Ready to Build Your Own PC?

Category: Hardware

To many, personal computers seem like complex machines. But under the hood, they basically consist of modules that plug together. You CAN build your own computer without a soldering iron or a degree in electrical engineering. But should you build your own PC? Read on for my advice...

Just Bring Your Screwdriver!

Computer enthusiasts cite several reasons to build your own PC. In doing so, you will learn a lot about the inner workings of a PC; what the components are, what they do, how they work together, their nitty-gritty performance specs, etc. You will end up with exactly the system that you want, not some vendor's idea of what you should buy.

One thing is guaranteed -- you will feel a great sense of accomplishment when you flip that power switch, watch it boot up, and the operating system comes to life on your screen. An added bonus -- warranties on separately purchased components can run up to three years, versus a one-year warranty on many factory-built systems.

Will you save a significant amount of money by building your own PC? That depends on what kind of system you have in mind. Computer vendors have an advantage when it comes to making cheap, general purpose desktop computers. They buy components in large volumes and pay lower unit prices than an individual will ever see. But for high-performance gaming and specialty systems, building your own PC can cost a lot less than ordering a custom-built system through a system integrator such as Digital Storm or Dell's Alienware line.

Barebones Kit - Build Your Own PC

It can take a lot of time to build your own PC. Most of that time is spent learning what components are available and compatible with each other. There are numerous books on the subject of building your own PC, and many websites devoted to step-by-step build your own PC guides. Youtube is another source of help for PC builders.

If your teenager is interested in building a computer, encourage them to do so as a learning experience. The article So Your Kid Wants to Build a Computer is a guide for parents to help get their son or daughter started on that journey.

Mix and Match or Barebones Kit?

After compiling your parts list, you will need to research and source each component that will go into your computer: the case, motherboard, power supply, CPU, hard drive and other storage devices, memory, video card, monitor, network adapter, even the keyboard and mouse.

When selecting components, keep in mind that they must all be compatible. The motherboard must fit in the case. The CPU and RAM must be compatible with the motherboard. The power supply must be the right form factor, and provide adequate power for all the components. That can be a lot of work. On the other hand, you will be able to pick the best of everything that you can afford. One website where you can buy parts and find advice for building is Newegg.

An alternative that makes the job somewhat easier is a barebones kit. These usually include the system unit case, motherboard, power supply, CPU, heatsink & fan, RAM memory, hard drive, and a CD/DVD drive. The big advantage here is that you know all the components are compatible. If your motherboard has the video and network adapters built-in, all you'll need is a monitor, keyboard and mouse to complete the package. NewEgg sells a wide variety of barebones kits. If you're building your own system for the first time, I would definitely recommend using a barebones kit.

Oh, and don't forget the operating system and application software that will not be bundled with your homemade PC. Most users will need Windows, an office suite, and some other essential software. Check out my related articles Still Using Microsoft Office… Why? and Seven Free Software Downloads and you'll learn how to save a bundle on your software.

Another option for do-it-yourself PC builders is the Raspberry Pi -- a low cost, miniature computer that can be as small as a credit card. Just add a keyboard and mouse, then plug it into a computer monitor or TV, and you have a working desktop PC that's capable of word processing, games, and web browsing. It's a great option for kids to see how computers work, and learn to create software in popular coding languages like Scratch and Python.

Also keep in mind that assembling your own computer could be your chance to try Linux and open source software, freeing yourself from the expensive Windows habit! Check out Peppermint Linux, which has an interface similar to Windows, and comes with an office suite, games, media player, calculator, and web browser. If you install it as a second operating system on a Windows computer, the file manager will allow you to easily access all the documents and photos on your Windows partition, making the transition easier.

Building your own PC is a point of pride among hard-core geeks. But for anyone who is willing to invest the time and effort necessary, but it can be fun and rewarding. Have you built your own PC, or are you thinking about it? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Ready to Build Your Own PC?"

Posted by:

04 Aug 2023

Glad to see Bob provide a little endorsement for Linux. I moved to Ubuntu after XP expired. Never looked back. Yes, I tried to make it look like Windows at first. But Linux is so configurable, you can make it look any way you want. The only software I still use which is not Linux compatible is Turbo Tax. So every spring I download the latest Windows Evaluation from Microsoft and install it inside VirtialBox. And I still follow Bob's newsletter after all those years.

Posted by:

04 Aug 2023

I have been interested in building my own PC in the past,but I am satisfied with buying used machines and modifying them to my specifications.

I seen guys who are gamers build their own machines,so I am happy for them.If you want the latest and fastest,it would be best to build your own.

Posted by:

John T
04 Aug 2023

I built my own desktop tower back in July of 2011 and it is still goin strong even on Win 10. I am hoping it will last until Win 10 is no longer supported, then either I update it or scrap it.

Posted by:

Ernest N. Wilcox Jr. (Oldster)
04 Aug 2023

My first, and only, 'store-bought' desktop PC was a Gateway 'IBM-compatible' PC powered by an 8088 CPU, 64KB RAM, a 100MB MFM hard drive, a 14-inch color EGA monitor, and MS-DOS 3.3. My wife and I got it so she could do her homework for a business machines course she was taking. After several years of use, the hard drive suffered a head crash. At that time, MFM technology had become obsolete and I was unable to find a replacement drive. A local used parts seller offered to sell me a motherboard with an i386 CPU and some RAM soldered to it, a used server tower case and a 250MB hard drive for a price I could afford. I accepted his offer and got a book titled "Upgrading and Repairing PCs" from a local book store. I then spent some time learning how to build my own PC. I used the video adapter and keyboard from the Gateway machine and ended up with a working system. From that time to present, I have never purchased a 'store-bought' system again. Along the way I got another book about assembly language from which I learned a lot about how my computer works 'under the hood'.

I have come to describe myself as a computer assembler rather than as a builder, although I suppose both terms have some merit, because the process of 'building' a computer is mostly selecting components, and assembling them together to comprise a computer. Earlier this year, I put my current desktop PC together. I started by doing the research to determine which motherboard, CPU, RAM, video adapter, etc. I wanted to use. I started the research phase in 2022. After I developed my list of components, I began purchasing them, one by one until I had everything I wanted in the box. With everything in hand, I spent the better part of a day assembling my new desktop PC.

Building (assembling) a desktop PC is not rocket science. The process in and of itself is really very simple. Essentially, you mount the motherboard in a case, plug in the peripheral components (video adapter, RAM, network/Wi-Fi adapter, SSD/hard drive(s), power supply unit (PSU), etc.), connect the motherboard and hard drive(s), etc. to the PSU (using the PSU provided cables), connect a keyboard, mouse, and display to the system, plug the machine into an outlet, and power it up (I may have skipped a few steps/components here, so don't use this as a guide).

If you decide to build/assemble your own desktop computer, I suggest you start by deciding what you want to end up with. If all you want is a basic computer to surf the web, watch streaming video, read email, etc., start with a White-box/bare-bones kit. Then, if you want, you can add more RAM, a better video adapter, a larger SSD/hard drive, a Wi-Fi adapter, etc. as you go. On the other hand if what you want is a big, powerful gaming machine, you'll spend a lot of time and money researching, selecting, and purchasing the components you'll use, then assembling them to make a working computer. Either way, choose the best hardware you can afford overall. If you'll be using any version of Windows make sure your new computer has 16GB RAM (8GB is simply not enough anymore). Above all, take your time, do the research to learn what's available (keeping your end objective in mind), and take care to keep your fingers off the circuit boards, connector pins, etc. (handle any adapter 'cards' by their edges) when assembling your new computer.

I hope this helps someone,

Ernie (Oldster)

Posted by:

04 Aug 2023

Back in the mid 1980's, I built two Heathkit computers for two friends. And they worked! I think they were still two layer motherboards then. And I worked at a place where I learned how to troubleshoot motherboards right down to an open trace! We built custom video display terminals based on the 6502 processor. In my retirement now, a few years back, my oldest grandson bought the parts to put together a PC and I helped him do all the assembly (making sure he was grounded before handling anything!), and his worked, too! Since then, he's gone way beyond my pocket book! LOL! I think he's got 4 monitors on his gaming computer! Oh, these kids! LOL! Oh, and he and his brother have passed on components to another of my grandsons, to keep the learning & gaming going!

Posted by:

05 Aug 2023

Bob, "has been retired," according to their website.

Posted by:

05 Aug 2023

There is another route for affordable computers. I have found two-year-old computers (mainly laptops) for sale locally that were being phased out because they were "too slow." Upon investigation, I usually discover that they were purchased at box stores or mail-ordered as a "bargain" but have only the bare minimum equipment.

Example: I have a used Dell on the bench I just bought for $30. It had 4 GB of RAM and the world's slowest mechanical 5400 rpm hard drive (which was also cluttered mightily with bloatware). I increased the RAM to the max 16 GB, reset the machine to factory condition, and then cloned the drive to a sharp new SSD and applied upgrades. That machine now FLIES - and the total investment is less than buying a new bargain laptop. RAM and SSDs are generally inexpensive and easy to replace.

Do watch out for the CPUs, though. I won't touch a Celeron unless I can research and find a true socket-compatible upgrade. And some later laptops (looking at you, Apple) are basically sealed and soldered units that can't be upgraded. I usually tell those would-be sellers that they bought a pig-in-poke that they can't even use for bacon.

Posted by:

Mike Swenson
06 Aug 2023

I have been a loyal subscriber ever since Fred Langa retired and recommended you. I built my gaming computer in 2013. My second for my wife in 2014.
Friends and Family depend on me for upgrades, repairs, and I depend on you Bob. Through the years you have always come through. Thank you!

Posted by:

07 Aug 2023

I've always built my own and everyone else's SOTA PCs since their invention. I've also used HTPC-type rigs for entertainment/video. Currently, we have a NUC8 for the missus and a NUC10 as HTPC, etc. My 6 year old IntelZ170 'gamer' PC just wouldn't die. Regardless, I just built an IntelZ790-i7 system based around the Asus ProArtZ790Creator motherboard.
It was a fun learning curve as things really have changed in the last 6 years. Upgrading from the old Win10Pro to Win11Pro and resurrecting all of the software - I needed - was the least fun part. :(

Posted by:

Ernest N. Wilcox Jr. (Oldster)
07 Aug 2023

I just fount this item. It may be helpful in choosing components:

Ernie (Oldster)

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