Building a PC can be a confusing experience even before you start building it. Before getting your hands dirty, you need to choose the parts you’re going to buy — and buying something wrong can be an annoying and potentially costly mistake. Here’s how you can choose PC parts and not die trying.
Set a Budget
The very first thing you need to do is open up your wallet and debate with yourself how much you’re willing to spend on this PC, and what you want it to do. But also, you should be realistic with your expectations. If you want to play games in 4K, you should not expect to get anything remotely close to pulling that off for less than $1,000, for one.
Luckily, thanks to newer developments like DLSS, it’s easier than ever to get great performance in games even if you don’t have an ultra-high-end graphics card. Still, you should research what games you want to play and how powerful you will need your hardware to be. If you’re going to play eSports games such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive or League of Legends, those games won’t need the same kind of power that a game such as Cyberpunk: 2077 will need.
Make a list of the games you want to play, then choose your PC’s components — and your budget — going off from that. If you want to future-proof it, you should aim to make it a bit more generous.
As a rule of thumb, we don’t recommend spending less than $600 on custom-building a PC. Below this price point, you’ll still find some hardware, but you’ll probably be better off buying a pre-built computer or a used older PC. That being said, you also don’t need to spend over $3,000 to get a decent experience. You can do well with a budget that’s anywhere between $1,000 and $2,500 — more than that will likely require more hard work, not to mention that it will be a little bit overkill.
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Choose Your CPU First, Then Your Motherboard
When choosing the parts for your new PC, you need to make sure they’re all compatible with each other so your build actually works. One way to do that is to choose your CPU first, and then start picking out the rest of your PC’s parts based on that CPU choice, starting with the motherboard. After all, your CPU and your motherboard will be the deciding factors for what parts you can put in your PC, and what parts you can’t.
For example, say you’re choosing to put an Intel Core i7-13700K on your PC. From there, you’ll want to choose a motherboard that’s compatible with that CPU, like one using the Z790 or the B760 chipset. Then, pick out the rest of the parts based on those two choices. Check if the motherboard supports DDR4 or DDR5 RAM, check what PCI Express version it supports for graphics cards and SSDs, and build your shopping list from there.
Choose Your Power Supply Last
The last part you should pick out is the power supply for your PC. This is because you can’t know for sure how much power your PC is going to use until you actually have all of your parts picked out. If you buy a 600W power supply, but it turns out your PC will use a little bit more than that, you’ll run into issues.
Calculate a rough estimate of what your CPU, GPU, and the rest of your parts will use, over-spec that a little (by an extra 50W or 100W, perhaps more if you’re planning to upgrade the PC down the road), and buy a PSU based on that. Also, don’t underspend on your power supply. Don’t buy shady brands you haven’t heard about before, and make sure it has a good 80+ rating, like Gold, Platinum, or Titanium, for maximum efficiency.
Your Graphics Card Will (Probably) Be The Most Expensive Part
If you’re buying this PC for gaming, you need a good graphics card to go with it. You can choose a graphics card at any point during your shopping process — this will depend more on the games you want to play than on the rest of the hardware in your PC, as unless you’re buying a really old or cheap CPU, there’s not really a chance of a considerable bottleneck or anything that will harm your experience.
That being said, the graphics card you end up choosing will probably be, by far, the most expensive part you pick out for your PC. This is okay. Graphics card prices have been going up like crazy lately. Case in point: the NVIDIA RTX 4080, launched in 2022, starts at a whopping $1,200. Of course, you don’t need to go all out and buy an RTX 4080, but other cards might take anywhere between $300 to $800 of your budget, so that’s something you need to be aware of.
Bonus Tip: Use PCPartPicker
Finally, you can use online tools to assist you in your purchase process. One of the most useful tools we found for this is PCPartPicker.
Why is it so good? Because not only it lets you choose parts for your PC, but it also helps you cross-check that all of the parts you’re choosing are compatible with each other. It will also warn you of potential incompatibilities, such as suggesting the possibility that you might need a BIOS update with certain motherboards when you choose one part or the other. It will even do its best to check that everything fits well inside of the case, and that there’s enough clearance for everything you want to do.
At the end of the build process, you’ll have a price total — the service will check multiple retailers looking for the cheapest prices possible. Then, you can just buy everything at your own pace and build your dream PC.
RELATED: The Best Online Tools to Help You Build Your Next PC