Five Things You Should Know Before Building Your Own PC

Image: Kotaku

PCs come in all shapes and sizes: there's the bog standard beige tower, a unit that fits inside the palm of your hand, a rig that looks just like a console, and then mecha-inspired creations like the one above.

Building a PC doesn't have to be daunting, though. And while there are tons of reasons to build a PC, ranging from better graphics to cheaper games to greater versatility, there's also some things you should know before you start.

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Building a PC is like building LEGO

Actual LEGO PCs exist, too. (Image: Kotaku)

PC components can be a little daunting sometimes, with all of the transistors, memory chips and connectors everywhere. But as several veteran PC builders will tell you, putting together a PC really is like playing with LEGO pieces. "99% of things only fit one way," Ryan Paul Hooper, director of custom PC builders Karma IT, told me.

"Every component comes with instructions and can be installed in the same or similar orders," Chris Smith, a marketing manager at CORSAIR who used to give talks at universities on building PCs, agreed. "Most things only go in one way and there's an abundance of 'how to build a PC' YouTube videos or forums/Facebook groups if need be."

The instructions for most PC hardware is pretty straightforward compared to, say, a LEGO Star Destroyer. "Most of the time its 10 or less components," Hooper added. And the amount of resources online is vast - if you want to see someone installing the specific CPU/GPU/RAM that you just bought, chances are there'll be a video with those exact parts. On top of that, manufacturers and retailers will be more than happy to help out through their support systems if you just have a question or two.

Get an anti-static strap

Image: PLE Computers

Chances are you might have heard about static electricity, and what it can do to PC parts. Good news is it's easy to stop yourself from going full Raiden and suddenly discharging into your fancy new PC parts.

Static is easy to avoid as long as you leave your power supply plugged into a grounded (three-prong) power outlet, and make sure to touch a metal part of the computer case with your hand. This neutralises any static charge that might have built up.

But to eliminate any concerns, just buy an anti-static strap. You can get them for less than $10 at all decent PC retailers. All you have to do is attach the alligator clip to a metal part of the computer chassis, wrap it around your wrist, and make sure your PC is plugged in. Not on, obviously.

Read the motherboard manual

Open-case designs are becoming more popular now (Image: Imfaceroll Gaming)

For a first-time builder, the motherboard will be the most daunting task. It's the hub of your PC: everything connects into it, from the LED that lights up your power button to your CPU, hard drives, GPU and RAM.

Because there are so many ports to connect and wire up, you'll need to refer back to the motherboard manual to know where to hook everything in. You might not understand the meaning of all the terms at first, but motherboard manuals are pretty good at explaining where everything goes, what it does, and how to go about it.

Something the motherboard manual won't tell you, however, is that you can save a lot of time and effort by installing parts onto the motherboard before you put it in your PC case. This is useful if you want to align your fan and heatsink a certain way, but decide to change your mind later. It's more annoying to remove parts when everything is screwed into the PC case, so get your CPU, cooler and RAM installed beforehand.

ELeague.gg's Ben Miller, a long-time veteran of the Australian LAN scene, added that it helps to make sure the I/O shield - that's the little metallic bit that covers all the USB ports and connectors at the back of the motherboard that all your peripherals will eventually hook into - is installed first. It can be a bit of a pain, but it protects the back of your motherboard from additional dust. You're spending good money on equipment, so look after it!

Think about the future

A classy mod of a Gigabyte BRIX mini-PC. (Image: Timpelay)

Part of the value of building a new PC is that you'll be able to use most of the parts in the years to come, which means you can stay up to date with the latest games without having to fork hundreds of dollars out all over again. "It's worth spending money on quality core components, such as the power supply and hard drive, as these can be reused when you upgrade or replace your computer," Miles Tullet, an IT consultant who has been building PCs for two decades, recommends.

"What requirements may games have two years down the track? Can you easily add extra RAM to your build? How about a second graphics card? Do you want to put in a dedicated sound card, or maybe an expansion card with more USB-C connectors? Thinking your future requirements through can save you from having to completely rebuild your machine down the track."

As long as you do a little bit of planning ahead, you'll have a machine that will run games admirably for the next few years.

Build a list of everything you need

Image: Kotaku

If you write down a little checklist of all the things you need to put together, you'll be able to check it off as you go. It's the same process people should follow when formatting their hard drive - write down the things you need, tick them off as you go, and you'll find the whole process is infinitely easier.

With each piece, just make a little note of the things you need to do. You don't need to make specific notes as you go along, but if you have a basic list to work off it makes the process - especially for first-timers! - easier.

  • CPU and CPU cooler
  • RAM
  • Graphics card/GPU
  • Hard drives (don't forget the SATA cables!)
  • Power supply
  • Motherboard (it needs power too)
  • All the fans (check the motherboard manual to see where they all go)
  • Your front USB ports/sound/power

Your particular rig might have more bits and pieces - if you're using two graphics cards, for instance, you'll need a Crossfire or SLI bridge - but for people just starting out, this is a good template to get started. And if you're not sure of where something plugs in, the info is all in your motherboard manual.


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Comments

    Your particular rig might have more bits and pieces - if you're using two graphics cards, for instance, you'll need a Crossfire or SLI bridge

    Any motherboard that actually supports sli/crossfire should come with a bridge in the box. It's not something you should need to go searching for.

      There's special SLI bridges now for NVIDIA cards; they were introduced with the 700 series, I believe.

        still, if the motherboard supports it, it should come with the appropriate bridge. i just bought a new mobo that supports 4 cards, and it came with 3 different bridge configs (2, 3 and 4)

      Unless you want to bother with the new "Pro HB" bridges, with 10 series cards. When using the bridge that comes with the mobo, I got a nice little warning in the NVidia control panel stating that I could get better performance with a better bridge.

        Yeah true, the HB ones do have advantages, but for most people just setting up their first SLI machine, I don't think it'll make all that much difference to them. Enthusiasts and overclockers would definitely want to be looking for something like that to get the maximum out of their system though.

    The most common questions I hear all the time is 'which RAM do I use?!?'
    For this refer to your motherboard manual or the supported RAM list on the motherboards manufacturer website.
    I refuse to use an anti static bracelet as it always gets tangled and gets in the way, ground yourself to your chassis by touching exposed metal (not the painted metal) and dont play with your Van de graaff machine while bulding your PC and you should be fine.

    If your ever stuck, youtube the question. There are hundreds of first time building youtube videos which cover most of the do's and dont's

    Last edited 22/03/17 1:22 pm

      Look at you with your fancy Van De Graaff, some of us just have balloons and woollen jumpers.

      Basic rule of thumb when it comes to ram, is if you don't plan to overclock, check the bus speed of the cpu, and get ram to match. If you've got extra money, and want to put faster ram in, it won't hurt, but unless you manually overclock, or your mobo has the ability to dynamically overclock a little, it won't be any advantage to have faster, as the system will just downclock it to match the bus speed by default.

    My biggest bit of advice is sort of a two parter.

    1 - Buy an aftermarket CPU Cooler, it makes a pretty massive difference, even for a $35 cooler (CM Hyper 212 is a beast)
    2 - Always check if the cooler needs a rear mounting bracket before screwing the motherboard in. Having to unplug all the cables, and remove the board to do it afterwards is a giant pain in the ass.

    Make sure you purchase a power supply that can handle all your components.

    Please for the love of god make sure your stuff will fit inside the case, or youll end up like one of my mates who made his brand new PC look straight ghetto

      Also make sure you don't get a full tower case if you don't need one

    When I first started building Pcs that my friends would by the parts for while I was in high school it became immediatly apparent that not enough people check the sockets for the cpu.

    TechQuickie just released another video in their series of avoiding common PC traps, those videos i'd guide someone to who was building for the first time. Just like the LinusTechTips video on the difference between a Core i3, i5 & i7.

    I'm still on the fence with an to static straps they have there use and on pc's it's virtually impossible (though not unheard of to blow a FET. Graphics card etc are in circuit even when not plugged in. There's still a circuit path other than gate to source or drain which the current will flow.
    I handle MOSFET's regularly and never lost one while using correct precautions, grounding yourself first, never touch the gate pins etc.
    Though it comes down to correct procedures which not everyone does/knows. Also an anti static straps isn't a prevention. It still can happen, don't get a false sense of security from one.

      Never used a static strap, but I've been told that even if you don't kill the component you can weaken it and it'll fail earlier. (maybe)

      Not sure if we're talking 5 years down to 4, or 5 down to 2.

      Either way, for $3 off eBay, I'll look like a goose for 20min.

      Plastic/rubber soled shoes and ground yourself before handling or installing any parts. Job done.

    Buy a good PSU, motherboard, and case. Also make sure to buy enough fans that you can fill out your case's capacity. Upgradability is king if you want longevity, so get the basics right.

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