Building your own computer may seem like a daunting project, especially for a first timer. You might be worried it’s too complex, too expensive, or too time-consuming, but it doesn’t have to be!
In this guide, we’ll explain how to build a PC step by step, starting with understanding your PC needs, exploring the different parts of a computer, and guiding you through the PC build process.
Read through our guide for easy-to-follow instructions or view our installation videos for visual demonstrations.
What do you want to build?
As with anything you build, understanding what you want to create is usually the best place to start.
You might be a die-hard gamer looking for a custom gaming PC, a student doing research and editing, or someone who uses their computer for day-to-day tasks.
Once you know what kind of PC you want, you'll understand what kind of hardware and performance you need — and avoid paying for things you don't.
What can you afford?
The amount of money you spend on computer parts can vary greatly, so it’s a good idea to have a realistic budget in mind ahead of time.
Expect to pay more if you're going for the best possible performance in all of your PC components. Faster processors cost more than slower ones, and newer generations of memory and storage with more capacity generally cost more than older ones with less.
Since memory and storage take a large chunk of the cost of a new computer, building your own PC gives you the flexibility to save on these components if you wish. While RAM and SSD costs rise with the amount of capacity they offer, they can be less expensive than buying pre-installed components that are often inadequate and need to be upgraded quickly.
What hardware parts will you need?
The five areas of hardware you'll need to research for any PC build are:
- Processor/Central Processing Unit (CPU)
- Memory (RAM)
- Storage (SSD)
- Case, fans and power supply
Other components — such as the case, operating system (OS), monitor, mouse, power supply, and keyboard — will have less of an impact on performance, but don’t forget to include them in your overall budget.
The motherboard is the circuit board that connects everything together — your hardware, the power supply and the graphics cards — so it’s the first component you'll want to choose. The motherboard also determines what other pieces of hardware the computer can use. In other words, not all components are compatible with all motherboards.
For example, the motherboard establishes the power of the processor your PC can handle, the memory technology (DDR5, DDR4, DDR3, etc), the storage form factor (2.5-inch, mSATA, or m.2) and the storage interface (SATA or PCIe). (If these terms all sound confusing to you, check out our explanations on memory technology generations and storage form factors).
The CPU is the engine of your computer and sets the performance expectations for the entire build. The CPU provides the processing power and instructions behind all your computer’s operations.
When determining which CPU to install, pay attention to the gigahertz (GHz) — the higher the GHz, the faster the processor. However, more GHz also means the CPU consumes more energy, leading to higher system temperatures that require better airflow or heat dissipation. This will likely mean you need to add a cooling system to your build as well.
Adding memory (RAM) is one of the fastest and most affordable ways to boost the performance of a computer.
RAM gives your system more available space to temporarily store data that's being used, so it helps you carry out simultaneous tasks, like having several programs open, or surfing the web without long load times.
Choosing the best RAM for your system involves two things: compatibility and how much RAM your system can support. First, identify the kind of module your system uses by the form factor (the physical form of the module — generally, desktops use UDIMMs, laptops use SODIMMs), then figure out the memory technology (DDR5, DDR4, DDR3, etc.) your system supports.
Second, your system can only handle so many GBs of memory. If you buy 64GB of RAM and your computer can only handle 16GB, that's 48GB wasted. And not everyone needs the same amount of RAM – think realistically about how much RAM you need for your computer usage.
There's an easy way to find compatible upgrades: download the Crucial® System Scanner. It displays how much memory you currently have, the maximum memory capacity of your computer, and available upgrades for your specific system. Using the System Scanner is safe, doesn't cost a thing, and guarantees product compatibility when you order on Crucial.com.
Your files and data are saved on a storage drive — either a hard disk drive (HDD) or a solid state drive (SSD). Although HDDs have traditionally given you more storage for a higher value, SSDs have essentially made them outdated – performing 6x faster on average and 90x more energy-efficient2 than HDDs.
The kind of PC you're building will also influence the kind of case, fan, and power supply you’ll need to use. If you're creating a high-powered performance workhorse, for example, you'll need a robust power supply to run it.
You’ll also require a case with optimal internal airflow and fans to expel hot air that could potentially damage the system.
Top tip: Zip ties are a massive help when managing all the cables inside your rig. Consolidating cables also helps improve airflow.
How to build a PC
The build is where it really starts to get exciting!
- Before you start
- Add the hardware
- Install the memory>
- Install the SSD
- Test the system
Before you start
Prepare a large workspace to keep your build organized — it's frustrating to not be able to find what you’re looking for!
Wear an electrostatic discharge (ESD) wrist strap or ground yourself by touching an unpainted metal surface to prevent static electricity, and work on solid floors rather than carpeting, if possible. Static energy is one of the few ways in which hardware can get damaged.
Keep a can of compressed air handy to remove any dust or fine debris from the interface, especially while you install the processor, memory and SSD.
1. Add the hardware
First, install the processor and power supply on the motherboard, and then put the motherboard in the case.
Installation and assembly of parts isn't complicated, but there is potential for errors to occur. We recommend you consult each component's manual for precise instructions.
2. Install the memory
RAM is the most straightforward hardware to install when building a PC:
- Locate the memory slots on the motherboard.
- Hold your memory modules on the side to avoid touching the chips and gold pins.
- Align the notches on the module with the ridge in the slot, then firmly press the module in place until it clicks.
- As you're pressing, note that it takes about 30 pounds of pressure to install a module fully.
For more details on installing RAM, explore how to install memory on a laptop or on a desktop.
3. Install the SSD
Installation will differ depending on the form factor of the SSD you've purchased (2.5-inch, mSATA, or M.2).
For instructions on installing your hard drive, consult its owner's manual, refer to our how to install a Crucial SSD in your computer page, or view all of our SSD installation FAQs.
4. Test the system
Once your system is assembled, it's time for the big moment — hit the power button!
Make sure your monitor and keyboard are connected, and if everything works correctly, a screen will appear where you can enter the system BIOS.
If you have a disc or flash drive with an OS, put it into the appropriate drive, boot up, and you can install the OS. Congratulations, you've now built your own PC!
The price of building a PC depends on the specification of the components you're buying. Generally speaking, building a PC will initially be more expensive. In the long run, however, you'll save money because it's less likely you'll need to replace components, and, if you do need to, they're easier to fix.
You’ll need various components to build your own PC. The main parts that you’ll need are:
- Processor (CPU)
- Storage (hard drive or SSD)
- Memory (RAM)
- Power supply
With a little guidance, anyone can build their own PC. Building your own PC allows you to create a perfect PC for your needs.
Building a computer is surprisingly easy. You'll only need a few tools, a good level of understanding of the parts, and the ability to follow some simple instructions. If you can build ready-to-assemble furniture, you'll be able to build your own PC!