A built gaming PC on a desk about to be benchmarked and tested

How to build a gaming PC in three easy steps

If you’re a first time PC builder looking for help, we will break down every step and decision into manageable bitesize chunks – turning you into a capable builder in no time

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Table of Contents

Building your own gaming PC is not only a rewarding process but it could also save you money in the short and long term. No longer will you need to rely on custom PC builders to put together or upgrade your computer – giving you greater control over your entire system. While a prebuilt serves a purpose, building a PC yourself is the right way to go. Learning this new skill may seem daunting for beginners but we believe anyone can do it when following the basic steps. We will run those crucial steps on how to build a gaming PC, while also talking about budget, the parts you need, and the tools required to complete your new setup.

Already got your PC parts? Jump to the step-by-step guide down below.

How much does it cost to build a gaming PC?

The cost of your new PC is determined by the components you choose (of course). Everything is decided by your budget and gaming needs, with 1080p gaming being the most affordable and 4K being the most costly. Generally speaking, you want to spend about 50% of your overall budget on the graphics card, but this isn’t a rule set in stone, just some friendly advice. The graphics card (GPU) is where the majority of your gaming power will come from but that doesn’t mean you should completely neglect other areas. You’re still going to want a capable CPU pairing, enough RAM for gaming, a decent storage solution, plus the rest! A sweet spot for anyone new to the hobby would be around $1000. A $1000 gaming PC sits in the mid-range and would give you a suitable GPU capable of playing any game in max settings at 1080p, with a little wiggle room for 1440p. You would be able to squeeze a capable CPU and RAM kit into this budget, along with a 1TB SSD and all the other trimmings.

All this starts to add up but here is a rough breakdown of various budgets and performance expectations:

Budget/ LevelResolution & gaming expectations
$500 (Entry-Level)1080p with low settings
$600-$700 (Low-End)1080p with medium settings
$800-$1400 (Mid-Range)1080p with high settings/ 1440p with low-medium settings
$1500-$2000 (High-End)1440p with high settings/ 4K with low-medium settings
$2100+ (Enthusiast)4K with high settings

The above performance will closely align with your chosen GPU and not just your budget. Other factors such as your CPU, RAM, and storage device all play a part in overall performance but your in-game FPS can mostly be attributed to the GPU. Something that helps with modern graphics cards is upscaling technologies from Nvidia and AMD. Nvidia’s DLSS 3 features on its 40-series cards and can bridge a performance gap where needed.

The parts you need to build a gaming PC

You are going to need eight parts in total to build a gaming PC. A gaming PC is no different from a regular PC, only you will likely include a dedicated graphics card into your build for better in-game performance. Those are:

  1. Processor (CPU)
  2. CPU cooler (Air or Liquid)
  3. Motherboard (MOBO)
  4. Graphics Card (GPU)
  5. Memory (RAM)
  6. Storage (Solid State Drive (SSD) for apps and games, with a Hard Drive Disk (HDD) for media and less important files)
  7. Power Supply Unit (PSU)
  8. PC Case

In some instances, you may be able to use a stock cooler that comes with some CPUs. You may also need to purchase case fans if your chosen PC case doesn’t come with any – ensuring your PC gets sufficient airflow.

The tools you need to build a gaming PC

Realistically you only need a Philips screwdriver (preferably with a magnetic tip) but there are a few other items first-timers may wish to use to complete their build.

  • An anti-static wristband: static is the enemy of your components, so avoid building straight on the carpet. You can buy anti-static wristbands that ground you and protect your components from harm.
  • Cable ties and cable snips: Modern PC cases feature velcro cable management ties, so you may not need these at all.
  • Isopropyl alcohol and a lint-free cloth: If you are going to replace the thermal paste on your CPU cooler, it is advised to do this with Isopropyl alcohol and a lint-free cloth for the best results.

While an antic static bracelet isn’t regarded as essential these days, it can be a good investment for first-time builders. If anything it will keep your mind at ease – preventing any electrostatic charges produced by the body from damaging sensitive hardware components. In all honesty, building your CPU, RAM, and SSD into your motherboard can all be done on top of the motherboard box as cardboard does not conduct electricity. Make sure you have a decent workstation to build your PC (not the floor), preferably a table big enough to accommodate your PC case, with good lighting.

We fully recommend the iFixit kit, with all the screw heads and sizes you will need to build your PC – plus a few other nice-to-haves, and magnetic tips.

How to build a gaming PC in three easy stages

Building a gaming PC can be broken up into three parts. First, you will start by installing your CPU, cooler (if air), RAM, and SSD into your motherboard. Next, the built-out motherboard, PSU, and cooler radiator (if liquid) are all installed into the PC case. Finally, everything will need to be cabled up and powered.

Step 1: Install the CPU, RAM, cooler, and SSD into the motherboard

Regardless if you are AMD or Intel, the CPU is going to be going in more or less the same space – the CPU socket. When you unpackage your motherboard you will notice a bracket and lever near the center. These can differ from AMD to Intel but to put it simply – you just need to release the lever and then swing the retention bracket open.

You will notice a small arrow in the corner of the socket/ bracket and CPU – you need to ensure these line up when installing. The CPU will sit flush in the socket when installed properly. Make sure you take your time and give the CPU a small nudge if it doesn’t feel flush. Once the CPU is placed correctly, you can close the retention bracket and lock the CPU into place with the lever going back to its original position.

Sometimes it may feel like a bit of extra pressure is needed to close the retention bracket.

RAM fits into the DIMM slots one-way

Your motherboard will most likely have four DIMM slots, located to the right of your CPU socket. If your RAM kit has four sticks, you simply fill the slots available. However, It is more common for gamers to get a kit with two sticks of RAM, which will need to go in the correct slots. The slots may be labeled on the motherboard, if not, head to your manual. Generally speaking, they are numbered from 0 – 3 (left to right) and a common default configuration is to have your sticks in slots 1 and 3, leaving 0 and 2 empty.

If you have a 2.5″ SSD or HDD instead, these can be installed into the PC case and cabled via SATA.

NVMe SSDs are by far the easiest to install and most modern motherboards will have more than one slot to accommodate for these. No cables are required here, however, you may need to unscrew parts of the motherboard in order to install an M.2 SSD.

To install, find the horizontal slot for your M.2 drive – if you struggle this will also be in your motherboard manual. Remove the screw (you may need a smaller head screwdriver for this) and slide the drive into the slot. The drive will flip up about 35 degrees until you screw it down into place.

Grab your CPU cooler instruction manual for easy installation

Regardless of what type of CPU cooler you are installing, you are going to want to install the backplate now while the motherboard is easier to access – things can get a bit tricky when installed into the case. A backplate, as seen above, slots into the back of your motherboard and is the foundation of your coolers installation. One exception to this is with AMDs AM5 motherboards, where you can use the built-in backplate to install your cooler.

So, pop your backplate through the four holes you will find around your CPU socket and lay the motherboard back down onto the box. You will notice four posts are now sticking through those holes and you need to secure them. Some coolers may require you to mount a plate over these, or some require plastic stoppers over the posts – others may just let you install the cooler straight onto the backplate (check your manual).

The four posts secure the backplate in place

Now if you are installing an air cooler – you can go right ahead and finish the CPU cooler installation at this stage. For those installing an AIO cooler – stop once your backplate is secured and wait until later to finish this process.

Step 2: Install your motherboard, PSU, GPU, and radiator into your case

Remove your side panels and screw box before building

Your PC building experience will be heavily influenced by your choice of PC case. The better cases out there give you spacious and logical layouts that make building relatively straightforward. Sometimes budget PC cases and compact cases can be a bit tricky in comparison – especially for first-time builders.

To begin, you want to remove all side panels from your case, which includes the back panel and top panel (or at least the dust filter). Removing the top, if anything, can help with lighting and seeing inside. You will also find a little screw box inside your case – often in the drive bay but it may just be rattling around. Inside this screw box is every screw you are going to need for your installation, plus some spares.

That black rectangle with ports is your I/O shield

Now your PC case is prepared, you will want to clip the I/O shield in (see above for visual reference). Some motherboards will already have this attached but if not, you will find your I/O shield in the motherboard box.

Some PC cases have standoff screws pre-installed for easier motherboard installation

Once your I/O shield is clipped in, it is time to seat (install) the motherboard. Your motherboard will now simply slot into place, with most PC cases featuring a raised, center standoff screw (this will hold your motherboard in place while you screw it in). If your case has no standoff screws pre-installed – or an incorrect amount, they will be in your screw box and it is VITAL you install these at the relevant holes.

If you are installing an ATX-sized motherboard, you will see 9 screw holes – which you will need corresponding standoffs on your case for installation. If you are missing any then add them but alternatively, if there are too many for your smaller mATX or ITX motherboard you can leave them in place.

Screw your motherboard in place using the screw provided until resistance is met – tightening these scores too much could crack the motherboard in extreme circumstances.

Only connect the cables you are going to need, there will be spares in the box

Now it is time to grab your PSU and install it. The power supply often goes towards the rear at the bottom of the case, however, some cases may be inverted or have a dual chamber. Regardless, you will notice a cutout section below with four holes to screw in place (see below).

Some PC cases have a removable bracket that you can screw to your PSU before sliding into place

Installing your PSU is very straightforward but you may wonder which way round it needs to be. We would advise you to have the fan facing down if you have an airflow cutout at the bottom of your case (you can just about see this in the image above). If, however, your case has a solid sheet at the bottom, face your PSU fan upwards so it has easier access to some air.

Slide your PSU from the back, unless your case has a removable bracket – which you would screw your PSU to and then slide into place. Once your PSU is flush with the rear of your case, screw it into place with the four screws (often quite chunky). Leave your PSU cables dangling out of the case ready to seat later.

If you have purchased a non-modular PSU (all cables come pre-attached) you can now fold up any cables you will not use and tuck them inside at the back to keep them out of the way.

Screw your fans onto your AIO radiator but make sure the cables are hidden at the back as shown here

If you are installing a liquid AIO cooler, then now is the time to screw your radiator into place. The bigger 360mm coolers can get a bit fiddly here, so make sure you screw your included fans onto the radiator first, with the airflow direction being the right way and your cables hidden at the back. Your fans should have a small arrow diagram showing the flow of air to assist. It is worth mentioning before you begin, if you are looking tight on space in the upper left corner – you may want to feed your CPU power cable from the PSU up the back of your case and through the cut-out now and clip it into place.

Case dependant, your radiator can go in a number of positions but the builder’s rule of thumb here is to ensure that where the pipes that connect to your radiator (top left of the image above) are elevated higher than the pump (part of the cooler that screws on top of your CPU: see image below).

Tighten the pump screws one side at a time in small increments for the best results

Next, it is time to secure your pump to the CPU, this can vary from brand to brand so consult your CPU cooler manual and double-check that there is already thermal paste applied.

You could also do a cross-pattern but both will spread when pressure is applied from the pump

Do not install your pump without thermal paste. If you would like to replace the thermal paste, clean it off using the lint-free cloth and Isopropyl alcohol, then re-apply fresh paste – you only need a pea-sized amount. DO NOT use too much.

You can always locate this header near the top of the motherboard

Once the pump is screwed down plug in your CPU fan cable to the relevant connector located at the top of the motherboard.

Next, it is time to install the most important component – your GPU. Be sure to get all the plastic off your new GPU, and check the fans, check everywhere, there is probably plastic!

You will need to unscrew the slot covers at the rear of your case before seating your graphics card

To make cabling up your PC case front panel a bit easier you may want to do this last but regardless, your graphics card is going to go into the top PCIe slot. You will need to remove the rear slot covers first and this will be between 2 and 3 depending on your cards size (above shows 2 slots removed).

Some PCIe slots are re-inforced

For some motherboards you may need to push a retention clip back before installing, others may be “tool-less”. Once you slot your card in, you will hear it click into place and that is you done, all you need to do is plug the power connector from your PSU into the corresponding port on your card.

Step 3: Connect your PC case cables, PSU cables to the motherboard

Once everything is plugged in, it’s nearly game time

Last but not least is connecting your PC cases front panel (on switch, reset, USB ports, audio) and your PSU cables to bring this new PC to life. Your PC case should accommodate for c tables with small cutouts dotted around your back panel. Connecting the front panel to your motherboard is regarded as one of the trickier aspects of building a PC but it is worth mentioning that if you get it wrong – don’t worry. Nothing will break and you can just try again.

Your PC cases front panel cables will connect along the bottom of your motherboard

It is important to consult your motherboard manual here to make things easier but feed your cables through the closest cut-out holes below – leave the case fan cables to last. Connect your PWR L.E.D, HDD L.E.D, PWR Switch, Reset Switch, USB, USB 3.0, HD Audio to the relevant ports. Check the underside of the PWR L.E.D, HDD L.E.D, PWR Switch, Reset Switch cables, you will see a small arrow etched into the plastic. This arrow indicates which pin is + (positive). When connecting the PWR L.E.D, HDD L.E.D, PWR Switch, Reset Switch, which are found together – plug the bottom row in first to make it a bit easier.

Next, grab your fan cables and USB C connector if you have one, and feed them through holes to their nearest motherboard connectors. Fan headers on the board can be spread out randomly but you will often find one near the top, near the right side or bottom, and towards the left-middle of the board.

You can see a fan header on the right, labeled CHA_FAN

Now it is time to plug in all your remaining PSU cables – if you haven’t plugged in your CPU or GPU connectors yet, you can feed them through. Your CPU cable needs to be fed through a cutout at the top left where you will find the corresponding connector. Your GPU cable can be fed through cutouts level with the card or through the PSU shroud if there is a hole. You will also need to plug in the large 24-pin cable (the biggest one) that will plug in on the right side of the motherboard.

If you have any 2.5″ SSDs or hard drives, you will need to connect them to a SATA power cable for power and a SATA connector for function.

Operating system, drivers, and setup

Once the system is built and turned on – celebrate and smile, you’ve done it! You are now in the final stages of the build – installing your operating system and then drivers. Windows is the best operating system for a gaming PC but not the only one. Windows is quite easy to install, easy to navigate, and widely available online and in stores.

If you haven’t already got a copy of Windows, you can grab Windows 11 Home Edition on a USB stick over at Amazon for an easy install

To install your OS – pop your USB into the PC. When you boot up the PC it should take you through to the BIOS. The BIOS is where you can check to see if your components are installed correctly. In the BIOS you are also going to want to locate your boot priority or boot order. Here you need to swap the order so that your USB drive is the priority drive. The same applies if you are using a copy of Windows on an SSD drive or HDD. Once saved, you can restart your computer and the Windows installer should start running automatically. Follow the process through until completion.

Once Windows 11 has a fresh install on your drive, you can now start to download applications. Before you start downloading Steam and all your favorite games, it is worth checking for driver updates. Components like your GPU and motherboard may benefit from an update – ensuring you get your desired performance when the time comes. The easiest way to do this is to jump on a browser, and google the name of your graphics card and motherboard along with “driver”. You should land on the manufacturer’s page, simply select your model and download. Once installed you will likely be asked to restart. Once all is updated you can start rocking.

The only thing update-wise you need to be aware of is that AMD and Nvidia both release regular GPU drivers but they will often prompt you through software to let you know your current system is out of date. It is best to keep your GPU drivers up to date so you can enjoy the games you love at their best.

Building a gaming PC Vs buying a prebuilt

Building your own PC is definitely the right way to go – not only can you save some money and invest those savings into your new PC but you also learn a valuable new skill. Learning to build means you can fix and upgrade your system down the line – passing even more savings on to you.

Generally speaking, a similar spec prebuilt PC from a reputable manufacturer is going to cost you a lot more than a self-build. In some examples, the value you end up saving could be as much as an entire component! That additional $100-$300 savings is enough sometimes to go one step up with a graphics card or a CPU – giving you more performance for the same price.

With all that said, there are still some gamers who do not want to learn how to build or deal with any compatibility questions or software setup. It isn’t for everyone and this is where the prebuilt can make a bit of sense. The main selling point of a prebuilt gaming PC is its convenience. Furthermore, custom PC manufacturers will test their systems before sending them to the consumer, with software all installed and the PC basically ready to go straight out of the box.

If anything goes wrong with a prebuilt system you can just send it back to the manufacturer – with the majority of brands offering enough cover for parts and labor.

PC building FAQs

How much does it cost to build a gaming PC?

A gaming PC can generally cost anywhere between $500 to $4000. The more you spend the better the PC but generally speaking anywhere between $800 and $1500 is more than enough for an excellent gaming experience.

Is it hard to build a gaming PC?

For first-timers, it can seem daunting but there are so many guides, videos, and how-to’s available online – it has never been easier. The main concern is compatibility, something that can be easily sorted with sufficient research before buying anything.

In Summary

Now you know how to build a gaming PC, congratulations. This new skill will enable you to properly maintain and upgrade your system for years – before the inevitable “I need a new gaming PC year”. This is an expensive hobby, however, it is also very rewarding – so welcome to the community!

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