If you want to build a kick-ass computer lab in your home, you’ll need to start with a kick-ass PC. But with so many ways to get good PCs these days, you’ll need to make a decision:
Do you buy a pre-built PC? Or do you buy your own parts and build the PC with your bare hands?
Over the past 10 years I’ve made both of those choices, so I’m in a prime spot to guide you through this process. Let’s talk about what you’ll need to build your own PC, what it’s like to order a custom pre-built PC online, and which I recommend.
What do you need to build your own gaming PC?
Building a PC is hard work, but can be extremely rewarding. It offers you complete control in the process, and really makes your PC feel like your own creation. It makes upgrading your PC easier as well, because you know exactly how every piece and part fits together.
Speaking of parts, let’s start with everything you’ll need to build a complete computer and be able to test it on your own:
- A case
- A processor (CPU)
- A processor cooler
- A motherboard
- Multiple sticks of memory (RAM)
- A hard drive
- A graphics card (GPU)
- A power supply (PSU)
- Thermal paste
- A flashlight
- A screwdriver
- An anti-static wrist strap (optional, but recommended)
- A copy of Windows (or another operating system)
- A monitor
- A mouse
- A keyboard
For acquiring parts, I recommend PCPartPicker. It’s a great resource for beginners and will let you compare different parts so you can get exactly what you want (and it also will tell you if any of your parts are incompatible with one another). You can also take our checklist above and buy the individual parts from an online retailer like Amazon, or pick them up at a local store like Micro Center.
Going into this process, you need to know that PCs are complex and fickle. One wrong move could cause you problems when trying to boot your PC for a test. And if you aren’t careful about your static electricity buildup, you could end up accidentally frying one of your expensive components.
This process takes hours of focus and precision. If it’s your first time, I recommend bringing a trusted friend along with you — especially if they’ve built a PC before.
As for the build process, you’ll want a flat surface and either an iPad, laptop, or phone so you can watch a tutorial. The best way to build a PC is with a companion video showing you exactly what do to and your order of operations.
The above video by ECPU is a fantastic tool for beginners. They start by detailing the parts and why they matter before moving on to the actual construction. There are also timestamps in the video that make it easy to skip around. I like this tutorial from PC Centric as well.
It’s worth noting that all PC builds are slightly different depending on the parts you select. If you’re struggling with a part you have that the person in your video tutorial doesn’t, try reading the instructions or — even better — looking for a build video with your particular case, motherboard, or processor.
How do you get a customized pre-built PC?
Outside of building your own PC, you can either buy a pre-built one that comes out of a box at a store like Best Buy, or you can customize one at an online storefront like iBuyPower. The first can be fine, but I recommend you buy custom.
All you have to do is go to iBuyPower’s website (there are many websites like this, such as CyberPowerPC) and open up their PC customizer. You can select your parts from a long list and even test how your hypothetical build will run popular modern games like Elden Ring.
As long as all your parts fit together — it’ll warn you if the graphics card you want is too big for your case, for instance — you can check out. Then, an expert will gather your parts for you, build the PC, and ship it to your house. All you’ll need to do when it arrives is remove the weird, giant packing peanuts inside the case and plug it in.
It’s all very convenient, and it also made the massive financial burden that is a brand-new PC much easier for me to swallow. I was able to purchase my iBuyPower PC using the site’s built-in Affirm partnership. Affirm ran my credit and gave me a cheap rate and a 12-month payment plan. Overall, I paid an extra $189 for my $2,324 PC, but it was well worth it for the ability to upgrade my aging desktop a full year early.
If you have the cash on hand — or a really good credit card — you can of course buy the entire thing upfront. But if the cost of the PC is the biggest roadblock for you, getting a custom might make things easier if you go the route I did with monthly payments.
Which do I recommend?
Over 10 years of building machines, I never ran into a major issue during one of my builds. I never fried anything, and my PC always booted on the first or second try. Many more talented PC builders I know haven’t been so lucky, but I had great experiences. I also really enjoyed the process, and originally imagined it would be something I would do every several years for the rest of my life.
However, after multiple builds and upgrades — as well as a pandemic — I wanted to try something simple and easy. I wanted a perfect build for both work and play, and that’s exactly what I got from the custom-order PC I got in 2021. I still picked all my parts, but I didn’t have to do any of the labor. Most importantly, I was able to pay for the computer over the course of a year instead of upfront, which was really helpful for my family during the pandemic.
When I get a new PC many years from now, I’ll be buying a custom one again, without question. It’s just simpler in almost every sense, and I had an excellent experience with iBuyPower. However, I still really value the experience I had building my previous PCs. I know how they tick, and I’ll eventually be able to upgrade my current PC because I know how to carefully install computer parts.
If this is your first PC and you love to learn, you’ll really value the experience of doing it yourself. That being said, if you really just want to game with your friends or take advantage of Steam sales, buying a custom build is the simplest way to get into PC gaming. It’s fast, it’s easy, it’s effortless, and it just works.