If you want to build a kick-ass computer lab in your home, you’ll need to start with a kick-ass PC. But with so many ways to get good computers these days, you’ll have to make a decision:
Buying a pre-built computer? Or do you buy your own parts and build your computer with your bare hands?
I’ve made both of these choices over the past 10 years, so I’m in the perfect place to guide you through this process. Let’s talk about what you’ll need to build your PC, what it’s like to order a custom pre-built PC online, and what I recommend.
What do you need to build your gaming PC?
Building a PC is hard work, but it can be very rewarding. It gives you complete control over the process, and makes your computer feel like your own creation. It also makes upgrading your computer easier because you know exactly how each piece fits together.
Speaking of parts, let’s start with everything you need to build a complete PC and try it out for yourself:
- A case
- A processor (CPU)
- A processor cooler
- a plaque
- Multiple memory sticks (RAM)
- A hard drive
- A graphics card (GPU)
- power supply unit (PSU)
- Thermal paste
- A flashlight
- a screwdriver
- An anti-static wrist strap (optional, but recommended)
- A copy of Windows (or another operating system)
- a monitor
- a mouse
- A keyboard
For parts, I recommend PCPartPicker. It’s a great resource for beginners and will allow you to compare different parts so you can get exactly what you want (and even tell you if any of your parts are incompatible with each other). You can also take our checklist above and buy one piece at an online retailer like Amazon or pick it up at a local store like Micro Center.
Going into this process, you should know that computers are complex and changeable. One wrong move can cause problems when trying to boot your computer for a test. And if you’re not careful with your static electricity build-up, you could accidentally fry one of your expensive components.
This process requires hours of care and precision. If it’s your first time, I recommend bringing a trusted friend, especially if they’ve built a computer before.
As for the build process, you’ll want a flat surface and an iPad, laptop, or smartphone so you can watch a tutorial. The best way to build a computer is with a helpful video that shows you exactly what to do and the order of your operations.
The ECPU video above is a fantastic tool for beginners. They begin by defining the parts and why they are important before moving on to the actual construction. The video is also time-stamped, making it easy to skip. I also like this tutorial from PC Centric.
It’s worth noting that all PC builds are slightly different depending on the parts you choose. If you’re struggling with a part that the person in your video tutorial doesn’t do, try reading the instructions or, even better, looking for a build video with your case, motherboard, or processor.
How to get a custom pre-built computer?
Aside from building your own PC, you can buy a pre-built one at a store like Best Buy, or customize it at an online showroom like iBuyPower. The first one might be fine, but I suggest you buy a custom one.
All you have to do is go to iBuyPower’s website (there are many such websites, like CyberPowerPC) and open their PC customizer. You can select your pieces from a long list and even test how your hypothetical build runs in popular modern games The Ring of Elden.
As long as all your pieces fit together – it will warn you if the graphics card you want is too big for your case, for example – you can check. An expert will then collect your parts, build the computer, and ship it to your home. When it arrives all you have to do is remove the giant, weird peanuts inside the box and plug them in.
It’s all very convenient, and it made the huge financial burden of a new computer much easier to swallow. I was able to purchase my iBuyPower PC using the site’s Affirm partnership. Confirmation did my credit and gave me an affordable rate and a 12 month payment plan. Overall, I paid an extra $189 for my $2,324 PC, but it was worth it for the ability to upgrade my aging desktop a year early.
If you have cash on hand – or a really good credit card – you can of course buy the whole thing in advance. But if the cost of the computer is the biggest obstacle for you, getting a custom one can make things easier if you go the way I did with monthly payments.
Which one do I recommend?
In over 10 years of building machines, I have never had a major problem with one of my builds. I’ve never fried anything, and my computer always boots on the first or second try. More talented PC builders I know haven’t been so lucky, but I had some great experiences. I also really enjoyed the process, and at first I thought it would be something I would do every few years for the rest of my life.
However, after several builds and upgrades – and even a pandemic – I wanted to try something simple and easy. I wanted the perfect build for both work and play, and that’s exactly what I got from the custom PC I got in 2021. I still picked out all my parts, but I didn’t have to work. Most importantly, I was able to pay for the computer in one year instead of upfront, which was very helpful for my family during the pandemic.
When I get a new computer many years from now, I will definitely buy the custom one again. It’s simpler in almost every way, and I had a great experience with iBuyPower. However, I still value my previous PC building experience very much. I know how they work, and I can finally upgrade my current computer because they know how to carefully install computer parts.
If this is your first computer and you love learning, you’ll really appreciate the DIY experience. That being said, whether you want to play with your friends or take advantage of Steam sales, buying a custom build is the easiest way to get into PC gaming. It’s fast, it’s easy, it’s effortless and it works.