A common question that will nearly always arise for anyone who is wanting to put together a customized PC is how to choose parts for your computer build.
This is not always an easy process, especially if you’re just starting out, so here at PC Build Advisor we’ve put together a bit of a guide to help you select parts.
In this article, you’ll learn how to work to a budget when building your own computer, how to choose individual computer parts for your build, and some tips and tricks to help you along the way.
Even if you have no idea what you’re doing, you can learn how to build your own computer. This guide will help you along the way, no matter where you’re starting from.
Step 1: Choose A Budget
Phase 1 of any computer build is to decide how much you’re going to spend overall. This step is important when trying to choose individual computer parts because it gives you a basis for how much money you are able to spend on each individual component.
Be realistic in this stage – if you can’t afford it, either lower your budget, or develop a savings plan to help you put aside enough money to afford what you do want.
It is possible to spend as little as $200 on a computer, and some extremely high-end systems can clock in at around the $2000+ mark. In general, a decent computer for general use can easily be had for around $300 – $500.
Don’t forget to take into account any extras that you may need, especially if this a completely new build – for example operating systems like Windows or peripherals such as mouse/keyboard, monitors and speakers are not generally included in most PC build pricing lists, as they are assumed to be available from your previous computer assembly.
Step 2: Assign Budget to Parts
Once you’ve established an overall spending budget, it’s time to break down your budget by apportioning it to individual parts. This will allow you to see how much you have to spend on each component.
How you do this will depend on your specific computer requirements – for example, if you are a gamer or will be using your computer for video editing tasks, you will most likely want to apportion more of your budget towards a graphics card.
In general, here is a rule of thumb for how to assign your budget:
General or budget build (under $400):
Processor – 30%
Motherboard – 25%
Storage – 15%
Memory – 10%
PSU – 10%
Case – 10%
As an example, let’s pretend your budget is around the $400 mark. You would then use the figures below to get a rough idea of how much you should be spending on each component:
- Processor – 30% of $400 = $120
- Motherboard – 25% of $400 = $100
- Storage – 15% of $400 = $60
- Memory – 10% of $400 = $40
- PSU – 10% of $400 = $40
- Case – 10% of $400 = $40
This method is a very loose rule of thumb which can help give you an idea of how much you can spend on each component to still meet your final budget. You don’t have to follow it strictly, but it can be a good place to start from.
For example, you might be able to get a bit of a cheaper processor, which may allow you to spend more in the storage department. There are no hard and fast rules, so feel free to experiment.
For gaming builds:
You’ll want to add a graphics card and dedicate as much of the budget as possible to it while still keeping the rest of the system and supporting components such as power supply to an acceptable level.
This is a little difficult to quantify generically in terms of percentages, because as your budget changes beyond a certain point, extra money should be directed towards your graphics card.
For an entry level card, we’d recommend to set aside at least $80 – $100 for a graphics card. If you do decide to opt for the cheaper graphics card, the catch is that they typically tend to be cheap because they are older models. With the rate that technology is improving, just be aware that some of these cheaper graphics cards tend to benchmark at around the same as some of the newer computer processor’s on-board graphics modules.
For instance, we compared the synthetic benchmark scores of a couple of popular cards against the latest Intel 6th Generation (Skylake) processor’s onboard graphics module, HD 530. The results are pretty eye-opening:
As you can see, some of the lower priced cards that are older are out-performed by the integrated graphics modules on Intel’s latest CPUs, but this doesn’t mean you won’t see some benefits from having a dedicated graphics card. Having a dedicated graphics card offers additional dedicated graphics memory, which can relieve some of the stress of your system’s RAM if you are running with onboard graphics.
Step 3: Choose Parts
Finally we have arrive at the actual selection of parts phase. If you’ve done your homework right, you’ll have a good guide for how much you have to spend on each hardware component.
In terms of actually choosing your parts, there are some general rules that you should follow for any part selection:
- Reputable manufacturer – To ensure you get quality, we recommend to only purchase products made by well-known manufacturers with a good warranty.
- Reviews – Reviews can be extremely valuable when it comes to evaluating the quality and performance of any product, including computer hardware. By doing a little bit of research into your prospective part before you buy it, you can quickly determine if others have had issues with that particular model or if it will suit your needs (before you spend any of your hard-earned cash). We recommend checking out reviews on Amazon for the part you are interested in as well as various benchmark sites. Amazon’s customer reviews section can be really helpful – in addition to checking out the product’s star rating, you can read what people have to say about the product to get a better idea of it’s specific strengths and limitations.
- Compatibility – This aspect takes a little more practice – be aware that not all parts are compatible with each other. For example, only certain processors will work with certain motherboards. All of our builds have carefully chosen parts which are compatible together, so you can always look to those for some guidance.
- Supplier – Always purchase through a reputable supplier, such as Amazon, Newegg, or other well-known and respected companies. Such suppliers are known to handle unforeseen issues (such as damage during shipping or returns claims) in a fair and timely manner.
Parts Selection Tips
Following a specific order when choosing your parts can make the process a little easier, which is what we’ll be guiding you through in the rest of this article.
1. Select Processor
The first step is to choose your processor (also known as CPU). This will determine which type of motherboard you need as CPUs come in a few different socket types (the port on the motherboard where you plug in the CPU).
The two biggest manufacturers are Intel and AMD. Both have a few different socket configurations which they use for their CPUs, and these change throughout the years.
Look for names such as Intel LGA 1151 or AMD AM3+ (recent socket types) and check out our CPU article for more in depth information about selecting a suitable CPU for your computer build.
2. Select Graphics Card (if applicable)
If you’re building a basic everyday computer you may not even need a graphics card; instead you can choose a motherboard that has an integrated graphics adapter (this means the graphics processing functionality is built in to the motherboard). This will save you some money because you don’t need to spend on an extra component.
If you’re looking to build a gaming or video editing PC, it is likely that your computer is going to require a little bit more graphics processing power to display games and video smoothly.
In most cases this means you’ll need to choose a dedicated graphics card – an extra component that will plug into your motherboard. Check out our article on graphics cards for selection considerations.
You’ll need to firstly decide what type of graphics set up you want. A single graphics card from either nVidia or AMD will work in most motherboards but if you’re planning on running multiple cards (only necessary for really high-end performance) you’ll need a particular kind of motherboard which can support multiple graphics cards.
3. Select Motherboard
Once you’ve chosen your CPU and graphics card setup, you’ll be able to select a compatible motherboard with the correct socket to accommodate your chosen processor, and also support your chosen graphics card(s).
If you’re not sure what else you should be looking out for when it comes to choosing a suitable a motherboard, check out our motherboard article for more advice on selecting a motherboard that fits your requirements.
4. Select Memory
Now that you’ve chosen your motherboard, check which memory type it supports. Most likely it’ll be either DDR3 or DDR4 but be sure to check the motherboard’s supported memory modules list which is usually provided on the manufacturer’s website. This list will show which exact memory model numbers are approved by the motherboard manufacturer.
Again using the Gigabyte GA-990FXA-UD3 motherboard as an example, let’s see how this looks. Firstly, we headed over to the manufacturer’s website, and went to the ‘support and downloads’ section for the particular board of interest. The memory support list was available for download:
And here’s and example of what the list of supported modules looks like:
It’s important to select verified memory models to ensure that your system doesn’t suffer from any compatibility issues. Many people skip this step and don’t necessarily have any problems, but for the sake of a quick check, we think it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Be sure to check out our memory page if you’d like to know more about what to look for when choosing RAM for your computer build.
5. Hard Drive
Choose your preferred hard drives for your system. Compatibility is not usually an issue here. Most modern hard drives use a SATA3 data connector which will plug into your motherboard.
Your motherboard should have plenty of SATA ports to accept inputs from components such as hard drives. These will generally be labelled, like the ones shown here in white:
There are specialty hard drives out there such as PCIe SSDs which mount into a PCIe slot so if you are opting for a specialty drive like this, be sure to check that your motherboard has the required slot before choosing one of these.
Now that you’ve selected most of your main components it’s time to choose a case which can fit everything.
Motherboards come in different sizes called “form factors”, and depending on what you get, you’ll need to have a compatible case to suit and make sure everything physically fits inside.
If you don’t match your case to your motherboard’s form factor, it may not come with mounting holes in the right locations to allow you to mount your motherboard inside the case.
Two important checks to make are:
- Check that your graphics card can fit into the case as some of the high end cards can be fairly large.
- Check that the case is large enough for your motherboard – the two most common sizes are ATX (full ATX) and mATX (Micro ATX).
7. Power Supply
Choose a high quality power supply that’s powerful enough (has a suitable wattage) for all of your selected components and has the required connectors. If you’re not sure what you should be looking for, check our Power Supply article for details.
Step 4: Purchase
This step seems pretty obvious but it’s important to consider a few points:
- Buying from the same place – If you buy all of your parts from one supplier you’ll only have to worry about one postage charge, one receipt and one replace to return parts should you ever need to.
- Some suppliers will exchange any faulty parts directly while others may require you to fulfill the warranty request directly with the manufacturer.
- Postage cost and delivery time.
Our recommended retailer is Amazon.com – they’ve got a huge range of products, fast shipping and you’re protected by all the warranties of a large, well known company.
Choosing parts for a computer build can seem overwhelming at first, but by following these general guidelines you can feel confident that you will end up with a fully customized build.
Breaking your budget down so that you know roughly how much you have to spend on each component is an excellent starting point. We’ve also gone thorough the general process you should follow when choosing each of your individual parts.
Don’t forget to do your research by checking reviews and ensuring that your selected parts are compatible with each other. If you get stuck with anything, just ask us by leaving a comment below!