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Ultimate Custom Gaming PC Builder Guide
November 1, 2019
If you've been gaming for a while, you may be considering building your own custom gaming desktop PC. While this may seem like a challenging process at first, our guide will show you how to build a gaming PC with just the right components to play the latest and best AAA titles on the market.
First steps to a gaming PC build
Before you build a computer, it’s essential you have a wish list of gaming PC components you want to include in your new PC. Gaming PC parts are commonly sold all over the internet and in specialty stores, but not every part will work for all applications.
While your budget will play a role in what you choose, you’ll also want to consider compatibility with your favorite accessories and each other, the available warranty, and the estimated lifespan. If you’ve never built a PC before, you’ll also want to consider the process of interacting with parts as you build and replace.
Finally, you should consider performance needs, such as what processor speed you will need. Consider researching CPU speed requirements and why they matter. The best processors for gaming laptops, might not be what you want in a custom desktop PC.
Is it for you?
Before you continue on to shop for your computer, assess your dedication to the project. Most will find it straightforward, but it may not be a project for those who aren’t comfortable using computer tools while following manufacturer’s directions.
When we talk about the ways to build your own PC, we're most often referring to desktop computers. While there are some excellent gaming laptops available, these are most likely to be pre-built. Laptops are notoriously difficult to get into for modifications, making it borderline impossible to customize the inner components. If you have your heart set on an ultra-portable laptop, a DIY custom-build may prove frustrating and difficult.
Gaming PC Components
Before you build, you’ll need to shop for your gaming PC components. The most reputable components can be purchased directly from the manufacturer or a trustworthy seller, and they should include at least the most basic directions for connecting them to the computer. If in doubt, many of the top gaming brands have support forums and FAQ pages designed to help with any issues you have along the way.
To complete your PC, you’ll need:
- Power supply that can run your entire build and accessories
- Accessible gaming PC case with easy-access door or panel
- Cooling system with high-quality fans (consider liquid cooling if you feel confident in your DIY building skills)
You’ll also need these more significant parts. Read up on each to see what role they have in your overall experience.
Your processor, or CPU, helps determine how many tasks your computer can do and at what speed you can play. A more robust processor will give you the performance you need, so don’t pick one with fewer than 4 cores. For extra help in picking the right one, see our list of the 2019 best CPUs for gaming.
Computer graphics have come a long way since they were little cards that depended on the rest of the computer for their memory needs. Now, many GPUs (graphic processing units) have their own memory, referred to as “dedicated memory.” To ensure that you can do all the graphics-heavy gaming you want, invest in a gamer-geared GPU with some form of dedicated memory. Our list of best NVIDIA graphics cards for gaming is a good start.
SSD computer storage is preferred over a traditional hard drive. But how much space will you need? While opinions vary, a 1TB SSD or a hybrid setup will give you more than enough space to store your favorite games. If you plan to download more than a few of the bigger games, however, you may want to a 2TB drive.
Let’s talk RAM (random access memory). While there are plenty of gaming builds out there with a modest 8GB memory capacity, anything less than 16GB will probably leave you with a less-than-stellar gaming experience. Should you go big with a 32GB option? That depends on your budget. DDR4 RAM is easy to upgrade along the way, so if you picked out a DDR4-compatible motherboard with plenty of slots for added RAM, you will be fine with your choice of anything above 8GB.
What does a motherboard do, exactly? It plays a crucial role in tying everything together. Choose one with the same slot type as the rest of your computer parts, because compatibility is key. Motherboards designed specifically for gaming may have more slots, which gives you the opportunity to expand and upgrade as your needs change.
There are additional pieces to the puzzle you don’t want to leave out, including the following:
- WiFi and Bluetooth cards or adapters
- DVD-ROM drive, if you want to play games or watch movies on disc
- An operating system, preferably Windows 10 as it’s the most compatible OS with games
- Essential peripherals, such as a gaming mouse, keyboard, and headset
- Bonus gear, like a VR headset
These can have just as much impact on your play experience as the major components, so research to find the just-right fit for your build.
Completing the build
Shopping for your components is often more work than putting the computer together. In addition to the parts and accessories, you’ll want to invest in an assortment of small Phillips-head screwdrivers and an anti-static work mat that you can ground with an included metal clip and keep yourself from getting shocked or worse, frying your brand new components.
While everything will be unplugged while you work, it’s important to keep static buildup from discharging as you install each item onto your motherboard, ruining your new computer components. This is a very real danger, especially in dry climates. Both the toolkit and the anti-static mat can be found at computer supply or electronics stores.
While each part will be slightly different, here is the basic rundown to build your own gaming computer:
- Make sure nothing is powered on or even plugged into a power source
- Start with the motherboard because you'll be installing the following components into it one at a time
- Without touching the gold pins on the bottom of the CPU, install the CPU by pushing the cover up on the motherboard and moving any lever that may be in place. Press the CPU flat against the motherboard slot, using the guide arrows printed on the motherboard and CPU to make sure it’s in the right position. It may take some firm pushing to get it into place. Push the lever back down to secure the CPU
- The RAM is next. You’ll see that there are slots to place the RAM product into the motherboard, which makes this one of the easier parts of this process. If you need some help, refer to our guide on how to install RAM
- Open your PC case according to the directions using your screwdriver set. Some gaming cases have an easy-open door that doesn’t require tools, but hold on to that screwdriver. You’ll need it to secure the parts you’re about to install. If there are removable drive cages that you won’t need, you can take them out now
- Install the motherboard I/O shield, which is a small piece of metal that protects the motherboard from the elements
- Install the motherboard into the case using the instructions and included hardware
- Install your choice of cooling. For most, this is a fan and heat sink, and it may be installed next to or directly on the processor. If you wish to use a small amount of thermal compound, apply it now. Those interested in a build with a water cooling unit can add that step, as well. See our guide to installing a water cooler for more details
- Now it’s time to install your discrete graphics card. Carefully line up the card with the available expansion slot on the motherboard and snap it into place. Use the clip to secure the card
- If you want wireless internet, install the wireless card next. There's a spot on the motherboard for this, along with Bluetooth connectivity, which you'll probably want as well
- Insert the hard drive. There will be spaces for it to sit called "bays." Once again, you may need to refer to instructions for your case or drive, but there should be a way to secure it. Many gamers choose a build with SSD technology, which won’t fit into a traditional bay slot. Use the instructions to secure it to your case design. Our article on how to replace a hard drive will give you additional insight
- Install your DVD-ROM, Blu-Ray, or other disc drives, storage units, or additional components
- Connect the power supply unit. There will be openings in the case to pull it through. Make sure all of the components receive power either through a direct connection to the motherboard or to the power unit cabling. Double-check everything
- Use this time to connect any odds and ends, such as audio jacks and any indicator lights on the computer case. You shouldn’t have any loose or dangling cords or plugs that don’t have a home at this point
- Connect your monitor, display, mouse, and keyboard
- Now you’re ready to plug it into a power source and power up your PC
What to do after you’re done building
What if your computer doesn't start? While it could be a number of issues, the most common culprit is a loose connection. Triple-check everything (since you double-checked in Step 13 above). It could be something not having power, or a component may not be fully pressed into the motherboard.
Once the computer powers on, you know that it’s set up correctly. Go ahead and close the case so that all of your inside pieces don’t get dusty.
When you do get power, you’re ready to start installing your software, and our article on reinstalling your operating system can help. It will take time to get everything loaded on your computer, including the installation of common drivers. You’ll want to configure your BIOS now as well. Also connect to any of your networked items, such as a router, printer, and any gaming gear.
You may be prompted to update your operating system, install security patches, or update drivers. Budget plenty of time for this part of the process. A good internet connection can help speed things along during each step of installation and setup since most manufacturers and developers want you to register upon first use. Once you have your basic systems in place, it’s time to download or install your games.
Additional helpful hints
You’ll notice that we mentioned that each piece you add needs to be secured. This is very important because you don’t want items to shift or become dislodged over time. Whether your product comes with brackets, clips, or small screws, use what’s included in the packaging to ensure a snug fit.
We also recommend that you don’t use all of the room that's available in the case for your gaming PC build. Some components, such as your hard drive and processor, will get warm over time. Even with the best cooling, a little extra space between components will help prolong their life and prevent overheating. If in doubt, consider a roomier case.
One of the best things about learning how to build a computer is that you get a feel for what's possible. If you don't like how a component fits or you discover more room for additional components, you'll be better prepared for your next build or upgrade. When you build your own computer, you become a better-informed consumer.
Is a custom gaming PC build for you?
Now that you know what it takes to build your own gaming PC, you can see that it’s not as difficult as it may seem at first. Why would someone avoid the process, then? Reasons for buying a pre-built gaming computer include:
- It usually doesn’t take too long for the manufacturer to assemble and ship your PC
- Components will be compatible without you having to decide on each one
- Returns and repairs are easy because you'll be working with just one company
- Extended warranties are available for added protection against accidents, breakage, or malfunction
- Pre-built gaming PCs may still offer a level of customization at the factory, including memory, processing speed, and GPU
Once you build your own PC, you’re more likely to do it again. If nothing else, becoming comfortable with how the components work will make you a better PC owner who can upgrade your existing computer as needed.
About the Author: Linsey Knerl is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Linsey is a Midwest-based author, public speaker, and member of the ASJA. She has a passion for helping consumers and small business owners do more with their resources via the latest tech solutions.