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 clarifying your PC needs, understanding the different parts of a computer, and finally guiding you through the PC build process.
We've broken it down into these four main stages:
For visual instructions, click on the videos below as our Crucial team members walk you through the process.
1. What do you want to build?
As with anything you build, understanding what you want to create is usually the best place to start. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the variables and options in a PC build — knowing what you want helps to streamline these choices.
Your PC can be built for different needs. Whether you’re 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, building a PC can help personalize your computer to suit your needs. Once you know what kind of PC you want, you will understand what kind of hardware you need — these are the components that make up your computer and determine its performance.
You can get the most out of your computer’s performance for less overall cost by investing in the right components from the start.
2. What parts you’ll need
Once you've decided what kind of PC you want to build, you can begin to research and purchase the hardware.
The essential components for your PC are:
- the motherboard
- a processor (CPU)
- storage (hard drive or SSD)
- memory (RAM)
These are the "guts" of the computer and they have the most impact on your system's overall performance. In comparison, the other components — such as the case, operating system (OS), monitor, mouse, power supply, and keyboard — have less of an impact on performance.
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 dictates the physical form factor and size of your PC build, but it also determines what other pieces of hardware the computer can use. 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 explainers on memory technology generations and storage form factors).
Even though you’ll want to choose your motherboard based on other compatible components — like which RAM it’s compatible with — the motherboard should be your starting point.
Processor/Central Processing Unit (CPU)
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 with the computer. This will likely mean you need to add a cooling system to your build as well.
Adding memory (RAM) is one of the fastest, easiest, and most affordable ways to amplify the performance of the computer you're building. RAM gives your system more available space to temporarily store data that's being used, so it helps you carry out simultaneous tasks, such as having several tabs open while surfing the web without long load times.
Even background services and processes, like system updates, can draw from your RAM, and that's why it's crucial to have as much memory as possible. The more things your computer needs to think about, the more memory it’ll need.
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 of wasted memory you can't take advantage of. 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 and let it do the work for you. 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 your storage drive — either a hard disk drive (HDD) or solid state drive (SSD). Although hard drives 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-efficient than hard drives. The speed discrepancy comes from how the different types of storage devices load data (read) and save or transfer data (write). Hard drives use small mechanical moving parts and spinning platters;, SSDs use NAND flash technology. The difference results in better speed, efficiency, and durability because small mechanical parts and spinning platters are much more susceptible to physical damage than NAND.
Case, fans, and power supply
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, you'll need a robust power supply to make it all run. You’ll also require a case with optimal internal airflow and fans to expel hot air that could potentially damage the system. Zip ties are a massive help with managing all the cables inside your rig, and consolidating the cables helps improve airflow.
3. PC building on your budget
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. Most builders want to get better (or at least match) the performance of pre-built PCs, but all those customized upgrades can lead to a slightly more expensive final cost. 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 memory and SSDs with more GB cost more than those with fewer GB.
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 GB they offer, they are less expensive than buying pre-installed components that are often inadequate and need to be upgraded quickly.
4. How to build your PC
The build is where it really starts to get exciting! Before we get into the build process, we've pulled together our three top tips.
Top Tips for building a PC:
Once your system is assembled, it’s time for the big moment – hit the power button! Make sure your monitor and keyboard are connected to the PC, and if everything worked 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. At this point, the assembly is over – congratulations, you’ve now built your own PC! Way to go!
- Prepare a large workspace to keep your build organized — nothing gets more frustrating than when you can’t 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 the hardware can be 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.
Step 1: Adding the hardware
It's a little difficult to provide clear written step-by-step instructions on installing the processor and power supply on the motherboard, and then putting 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.
Step 2: Installing the memory
RAM is the most straightforward hardware to install when building a PC. We’ve broken it down into four stages:
- 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.
Step 3: Installing the HDD or SSD
Depending on the form factor of the SSD you've purchased (2.5-inch, mSATA, or M.2), installation requires attaching the drive to the storage interface, then fitting it into the drive bay (if it's a 2.5-inch SSD). If you're looking for the largest capacity possible and have an extremely tight budget, a hard drive may be an attractive option.
For instructions on installing your hard drive, consult its owner's manual. Find out more about SSD installation with our guides and videos.
Time to boot up your new computer!
Once your system is assembled, it's time for the big moment — hit the power button!
Make sure your monitor and keyboard are connected to the PC, 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. At this point, the assembly is over — congratulations, you've now built your own PC!
Is it cheaper to build 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.
What do you need to build your own PC?
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
Can anyone build a computer?
With a little guidance, anyone can build their own PC. Building your own PC allows you to create a perfect PC for your needs.
Is it hard to build a computer by yourself?
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!
1. Performance times based on internal lab testing conducted in August 2015. Each task was executed and timed after the system had undergone a fresh boot so that other factors and applications didn’t affect the reported load and boot times. Actual performance may vary based on individual system configuration. Test setup: 1TB Crucial MX200 SSD and 1TB HGST Travelstar® Z5K1000 internal hard drive, both tested on an HP® Elitebook 8760W laptop, Intel® Core™ i7-2620M 2.70GHz processor, 4GB Crucial DDR3 1333 MT/s memory, BIOS Rev. F50 (5 August 2014), and Microsoft® Windows® 8.1 Pro 64-bit operating system.