How Difficult Is It To Build a PC?

Building your own PC is one of the most exhilarating tasks for the tech enthusiasts out there and the best part is that anyone can build their own PC. It doesn’t matter whether you are a gamer, professional, or simply an office user, building your own PC is simple and also quite satisfying. With that said, how difficult is it to build a PC particularly for a newbie?

Building a PC isn’t a difficult task. It may seem intimidating but it is generally quite logical and straight forward. The chances of accidents are low to nil if you just have a general idea of what you are doing.

But the fact of the matter is that to build a PC, you do not have to be a tech expert. After all, you are not INVENTING the PC, you are just putting the parts together like pieces of Lego – how difficult can that be?

Plus, I would advise everyone to build their own PCs. It gives you first hand knowledge of how all the parts fit together. This knowledge can help you troubleshoot various hardware related issues in the future too. And of course, PC building is a skill which you can also capitalize in the future.

There are essentially two parts to building your own PC. Firstly, you have to buy the right parts that are compatible with each other. Secondly, you have to put them all together.

In the following text I will talk in detail about how difficult it is to build a PC by particularly looking at the core components and how to buy the right ones.

So How Difficult Is It to Build a PC?

Building a PC is simple and very straight forward if you have all the right parts.

As such, the first step to building any PC is to procure the right parts.

You have to make sure that the four core components i.e the motherboard, CPU, RAM and the Power Supply Unit are all compatible with each other to begin with.

Choosing the Right Parts for Your PC Build

Step 1: Choose the CPU First

Choosing the CPU should be the first step for any PC build.

The choice of your CPU directly impacts the choice of your motherboard.

The CPU not only defines the overall performance grade of your build but also loosely defines the overall budget of your PC.

In order to have a parity, you would then choose a fitting motherboard. For instance, if you choose to go for an entry level CPU, then you would naturally pair it with a budget motherboard.

Similarly, if you choose to go for a high end CPU, then you would essentially pair it with a premium motherboard to avoid any bottleneck or issues caused by a low quality motherboard.

In terms of performance both Intel and AMD have a hierarchy.

Intel commercial CPUs rank as such in terms of performance and price:

  1. Intel Core i9 – Most Powerful – Most Expensive
  2. Intel Core i7
  3. Intel Core i5
  4. Intel Core i3
  5. Intel Pentium
  6. Intel Celeron – Least Powerful – Least Expensive

AMD commercial CPUs rank as such in terms of performance and price:

  1. AMD Ryzen 9 – Most Powerful – Most Expensive
  2. AMD Ryzen 5
  3. AMD Ryzen 3
  4. AMD Athlon – Least Powerful – Least Expensive

To choose the right CPU for yourself, you have to gauge your requirements.

If you are an office user, Intel Pentium would be sufficient for you.

If you are a gamer on a budget, an Intel Core i3 can be the way to go. Enthusiasts gamers and intermediate editors/designers can choose to go for Intel Core i5. 

Professionals designers, gamers and streamers may prefer to choose the likes of Core i7/Core i9 CPUs.

Also Read: Is Intel Pentium Good for Gaming?

In order to measure or compare the performance of a certain CPU, I would highly recommend using popular benchmark scores. The two I would recommend are PassMark and Cinebench R15/R20/R23

Also Read: How is Processor Speed Measured?

CPU Defines the Motherboard Socket

One of the most important parameters the CPU defines is the Motherboard Socket.

A motherboard’s CPU socket is essentially the physical placeholder where the CPU sits on the motherboard.

LGA 1155 Socket
LGA 1155 Socket for 2nd Gen Intel CPUs.

Different CPU models and generations may require a different socket. 

The following table shows the newer desktop motherboard sockets and their compatible CPUs.

BrandMotherboard
Socket
TypeCPU SupportedPins
IntelLGA1151LGA- Intel 7th, 8th and 9th Gen Celeron, Pentium and Core CPUs1151
LGA1200LGA- Intel 10th and 11th Gen Celeron, Pentium and Core CPUs1200
LGA1700LGA- Intel 12th Gen Celeron, Pentium and Core CPUs1700
LGA2066LGA- Intel Core Extreme 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th Gen
- Intel Xeon Skylake-W and Cascade Lake-W
2066
AMDAM4PGAAMD Athlon and Ryzen 1000, 2000, 3000, 4000, 50001331
sTRX4LGAAMD Threadripper 3000 series4094

CPU With or Without an Integrated Graphics Card

There are two types of CPUs:

  1. CPUs that do come with an integrated graphics card.
  2. CPUs that do not come with an integrated graphics card.

This idea can have a huge ramification on your PC build.

If you choose NOT TO buy a separate dedicated graphics card for your PC, then you MUST have a CPU with an integrated graphics card otherwise, your PC will have NO display ability.

Motherboards DO NOT have onboard graphics. As such the video output ports located on the back I/O panel of the motherboard rely on the CPU’s integrated graphics card to output display.

Do Motherboards have Integrated Graphics
The back I/O ports on this board are powered by the iGPU as the motherboard itself does not have any graphics processing chip. Image: Asrock AMD A320M-HDV R4.0

Both Intel and AMD have CPUs that do not offer integrated graphics on their CPUs.

With Intel, CPUs with an “F” suffix LACK an integrated graphics card (the rest DO OFFER). Examples include the Intel Core i5 11400F, Intel Core i3 10100F.

With AMD, CPUs with the “G” suffix HAVE an integrated graphics (the rest DO NOT OFFER). Examples include, AMD Ryzen 5 3400G, AMD Ryzen 7 5700G.

Read in-depth article on this: Do Motherboards Have Integrated Graphics?

Step 2: Choosing the Right Motherboard

Once decided on the CPU, you can then choose the right compatible motherboard for yourself.

The first and foremost important spec to consider is the CPU socket. The motherboard socket MUST match the socket requirement of the CPU.

I talked about the motherboard sockets and the CPUs supported in the table above.

Also Read: How to Check What Motherboard Socket You Have?

The next step is to choose the right motherboard chipset.

Both Intel and AMD have different motherboard chipset series for catering to different budget and needs. 

Intel Chipsets

H Series, such H510 For budget builds
B Series such as B560 Very similar to H series, but are considered for mid-range builds
Z Series, such as Z590 For premium builds. The only Intel chipset that offers overclocking support.

AMD Chipsets:

A Series, such AMD A520 Entry-Level chipset, for budget builds
B Series, such as B550 Mid Range chipset, for most gamers
X Series, such as X570 For Enthusiasts and high-performance PC builds

The chipset defines various aspects of the motherboard including:

  • The supported CPU socket
  • The amount of PCIe lanes a it offers
  • The amount of PCIe slots and M.2 slots
  • The version of PCIe protocol
  • The amount and version of USB slots
  • The amount and version of SATA slots
  • The amount, size and quality of VRMs
  • Multi GPU support
  • Overclocking support

AMD 500 Series Chipset comparison

To get a better grasp of the concepts above, I recommend reading the following:

Step 3: Choosing the Right RAM

To choose the right RAM sticks, you have to first figure out the RAM type supported by your motherboard. 

You can figure out the RAM type your motherboard supports by looking at its specsheet.

ASUS X570E ROG RAM
ASUS ROG Strix X570E RAM Specifications

For instance, in the specification for ASUS ROG Strix X570E above, you can find a wealth of information regarding the RAM it can support.

  • Marked in Red is the TOTAL RAM the motherboard can support i.e 128 GBs.
  • It also talk about the amount of slots it has i.e 4 slots. You can use this information to deduce the amount of memory each slot can support i.e 128 GBs / 4 Slots = 32 GB stick per slot.
  • You can also find out the maximum RAM frequency the motherboard can support. Generally DDR 4 RAM sticks are rated at about 2666 Hz – 3200 Hz. Anything higher than this are considered expensive and professional grade.

Most of the newer motherboard support DDR4 RAM. It should be noted that the RAM type are not cross-compatible. Meaning you cannot use a DDR 3 RAM on a motherboard that supports DDR4 RAM. 

DDR memory comparison
The notch across different generations of DDR RAM is located in different places. Hence, they PHYSICALLY cannot fit on motherboards not particularly designed for a certain version.

Also Read: How to Tell if RAM Will Work With Your Motherboard?

For basic office and home-use PC builds 8 GB DDR4 is more than enough. For gaming and intermediate levels of editing work, you can choose to go for 16 GBs DDR4. Professionals may prefer 32 GBs DDR4.

Anything higher than 16 GBs is considered highly specialized and is beyond the need of an average user.

Step 4: Choosing a Dedicated Graphics Cards (Optional)

Choosing a dedicated graphics card is optional. A dedicated graphics card is a powerful graphics processing unit that goes into the PCIe slot on your motherboard.

Graphics Card
A graphics card sitting on the x16 slot on the motherboard

A dedicated graphics card is often far more powerful than an integrated graphics card. Integrated graphics card (iGPU) come built-into the CPU.

As mentioned in the step 1: CPU section above, if you choose not to buy a dedicated graphics card, then you MUST choose a CPU that does have an iGPU and a motherboard with video output ports located on the back I/O panel otherwise your PC will have no display capability.

Integrated Graphics vs Dedicated Graphics Cards

The following chart shows how the different iGPUs and dedicated GPUs compare with each other in terms of their G3DMark scores.

GPU G3D
Mark
Notes
Intel UHD 630 1395 Integrated; As found on 8-10th Gen
Intel CPUs
Nvidia GeForce
GT 740
(MSRP $79)
1543 Dedicated; GPU
Basic
Intel UHD 750 1684 Integrated; As found on 11th Gen+
Intel CPUs
AMD Radeon
Vega 3
(2018 Version)
1071 Integrated; AMD 2000 Series APU
AMD Radeon
Vega 6
(2018 Version)
1274 Integrated; AMD 2000 Series APU
AMD Radeon
Vega 8
(2018 Version)
1704 Integrated; AMD 2000 Series APU
Intel UHD 770 1928 Integrated; As Found on 12th Gen Intel CPUs.
Intel Iris Pro 580 2044 Integrated; Found on premium laptops.
AMD Radeon
Vega 11
(2018 Version)
2139 Integrated; AMD 2000 Series APU
Nvidia GeForce
GT 1030
($79)
2613 Dedicated; GPU
Entry Level
AMD Ryzen 5
5600G
Vega 7 Graphics
2639 Integrated; As found on the Ryzen 5600G
AMD Ryzen 7
5700G
Vega 8 Graphics
2708 Integrated; As found on the Ryzen 5700G
AMD Radeon
RX 550
($79)
2764 Dedicated;GPU
Entry Level
NVIDIA GeForce
RTX 3080Ti
26,677 Dedicated; High End

Do You Really Need a Dedicated Graphics Card?

If your motherboard lacks video output ports, or if your CPU lacks an integrated graphics card, then you will need to invest in a basic dedicated GPU in order to enable display capability for your PC.

Otherwise, if your PC is not for gaming or for professional designing/editing work then you do not really need a dedicated graphics card for your PC.

Read in Depth: Does Your PC Need a Graphics Card If Its Not for Gaming?

Step 5: Choosing the Storage

There are two types of storage derives:

  1. Hard Disk Drives (HDD)
  2. Solid State Drives (SSD)

HDDs are your average spinning drives that connect to the SATA ports. They are slower, but offer huge storage capacities for cheap.

SSDs, on other hand, are multiple times faster than an HDD but are expensive.

There are two types of SSDs: SATA SSDs and NVMe SSDs. SATA SSDs connect to the SATA slots and are much slower compared to the NVMe SSDs.

NVMe SSDs use the PCIe protocol and are much faster.

I would personally recommend going for the NVMe SSDs. They are expensive, but the speed gains they offer are matchless. 

Storage Type
Typical Read Speeds
Hard Disk Drive 200 MB/s
SATA SSD 550 MB/s
Gen 3 NVMe SSD 3500 MB/s
Gen 4 NVMe SSD 5500 MB/s

As you can see, NVMe SSDs are lightning fast as compared to HDD or SATA SSD.

NVMe SSDs require an M.2 slot to connect to. Almost all of the newer motherboards fortunately have one or two M.2 slots for connecting the NVMe SSDs to.

As for the cost, currently the NVMe SSDs are getting ever-cheaper. They are still more expensive than HDDs, but within the reach of almost all PC builders.

  • HDD – A Good 2 TB Seagate BarraCuda 7200 RPM drives costs about $55. (~$0.0275 per GB)
  • SATA SSD – An average 500 GB SATA SSD costs $60 (~$0.12 per GB)
  • Gen 3 NVMe SSD – Samsung Evo 970 1 TB costs about $110 ($0.11 per GB).

Surprisingly, the NVMe SSDs are cheaper or on par with the SATA SSDs yet they offer far greater speeds.

NVMe SSDs are still about 4 times as expensive as an HDD, but they are still highly recommended as your primary drive due to the speeds they offer.

Do note that to use a Gen 3 NVMe SSD, you must have a PCIe 3.0 M.2 slot. To Use Gen 4 NVMe SSD, you must have a PCIe 4.0 M.2 slot.

Also Read:

Step 6: Choosing the Power Supply Unit

Finally, after choosing all the major components of your PC, you would then choose a Power Supply Unit with sufficient rating.

Basically, the PSU has to provide enough power to the connected components. Unfortunately, determining the total power consumption of your PC components is not as simple as adding up all their TDP Watts.

There are method to manual calculation, but I generally avoid them

Instead, I would recommend using the following free to use calculators in order to determine the right PSU for yourself:

In addition to the wattage rating of the PSU, you must also take into consideration the following specs:

Power Supply Efficiency Rating

The PSU must meet the 80Plus Standard. 80Plus certification ensure that the PSU will maintain an input to output efficiency of at least 80% at all times. Meaning, 80% of the power taken from the wall will be supplied to the PC even in the worst case scenario.

Their are different levels of the 80Plus certification. The more premium, the more efficient the PSU is and also the more expensive it is.

power supply unit efficiency standard
Image: 80 Plus Efficiency Level Certifications. Source: Wikipedia

Power Supply Unit Form Factor

There are different PSU sizes and form factors. You must choose the one that can fit into the PC case of your choice.

ATX12V is the most common form factor. 

To figure out the correct form factor for your PC build, consult the spec sheet of your PC case.

Step 7: PC Case

PC case can be as basic as a block or as crazy as a spaceship. The most important consideration is that it fits your motherboard and your power supply unit.

There are different size to motherboards:

  • ATX: 12 x 9.6 inches
  • Micro ATX: 9.6 x 9.6 inches
  • Mini ITX: 6.7 x 6.7 inches

As such you cannot choose a Mini ITX PC Case if you have an ATX case.

The same applies for the Power Supply Unit.

Other than that, the rest of the features a PC case offers are all optional. This includes:

  • Aesthetics
  • Fans
  • Front-Panel connectivity ports
  • Cable management
  • Drive bays and mounting
  • Placeholders for AIO cooler
  • Dust filters
  • RGB lighting

Assembling all the PC Parts

The next part of the answer to the question “How difficult is it to built a PC” is the actual assembly.

However, once you have all the right part, building the actual PC as easy as pie.

Motherboard’s Manual is Your Best Friend Here

A motherboard’s manual is your primary guidebook for building your PC. Always have that with you to figure out the location of various connects and ports.

How Difficult Is It To Build a PC
The motherboard manual and layout page help you identify the location of various ports and headers.

Cables and Where They Connect

One very confusing and difficult aspect of PC building for newbies is where do all the cables go, where to get them from and what connects to what cables.

The table below should help in demystifying this.

Cable
Component it Comes With
SATA Data Cables
Motherboard (Often 2 provided)
SATA Power Cables
Power Supply Unit
PCIe Power Cables
Power Supply Unit
Motherboard and CPU Power Cables
Power Supply Unit
Main Wall Socket Power Cable
Power Supply Unit
Video Output Cables
Monitor
Front Panel Cables
PC Case
Cables for USB Header
PC Case

SATA DATA and SATA Power cables are used to power up the hard drives.

wsata-data-cable
SATA DATA Cables
Sata Power Cables
SATA Power Cable

PCIe power cables are often needed to power up the dedicated graphics card.

graphics card connected
A graphics card that requires 2 x 6 Pin PCIe Power Cables.

Motherboard and CPU Power cables

24 Pin Motherboard and 8 Pin CPU power cables both connect to the motherboard. 

How to Test Motherboard Without CPU 3

Main Wall Socket Power Cable connects PSU to the Wall.

PC Power Cable

Video output cables such as HDMI, VGA, DP, DVI cables are provided with the monitor. They connect to motherboard back I/O port or to the dedicated graphics card (if you have one installed).

HDMI cable
Typical HDMI cable

Front Panel Cables for the PC Case connect to the Front Panel Header. They come with the case and include cables for power on, reset, LED lights etc

power switch motherboard front panel header
Front Panel header
power swtich connector front panel
Power On Jumper Cable

Also Read:

Cables for USB ports on your PC Case connect to the USB Headers on the motherboard. The cables for this comes with the PC case.

USB Headers highlighted
USB 2.0 Headers

Also Read: What are USB Headers?

Putting All the Parts Together

Finally, it is now time to put all the components together. Fortunately, there are resources over resources on the internet that show you just that. Therefore, there is no point in re-inventing the wheel, the following video by Linus shows a step-by-step processor of how the parts are assembled:

Important steps to note:

  1. Take the motherboard out and put it on a clean surface
  2. Plug the CPU onto the motherboard socket carefully matching the notches properly. 
  3. Install RAM carefully matching the notches.
  4. Install the SSD on the M.2 (if you have bought one) again matching the notches properly. Unlike RAM, SSDs will need to be screwed into place.
  5. Apply thermal paste BEFORE installing the Cooling Fan. This comes with the CPU cooling Fan. Apply only a small amount of thermal paste. You do not have to empty the entire thermal paste syringe. 
  6. Install the CPU cooling fan. Most CPUs come with stock CPUs included in the package. High end CPUs require you to procure a separate high performing cooling fans such as those by Cooler Master or Noctua. Make sure you read the manual or the installation guide of the respective fan you choose to buy. The CPU Cooling fan’s power cable goes into the 4-pin CPU Fan Header located on the motherboard.
  7. Install the Case Fans. Take the Case out of its box and install the Case fans. Many PC Cases do come with fans already installed. If not, then you will need to buy one or two separately.
  8. When dealing with the PC Case, cable management is important for a neat and a clean build. The Case comes with several cables as mentioned earlier including cables for front panel connectors, USB headers, front audio connectors, and Case fans. 
  9. Installing the motherboard into the PC Case. For this, you must first install the I/O shield to the Case. The I/O shield comes with the motherboard. Make sure that the location of the motherboard standoffs in the Case properly aligns with the form factor of your motherboard.
  10. Screw the motherboard to the motherboard standoffs in the Case and plug in the cables for the Case Fans, Front Panel Headers, USB Headers and Front Panel Audio.
  11. Install the Power Supply Unit into its placeholder by screwing it. Plug the 24 pin motherboard power cable and 8 pin CPU power cable to the motherboard.
  12. Mount the hard disk drives on to the drive bays (if you have one). Make sure you connect the SATA data cable from the HDD to the motherboard SATA port and also the SATA power cable from the PSU to the HDD. You do not need to have a hard disk drive if you have an M.2 NVMe SSD.
  13. Install the dedicated graphics card (if you have one) to the PCIe x16 slot on your motherboard. Make sure it is provided with the right amount of PCIe cables. Always use the first PCIe x16 slot for your dedicated graphics card.
  14. Close up the PC Case, plug PSU to the wall socket and connect the monitor display cable to the motherboard or to the dedicated graphics card (if you have one installed).
  15. Fire up your PC!

Final Words

In this article, I talked in detail about how difficult is it to build a PC with particular attention to buying the right parts.

In my opinion, the actual assembly process of the PC itself isn’t difficult at all. Even for a complete newbie, the assembly itself should not take more than a couple of hours.

The actual difficult part is understanding and procuring the correct components while making sure they are all compatible with each other and also cater to your exact needs.

For more help, you can always email or comment here. 

Photo of author

Author:

Atif Qazi
Atif Qazi is the founder of PCGuide101. He is a digital nomad who loves everything PC. He is a PC builder, tech enthusiast, engineer, and a lover of single player lore-rich RPG games.

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