Build Your Own Windows or Linux Computer from Scratch

Edited by Sean, Dougie-1, Eng, loco_dave and 2 others

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Build a Computer From the Ground Up

There are and will always be arguments about whether or not it is cheaper, and more viable, to build a computer yourself or to buy a pre-constructed one from some company. They each have their own negatives and positives associated with them, but one of the most commonly discussed advantages of building your own computer is that you can fix it if it breaks, it is generally much cheaper, and it feels more personal since you put so much work into it.

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Every system will have its own unique build and that isn't what this VisiHow's guide is focused on, instead this guide is all about where to go find to information about building your computer, useful websites, exactly what you need to build one (components and hardware), general tips for putting it all together and more information that will give you the know-how to get it all started if you are intent on building your own PC for Windows or Linux.

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Where to Start

To build your own computer you have to be pretty decent at understanding computers and their parts. You need to understand the difference a processor, a graphics card, a hard drive, RAM, and the motherboard that holds it all together. You should also go into this knowing that computer parts are fragile, susceptible to static electricity specifically, and you need to treat them fairly delicately for the most part. However, there are so many guides, like this one, and forums focusing on helping with this these days that you don't need to know a whole lot more than those basics.

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However, there are a few tools, nothing major, that you will need before you get started on constructing your computer:

  1. 1
    Several different sizes of a Phillips head screwdriver, preferably magnetic screwdrivers, and probably a flat head screwdriver just to be safe (as seen below).
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  2. 2
    Thermal Past/Grease - A cheap (usually $5-10) form of adhesive that is often used for processors when installing a heat sink
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  3. 3
    Anti-static wristband or just make sure you always touch something metal to discharge any static electricity before touching any computer parts
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  4. 4
    A flashlight
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Simple enough right? Occasionally you might need something more precise, like tweezers, but that's pretty rare and most of the challenge of building a computer doesn't come from the physical aspect of actually putting it together.

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This is an important section, because here I will show you exactly which parts you need for a computer and any additional information you might need to know about each part.

  • Graphics card: If you are a gamer then this is usually the first thing you pick. Graphics cards (often written GFX card) are usually one of the more pricey components of a computer and also one of the most important. Even if you aren't a gamer, the graphics card can still be important for any intensive software or program.
    Nvidia gtx 275.jpg
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  • Processor: The processor, or CPU, is at least equally as important as the graphics card. It is a major fact in determining how well anything runs on your computer. Unlike, graphics cards, getting a good processor early on, even if it costs a bit more than any other individual component, is usually worth it because you don't have to upgrade them nearly as often.
The Processor - Intel Core i7 CPU, 2.8GHz.jpg

  • Motherboard:This component is easily the most important part in your entire computer. It doesn't determine the speed of your computer or actually affect the performance, but it is what houses every single other component and is basically the framework that allows everything to work together in unison. After selecting two major components, like the processor and graphics card, you usually go straight to the motherboard next. You have to make sure it has the proper sockets for each component you've selected, like DDR3 spots for RAM, SATA cables for your hard drive, or PCI Express 3.0 spots for your graphics card. More on all of that later.

  • RAM/Memory: One of the simplest components to find and install, and one of the cheapest, is RAM (Random Access Memory). It is another component, like your processor and graphic cards, that helps determine how quickly your computer can run anything. They come in the form of sticks of memory and easily slide into your DDR3 or DDR4 (the two newest types of RAM) slots on your motherboard. Most people do a minimum of eight gigabytes (8GB) of RAM.
    G.Skill Ripjaws X 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3 1600.jpg
  • Power Supply: Who ever thinks about power right? Well, your power supply is a vital part of your computer and you absolutely have to make sure that your power supply can supply adequate power to all of your computer's components. Whenever you buy any of the other components you have to see how many watts they take. For instance, if I go look up at a couple year old, but still powerful, graphics card like the GTX 760 I can look through to specifications to find that it requires, "500 watt or greater power supply with a minimum of 30 amps on the +12 volt rail." That doesn't mean it takes 500 watts on its own, but that's their minimum recommendation for using it and with other components in mind.
My computer's power supply w0061.jpg

  • Computer Tower: You're going to need a home for that motherboard, those drives, and all of your components that are lovingly packed into there, so you will be needing a computer tower. These are pretty personal and variable, and the main things you need to consider for these are:

-How many fans does it have?

-Will it fit on top of, next to or under your desk or workspace?

-Does it have enough USB, HDMI and other types of slots for you?

-Will all of your components fit inside of it, is it spacious enough?

This is probably one of the most important aspects since fans can often clash with the processor's heat-sink or the graphics card when there isn't much space. Plus, you absolutely do not want to try to install and mess with things when you have barely any space to move your hands.

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The Amiga 1200 060 tower in all its glory.jpg

  • CD/DVD/Blu-ray; Optical Drive: This is pretty straight forward. If you plan to ever install or run anything from a CD, DVD or Blu-ray disc then you are going to need to install a drive for that. These are cheap and easy to find, but also easy to forget about until you go to install your operating system from a DVD and find that you can't.
  • Additional/new fans: Lastly, after you've gone through everything else you need to check to see what types of fan the computer tower comes with and your processor. They both usually come with stock fans that are rather shoddy in quality and don't do a great job, especially the processor, so you'll likely want to look into getting new fans for each of those and installing them alongside everything else.

Find Computer Parts and Create a Build

When you are working towards building your computer and getting everything in order there are more than a few places on the internet that you might run across. There are forums, websites and communities dedicating to helping people create a PC. Here are a few of those places that can help you find what you need, whether it is tips, other people's builds to use as a base, people to talk to or where you can go to shop for each individual component or part.

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Tom's Hardware

The main reason you would go to Tom's Hardware[1] is to try to see how good a CPU or graphics card is. They have reviews on many types of parts, like heat-sinks or graphics card, a fairly large community on their forums and performance charts for pretty much everything, even power supplies. To get to their charts to click on the big red Charts button on the top bar of the main webpage.

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Here is one of Tom's Hardware charts. They are running BF4 on ultra high settings with 1920 x 1080 resolution and they tested a bunch of different graphics cards to show how well they ran with that. The score is shown in frames per second (FPS).

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Use Tom's Hardware's charts to get an idea of how good a component is, whatever they have charts for, and then you can use their forums to get more focused opinions on any individual part. Once you decide on a few parts then head on down to the next two websites to see prices, reviews and the specifications of each part.

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Now that you have some semblance of an idea of what specific brands and models of each component you may be looking for, the next best place to head is[2]. Their business is largely based on selling individual parts for computers, parts most other places don't sell and with reviews, information and security that few other's rival. Until recently, when Amazon started to seriously compete them with for computer hardware, they were the go-to place for buying anything related to computer parts.

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When you head to you will see a bunch of different sections of the website and the place you want to go is Computer Hardware, which is on the side bar on the left. Once you get there you will have a huge number of subsections to choose from, like Keyboards & Mice, Hard Drives, Computer Accessories, Motherboards and tons of others. You can jump straight into one of those to look for what you want, or you can search for it manually on the top with their search bar.

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The main thing you want to use Newegg for is to compare products, check reviews, check their specifications, to watch product videos or tutorials, and to make sure that everything you are selecting will work together. You can also ask questions about the product to other community members and that community is pretty good about answering questions in an useful manner. Newegg also runs sales, like their rather large Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale every year at the end of November, and can often be on the cheaper side. However, jump down the section on PCPartPicker to easily compare prices across numerous stores and websites.

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If you are somewhat tech savvy, which you better be if you are trying to build your own computer from scratch, you probably already know the massive virtual storefront that is[3], but what you may not know is that their computer hardware section has grown considerably in recent years and it is now worth checking out. The community for that section of Amazon isn't very active, yet, so you might not find reviews on everything and some of the technical specifications for products can be lackluster, but if you find a component elsewhere it is always a good idea to check Amazon for the same computer component to see if it is cheaper, if it has any rebates or deals with it, and if the community does a better job reviewing and discussing the item.

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Amazon's stock for computer components is also considerable and you won't often see anything out of stock, and if it is out of stock then they will often have more within a week. Many websites that ship computer components also tend to charge a lot for shipping and with Amazon you can save a lot on that. Just like Newegg they also have the option to ask the community questions about the product and it usually doesn't take too long to get an answer, but unlike Newegg the answers usually aren't as technically specific. However, jump down to the next section on PCPartPicker to easily compare prices across numerous stores and websites.

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My favorite aspect of this wonderful website is how easy it is to compare the price of computer components across several of the major websites, like Newegg and Amazon, all at once in a user friendly manner that doesn't require you to open several tabs or anything more than one single web page. PCPartPicker[4] isn't just that for price comparisons though, it also has a fairly large community focused on helping people create fantastic PC builds for a variety of budgets. You can find reviews here, information, tips and help. Furthermore, this website allows you to put a build together so you can see it all in one place and with easy to see information about each part.

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One of the first things you will see upon going to PCPartPicker is a list of builds on the right side of the website. These are voted on, and created, by the community and it is a great place to start if you are looking to make a PC build with a specific budget. You can also click on the big Build Guides button the top left of the website to see a range of builds with prices attached to them. The community here isn't huge, but it can be very helpful in combination with every other website discussed on this guide.

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Final Tips

Building a personal computer from scratch is a rather monumental task, or at least it can seem to be, but all of these websites, tips and the information in this guide should make it considerably easier to actually plan all of that out. The process of physically putting together your computer is definitely daunting, but several of those websites have numerous ways to help with that and as long as you take your time, are careful and plan well then you should be able to put your computer together without too much trouble. Here are a final few tips about building a PC from scratch.

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  • With your motherboard you do need to make sure every part you are thinking of ordering is compatible with it and with each other, but also with your operating system. This guide will be fine for PC and Linux, but a Mac would be different because of product support and requirements.
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  • Plan ahead: with your motherboard you want to make sure it is suitable for newer components too, if you aren't getting the best stuff out there that is, since you don't want to go to upgrade your graphics cards, processor or RAM and then find out your motherboard doesn't have the correct slots for the newer versions of those. Check your the specifications of your motherboard for information on DDR (for RAM) and PCI Express (for GFX cards).
  • Don't forget about taxes and computer electronics charges. Many states charge quite a lot when it comes to both of these things and often just for the sale of computer components, but also for the shipping of them.
  • If it is your first time building a PC get some help from a friend, but do the majority of the workload and research yourself. Doing it mostly yourself will help you with your next build or with helping other people in the future, but having that tech savvy friend to second guess your build is always extremely helpful, especially when it comes to components that may clash.
  • Don't forget about a monitor, a keyboard & mouse, a way to install a operating system (USB or DVD probably) and speakers or headphones. They are all fairly easy to forget about compared to everything else.
  • Have fun! When you don't have to stress over the monetary side of building a PC it can be very fun and rewarding, especially if things don't continually break and all of your careful planning pays off.

If you have any questions about any of this feel free to ask, but if you need any help about specific builds or components then head on over to these community based websites below to ask questions and get some help:

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Reddit r/buildapc[5] - A forum with nearly 250,000 people who constantly discuss everything related to building a PC, while also showing off builds and helping others.

TomsHardware[6] - I talked about this one at the quite bit earlier on in the guide, but TomsHardware has a pretty big community to help out with anything related to computer components and building PCs from scratch.

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PCPartPicker[7]: Yes, I also listed this one earlier and it is a pretty decent place to go if you want to talk to others who are also working on building a PC from scratch.



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Questions and Answers

Looking to build a Linux (Ubuntu) machine?

Will AMD a6-6400k CPU and gigabyte f2ma88xm d3h motherboard support Ubuntu 14.04

Yes, they will. You ought to check other system parameters as well:

  • 1 GB RAM is needed; 2 GB is recommended;
  • 5 GB of disk space;
  • a video card with 3D acceleration and at least 256 MB vRAM.

What do I need for video capture, edit and burn?

I have a collection of DV mini tapes that have never been digitised. I think it's about time to get it done before the tapes disintegrate. My old (And, I do mean old) laptop (top of the line in it's day...2004) handles most things but is definitely 'past it' and is very slow at such things as can take over double the play-time. e.g. a one hour film takes 2-2.5 hours to decrypt. I know a bit about using computers and even putting them together but am out of date myself with the innards of more recent machines. Suggestions as to minimums would be appreciated.

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Here you go. I wrote examples in the brackets, but you can choose your own parts.

  • CPU: any i5 or higher (Intel Core i5-6400T 2.2GHz); Socket 1151 is preferred for its being new and supporting DDR4.
  • a good aluminium CPU cooler with thermal paste (Thermaltake NiC L32 104.4 CFM Sleeve Bearing CPU Cooler);
  • motherboard: the cheapest one that supports the CPU socket you will need 3 PCIe slots or more. DDR4 Socket 1151 preferred (ASUS Z170-E ATX LGA1151 Motherboard);
  • RAM: DDR4 preferred, but DDR3 will work too. Basically, anything from 4 GB and up. 16 GB preferred (Kingston HyperX Fury Black 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR4-2133 Memory).
  • Storage: an HDD will do with 768 GB or more (Western Digital Caviar Blue 1TB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive). SSD can be used for Windows, but it is not necessary (Kingston SSDNow V300 Series 60GB 2.5" Solid State Drive).
  • Video card: anything from 550 Ti, 680 GTX, 780 GTX, 880 GTX, whichever is available (PNY GeForce GTX 780 3GB XLR8 Enthusiast Video Card).
  • Case: you will need a case for the motherboard form-factor. Choose it at the store to see if you like it. It should have 5"25 and 3"5 drive slots and at least 1 fan at the front panel and 1 fan at the back panel (you can purchase the fans separately, just make sure the diameter matches).
  • Power Supply: 600 W will do, but 800 is preferred (Corsair 850W 80+ Bronze Certified Semi-Modular ATX Power Supply).
  • Optical drive: any Blu-ray writer will do to store your videos. (LG WH14NS40 Blu-Ray/DVD/CD Writer).
  • Blank BD-Rs: 25 GB, 50 GB, 100 GB, or 128 GB to store your videos.
  • Operating system: Microsoft Windows 10 Home x64 ($86 and up).
  • Software: Nero 2016 Platinum (to burn discs) - $130. You can try to find a good freeware analog.
  • Software: Cyberlink PowerDirector 14 Ultimate Suite - $250. This is to capture your video. You can buy other programs.
  • A dedicated sound card. (Creative Labs Z PCIe 24-bit 96 KHz Sound Card)
  • A monitor with good color reproduction. Do not buy the ones with the 16:9 aspect ratio. 16:10 is recommended. 1920x1200 is advised. (NEC EA244WMi-BK 24.0" Monitor)
  • A keyboard and mouse.
  • A good pair of headphones (Sennheiser HD 518 Headphones).
  • A Firewire 1394 PCIe card to capture video:
  • Depending on your camera or player model, you may need analog cables running into USB:
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Recent edits by: Visihow Admin, loco_dave, Eng

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