Building your gaming PC can be an enriching experience, not to mention the potential for massive savings. Not only will you gain satisfaction by creating your vision from start to finish, but you can take pride in knowing that your computer is free of bloatware and other useless software that comes pre-installed with most store-bought PCs.
The following step-by-step guide should serve as a general overview of how to build a PC. Throughout this post, template images highlight which slots/ports/slots specific components must connect. The actual assembly process isn’t complicated; make sure you read everything carefully and don’t skip any steps. Always use a virtual pc building website like PC Builder to confirm PC components compatibility.
In addition to the physical build, imaging software (like WinToUSB) will also be necessary to install Windows on your new gaming PC. For help setting up an operating system in its entirety, consult our How to Install Windows tutorial.
PC Build Tools
The tools you need to build a PC will vary depending on the case you’re using. If your case doesn’t come with a screwdriver, make sure to get one before starting. Other tools that might be required include:
- Wire Strippers/Snips. The cutting tool of choice when stripping wire.
- Anti-Static Wrist Strap. Prevents accidental discharge of static electricity from a PC component which can potentially cause damage.
- Workspace. A flat, smooth surface on which to work is ideal for this project. If you have an extra table or desk lying around, use that space. If not, try using the floor. In any case, make sure whatever workspace you choose is clean and clear of debris to avoid damaging components with loose parts or wires/threads getting caught in your new PC build while it’s running.
- Screwdrivers. Used to secure various screws during the build process. Most cases come with a small Phillips head screwdriver, but if yours didn’t, make sure to pick one up as well.
Gaming PC Cases
The case is the “home” of your build. It’s where everything will ultimately connect and fit inside. This is also one of the essential parts of a build because it determines how large of a motherboard you can use. Gaming cases run from small form factor (SFF) micro-ATX cases with vertical GPUs to full tower ATX monsters that support triple-slot graphics cards.
In addition to your gaming PC case, you’ll also need a screwdriver or a set of them if the case didn’t come with its own set. Most modern cases include an assortment of screws which are usually ordered by size. It’s essential to ensure all screws are tightened securely, preventing components from coming loose during gameplay.
There are three standard sizes of PC Cases:
- Full-tower cases. These cases support large GPUs and other components. These tanks of a build can be intimidating to work with due to their sheer size, but they also tend to be the most aesthetically pleasing and can provide plenty of cooling for any build.
- Mid-tower cases. The middle ground between the full tower and mini-tower cases. It supports high-end hardware without being too bulky or taking up too much space. They can be slightly cheaper than full towers, making them an attractive option for budget builds.
- Mini-tower cases. Mini-tower cases are the smallest case type that supports mATX motherboards only (mATX boards are smaller versions of ATX motherboards). It will still fit larger GPUs, but they will have to sit horizontally rather than vertically due to how cramped the inside of a mini-tower case can be.
- Size. The size of your case will depend on how much cooling you need for your build, how big a motherboard you want to install, and how large a graphics card you plan to use.
- Color. Most cases include multiple color options, with most manufacturers offering black, white, or silver. If one color doesn’t work for you, don’t be afraid to mix and match.
- Bays. Available bays are essential when choosing a case. These can include bays for 3.5" (HDD) storage devices, 2.5" (SSDs), 5.25" for optical drive storage, and other bays for front panel connectors.
- I/O Panel. Not all cases include this. Still, it’s usually located on the top or side of the case and has USB ports (2xUSB3.0 & 2xUSB2.0), analog audio jacks, and sometimes even a FireWire port for older tech like high quality external hard drives. The I/O panel is how you’ll connect all of your peripherals to your new build once everything has been assembled.
- Fan Support. How many fans do the case support? What sizes are they? Have there been reports of noise issues or faulty fans that need to be replaced? You’ll want to know how many case fans are included and how big they are to determine how much cooling can be achieved within a build.
Some cases even offer liquid cooling support where you can install a radiator for running coolant and water through internal parts of your build for superior cooling. Liquid cooling is an advanced method of building, so I wouldn’t recommend it unless you know what you’re doing, as this guide focuses on standard high-performance PC builds.
Parts Needed to Build a Gaming PC
After you’ve got your case, it’s time to get the parts that make this whole thing work. You can customize your build in any way you like, but this step-by-step guide focuses on building the best gaming PC for the money.
We’ve also included detailed images of what each component looks like so you know strictly what to look for when shopping around. If you are shopping online, ensure that you have your build list ready when visiting the website.
Here is the list of parts we recommend using to build a gaming PC:
- Central processing unit (CPU)
- Memory (RAM)
- Graphics processing unit (GPU)
- Power supply unit (PSU)
- System cooling
- Gaming peripherals
- Operating system (OS)
Now let’s take a closer look at each part in more detail.
Central Processing Unit (CPU)
The CPU is a PC’s brain. It handles all processing tasks and helps your PC run smoothly. The CPU also determines how powerful your build will be when it comes to gaming. There are two main performance terms to be aware of: clock speed and cores.
- CPU Clock Speed: how fast your CPU can process information in megahertz (MHz). This is how the system tells how quickly a computer can complete tasks faster.
- CPU Core count: how many CPUs a PC has. Having more cores means that it can do several things at once more quickly. This makes it better for gaming because the system isn’t waiting on tasks to finish before telling the GPU how to render something else, which causes lag or stutter.
While both of these properties are important, they also come with a cost increase, so you need to decide how much money you want to spend on your build based on how long you plan to keep this machine. Choose a CPU with more cores if you’re looking for the best possible performance in games and other applications like video editing and 3D modeling. If you’re not sure how long you will need this PC, it might be better to go with fewer cores at first rather than spending more money now on extreme performance.
The CPU is the one component in your build that you cannot change later on, so it’s essential to get a good one from the beginning. Intel and AMD are two of the best brands for CPUs.
Currently, there are only two mainstream brands worth considering: Intel and AMD. Both have a wide range of processors with varying capabilities. The most popular processors right now are the i9-12900K from Intel and Ryzen 9 5950X AMD.
The motherboard is essentially the “hub” of your build. The central processing unit (CPU) plugs into the motherboard and other components such as RAM, graphics cards, and storage devices.
If you want to know how to build a gaming PC from scratch, this part will be crucial because it holds every other component in place and connects them. Gaming motherboards run from micro ATX models with a few PCIe slots for additional hardware to full-sized ATX boards with great features and USB ports.
There are also different types of motherboards. ATX boards are the standard for most builds, giving you more options to fit your build into a case. Then there are micro ATX and mini ITX boards, which are smaller versions found in small-form-factor cases.
We recommend using an ATX motherboard because it has more slots for RAM, USB ports, cooling fans, and other things you might want or need down the line. Also, if you ever want to sell your PC or move it to another case, an ATX board will make this process easier.
The one thing about motherboards is that they’re pricey compared to other parts of a gaming PC build. Fortunately, there are several price points at all levels of performance. If you want the best experience right now, get an Intel Z690 or X570 motherboard with a Core i9-12900K or Ryzen 9 5950X CPU.
With how integral the board is to your build, it’s worth looking at how many ports are on each model. USB ports are standard on motherboards nowadays, but some boards have more than others. You might need extra USB plugs if you plan to buy additional accessories or set up multiple peripherals in your build. Also, make sure you get a board with enough fan headers so that you can connect them all to one source for automatic control of how fast they work.
Random Access Memory is how fast your PC can process information. You only need so much RAM to run games, but how much you get depends on how many applications you want to run at once and how vital speed is to your build overall.
RAM comes in several different varieties. DDR3 has been the standard for a few years now, but newer memory types like DDR4 or DDR5 are catching up with higher densities (higher speeds). Most gamers should stick with 8-16GB of DDR4 RAM for optimal performance. Gaming PCs tend to focus on rendering graphics rather than how well they perform other tasks, so it’s okay if you don’t have as much RAM here as you do elsewhere.
When shopping for RAM, try going by memory speed first and price second. Memory speed is usually listed as MHz or MHZ, which stands for megahertz or millions of hertz. You’ll also see DDR3 or DDR4 (for desktop) and DDR3L (low voltage for laptops).
These factors determine the speed of the RAM:
- The bandwidth of the RAM
- The clock speed of the RAM
For example, “2400 MHz DDR4” would mean it’s 2400 MHz RAM with DDR4.
The amount of RAM you should get will depend on the size and resolution of your monitor(s) and how many windows you need open at a given time. If you’re a casual gamer, 8 GB will be plenty to handle multiple applications and one or two games simultaneously. However, if gaming is one of your primary activities, it’s worth investing in 16 GB or 32gB for additional performance upgrades.
Graphics Processing Unit (GPU)
The graphics processing unit (GPU), commonly called a video card by gamers, is another crucial component necessary for building a PC from scratch. This card displays images on your monitor and any other device that uses an electronic visual interface such as televisions or projectors. The GPU is also an essential factor in how fast your PC can process graphics.
There are a few different types of GPUs to choose from when building a new gaming PC, each with its performance and price ranges:
Integrated GPU: A few modern CPUs have a built-in video card. Integrated graphics tend to be quite inferior, so it’s best to only use this for basic tasks such as browsing the web or watching videos online.
GPUs from AMD tend to be better at integrated graphics so that you will find these in prebuilt systems more often than Intel equivalents.
Discrete GPU: This is the type of video card you’ll want if you’re looking for high-quality visuals and smooth gameplay on multiple displays. The two leading manufacturers are Nvidia and AMD.
Both companies make several different GPUs, but you should get them depending on how many displays you want to run off your build. If you only plan to have one monitor for gaming purposes, any modern video card will suffice.
However, suppose you’re looking into buying multiple monitors or a large 4K display for high-dynamic-range (HDR) color quality and extreme detail. In that case, it’s worth investing in the best discrete GPU that matches your budget.
GPUs come with two types of ports:
- DVI: Uses digital connections via a flat cable with clips on each end. Most PCs connect to monitors and projectors since it transfers text and graphics more clearly than analog methods such as VGA.
- HDMI: Uses a flat 25-pin connector for digital video and surround sound. HDMI can transmit data from any source. It’s common to find them in consoles, Blu-Ray players, and video cards since it’s an easy way to transfer HD gaming or movies onto a large display without the need for extra equipment.
GPUs also have two types of memory:
- GDDR5: Has a high bandwidth which allows for faster processing speeds. This type is most often used in Nvidia GPUs because AMD graphics don’t usually use GDDR5 chips. Although they aren’t needed if you’re just playing games at 1600 x 900 resolution or smaller, 4K displays will produce noticeably better results with this memory type installed.
- VRAM: Stands for video random access memory and how much of the GPU can be accessed at any time. The larger the VRAM, the more detailed textures you will see in games. If you want to play games on your 2K or 4K monitor with this graphics card model without stuttering and lag, look for a card with at least 3 GB GDDR5 RAM and 6 GB VRAM.
Storage: Solid-State Drives (SSDs), Hard Disk Drives (HDDs)
You’ll also need storage to save your games, software, and other files. Make sure to get an SSD drive for this build because they are much faster at handling data than traditional hard drives.
With the lower costs of SSDs, you might even consider using a small-capacity SSD for your operating system (like Windows) and programs only. This will run quickly while the system can store all other less essential items on a larger, more cost-effective HDD.
HDDs are also more cost-effective when looking for larger capacities, so be sure to get one with 1 TB or more if you aren’t using an SSD.
There are two form factors in HDDs:
- 2.5-inch: It is small and light, so you can mount it in smaller spaces without taking too much room away from the other parts of your build.
- 3.5-inch: Usually come in more than one drive bay for multiple storage options but are larger than 2.5-inch models.
SSDs are smaller than HDDs at 2.5 inches but are much faster. They’re more expensive per GB, so you’ll likely need less storage space with an SSD compared to the HDD options.
SSDs come in two different types:
- Serial Advanced Technology Attachment (SATA): These drives are much faster than their earlier counterparts (e.g., IDE), but they don’t offer support for the latest PCI Express connection speeds that other SSDs use. Since SATA drives are now cheaper and more readily available, you can still get a lot of value from them even though they aren’t as fast as newer options like M2/PCIe-based storage devices. PCIe: Also known as M2, these drives tend to be much faster and capable of handling large amounts of data since they rely on the PCI Express bus for access rather than SATA connections which is how most storage devices were built several years ago.
- Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe): These drives are a step above PCIe-based storage devices, so they offer even faster performance. But, they tend to have less capacity and be more expensive than SATA SSDs.
Choose the HDD or SSD you want based on how much data you need and how much money is in your budget to build a gaming PC.
Power supply unit (PSU)
You should choose a PSU based on how many watts your PC needs. The Power supplies tend to range from 300W-1000W+. If you’re not planning on overclocking your GPU or CPU, you won’t need anything beefier than 500W. If you are looking to overclock, you’ll have to pay close attention to cables and connectors so that your PSU can handle your components.
The power supply comes in three styles:
- Non-modular PSUs: This is the older style unit, but most companies still make them. All of the cables are permanently attached to the power supply itself.
- Semi-modular PSUs: This style of PSU has some cables that are permanently attached to the unit, but there are other options (e.g., PCI-E) that aren’t.
- Full-modular PSUs: The best kind of PSU tends to be fully modular because you only connect the necessary cables for your build.
The three types of cables that will come with your PSU are:
- 20+4 pin ATX12V power connector
- 4+4 pin +12V CPU/EPS power connector
- 8 pin +12V PCIe power connectors.
System Cooling - CPU Cooling and Chassis Airflow
CPU Cooling and Chassis Airflow: Make sure to get a case with good airflow (or cooling) because you will need it. Also, ensure that your chassis can fit all of the parts you want, especially the CPU cooler and how tall the graphics card will be. If you’re using a stock AMD or Intel cooler, these parts come pre-installed in their respective motherboards.
There are two methods to keep your PC cool:
Air cooling: If you’re planning to use an aftermarket CPU cooler, then you’ll need a case and chassis that has good airflow (or cooling) and is spacious enough to accommodate your tower. The most famous tower air coolers are from AMD and Intel, but there are third-party ones.
Air cooling is the most common method to keep your PC cool. You’ll have to purchase a case with good airflow.
Liquid cooling: This is not as common as air cooling, but liquid-cooled computers offer better performance and stay cooler than their air-cooled counterparts. You can use all-in-one liquid coolers or water loops to keep your system cool. However, you’ll need to purchase a case with a separate liquid cooling loop and radiator.
Liquid cooling uses water or an all-in-one liquid cooling solution to keep your system cool. You’ll have to purchase a case with good airflow.
There are several other accessories you should include when building your gaming PC, including:
Mouse and Keyboard: You can use any generic pointing device for a basic setup. However, if you’re looking to get serious about gaming, consider investing in a high-quality mouse with adjustable DPI settings for precision control.
If you have the money to spend on higher-quality peripherals, consider getting an advanced keyboard that gives you additional customization options such as macros or set profiles for each game.
Headset: The sound quality of these devices will vary widely depending on how much you are willing to spend. If you want to surround sound capability, look at headsets with multiple speakers in the ear cups.
You might also need some good speakers if you’re looking to get the full gaming experience and feel like you’re actually in the middle of it.
Monitor: You can either go with a standard display or a curved monitor. Traditional monitors are inexpensive and offer high performance, but curved screens give users a more immersive look at their games.
Go with two displays if you want to multitask on your PC and play some games or watch movies.
Operating system (OS)
If you’re building your PC, you can choose which OS to install. Windows is the standard and most popular choice, but Linux and Mac also offer other experiences that could be better for some users. It would help if you chose the OS based on which experience you want to have when using your PC.
Installing an operating system is necessary to use a PC. You can either go with Windows or a Linux distribution.
How to Build a Gaming PC
Now that you have all of your parts, it’s time to put them together.
STEP 1: INSTALL CPU
Parts/tools: Motherboard, CPU
Take out your motherboard from the box. Place it on a table and carefully take out the CPU from its packaging. Gently flip open the socket lever and align it with the arrow at the top-right corner of your board.
When you push down, make sure that all four pins are in place before releasing the lever to secure it in position. Lift on your new processor until one corner comes out of its slot, then gently wiggle it out by moving back and forth.
STEP 2: (OPTIONAL) INSTALL M.2 SSDs
Parts/tools: Motherboard, M.2 SSD, Phillips #0 screwdriver, motherboard user manual
If you choose to install M.2 SSDs, you’ll need a PCIe slot for your primary drive and one for your secondary drive if you use two drives.
To install the plate on the bottom of the case, set it in place by aligning it with screw holes. Screw it in place with some longer screws that will come with your motherboard, or plan on replacing them with even sturdier ones.
You then have to attach an adhesive strip to keep the M.2 SSD securely fastened to its mounting point after installing it into the board. If you’re only installing one M.2 SSD, skip this step because there’s no need for an extra adhesive strip since you can use only one at a time anyway.
STEP 3: INSTALL CPU COOLER
Parts/tools: Motherboard with installed CPU, CPU cooler, thermal paste, CPU cooler manual
When handling the cooler, make sure that you don’t touch any metal coils on its underside. These will be hidden underneath a sturdy baseplate.
Attach the backplate and spacers to your motherboard by aligning them with screw holes and pressing down until they click into place. Remove the protective film from the heat sink and attach it to the bottom of your processor. Use whichever fastener suits your model of CPU cooler, then secure it tightly in place so that there’s enough pressure on the thermal paste but not too much as to crack either component.
STEP 4: INSTALL MEMORY/RAM
Parts/tools: Motherboard, RAM, motherboard user manual
Remove memory modules from their packaging at a time and position them on the motherboard as shown. Each slot on the board has a notch that keys into position with memory modules, making it easy to track how they should fit together.
The order in which you install them is essential: Slot 1 and slot 3 should have a single module each, while slot 2 must always be populated by two modules for dual-channel support. Match keyed edges and correctly oriented golden fingers to align memory modules properly so that your PC can read them easily.
STEP 5: (OPTIONAL) DO A TEST RUN OUTSIDE THE CASE
Parts/tools: Motherboard with CPU and CPU cooler installed, RAM, GPU, PSU, screwdriver, motherboard user manual, PC monitor (attached to GPU)
Now you can attach the power supply and try powering it to ensure all parts are functioning correctly. This test run doesn’t require you to boot the system and lets you know how well your build is working together.
STEP 6: MOUNT POWER SUPPLY
Parts/tools: PSU, case, PSU cables, Phillips #2 screwdriver
Unpack your power supply from its box and set it on a table. Remove the mounting bracket from its backside and attach it to your case using screws or adhesive tape so that it’s fastened securely.
Attach the power supply cables to various components inside the case: The 24-pin ATX motherboard connector, 4/8-pin CPU connectors, PCI Express graphics card connectors, SATA drives, fans, and other hardware. If you have a modular power supply with detachable cables, hook up only what you need for this initial test run, so just the bare minimum of connections since you’ll be connecting more parts later on as you install everything else in the computer.
STEP 7: INSTALL MOTHERBOARD IN CASE
Parts/tools: Case, motherboard, I/O shield (if not attached to the motherboard), Phillips #2 screwdriver, screws, motherboard user manual
If your board doesn’t have a backplate to assist with mounting it in the case, make sure that your processor is aligned correctly before pushing it inside. Once the board is in position, screw it into the case using either its screws or adhesive tape.
STEP 8: INSTALL GPU
Parts/tools: Motherboard, GPU, Phillips #2 screwdriver, screws, motherboard user manual
Find a good spot for your graphics card inside the case; it doesn’t have to be too close to the side panel.
Unscrew it from its packaging and place it on a flat surface on top of some anti-static material. Use the screws that came with your case or any screw bit for your power supply to attach it in place firmly. If you’re installing an SLI setup, make sure there’s a gap between cards so they can breathe properly.
STEP 9: INSTALL STORAGE
Parts/tools: Motherboard, SSDs, HDDs, Phillips #2 screwdriver, screws, case/chassis user manual
It’s time to install your storage drives. If you have a 2.5-inch drive, use screws or adhesive tape to fasten it into place on the side of your case where there’s enough space.
For a 3.5-inch drive, first, remove a front mounting bracket from either the top or bottom of the case and attach it for extra support; you’ll need to shorten the screws that come with this bracket first before screwing them through their holes and tightening them down. Once these are secure, slide the hard disk tray back inside and screw it in and any other empty bays if necessary. Use whichever method suits how your drives are mounted: Screws or adhesive tape should be fine for both tasks.
STEP 10: INSTALL OPERATING SYSTEM
Parts/tools: PC, monitor, mouse, keyboard, OS saved to a flash drive
Now it’s time to install an operating system so you can use your gaming PC. If you don’t already have one, you can download the latest version of Windows 10 for free on most systems. Use a USB flash drive with at least 8GB of storage space to install your OS and follow the prompts to complete setup.
IT DOESN’T END HERE
The above steps are how to build a gaming PC, but it doesn’t end there. Now that you have your new gaming PC, how will you set up everything? How do you use it efficiently without getting lost in the sea of software that comes with this powerful machine?
The best thing to do is to read how to use your computer patiently. A new PC can be an entirely new experience different from how you used your old machine. You might be used to how your old PC works, how it runs, and how you use it.
But when you build a gaming PC, everything will change, and that’s why we recommend reading how to operate your new machine, so nothing gets lost in the process of upgrading.
Building a gaming PC isn’t that simple; it requires patience to buy what you need, know how to put everything together in an efficient manner, and maximize the potential of every component you choose. We hope this article helped you learn how to build a gaming PC step by step.
Frequently Asked Questions
What parts do I need to build a gaming PC?
The answer can’t be simple because there are so many components available on the market today. Still, generally speaking, you’ll need a case for your machine, a motherboard, CPU, and cooling system, depending on how advanced you want it to be. You will also require some RAM modules or more to have enough memory for your computer. Also, you’ll need storage drives like one or more hard disks depending on how much space you want and how many games you want to store in it.
What's the best way to build a gaming PC?
Well, it depends on how detailed you want your machine to be and how much money you’re willing to spend. There is no such thing as the best way to build a gaming PC, but how you build and how your parts complement each other ultimately determine how your machine runs and performs in games and applications.
What hardware do I need for my gaming PC? Do I still need Windows?
You don’t need Windows because there are operating systems out there that can provide you with an excellent experience without all the bloatware but you certainly won’t be able to play any games on them. So if you want to play games, get either Windows or Mac OS X (macOS). However, we recommend using Linux instead of Microsoft’s product; they’re both open-source, very similar in terms of how they work and look, and they’re very compatible with all the major PC parts.
How do I install a graphics card on my gaming PC?
Installing a component like this is simple enough; you only need to ensure it fits right into your case. If your case can’t support one, find another case that does -you don’t want to force anything inside because that’s how things break. Also, make sure there are no pins or slots broken off after assembly, even if it looks fine when you close the computer. Again, how you build how your hardware works together determines how well everything runs.
Anything else I should know about how to build a gaming PC?
There are many other factors for building an excellent machine: how you position all the parts, how much cooling is required, how many hard disks you’ll need for storage, how advanced your graphics card will be, how fast your processor or CPU should be, the list goes on and on.