If you’ve been beating yourself up about doing nothing productive during our never-ending pandemic, stop. Sometimes nothing is exactly what you need. Other times, it’s nice to make something with your own hands. That’s what this guide is about: how to build a PC from scratch.
It can be daunting for a lot of reasons—it’s expensive, it’s complex, it can get messy. But I want to be clear: If you can build an Ikea table, bookshelf, bed, or anything that comes in more than one of those deceivingly heavy flat packs, you can build a PC. The tricky part? I can’t tell you how to build your PC. Not really. Not unless I know exactly which hardware you’re using. I can, however, explain what each component does and what my recommendations are for each category.
Once you’ve built your shiny new PC, it might be time to check out some other stuff to further accessorize your new partner in crime. Be sure to have a look at our guides for the best gaming keyboards, best gaming mice, best gaming headsets, and best gaming controllers.
Updated October 2021: We’ve added new hardware in the motherboard, storage, case, and cooler categories, and updated buying advice.
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What Do You Need?
No matter what your experience level is, you should use PCPartPicker. It not only has everything you need to buy, it also lets you build your PC piece by piece right on the website, making sure all your hardware will play nicely together. It even has a few example builds you can tweak to your liking.
Regardless of what kind of PC you’re building (home office or gaming), the components you need are going to be the same. You’ll need a motherboard, a central processing unit (CPU), storage, memory, a power supply, a case, and a monitor. The only thing you might not need if you’re mostly using this PC for home-office tasks is a GPU (graphics processing unit), but it’s necessary for photo or video editing and gaming. That’s a lot of stuff, so what follows is a little breakdown of what each component does, along with some hardware recommendations.
Before diving in, you should know that there’s a worldwide shortage of PC components right now, particularly with graphics cards, and prices overall keep rising. If parts aren’t available, the best advice we can give is to wait. Things will eventually get back to normal.
Every other component plugs into this circuit board. It’s the highway they use to communicate and collaborate. They come in different sizes and configurations, and each one looks a little different, but they all fill the same function. One thing to look out for: Make sure you know which processor you want to go with before you buy a motherboard.
Motherboards come in a couple of flavors, but the most important thing to know is what kind of socket it has. There are basically two: LGA and AM. You’ll always see them listed with a number after them, like “LGA1150” or “AM3.” The exact numbers after the LGA and AM portions of these socket names will change over time, to indicate which generation of Intel or AMD chips they support, but the current standards as of 2021 (which will work with the latest chips from either maker) are LGA1200 for Intel and AM4 for AMD.