Choosing your parts and building your PC
Building a PC isn’t hard, but you must take care when deciding exactly which parts you’re going to use. Naturally, you need to choose parts that are compatible with one another: the key caveat to building your own PC is that you’ll be taking responsibility for this yourself, rather than relying on the experience of a system builder.
A good approach is to start by deciding on the components that are most important to you, then choosing other parts to suit.
For example, if you start by deciding you want an Intel Core i5 processor, this will narrow down the range of motherboards you can choose from – which in turn may affect the case you choose.
If you start by deciding you want an Intel Core i5 processor, this will narrow down the range of motherboards you can choose from
Conversely, if having a small case is your chief priority, this will restrict the motherboards available to you, which could force your hand when it comes to other components.
On these pages, we’ll walk you through the process of specifying and assembling a desktop PC. We won’t cover peripherals such as the keyboard and monitor, which simply plug in to your PC.
And if you pick unusual parts, it’s possible you might run into particular questions that call for a little internet research. But if you’re building a typical PC using common components you’ll find everything you need right here.
Processor and Motherboard
When you’re building a new system, you’ll almost invariably need to buy a new processor and motherboard. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to slot a new chip into your existing board: Intel has updated its processor sockets and chipsets several times over the past few years, so a modern processor won’t work with last year’s motherboard.
AMD has kept things a bit more stable, sticking with the Socket AM3 architecture for its Athlon and Phenom CPUs since 2009 – but its very latest range of Fusion A-Series processors uses a brand-new socket, dubbed Socket FM1.
There’s a huge range of processors and boards to choose from, depending on your priorities. Different CPU models perform differently, while some can be overclocked and some include built-in graphics.
Not all motherboards support all of these features, and different boards offer different expansion options, which may include USB 3 sockets and SATA 6Gbits/sec ports.
There are plenty of other options: see our regular reviews and check out the A-List for worthy alternatives.
It ought to go without saying, but make sure the board you choose has the right socket for your CPU. A Socket 1156 board won’t work with a Socket 1155 processor, and so forth. Pay attention to the board’s form factor – its size and shape – too.
If you want to use a standard case and power supply, any ATX-compliant motherboard will do, but if you want a smaller midi-tower, look for the micro-ATX form factor. You can fit a micro-ATX board into an ATX case, but not vice versa. Less common motherboard sizes such as BTX and mini-ITX need cases to match their specific formats.
How to install it
Mounting the CPU onto the board is straightforward. For an AMD chip, lift the arm next to the socket and gently drop in the processor, so that its pins fall all the way into the holes (use the printed arrow in the corner to make sure the chip is the right way round). Once in place, lower the arm and clip it into place to secure the chip.