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How to Build a Custom PC Part 1: Buying Components

1 Feb 2019

Building your first PC can be a daunting experience; from choosing the individual components, to carefully fitting everything together, and crossing your fingers as it boots for the first time.

In part one of this How to Build a Custom PC guide we aim to alleviate the stress that can come with building your first custom PC, and walk you through the process of selecting the required components, so that your first custom build will be perfectly suited to the applications and games that you intend to use it for.

If you’re looking to put together an entirely new build, the best place to find inspiration is through the pre-built custom PC range. Depending on how you plan to use your computer, there will be certain hardware requirements and others that aren’t so vital. Which parts can you upgrade or already own in your existing PC that you can salvage.

A computer case is the home and display for your hard work. If you’re building a custom PC, chances are you’ll be look at investing in a decent case as well. The main considerations here will be function, airflow and aesthetics. You’ll want to choose something that will house everything you need now, and still have enough space to add extra parts later on. With the right planning, you can buy a case that will last a long time, with enough room to last several revisions of your build. 

The counterpoint to this is a small-form-factor (SFF) build, where everything is housed within a compact chassis which only as much space as you reasonably need. You’ll see an increasing number of pre-built PCs inside compact cases, with high-performance hardware. A well-built SFF PC will be easily transportable, with minimal compromise on performance and airflow vs. an equivalent mid-tower or full-tower system, which is a huge part of their appeal.

Smaller cases are also easier to fit on your desk, so you can show off your hard work without compromising on desk space.

Your motherboard is the foundation of all other hardware components. We mention the motherboard here as your choice will be informed by the other PC components you want to include. Your CPU, memory and storage requirements, video card, and future upgrade options will guide your decision. Certain motherboards can only support certain processors (CPUs) or graphics cards (GPUs).

Make sure to confirm the compatibility with your chosen case as smaller cases will sometimes only house MiniITX or MicroATX motherboards. Do you require on-board Wi-Fi or Dolby Surround Sound? These are all points of consideration when choosing your motherboard.

Central Processing Unit (CPU)
Your CPU is the brain of your computer, and works to process all the tasks you perform simultaneously. Your choice of processor will depend on your usage, and the specific applications and games that you use your PC for. Listening to music, browsing the internet, and typing documents or spreadsheets have different demands to high-level video editing and gaming. 

With regards to gaming, it is important to note that high-refresh rate gaming puts a higher load on the CPU, so if you plan to purchase a 144Hz or higher display for competitive first-person shooter (FPS) games, make sure your CPU is up to the task of driving the system to higher framerates.

If you’re planning on buying a CPU for overclocking, you’ll also need to ensure that your chosen processor has an unlocked multiplier. All AMD Ryzen processors support overclocking, however only Intel’s ‘K’ series processors have this feature.

Make sure to confirm that your chosen processor can be found in the list of supported processors on your motherboard manufacturer’s website.

CPU Cooler
Whichever CPU you choose, it is important to take reasonable steps to keep it cool. Entry level processors such as the Intel Core i3 or AMD Ryzen 3 series can be adequately cooled by their stock cooling solutions, however high-performance processors should be kept cool by an aftermarket thermal solution.

The two most common methods of keeping a processor cool are through an air-cooled heatsink constructed of copper and aluminium, or a liquid-cooling solution, comprised of a copper block, pump, tubing and a radiator with a fan. Both solutions have their benefits and drawbacks and it is important to approach both with an open mind.

High-end air coolers from brands such as Noctua provide exceptional cooling, with low noise levels, and will typically compete with similarly priced liquid-cooling solutions. All-in-one closed-loop liquid coolers which are commonly referred to as AIOs use a liquid-based coolant which transfers heat from a block to a radiator which is commonly mounted in such a way that the hot air is exhausted out of the case.

Your next choice is storage, which essentially comes down to two options: SSD or HDD. 

A solid-state drive (SSD) is your ultra-fast answer to poor loading and transfer speeds. Unlike traditional hard disk drives (HDDs), SSDs have no moving mechanical components – making them faster, more stable, and silent to run. While SSDs are undisputedly the faster choice, you’ll get far more storage capacity for the same price on an HDD.

There are a number of different types of SSDs, covering a variety of different form factors and methods of interfacing with the motherboard.
The two most common types of SSD are 2.5” SSDs that connect to the motherboard via a SATA cable, and M.2 SSDs that slot directly into an M.2 slot. M.2 SSDs have the potential to offer a major speed boost over conventional 2.5” SATA SSDs, but that is not always the case. M.2 SSDs can either use SATA-based storage or NVMe storage, which is up to 5x faster than SATA.

Confusing right? Feel free to give one of our friendly sales team a call if you would like further clarification.

In most cases the best option is to choose both: use an SSD for your operating system and any programs or games you need to load instantly (typically between 250GB  - 500GB), and a HDD (typically between 2TB - 4TB) to store files that are accessed less frequently. The best part about storage is that it can be easily upgraded; adding an additional HDD or SSD to your motherboard is a straight-forward process. 

Random-access Memory (RAM)
RAM or Random-access Memory is a form of ultra-fast storage that your computer uses to temporarily store data that is currently in use.

It is important to ensure that your computer has enough RAM. If you’ve ever struggled with a computer freezing every time you launch a new internet browser tab, or crashing whenever you open two separate applications, you’ll know the pain of not having enough. 

RAM is what allows your computer to juggle multiple processes without stumbling, and having 8GB+ of RAM is vital for any high-performance computer user, be it graphic designer, video editor, or gamer.  

You’ll want at least 8GB of RAM for a computer running Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system, which is an affordable level no matter your build. A recommended amount that will run most games, programs and prevent system lockups will be around 16GB. High-level workstations may require 32GB+, however just like storage, RAM you can increase over time following the limitations of your chosen motherboard.

Graphics Processing Unit (GPU)
Your GPU is responsible for outputting an image on your display, and is the window to your computer, and it is no easy task. Every year applications and games are released that push the limits of your graphics card or GPU. You will find endless opinion about GPU choices online, but one thing that we can all agree on is that it is important to consider the resolution of the screen that you intend to connect the system to, and the games that you will be playing.

Let us say for example that you are building a gaming PC, at the time of writing, based on common monitor resolutions and refresh rates we would make the following recommendations:

  • 1920 x 1080 (1080P) at 60Hz – GTX 1660
  • 1920 x 1080 (1080P) at 144Hz – RTX 2060 / RTX 2070
  • 2560 x 1440 (1440P) at 60Hz – RTX 2060
  • 2560 x 1440 (1440P) at 144Hz / 165Hz – RTX 2070 / RTX 2080
  • 3840 x 2160 (UHD) at 60Hz – RTX 2080 Ti

When building a PC for gaming, the graphics card is typically the component most first-time PC builders will focus their budget around, it may well be one of the hardest component choices you will make. 

Power Supply Unit (PSU)
Your power supply is essential to making sure your PC runs, and that it performs as advertised. Once you’ve decided on your components and any additional fans or cooling that will require power, purchase a power supply that can supply enough wattage to drive the chosen components, with enough headroom to add extra components in the future, e.g. you may want to add another graphics card six months down the line.

There are a few websites that can be used to calculate power draw on a system, which can be extremely helpful in determining your wattage requirements.

Don’t underestimate the importance of the role that the power supply serves; as the component that supplies life to all other components in your system it is imperative that you select a high-quality unit that is up to the task.
Fortunately there are regulations in place that ensure all power supplies sold in New Zealand meet strict energy efficiency guidelines; but it is still important to make sure that you purchase a power supply with at least an 80+ Gold efficiency.

Computer Lounge – high-quality computer systems in Auckland
If you’re thinking about building a custom PC, talk to one of our team at Computer Lounge. We stock a range of custom-built systems and PC components to help guide your choice. You’ll find a range of high-performance, highly aesthetic PC builds in our store, and we can configure them to meet your unique performance requirements.

Talk to one of our team today, and get started building your dream PC. 


Computer Lounge

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