How to build a computer: A beginners guide to a new PC
Building your own PC may seem like a daunting task, especially if it’s your first time. But learning how to build a computer is a satisfying experience, and building over buying can help you save money, too. The process is actually simpler and more enjoyable than you might think!
In addition to providing some beginner tips, we’ve also recommended some parts in each section if you’re looking for inspiration. No two builds are the same and what works for one person may be completely wide of the mark for you. But once you’ve chosen your case and the bits to go inside it, the rest is simpler than you think.
How to build a computer: Pre-requisite
It’s always best to prepare yourselves and have all the necessary tools at your disposal to avoid getting distracted while building a computer. Here are a few things you may want to grab before putting everything together:
- All the PC components: Keep all the components around you so it’s easy to reach out for something.
- Precision screwdriver kit: PC building involves dealing with a lot of screws and standoffs, which is why a good precision screwdriver is a must.
- Thermal paste: A lot of CPU coolers have this pre-installed but you might need one if it doesn’t.
- Flashlight: It can get dark in the corners of a PC case, so you definitely need a flashlight.
- Zip ties: You may not need this early on in the build since cable management can be dealt with towards the end, but it’s probably not a bad call to grab it early on.
- Anti-static equipment: You’re probably not going to short anything as long as you’re building the PC on a wooden or a plastic desk (avoid metal ones), but there’s nothing wrong with playing safe.
- Magnetic parts tray: You don’t want all those tiny screws and standoffs rolling around all over the place. Whenever you’re working on a PC it’s a good idea to have a magnetic parts tray handy to keep them all in one place.
Add components to the Motherboard
It’s recommended you connect some of the core components like the CPU, RAM, SSD, etc. before mounting the motherboard inside the case. PC cases tend to have limited space, so it’s easier to do this before mounting the motherboard. You also have the opportunity to check the system powers up and posts before going to the trouble of installing everything in your case and managing cables. And you should always check your system powers up before you put it in the case. Pro tip: The motherboard box makes a great workbench.
Essentially, you want to have a working system before you commit to putting anything inside the case. So once your CPU, RAM, boot SSD, and the graphics card if you have one, are in place, attach your power supply and a display and fire it up. Exactly how you turn it on without the power button on your case will vary, so consult your manual. It may involve creating a connection between two pins on the board. But this is the crucial part of the build because if there are issues to troubleshoot, it’s much easier to do outside of the case.
As for choosing a motherboard, we recommend buying something that offers potential room for future upgrades too. You will always be limited by what sockets and chipsets the CPU makers support. But if you might want to add additional PCIe cards such as capture or sound cards, or additional storage, you’ll want to leave yourself some room to add more.
The ASUS ROG Strix X570-E Gaming is a solid option for an AMD-based build whereas the ASUS TUF Gaming Z690-Plus WiFi D4 is a great alternative pick for Intel-based builds. It’s worth remembering the Z690 motherboards can only be used with Intel’s new 12th Gen processors, and as AMD moves to Ryzen 7000 the socket there will also be changing. Also, you need different motherboards for Intel and AMD CPUs, so pick your poison. Both of these motherboards are ATX units with a ton of expansion slots and ports for your build.
We’ve rounded up the best motherboards if you’re looking what to buy.
The CPU is the first thing you’ll connect to your motherboard. The first step is to release the tension lever on the CPU socket so you can drop the processor into it. You need to line up the arrow/triangle on the top of the CPU with the one on the socket or its cover. This is a crucial step and you may end up damaging either your chip, the board, or both if you don’t pay attention to the direction you orient it.
The CPU will ideally settle into the socket due to its own weight. If it doesn’t, pick it back up and re-seat it. Don’t force the processor into the socket. Once it’s in place, press the tension lever back down and lock it into position.
The above instructions remain the same for both Intel and AMD mainstream CPUs on the market. The big difference is where the connecting pins are — On Intel builds, the pins are on the socket while in AMD’s case, the pins are on the CPU. Also, enthusiast platforms such as AMD’s Threadripper and Intel Core X have slightly different steps involving multiple levers or even Torx screws. If in doubt, consult your motherboard’s manual.
Until Ryzen 7000 arrives, the Ryzen 5 5600X is a good choice for an all-around build on AMD. The Intel Core i5-12600K is a good alternative for those leaning towards the blue team right now.
You’ll also have to install a CPU cooler for controlling the thermal output of the CPU. And your PC won’t boot without a CPU cooler connected to the motherboard. Many CPUs come with coolers in the box and they should be enough to get you going, but aftermarket coolers will always unlock the best performance from your CPU. Exactly how the cooler mounts to the motherboard will vary depending on its design.
On some AMD sockets your cooler may simply clip over the pre-installed brackets around the CPU. Some coolers will require you to remove these brackets and use the holes on the motherboard instead. Again, consult the manual for your cooler for specific installation instructions. Any additional hardware you require to mount a cooler to the motherboard will be included. The same applies to Intel sockets, though without the pre-installed brackets. You’ll almost always be using the holes on the motherboard to attach the cooler either directly, or to a custom fixing bracket. This applies to both air and AIO liquid coolers.
But you also need to consider the thermal paste. You need a thermal paste solution to fill the gap between the CPU heat spreader and the base plate of your cooler. A lot of CPU coolers come with pre-installed thermal paste, so you should be fine. If not, then you can check out our guide on how to apply thermal paste to a CPU to learn more about it. The short version is not to use too much, apply a small dab to the center of the CPU and then fix down the cooler.
Installing memory modules is probably the easiest job of all. All you need to do is make sure the latches for each memory slot are open before snapping the modules in. Some boards have these latches on both sides of a RAM slot while others have them on one side. Pushing down the DIMM on each slot will allow the latches to close on their own. It requires a little bit of force, but make sure you’re not installing the RAM backward. There’s a notch on each RAM stick that will correspond to a break in the memory channel, all you need to do is line them up.
If you’re installing two RAM sticks on a board that has four slots, you should install the first module on the far end of the CPU socket (not the one close to the socket). The second module goes into the third slot, which means you’ll have an empty slot next to the first module. They’ll still work if you put them in the wrong slots, but you may not get the best performance. Again, confirm the proper procedure in your motherboard’s manual.
When choosing RAM you’ll have to decide between DDR4 and DDR5. The latter is supported on Intel 12th Gen and the forthcoming Ryzen 7000. But it might not be necessary in your build, so check out our guides to both the best DDR4 memory and the best DDR5 memory.
We also recommend installing your boot drive before mounting the motherboard inside the case. You can do it later too, but other parts may get in the way. Unlike RAM modules, installing an M.2 SSD requires a little bit of effort. You’ll have to remove the screw located across from the M.2 slot and slide the SSD in at an angle. Now, slowly lay the SSD flat and secure the mounting screw. And that’s it! Some motherboards may have a heatsink/shroud covering these M.2 slots, so you’ll have to open this first to reveal the M.2 slot.
One important thing to consider is which slot you’re using. On your motherboard, you may have multiple M.2 slots, but not all of them may be full speed. For example, you could have one that is PCIe 4.0 but another that is limited to SATA. While faster drives may work in slower slots, you need to match up in order to make sure you get the best performance.
If you need some inspiration, the WD SN850 Black is the best M.2 SSD on the market right now. You can check our collection of the best M.2 SSDs to see which ones are best for you.
Now that you’ve installed some of the core components to your motherboard and you’ve tested to make sure everything work, it’s time to start putting everything inside the PC case. There are a ton of cabinets on the market and the choice of a PC case comes down to personal preference. From full tower PC cases to compact mini-ITX cases, we’ve got plenty of options in our collection of the best PC cases.
Installing a motherboard inside the PC case involves careful maneuvering. You’ll have to gather all the standoffs that came with your case and find the proper place to install them. Almost all the PC cases on the market right now have markings based on the size of the motherboard you chose. In fact, many cases even have the standoffs pre-installed, so you may be able to skip this step entirely. How many and where to fix them will depend on which size motherboard you went for. The standoffs keep the motherboard sitting above the case, but also act as the anchor points for the screws.
Before putting the motherboard in place, you’ll have to install the I/O shield which covers the area around your rear ports. I/O shield comes with your motherboard and you’ll have to fit the shield into the chassis before setting up the motherboard. The ports on the board will fit through the holes once both are installed. You’ll have to use some force to snap all four corners of the shield into the chassis, just like you did while installing the RAM modules. Some premium motherboards have a pre-installed I/O shield, in which case, you can skip this step too.
The power supply unit is usually mounted at the back of the PC case towards the bottom. This has been the designated spot for the PSUs for a long time now, and it’s a safe space for the unit to work properly by pulling in cool air from under the chassis. Installing the power supply unit is as simple as screwing it into place with four screws at the back of the PC case. We recommend buying a modular PSU so you can avoid creating a cable mess inside your case. When installing the PSU you should mount it so the fan is facing down, over the ventilation in the base of the case. Then you just need to screw it to the back of the case using the included screws.
Once the PSU is in place, you can connect the 24-pin power connector and supplemental/CPU power connector to the motherboard. The power supply unit, as the name suggests, supplies power to the entire PC, so you’ll essentially be connecting a lot of components to the PSU via cables. If you have a modular PSU this part will be a little easier as you will only need to use the cables you actually require. At the bare minimum, you’ll use the 24-pin connector, the CPU power connector, a GPU power connector (if you have a graphics card), and enough SATA power connectors to supply any SSDs or optical drives.
We think either 750W or an 800W power supply is plenty for most users, but it will depend on what hardware you’re using. You can also check our collection of the best power supply units to see all the available options on the market across different power output ranges.
The boot drive for your PC wants to be your fastest available storage, usually the M.2/NVMe drive installed to the motherboard. But for mass storage, you might want to add SATA SSDs or hard drives, or a traditional 3.5-inch hard drive.
In each case, you’ll be connecting the SATA data cable from the drive to the motherboard, then connect the SATA power connector from the PSU to your drive. You’ll then have to find a spot to mount the SSD or the HDD since you can’t leave them lying inside the case. All PC cases have dedicated mounting brackets for the drives, so they should be fairly easy to find.
Most cases will still provide caddies for 3.5-inch drives, while 2.5-inch versions are usually attached to the back of the motherboard tray. Aside from a little cable management, there’s not much else involved.
Installing the graphics card is an optional step if you’re using an Intel or AMD CPU with integrated graphics. However, you’ll need a discrete GPU if your CPU doesn’t have onboard graphics in order to connect your monitor. And if you’re building a gaming PC. The first thing to do is remove some slot covers on the back of the case. This is for the HDMI, DVI, and DisplayPort to show through, letting you connect your monitor of choice.
Once done, you’ll have to connect the GPU to the PCIe X16 slot on the motherboard. It’s the long one, usually found the closest CPU socket. It’s recommended that you use the topmost slot if there’s more than one on your motherboard. High-end GPUs demand more power, so you’ll have to plug the PCIe power connectors from the power supply into the card to your GPU. You can tell if the GPU will work just by drawing power from the PCIe slot because it won’t have any power connectors at the end.
The PCIe slot will have a latch that automatically grabs onto the base of the card, but you’ll also need to screw it to the case. There will be two screw mounting points on the I/O plate that will correspond to holes on the case by the PCIe slots. These should be enough to secure the card, but larger ones may need additional support from a GPU bracket. Your case may
If you’re looking for a graphics we recommend you check out our collection of the best graphics cards. We think an RTX 3080 GPU is one of the best GPUs you can grab right now, but there are some other options in there that will suit different needs and budgets.
Now that you’ve installed most of the main components, your PC is ready to go. But there are a few things left to do before we try turning the PC on. You need to make sure the connectors for any fans/AIO pumps are plugged into the motherboard fan headers, especially from the CPU cooler. You’ll also need to attach the front-panel audio cable, and USB case connectors to the motherboard headers.
The location of these headers varies by motherboard model, so we recommend consulting the manual to locate them. But in most cases, you’ll probably find them along the very bottom of the motherboard. Don’t forget to connect the front-panel connectors, including power, reset, LED indicator, etc. because they’re crucial to the build as well. Installing these tiny headers can be very annoying and you’ll often find yourself reaching out to the darkest corners of the case to locate them. But go slowly, have patience, and eventually you’ll get there.
Time to POST
If you’ve made it this far, then, congratulations, you’ve finished building your PC. Now all that’s left is to make sure there are no extra fan headers or power cables still waiting to be connected. If not, then plug the PC in, connect your monitor, and other peripherals like keyboard, and mouse. Now, turn on the power supply switch, hit the power button on the monitor, and lastly, press your PC’s power button. If everything’s fine, the PC should turn on and run a power-on self-test a.k.a POST. You’ll be sent directly to the BIOS if you’re using a new storage drive and there’s no OS installed yet. However, that’s fine, because we’ll be doing that towards the end.
We now recommend you turn everything off and get started with cable management. We’re doing this after the POST because you now know everything’s working fine, and you no longer have to re-seat or rewire any component. You can choose to avoid cable management if your case doesn’t have a window, but it’s still a good practice to organize everything inside the case. Where possible, use cable ties to bunch them together, and make use of the cable management points on the rear of the case. Besides being better organized and good practice, it’ll also make cleaning your PC much easier than if you leave a spaghetti mess in your case.
Operating system and drivers
This is the part in which you’ll have to install the operating system of your choice. You can check out our how to install Windows on a new PC guide that covers everything from creating a bootable Windows USB to successfully activating the OS. If you’re going to use Linux instead of Windows, you’ll still need a bootable USB created on a different PC to get started.
You may also need to boot into your PCs BIOS or UEFI first and manually tell it to boot from USB. Ordinarily, you will want the first boot device to be your SSD, and you can set this now. But set the second boot priority to USB. Because you have a blank SSD installed, the PC won’t boot and it will then go to the next in the priority list. In this case, your OS installation flash drive.
Once you have a working OS then begins the process of installing any important updates, drivers, and of course, your apps. On Windows 10 and 11, Windows Update will take care of a lot of this. Nevertheless, it’s worth checking your motherboard makers’ support pages, AMD/Intel’s for your CPU, and AMD/NVIDIA’s driver pages for your graphics card. You will want to make sure you’ve got the latest drivers for all of your hardware before you get comfy.
How to build a computer: Final Thoughts
Well, congratulations are in order because you just built yourself a new computer! Pat yourself on the back and start using your new PC now. We recommend you install some benchmarking and hardware monitoring software such as the 3DMark suite to run some stress tests. Benchmarking will allow you to push your PC to its limits to see if it’s over-heating, throttling, etc.
This will help you understand your PC better and know it’s ready to tackle whatever it is that you’re trying to do on a day-to-day basis. Good luck with your build and don’t forget to enjoy the process. You can also join our XDA Computing forums to discuss your new build and suggestions/recommendations from other users.