How to build your first PC

About The Author

CNET Editor

Craig was sucked into the endless vortex of tech at an early age, only to be spat back out babbling things like "phase-locked-loop crystal oscillators!". Mostly this receives a pat on the head from the listener, followed closely by a question about what laptop they should buy.

If you were a tech head, there was a time when you absolutely always built your own PC, and would never consider buying off the shelf.

This is the tl;dr video for what is an admittedly huge feature. If it looks interesting, there's significantly more detail over the ensuing pages.

Those were the halcyon days. When our forebears, who bared fores harder than anyone had forborne before, did not go to ein shoppe, and they did not order from thine Alienware, Dell, HP or Apple, but with their own bare fists, intellect and nudity constructed their own doomsday device. PC. I meant PC.

While we may be more in the halitosis days now, with most major vendors tending to focus on mobile rather than desktop, if you're at the thin edge of the extreme wedge, you too can still be part of the glorious master race of PC builders. It may be a series of whacking bits in other bits, but by the holy rings of Saturn, it makes magic.

Afterwards, we'll tear it all apart and build it again.
(Credit: Craig Simms/CNET)

Shopping list

Before you begin your quest to gather parts, you'll need a checklist to ensure that when you order, you don't forget anything. Even the most experienced of us will accidentally leave a part out from time to time, so it's good practice to keep something like an Excel spreadsheet of everything you need. The same spreadsheet can also help you keep track of which stores are selling parts for the cheapest (don't forget to include shipping!).

Here's a quick rundown on what you'll need at the bare minimum on your list:

  1. CPU

  2. Heatsink and fan (HSF)*

  3. Motherboard

  4. RAM

  5. Graphics card*

  6. Hard drive

  7. Power supply

  8. Case

  9. Cables^

  10. Operating system

*Optional: many processors come with their own heatsinks.
^Optional: most of the cables you'll need are often supplied with the motherboard.

Note that this guide assumes you have access to a working internet connection, and to an already functioning machine for support. If you're starting from absolute scratch, you may have to skip some steps and return to them later.

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BrandonT posted a comment   

where do u get the heat sink and fan from aka what web


RobM3 posted a comment   

10/10 for voice modulation. Awesome!
So pulling this out at your 70th. That is, if you don't die first of carpal tunnel syndrome.
I know I haven't done this in a few years, but when did heat sinks get bigger than PSU's? Would be interesting to see a graph of their average relative sizes over the years.


anthonaut posted a comment   

Good read, even if I already knew it all! Some of my tips for people building a PC are to do with PSUs and cases- an area where people tend to spend less because they cannot see the benefits (Something I have been guilty of too!). Tip #1 is to not cheap out on PSUs (get a decent one that will give you stable power) and preferably modular so you don't have heaps of unused cable clogging up your case, blocking airflow and collecting dust.

Tip #3 is to not cheap out on your case. Get one with plenty of cable management holes/tracts, easy access to hard drive trays and with filtered air intakes to stop dust ingress.

You don't have to spend a lot to get well designed, reliable components that are worth it in the long run.


JamesH34 posted a comment   

Epic blue steel before the play button is pressed.


JoeG1 posted a comment   

Or you could just use a piece of paper and pencil to keep track of everything.


ChaiS posted a comment   

Forgetting optical drive.


FadiQ posted a comment   

Good Tips

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