If you want to build an amazing computer lab in your home, you’ll need to start with an amazing 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 own hands?
For the past 10 years, I have made both decisions, so I am in a unique position 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 one I recommend.
What do you need to build your own gaming PC?
Building a PC is hard work, but it can be extremely rewarding. It gives you full control in the process and really makes your PC feel like it’s your own creation. It also makes it easy to upgrade your PC, because you know exactly how each piece fits together.
Speaking of parts, let’s start with everything you’ll need to put together a complete computer so you can try it out for yourself:
- A case
- One processor (CPU)
- a processor cooler
- a motherboard
- Multiple memory sticks (RAM)
- a hard drive
- A graphics card (GPU)
- One power supply unit (PSU)
- Thermal paste
- a flashlight
- a screwdriver
- An antistatic wrist strap (optional, but recommended)
- A copy of Windows (or other operating system)
- a monitor
- A mouse
- A keyboard
To purchase 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 will also tell you if any of your parts are incompatible with each other). You can also take our checklist above and buy the individual pieces from an online retailer like Amazon, or pick them up at a local store like Micro Center.
As you begin this process, you should know that PCs are complex and fickle. One wrong move could cause you problems when trying to start your PC for a test. And if you’re not careful about static electricity buildup, you could end up accidentally burning one of your expensive components.
This process takes hours of concentration and precision. If it’s your first time, I recommend bringing a trusted friend along, especially if he’s already built a PC.
As for the build process, you’ll want a flat surface and an iPad, laptop, or phone so you can watch a tutorial. The best way to build a PC is with a companion video that shows you exactly what to do and its order of operations.
The ECPU video above is a fantastic tool for beginners. They start by detailing the parts and why they are important before moving on to the actual build. There are also timestamps on the video that make it easy to jump. I also like this tutorial from PC Centric.
It’s worth noting that all PC builds are slightly different depending on which parts you select. If you’re having trouble with a part you have that the person in your tutorial video doesn’t, try reading the instructions, or better yet, find a build video with your particular case, motherboard, or processor.
How do you get a custom pre-built PC?
In addition to building your own PC, you can 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 store like iBuyPower. The first may be fine, but I recommend buying custom.
All you have to do is go to the iBuyPower website (there are many websites like it, like CyberPowerPC) and open your 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 its parts fit, it will warn you if the graphics card you want is too big for your case, for example, you can check. An expert will then assemble the parts for you, build the PC, and ship it to your home. All you’ll have to do when it arrives is remove the weird, giant packing peanuts inside the box and plug it in.
It’s all very convenient, and it also made the massive financial burden that is a new PC much easier to swallow. I was able to purchase my iBuyPower PC using the Affirm partnership built into the site. Affirm ran my credit and gave me an affordable rate and a 12-month payment plan. Overall, I paid an extra $189 for my $2,324 PC, but it was worth it for the ability to upgrade my old desktop a year earlier.
If you have the cash on hand, or a really good credit card, you can of course buy everything in advance. But if the cost of the PC is the biggest hurdle for you, getting a custom one might make things easier if you go the route I took with monthly payments.
Which one do I recommend?
In 10 years of building machines, I’ve never run into a major problem 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 some great experiences. I also really enjoyed the process, and originally envisioned it to be something I would do every few years for the rest of my life.
However, after several builds and updates, plus 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 PC I got in 2021. I still picked all my parts, but I didn’t have to do any work. More importantly, I was able to pay for the computer over the course of a year instead of paying up front, which was very helpful for my family during the pandemic.
When I get a new PC many years from now, I’ll buy a custom one again, without a doubt. It’s simpler in almost every way and I had a great experience with iBuyPower. However, I still highly value the experience I had building my previous PCs. I know how they work and will 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 learning, you’ll really appreciate the DIY experience. That said, if you really just want to play with your friends or take advantage of Steam sales, buying a custom version is the easiest way to get into PC gaming. It’s fast, it’s easy, it’s effortless, and it just works.