If you want an excellent computer that will allow you to play any game but can’t find one on the market that fits your budget or technical specifications, you may want to consider building your own gaming PC. Building your own PC allows you to include the components that you are especially interested in and leave out the ones that you don’t need.
However, building a gaming computer isn’t an intuitive process, but you’re in the right spot! I’m going to teach you everything you know about building a PC that will be worth your money. Before we get building things, though, we’ll talk a little about the design philosophy for PCs and why it matters when picking the parts of a PC to create the best gaming computer for you.
If you’re completely new to building computers, this guide will take you through the process, from the very basics to the more complicated parts of computer building. If you have familiarity with making PCs but not gaming PCs, think of this guide as a refresher for some details you might otherwise forget.
Let’s get started!
To begin, here are some common terms you may hear when researching PC building.
32-Bit/64-Bit: In this context, bits are the architecture of the computer and how much it can process simultaneously. For a gaming PC, only use 64-bit parts and software, which has much better performance and can draw out the real potential of other components.
Bottleneck: A bottleneck occurs when one component can’t handle the speed of the other components. For example, if you have an external SSD but only a slow data transfer cable connected by USB, you’re bottlenecked by the connection and can’t get the value of the fast hard drive.
Cable Ties: Cable ties are usually plastic or velcro binders that you can use to keep wires together. This can improve airflow and make it easier to move things around.
Case: Cases, also known as towers, are the physical structures that hold your other components. Cases can heavily influence which other parts fit, so it’s usually best to pick a motherboard and processor, then select a case to match them. Cases also help determine what you can install for cooling.
Core: Modern CPUs usually have more than one core. Each one allows your computer to do more things simultaneously, so higher is generally better.
CPU: The Central Processing Unit. This is the heart of your computer and controls most of its performance. CPUs use processor speed and clock speed as their main ratings.
Fans: Fans help move air in and out of the computer for cooling. A system should have enough fans to keep the entire computer at a safe temperature.
GPU: Also known as the graphics card, the graphics processing unit does most of the work for your visuals.
Hard Drive: Any permanent data storage. Gaming PCs often use SSDs for their OS and some games but may put some less-important games on a slower (but more affordable) HDD instead.
Heat Sink: Heat sinks are a major cooling system. Several components may have them, but they’re vital for CPUs, which can otherwise generate far too much heat as they work. Many gaming PCs use a liquid cooling system for better performance.
Monitor: Your computer’s display. Most gamers prefer to have at least a 1080p (high definition) monitor, while others go to at least 4k. Note that you should be somewhere in the 25-30-inch range for 4k screens, as any smaller and you may not notice the difference. Sticking with 1080p can boost computer performance.
Motherboard: A large board in the middle of a computer that connects almost all other components. Motherboards usually work with specific CPUs.
Overclocking: Overclocking is the process of pushing components beyond their specifications to get more performance from them. This isn’t as scary as it sounds. Most components have official ratings much lower than what they’re capable of, which helps guarantee their advertised performance.
PCIe: PCIe slots are motherboard connections that let you install things like graphics cards and, occasionally, other components. More recently, companies have introduced SSDs that can attach through these connections.
Peripherals: Peripherals are parts of your PC that go outside its case rather than inside. These typically include equipment like a monitor, a mouse, a keyboard, headphones, speakers, and webcams.
Port: A port is a connection you can plug a cable or component into. For example, most gaming PCs have multiple USB ports on their back and one or more HDMI ports in their graphics card.
Power Supply: A box that provides power cables to distribute electricity to different system parts. A power supply must be strong enough to handle your other components. Components on PCs use watts for energy measurements. Having an extra margin of error is nice, but you don’t need to go overboard here.
RAM: Random Access Memory. Computers use this to load and run the software, and gamers will want a minimum of 8 GB. 16 or 32 GB is even better. Anything beyond 32 GB is excessive for modern gaming.
SATA: SATA is a cable type that can move information between disk drives and the motherboard. Avoid right angles on these, aside from any on the connectors themselves.
SSD: Solid State Drive, the successor to the older Hard Disk Drives. This is the primary data storage on computers. A good gaming PC should have at least a 1 TB SSD as its main drive, which is enough storage to host your OS and several large games. SSDs are considerably faster than HDDs.
USB: Universal Serial Bus components can connect different plug-and-play devices, like keyboards and external hard drives. Blue is faster than white or black, and red is faster than blue. Things that transfer a lot of data, like external hard drives, should use blue or red connections to avoid bottlenecks.
Gaming PC Design Philosophy
Gaming PCs aren’t like most other types of computers. You don’t need a gaming machine for casual web browsing, streaming decent-quality movies, or checking your email. Even a cheap computer under $500 can handle that with no problem.
However, we do have a couple of points to keep in mind when you’re choosing a computer.
First, a good gaming PC should be able to run every game you want to play, even those that are coming out in the next few years. If your PC can’t run the games you want, what’s the point of getting it? That means that higher-performing parts are always better, which often leads to higher costs.
Second, people have different gaming preferences. Some people want 120 frames per second in 8k resolution on three monitors and won’t settle for anything less, while other people are fine as long as the games can run on medium settings. This means there’s no universally perfect build, but you don’t necessarily need the newest technology to get everything you need.
Third, performance is a primary driver for gaming. If a game looks great but runs at 10 frames per second when it should be 60+, you’re not going to have a good time. Many components can affect performance, and a bottleneck somewhere can drag the whole system down.
Fourth, it’s usually better to get the best motherboard and processor you can. Switching out graphics cards and RAM is easy, but replacing the processor may require more work. That can mean scrapping your machine, so if you have to compromise on components, don’t compromise on the central bits.
Get a better graphics card or more RAM later.
Keeping all of these points in mind, we can arrive at a good design philosophy for most people: a good gaming PC has relatively high specs for the time you buy it, and it’s likely to continue performing well with new games for several years.
I replaced my gaming rig in 2022 because my old computer was starting to show its age, and couldn’t play certain games anymore. I chose to get a GeForce RTX 3070 graphics card, an Intel i7-12700KF CPU, and 32 gigabytes of RAM as the central components.
The entire machine cost me a little over $2000, but so far it’s performed more-or-less flawlessly with everything I’ve tried to run on it. I’m happy with my build and expect it to continue working for quite a few years. With my PC setup, gaming is going well.
Now, this isn’t the best computer I could build. Nvidia was already moving to release its 4000-series cards when I built my machine, so you could say I’m already a generation behind. However, my specs are still good enough to run almost any game on great-to-fantastic settings, and I’m happy with that.
Building Your PC
Now that we know some of the philosophies of building a gaming PC, let’s talk about how to build a gaming PC.
What do you need to build a PC? The core things you need are a flat working area and the main parts, including:
- A case
- A CPU
- A heat sink for your CPU, plus some thermal paste
- A motherboard
- RAM compatible with your motherboard
- A power supply
- A graphics card
- Case fans
- Cable ties
All of these parts have assorted smaller pieces, like screws and cables. New parts usually ship with the relevant cables to connect to a motherboard, but some may not. If that’s the case, you’ll need to buy the connecting parts separately. The motherboard should have an instruction manual detailing how to connect its components.
Also, parts need to be compatible with each other. PC Part Picker is an excellent online service for checking compatibility between components before you buy them. Use that, or a similar service, to create your PC build parts list. Parts are often exact, so ensure you’re getting the specific component you want when you order it by double-checking the identification number.
I suggest picking up components in person as mail shipping can be rough on delicate parts, but that’s not wholly necessary. If you don’t have a local store that has the parts you need, ordering them online is fine.
Step 0: Static Safety
Once you’re ready to begin, the first thing to do is stop the risk of static electricity. Try to work on a bare floor instead of carpeting, and consider wearing an anti-static wristband. Alternatively, touch the case regularly to ground yourself and get rid of static. Static can damage computer components, so the more you can do to stop this risk, the better.
Set out everything you need to build a PC, including your tools and all the parts, on your workstation before you begin. If you have cables and other components, keep them organized and separate from each other to avoid confusion while building.
Step 0b: Always Follow The Manual
The other thing to remember before starting is that this guide will give you general instructions for building a gaming PC, but specific options may vary. For example, RAM may have a different slot design, or the CPU clamp may look entirely different.
When in doubt, follow your product’s manual over the advice given here. The manual should tell you how to install the product correctly, which may include steps or components not discussed here. The manual is always your best source of information, so read when it’s relevant and rely on it even if you’re positive you know what you’re doing.
Step 1: Open Your Case
The first step is to open your case and check the user manual to understand its layout and any specific instructions for installing the components.
In most cases, you should remove the side panel(s) to give yourself as much accessibility as possible. If there’s any wiring inside, push it out of the way so you can reach the inner workings of the PC.
Step 2: Install the Power Supply
The first component you will want to install is the power supply. These usually go in the rear bottom corner of a case in a boxed-off area, but a few towers put them on the top instead. The case’s manual should indicate the right spot if you have trouble finding it.
Mount your power supply as your manual directs, which is usually with the fan facing down. The three-pronged plug and power switch should face the case’s outside, while any attached wires should go into the interior instead.
Attach the power supply by screwing it into place.
This is usually four screws on the rear of the power supply, but as with all components, they can vary.
Most power supplies have all the cables plugged in already.
If you have a modular power supply where you can plug them individually, leave them out for now and install them one by one as you need them.
Step 3: Install Your CPU
The next step is to install your processor. We’re going to do this out on the table before you install the motherboard in the case.
It’s much easier to put all the components in this way.
Make sure to clean your work area of dust or liquids before you start. Keep it as dry as possible to avoid debris getting into the delicate components.
Place your motherboard on a completely flat surface and make sure it has full support across its entire bottom. This will be important a little later.
Do not touch or bend the metal pins on the bottom of your CPU. Instead, look at your motherboard’s manual to see how to install your CPU.
Typically, there’s a metal square that holds it in place and a lever you can use to clamp the CPU there. Open the load arm by sliding it sideways and lifting it. There may be a piece of plastic there for safety you can remove.
Once the motherboard is ready, line up the CPU and push it into place. Modern CPUs usually have a golden triangle to let you align things correctly.
CPUs should only go in one way, and it should be clear whether you pushed it in all the way. Double-check to be sure, then bring the lever down and lock it back into place.
Step 4: Install Your RAM
The next step is installing your RAM, and I have some good news. This part is one of the easy steps!
All RAM has a notch that prevents it from fitting anywhere except the right slot. If you used a PC part selector, you should have compatible RAM, so all you need to do is figure out the best slot to put your sticks in.
Check your motherboard’s manual again. It should tell you which slots to put your RAM in.
Remember, it’s always better to use RAM of the same type in every slot, preferably in multiples of two. Most people use one, two, or four sticks of RAM.
However, the manual may suggest different slot configurations depending on the number of sticks you’re using.
When you’re ready to install, look for plastic levers at the end of the RAM slot. Some slots have a single lever, but most have one on each side. Push these levers down and out to unlock the slot.
Once you’re ready to install the RAM, push it firmly into the slot, making sure you align it with the notch.
Keep pushing down until it clicks into place and the plastic levers close, locking it.
Your motherboard shouldn’t be in any danger if it’s well-supported along the bottom, but it will take a decent amount of force to get the RAM in.
Repeat this process for each stick of RAM you want to install. Remember, a good gaming PC setup should have 8, 16, or 32 gigabytes of RAM.
Anything beyond that is excessive; 16 or 32 gigabytes should be enough to run almost anything smoothly.
Step 5: Install Your Motherboard
The next part of how to build your own gaming PC is one of the most important. You have to install the motherboard before you can connect any more parts to it. You can theoretically attach the graphics card now, but it can become heavy and unwieldy if you do that.
For most motherboards, the first step here is to put the I/O panel into the rear of your case. This should align with your motherboard’s outputs. If you’re unsure what it looks like, it should be a cutout with a bunch of ports on it.
Next, look at the motherboard itself while you have the best lighting. You should see a series of wires and connection points with labels.
Your manual should also have a diagram if you can’t figure out where anything is.
Looking at these now will help you locate them again later when you want to plug things in.
To install the motherboard, you’ll need to find the insulating standoffs. Your case may already have these installed, but if not, you’ll need to buy and add them yourself. Insulating standoffs are relatively distinctive and look like a tube with a screw hole in the top. They’re usually white, gold, or black. These posts help prevent components from shorting out, so don’t forget them.
Once the standoffs are in the right spot, align your motherboard with the screw holes. Screw them in lightly at first, then go around the case and screw each one in a little more at a time. Don’t tighten it too much or you may damage the motherboard.
Once the motherboard’s in, it’s time to plug in the connections. These include the primary connection for your power supply (20 to 28 pins) and possibly a 4 to 8-pin secondary connector near the CPU.
You can also connect the case plugs now. These include things like USB port connections, buttons, activity LEDs, and so on. These cables are often small and may be challenging to install with your fingers. If so, use your tweezers or a similar safe tool to install them. Similarly, you can install any case fans now. Having enough airflow will keep your PC much cooler.
Each component only matches a single type of connector port, so you can’t put components in the wrong spot. They literally won’t fit. If you’re not sure where something goes, remember that you can always reference the diagram in your motherboard’s manual.
At this point, you may have a lot of wires floating around inside your case. Use some of your cable ties to keep them out of the way while you work on other parts of your build.
Step 6: Install Your CPU Heat Sink
Now that your motherboard is in, it’s time to install the heat sink for your CPU. Instructions can vary significantly depending on the type of heat sink you get, so check your heat sink’s manual for the process.
In most cases, the first step is applying thermal paste to your CPU. This paste is a grease-like substance that helps eliminate air gaps and makes it easier to transfer heat to the cooler.
Once the paste is on, align your cooler and gently press it into place. Like other components, it should have one correct orientation, which the screw holes will indicate.
Tighten the screws. Ensure that the cooler is snug, but don’t tighten it too much.
Some coolers have a separate fan you can attach after, often with a connector that goes into a port near the cooler. Liquid cooling systems usually have a mounting spot for radiating heat out.
Step 7: Install Your Graphics Card
Good news! You’ve finished the hard steps, so what’s left is relatively straightforward.
Of all the parts needed to build a gaming PC, few stand out more than the core of the image processing center, your graphics card. Almost all graphics cards go in a modern PCIe slot, a long and thin connector. Motherboards usually have several of these in a row.
To install the card, first, make sure you have enough room around the slot to put the card. You should, but it’s always best to double-check. If possible, install your graphics card in the uppermost PCIe slot on the board.
Remove the metal backplates in the area where you’re going to install your card so it can slot in.
Most cards need you to remove one or two, but extra-large cards may have you remove three instead. You can do this easily by unscrewing the plates. Keep the screws ready.
Once the backplates are gone, remove your graphics card from its box and carefully push it into place.
Some motherboards have a safety lever, like the ones for RAM, so check for that as well.
It may take a little force to push the card in, but not as much as the RAM, and you should hear a click once it moves into place.
Use the screws from the backplates to secure the graphics card. The card should rest snugly where the backplates went. Don’t over-tighten these.
Once the card’s screwed in, you can plug it into the power supply. Some power supplies have dedicated cables for the graphics card while others don’t. These have specific connectors to prevent improper installation, and visual examination should ensure that you have the right orientation.
Step 7b: Install Expansion Cards
If you’re installing expansion cards in other PCIe slots, now’s the time to put them in.
This is the same as installing the graphics card, but try to keep any other cards well away from the graphics card, as it can create a lot of heat which may damage your expansions if they are too close.
Step 8: Install Hard Drives
If you’re using an expansion card-style SSD, you installed your hard drive in the previous step and can move on.
Otherwise, mount your hard drives in the spot your case manual indicates for them. Cases have different designs, but they should have a clear location for attaching at least one drive, and usually several.
Most hard drives have several screw holes to align them in place. Do this first, making sure the plugs for connections point the right way. Once the hard drive is in, you need to install a SATA cable to the motherboard and a power connector to the power supply. These have specific, flat designs.
Some SATA cables have a right turn on one end. That’s usually the end you should connect to the drive itself, while the straight end should go into the motherboard.
If you have any other components you haven’t installed yet, you can install them after putting your hard drive in.
Step 9: Check Your Connections
Now that everything’s plugged in, check all of your connections. Make sure each cable is firmly attached.
Components shouldn’t jiggle around. Your motherboard, CPU, graphics card, and hard drives should all have connected power cables.
Step 10: Turn Your PC On
If you’re sure everything is secure, close up your case and try turning your PC on after you plug it in and attach your peripherals. Remember, you need to flip the switch on the back of the power supply to I (instead of O), or you won’t get any power.
From there, you can use an installation option to get your OS going and finish setting up your computer. If your computer doesn’t turn on, check all of your connections again or consult the manuals for troubleshooting.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some common questions people have about how to build a gaming PC.
Can I get a cheap gaming PC under $500?
People often look for the best gaming pc under $1000 or the best gaming pc under $1500. You can save a lot of money by building your PC yourself, but you will have to provide the labor. Fortunately, technology is constantly getting cheaper and more intuitive, so it’s relatively easy to build a great PC at a low price.
Should I build a laptop?
It’s easier to buy the best gaming laptop than it is to build one. Laptops don’t have nearly as many part choices and you can’t get the same performance from a homemade computer. If you’re serious about gaming, either buy a prebuilt gaming laptop or a desktop to ensure you’re getting the best you can buy.
Are desktops better than laptops?
As a general rule in the gaming laptop vs. desktop computer debate, desktops are better. They can have more powerful components and are much better at managing heat. Unfortunately, they’re not portable, but no option is perfect.
Can I reuse any components from an existing computer?
If you want to build gaming PCs and keep costs down, reusing components can go a long way, but they can also fail to run in your new build. It may be possible to reuse a case, but it’s better to replace most other components if they’re too old. Even hard drives can wear out eventually, but you can transfer the data to a new drive in most operating systems.
Building a gaming PC can seem intimidating at first. I was hesitant the first time I did it, and I made my share of mistakes. However, it’s not nearly as hard as it looks. When deciding how to build a gaming PC, get compatible parts and follow the instructions. If you do this properly, you’ll have a high-powered, affordable machine running in no time. Good luck!