Should You Build Your Own PC?
It's true that personal computers are 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. So, you want to build your own PC? Read on for my advice...
Just Bring Your Screwdriver!
Computer enthusiasts cite several reasons to build your own PC. 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.
You will feel a great sense of accomplishment when you flip that power switch and everything works! An added bonus -- warranties on separately purchased components 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 Dell's Alienware.
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 Web sites devoted to step-by-step guides.
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. Some websites where you can buy parts and find advice for building are TigerDirect and 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. Tiger Direct 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, 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.
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. Most regular users won't want 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...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 5 Nov 2021
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Most recent comments on "Should You Build Your Own PC?"
05 Nov 2021
YES, I have built all the computers I have used for 30 years still have win 98, XP, and all else I have the old ones as some software will not run on a new PC
05 Nov 2021
For my money, building your own is the way to go. The computers offered by any of the big guys are so crammed with bloatware, and with skimpy, minimum quality hardware they can hardly boot.
I go for motherboards that have audio and video on them. Plenty good enough for my use. I run Ubuntu, which may, or may not, be the best Linux distribution -- but it handles just about anything you might want.
Not sure how big a power supply you need these days. I have a computer here with 3 SSD drives, 32 GB of RAM, and measured power when it is up and chugging away is 51 watts! The days of heating your house with a computer are gone!
05 Nov 2021
I think it's a great idea to build your own computer. I build them professionally and have done so for over 30 years. I still help people build their own, especially gaming systems and it teaches them just how much work goes into building the right system and doing your research vs what these gaming sites tell you what you should get.
I love it when they plug it in and hit the power button and it comes alive.
05 Nov 2021
I built upon a used tower workstation, Z440 HP. Got a matched high throughput machine and upgraded the graphics, Nvme boot, all M.2 and ssd storage and cache, and 32gb of cheap ddr4 ram. I have done a few z400s before to use and give as video processing/gamer stations.
05 Nov 2021
I have built four and it was really a lot of fun and exciting to do. The shopping was the hardest part. My first used the flat ribbon cable and it was so hard to find pin one on the cable. Then they put a notch on the cable end which helped. Then along came sata and all the other goodies.
05 Nov 2021
I have built many computers for myself and others. I just can't agree about buying barebones systems. Use a website like PCPartsPicker.com to insure compatability of parts, check current prices and even tell how much power the new system will use. Building PC's is fun! (No, you can't build your own laptop)
05 Nov 2021
I haven't built a PC in eight years. I never intended to keep my present PC for that long, but prices and then a pandemic put my next PC on hold. You know your computer is old when you have to flash your BIOS after a clean install of Windows 10.
I have more urgent needs than a new PC, but I've been itching to go for some time now.
05 Nov 2021
Unless you are building a custom PC for gaming or some other specialized purpose,I don't see the need to build your own machine.
I have bought used machines and am comfortable upgrading them.I have replaced bad power supplies,installed more RAM and newer wi-fi cards and have replaced older drives with HDDs and SSDs with more capability.
To the Rhuberg commenter,I have a couple of HP Z400s and they work very well for what I am doing.
05 Nov 2021
Correction to Louie's message. That site is https://pcpartpicker.com/
05 Nov 2021
I haven't built from scratch, but about 20 years ago I bought a NZXT upper middle range gaming computer (not quite state of the art, AMD Phenom(tm) II X6 1090T Processor 3.20 GHz) from 3btech, I think it was. I loaded up the 16GB SDRAM, I added a better video card (twice), I have upgraded the HD drive a couple of time, as well as the CD burner to DVD. Probably more that I have forgotten.
I just did a speed test Bob recommended a week or so and it is still in the upper 55th percentile. It is capable of overclocking (preloaded software), but I never cared enough to try that (unless I did it a long time ago and forgot.) Plenty fast enough for me (not a gamer.)
It runs Win 10 fine. I have never had any Win update problems even though I never delay them. It won't run Win 11 as far as I can tell, but I don't really care.
From what I have heard Win 11 sounds like it could easily have just been one more Win 10 update, but they were bored and decided to make it harder to do to rake in more money.
If i ever did decide to upgrade I would probably just buy new components for this case (mid sized w/3 fans, plenty of slots for expansion.) Bluetooth might be nice and more USB 3 jacks, perhaps another burner, SD drive, faster memory and better CPU.
05 Nov 2021
Every 5 years or so, I build a, tip-of-the-technology, new "Gamers' PC" and allow it to age gracefully for the next 5 years. I am NOT a gamer though.
I use an industrial-grade rack-mount (3U) chassis/enclosure, and as the various hardware components start getting into their senior years, I replace them with upgrades (such as the graphics card, the drives, additional memory) that can also be used the next time I replace the MotherBoard.
Barebones kits are a great idea to start building a rig. If you want to stay with WindowsOS and trying to make a decision between buy or build, please consider an Intel's NUC (Next Unit of Computing) barebone kits that are 5"x5"x2" in size. In the $500 range. Then, you purchase your own compatible drive plus memory to plug them in. In the $250 range.
Besides my big rig, I have 2 NUCs (NUC8i5 and NUC10i7)in the house that are trouble free and require minimal upkeep even though they are never fully turned off.
05 Nov 2021
I have worked with and helped other people build their own computers. Definitely, the next desktop computer that I have will be one, which I build. This article presents lots of good advice on how to proceed.
I agree completely with Bob, as I intend to install Windows 11 and a Linux operating system. With that, I do NOT want to install all the bloatware, crapware, and gimmicks, which come with purchased computers. [I don't want to waste time removing that, if it can even be completely removed.] I would install any software that I need and configure it the way I want.
Thank you for another very informative article!
06 Nov 2021
I have built my own PCs years ago. Ones that ran W98 and Win XP. Now, with the expense of buying a certified Win 10 PRO OS to install in it, I find it more cost effective to order refurbished business machines with the OS already freshly re-installed. A good certified refurbisher builds machines that don't include all the proprietary crapware that new OEM machines seem to all come with. Those ex-business machines were rugged models made to last, and I have always gotten good service from them at very affordable prices (usually not much more than the cost of buying a legit copy of the OS). Sure, they may be 6 years old technology, but the latest machines haven't improved much in the last few years, anyways.
Ernest N. Wilcox Jr.
06 Nov 2021
I have been building my own PCs since about the mid-1990s when our first (store bought) IBM compatible PC suffered a hard drive crash after about 7 years of service. That launched me into learning how to put a PC together. I got a book named "Upgrading and Repairing PCs" from a local bookstore, and bought some used parts and built an i386 machine with about 1 MB of RAM.
Since then I have learned a LOT about PCs in general, and forgot even more about technology that is no longer in use. I have either built my systems from scratch, or started with generic (white box) kits, and worked from there. After the i386 system, I built a 486, then a 586, a Pentium, and a few AMD CPU based systems. I have always been a PC guy (I have never liked Apple’s attitude and I still don’t), and I’m not so sure that PCs built with ARM CPU's are quite ready for prime time yet.
This year (late February or early March 2021) I decided to build a new computer with part of the Stimulus money I received from the US Government. I am familiar with PC hardware, so I decided to build a PC.
I started by thinking about what I want to do with it – just about anything I can think of, so it has to be pretty quick, have plenty of storage space (2 or 3 TB overall) and as much RAM as I can afford (32 GB would do). With those general decisions made, I knew I’d want at the least, the following components, a case, a CPU, a mainboard, RAM, and storage.
I started with choosing the case because everything else goes inside it. I wanted it to be easy to work in (installing parts, etc.) and look good. I considered about a half-dozen cases. The one I settled on is a mid-tower case with 4 preinstalled RGB case fans, a hinged removable tempered glass door, and a lot of filtered ventilation, both top and bottom. The front cover is also well ventilated. It’s beautiful!
My next question was which CPU? I looked at Intel core i5 and 7 as well as several AMD devices. I settled on an AMD Ryzen 5 (Picasso) 3400G with Radeon vega 11 Graphics 4 core 8 thread (socket AM4) CPU.
With the CPU selected, I could choose a mainboard. I looked over at least 4 AMD AM4 mainboards, and settled on an MSi X470 Gaming Plus MAX board because it’s specification sheet says it supports the CPU I want and it has plenty of expansion slots, supports both m.2 and SATA drives, and has 4 RAM slots (plenty of room to install anything I want, and to accommodate future upgrades.
For RAM, I looked at several brand named choices and settled on 2 16GB G.SKILL Ripjaws V Series PC4-24000 3000 MHz Desktop RAM. I got what I thought was a good price, and G.SKILL has a fairly good reputation.
For storage, I got a Samsung M.2 1TB NVMe drive, and a Seagate BarraCuda 2TB internal SATA HD.
To power my new beast, I got an EVGA 550 B5 80 Plus BRONZE 550w Fully Modular power supply. It was the modular feature that sold me. I can save the cabling I do not need right now for future upgrades, and I only have to have the cabling I'm using in the case so there is a lot less clutter to block airflow.
I decided to get a new display. I chose a Samsung 24” curved gaming display, and to round out the external peripherals, I got a back-lit (white LEDs) keyboard and a new Logitech M525 Wireless Mouse that advertises itself as having long 3 year battery life (I’ll see about that).
Since I was replacing my (then) current production desktop PC with this new system, I decided to use the Windows 7 Product key from it to install and activate Windows 10. Everything went very smoothly, and my new system was alive.
Over the first few months using my new system (with the on-board graphics), I noticed that streaming video was a bit too choppy for my liking. I checked that the issue was not with my service (I have AT&T fiber 300 (now 500 – upgraded free by AT&T) Internet. A speed test showed my service to be running at about the expected speed. A troubleshooting test showed the service to be fairly stable and running at relatively even speeds with no apparent drop-outs or hick-ups so I decided the issue may be the on-board graphics. In late September I got a Gigabyte GV-N1030D4-2GL GeForce GT 1030 low profile video adapter. It is neither the latest or greatest adapter, but it works well for my needs. Streaming video is beautiful now.
As for Bob’s suggestion about NewEgg, I tried to use them to get the parts for my new system and it was a nightmare. Their customer service department was useless. When most of my order transaction did not go through (the case and CPU succeeded, everything else failed), they (correctly) blamed my bank. I contacted my bank – they did block the transaction. I had them remove the block. They did. I went back to NewEgg, but was unable to complete the transaction. I contacted Customer Service and they said the bank had blocked the transaction (again?). I called my bank. There was no block on my account. I went back to NewEgg again and told customer service this, and they tried the transaction. It failed. They said my bank blocked it. They would not even entertain the possibility that the trouble could be with something on their end and would not investigate. I asked for a supervisor and got the same response. After a few days, I gave up and made my remaining purchases elsewhere. On top of that, my Case was damaged in transit. I was not informed, either by the carrier, the seller, or NewEgg. I discovered the problem when I tracked my order. This time, NewEgg's customer service blamed the seller. I made a claim. After about a week it was approved and my replacement case was shipped. Both it and the CPU that I ordered from NewEgg were the last items to arrive. The parts I ordered form another site arrived in good shape, and sooner than either the CPU or the replacement case, even though I placed that order about a week after the NewEgg order.
If you like using NewEgg, more power to ya'! If you have never dealt with NewEgg, start small, order one thing at a time, and see how they do. Your experience may differ from mine, but based on my experience, I will NEVER buy from them again, and I cannot in good conscience recommend them to anyone.
06 Nov 2021
If you have never built your own PC but would like to learn how to do so, I highly recommend Carey Holzman's YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/c/CareyHolzman/videos). Uncle Carey, as he is referred to, has been in the PC building and repair business for 30 years or so and is a great teacher. He also gives business pointers and life lessons as well. In addition, each of his videos contain links to the items he uses (mostly on Amazon) as well as links to discounts for Windows/MS Office keys, RoboForm and even an inexpensive technical support subscription. He stands behind each recommendation he makes. If the vendor he recommends does not provide your 100% satisfaction, he will make it right.
I used to build PCs back in the 1980's but haven't since. I am now wanting to get back into doing so. Of all the technical YouTube channels, Uncle Carey's is the best I have found. While other channels tend to rush through their videos without enough detail, Uncle Carey is very methodical, explaining every detail of what he is doing and why he is doing it.
If you want to learn how to build or even upgrade or repair your own PC, visit his YouTube channel at your earliest convenience. You be building/upgrading/repairing your own PC in no time. Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with Uncle Carey's YouTube channel and am endorsing it with no compensation whatsoever. I am just one of his many subscribers.
19 Nov 2021
Yes, but why? Repairability.
Had a mac and a DEll.
The Dell MB failed, so I swapped the MB but reused the processor and everything else. A year later, the processor failed (may have been the root cause of the first failure.
Bought a new case MB and Ryzen chip but kept the PS, RAM, drives, etc.
Meanwhile, got fed up with the flaky mac and built another (Linux) box to replace it.
I now can spend my time using my machines instead of trying to figure out why they aren't working.
23 Nov 2021
I am 76 years old and would LOVE to build my own computer (computrid!). I am a graphic designer and hate all the crap that comes with new computrids! I am going to read through all these valuable comments and hope to proceed on my own. My 6 year old Dell Laptop is acting funny - think the fan is dirty, so I need a new cheap computer soon. I can't afford to lose my files if it dies. I never backup, just use a portable attachment to keep my graphic files. I would LOVE to build something that doesn't force me into all the bloat!
Thanks for all the valuable advice!