Building Your Own PC: Part Picking

At first, building a computer can seem like an intimidating task, but even if you don’t plan to build your own computer, this knowledge will help you make wise purchasing decisions about ready-made PCs. Taking time to familiarize oneself on the parts of a computer is an incredible learning opportunity. This topic will be covered in two short articles. In part one, follow the step-by-step guide below for picking out the components for your next computer, whether building or buying. 


Typically, the first step in picking PC parts is to choose a processor. The processor is responsible for handling all the instructions in a computer. High clock speeds and core counts will make a major difference in the overall performance of your computer, and newer processors can do more with the same clock speed. Paired together, clock speed and processor efficiency refer to single-core performance; this is more important than core number so prioritize appropriately. By electing to get a fast processor, you will save money purchasing a computer that will be current and relevant longer. However, pick one at an acceptable budget, as it sets the standard for the rest of your build. Never get a fast processor with slow storage, RAM, and graphics, or vice versa.  


After choosing your processor, find a motherboard that supports the socket type (such as TR4, AM4, LGA 1151, 2066, sTRX4, etc.). When choosing a motherboard, it is imperative that you pick a motherboard that will be compatible with the rest of your components. This is because the motherboard is the link to provide communication between each part of the computer. Check the CPU socket to make sure it is compatible with your processor. Check the memory compatibility and make note of which types will work for your motherboard. If you are planning on using an M.2 form-factor storage device, ensure that the motherboard is compatible as well. If you are going to use a dedicated graphics card, ensure that it has the appropriate slot for it. Finally, the motherboard generally dictates the size of the computer, and therefore your case should be a size that fits the form factor. 


The first thing to consider when choosing memory is how much you will need. Most users will require at least 8GB of RAM to handle most basic software. If you plan to build a high-end workstation or gaming computer, pick out at least 16GB of RAM. However, if you are on a budget, it is very easy to add more RAM to your computer at a later date, so starting with 8GB would be acceptable.  Next, refer to the notes you took on your motherboard. Ensure that the DDR generation of the DIMM on the motherboard is the same as the RAM you want to pick out. Make sure that you are not finding SO-DIMM RAM, as that is built for the laptop form factor. Finally, consider how many sticks you wish to purchase. Two sticks are typically faster for the same overall size but may leave fewer slots for upgrading later. 


Storage will come in many types, shapes, and sizes. First, hard disk drives (HDDs) are the cheapest, bulkiest option for storage. Each HDD has an associated rotations per minute that is used to measure how fast the drive is. Next, are Solid State Drives (SSDs). SSDs are manufactured to be faster than HDDs, as well as more reliable, as they do not have moving mechanical parts. SSDs have various form factors, such as 2.5”, PCI-E, mSATA, and M.2. If you choose a form factor, ensure that the motherboard you chose above is compatible. 

Video card 

Most CPUs today come with an integrated graphics processor built right into the chip, provided the motherboard supplies an output. If you are only planning on using your computer to read emails and browse the web, the integrated graphics will be enough for you. However, if you plan to do video gaming or high-end media editing, a dedicated video card is required. Next you must decide what kind of GPU you are looking for. The two main GPU manufacturers are AMD and Nvidia. Nvidia is on the higher end of the market, especially with the release of their RTX cards. However, AMD is a strong competitor, and much more reasonably priced. If you are planning to invest money in a graphics card, make sure you get a card with at least 4GB of VRAM, but 6GB or 8GB is more ideal. After you have chosen a GPU, ensure that the motherboard has the appropriate slot for it, and make note of the Thermal Design Power (TDP) measurement. This will be important in picking out your power supply unit next.

Power Supply Unit 

It is easy to dismiss the importance of a good power supply unit (PSU). An unreliable power supply can cause major issues and damages to the other components that you have picked out. Therefore, you’ll want to give a lot of thought and attention to picking your PSU out. The PSU must be rated to cover all the components, and this power allowance must increase substantially when a dedicated graphics card is added. The 80 PLUS certification levels are efficiency ratings that rank from basic to titanium. If you want to make sure that your PC is running efficiently, make sure to get a higher-rated certification. You can also choose to pick out a modular power supply, which costs more, but saves space by allowing you to remove cables. 


All the components will ultimately fit inside your case. Make sure you choose something that you’ll enjoy seeing daily. The only parameters for the case are for it to be able to fit the motherboard, power supply, graphics card, and for it to have the appropriate number of HDD/SSD storage bays. It will also dictate the size of the fans and cooling components that you will be able to install. 


Lastly, there are two most common ways to cool a computer – air cooling and liquid cooling. Air cooling uses a set of fans to dissipate heat from the CPU and push the airflow throughout the computer. Liquid cooling most commonly takes the form of an all-in-one which secures itself over your CPU and uses liquid to pull out the heat and forces it to dissipate through a radiator. Liquid cooling is more effective than air cooling, and a high-end computer should always elect for it over standard air cooling. Make sure to also get the fans for the front and back of your case, if your case does not provide any. Lastly, some RAM heatsinks obstruct larger cooling components, so ensure the two are compatible. 

In part two, we will tackle step-by-step instructions for putting together your PC.

Author: Quinn Johnson