How to build a PC - our complete guide to the parts you need and how to assemble them. We show you step-by-step how to build a Windows PC, with video walkthroughs explaining how we managed to make our own gaming PC for under £500.
By Christopher Minasians
So you want to build your own
PC. Here’s a complete guide to the components you need and how to assemble them. We show you step-by-step how to build a Windows PC, with video walkthroughs.
We’ve built a PC suitable for gaming for less than £500, but even if you decide to spend more and upgrade some of the components we’ve chosen, or would rather spend less and build a basic PC for email, web and photos, our guide is still relevant: the principles are exactly the same.
Using the components below will cost you £482.83, and result in a computer capable of gaming. This was correct at the time of writing, but please bear in mind that prices might fluctuate depending on exchange rates. Many thanks to
Overclockers UK which kindly supplied the components. We’ve given specific links to the parts in case you want to order them yourself:
This machine will let you play games at full HD (1920×1080) resolutions. There are cheaper parts out there which we could have chosen, but we didn’t want to settle with mere 720p resolutions. If your budget is tighter, then consider choosing a
GeForce GT 610 graphics card.
Similarly if your pockets are deeper, you could choose a slightly better graphics card or extras such as a soundcard. If you won’t be installing many games, feel free to swap out the 500GB hard drive with a
128GB solid state drive (SSD). An SSD is a fantastic choice as it will drastically speed up your computer and provide you with a better overall experience. If you want a larger SSD, you can always install Windows on an SSD later and use your hard drive as a storage device for files.
Please note that we are assuming you have
a copy of Windows, a monitor (for example the
Asus VN247H), and a mouse and keyboard (such as the
HAVIT HV-KB562CM) which you can salvage from an old PC. You may even be able to use some DDR3 RAM, your old hard drive, your old computer case, your old power supply unit – even your old CPU cooler to bring the price down. Read next: Best monitors 2016.
How to build a VR PC: The required and minimum specificiations for Virtual Reality
There’s no difference between a normal
gaming PC and a PC used for Virtual Reality. However, depending on the VR headset you intend to buy, there are certain minimum and recommended requirements. (See also:
The complete guide to VR)
In the main, these boil down to having a powerful graphics card and USB 3 ports. If your PC doesn’t have both, you won’t be able to use a VR headset. We’ve found that some USB 3 controllers are incompatible, but it’s fairly inexpensive to buy one of the recommended PCI Express USB 3 add-in cards. Upgrading your PC’s graphics card may be possible, but always check with your manufacturer, or motherboard manufacturer to ensure it has support for your chosen card before spending any money.
Both Oculus and HTC have set out their minimum requirements for their headsets, which include an Nvidia GTX 970 or AMD Radeon R9 290 graphics card.
AMD both have VR Ready programmes that explain which cards in their ranges are powerful enough for VR games. There’s even a
Steam VR benchmark that can check if your PC is ready for VR games (HTC even recommend you use it to see if your PC can handle a Vive).
You can also
download a tool which will check if your PC is compatible with the Oculus Rift:
How to build a PC the right way: How to start a PC build
When you receive all your new parts, you’re bound to get excited and eager to get the whole thing assembled as fast as possible; hold that horse. It’s an exciting prospect to get your brand new gaming PC running, but before you start putting in the hours building the PC, you should always make sure that you’ve got all your parts, where nothing is missing and that you’ve got enough distraction-free time to start building it. Depending on the complexity of the PC build it can take anything from one hour for a simple PC build to even a whole day with custom water-cooling loops! Last thing you want is to be mid PC-build and have to go to sleep, as its past 1am and you need to get up at 6am for work.
Finally, we advise you build on a non-static surface. In other words, not on carpet where static energy can potentially build up and potentially damage your brand new PC parts. A lot of people often overlook this step, but it’s something you should be mindful about. Even if you can’t build on a non-static surface it’s not the end of the world! We’ve personally built many computers on carpet and never had any problems, but it’s worth being safe than sorry.
If you want to be extra cautious try wearing an
anti-static wristband (they’re super cheap) and prior to touching any computer part (especially the processor) ground yourself; this simply involves you touching a metal object in the house that’s grounded, for example a radiator or even a water pipe. Note: a radiator might be hot, don’t say we didn’t warn you!
How to build a PC the right way: Preliminary testing
After you’ve got all the parts you need, you’ll want to perform a quick preliminary test to see if all the parts are alive. It’s unlikely but parts might be dead-on-arrival (DOA) and if you don’t check for this, you can end up having to disassemble the whole computer build to locate the problem. The biggest culprit is often the RAM.
If you don’t feel comfortable testing your components with the steps below, feel free to move on to the following section of our guide. We’re only providing this information for those that want to test the parts before they’re all installed.
To quickly test your parts, remove the motherboard from its box and place it on a non-static surface, such as the foam it came with in its anti-static bag, or a wooden table. Do not put it on top of the anti-static bag. Only the inside is anti-static. Then pop in your processor with its stock heatsink (or CPU cooler if there’s no stock heatsink supplied). Insert one stick of RAM (closest to the processor is often the best slot to choose) and then connect up the make-shift PC to the PSU. Make sure the PSU is connected and switched on (they’re often have an on/off switch). You’ll also want to make sure your power supply is connected to the motherboard through the 8-Pin EPS CPU and 20+4-Pin ATX connections.
The trickiest part comes by turning on the motherboard without an on/off switch. In order to switch the make-shift computer on, you’ll need to temporarily short the ‘+PWR-’ pins with a screwdriver (or any sort of metal), which will essentially create an electrical circuit for your motherboard, so that you can switch it on.
Here you’ll be able to see if the motherboard switches on with the parts you’ve installed and be able to see if the PC can POST (Power-On Self-Test). The POST screen is the white on black writing you see before the usual Windows logo. If there’s neither red LED flashing lights on the motherboard, nor any beeping sounds you’re good to go! Note, the motherboard often has a cycle of red LED lights when it’s powered on; this is its way of testing the parts.
If there’s a problem at this stage, you can either brave putting the whole PC into the case to see if you did something wrong or you can contact the reseller and ask them for a replacement unit(s).
Before commencing the installation of your computer parts within the case, make sure the make-shift rig is powered off and fully disconnected. You can simply switch off the computer by flicking the switch of your wall socket. Read next:
Best budget displays 2016.
How to build a PC the right way: How to setup your computer case
Before being Kobe Bryant and throwing in all your parts into the computer case (please don’t throw your parts around), you’ll want to prepare the computer case so that you can insert the parts with ease.
Open your computer case by removing both side panels and ensure it’s empty, as there’s often screws and extra parts dangling around inside. Then try to work out the air flow within your case. This might seem trivial for some, but air flow can drastically change case temperatures and therefore affect your CPU and GPU temperatures. A general rule of thumb is to have air coming in from the front and having it exit at the top or back of your computer case. This is because hot air rises, so by orientating fans in the correct way you will be helping the air move, rather than trying to force it in an unnatural direction.
In order to get the fans in the right direction, check the sides of your fans to see where the arrows are pointing; the arrows indicate the direction of the air. Once you’ve determined the way the air flow of the case, screw in your fans in your desired locations. In our case (pun intended), we will be putting two 120mm case fans at the front for an intake and have the stock BitFenix case fan used as an exhaust outtake fan, which is located at the rear of the case.
How to build a PC the right way: How to install a motherboard and I/O Panel
Now that you’re a devoted fan of air flow, you’ll need to start putting in your computer parts. This starts from the I/O panel provided within your motherboard box. The I/O panel is very easy to install, you simply determine the orientation of the panel and then insert it at the back of your PC case. It sometimes requires a little force to click into place, so don’t be afraid to give it a healthy nudge in.
After you’ve inserted the I/O panel it’s time to put in your motherboard. Depending on your case and motherboard, you might need to put in motherboard standoffs which are used to give the motherboard a little bit of clearance from the case’s metal frame. Some cases come with it already pre-built but others require you to screw them in. Locate these screws and screw them into your case (not into your motherboard). It’s advised to evenly screw in the motherboard in order to get a flat, non-wobbly motherboard.
Important note: If you want to install a custom CPU cooler, then you might want to check if your motherboard comes pre-applied with a CPU cooler mount. Ensure you can either remove it after you’ve installed the motherboard (via the hole found on the backplate of the case) or before the motherboard is even screwed in. We found that some AMD boards have it pre-installed to make it easier for those wanting to install the AMD cooler that comes with the processor.
The motherboard insertion is extremely simple; just make sure that when you’re placing into the case that you go with the I/O part of the motherboard first, as it makes it easier to fit. Once the motherboard is in, you can now screw it into place to the motherboard standoffs.
The hardest part of any motherboard installation is its connections to the case. Every computer case comes with a few cables, which are used for the power button, HDD LED and even USB ports. You will therefore need to connect your case’s cables to your motherboard. In order to know which cable corresponds with a motherboard’s port you’ll need to look in your motherboard’s manual, which describes and locates every port on your motherboard.
Finally, connect the fans you had previously installed to your motherboard by connecting their 2,3 or 4-pin connectors to the Chassis Fan Headers found on your motherboard. You can locate them on your motherboard, or consult your motherboard’s manual to find them.
How to build a PC the right way: How to install a Power Supply Unit (PSU)
Power! We’re not Jeremy Clarkson, but every computer needs power. This is where your PSU comes in handy. There are different types of PSUs; some are modular, where you can cherry pick which wires you want, whilst others have the whole shebang included. It’s best not connect it to the wall plug just yet, as it’s safer to work on a computer without having to worry about an electrical current running through your parts.
In terms of the amount of power you’ll need, there’s a lot of misunderstanding on how much power you actually need for a PC. We chose a 430 Watts PSU as that’s more than enough for the whole system, including a single GPU configuration. In order to give you an idea, a SLI Nvidia GPU configuration (that’s two Nvidia cards), running an intensive game or a benchmark draws around 500 Watts, whilst an AMD Crossfire GPU configuration (that’s two AMD cards), draws around 700 Watts. Of course you need to factor in some headroom, but there’s no need to buy a 600-800 Watts PSU for a single gaming-GPU setup.
Inserting the power supply can sometimes be tricky, due to all the dangling wires, but once you’ve organised them it becomes a lot easier to manage. Insert in the PSU into the computer’s case and screw it in from the back. Once the PSU is in the case, you’ll want to connect up the essentials to your motherboard. This includes the 8-Pin EPS CPU connection found near the processor socket, and the 20+4-Pin ATX motherboard connection found on the right-hand side of most motherboards.
These are the two most crucial connections you’ll need from your PSU, the rest of the connections, such as the Graphics Card, Hard Drive and even things such as the DVD Drive connections are to be installed once those parts are in.
How to build a PC the right way: How to place a Processor (CPU)
The processor is a very small chip, and it’s surprising how much data it handles in such a small size. You’ll first want to open your motherboard’s CPU latch in order to reveal the golden connections underneath, where the processor will be placed. Ensure you don’t touch or bend any of these motherboard pins, as if they’re tampered with you’ll find yourself with problems running your computer.
Before grabbing the CPU, look at the shape and way the motherboard’s chipset is positioned, as this will help you insert the processor without having to fiddle with it. As you pick up the CPU, ensure you handle it with care by picking it up and inserting it by the sides (not the bottom) of the PCB (the green part of the processor), as this limits the risks of shorting the CPU. Once you’ve got the CPU in your hands carefully place it into the motherboard’s slot by carefully laying it on the motherboard’s CPU pins. Avoid dropping it or inserting it at an angle, as you might damage the motherboard’s pins by doing so.
Once the processor is placed within the motherboard, close the motherboard’s latch and fasten it into place. You can now wipe off the sweat from your forehead, as you’ve successfully inserted your processor!
How to build a PC the right way: How to mount a CPU Cooler
Every processor needs a cooler, be it from a stock cooler to a full-blown water-cooling setup. In our budget we’ve chosen an air cooler, but the principle of attaching a liquid or water cooler is reasonably similar when it comes to the CPU socket.
First of all, you’ll want to check if your CPU cooler comes with pre-applied thermal paste, if it does then you’ll be able to mount it directly on your processor. If it doesn’t, then you’ll need to apply some thermal paste to your processor. You will only need a very thin layer of thermal paste, but it’s often debated on the internet which thermal paste method is best. In our experience we found the line and pea-dot methods achieve the coolest temperatures. The thermal compound and application is very important for CPU temperatures, if not done properly you might see a difference of up to 10 degrees Celsius, which can be the difference between a mild and high overclock or even the temperature difference at which your CPU throttles. As a note, our CPU cooler came with thermal paste within the box, ensure yours does to, or else you’ll need to buy some thermal paste.
To apply the thermal paste, simply use the one provided within your CPU cooler or use your thermal paste compound to apply a small pea-sized dot on your processor. Be sure not to spread it, just leave the pea-sized dot compound on your processor and the CPU cooler will do the pressing and application of the thermal paste.
In order to insert the CPU cooler, you’ll need to mount it on your motherboard. The instructions of various different CPU coolers vary, but the principle of all of them is extremely similar. First you’ll want to insert its larger screws or mounting kit on your motherboard’s CPU socket holes. These four holes are found on each of the corners of your motherboard’s processor socket. Make sure you carefully insert the screws and ensure not to damage the CPU holes, as some manufacturers treat slightly damaged CPU socket holes as ‘Customer Induced Damage’ (CID), where this might void your warranty.
Once you’ve inserted the screws and added the mounting mechanism of your CPU cooler you can then precede in placing the CPU cooler unit on your processor. Just before doing so, try to look at the way the CPU cooler works, and more specifically where the included fan might be blowing. Most CPU coolers have a fan on their heatsink, which means the fan will blow air through the heatsink’s fins to cool the CPU. In our case we have a single fan, and remembering our case flow is going from front to back, we placed the fan to blow air in the same direction, through the front to the back of the heatsink.
Just like the processor, try to place the cooler directly on the processor, rather than at an angle, as the thermal compound application needs to be even. Apply some pressure when placing the CPU cooler on the processor and tightly fasten it to the mounting brackets. In order to achieve the best results, tighten each corner evenly, rather than tightly. Once you’ve got all the screws in, tightly fasten each of them in so that the CPU cooler is firmly on the processor. An uneven, not-well placed CPU cooler will not properly cool your processor and you might very well risk burning the CPU all together without adequate cooling!
Once it’s placed, you’ll need to connect the CPU cooler’s fan(s) to your motherboard. Most motherboards will have the CPU Header Fan located at the top of the CPU socket itself, so it should be easy to locate. Again, if you’re unsure, look in your motherboard’s manual to locate it. Connect the 3 or 4-pin header to your motherboard’s socket and you’ll then have a fully installed CPU cooler.
How to build a PC the right way: How to insert RAM
Most motherboards have four slots, but you might find some with only one or even eight! In our case, we have four slots which run in dual-channel mode. In order to know which order you should place your RAM consult your motherboard’s instruction manual to figure out what the best combination is. In our case, we have 2x4GB RAM modules which run in dual-channel mode. According to our ASRock manual we are instructed to ‘install the memory module into the slots DDR3_A2 and DDR3_B2 for the first priority.’ This means the second closest from the processor and the furthest away are the best slots for our setup.
You will then need to insert the RAM into the motherboard, ensure the RAM latches of the motherboard are open by pressing on the small plastic latches located on the side of the RAM slots. You’ll also want to inspect the orientation of your RAM to ensure you correctly insert it into your motherboard.
How to build a PC the right way: How to install a graphics card (GPU)
A graphics card is potentially one of the easiest components to add, you’ll need to remove all the packaging and plastic clips around the graphics card and simply locate a PCI-E slot for the graphics card to fit in. Often, you’ll find your computer case has small metal strips located at the back of the computer, to make it look tidier and not attract as much dust. In this instance, you’ll need to remove the panels where the graphics card will be inserted so that the graphics card can be installed.
Once they are removed, simply place the graphics card on the top PCI-E slot (closest to the CPU), as you’ll often get the best PCI-E speeds on the top slots, meaning your graphics card won’t be bottlenecked by your motherboard.
After it’s inserted, you’ll need to attach the power to the graphics card, which is where that 6+2-Pin-PCIe PSU cable comes in handy. Most graphics cards take a 6 or 8-pin connection, and it’s as simple as locating this 6+2-Pin-PCIe cable and plugging it into your graphics card. Read next:Best graphics cards 2016.
How to build a PC the right way: How to add storage to a computer: Hard Disk Drive (HDD)
The storage of your computer is always needed; you can’t run any computer on Windows without storage. In this case we chose a Hard Disk Drive (HDD) over a Solid State Drive (SSD), as we felt a 500GB capacity was better suited for gamers nowadays rather than a budget 128GB SSD, which might get filled up quickly by game files. Read next:
Best SSDs 2016.
Believe it or not, Windows takes around 10-15GB, and a game like Battlefield 4 takes up to 65GB with all its DLCs installed. So, 128GB doesn’t go as far as you might think! Do also remember that all storage won’t provide you with as much space as you might think; in order words our 500GB HDD actually comes with 465GB of usable space, not the full 500GB, where the 128GB SSD only has 110GB available, leaving you with a mere 30GB after a full OS and Battlefield 4 install!
To insert your HDD simply locate the space where it should fit within your case and screw it in. Some HDDs and even cases come with HDD/SSD trays and some even come with noise dampeners, which reduce the vibrations of your HDD which can be heard through your case.
Once you’ve screwed in the HDD, grab the SATA power connector from your PSU and connect it to your HDD. You’ll also need a SATA III cable which should be supplied within your motherboard’s packaging that will allow you to connect the HDD to the motherboard. The SATA III cable connects to your motherboard, where you’ll find the SATA III slots near the bottom of your motherboard. They’re often numbered, where it’s always best to place your primary drive in the SATA III (1) port. Read next:
Best portable hard drives 2016.
How to build a PC the right way: How to do cable management
You’ve done it, you’ve managed to assemble a PC! People can now call you a Master PC Builder, but you can’t be an ugly one, and we’re not speaking about you, but your PC. With tons of cables in your PC and potentially more parts you might add in the future, the last thing you want is a messy PC build. What’s even more important to note is that due to messy cables, you might potentially be blocking air flow within your case. If that’s not even more of an incentive to organise your cables we don’t know what is!
Cable management is simple; just tidy up your PC up by hiding cables around the back panel of the computer’s case, or by neatly tucking them in a small compartment within your PC case by using zip ties to arrange them. This might involve unplugging some of the components you’ve just inserted or re-jigging their position (such as the HDD location).
Once you’re done, your future self will thank you for making your PC a beautiful work of art.
You can now refit the the side panels to the case, connect all the cables, and flick the power supply switch to the on position.
As a bare minimum connect:
Keyboard to a USB 2 port (or PS/2 if older)
Mouse to a USB 2 port (or PS/2 if older)
HDMI cable between monitor and graphics card
Power cables to both the PC’s power supply and monitor power input
How to build a PC the right way: How to create a bootable Windows 10 USB stick
You’ve now got everything ready for your first boot, but you’ll need a Windows 10 USB bootable USB stick; we’ve not included a DVD-Drive in our build, as everything is moving digital. For more information on how to create a bootable Windows 10 installation USB, see our article:
How to install Windows 10. Do bear in mind that there might be a
few problems you might encounter when installing Windows 10. Of course, you can always opt to stick to
Windows 7 or 8 installations if you so wish, but we feel Windows 10 will complement your modern PC. Read next:
Windows 10 Review.
After creating and having a bootable Windows 10 USB stick, slot it into one of the USB ports found at the back of your PC.
How to build a PC the right way: What is the BIOS & how to install Windows 10
Before you launch into a Windows installation, you want to ensure that your PC is in good health and is fully operational. This especially applies to your application of the CPU cooler, which if not done properly won’t cool your processor and will render disastrous consequences for your CPU. In order to check this, you’ll need to go into the Basic Input/Output System, better known as the BIOS and ‘Setup’ menu on your POST screen.
Before going into the BIOS, you’re going to need to know your BIOS key, among other POST screen buttons. In order to find out consult your motherboard manual or look online for your motherboard’s default boot menu button. In our case ASRock specify ‘To enter BIOS setup, please press “F2” repeatedly right after you turn on the computer until system goes into BIOS setup. If you want to enter into boot menu, please press “F11”’. These are the two keys we will be mentioning in this section of our guide.
As you switch on the PC, have one eye on your PC to check for any blinking or solid red LED lights on your motherboard and another eye on your monitor, which will display the POST screen.
If the components don’t draw up any error and if you don’t hear any repeating beep sounds from your motherboard and case, you should directly enter the BIOS by spamming the F2 key on your keyboard. This will launch you into your BIOS, where you’ll be able to check the status of your parts, most importantly the CPU temperatures. Do bear in mind that red LED lights should normally only flash once, whilst the PC is booting up.
When you enter the various different looking-BIOS screens, you’ll be presented with various options, where you should hopefully be able to cycle through them and find the CPU temperatures being monitored. If the temperature is less than 40 degrees Celsius, you’re good to go; normally you’ll find it at around 25-35 degrees Celsius. Note that the temperatures will vastly change depending on your processor (where some processors run naturally hotter than others) and your ambient room temperatures are variable (being in the North Pole versus in the Sahara). As long as you’re not hitting 40-50 degrees Celsius temperatures here (no matter what processor you have), you’ll know that your CPU is being cooled properly. If it isn’t, immediately switch off the PC by flicking the PSU on/off switch and open to PC to find the problem (often a badly placed CPU cooler is the culprit) or a non-functional CPU fan. Again, if your ambient temperatures are 35 degrees Celsius, you’ll need to be cooling it adequately. As we live in the UK, we don’t see that naturally happening, but it’s still worth noting down!
This step might seem trivial, but can often save your processor’s life and a lot of headache. Without this step, you might launch into a Windows 10 installation, where the processor will be working a lot harder, and therefore get hotter. If it exceeds a certain temperature (each processor has a different ‘TJ MAX’/’MAX TEMP’), your PC will automatically switch off or go into a Blue Screen, as your motherboard will notice your processor is not being cooled properly. If you ignore this problem, over time your CPU will simply cease to work, as it will burn itself out.
Once you’ve made sure everything is healthy and the PC seems to be working fine, you should now directly boot to your Windows 10 USB stick. This can often be done directly through the BIOS, if not, ‘Save Changes and Exit’ and spam F11, the boot-menu key on your keyboard. You’ll now be presented with a boot menu, where you should see your HDD and your USB. You’ll want to select your USB, in order for you to launch into Windows setup.
You’re almost done! Follow the on-screen options and finish off your installation.
How to build a PC the right way: How to install drivers on my PC
You’ve now installed Windows 10, everything seems to be working, but you should proceed in installing all the drivers you need. Naturally if you’re connected to the internet Windows will automatically install the crucial files, but to make sure all the drivers are correctly installed, go to each of the manufacturer’s online sites and install all the required files, such as your graphics card drivers, your CPU chipset drivers and even your keyboard drivers. Read next: Best gaming keyboards of 2016.
Once you’ve installed and restarted your PC several times, due to some software needing a restart, you’ll then have a fully operational computer.
The only thing left to do is to install a few monitoring programs, such as CPU-Z, GPU-Z, Core Temp, Hardware Monitor and even benchmarking programs such as Prime95 and Unigine Heaven Benchmark 4.0 to test out your hardware. Monitoring, and examining what Windows and the programs are picking up can be vital, as you’ll be able to troubleshoot problems before they occur. For example, if a RAM slot wasn’t inserted correctly in our 2x4GB installation, you might only see one RAM module on CPU-Z. Something you might be oblivious about when gaming. If you wish to run a few benchmarks too, such as Prime95 and Unigine Heaven Benchmark 4.0, it will help you check the case temperatures and ultimately how well or badly the CPU and GPU are being cooled.
That’s it, you’ve fully tested your computer, it’s running as it should and now you can enjoy your custom gaming PC build! Pat yourself on the back soldier, you’ve done well. We hope this guide has helped you build your very own PC, feel free to tweet to us your PC builds and let us know how if this guide helped you! Read next:Best gaming mouse 2016.