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Planning & Buying Parts - Part 2 of 4 on How to Build a Computer: Advice from a Local Big Sister

Now that you’ve decided to build to a pc, we can move on to the next step, research.

Although research is the most time intensive parts of building a computer, I’ve compiled most of the resources and information that I used below to save you some time. (As a warning, this post is pretty long, as I’ve tried to give you a full catalogue of information to work with.)

When planning out your computer, the first thing you need to do is:

 Young woman (hopefully) researching computer parts by Rawpixel from Unsplash

Young woman (hopefully) researching computer parts by Rawpixel from Unsplash

Set Your Overall Budget

Before you look at anything you need to know how much you can spend, because that will determine what parts you should get. You can definitely build a decent computer on a budget, or you can plan out to buy pieces one at a time as you can afford them instead of all at once. Either way, it’s important to use your budget as parameters otherwise the vast selection of parts can be a bit overwhelming.

Decide How Your Computer Will Be Used

Gaming? Video editing? Surfing the web? Depending on what you use your computer for, different parts will be more or less important (which affects what percentage of your budget you should spend on them).

For instance, with gaming builds you want a higher quality graphics card so that the games not only play well but also look nice. Meanwhile, a computer built for graphic design will need a better CPU to process the large design programs properly. I’ve linked to some example computer builds (including mine) below if, like me, you’re not sure where to start.

Where & When to Buy

The two best places that I found for buying pc parts were Amazon and Newegg. Newegg tended to have better prices than Amazon, however I have an Amazon Prime account so occasionally the difference was close enough that Amazon’s free shipping made it cheaper.

If you can wait, I would highly recommend buying during a big sale event. I bought most of my parts during Amazon Prime Day, which Newegg competed with by having their own big sale event on the same day. I ended up saving about $200, which meant I was able to get a few slightly nicer parts than originally planned since my budget now had more wiggle room.

With Black Friday and Cyber Monday coming up soon, you likely won’t need to wait long for a big sale event. But if you happen to be reading this after November, Amazon Prime Day (July 16) as well as Amazon and Newegg ‘Daily Deals’ tend to have decent savings. I’d also check Clark Howard’s website for deals you might not know about.

 Close-up of a motherboard taken by Aler Kiv from Unsplash

Close-up of a motherboard taken by Aler Kiv from Unsplash

Basic List of Parts & Info on Each

Processor (CPU) -- The CPU is the brain of the computer and is what your programs will be running through.

Graphics Card (GPU) -- As you decide what you want your computer for, that will determine the size and cost of your GPU. Depending on what you need, your GPU could range from a small card that is included with the motherboard, or a large card that has to be specially attached because it is too heavy to stay hooked in by itself.

Motherboard -- Your motherboard helps all your other parts talk to each other. Therefore you want to make sure they are all compatible (especially your CPU) to your motherboard otherwise they won’t be able to talk.

Memory (Ram) -- Memory, also known as Ram, is comparable to the short-term memory of your pc. When you are actively using a program on your computer, like a web browser or Microsoft Word, it runs through your Ram to temporarily store what you are doing.

Hard Drive (HDD)/Solid State Drive (SSD) -- HDDs and SSDs are like the long-term memory of your computer. That’s where any programs, music, pictures, etc. that you save onto your device will be stored.

Power Supply (PSU) -- The power supply is essentially the battery of your machine (although it consistently has to be plugged into a wall). It makes sure to draw enough power from a wall outlet so that your system can run smoothly.

Case -- What holds all your pieces together! The case also protects the sensitive parts of your set up safe from damage. Most cases are pretty good, just make sure that everything you’re getting will fit. The only cases I’d warn against are Mini Towers since you usually have to buy special small parts to make sure it all fits.

Fans -- Fans keep the inside of the case cool, clean, and at a proper pressure level. (I’ll go into this more once we start building.) Most cases will come with a few fans, but I’d aim to have four unless you have a crazy big set up, then I’d search online for suggestions.

WiFi Adapter -- This allows your computer to link with WiFi in the area. You can also always go old school and use an ethernet cable if you prefer. Ethernet cables tend to be a more consistent connection, although obviously you then are limited how far the computer can be from the WiFi Router. Also, I’d make sure not to skimp on this as a poor quality WiFi Adapter can mean a bad connection to the internet, which most of you will probably be consistently using.

Operating System (OS) -- If you don’t have a preference, I’d suggest Windows 10 as your operating system as it has the widest range of support and compatibility. Almost all games and programs will work on Windows, however there are a select few that only work on Apple or Linux, so be sure to double check that if there is a program you have to use.

Anti-Static Wrist Strap -- Not technically part of the computer, but necessary for building. I’m only mentioning it hear so that you don’t forget to buy one when you get everything else.

 A sleek photo of someone’s pc build taken by Luke Hodde from Unsplash

A sleek photo of someone’s pc build taken by Luke Hodde from Unsplash

Parts You Might Already Have

Monitor -- Some people have monitors lying around from old desktops or because they wanted a bigger screen when on their laptops at home. If it’s either a new TV or a computer monitor, I’d recommend buying the computer monitor and using it as a TV screen when needed because monitors tend to have higher quality graphics. Also, be aware that not all monitors come with built in speakers, so you might need to add in the cost of that as well.

Keyboard and Mouse -- If you are building your pc for gaming you might want to look at keyboards that are recommended for that, but overall, you can just use whatever you have. Just make sure the motherboard you are getting will attach to your mouse and keyboard plugs.

Gaming/Design/Microsoft Suite Programs -- Whatever programs you will need to get your set up to where you need it to be. A lot of these programs have free alternatives so if getting Adobe Photoshop is going to break your budget, maybe try out Krita.

Controllers/Headset/Tablets -- Whatever you need to be successful in your programs.

“Add on” Parts

DVD/CD Drive -- If you are on the fence about getting one, I’d recommend it. It gives you more flexibility when buying games, movies, or music so that you don’t have to always buy the online version.

Security System -- I’d highly recommend a security system for your computer, that way all your time and work won’t be destroyed accidentally. If nothing else, I’d suggest Avast Antivirus’s free version. It’s well ranked and offers a lot of free features to keep your system safe. But again, I’d suggest paying for one on top of that once you are able.

LEDs/Lights -- Not necessary, but some pc builders like to add in lights to add some flair and excitement whenever their system is on.

Resources I Recommend Checking out

Tom’s Hardware -- Tom’s Hardware ranks parts based on several intense criteria pieces and shares all of their findings with readers for free. It’s one of the best resources when you just aren’t certain which piece is the best bang for your buck. Great resources for anything computer related, not just gaming. They also have a catalog of recommended builds based on budget.

PC Gamer -- This site discusses all things related to gaming on your pc, including how to create a budget gaming computer. They also have a nice tutorial that walks you through the actual building process, which is getting a little ahead of ourselves, but I’ve included it here just in case you’re curious.

 One of my favorite streamers, Dexbonus, has her computer specs listed on her website (PressHeartToContinue.com), there is even a discount code that could help you save money.

One of my favorite streamers, Dexbonus, has her computer specs listed on her website (PressHeartToContinue.com), there is even a discount code that could help you save money.

Creative Pro -- The Creative Pro website is mostly about graphic design in general, but they do have some suggestions for building a graphic design heavy computer that I’d recommend if you are building yours for design.

Your favorite gamer, designer, etc. -- Most “internet celebrities” like artists, video editors, and video game streamers will have a section of their site that lists their computer build and parts. They likely will have a much larger budget than you or I, however if you take a look at their parts and can see what pieces they spent the most money on, it will likely give you an idea where to spend your money (assuming you are going for a similar build). If you ask nicely, they might even share the information for one of their first builds!

Clark Howard -- Although technically an advice website on saving money, Clark Howard usually has really good posts on what types of technology are on sale at different stores, especially around Black Friday.

Other Helpful Hints

Make sure everything hooks up to your motherboard. Almost everything will attach to your motherboard, so make sure everything from your keyboard to your CPU are compatible. If you need some help making sure it all fits together, check out this awesome motherboard guide from Tom’s Hardware.

Get a Bronze or better power supply. Bronze PSUs and better have been regarded as better power supply units and tend to work a lot more efficiently, giving you more power for less electricity.

I’d recommend Solid State Drives over Hard Drives. HDDs have a small part in them that spins. This part will eventually break, rendering the HDD unusable. SSDs don’t have this spinning piece so they last a lot longer. However, HDDs are cheaper and won’t break immediately, so they could be a good purchase for now to them replace later.

Definitely buy an anti-static wrist strap. A lot of the parts in your computer will be sensitive to static electricity (so sensitive that wearing socks on carpet can fry them), so having an anti-static wrist strap assures that everything will stay safe and not electrocuted.

This post is already plenty long, so you can check out my personal build in another post as another example to work off of. Part three of this series is going to be about actually building the computer, so stay tuned for that on Nov. 26th.

Is there anything else you’d like to know about building your own computers? Are there any other resources you’ve found helpful while planning your build?

Until next time,

Caitlin