Building your own Windows desktop has many advantages over buying one pre-built. You can get parts suited exactly to your needs, which can also potentially lead to cost savings. You can get a customized look that’s unique to your PC. You don’t have to deal with things like bloatware or annoying pre-installs. It’s also a learning experience: by building your own computer, you’ll have a better grasp on how it all works.
You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to build a great desktop, though the more you do spend up front, the longer your PC will still be current. The beauty of building your own Windows desktop is you can price and build exactly for your needs. For example, if you’re a video editor, a lot of your build cost should be going toward extra RAM (more temporary storage and faster edits) and hard drive space to store your projects (an extra SSD, for example).
In our example build, we wanted a PC that would excel at playing high-end games now and for the next few years. For that need, we had to prioritize a great GPU (graphics card) so we could play popular titles at their highest graphical settings. And eventually, to upgrade to an RTX 2080, to support future titles in HD or 4K that use ray tracing. The budget we set for this was $2,000, all-in, including a license for Windows 10 Home. That’s not cheap, but it’s enough to ensure that this PC will still be capable a few years down the road.
To make this process easier, I used PCPartPicker to organize the list of parts I’d use, ensure there were no compatibility issues between them, and make sure I’m within my budget. It’s a great way to make sure that everything you’re buying works together before you’ve got it all laid out on your workbench.
Before we get started, there are a couple of things you should be wary of. First off, you are handling parts that draw several hundred watts of the power, sodon’t ever touch the parts with the system powered on.
It’s smart to wear an anti-static bracelet (or ground yourself by touching a metal object / items bound to the floor) so that you don’t give your PC parts ESD (electrostatic discharge) and damage them in the process.
My ATX-class power supply is produced by Corsair as well, so it’s designed to fit in this case, but you should always check your case specification and learn what motherboard and power supply size it can house best.
The rest of the components fall into line after the motherboard: processor, cooling, RAM, GPU, and so on. You’ll want to make sure that your motherboard has things like built-in Wi-Fi, Ethernet, sound, and Bluetooth, so you don’t have to worry about adding those components separately. Fortunately, it’s not hard to find a motherboard that has all of those things onboard already.
The build process
The first part of the build should be orderly laying out everything you’ve purchased: the processor, RAM, graphics, all the screws, cable ties, fan screens… everything. This way you won’t stop building midway and go looking for that elusive motherboard screw.
From there, where you start is up to you, but I prefer to start by mounting the power supply. By installing the PSU first, I can single out all the required wires, and make space for them. Generally, it’s a safe step that is difficult to mess up. Also, this is personal preference, but in all of my prior builds, I decided to install every major part in the desktop before I start wiring them to each other and to the power supply.
Next, mount that motherboard. Depending on your socket type (AMD or Intel), you may need to install a back brace for the motherboard, so do that first. Afterward, screwing down a handful of small screws, aligned with motherboard and the case, should keep this integral part of your DIY PC build in place.
The rest of the build is more about plug-and-play. For starters, installing RAM is a piece of cake: just align your gold connectors with the center of the slot, slowly pushing down till you hear a click.
- Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge
So now that all your PC parts are installed and fit together inside the case, it’s time to wire everything. This is a tedious and tricky process that involves knowing exactly which cables to use (your motherboard manual does a good job of explaining this).
In this build, I’m using numerous connectors for the front panel’s ports, audio inputs, and power button. This also includes power cables to the graphics card, CPU, motherboard, fan controller, individual fans, pump, and Wi-Fi antennae.
Meanwhile, 4K gameplay and ray tracing is out of the question for current Nvidia GeForce graphics cards, but thanks to the headroom afforded to me by the 850 watt power supply, I’ll be able to just swap out these cards for an RTX 2080 once those are available.
The versatility of swapping out current parts for new(er) ones — like a faster SSD, RGB backlit fans, more Corsair RAM — is one of the best aspects of PC building. And honestly, it’s just a lot of fun.