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The ultimate guide for building your custom computer

Nothing is more fun for me than planning, purchasing, and assembling all of the components for a custom-built system. I guess that's why I like repairing computers. But most people do not know where to start when it comes to putting together a custom-built computer. So here is the ultimate guide for building your own custom computer.

The ultimate guide for building your custom computer

I have been building and repairing computers since the late '90s and have assembled hundreds of systems. What got me started building custom computers was the fact that I could not upgrade the graphic processor inside the Packard-Bell system I had.

Long story short, I contacted the manufacturer of the graphics processor installed on the motherboard and was told that Packard-Bell had ordered the graphic chip with one of the pins disabled. That way, I would have to go back to Packard-Bell to get an upgraded chip.

I decided to build a computer instead and have been running custom-built computers ever since. In fact, I just recently recycled one of my very first AT cases (it had six (6) 5.25" bays and was over three (3) feet tall). So, without further ado, let's start planning, purchasing, and assembling your custom-built computer.

Note: All links included in this article will open in a separate window.

Planning your computer

If you need to become more familiar with the technical jargon surrounding computer components, this is where you want to start. Understanding the jargon used with computer components is essential to the success of your custom computer build. Let's take a look at the vocabulary surrounding building a custom computer.

Defining confusing computer hardware verbiage

It's an age-old problem: Form vs. function. Do you want a sleek-looking computer that takes up a small amount of space or one that can handle multiple graphic cards and run games with intensive graphics? Let's take a look at some of the things you might want to consider when planning out our custom-built computer,

Things to keep in mind when building a custom-built computer

Sometimes, the simplest things can become problems. For example, using plastic-coated wire twist ties instead of plastic zip ties for cable management or installing case fans with the incorrect air flow direction. These common mistakes can cause problems down the road. Let's take care of them right here and now.

Common problems to avoid when building your own computer

Your computer case is a reflection of you and your style. You can get one with a ton of glass and lights or one that is basic with no bells and whistles. It's entirely up to you. Let's look at some of your options when selecting a computer case.

Tips for choosing the perfect case for your computer

The motherboard is likely the most important component you will choose. With so many options, like the different types of I/O connectors and the number and type of PCIe expansion slots, choosing a motherboard can be daunting. So, let's take a closer look at finding the right motherboard.

Tips for choosing the right motherboard for your custom-built computer

When someone is planning on building a computer for gaming, this is usually the first component they look at. Whether you plan on surfing the web and watching cat videos or are planning a multi-monitor gaming rig, the graphics card you choose is important. So, let's take a deeper dive into graphics cards.

Tips for choosing the right graphics card for your custom-built computer

Keeping your CPU cool is a major priority, as is selecting the right CPU cooler. Should you go with an air-cooled heatsink or a liquid pump and radiator type? Are you planning on overclocking your CPU? Let's examine the options for choosing a CPU cooler.

Tips for choosing the right CPU cooler for your custom-built computer

By now, you should have a good idea of what components you will use to build your computer, so it is time to decide on a power supply. With your choice of case, motherboard, and graphic card(s), you should be able to determine the best power supply for your computer. Let's look at how to determine how much power your computer will require.

How to estimate the power required for your custom-built computer

Purchasing the components

You should now have a list of parts you want to use to build your computer. The trick is to make sure that all of them are compatible. Since you will probably be ordering most, if not all, of the components online, why not check their compatibility online, too? Let's look at some online resources for selecting and purchasing computer components.

How to find compatible computer parts online

Assembling your computer

At this point, you should have all the parts needed to assemble your computer. The following article describes how I typically build a computer. It is long but has plenty of images to guide you through your computer build.

How to build a computer

Tips for choosing the perfect case for your computer

Are you building a new computer or upgrading an existing one? The computer case is one of the most essential components you'll need to consider. In this article, we'll go over some tips to help you in choosing the perfect case for your computer.

Tips for choosing the perfect case for your computer

When it comes to finding the perfect computer case, you have to remember that not only does it protect your components, but it also affects your computer's cooling and noise levels. With so many options on the market, choosing the right computer case can be overwhelming.

Size matters: The first thing you will need to consider is the motherboard that you are going to use. The most common sizes are ATX, Micro-ATX, and Mini-ITX. Make sure you choose a case that fits your motherboard size.
A home theater computer case
Beyond that, you'll also need to consider the size of your graphics card(s), power supply, CPU cooler (air or liquid), and drives you plan to install.

Airflow and cooling: Proper airflow is crucial for keeping your components cool and extending their lifespan. Look for a case that has plenty of ventilation and supports multiple fans. You may also want to consider a case with liquid cooling support if you plan on overclocking your CPU (Central Processing Unit) and/or GPU (Graphics Processing Unit). Remember, a larger case will give you more room for expansion, but it will also take up more space on or below your desk.

A gaming computer case

If you plan on using a liquid cooler for your CPU and/or GPU, you will need to take into consideration the size of the radiator(s) and cooling fans. The mounting depth for a cooling radiator with fans attached can vary, so definitely make sure you have plenty of clearance in the case where you plan on mounting the cooling system. Remember that a case with more fans will generally be louder than one with fewer fans, so you'll need to find a balance between cooling and noise levels.

Noise levels: Speaking of noise levels, consider the noise output of your case. If you're building a home theater PC or a workstation that needs to be quiet, look for a case with sound-dampening materials and low noise output. On the other hand, if you're building a gaming PC that will be under your desk, noise may not be as much of a concern.

Cable management: A clean and organized interior not only looks better but also helps with airflow and cooling. It also comes in handy when it comes to maintenance. Look for a case with plenty of cable management options, such as routing holes and tie-down points. Some cases even have built-in cable channels to help keep everything tidy.

Build quality: Next, consider the build quality of the case. You want a sturdy, well-made case with no sharp edges or flimsy panels. A good case will also have easy-to-remove panels to access your components easily.

Some 'no name' generic cases have a tendency to have metal edges that are not deburred, leaving them extremely sharp, which will lead to cuts on your hands as you assemble your computer. Since a good quality case can last for years, spending a little more on a quality case is just good sense.

Serviceability: With living in a dry environment like Phoenix, we have an extreme amount of dust and need to clean our systems on a regular basis. Having a computer case that can be easily cleaned of dust is essential.
An open-design computer case
Remember that most computer cases also come with dust filters that need to be cleaned, so having side and top panels that can be easily removed is handy.

In addition to these tips, you'll also want to consider the overall style and design of the case. Do you want a sleek and minimalist look or something with more RGB lighting and flashy designs? Ultimately, the right case for you will depend on your personal preferences and needs.

For more information on building your own computer, check out the following articles.

How to build a computer

How to find compatible computer parts online

Things to keep in mind when building a custom-built computer

Common problems to avoid when building your own computer

Common problems to avoid when building your own computer

Are you planning to build your own computer? It can be an exciting project, as you get to choose the components that match your needs and preferences. However, building a computer from scratch can also come with its own set of challenges and errors. In this article, we will discuss the common problems to avoid when building your own computer.

Common problems to avoid when building your own computer

Having built and serviced many custom-built computers, there are certain things I watch out for. The tips outlined in this article are meant to assist you in building your own computer. For the basic steps to building a custom computer, check out How to build a computer.

Choosing components: One of the most common mistakes people make when building their own computer is selecting the wrong components. You must choose components that are compatible with one another. For example, if you choose a motherboard that only supports DDR4 RAM, you won't be able to use DDR5 RAM, no matter how much you want to.

How to find compatible computer parts online

Enough space for components: When building a computer, it's essential to make sure that you have enough space for all the components. If you're building a Small Form Factor computer, make sure that all the components you choose can fit inside the case. It's also essential to make sure that there is enough space for adequate cooling and airflow. Remember, you cannot install a full-size ATX motherboard into a microATX case.

Things to keep in mind when building a custom-built computer

Motherboard IO shield: If your motherboard comes with a separate IO shield, remember you have to install it before the motherboard. Also, be careful when installing the motherboard so you do not bend any of the prongs on the IO shield.

Photo of a motherboard IO shield showing the grounding prongs

These prongs are meant to ground the various ports but often get bent out of shape. Install the IO shield in the case and then test fit the motherboard into the case. If you place the motherboard at an angle in the case, you can get the ports on the back underneath any IO shield prongs that need to be on top of them.

Cable Management: Cable management is often overlooked, but it's essential to keep your computer tidy and organized. Proper cable management can help with airflow, reduce dust buildup, and make it easier to troubleshoot any problems. Make sure that all cables are neatly tucked away and secured to avoid any damage or interference with other components.

Photo of plastic coated wire tie and plastic zip tie side by side

When performing cable management, use only velcro or plastic zip ties. Never use plastic-coated wire twist ties since they contain wire, which, if used too close to any exposed circuit board or bare metal, could cause a short.

Power Supply Requirements: The power supply is one of the most critical components of a computer, and it's essential to make sure you get the right one. A power supply that isn't powerful enough can cause your computer to crash, and one that is too powerful can waste energy and increase your electricity bill. Make sure that your power supply can handle the wattage required by your components.

Also, use a modular power supply if possible. With a modular power supply, you only have to attach the cables required for the components inside your case. For example, if you use only M.2 SSDs (Solid State Drive) for storage, you would not need to attach any SATA cables to the power supply, thus saving space inside the case.

How to estimate the power required for your custom-built computer

Cooling: The components inside your computer generate a lot of heat, and it's essential to keep them cool. If your computer overheats, it can cause damage to the components, shorten their lifespan, and even cause them to fail. Make sure you have enough cooling, either through fans or liquid cooling, to keep your computer running at optimal temperatures.

When it comes to the airflow direction, I usually will have air coming in through the front/bottom of the case and going out through the top/back of the case.
Photo of a case fan with directional arrows highlighted
Case fans typically are marked with the direction of both the fan blades and airflow.

In conclusion, building your own computer can be a fun and rewarding experience, but it's essential to avoid these common problems. Take your time, do your research, and make sure that you choose the right components that are compatible with one another. Always double-check that everything is installed correctly and that you have enough cooling and space for all the components. With the right approach, you can build a computer that meets your needs and performs well for years to come.

How to find compatible computer parts online

Updated March 15, 2024

Building your own computer or upgrading your existing system can be a dream or a nightmare. Simply finding parts that are compatible with each other can be challenging. But some really helpful websites can make finding the correct parts easy.

How to find compatible computer parts online

There is no greater satisfaction than being able to say you built or upgraded your computer yourself. Whether upgrading your computer's memory or drive or building a new system from the ground up.

However, finding compatible computer parts can be daunting. Every part has a specific set of requirements and features, and it's essential to ensure they match up with the other components in your build.

For example, a CPU requires a specific type of motherboard socket, and each motherboard supports particular types of memory. It's essential to cross-check each component's specifications before purchasing to ensure compatibility.

If you're working on an older PC, say five to ten years old, you will have to use the different component specifications to find compatible parts. When looking for parts to upgrade an older computer, the best place to start is the motherboard/system manual. This is where you find all the specifications for finding compatible components for your computer.

If you are considering upgrading a relatively new computer or building a new one, the following websites are extremely helpful. Just enter a few details on your component or computer, and they can tell you what hardware will work with it.

When it comes to finding compatible computer parts, the websites are divided into two categories: complete computers /separate components and memory.

Complete computers / separate components

Let's start with websites that can help you find every part of a custom-built computer. Several websites will list components that work together, but only a few genuinely allow you to customize the different components.

The following websites allow you to select any component (motherboard, processor, etc.) and assemble a list of compatible parts for a complete system. You can also use them to find compatible parts to upgrade your existing computer.

PC Part Picker

Build My PC

PC Builder

Another website is Newegg. It has a section specifically for custom PC building, similar to the ones above. The only difference is that it links to products it or its affiliates sell.

The PC Part Picker, Build My PC, PC Builder,, and Newegg websites can also help find individual components. As long as the manufacturer still sells the component, you can use any of these websites to find compatible parts for your computer.

Let's say you recently built a computer and want to upgrade the processor. You would have to find your specific motherboard, and these websites will show you what processors are compatible with it.


But as I always say, the biggest bang you can get for your buck is a memory upgrade. Most memory manufacturers have what they call memory finders. Just find your computer's or motherboard's make / model; their websites will show you which memory modules will work in it.






FYI - If you are trying to get the lowest price on a component, you can check a vendor's website to see if they match prices. I have used price matching to get some terrific deals on hardware.

Please let us know if you found a website with a computer parts configurator we have not listed. Just leave a note in the comments at the bottom of this article.

How to build a computer

Updated March 18, 2024

Are you considering building your own computer? Have you acquired the necessary components but need help with how to proceed? If so, you have come to the right place. In the following article, I'll walk you through the step-by-step process of building your computer. From unpacking the parts to connecting the wires and cables, I'll provide clear and concise instructions to ensure your computer is built safely, correctly, and easily. Let's get started!

How to build a computer

I will assemble a computer from all the separate components in this article. If you don't have all the tools or are scared of making a mistake, feel free to contact a local computer shop and have them assemble it for you. If you live in the greater Phoenix, Arizona, area, feel free to call us.

Tools required to build a computer

Tools required to build a computer

  • Wire ties
  • Snipers (for trimming wire ties)
  • 3/16" nut driver (for stand-offs)
  • #1 Phillips screwdriver
  • Thermal compound (may or may not be required)
  • Anti-static wrist strap (optional)
  • Needle nose pliers (optional)

Building a computer step-by-step

Cable management is one thing you will need to keep in mind as you build your computer. Take the time to secure all wires, even if it is temporary. It's okay if, during your assembly, you have to cut and replace some wire ties. When you perform cable management, this is normal. Just make sure you have plenty of extra wire ties handy.

Remember that if you are going to use an anti-static wrist strap, you need to attach the clip to a metal portion of the computer case before you start building your computer. I like to assemble as many components on the motherboard as possible before installing it in the case. Installing the CPU, M.2 drive(s), or memory modules can be a hassle when the motherboard is inside the case.

  1. Install the CPU.
    Install the CPU
    Ensure the CPU's notches align correctly with the motherboard's socket. Refer to the motherboard manual for instructions on securing the CPU in the socket.
  2. Install the memory modules.
    Install the memory modules
    The modules will have a notch in them, so they will only go into the slot one way. Check the memory modules against the memory slots on the motherboard for the correct orientation. Also, refer to the motherboard manual for the proper installation order.
  3. Instal the M.2 drive(s).
    Install the M.2 drive(s)
    Installing an M.2 drive with the motherboard outside the case is simple. Now is the time to do it.
  4. Unpack the computer case.
    Unpack the computer case
    Make sure to do an inventory of all the parts (screws, drive caddies, etc.) that come with it. If the case did not come with a manual, download a copy online. You will be referencing it quite a bit during the assembly.
  5. Install the I/O shield in the rear of the case.
    Install I/O shield in rear of case
    Some motherboards come with the I/O shield built into them, and some do not. If your motherboard has a separate I/O shield, be careful when installing it, as the metal edges of the case can easily cut your hand.
  6. Install the stand-offs for the motherboard.
    Install the stand-offs for motherboard
    Some cases have stand-offs built in, while others do not. If your case does not have them built in, check the hole pattern on the motherboard or the motherboard manual to ensure you have the stand-offs in the correct locations. Then, hand-tighten them using a 3/16" nut driver.
  7. Install the motherboard.
    Install the motherboard
    You may have to work it a bit to get the I/O ports under any tabs on the I/O panel. Tilting the motherboard at a 45-degree angle will allow you to get any I/O ports under the tabs on the I/O shield. Then attach it to the stand-offs using the supplied screws.
  8. Install the power supply.
    Install the power supply
    Depending on the power supply, the power cables may or may not be already attached. Route the wires through the case, making sure not to cut them on any sharp metal edges. Make sure to connect the ATX12V 8-pin (4+4) and ATX 24-pin (20+4) power cables to the motherboard now, as you might not have access to the ATX12V power connector after installing the CPU cooler.
  9. Install the CPU cooler.
    Install the CPU cooler
    If you use a new cooler, thermal compound will already be applied. If you are rebuilding an existing computer, you will need to clean any current thermal compound from the CPU and cooler. Then, you will need to apply a new layer of thermal compound. Spread a thin coat of thermal compound across the entire CPU surface. A business card works great.
  10. Install the case fan(s).
    Install the case fan(s)
    Some cases come with fans already installed, and some don't. If you have to install the can fans, make sure you have the airflow correct. The airflow should go from the front of the case to the rear of the case. The fans have directional arrows printed on one side of them. Once installed, connect them to the appropriate fan and LED (optional) connector(s) on the motherboard. Refer to the motherboard manual for the locations.
  11. Attach devices to the I/O connectors on the motherboard.
    Connect the front panel connectors to the motherboard
    The locations of all the pins (power button, power LED, hard drive LED, audio jacks, USB jacks, and case LEDs) for the connectors are in the motherboard manual.
  12. Install the drive(s).
    Install the drive(s)
    Depending on your case, you may have separate or combination carriages for Solid-State Drives (SSD) and Hard Disk Drives (HDD). If you are also installing CD / DVD drive(s), you may have to remove knock-out metal panel(s) from a 5 1/2" bay in the front of the case. Be careful, twisting it back and forth to break it free, as the metal can be sharp and cut your hand.
  13. Install the cables for the drive(s).
    Install the cables for the drive(s)
    Refer to the motherboard manual for the port location and numbering. If you have M.2 drive(s) installed, check the manual to determine if it shares resources with any SATA ports. You will want the primary (boot) drive to be in the M.2._1 slot or attached to the SATA 1 connector.
  14. Install any PCI-e expansion cards (Graphics Card(s), Wi-Fi, etc.).
    Install any expansion cards
    Refer to your motherboard manual for the location and types of the PCI-e slots. If your GPU requires additional power, carefully route the required PCI-e power cable through the case to avoid cutting it with any sharp metal edge. Here is an article we wrote about installing expansion cards.

Trim all the wire ties and remove any protective film from the case and the components. Attach the keyboard, mouse, and monitor and go into the BIOS (Basic Input / Output System) to verify and change any settings. Refer to the motherboard manual for instructions on how to do this. After editing the BIOS settings, you will be ready to install the operating system.

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