Building a new gaming PC can be a bit overwhelming, especially if it’s your first time. Everything from picking and purchasing the parts to getting in there and plugging in your components can be pretty stressful.
To help with the stress and anxiety, I’ve put together a list of 11 things I wish I knew before building my PC.
1. Plan Your Compatibility
Before you even start ordering parts, pick them all out and make sure that they’re all going to be compatible with each other. Here are some common compatibility points to keep in mind:
- Is your CPU (processor) compatible with your motherboard?
- Is your RAM (memory) compatible with your motherboard?
- Does your motherboard support your hard drive (SSD vs M.2 vs HDD)?
- Does your motherboard have enough USB and ARGB/RGB headers for your components?
- Is your PSU (power supply unit) large enough for your components, especially CPU & GPU?
- Is your case large enough to fit your components, especially your GPU?
Consider yourself lucky if you’ve never met someone that bought an AMD motherboard and an Intel CPU. As you’re picking out your parts, you need to make sure that they all come with the proper cables, that your motherboard has those cable ports (and enough of them), and that everything is overall compatible.
You also want to make sure that your case is big enough to fit everything. When I was upgrading my PC a couple of years ago, I bought a graphics card off of my friend without even thinking about case size. Turns out, his GPU had 2 fans and was about 1.5x bigger than my current GPU. I managed to make it fit, but it definitely wasn’t optimal.
It can be difficult to eyeball part sizes, especially if you’re ordering online so you just have to do your best. However, you can definitely count out the ports on your motherboard, so you don’t accidentally order too many fans or purchase a component that can’t even plug into your motherboard. If you do make this mistake though, there’s probably an adapter you can get!
2. Future Proof Your Case
You aren’t going to be able to solidly future proof your entire PC. With how fast technology improves, it’s impossible to build a PC today that will still be state-of-the-art in a few years. However, you can make sure your case is future proof, so that you can always swap out components in the future.
When I bought my PC, I didn’t think I’d ever upgrade. I figured the PC is good enough for my games that it’ll be perfect forever. Well, turns out upgrading is fun and I like burning my money so I can make my games prettier.
Unfortunately, my case is small so when I upgraded my graphics card and CPU it was like shoving a circle peg through a square hole.
So, even if you’re getting rather tiny components, unless you know for a fact that you’ll always look for smaller cards, it’s a good idea to invest in a bigger case.
Some people like having tiny cases and builds, but they also limit themselves. If you shop on a budget, you’re not always going to be able to choose how large your components are, and if you find a really good deal on a bulky component, you’re going to want your case to have enough room.
3. Don’t Cheap Out On Your PSU
Your PSU (power supply unit) is very important for many reasons. First of all, it’s the part of your computer that sends power to the rest of the components. The more power your components use, the more power you want your PSU to produce. If your PSU doesn’t produce enough power, you’re going to have issues.
On top of this, some third party and low quality PSUs can send out inconsistent power, which can damage the rest of your build.
I recommend splurging on a very good PSU from a trusted brand (Corsair or EVGA, for example). You don’t need to get the highest capacity power supply you can find, but you should definitely double check that the one you buy will have enough power for your components.
4. Use A Combination Of SSDs And HDDs
You may find some people debating whether an SSD is better vs an HDD. The truth is, neither is better or worse than the other. Each of these storage devices has a place in our builds, and it’s wise to include both types in your rig.
SSDs are generally much more expensive than HDDs for the same amount of storage. However, they are also much faster. So, what I like to do is put my OS on my SSD along with a couple of my favorite games, while putting everything else on my HDD.
No matter what, you’re going to want an SSD for your boot drive. The speed you get from doing so is too great to pass up. Even if you just get a small, 120GB SSD to boot from, you will not regret it.
Then you can grab a 1 – 2 TB HDD for storing clips, games, etc. This is pretty much what I do and I find that I get the best of both worlds while keeping my build budget friendly.
5. Shop Around
Whenever you need a part, take a look around online. Check eBay, Newegg, Amazon, and even head to a nearby Microcenter if you have one. There’s a good chance that you’ll find the part cheaper somewhere else, and if not, at least you know that you’re getting a pretty good deal.
I have a bad habit of finding a part I need / want and immediately ordering it. Then I’ll get buyer’s remorse, check eBay, and realize I could’ve gotten the same part for $40 cheaper.
Even if you don’t want to buy used parts, there are places that add an extra $10 – 20 on brand new parts. Always take a look around online and in store because you never know. While it may not seem like a lot, paying a little less on many parts in your PC will add up quickly and save you a pretty penny.
6. Fan Quality Over Quantity
A large, high quality fan will be better than a bunch of tiny ones any day of the week. Although, it does come down to personal taste, why waste more space and more fan connectors with lower quality fans?
The fans in your computer are super important, they stop your expensive graphics card, CPU, RAM, etc from overheating. This means your fans play a huge role in how long your computer lasts, which means you do not want to pick the cheapest option you can find.
In my experience, cheap fans break down pretty fast. They’ll become loud and inefficient after a few months of use. It’s better to just spend the money on fans that you know will last as long as you need them to.
It isn’t just more efficient and budget friendly in the long run, it gives you peace of mind that your PC is being properly cooled down and that your parts aren’t going to overheat during your week long gaming binge.
Remember though, just because you splurged on your fans doesn’t mean you can ignore them. You still need to air dust your PC every now (every 2 months) and then to keep the dust out and make sure that your fans don’t have to work too hard.
7. Use A Quality Work Surface
Nothing is more frustrating than trying to build a PC when you don’t have room to do so. Not only is it frustrating but it can also be a bit dangerous (for your wallet, at least). Make sure you have a solid surface to work on that has enough room for all of your parts. If this means clearing off your kitchen table, then so be it.
I’ll be completely honest here. I’ve messed around with my PC on the carpet. I’ve upgraded parts and have even completely taken it apart to replace the motherboard.
I haven’t gotten shocked or messed up a component yet, but I am always very paranoid and touch my metal case once every few minutes just to be extra safe. I’m sure one day I’ll regret my decision and end up frying something, so if you have the means, just build your PC somewhere safe!
You should also keep temperature in mind when building your PC. If you sweat easily, you will probably want to build somewhere with an air conditioning if at all possible. You don’t want your sweat dripping onto your components without you realizing it.
8. Ground Yourself
Static is a killer. Always ground yourself before handling any of your PC components. You can ground yourself by touching something metallic, which will get rid of any extra static that has build up in your body.
If you don’t ground yourself, then that extra static will be discharged into whichever motherboard you’re handling, instead of into your metal case or doorknob. You probably know this already, but that can be very bad.
Countless builds have met an early grave due to static shock discharge. If you want to be really safe, you can do what all of the pros do and build your PC wearing nothing but your underwear.
Static shock isn’t as big of an issue nowadays as it used to be, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. There’s nothing scarier than installing a part and feeling a quick zap, knowing you may have just fried a couple hundred bucks by accident.
9. Make Sure To Use Standoffs
Motherboard standoffs are little mounts that screw into your case that prevent your motherboard from touching the case itself. These are extremely important, but unfortunately not every case comes with them.
The reason that standoffs are so important is because they prevent your motherboard from directly touching your case. If your motherboard touches your metal case, then there’s a very high chance that your motherboard will end up fried due to short circuiting.
In fact, anything touching your motherboard in a place where your motherboard is not meant to be touched can short-circuit, and possibly fry the motherboard. It’s crucial that you only screw in components, like M.2 drives, on the dedicated standoffs on your motherboard.
You’ll also need to make sure nothing is touching the motherboard that isn’t supposed to, like loose twisty ties or cables in your build.
I’m putting this advice on here because not everyone knows about standoffs, and many build guides do not cover them properly. Some cases have standoffs built into them, so guide creators will take the standoffs for granted.
Because of this, many new PC enthusiasts end up short circuiting their motherboards due to not installing standoffs in their case.
The good news is that standoffs are extremely cheap and you can probably pick up a set for only a couple of bucks. They’re also super easy to install, since most of the time they’re literally just screws. So, if your case didn’t come with them, you’ll be able to head to any computer / tech store and pick some up.
10. A Half Pea Of Thermal Paste
When installing your CPU, one of the most important steps is making sure you add thermal paste to the heatsink.
The purpose of the heatsink is to pull heat out of the CPU and prevent it from overheating. The thermal paste on the back of the CPU makes this heat transition happen. With that being said, you want to make sure that your thermal paste is applied evenly across the CPU and that there isn’t too much or too little of it.
Simply put a half pea sized dot of thermal paste on the back of the CPU before installing your heatsink. Once your heatsink is properly fastened in and installed, your thermal paste will naturally and evenly spread across the back of your CPU.
You do not want to use a credit card or any other method to spread the paste yourself, because it will end up uneven and likely have air bubbles which can lead to uneven or inefficient cooling and overheat your CPU.
You also do not want to apply too much thermal paste because then it might spread to unwanted areas and draw heat to places it shouldn’t be.
The pea sized (or half pea sized) dot method is extremely popular, and the only method I use in my builds.
11. Test Your Build Out Of The Case
Testing your parts outside of the case before finalizing your build can help you troubleshoot defective parts on the fly.
Unfortunately, sometimes PC parts come dead on arrival. Whether they were damaged during manufacturing or shipping doesn’t really matter, the point is they don’t work. This sucks, but it happens.
What sucks more, however, is not realizing that a part doesn’t work until your entire PC is already put together in its case. This is especially true if you spent a lot of time organizing the wires in your case and almost went insane making everything fit.
Before you build your PC in your case, pick an insulated surface to build on and assemble your motherboard, RAM, processor, and GPU. This way you know everything fits and works.
Your CPU, especially, will be really annoying to pull out and replace if it doesn’t work. If everything works perfect out of the case, then you can start building for real!
If you have any questions, or just want to hang with me, follow me on Twitch here. Also, for streaming tips and how to’s make sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel here.
Eric streams 3 days a week on Twitch and uploads weekly to Youtube under the moniker, StreamersPlaybook. He loves gaming, PCs, and anything else related to tech. He’s the founder of the website StreamersPlaybook and loves helping people answer their streaming, gaming, and PC questions.