When it’s time for a new computer, most of us are happy to fire up the browser to hit Bestbuy.ca, or head down to our local Best Buy. There are plenty of excellent PC options to choose from. But for some people, half the fun in a new PC is the challenge of building it themselves. For others, a custom built desktop computer is a necessity because the production versions don’t offer the right mix of features, functionality and price. Whatever the reason, if you’re about to build your own PC, Best Buy has you covered with all the components you’ll need.
Here’s a list of the critical components that go into building your own PC.
Think of the motherboard like the base plate in a LEGO model. It’s the central component that everything else plugs into. When choosing a motherboard, you need to first know what other components you want—for example the CPU (different processors from Intel and AMD use different sockets), how much RAM (and the RAM speed), and what input ports you need—and then you choose the motherboard that supports those requirements.
The CPU or processor is the “brain” of your new computer. There are many options available from both Intel and AMD. The more powerful the CPU, the more expensive it will be. Factors like clock speed, the number of cores and integrated graphics all play a role in determining the difference between a basic, mid-level and high performance CPU. For gaming and other high demand applications, consider a CPU that supports overclocking.
Generally speaking, the safe choice for a CPU providing a nice balance between price and performance has been an Intel Core i5 or AMD Ryzen 5 CPU.
RAM is a critical component, serving as the short term memory used by the CPU when running tasks. More RAM means more applications can be run simultaneously and more windows can be open without slowing the system. For PCs using integrated video instead of discrete graphics card, that RAM will be shared with the operating system. So two things to keep in mind: how much RAM you will need, and the speed of the RAM.
If you plan to use your new PC for any graphics-intensive tasks, including video gaming, 4K video editing, 3D rendering, or virtual reality, then you’ll want to install a video card instead of relying on the CPU’s built-in graphics support. A video card also gives you additional outputs to a monitor. There are many video card options from Nvidia and AMD. To choose the right one—or maybe you’ll be be building a dual card system—pay close attention to the requirements of the games or applications you plan to run, as well as the input requirements of your computer monitor (HDMI, DVI, DisplayPort, USB-C, etc…).
Most motherboards will include integrated sound capability. It’s fine for basic audio. However, if you want more immersive surround audio capability for watching movies, gaming or listening to music, you’ll want to invest in a plug-in sound card.
Storage is a big one when building your own PC, and this is one of those areas that’s ripe for customization. With a desktop PC, you’re not limited to a single drive, so you could mix it up. For example, a super fast SSD to install the operating system and a few key applications for faster performance, supplemented by a less expensive high capacity HDD for storing huge multimedia files. Check out this primer on SSDs to learn more about the benefits of going to solid state storage (including speed but also other factors like silent operation).
Network interface card
Most motherboards will include Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capability. And for general purpose computing, that’s enough for most people. If you want something more than the built-in capability, a network interface card can get get you the latest high speed wireless connectivity, the option of an external antenna for better reception, and a 10/100/1000 Mbps Ethernet port for hard-wired connectivity.
All of the components stuffed inside a computer generate heat, and passive cooling (air vents) can only do so much to dissipate that excess warm air. However, high temperatures will cause your CPU to throttle its speed and could cause damage to delicate electronics, so heat is not a good thing. That’s where cooling fans come into play. Installing these will move that hot air out of the case, and draw in cooler air to keep your computer running at optimal temperatures. When the heat levels are extreme from video cards and high performance CPUs, you might want to consider a liquid cooling system.
All these components from the motherboard and up require electric power to run. When you build your own PC, you’ll need to pick a computer power supply. That means adding up the power requirements of all the components (measured in watts), and choosing a power supply with the wattage capacity to keep everything running. It’s not a bad idea to go a little higher than required to give yourself a little extra power headroom in case you add another component at a later date.
Finally, you’ll need something to house all these components: a computer case. You need something that’s the right size to accommodate the motherboard and components, with enough space for air to move around for effective cooling. From there, you can get creative and really personalize your computer with options including see-through glass sides, futuristic sculpting and LED lighting.
Use cases (or how to allocate your spending)
Everyone’s idea of the perfect computer is different, so it only makes sense that everyone’s customized PC build is going to be different. How you allocate your spending when designing your new computer should reflect your requirements.
For example, if you plan to use it to house a digital movie collection, make sure that you include high capacity storage—ideally, two drives so you can back up that collection in real time. If the PC is going to be used as part of a home business with multiple applications running, make sure the CPU will meet the requirements of the software, and install plenty of RAM. If the PC is going to see light use (web browsing, streaming music and video, social media updates) then you don’t need to spend the money for a screaming fast 8-core processor. On the other hand, if this is going to be a gaming rig then you’ll want all the components to be high performance, especially the graphics card.
One last thing. Before you get started with assembly, make sure you have the right computer tools on hand. The job is a lot easier when you have specialized tools that were designed specifically for this purpose.