What’s the purpose of the machine?
This may seem like an obvious question, but it’s important when building your first pc and will play a factor in the rest of the sections in this article.
If you’ve decided to build a computer, then presumably there’s a purpose in that decision.
Now, it may be the case that you’ve always wanted to build one and you’re going to do that now. Alternatively, it may be the case that you have some specific requirements and you’ve chosen to do this yourself.
I’m assuming that if you’re building your own machine then it’s because the stock computers available from the brands like Dell or HP don’t meet the particular requirements that you have.
As you’ll see below, there are some factors that you need to take in when building your own specced machine.
What’s your budget?
This is usually tied in quite closely with what the purpose of the machine will be.
There’s no point in you spending over $1000 on a video card if all you’re going to be doing is sending emails and browsing the web.
Alternatively, if the machine is for gaming at home, do you really need to spend money on a flashy case light setup if it means that you miss out on getting a higher-end graphics card or better motherboard?
There are certain parts of a machine that I wouldn’t compromise on, no matter if it’s for gaming or work in general. Get a solid-state disk (SSD) and you really will notice a massive difference in performance from the machine.
There are variants in SSDs and indeed there are different types/form factors that you can get.
The majority of SSDs tend to be laptop-style drives (AKA 2.5″ drives), however, it’s becoming more common to see the M.2 type as the price falls.
This really does help. Do up a list of parts that you think you’re going to need, and don’t scrimp on the list.
People will sometimes overlook things like including a mouse and keyboard on their list. Sometimes they won’t include speakers or will forget about something as simple as a multi-socket power plugboard.
Planning ahead can be of great assistance. If you can put together a Google Sheet and list the various parts that you think you’ll need, it will give you a rough estimate of the costs involved.
It may not be 100% accurate but will act as a guide in the early days, and will allow you to see just which parts you’ll need in the initial build.
Remember, you don’t need to buy all the parts at the beginning.
You can build the core or base of the machine, and then as time and/or funding is available, you can finish off the build.
Do some research on parts
As I mentioned earlier, do some planning on which parts you’re going to need initially, there are certain parts that you’ll want to be 100% sure of before ordering.
Figure out what you want to do with the computer once you have it built, and from there you can find out which parts you are going to need.
So, if you just need a basic machine that will let you browse the internet, watch Netflix, send emails or type up documents then there’s no point in buying a super-duper high-end machine.
I’ll list below the main parts that you’re going to need, there may be some that you already have at the moment which could help cut down on initial costs.
It could be the case (no pun intended!) that you already have a fairly decent case, however, if your existing PC is a branded one (like HP, Dell, etc.) then I’d recommend that you get a new case.
You will find some cases have a whole load of additional LED lights and light controllers on them, and this can sometimes add quite a bit to the price.
In my opinion (and in fairness, others may well differ) but I don’t see the point in having these LED lights on your PC. I can appreciate that some people like it, however, it’s not
CPU / Processor
This is basically the brain of the computer, so it’s well worthwhile to make sure you get a good one!
You will definitely need to do some research on this one as there are different sizes (socket types) and 2 main brands; AMD and Intel.
If you decide to go with an AMD CPU then you’ll need to make sure that the motherboard you purchase is compatible with that CPU.
Be very careful as you’ll find some manufacturers offer almost identically named variants of motherboards, one for Intel and the other for AMD. Just be attentive when ordering the part (it’s a mistake I’ve almost made myself a couple of times).
What you want to do with the new PC will determine the type of CPU you will need.
If you want to play games then it’s worth getting a decent CPU along with a high-end graphics card.
However, if you’re going to be doing a lot of video creation (for YouTube, etc.) then you’ll want a good CPU and a good graphics card.
Do some searches on Google for which item is more important in relation to the software that you’ll be using (my understanding is that Photoshop is very CPU intensive but not so much on the graphics card).
Similar to the CPU choice, be sure to select the correct type of motherboard for the brand and model of CPU you are buying.
There are also some other factors to take into account, such as:
What type of SSD will you use? SATA or M.2?
How many drives are you planning on connecting? (you might need to think a bit more long term with this one).
How many graphics cards are you planning on using? (this is less of a “thing” in recent times).
Somewhat related to this is what graphics card you will use, it’s important to check how big the card is physically (some of the cards with large heat syncs can end up blocking access to ports on the motherboard).
Also, check where the RAM slots are located on the motherboard, I’ve had an issue in the past where I’ve ordered RAM that has heat sync and it ended up being in the way of the graphics card (the heat sync on the RAM was quite tall).
Memory / RAM
RAM is quite important and it’s nice to get a good amount of fast RAM when building your first PC.
However, you don’t need a huge amount of RAM to make your machine effective. It all really depends on what you’ll be doing with the computer.
Initially, I’d suggest going with 16 gigabytes of RAM, this should be plenty for gaming and running quite a few programs at the same time.
Can you build it yourself?
This may simply be an issue of confidence when building your first PC.
You may be a little nervous or think it’s a daunting task but if you watch a few instructional videos on YouTube and read a few articles you should be fine.
Just take your time and double check that each part is connected securely, and most importantly, don’t rush it.
If it takes you a few hours to build then so be it, better to spend a bit of extra time to do it correctly.
Remember, once you have the machine built then it’s unlikely that you’re going to be swapping out any parts for a while.
Maybe an extra hard drive or RAM upgrade but that should be about it, so you won’t be opening the machine back up for a while.
Spend a little extra to get some good parts
As I mentioned earlier, pick out the parts that you absolutely need for the beginning of the build (e.g. Motherboard, RAM, CPU, Power Supply).
Work out a rough estimate of what the parts will cost and compare to your available budget. From there you can figure out which extras you can pick up.
When building your first PC I highly recommend including a solid-state disk in the build. The price of these drives has come down a huge amount in the past year or so.
Do some research on the various parts, an excellent site for various parts reviews is Anandtech.
Anandtech has excellent articles about various PC components and will usually give you a good idea of what to expect from a potential hardware purchase.
Another good site for hardware news and reviews is Tom’s Hardware.
I recommend that you invest in a highly rated PSU (Power Supply Unit), probably a 750W to help future proof your machine. It will cost a bit more but will be worth the extra layout.
The additional juice flowing through the machine will allow you to add additional video cards in the future and will allow for better overclocking of the CPU.
Pick up a good CPU cooler / Heat Sync, this is extremely important if you intend to overclock your system. It will also help with reducing the fan noise levels from your PC.
Make sure the parts are compatible
As mentioned previously, spend a little extra time to be certain that all the parts are compatible when building your first PC.
Be certain that parts you are choosing are compatible with each other, especially the CPU.
For a long time Intel were dominant in the CPU market, however, this had a negative side effect.
They became a bit lethargic when it came to performance increases with each new CPU they released because they didn’t really have any major competition.
This has changed in recent times with AMD releasing the Ryzen family of CPUs. These processors are extremely powerful and in some ways have knocked Intel off their perch.
In the end, it’s us as the consumer that will benefit as Intel will now be forced to respond in kind. Competition is good.
You don’t need flashy lights and stickers
If you look at any of E-Sports videos on YouTube, I’m sure you’ll see the crazy flashing PC cases of some of the competitors.
To me, personally, this absolutely isn’t a requirement if you’re building your first PC. Of course, it looks nice but it means diddly squat to performance.
There’s a guy I work with who recently built a gaming PC, it is an absolute beast of a machine, performance-wise that is.
However, the thing that he thought was the most amazing and important feature was that it came with a remote control which would let him change the lighting setup as if he were changing the channel on the TV!
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s cool to be able to do that, but I certainly don’t think it was worth spending an extra $100 to be able to do so.
Not when that $100 could have gone towards a better motherboard or a good mechanical keyboard.
It’s a personal preference of course, but if you want to get the best bang for your buck then spend the money on what will actually make the machine perform better and not on things that will make it look prettier.
Spend your budget on the important stuff
When building your first PC, you want to do 2 things.
It will be a big enough initial outlay, so you want to build it to last.
Also, you want to get the best performance you can with your available budget.
As noted previously, spend the bulk of your budget on the key components which will give you the best initial experience.
To me, I’d class the following as important, especially if you are planning on gaming with your new machine.
- CPU – decide on the type, and definitely look into picking up a model that will allow overclocking.
- SSD – this will make a massive difference in speed, the computer will boot into Windows in literally several seconds.
- GPU – this is something I highly suggest that you do some research on, and be certain to check how big the graphics card is, make sure it will fit inside the case you have selected!
- Motherboard – get a good motherboard, but I do suggest that you do some research on it. There are some excellent boards out there, the Republic Of Gamers (ROG) boards are very nice, but it’s well worth your while to research and be sure you are getting the best value.
- PSU – if you get a good power supply at the beginning then it’s unlikely you’ll need to replace it for many years to come. A good PSU will give you the freedom to expand other components in the machine and will future-proof it to a certain degree.
- Heat Sync / CPU Cooler – if you’re planning on overclocking the machine then this will be vital.
You can improve the machine in the future
Now that you have assigned your initial budget in such a way as to get the best performance for your available funds, you can begin to plan for future upgrades.
You can look at increasing the amount of RAM in the machine or possibly adding a number of hard drives or even SSDs in order to build a RAID array.