Before we get started, there are two very important things you need to figure out. The first one is your end goal. Why are you building a PC, and what will you use it for? Will it be for gaming? Video editing? Watching cat videos on Youtube? These tasks will be the foundation of how you pick your components and how we can optimize the parts later on.
The next step is to determine a budget. I know no one likes talking money, but you need to set yourself a guideline on how much you want to spend because it’s very easy to go overboard and end up with something that costs twice as much as you originally planned for. As well, many components quickly hit a point of diminishing returns so again, a budget is important so we know which areas can offer the most bang for your buck. For example, most people probably won’t feel the difference in load speed between an Intel i7-7700 and a 7700K. But the difference between a hard drive and an SSD? Night and day.
Now we can start looking at parts. The first step is to pick your processor, which is the brain of your computer. It does all the thinking, so we need to pick one that’s suitable for your task. For most people out there, you’ll want to pick the processor in the order of clock speed, the number of cores, and overclock ability.
Clock speed is essentially how fast the processor can do a single task, while number of cores will determine how many simultaneous tasks it can handle. Just keep in mind that clock speed is only a part of how a processor works, so there are still some cases where a lower clock speed processor can beat a higher clock speed. But for our purposes, it’s a good enough starting point.
Most games and software are currently optimized for running on 4 cores, so don’t worry too much about not being able to afford that 12 core processor you think you need. For the average gamer, an AMD Ryzen 5 1600 processor is a solid choice. It’s great for games and has enough extra cores that things like streaming while gaming or video editing won’t be a problem. It falls slightly behind in single core performance compared to Intel i5 and i7 processors, but it blows them out of the water with multi-threaded applications. For $220 USD, it’s the best bang for your buck and leaves you with a very flexible system since you can close the gap in game performance with future patches, but you can’t make up for a lack of physical cores.
If you’re just looking to build a basic multimedia PC, then an Intel Pentium processor with hyper threading is very hard to beat. The two virtual cores aren’t quite as good as four real cores, but it’s still much faster than other dual-core processors. And if you’re building an extreme top of the line system featuring Intel’s new 18 core processor, then you probably already know more than what this video covers.
Finally, overclock ability can be a factor if you’re the type that likes to tinker with settings and try to get as much performance out of a chip as possible. Just remember down the line that overclocking creates more heat, so you’ll also need a better CPU cooler as well. If your processor comes with a cooler included, then it’ll be perfectly adequate if you don’t plan on overclocking. But if you do, or if you want something quieter, then you’ll want to look into a larger heatsink with heatpipes or a liquid cooled solution.
The next step is your motherboard. There are two main things to keep in mind when picking one out. Many processors have multiple chipsets that are all compatible, so it all depends on what kind of features you’re looking for. Generally speaking, higher end chipsets and motherboards will come with more USB ports, beefier power components for better overclocking potential, built in WIFI, multiple network adapters, more storage options such as PCIe M.2 slots and U.2 connectors, and of course synchronized RGB lighting.
The second thing to keep in mind is your form factor. Mini-ITX sized boards are great for going as small as possible, while micro ATX boards help shrink down the size a bit while still giving you most of the features of a full sized board. And finally, ATX and larger boards will give you all the features you need with no compromises.
When picking your form factor, you may need to think about how many total slots of RAM you need, how many storage connections there are, or if there’s built in WIFI. Just remember that not all chipsets are available in all form factors, so plan accordingly. AM3 boards, for example, only come in ATX and mATX so if you wanted an ultra compact system, you’d have to switch to an Intel chipset or wait until AM4 boards start rolling out.
Next up is your case. This ties in closely with your motherboard, as you’ll want to match the size of your case with your motherboard. You can fit a small motherboard into a big case, but it looks kind of dumb. And we REALLY shouldn’t have to point this out, but please don’t get a motherboard that’s bigger than your case.
Many cases nowadays offer many of the same features such as conveniently placed front IO ports, high-quality silent fans, and modular hardware mounts. If you’re not sure where to start, then we recommend picking based on looks. Once you’ve narrowed down your case to a certain style, then you can start filtering out based on any specific features you might want such as a tempered glass panel, built-in fan splitters, and radiator mounting points.
Memory, or RAM, is a pretty easy one to pick. A rough guideline is 8GB for multimedia PC’s, 16GB for gamers, and 32GB and up for any workstation tasks such as rendering or video editing. You want to choose the largest capacity available in the fewest number of sticks while staying in a multiple of 2, so based on our previous numbers, go with a 2 by 4 kit, a 2 by 8 kit, or a 2 by 16 kit. This gives you room to expand in the future and maintains dual channel memory bandwidth.
If you chose a chipset that supports quad channel memory, then don’t get too caught up with trying to use four sticks of ram. In practice, the performance difference between quad channel and dual channel ram is negligible in most applications, and you’re better off leaving empty slots for expansion in the future instead of filling everything up now.
As for memory speed, you’ll want to go with the fastest speed you can find in your price range. But just remember – the difference in performance between a 2133MHz kit and a 3000MHz kit is barely noticeable, so don’t go wasting your budget here. Budget yourself initially for a 2400 to 2800MHz kit, and revise this later on if there’s still room left in your budget.
You might be tempted by some futuristic looking heat spreaders, but the taller your sticks are, the harder it is to pick a compatible CPU cooler. RAM doesn’t get too hot, so again, don’t get carried away. Pick something short.
The next category is your video card. Make sure you match your video card with your processor. You don’t want one that’s wildly faster than the other, otherwise you’ll create a bottleneck and just waste your money. This one’s complicated enough for an entirely separate video, so let’s assume you’ve already chosen an architecture that matches your needs and fits your budget.
There are a lot of brands available but just remember that AMD and NVIDIA create the architecture and reference video card designs, while board partners such as ASUS, EVGA, Gigabyte, and MSI create different variations of these cards based on their own coolers. Different video cards that use the same architecture will have very similar levels of performance, so make your pick based on how efficiently it dissipates heat, how quiet it is, how fast the clock speeds are, and how awesome it looks in your system.
The main thing to keep in mind is the physical size of the card. Many coolers will take up 2, even 3 slots, so make sure you’re not covering up a PCI slot you were planning on using. Many aftermarket cards are also taller and longer than reference, so again, make sure it actually fits in your case. You can mix and match brands here, so don’t be too concerned about trying to match your video card and motherboard. The only exception to this rule is if you’re trying to achieve a certain colour scheme, in which case, matching brands can also offer synchronized RGB lighting effects.
The last hardware component is storage. In order of fastest to slowest, it goes PCIe NVME SSD’s, SATA SSD’s, and regular old Hard drives. We absolutely recommend getting an SSD, since it makes a huge difference in load times for your operating system, games, and applications. If there’s one category where you need to save money, then this is not it. Like we mentioned earlier, going from an Intel i7 7700 to a 7700k might shave off 1-2 seconds while booting up windows. But the difference between an SSD and a hard drive? From 30 seconds to just 5.
The sweet spot for price to performance is a SATA SSD, with 500GB capacities often on sale for around $180 USD at the time of filming this video. Add on a 3.5inch hard drive for storing less frequently used files and you’re good to go. However, if you have a tight budget and your chipset is compatible, then look into pairing up an Intel Optane drive with a hard drive. It isn’t quite as fast as a dedicated SSD, but it does offer pretty good speeds with a much larger capacity than an SSD by itself.
For users looking for the fastest speed possible, it’s impossible to beat a PCIe NVME SSD. For M.2 based drives, make sure your motherboard’s M.2 slots are actually PCIe based and not just SATA. M.2 drives can get quite hot, so you may want to look for a motherboard with built in M.2 heat spreaders.
To power everything, we need a suitable power supply. You can calculate exactly how much wattage you need by adding up the thermal design power, or TDP, of all your components. However, a safe starting point for a system with a single graphics card is 500W. You don’t want a power supply that offers too much wattage either, since these are most efficient when operating at 60-80% of their capacity.
When it comes to the efficiency rating, anything 80 plus bronze and above is already excellent. Just like your memory from earlier, we recommending budgeting for a bronze power supply and only upgrading later if you can get a higher grade for not much more.
Most power supplies are pretty standard, but there are three main things to look for. Number one, make sure it comes with enough connectors for everything you need. You want to avoid using power supply adapters if possible, especially molex adapters for your video card. Number two, if noise is an issue for you, then some power supplies are so efficient that they can actually operate with their fan off most of the time. And if you’re super anal, then there are even fanless power supplies.
And number three: if looks are a big concern, then you’ll definitely want sleeved cables. Some models come with sleeved cables, but if they don’t, companies like Cablemod sell sleeved extension cables and even full replacement sets for supported models.
Now, take a deep breath. Inhale. And exhale. Congratulations. You got through our entire guide, and hopefully, you’re that much more confident in picking out your next PC. If you learned something new today, or still have any questions on how to pick parts, then let us know in the comments below!