How to build your own computer

Almost every resource on the Internet on building your own computer is oriented towards building a gaming computer. The second most common discussion is how to build a “budget PC.”

When I sought out the latest information on building a computer a few weeks ago, I did not like either of these two options.

A “gaming computer” is oriented towards two features: a) overclocking your processor and b) having one or two mondo power-hungry and gigunda graphics cards. A “budget PC” is an under powered machine that replicates what I could have purchased in many forms for less than the cost of a build.

My intention was to build a computer that would be able to crunch large amounts of data quickly, allow a large number of normal applications to be open at once, to be able to handle multiple very large text files, and to do mid level audio and maybe video editing (even if that required shutting down other software). Also, I wanted the computer to be 200% to 300% faster than my currently fastest computer, which is an Intel I7 holding laptop that is several years old.

I had on hand a small pile of “hard drives,” including one 2.5 terabyte hard drive, and one 125 gigabyte solid state drive (not called a “hard drive” by many, but it is essentially the hard drive.) I also had a case, and a keyboard, and a collection of monitors. I also had a case. The fact that I already had a case turns out to have been a big problem, and I’ll discuss that below.

I decided to go for an Intel I5 but a higher end one, which would give me that 300% performance increase required to make me feel like I had something new and cool, but to put in in a motherboard that would likely handle a later upgrade to a faster I7, if I made that upgrade within a year or two. Also, the mother board had to be able to handle 64 gigabytes of RAM because the best way to meet the requirements listed above is not with multiple processors or multi threading etc., but with a whopping amount of memory.

Here is a list of the parts that I bought to assemble:

Motherboard

GIGABYTE GA-H270-HD3 LGA1151 Intel H270 2-Way Crossfire ATX DDR4 Motherboard

This motherboard costs about 100 bucks. It handles sixth and seventh generation Intel Core processors, and Dual Channel DDRF4 memory, and has graphics support on board. It does not have a lot of other bells and whistles. It is supposedly sturdy and has high ratings everywhere I’ve looked.

The documentation on the motherboard is very well done. I’ve referred to it many times while messing around with this build, so I should know.

Processor (CPU)

Intel Core i5-7500 LGA 1151 7th Gen Core Desktop Processor (BX80677I57500)

As noted, I chose the I5 for just under 200 bucks instead of an I7 for more. The old I7 in my Dell Laptop, which is a reasonable computer, has a passmark rating of somewhere beteen 2000 and 3000. This process is just over 8000. I don’t know much about passmark ratings, but I know more is better and most normal fast processors produced today that you would actually buy are in the 8000 to 9000 range, so this is good.

The key number here is 7500, which makes this a seventh generation processor. Here is a key point: This mother board and this processor are claimed to work together, and I can tell you that they do. A lot of other motherboards require bios upgrades or other fiddling to make them work with the most current processor.

Anticipating something I’ll be discussing below, yes, this motherboard and processor combination work fine with Linux. It never occurred to me to worry about that, because Linux works with everything, but in case you were wondering, it does. I do not know if this configuration can be a Hackintosh or not.

Cooling system

I used the cooling fan that came with the processor and it works fine. I’ve checked the temperature readings and the processor does not get hot. However, I think the fan that came with the processor is a bit noisy. I intend to install a different cooling fan to see if it is quieter, and the one I got to do this is the Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO RR-212E-20PK-R2 CPU Cooler with 120mm PWM Fan, which happens to be on sale right now for 30 bucks. I’ve not installed it, installation looks to be a bit complicated and I don’t know how I’ll like it, but that’s what I have sitting here on my workbench.

Power Supply

My build does not need a fancy power supply. The EVGA 450 B1, 80+ BRONZE 450W, 3 Year Warranty, Includes FREE Power On Self Tester, Power Supply 100-B1-0450-K1 is inexpensive and highly rated. It is onlyh 450 watts. If you are using a graphics card or two you may need to upgrade beyond this.

Bluetooth

The motherboard does not have Bluetooth or wireless. I got the MIATONE Wireless Bluetooth CSR 4.0 USB Adapter Dongle for PC with Windows 10 8 7 Vista XP 32/64 dongle to give me Bluetoth, for seven bucks. Works with Linux. Note: This is a USB 3.0 device, and it won’t work if you plug it into a USB 2.0 port. I found out.

My Wired Networking Thing

This motherboard does not have a wireless card. It does have an ethernet jack. You probably don’t even want wireless if you have a LAN nearby. In my case, temporarily (until I drill some holes in the house) my nearest LAN device is not in my office. I wanted the computer’s LAN to be hooked to the network, so when I do get around to bringing a router or switch into the office, I’ll just change what it is plugged into. So, I got the IOGEAR Universal Ethernet to Wi-Fi N Adapter.

This cute little device is basically a wireless router that hooks into your wireless LAN, and pretends to be an ethernet jack. It can get its power from a powered USB port or it can use a USB charger brick, which is supplied. Works great.

Display

As noted, I have a pile of displays laying around but they all suck. I bought a Dell SE2416H 24″ Screen LED-Lit Monitor. I had purchsed one of these from Best Buy for about 135 for a different computer. I got this one for about the same price from Amazon. The price of this monitor ranges from 120 to 190. There is also a version that is higher grade, as in, more finely tuned up but with the same specs, for a bit more. Right now, I’m using this and second, older, display, and things are working fine, but eventually I intend to get a second Dell 24 inch. This is obviously a very personal choice and people will have strong preferences. I may get the upgraded version of this monitor when it comes time to getting the second one, see below. (Reminder: This is not a gaming computer.)

RAM

Given the mother board, I went for fast. Also, since I want to eventually have 64 gigabytes, I went for large. So, I got one chip of G.SKILL Ripjaws V Series 16GB 288-Pin DDR4 SDRAM DDR4 3200 (PC4 25600) Intel Z170 Desktop Memory Model F4-3200C16S-16GVK with 16 gigs on it. I will add a second, third, and eventually, fourth chip over time.

The motherboard and memory uses a dual channel technology, which allows for effectively faster RAM. But with only one chip installed, I don’t get the dual channel effect. So, when I buy the second chip, I’ll be both increasing RAM to 32 gigabytes, and unlocking the dual channel technology, so that may be a noticeable upgrade in my future.

Here is a list of parts that are rough equivalents to the parts I had on hand. This list together with the list above will produce a full working computer:

Computer Case

I had an old case that had never been used and that is supposed to be quite. It isn’t especially quiet, and the front connectors don’t include some of the modern things computers have (it is about 12 years old) and does include some things that are fairly arcane. I regret not just getting a new case. But then, when I look at cases, I realize that I want a really good case. But, like computer build documentation, cases are either crap-budget or gamer cases, and I want neither of those. I list a case below that might be a good one to get, and if I do get that case, it will be the most expensive single element in the whole build. But it might be worth it.

Second Monitor


An old RGB monitor that works.

OS “Hard Drive”

Something like this: Samsung 850 PRO – 256GB – 2.5-Inch SATA III Internal SSD (MZ-7KE256BW). I installed the operating system on it.

Data Hard Drive

Something like this, on which I keep files: Seagate 2TB BarraCuda SATA 6Gb/s 64MB Cache 3.5-Inch Internal Hard Drive (ST2000DM006)

Keyboard

I like mechanical keyboards, and had this one: AUKEY Mechanical Keyboard with Blue Switches, RGB Backlit 104-Key Gaming Keyboard with Preset and Customizable Lighting Effects for PC & Mac Gamers

Mouse and Mousepad

There are advantages to having a wired mouse, and if you use a laser mouse, there are advantages to having an appropriate mouse pad. Or you can just get some wireless mouse of your choice. Currently am using these:

TeckNet Pro S2 Ergonomic USB Wired Optical Mouse for Laptop Computer, 6 Buttons, 2000DPI

3M Precise Mouse Pad Enhances the Precision of Optical Mice at Fast Speeds and Extends the Battery Life of Wireless Mice up to 50%, 9 in x 8 in (MP114-BSD1)

Here is a list of parts that I have not gotten yet but as I do I’ll be adding them to the computer.

Better second monitor

Dell S Series Screen LED-Lit Monitor 23.8″ Black (S2418H) or similar

Better case

Something like be quiet! BGW10 DARK BASE PRO 900 ATX Full Tower Computer Chassis – Black/Orange, because I want a full size ATX case that is quiet.

Building the computer

Take your time.

Get a magnetic screwdriver that fits your screws, probably Phillips.

Some people like to ground themselves with various grounding devices (such as Rosewill ESD Anti-Static Wrist Strap Components RTK-002, Black/Yellow) when they are building computers.

Start by putting the processor into the motherboard, then put the motherboard into the case, then the cooling fan on the processor, and the ram in the slot. You can change around the order of these things if you want. You’ll need to put some goop (such as Thermal Compound Paste, Carbon Based High Performance heatsink Paste, Thermal Compound CPU for all Cooler computer PC Fan) between the CPU and the CPU fan, but that will probably be supplied with the fan, most likely already smeared on the correct location.

Then put the hard drives where they are supposed to go, screw in the power supply, anything else that is not hooked up, and hook up all the wires.

Then attach a keyboard, mouse, and monitor, and turn the thing on. It will work fine.

Hint: A motherboard does not “turn on” until if has power from the power supply (and the power supply is plugged in and turned on) AND the motherboard gets a signal from the case’s off/on switch.

Installing the Operating System

Set up a USB stick to be bootable, insert it into the appropriate slot, turn on the computer and select the function key that switches the boot process to a boot menu. Pick the likely choice for the USB stick, and run through the install procedure (just follow the instructions and mostly pick defaults).

Since I have a second drive for data, I created a new partition using the whole drive (ext4) and added the UUID code to the fstab file, mounting it as “/hdd” and put my Dropbox folder there. Dropbox complained, I ignored the complaints, and so far so good.

You can use a service like PC Parts Picker to work out compatibility.

For me, this was worth it. I could not get a computer this powerful and with this configuration for this price (I did explore that option). Also, I’m getting some parts later to increase the overall quality of the build, such as RAM and a monitor and probably some other things, so even if the total cost is the same or slightly more than an out of the box computer, I’ve got added flexibility that I like. Plus it is fun.

Building a computer is fairly easy, and nothing can really go wrong. If it does, I don’t know you, OK?

Good luck!

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22 thoughts on “How to build your own computer

  1. Been a long time since I did this, but my thoughts are:

    Highly endorse using large screens. Too many people are squinting at tablets.

    Even 450W seems high. Will the power adjust to a lower level as needed?

    Why no BTX design, which supposedly requires less power with better airflow.

  2. Something to note about the dual channel. Adding a third module removes the dual channel for all three modules, so you won’t get dual channel back until you get a fourth memory module.

    Re #1, yes, the PSU won’t draw normally over 230W and that’ll be mostly during bootup. All PSUs are rated for the maximum current draw on each plug (e.g. one for the ATX, one for the PCIe and two for the drives) and added up. That is their MAXIMUM draw.Not their constant draw. Not sure why you’d think differently. So the main reason for graphics cards requiring a 600W PSU is because there may not be enough amps on the PCIe power cables to run the card(s) with a smaller PSU, not that the total system draw will be over 450W.

    BTX changes the MB draw by changing how the PCB is laid out, but the difference is in watts. Better airflow mostly doesn’t matter because the cables will make a bigger difference to airflow. It makes more difference in rackspaces.

  3. For someone getting into building a computer or folks like me who have done it but like convenience, Google “pc parts picker” and head to their site. You can specify a system there starting from the component most critical to your design, and it will restrict further choices to compatible parts. It links to sources to buy (and includes prices in your build list so you know how much the whole thing will cost you).

    I built a server/media system that lives in my mother-in-law’s family room. I used a Fractal Design case to keep it quiet, and that does a good job. IIRC, the case was under $120.

  4. Good outline..

    A word of warning on dual channel memory – it typically requires that the new chip be identical in every way to the existing one. You can’t just put another 16G chip in, and get dual channel.. I learned this the hard way on my son’s gaming PC. The memory chip in there is no longer made, so getting dual channel requires buying two new memory chips.

    Second Wesley’s recommendation for PC Parts Picker, used that on several builds and it was very helpful.

    The first thing to do is to pick the CPU. Then find a motherboard that is certified for the CPU (cf Parts Picker). The rest follows..

  5. I built my own budget PC because I was sick and tired of struggling with proprietary hardware and its failures.. *cough Dell cough*
    The budget build cost about the same as a built box: but the case is spacious and cool with plenty of room to work and for expansion, the parts are all COTS and easily replaced/upgraded. Gobs of memory was really what I was after, for sound editing, and I have room for another 32G here.

  6. Wow, I read a long time ago a recommendation to reduce your power bill by replacing the power supply level to 200 or 300. I assumed this means a constant draw, because otherwise there is no savings. This was many years ago, so perhaps it was a different situation then, or maybe I am misremembering the issue.

  7. No, the only figure you need to worry about for PSUs above the requirement is the efficiency rating. 80+ PSUs are common and only slightly more expensive.

    Getting an underpowered PSU only works if you check out what each rail supplies to each component. If you can’t draw enough amps for the motherboard when running the CPU at max power, plus GC plus sound plus network, then your computer will randomly lock from the voltage drop.

  8. MikeN: I don’t think they make BTX designs any more.

    My current case, the old one, is actually BTX-esque but with the power supply on the bottom.

    Regarding the power supply: Toda’s power supplies are pretty much all more efficient than power supplies of old. The one I got is pretty efficient, but for an extra hundred bucks it could be a bit more efficient.

    One thing I like about this build, and I attribute this to the motherboard because it must be the motherboard that does this, is that the computer goes into sleep mode really fast, and comes out of sleep mode really fast. That’s a good power savings.

    One thing you get by building your own computer is the sense that if something breaks, you just fix it. So, this idea that turning a computer on and off kills it, which is only a little bit true, is not so much of an issue. This is a “durable” motherboard. I don’t know what that means exactly, but I chose to believe it means it won’t be as likely to die if the computer goes into and out of sleep mode a couple of times a day. Between that and the fact that I know I can swap a motherboard out and replace it in ten minutes makes the computer more comfortable to use.

  9. Yes, I did mention PC Parts Picker in the post.

    I intend to get the new memory very soon, and I picked a type of memory that I trust will be made or a while.

    I don’ t think they have to match exactly-exactly, but there they do have to match across several criteria.

  10. Each memory module has an SPD, a region of silicon that holds the timing. So if you put some 7-5-5 module in there and a 9-7-7 module later, it will negotiate a speed of 9-7-7 for both. That’s part of the North Bridge/South Bridge silicon which nowadays is the same for either brand (AMD or Intel).

  11. #8, looks like I got bad info back then. I don’t remember if I switched out a high power supply or a low one or just bought a low when when building a computer. Hoping it’s the latter.

  12. If it runs,then fine. But if it’s barely enough, then you’ll find upgrades (even adding memory: about 10W per stick) could throw it out as soon as the CPU spools up.

    Getting one much bigger than you need is a waste and it has bigger and noisier cooling, but it’s not *bad* per se, just wasteful.

    And as long as it works, then “too small” is fine. There’s not much way any more to tell what amperage your ATX connection is drawing, and that’s mostly where you get problems with the PSU.

  13. Would you get bigger and noisier cooling? Don’t the fans all use sensors now? Plus a bigger fan should be quieter as it has more airflow, so less speed.

  14. The design of the larger 120mm fans really don’t actually make them much quieter than the 90mm ones, and most fan connections are just simple signals, I don’t know of any montherboards that use PWM except for the CPU and *sometimes* one of the case fans.

    If the PSU has fan speed control for its own cooling fan, it will say so. Many of the “Quiet” label ones have this. They do the fan control themselves.

    So for the M/B, check it has PWM (fan control), and for the PSU check its specs too. Most quiet PSUs do control themselves.

    The worst culprit for sound nowadays is the GPU fan. If you don’tplay much in the way of games, either use the built-in graphics (generally good enough to play games of a quality of a AAA title 10-15 years ago) or get a passive one (which would be a min spec of non-FPS type games today).

    I really can’t say much more than that. There are too many variables. Just look at what you want carefully. The specs usually have a lot more than you’d expect. Google for the user manual for M/B and read it first. That will tell you what you can select in the BIOS.

  15. My GPU fan is perfectly quiet, in that it does not exist. I don’t have a GPU, and won’t need it unless I go above two monitors, most likely. This allows me to use way less power, have the smaller power supply, less noise, etc.

    My current CPU fan is whiny and varies in its speed constantly.

    Regarding the memory, I hope to not have this problem, but I think the key thing is the amount, speed, and configuration on the chip of the chipettes.

    If, however, this turns out to be some sort of scam … changing the configuration on chips so people have to re-purchase memory (selling off the oldmemory I assume) than I will take that up as a cause, as I’ve taken memory up as a cause in the past, and do a lot more financial damage to the chip companies than they end up doing to me!

    So if you are the chip company that made the above referenced chip you better get some more in stock soon!

  16. “My intention was to build a computer that would be able to crunch large amounts of data quickly … “

    So, you did not have a graphics card? Some number crunching software uses the cores in the graphics card to speed up processing. Do you have any experience of that or did you consider the pros/cons of using a graphics card?

  17. What was the cost of the build for the box only (no kbd,dsp,mouse, etc.), adding the price of the case you mentioned that you are considering purchasing?

  18. I am not a good candidate for building my own PC, though I’m an avid gamer. My last three PCs have been built by a boutique called IBuyPower PC. I got to pick my own parts with assistance by their software so no picking parts that won’t work together.

    All I’ve had to do since purchasing is upgrade the GPU. I got lucky and grabbed a 1080ti when they first arrived. Now, it’s like pulling teeth to find one on sale, and then they’re at very inflated prices.

  19. jl: Sorry, didn’t see your question.

    processor 203.88
    mobo 112.48
    cooling fan 29.99
    ram 138.99
    power supplyh 34.99
    blue tooth 5.99
    ethernet 36.81
    Total no case: 563.13
    Case: 130
    total with case: 693.13

  20. Hello, Greg, I built my own pc over seven years ago and the memory is over half full, I was wondering what I should add for more RAM.
    Currently, I have PNY XLR8 6GB (3 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Desktop Memory Model MD6144KD3-1600-X8.
    I’d like to add a TB if possible, but I have no idea of what to replace them with. The above is no longer available at Newegg where I purchased all of the parts to build it.

    Thank you in advance,
    Tina Machia

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