How to build your first PC

While there are plenty of off-the-shelf solutions that you can buy, you'll get the most reward by getting down and dirty and building your own PC. Here's a rundown of what you'll need to do.

If you were a tech head, there was a time when you absolutely always built your own PC, and would never consider buying off the shelf.

This is the tl;dr video for what is an admittedly huge feature. If it looks interesting, there's significantly more detail over the ensuing pages.

Those were the halcyon days. When our forebears, who bared fores harder than anyone had forborne before, did not go to ein shoppe, and they did not order from thine Alienware, Dell, HP or Apple, but with their own bare fists, intellect and nudity constructed their own doomsday device. PC. I meant PC.

While we may be more in the halitosis days now, with most major vendors tending to focus on mobile rather than desktop, if you're at the thin edge of the extreme wedge, you too can still be part of the glorious master race of PC builders. It may be a series of whacking bits in other bits, but by the holy rings of Saturn, it makes magic.

Afterwards, we'll tear it all apart and build it again. (Credit: Craig Simms/CNET)

Shopping list

Before you begin your quest to gather parts, you'll need a checklist to ensure that when you order, you don't forget anything. Even the most experienced of us will accidentally leave a part out from time to time, so it's good practice to keep something like an Excel spreadsheet of everything you need. The same spreadsheet can also help you keep track of which stores are selling parts for the cheapest (don't forget to include shipping!).

Here's a quick rundown on what you'll need at the bare minimum on your list:

  1. CPU

  2. Heatsink and fan (HSF)*

  3. Motherboard

  4. RAM

  5. Graphics card*

  6. Hard drive

  7. Power supply

  8. Case

  9. Cables^

  10. Operating system

*Optional: many processors come with their own heatsinks.
^Optional: most of the cables you'll need are often supplied with the motherboard.

Note that this guide assumes you have access to a working internet connection, and to an already functioning machine for support. If you're starting from absolute scratch, you may have to skip some steps and return to them later.

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