Warning! This is not your average step-by-step guide on building a custom PC

Traditional custom PC building guide can be easily found on the net. That topic had been covered numerous times. Instead, this is an article about my approach on planning a new PC build, and hopefully you can get some ideas on how you can plan yours next.

So, let us begin.

I had always classified the PC building stage as the execution phase of the entire custom PC building experience. Before we even get to the execution phase there are many other phases that we will need to consider for a successful custom PC build.

Afterall the word custom in PC building world means building a PC that is made to order. Meaning, it is made this way because the user (or you) want to achieve something specifically. It is tailor made to a certain specification to achieve certain performance or functional requirements.

There is a purpose to building this custom PC. It can be for the purpose of work, family, study, gaming, etc... Depending on the purpose, the build and cost will differ. Too many times, user approach their custom PC building without a plan and end up paying more or getting parts that are irrelevant to their requirements.

Thus, becoming disillusion to the whole idea of building a custom PC.

Custom PC is a lie. It is just another way to sell you overprice PC. Yada yada…

As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” The same can be said for building a custom PC.

Before anything else, we need to plan our build. That means doing our own due diligence.

Determine what sort of PC we want to build and not leaving it to the so call “expert” in the computer store. Of course, this “expert” could really be well verse in their craft and give relevant advice. But at the same time, they are salesman too.

Often, they will be recommending you redundant parts that you might not need in the spirit of upselling. Business needs to take care of themselves, and sales does not just rain down from the sky after all. In hindsight, they are just doing their job. But we cannot deny that there are always some good and honest PC salesman that just want to help you. Like us at NXND Computers (sorry, we got to plug this in somehow).  

It is important that we go into the store, retail or online, with a gameplan. So, what is the gameplay?

  1. Identify the purpose of your custom build. Gaming PC, Work PC, and etc. It can be more than that too.

First. Custom PCs are purposefully built. Identify the purpose. This is the basic, the first step, the most important thing you need to know before you proceed. Yes, you want to get a new PC. But for what purpose? Identify it properly and you had already win half of the battle.  

How do we apply this to our custom PC build?

To give us more clarity, let use some examples. Let us introduce Tom and Jane.

Tom is a gamer; he bought a stock gaming computer from an online retailer. The PC had been serving him well for five years and recently he found that his PC had not been performing up to expectation on his favourite game. He decided to build his own custom gaming PC this time.

Jane on the other hand is a video editor. She had been editing her various video assignments on her laptop and feels that the laptop is bottlenecking. To improve her productivity and experience. Jane decided that she need to build a custom PC.

Now, in both cases both Tom and Jane are looking to build a custom PC. But based on their backstory, we can tell that the purpose they want to build a custom PC is very different. Tom wants to build a PC to increase his gaming performance, while Jane would like to build a PC to increase her productivity.

Now that we had identify the purpose of each individual users for their custom PC. It is time to break it down further. 

  1. Pinpoint the single most resource intensive software that you want your custom PC to be able to run; to a level that you are satisfy.

Now that Tom and Jane had identify the purpose of their next custom PC. It is time to identify the single most resource intensive software that they need their custom PC to run.

For Tom, his purpose is to build a custom gaming PC to run his favourite game so that he can improve his gaming experience. In that direction, Tom pinpoint Microsoft Flight Simulator as his benchmark. And decided that he wants to build a PC that can run this game in Ultra setting.

For Jane, her purpose is to build a custom PC for her video editing work. She pinpoints Adobe Creative suite and specifically Adobe Premiere Pro as the single most important software that her new custom PC must be able to run optimally. At the same time, she also makes a note that she will need her new custom PC to be able to run Adobe After Effects to an acceptable level.

After pinpointing, Tom and Jane proceed to do their individual research online and came up with the most important benchmark of their selected software/game.

See Below.

 Parts

Tom

Jane

Primary Software:

Microsoft Flight Simulator (Ultra Mode)

Adobe Premiere Pro (primary)

Adobe After Effects (Secondary)

Primary Requirement base on research and personal objective:

·         CPU Speed: 3.8 Ghz and above

·         CPU Cores: 4 (min.) / 6 (good) / 8 (optimal)

·         Multi-threading enabled CPU.

·         RAM: 32GB for best performance. Dual channel

·         Game required 100GB to install.

·         Prefer install on a SSD drive for better performance.

·         RTX 2080 or Radeon VII – 8gb of VRAM

·         CPU Speed: 3.2 Ghz or higher

·         CPU Cores: 8 cores. Higher will be better

·         RAM: 64GB

·         Multi-threading enabled CPU. The more thread the better.

·         Fast GPU with at least 8GB of VRAM.

·         A SSD or NVME will improve performance

·         Recommend to setup additional Drive for Media Cace and Media Drive.

·         As a rule of thumb for Multi-Frame Rendering, include 4GB of RAM for each CPU core, add 20GB, and round up to the nearest standard RAM configuration.

·         Memory to run on dual channel setup.

·         At least a Core i7 or Core i9 Intel processor, AMD equivalent, or Apple M1.

 

Now that Tom and Jane had layout the most important requirements of their upcoming custom PC build. We now have a sense of the hardware requirements that they will need.

Next. We will be choosing the CPU that fits our requirements.

  1. Shortlist the CPU

Putting Mac aside, for modern CPU, it usually comes down to two brands. AMD and Intel. Both have a long history and are reliable CPU brand.

Our plan now is to go through the different CPU offering and shortlist the one that we want.

Let us bring Tom and Jane back in and see what they had chosen.

Tom needed a CPU that run at 3.8 GHZ and have a minimum of 6 cores and a preference for 8 cores. While Jane needed a CPU that run at 3.2Ghz and have a minimum of 8 Cores. They came across a CPU selector website and decided to use it.

After running through some filter, they each compared their list with what their local retailers are offering and populated their shortlist.

Tom

Jane

Ryzen 5800X – 3.8Ghz / 8 Cores – Multi Threads

Ryzen 5600X – 3.8Ghz / 6 Cores – Multi Threads

Intel Core i5-11600K – 3.9Ghz / 6 Cores – Multi Thread

Intel Core i7-11700K – 3.6Ghz / 8 Cores – Multi Threads

Intel Core i9-11900K – 3.5Ghz / 8 Cores – Multi Threads

AMD Ryzen 9 5900X - 3.7Ghz / 12 Cores – Multi Threads

 

Custom PC retailers will usually bundle their CPU with a motherboard at a value price. As such this brings us to our next step. Choosing the motherboard.

  1. Choosing the motherboard.

Most retail PC stores will offer a bundle of motherboard and CPU. If that is the case for your local PC stores. Then you will not have to worry much about the compatibility of your motherboard with your CPU. However, if you are buying parts separately, then it is important to identify the compatible chipsets.

For example, in Tom’s shortlist there is an AMD Ryzen 5900X CPU. If Tom decided that he wants to get all his custom PC parts individually, then he will have to understand which chipset does the Ryzen 5900x support. For Ryzen 5900X, the chipset it support is B550. So, when it come to selecting a motherboard for the Ryzen 5900x. Tom will have to look out for motherboard that support B550 chipsets.

But if you are going with the store bundles, then you will not have to worry too much.

It is still good knowledge to know in case you want to change up your custom PC along the way.

Now let us get back on topic.

So how do we choose our motherboard?

For custom PC builder that are not planning to overclock their PC, then my recommendation is to just choose the cheapest motherboard out there. However, if you are looking to overclock your PC, you will have to be more selective on your motherboard. Overclocked PC will generate more heats then usual. The wrong overclocked setup will experience instability and overheating. As such, you will need to pay attention to your motherboard and overall cooling solutions.

You will want to have a motherboard that provide overclocking supports, like the regulation of voltage and the protection of your computer parts in case of failure, and etc…

But we will not be touching on that subject in this article; we can write a whole book on that. This is a basic planning guide for beginner builder.

Back on the topic of selecting a motherboard. I recommend that you choose the cheapest available motherboard if you are not overclocking or going for something fancy. The only things that you may want to factor into your decision will be the functionality of the motherboards. Do you need more I/O port supports, Bluetooth/Wi-Fi enabled or not, the number of Sata, SSD, M2 port it supports?

For Tom case, his primary motivation to build a new custom gaming PC is to play his favourite game (Microsoft Flight Simulator) to an optimal performance. He requires his PC to support USB-3.0 and above; support for his gaming controller - like his favourite Thrustmaster HOTAS controller. He would also like to have at least 1 USB Type-C port for his PC, so that he can connect USB-C enabled device to his PC. He needs at least two internal SSD support for his PC. He plans to run his game on a single SSD drive and load his OS on the other. Lastly, he plans to have a traditional scratch disk drive as his storage option.

For Jane, she needs at least 2 M2.NVMe and 1 SSD port to support her custom PC. She plans to load her multimedia work file exclusively on one M2.NVMe drive, her files cache on another M2.NVMe drive, and the software on the SSD. Lastly, a traditional scratch disk drive to support her other storage needs.

Below are their formatted requirements.

 Parts

Tom

Jane

Motherboard min. must support:

1 x USB-C
3 x USB 3.0 and above ports
2 x internal SSD
1 x Sata
1 x Ethernet Port

3 x USB 3.0 and above ports
2 x M2.NVMe support
1 x SSD
1 x Sata
Wi-Fi Support

Good to have:

Bluetooth and Wi-Fi Support

Bluetooth support
USB-C
Memory Card Slot

 

After listing down the minimum requirement. They then proceed to do research on the different motherboard their local PC store offers.

I recommend you to research from the cheapest available motherboard. From there, you can go up 1-2 tier and list down the pricing. Generally, brands like ASUS, Gigabyte, MSI, and ASRock are all acceptable brands. But if you have a favourite brand, that is ok too.

As we continue to breakdown into byte size what we really need for our PC. We also come to understand what some of the additional hardware we need for the new custom PC.

Next, we are going to determine another important part for our custom PC. The graphic card.

  1. Choosing the Graphic Card

For graphic card, there is currently two brands that is duking out in the marketplace, Nvidia and AMD. On which brand’s graphic card to choose it is up to you.

Let us continue Tom and Janes’ PC building journey. We already know that Tom needs a good graphic card for him to run his favourite game in Ultra mode without issue. And based on the recommendation of the game developer, they had recommended using either a RTX 2080 or a Radeon VII.

After going through some benchmarking research. Tom had decided to go with a 3070Ti 8GB.

Jane needed a graphic card for editing 4k video and Adobe had recommended one that run at around 8gb. After researching online and running through benchmarking test. Jane had decided to settle on the highly recommended GeForce RTX 3060TI 8GB.

Now, for the new custom PC builder, when you head down to your local PC store, you might find that there are no original stock GPU sold by Nvidia or AMD. But you will be faced with different brand like ASUS ROG 3060tI, or MSI Ventus 3070Ti, Zotac 3060, Palit 3070Ti, etc...

So, what is the different between these brands? Does it matter? Well, the answer is, there are not much difference in performance. If there are, it will only be a 2-3% increase. Which is not a game changer. So, just go for one that you like. Or as usual, go for the cheapest one.

After choosing our Graphic card. It is time to list down all the other things that we will need to build the custom PC.

  1. Listing down everything else.

We will take our cue from Tom and Jane upcoming rig. They had each populated their shortlist below.

Parts

Tom

Jane

CPU

Ryzen 5800X – 3.8Ghz / 8 Cores – Multi Threads

Ryzen 5600X – 3.8Ghz / 6 Cores – Multi Threads

Intel Core i5-11600K – 3.9Ghz / 6 Cores – Multi Thread

Intel Core i7-11700K – 3.6Ghz / 8 Cores – Multi Threads

Intel Core i9-11900K – 3.5Ghz / 8 Cores – Multi Threads

AMD Ryzen 9 5900X - 3.7Ghz / 12 Cores – Multi Threads

Min. Motherboard requirements

1 x USB-C
3 x USB 3.0 and above ports
2 x internal SSD
1 x Sata

Good to have:
Bluetooth and Wi-Fi Support

3 x USB 3.0 and above ports
2 x M2.NVMe support
1 x SSD
1 x Sata
Wi-Fi Support

Good to have:
Bluetooth Support
USB-C
Memory Card Slot

Hard drives

1 x 1TB 3.5” Hard drive
2 x 500GB SSD drive

2 x 500GB M2.NVMe SSD drive
1 x 500GB SSD drive
1 x 1TB 3.5” Hard drive

RAM

2 x 16GB (32GB Dual Channel Setup)

2 x 32GB (64GB Dual Channel Setup)

Graphic Card

RTX 3070Ti

RTX3060Ti

PC Case

ATX

ATX

PSU

Calculate at https://www.coolermaster.com/power-supply-calculator/

450W min.

Calculate at https://www.coolermaster.com/power-supply-calculator/

479W min.

Cooler

Stock Cooler

Stock Cooler

 

A custom PC at the end of the day need to be powered by a PSU (Power Supply Unit). To have an accurate grasp of how many wattages a PC need, we will need to add all the components together and calculate it. That is also why, we leave it to the last. Luckily, we can now easily find wattage calculator online. For this article, I used Cooler Master wattage calculator. You can use the same one, or you can find one that you are comfortable with online.

Power supply unit comes with different power efficiency rating in Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Titanium. Some may ask, does it matter? The short answer is yes. The more efficient power supply will help you save your electricity bill. Not only that, but the more efficient one will also provide longer longevity to your PC.

VelocityMicro did a short article on PSU and if you are interested in the nitty gritty of PSU you can check it out.

After calculating the PSU requirements, you can then set about choosing the right PSU units for your custom PC. You do not need to be overly technical on it though.

What we are doing here is planning out the type of custom pc we want. if you are not a technical person, you can find plenty of resources online to demystify some of the technical jargon you encounter. If not, the PC store assistant will be able to help you out. But you will have done your research. You will be going into the store more prepared and ready.

Once we had listed everything down, we can start to zoom in on the requirements and pick out the actual hardware itself. Same thing, do your due diligence and then populate the final shortlist to get an estimation of the cost for your custom PC.

Tom and Jane did it too.

*These are examples and price will vary.

Once you get the estimated pricing. You will have to measure it against your own budget and decide for yourself what you can add-on to the build. Sometimes all is good, and you just get what you want for your dream built, plus more. Sometimes, you will have to compromise and streamline your build to your budget. And that is why we need to plan our build, so that we know what we really want and need. 

If you had gone through the planning phase religiously, you will be able to make tweak accordingly.

Remember, if you are building a full PC from a store. There are room for haggling, and you should do it!

Hopefully this guide provides a good insight on planning a custom PC build and you will be able to benefit from it.

If you like what you read, leave a comment below, help us share this to your friend, or give us a link back from your website.

If there are topics that you want us to cover, leave a comment below and let us know too.

Onwards to your new custom PC!

ArticleComputer hardwareGaming

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