is the complexity in ordering, building and maintaining a gaming PC.
Fortunately, we can help you with all of that here.
Expect good to great gaming performance here. Streaming will be low to mid-tier at best, but should still be possible with the hardware offered at $500 and higher with some compromises.
Streaming and Productivity
Typical price range: $700 - $1000 USD
You’re a worker or creator first, and everything else second. You want the best performance and the ability to make some money off of your PC.
This range is often called the “high-end” and it’s where value-for-performance begins to deteriorate somewhat- unless your needs aren’t found in gaming.
By investing in high-end i5s, i7s and Ryzen processors, people in this range begin to do more than just browsing and gaming with their PCs.
They begin streaming the games they play on services like Twitch and YouTube Gaming. They begin spending hours a week, rendering and editing videos to upload to YouTube.
They begin running high-end applications that require heavy CPU and GPU resources.
Expect great-to-amazing gaming performance here, with good-to-great streaming and rendering performance. However, if you intend on this being your full-time job...
Full-Time Content Creation
Typical price range: $1000 - $2000 USD
...you may need to climb even higher to this price range.
You’re a full-time video creator, game-streamer or video editor. Time is money and slow hardware is an utter waste of your time.
Because of this, you don’t compromise. You opt for high-end, overclockable hardware that will beast through all but the most intensive of applications.
Performance certainly has diminishing returns in this range, so your budget may often find itself going in a few other places: better cooling solutions, SSDs, RAID setups, etc.
Expect the best possible performance with all tasks. It’s what you’re paying for.
Step 3 - Deciding On A Build
Now that you have your budget and needs in mind, it’s time to decide on a build before you continue.
Typical price range: $100 - $600
Entry-level console equivalent
Budget-minded console rival
Performance-driven console killer
Mid-range freshman- good gaming and burgeoning streaming performance
Mid range builds
Typical price range: $700 - $1,000
Mid-range gaming powerhouse with entry-level streaming performance
High-end gaming machine with roughly mid-range streaming capabilities.
Highest-end gaming with great streaming capabilities
Pick a build and pray. Up next, we’re going to give you our best tips for ordering your components for the build of your choice.
Step 4 - Ordering Your Components
Now, it’s time to start talking about ordering the components of your build.
Taking Advantage of Combos and Rebates
A combo is when you buy two items together at a discount. These combo discounts can be large or small, but require you to buy from the same vendor and use different parts from what we’re providing.
Depending on the current climate of sales, this will either save you money or set you back a bit more.
Meanwhile, rebates are always a good thing. They’re pretty much-delayed discounts.
After you buy an item that offers a rebate, you can mail in that rebate to get some money back, usually $20-$50 dollars.
Rebates aren’t a huge money saver, but they can lower the effective cost of an item by a non-insignificant amount. Just remember the delay involved with rebates.
Step 5 - Assembling Your Components
Once you’ve ordered your components and they’ve all shipped to your location, it’s time to actually start assembling them!
Preparing Your Case
First thing’s first. You need to familiarize yourself with your case.
Your case will protect your components from the elements, determine how you can cool your components and serve as the outward appearance of your new rig.
Open it up and take a look around.
Are there “easy” drive cages that don’t require screws? Are they removable to make room for a longer GPU?
Are there dedicated holes for cable management, with a space in the back you can use for that purpose? Where are the cables for the fans included in the case, as well as the front panel controls?
Make sure you’ve answered all of those questions before you continue. Once you have, move all case panel/case fan cables somewhere they won’t get in the way until you need them, and make sure you’re familiarized with the size and dimensions of your case before you continue.
Ensuring A Static-Free Workspace
This is the point in the process where you set up your anti-static wristband and lay your anti-static mat down. Use the anti-static wristband to ground your dominant hand- the one you’ll be using the most during the build process.
Use the anti-static mat as a safe place for your components before installing them into the case or motherboard. Many components will come shipped in an anti-static bag, which you can also use for this purpose.
But, ensuring that you have more static-free space is always a good thing.
Standoff Screws and Your Motherboard
Now, it’s time for everyone’s least favorite part of the build process: installing standoff screws.
Standoff screws correspond to the holes in your motherboard made for them. To map these out easily, set a large sheet of paper inside your case where you’ll put your motherboard.
After that, lay your motherboard on the sheet of paper and carefully use a pen to make marks through the standoff screw holes. This will make it easier for you to know where to place your screws and will also serve as a reference once you need to put your motherboard back in.
Once you’ve placed your standoff screws appropriately, it’s time to mount your motherboard. Pop out the back plate protector on your case (if there is one), and mount the backplate that comes with your motherboard into your case.
Now, place your motherboard inside the case, ensuring that it’s aligned with both the standoff screws and the backplate. Once your motherboard is seated properly, screw down your motherboard through the screw holes that the standoffs create.
We recommend operating from opposite diagonal ends to ensure the tightest fit. Your motherboard may move slightly during this process so ensure that it doesn’t force any standoffs out of position.
Once your motherboard is screwed into position, double-check to make sure everything is still in the right place. If it is, congratulations: you’ve overcome the most non-intuitive part of the build process and now you can continue!
We’re going to save all cable connecting for later in the build to make cable management easier. For now, you’ll just be mounting your drives in your case.
If you purchased, say, a card reader or DVD drive, you’ll want to install that at the top, in one of the normal-sized large drive bays. Look at your case manual if you aren’t sure where that goes exactly.
SSDs and hard drives can go into either the large drive bays or the smaller “easy” drive bays that come with many cases. We recommend using the larger ones first if you want to have the most room in your case for long graphics cards.
For large drive bays, all you need to do is slide the relevant drive inside and twist in a few screws to secure it. Smaller, “easy” drive bays will typically allow you to secure a drive with just your hands and a locking mechanism, saving you a little bit of trouble.
For those on the fence between what drive bays to use, you probably shouldn’t worry. In theory, large drive bays will be sturdier since you’re screwing the drives in.
But, any well-made case will hold your drives just fine, no matter what bay you install them in.
Install Intel CPU
If you have an Intel CPU, this part is going to be a little scary.
First, pull up the relevant levers on your CPU socket. This should pop out a black, plastic socket protector, revealing your bare CPU pins to the world.
Note the corner of the socket with a small triangle.
Observe your CPU- while being careful not to touch the bottom- and find the matching triangle. Align the two triangles together and, while making sure that nothing is in the way, place your CPU into the socket.
If the two triangles are aligned and the CPU is snugly fit inside, you’re welcome to continue.
This is the part that will scare any first-time builder. Remember the lever you pulled earlier to remove the socket protector?
You’re going to have to push that lever down to mount your CPU now. You will notice a crunching noise while you do this, but if you’ve aligned your CPU properly you have nothing to worry about.
Install AMD CPU
Versus an Intel CPU, AMD CPUs are much less stressful to mount. The field of pins is on the CPU itself, with the socket on the motherboard completely empty.
All you need to do is pull up the lever and pop in the CPU, which should go in gently and without any trouble. After that, just push down the lever to lock the CPU into place and you can continue with your next step.
Mounting CPU Cooler
Installing CPU coolers is a little stressful, but shouldn’t be too tough.
Your first concern here should be the thermal paste. Most coolers, stock coolers included, will come with thermal paste pre-installed on the bottom.
If yours doesn’t have pre-installed thermal paste or come with a tube you can use, you’ll need to buy some thermal paste before you can continue with the build.
If you have to manually install the thermal paste, a tiny blob (about the size of two grains of rice side-by-side) on the center of your CPU should do it. If it’s already on your cooler, don’t worry: it’ll handle the rest for you.
Intel Stock Coolers/Intel Design
Intel’s stock cooler features push pin solutions. To install those, start by pushing the pin down, twisting it counterclockwise, and pulling it back up.
This will separate the two white clips on the bottom, allowing proper installation.
Repeat this process on all four pins, then align them with the corresponding holes around your CPU socket. Push down gently until all of the white clips are lodged into the holes.
Now push down the black pins, two at a time from opposite corners. Don’t re-twist the pins: let that wait for whenever you need to remove your cooler next time.
Once you’ve done this, plug your CPU fan into the CPU fan power connector on your motherboard.
AMD Stock Coolers/AMD Design
AMD stock coolers function slightly differently, with two clamps that need to be aligned with protrusions around the CPU socket. Once you’ve placed both clamps onto their corresponding protrusions, twist the lever clockwise once to push the cooler into place, firmly against the CPU.
Once you’ve done this, plug your CPU fan into the CPU fan power connector on your motherboard.
Third-party coolers will typically add a backplate and/or a fan to the mix, alongside add-ons for your CPU socket. Instructions on third-party coolers greatly vary, so you’re going to want to look at the included manual for these.
Fortunately for you, installing RAM is pretty easy!
Push apart the white tabs on the appropriate RAM slot to make room for the RAM module to be inserted. Then push it in- with some force- and they’ll snap back into place.
If you’re installing just 1 RAM stick, you can usually get away with putting it in any of the available RAM slots. If you’re installing 2, though, you’ll want to space them apart by one slot: this is called Dual-Channel RAM.
If you’re installing 4, there will be a series of RAM slots on either side of the CPU socket. Do 2 RAM sticks on each side, still spaced apart by one.
If you aren’t totally sure about RAM placement in accordance with the amount of RAM you have, consult your motherboard’s manual. It’ll tell you exactly which slots to mount your RAM in.
To install extra fans in your case, you first need to find the appropriate places to mount them. These should be clearly labeled in your case manual, or obvious by the shape/holes in various parts of your case.
The first part is mounting the fans by aligning them properly with the compatible screw holes, then screwing them in. Be sure your fan is facing the direction you want it to push air, though!
Now that you’ve mounted your fan, you’ll have a fan power connector to deal with. You should already have at least a few of these from your case fans.
Note: We recommend finishing installing the rest of your components before you start cable management, though.
Now, it’s time to mount your GPU!
Start by unscrewing the PCI backplates of your case that are aligned with your PCIe ports, then removing them. For a single GPU, you should only have to remove two or three of these at most, but be sure to keep a hold of them in case you need them later.
Once you’ve done that, mount your GPU into the first PCIe x16 slot that’s available. Start by pushing back the tab in the PCIe slot (similar to the ones in the RAM slots) and push it in, steadily but firmly, to mount it properly.
Once it’s in there and aligned properly with your PCI backplates, you should notice a few holes through which you can screw the GPU into place with the same screws you used then.
Installing Case Panel Controls (Power Button, LEDs, etc) and USB/Audio Ports
Your case panel will typically have cables for its controls and I/O ports. The controls are the hard part and will vary depending on your motherboard and your case.
Consult both manuals to figure out how to mount these.
Your case USB/Audio ports will be much simpler. Modern motherboards will have a dedicated slot for them, typically labelled something like “EXT. USB” that you can easily plug into.
This part is pretty easy: face your PSU fan downward, so that it exhausts air from your case, and align the holes in the back with the holes in your case. Then, use the appropriate screws to secure it.
Your PSU will come with a variety of power cables that you can use to connect your motherboard and all your components. We’ll cover that below.
Plug It All In/Cable Management
Now, it’s time to get everything powered and connected.
- Make sure that your CPU fan (cooler) is plugged into the motherboard.
- Check if your case fans are plugged into the motherboard.
- Make sure that your RAM is properly mounted.
- Assess if your GPU is properly mounted.
- Make sure that your drives are properly mounted.
- Connect SATA cables to your drives and your motherboard.
- Run the 8-pin CPU power and 16-pin motherboard PSU cables through your cable management holes and to their appropriate ports. Ensure they are securely mounted and will not slip.
- Run your drive PSU cables through your cable management holes and into the appropriate drives to ensure they have power. Make sure these are also tightly secured.
- Run your PCIe PSU cable to your GPU.
- Ensure all cables are connected properly and that all your components have power.
Is It Working?
If you’ve done everything properly up to here, your PC should be ready to boot and get to the good stuff. Plug your PSU into the wall, flip its switch on and hit your power button.
If you followed this guide properly, your PC should power on. If you didn’t, you’ll have to find where you messed up.
Step 6 - Installing Windows
Now, we’re going to talk about installing Windows, the most-used desktop operating system. You’ve already assembled your PC and powering it on at this point should have brought you straight to your UEFI/BIOs.
Now that you’re in your BIOS, insert your installation media. This should either be a Windows DVD that can be placed inside your disk drive, or a Windows USB Stick created with the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool.
Now, restart your PC.
Your PC should boot right into the Windows installation process. If it doesn’t, head back to the BIOS and change your boot order so that it boots from DVD or USB before your SSD/HDD.
Basic Installation Process
Fortunately, the basic Windows installation process is a pretty easy one to follow. By simply following the on-screen instructions, most of the work is done for you.
Just make sure you have your license key with you if you're installing from DVD. If you don't have a key yet, you can buy and activate one from within Windows at a later date.
Step 7 - Installing Drivers
Now that you've completed your basic Windows installation, let's make sure everything's working properly.
Getting Basic Drivers
Many of your basic drivers should work out of the box. The ones that don't can easily be fixed by establishing an internet connection, which you should be able to do with an Ethernet connection.
If your LAN ports don't work yet, they may require their own specialized drivers. In this case, use your motherboard’s included driver CD to install them or a WiFi adapter to connect to the internet and get them installed.
Once you're connected to the Internet, getting all your drivers up to date should be a breeze.
Getting GPU Drivers
First, go ahead and install your GPU drivers by heading to either Nvidia or AMD's site to download the corresponding software suites. Which one you go to depends on your GPU.
After a quick download and install of these suites- including maybe a system restart- your system should be ready for gaming.
Installing Manufacturer-Specific Software
Before that, though, be sure to install manufacturer software. Downloading and installing your motherboard's driver pack and software suite can unlock new features on the motherboard and ensure proper functionality.
Additionally, installing manufacturer software for your gaming mice and keyboard can also enhance your user experience and allow you to make the most of your hardware.
Step 8 - First-Time Setup
Now that you’ve installed all your drivers, let’s get your new PC back into a more comfortable state.
Use Ninite To Install All Your Favorite Programs
A great place to start is with Ninite, which you can use to quickly and easily install all your favorite programs. For instance, I would use Ninite on a fresh computer to quickly install Chrome, Steam, VLC and Malwarebytes, as these are my most basic applications.
Select all the downloads you want and run Ninite. Download and install any of your other favorite programs at this stage as well, such as Discord or Puush.
Sign Into Your Accounts
Now that everything’s installed, it’s time to start signing in.
Get signed into all of your accounts on all applicable applications. For instance, if you’re a Chrome user, this will allow you to quickly and easily sync your bookmarks and web history from your Google account to your new PC, making for a seamless transition from one machine to another.
Once you’ve signed into your accounts, it’s time for one last step in the setup process: configuring it all to your liking.
Configure Your Applications
Go ahead and get done with any configuration/customization of your choice. The sooner you put in the work, the sooner you can completely forget about it and start enjoying your hot, new gaming PC.
Open your favorite applications and change any necessary settings now.
For instance, I disable audio/popup notifications in just about everything, preferring instead to respond to notifications based on taskbar icon flashes. Adjust your notification and display settings in all your favorite applications and configure your desktop background- just start making your PC yours, in other words.
Now that you’ve done that, you can go ahead and start using your new PC. Don’t leave without a few of our maintenance tips, though!
Step 9 - Long-Term Maintenance
Using an Antivirus and Malwarebytes
For most users, Windows’ built-in antivirus solution should suffice, especially if you practice safe browsing. If you don’t, you’re welcome to install a suite like AVG or Avast.
Regardless of whether or not you install an antivirus, though, Malwarebytes is pretty much a necessity. It’s a free utility, but it’s absolutely indispensable for keeping your PC safe and secure.
By running a weekly Malwarebytes scan, anything that gets past your antivirus could be dealt with before it has any chance to damage your PC. You’re also welcome to run it after installing new programs, just to be safe.
Keeping your data safe isn’t all you want to do, though...
Keeping Your Case Dust-Free
Your actual hardware is just as important! Be sure to set aside time once a month to dust out the inside of your PC.
To do this, you’ll want to buy a can of compressed air and use a helpful tutorial like the following:
By keeping your components as dust-free as possible, you’ll effectively extend the lifespan of your PC. Dust pileup can cause overheating and damage to your hardware in the long run, which is terrible for a gaming setup that you spent hundreds of dollars on.
Monitoring Your Temps
Even if the inside of your PC isn’t a dust haven, though, installing something like SpeedFan can help make sure that no hardware issues pass by undetected. Lightweight hardware monitors can give you a lot of insight as to how your PC is performing and where it may be suffering.
We highly recommend running SpeedFan, or something like it, full-time in the background. It will have a little-to-no performance impact on your usage and allow you to check your PC’s health at any time.
Now that you’re past all the building, setup and maintenance, what are you waiting for? Get out of here and start playing your games!