At first glance, building your own PC might look really intimidating, with all the parts and pricing and slots and options. But I promise you, if you can handle a screwdriver, you can build a blazing fast modern PC that will cost less than you expect, take less time than you think, and be much easier than it seems. And at the end of this rewarding process, you'll have a killer PC on which to play all the games on our best PC games list.
With the resources available today, the hardest parts of putting together your own machine are largely eliminated. Things like choosing parts that will fit together and are compatible with each other, picking a power supply with enough wattage to supply them all, making sure everything will fit snugly inside your case without causing major heating issues. Thanks to a proliferation of sites that either come with pre-built templates and instructive guides, or parts picker sites that will let you craft your own dream computer a la carte, it’s trivial to get what you want and quickly compare retailers for the best deal.
The upsides of doing it yourself are manifold. You save money, you get total control over the parts that go into your build, and you get to prioritize the components that you want to splurge on and those where you can save a little money. If you’re looking for a high end rendering machine or do a lot of mega tasking, you’ll need a mighty CPU, but the best CPU for PC gaming isn't necessarily the top of the range, and you can splash out on a great graphics card and save some cash on your processor. Plus, building your own machine lets you choose how much you want to future proof it for future expansions, so you can go crazy and get something that will be very capable for years to come, or leave lots of space for hardware upgrades. Maybe the best part of planning and executing your own build, though, is the satisfaction of having put it all together with your own hands, and maybe learned a little something about PC architecture along the way.
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So where to start? How do you pick parts and ensure they’re compatible?
The first step is to establish a budget for yourself, and figure out where a PC fits into your life; what you’ll use it most for, how much you afford to allocate for it, how much time and effort you want to devote to doing research and shopping around.
Of course, the last thing you want is to grab a bunch of parts and discover that none of them fit together properly, or during that first baited-breath boot sequence find yourself confronted by nothing but a black screen. Luckily, there are a huge number of sites available now aimed specifically at avoiding those problems, and several with a unique take on the parts picker formula tailored to specific needs.
The best parts picker and build assistance sites
PCPartPicker - The granddaddy of parts pickers, it will let you select each piece individually or recommend a build based on your needs/desires. Do you want a gaming rig or a versatile desktop? Any strong preferences for Intel, AMD, or Nvidia? They also feature a number of suggested builds that you can then modify to your heart’s content, and compare retailers for each part.
ChooseMyPC - ChooseMyPC presents you with some simple questions upfront (how much do you want to spend? Do you need a copy of Windows) and then recommends a build based on your specifications. It also hosts some great, in-depth guides to picking the right parts and putting everything together, with solid breakdowns of some popular models and which pieces you should prioritize in your build.
Logical Increments - As the name suggests, Logical Increments lists a huge range of different built suggestions that start at just over $200 and span all the way up to ~$5,000 monsters. If you follow a row all the way across, everything’s guaranteed to work in harmony, and there are also some handy suggestions and guides if you want to stray outside the lines.
Another option is to start with a barebones kit and build up from there. These usually include a case, motherboard, CPU, and power supply, and let you fill in the blanks with whatever hardware you like. They’re a great jumping off point and generally about as affordable as buying each piece individually and assembling them yourself. And don’t shy away from refurbished parts, as long as they’re under warranty and sold by the manufacturer or a reliable retailer. These ‘white box’ deals can often be the best way to get high end parts at the lowest possible prices.
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A sample mid-range gaming build
If you’re looking for a quick suggested build, the following is a solid mid-range PC that you can pick up for around $1,000 that prioritizes gaming performance over standard workload. This isn't the most powerful, nor the cheapest, but it should give you an idea of what you need and what the standard parts look like / cost.
CPU: Intel Core i5-6500 3.2GHz Quad-Core
For a more complete guide, check out our picks for best gaming CPUs, but this Core i5 will provide enough computing horsepower for your gaming needs, while not exploding your budget for more processor than you'll ever use. Intel's 6th generation Skylake line sits right at the crossroads of cost vs. performance, and also have plenty of overhead for those inclined to go down the overclocking route.
Motherboard: Asus H110M-A M.2
The H110M-A actually provides better performance than a number of its competitors and, unlike some of the cheaper competition, offers an M.2 (NGFF) slot for faster solid state storage. It's a great choice in this price range despite some minor issues with the 3+1 power phases, which will only manifest as potential additional heat under incredibly high multitasking loads.
RAM: G.SKILL TridentZ RGB Series 16GB (2 x 8GB) 288-Pin DDR4
If you're curious about how RAM functions and want a full guide to picking out the best fit for your machine, check out our DDR RAM guide. G.Skill's Trident Z line is a visually flashy, high performance option, and the 2400 bandwidth is capacious enough to handle most use cases. If, on the other hand, you're looking to future proof your memory or end up with a little extra room in your budget, an upgrade to the 4266Mhz offering is also an excellent option.
Solid State Drive: PNY CS1311 240GB 2.5" Solid State Drive
The CS1311 boasts an incredible price for solid state storage and 240 gigs of space should be more than enough to stash all your most frequently played games, while the standard rotational drive is your home for other applications, older games, or backup data. While not the highest performing drive available, it is one of the best values.
Hard Drive: Western Digital 1TB 7200RPM
Unless you're storing a tremendous amount of data on your PC, a 1 TB drive should be more than adequate for your storage needs, and Western Digital makes one of the most durable and reliable 1 TB drives anywhere. Opting for a slightly lower storage drive shaves meaningful cost without sacrificing much by way of performance (especially considering that the most demanding software will live on the SSD).
Graphics Card: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 TI 8GB
For some other options, take a peek at our guide to the best graphics cards, but the 1070 Ti is a powerful option and the centerpiece of this gaming build. A powerful card that packs ample performance to run games at 4K and that will serve you well for some time to come, the 1070 is also likely to slip in price as the launch of Nvidia's new chipset looms.
Case: Corsair Carbide Series 88R MicroATX Mid Tower
The 88R is a great mid tower that will show off the internal components, particularly that beautiful lit RGB RAM, to great effect, and features plenty of room for fans (upwards of 5 120mm blowers) to ensure everything's running fast and cool. It comes in a slick looking brushed gunmetal and has space to accommodate dual 240mm radiators if you decide to upgrade to a liquid cooling solution.
Power Supply: Rosewill Capstone 550W 80+ Gold Certified Semi-Modular ATX
The Capstone is a efficient, powerful PSU with plenty of wattage for expansion, and its semi-modular design means only necessary cables are attached by default, so you can save clutter and space inside your case and aren't constantly wrestling power supply cables when you're swapping components in and out or adding RAM.
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