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How to Build a Really Fast Desktop Computer
May 31, 2019
Ever wonder what makes a computer fast? In this article, we’ll talk about everything you need to know in order to build the fastest desktop computer for your budget, from choosing the ideal case design to installing and testing components.
If you’re considering a home build, you’ll be glad to know that putting a computer together isn’t necessarily that much more complicated than careful shopping. Here’s everything you’ll need to buy or think about before you get started:
1. An easy-to-use PC case
3. Multi-core processor with a clock speed above 4.0 GHz
4. 16GB of RAM
5. SSD or hybrid storage
6. Up-to-date graphics card (NVIDIA® GeForce®, AMD Radeon™, and Vega, etc.)
7. Cooling system
8. Adequate power supply
There are plenty of reasons to build your own computer, with improved speed being one of them. The benefits you can experience with a faster PC are mostly obvious: better and more consistent performance. A fast computer is simply easier and more pleasant to use, but some of the benefits of a home-built system may not be so apparent at first.
What are the advantages of building your own high-speed computer?
Many times, a pre-built computer that’s out of your price range can be built at home for much less. Instead of paying extra for an assembled device, you can save by purchasing individual components and putting them together yourself.
You’re essentially removing the labor and brand costs that sometimes keep the price of computers high, particularly when you look at premium models and high-powered variants. If you aren’t afraid of some assembly, you can end up with a much more powerful rig than what you may buy pre-assembled in the same price range.
The other advantage is control. When you build a fast computer from the ground up, it’s much easier to know more about it and how it works. This includes the characteristics of each component, where different parts are located and how they’ve been mounted, and even what may be wrong when an issue arises.
Having said that, for users who prefer to stay hands-off and don’t imagine actively maintaining or upgrading their PC, it’s also worth asking yourself: would I rather save money on a home build or do I want to save time by choosing a standard, pre-assembled model? With that in mind, this advantage is most useful for either experienced PC users or anyone looking to become one.
How to choose the right case and components for your build
Assembling a new PC depends a lot on the components you’ve chosen, which means you need to start off by choosing a case that can accommodate everything. List your components and make sure everything is compatible, and then make sure you’ve chosen a case that you’re comfortable working with for the long-haul because accessibility and upgradability help add value to any homemade PC.
What is a motherboard? It’s the base that you will use to install your components. When choosing a motherboard, you’ll need to consider the options (micro, mini, standard) which will then determine some of the limits for components that will fit. For a high-speed build, you will probably want a standard sized motherboard to give yourself room. You want to avoid getting your fast, high-powered components too close to each other which can build up heat.
Your processor or CPU is essentially the brain of your computer, managing and integrating the rest of your PC so that you can interact seamlessly with everything. Having a processor with more cores and a higher clock speed means that you can interact with more applications, more quickly. Good ratings in these fields are what makes your computer faster.
For the most rigorous routines, whether it’s gaming or video editing, 4.0 GHz is a good baseline for processor speed. Ultimately, the number of cores depends on your budget and how you plan to use your computer. If you focus on one task at a time and don’t often need to run many simultaneous applications, you can get away with less.
You’ll also want to shop for hardware that can live up to your basic needs immediately. If you have a heavier computing routine, you’ll want to focus on multi-core processors with good clock speed of 4.0 GHz or higher.
RAM, or random access memory, also has a big impact on PC performance and how you’ll use your device from day to day. RAM is what your PC uses to run the various programs and applications we all depend on for functionality from our computers. Most parts of a PC system have relatively straightforward functions, but RAM is still often misunderstood. If you’re unfamiliar with the subject, you can get a better grasp before you start building by taking a deeper look into RAM speed.
There are telltale signs that your computer may not have enough RAM. You may be familiar with them if you have had difficulty loading multiple larger media files, including raw photos and videos, or if you have experienced sluggish performance when trying to run resource-heavy programs, especially more than one or two at once.
If those issues sound familiar or you want to avoid them altogether, start your build with at least 16GB of RAM. Investing in even a little extra memory can save you hassle and time, while the right PC case can still provide ample room for expansion down the line. For gamers, professionals, or anyone with a demanding routine, you won’t regret taking RAM seriously from the start.
For storage, choose an HDD or SSD that best fits your needs. Bear in mind that SSD is the most efficient option, though there are scenarios where HDD or a hybrid configuration may be preferred. SSD is an increasingly common option, but it will also cost more than HDD with similar storage space. Still, SSD is unbeatable for users who are really looking for more speed and responsiveness from their desktop.
6. Integrated or discrete graphics
There are two main reasons to ask yourself whether or not you need a discrete graphics card. In case you aren’t familiar with the difference, an integrated graphics card is built into your processor, while a discrete (also known as dedicated) graphics card is mounted separately on your PC’s motherboard.
An integrated graphics card adds efficiency to your build by generating less heat, which then reduces the need for extra ventilation and maintenance while consuming less power. A discrete graphics card does the opposite.
Integrated graphics are a great way to save with your initial build and get the most out of it later, if you don’t mind adding a discrete graphics card only after the need arises. That being said, if you’re a gamer or someone who needs the best graphics, you’ll want a discrete graphics option.
The NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti is one of the most powerful options around, though it is larger than most. For a smaller, more affordable option, consider the GTX 1050. AMD’s Vega and Radeon Vega lines also offer a competitive range of options.
7. Cooling system
While we’re on the subject of graphics and power usage, you should also think about thermal regulation. If you’re a gamer or frequently use resource-intensive applications, you’ll want to prioritize a case that also includes improved ventilation or has room to add supplemental cooling systems.
Installing fans will allow airflow around components. But remember, keeping your souped-up computer cool is vital to making sure those components perform at their peak. Read about why you should consider liquid cooling here: Top 10 Reasons to Use Liquid Cooling vs Air Cooling in your Gaming Computer.
8. Power supply
Generally, the last thing you’ll want to choose is your power supply. Why? Because providing your PC with an adequate flow of power is critical to guaranteeing that each component works properly. If you don’t have the right power supply, the rest of your high-quality specs may fail to deliver.
Different processors and components all eat into the resources you need to work, so it’s crucial that you understand what you’re dealing with. To manage consumption and reduce the need for short-term upgrades, make sure your power supply has additional capacity for big applications and can accommodate future upgrades.
If you don’t pick your power supply with care, there’s a good chance you could run into problems down the line. You can also end up with unnecessary downtime and the need for more changes if you upgrade other components without first taking your power supply into account.
How to install components onto your motherboard and get things running
While the specifics of each assembly job is different depending on your case and components, here’s a rundown of the most important steps:
1. Make sure that your PC and any components are completely unplugged. Then open your PC case with the appropriate tool.
2. Carefully mount your processor and factory cooling, which is usually a fan and heat sink secured against the processor. Remember to leave yourself enough room for each component and extra space for your most high-performance items to help minimize excess heat build-up.
3. Install RAM in the available memory slots, making sure that it’s lined up and secured properly. If you’re replacing an older or less powerful RAM module, simply eject and use the open slot for your replacement. For more information about RAM and how to install it, read our related HP® Tech Takes article here: What is DDR4 RAM and How Do I Install It?
4. Mount your hard drive in the drive bays. It should fit and line up with your case’s interior housing, allowing you to secure the drive. Again, to minimize heat build-up you should provide as much breathing room around the drive as possible. For more detailed information on how to install a hard drive and operating system, read our related HP® Tech Takes article here: How to Replace a Hard Drive and Reinstall your Operating System.
5. If you have a discrete graphics card to mount, you’ll need to access one of your motherboard’s PCIe slots. Line your graphics card up with the open expansion slot and press down. There should be a built-in clip to secure it.
6. Make sure all your components are where they should be and that you’ve made all the necessary connections, then close your PC case.
7. When you’re ready to get started and have a display picked out, simply install your OS and drivers, configure your system BIOS, and you’re ready to go.
How to test how fast your computer is
Monitoring your computer’s performance is a great way to stay on top of maintenance and usage, particularly if you ever feel like you aren’t getting a fast computer speed.
One of the easiest ways to check performance as a Windows user is via the Performance tab under Task Manager. While there are many online applications for independently testing your specs, this is one of the simplest and most comprehensive ways to look at your system.
The next time you need to know “how fast is my computer” for comparing performance or different models, just remember you have plenty of options. Also try to keep perspective on your budget and overall goals, because building the fastest desktop computer is a little different from building a fast desktop computer under $500. Depending on your needs, what one person would call a fast computer speed may not pass muster for others.
Don’t be intimidated
If you’ve never tried building your own super-fast desktop computer, it’s understandable that you may be a little intimidated. We all want the most from our PCs, but you also have to ask what makes the most sense for your situation.
Fortunately, building a very fast desktop computer from scratch doesn’t have to be difficult. Just remember the basic stages we covered and research your components if you get confused. Each should come with plenty of additional reading and specific instructions.
You can even use a service like PC Part Picker to make sure all the components you choose will work together to make the fastest desktop computer for your budget.
About the Author: Dwight Pavlovic is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Dwight is a music and technology writer based out of West Virginia.