This guide is for those starting with their first build, who want something custom, but not too custom that it breaks the bank or gives them the performance they’ll never utilize. It is also one of many resources to check out as you take time to learn about building your first PC. After reading through this and completing your first build, you’ll have to seek additional information about what you should and shouldn’t do. The process is complex, with many numbers, comparisons, and compatibility. This is your starting build; there will always be ways to enhance your setup.
You should be able to build a PC (everything inside of a case) for under $1,500 based on normal market conditions. When you add in monitor(s), keyboard, mouse, and headset, it will cost extra, but you can typically use what you already have laying around for at least a little while or find used items in good condition.
Remember, those $3K+ gaming rigs you see on YouTube are being built by those who make money on YouTube and are most likely professional gamers who are streaming and gaming at the same time. Plus, having an expensive rig gives them street cred.
You can sacrifice a lot of glitzy stuff and stay within budget without sacrificing performance AND still have a PC that won’t show its age and be out of date in 2, 3, or even six years.
Consider your CPU and motherboard first. Will you go with AMD or Intel? What socket? Never go cheap with those (but stay within your budget by looking for bargains, and don’t be afraid of going with last year’s model). They are the foundation of your computer and cannot be "switched out" or upgraded. They are there for the life of the PC. If you make good decisions from the start, your PC will last 5, 6, or 7 years, allowing you to spend your money on upgrading graphics cards, RAM, and hard drives.
Determine your budget. Then go over my example price list below, see how close you are, and adjust your expectations accordingly. In 2022, yes, you can build a PC for $1,500 or less. If you only have $800 or $1,000 to spend, you will have to make sacrifices and dig into specs to find bargains. You could build a PC for $1,000 without sacrificing performance if you choose the right upgrades later. However, if you want to have an excellent base to start with, wait and save until you get to a $1,500 budget. Or determine if you need high-end performance.
For comparison, I have two builds that are still going strong on benchmarks.
My home PC: 2013 build with graphics upgrade in 2019 and cooling upgrade in 2021. It is still running strong and not showing its age. HD movies, Blu-ray, video editing, Zoom, casual gaming, and work do not lag.
My son's PC: 2019 build with no upgrades yet though I might consider cooling and adding another M.2 SSD. Aside from running out of drive space, he’s had no complaints. Luckily, I built it with room to grow.
I'm not going to get into RGB lights external of what may come with fans, but if that is something you want to explore, I suggest you buy a motherboard capable of doing RGB, do your build, get comfortable, then upgrade your RGB later. If you go with Asus ROG, I recommend getting a motherboard with Aura.
Addressable RGB lights: Typically, all LEDs simultaneously need to be the same color on regular RGB light strips. They can fade between colors, but they are all the same. With Addressable RGB, each LED light is separate and can display a different color than its neighboring LED, allowing for motion and rainbow effects.
If you buy an M.2 SSD with speeds up to 5,000MB/s, but your board only supports 3,000MB/s, either get a board with increased speed or save money by going down to an M.2 SSD with 3,000MB/s. Same with DRAM and Graphics Card on the PCIe bus.
Do not overspend on components your motherboard cannot handle.
This needs to be decided first: AMD or Intel? I have no preference as I go back and forth.
You can go with a high-performing CPU released the previous year and still get good performance.
A note on overclocking: You typically don’t need to overclock. If you are reading this, this is your first PC build, and I encourage you not to throw your money away by replacing a melted processor. My suggestion is to build first, gain experience, and then investigate upgrading cooling and overclocking later. You may find you don’t need to. But, if it’s your thing, you’ll need to buy an “unlocked CPU.”
If you are into protection plans, you might want to consider it for the CPU.
|Base:||8+ Core, 4+GHz, 20+MB Cache, Socket and Chipset MUST Match CPU||-|
|My PC (2013 Build):||Intel® Core™ Quad-Core i7-4770K 3.50GHz 8 MB Cache (Unlocked) Socket: LGA 1150||$280|
|Son's PC (2019 Build):||AMD Ryzen 7 2700 8-Core 4.1GHz 20MB Cache (Unlocked) Socket: AM4 (Does not support on-board graphics)||$270|
|Other Option AMD:||AMD Ryzen 7 3700X 8-Core 4.4GHz 36MB Cache (Unlocked) Socket: AM4||$350|
|Other Options Intel:||Intel® Core™ i9-11900K 8 Cores up to 5.3 GHz (Unlocked) Socket: LGA1200 (Supports on-board graphics)||$400|
|Other Options Intel:||Intel® Core™ i9-12900KF 3.2GHz 16-Cores (Unlocked), Socket: LGA 1700 (Does not support on-board graphics)||$580|
I'm a fan of ASUS ROG and TUF as they have dust covers and heat dissipation built-in.
You can get a decent motherboard at a lower price. Don't worry about onboard graphics (especially if you buy a chip that doesn’t support onboard graphics). You can go with something released last year in the mid-range and still get good performance.
The main things to consider are its RAM speed, CPU socket, and NVMe M.2 interface (see SSD below).
If you are into protection plans, you might want to consider it for the motherboard.
IMPORTANT: Your motherboard CPU chipset and socket MUST match the CPU!
Note: If you are looking to get cool with RGB, you’ll want a motherboard with that capability. For example, Asus has Aura Sync RGB, so if you're going with Asus, you'll want to look for Aura Sync RGB compatible accessories.
Also note: You do need to watch out for specific combinations. For example, if on the ROG Strix B450-F you add another M.2 SSD to the 2nd M.2 slot, it will bring the first PCIe slot down to 8 channels. So, you would want to install your graphics card on PCIe slot 2.
|Base:||M.2 (x2), MUST Match CPU Socket/Chipset, Many USB 3.2 ports, Ethernet & Audio on board. Do you want integrated RGB controls?||-|
|My PC (2013 Build):||ASUS Sabertooth Z87 LGA 1150 TUF (Example only, this is a 10 year old model, but shows how the right board can last)||$230|
|Son's PC (2019 Build):||ASUS ROG Strix B450-F Gaming Motherboard Socket: AM4; M.2 SSD: Yes x2||$190|
You don't need a water pump, but you need a better fan than what comes with the processor.
Again, you're not overclocking, so you don't need much, but a self-contained water cooler with a heat sink works well. My PC barely breaks a sweat with a $25 cooler.
Be sure to BUY GOOD thermal grease, don't just use what came with the processor. If you ever have to replace the fan (or CPU), buy a thermal grease cleanser to clean the old paste off the heat sink and CPU.
|My PC (2013 Build):||DEEP COOL GAMMAXX400V2 Blue CPU Air Cooler with 4 Heatpipes, 120mm Fan, and Blue LED||$25|
|Son's PC (2019 Build):||I bought the AMD Ryzen 7 with an upgraded fan, though I should benchmark it again.||-|
|Other Options:||Enermax Liqmax III w/ RGB - 120mm Radiator for Intel & AMD||$70|
Thermal Paste: I used ArctiClean Kit 1&2 Thermal Paste. The package came with a microfiber cloth, cleaning solution, and thermal paste. A good fan/cooler AND paste are essential.
I've watched some videos where the DEEP COOL is mocked as a N00b model, but as I said, for my 3.5GHz quad-core, it barely breaks a sweat now. It's an excellent entry-level with good reviews. It is also really, really quiet.
Take the money you save by not buying a $300 cooling system and put it towards some nice quiet LED fans for your case. Airflow is key.
I use Corsair. I'd recommend 32GB minimum (Two 16GB sticks as you'll want to upgrade those other two slots someday to achieve 64GB or higher)
They come in a variety of colors. A shortage affects price and stock, so plan accordingly and get only what you need now and add more later.
These do need to match your motherboard’s speed, and you'll want a memory speed of 2666MHz or higher.
|My PC (2013 Build):||Corsair Vengeance 8GB DDR3 1600MHz (4 for a total of 32GB)||$150|
|Son's PC (2019 Build):||Corsair Vengeance 16GB LPX DDR4 3000MHz (2 for a total of 32GB, and you can add two more later)||$150|
|Other Options:||Corsair Vengeance 16GB LPX DDR4 3600MHz (2 for a total of 32GB)||$147|
I recommend getting a motherboard with an NVMe M.2 interface as it allows you to mount an SSD right on the motherboard allowing for less space, power, and higher speeds. Get a motherboard with two slots if you can; that way, you can add more storage later and not pay for a 2TB stick upfront.
Don't go any less than 1TB on your main drive. I know it's expensive, but you can avoid growing pains.
You can add SSDs and combine them into a single drive through Windows disk manager. So buy 1TB now, another 1 or 2TB later, and merge the drives using the OS (don’t worry about how right now).
If you are interested in managing files or doing video editing, you can think about a secondary hard drive. Otherwise, if you are just gaming, you will probably just install and load all your games from the primary SSD. You can install programs on a secondary drive, but I’ve had mixed results in the past and can only recommend secondary drives for storage.
I use Samsung EVO SSDs, both regular and M.2. Though I haven't tried their SSDs, I use Western Digital and Seagate for RAID and server configurations.
|My PC (2013 Build):||Samsung SSD 860 EVO 500GB 520MB/s||$100|
|Son's PC (2019 Build):||Samsung SSD 970 EVO 500GB M.2 NVMe Interface 2,500MB/s (already filled)||$150|
|Other Options 1:||Samsung SSD 980 1TB M.2 NVMe Interface 3,000MB/s||$140|
|Other Options 2:||WD_BLACK 1TB SN770 M.2 NVMe Internal SSD up to 5,150MB/s||$130|
Okay, here’s another hefty cost, but remember, you probably won’t ever use the total capacity of an $800 card, so $300 to $400 is reasonable.
You can always swap out the graphics card later, but you’ll want to get at least 2 or 3 years out of it if you spend the money.
My advice, pick a budget and stick with it. Don't go cheap, but don't go hundreds or thousands of dollars either.
You'll want to keep it cool, so anything with a self-contained liquid cooling system is excellent.
Consider HDMI vs. DisplayPort and how many ports you’ll need for your monitors. I recommend thinking about something that will allow you to run two monitors, even if you start with that HD monitor you have lying around.
Even if you don’t plan on using a 2 or 4K monitor, you might want to think about getting a graphics card that can just handle it. Also, maybe even make sure it is VR-ready. Even if you aren’t going to use VR or 4K, cards with those capabilities typically will take your farther in other areas, such as adequately supporting HD at 144hz and having proper cooling.
If you are into protection plans, you might want to consider one for your graphics card.
I've just always used Radeon, but Nvidia is another option. Don’t go for off-brands.
|Base:||1286+MHz, 8+GB, VR, DisplayPort, HDMI||-|
|My PC (2013 Build):||(2013 Build): (2019 Upgrade) XFX Radeon RX 570 RS XXX Edition 1286MHz 8GB, VR Ready, HDMIx2, DisplayPortx2, DVIx1||$400|
|Son's PC (2019 Build):||XFX Radeon RX 570 RS Graphics Card, 4GB DDR5, DisplayPort, DVI, HDMI||$300|
|Other Options:||XFX Radeon has a lot of different models and prices. But you don't HAVE to go too high||$450-600+|
It needs to be big enough to power your whole PC while gaming; I recommend 1000W. 1000W doesn't mean it will always run at 1000W; it can run up to 1000W. If you’re typing a Word document, it’ll only use 20W if it needs to. Don't leave games running when you are not playing to save on electricity, even on the start screen.
I can't highly recommend “modular” enough as you will only use the cables you need. Also, pay attention to specified fan noise.
I use Corsair and like the software that comes with the “i” series for monitoring; however, I notice they are costly right now. If you are not interested in monitoring, you can scale back to a regular supply. I would find it hard to justify an extra $400 unless you were REALLY into monitoring performance.
New Egg does have a friendly Power Supply Calculator that you can head over to once you have your components picked out.
|My PC (2013 Build):||(2019 Upgrade) Corsair HXi 1000i, 1000 Watt, Platinum Certified, Fully Modular||Not Available|
|Son's PC (2019 Build):||Corsair 900 Watt||Not Available|
|Other Option 1:||Corsair RM1000x, 1000 Watt, Gold Certified, Fully Modular||$180|
|Other Option 2:||Corsair HX1000, 1000 Watt, Platinum Certified, Fully Modular||$220|
|Other Option 3:||Corsair HX1200i, 1200 Watt, Platinum Low Profile Modular||$600|
Airflow and a glass side is essential. I like bigger cases so that I'm not cramped trying to fit the cables in, plus it allows room for air, fans, and CPU cooling.
Cases with thumbscrews on the back are fantastic as they don't require screwdrivers any time you want to take your case apart for cleaning or upgrades.
You'll want to have a case that accommodates 4 to 5 fans. Top, back, front, and maybe side.
Don't go cheap. You can go “inexpensive,” but not cheap. With cheap cases, they might not be sturdy, ports might not work, and they can look plastic and cheap. You want something that will last and protect your investment. You don’t want it to look cheap.
You also want it to reflect your style.
It also needs to fit your motherboard (Mini-ITX, MicroATX, or ATX).
I seem to like Antec for my own. On the other hand, my son's Phanteks is okay, but the headphone jack on the front gives feedback. Though Phantek has excellent reviews. You just hate to put everything together in a case and then take everything apart and wait for a new case to arrive. He just uses the ports on the back.
Also, my Antec on the 2013 build has LOTS of drive bays (9!). You don't need that. But, if you are looking to play Blu-ray or burn discs, you will need a case with a drive bay for DVD drives.
|My PC (2013 Build):||Antec Gaming Series Nine Hundred Mid-Tower PC/Gaming Computer Case, 120/200mm Fan Mounts||$70|
|Son's PC (2019 Build):||Phanteks Eclipse (PH-EC300PTG_BK) Steel ATX Mid Tower Tempered Glass Case, Black||$80|
|Other Options:||Antec DF700 Flux, Mid Tower Computer Case, Radiator Support, 3 x 120 mm ARGB, Fans Included||$100|
Windows. I prefer DVD, but you can get a USB or even download it onto your own media.
Be sure it is legit, so you might as well purchase it from the Microsoft Store.
Windows 10 or 11? I'm still on Windows 10 and will stay on Windows 10 until its end of life on October 14, 2025.
Home or Professional? I use professional only because I have a software development environment set up. Most people get by with the Home Edition.
If you get a DVD copy, be sure you have an external DVD USB drive.
Expect to pay around $130 to $150.
After spending money on a PC, the best thing you can do right now is to find a monitor you or a friend has lying around and use it for a while as you figure out how you want to save up and what your preferences are for a monitor or two.
Do you need a 4K monitor right now? No. But, if you find a great deal on one, take it.
Do you need two monitors? No. But, if you can find two for a great deal, take them!
Do you need a 144Hz refresh rate? Maybe. It will increase your in-game frame rate, but if you have two monitors, you can have one at 144Hz and the other at 60 or 75Hz.
Curve? 16:9? I prefer two monitors, flat, 16:10 Ratio, not 16:9. My monitors are 1080 HD, and I have no plans on swapping them out for 2 or 4K.
If you are going for two monitors, it is best if you can get the same brand at the same time. That way, it will be easier to color match the display on the screens. Any slight color/brightness difference between the two is distracting.
I use Dell because they had DisplayPort with the aspect ratio I wanted, but I also like Asus.
|My PC (2013 Build):||Dell Computer Ultrasharp U2415 24" 16:10 (1920x1200) 60Hz LED Monitor (I have 2) (BluRay compat)||$439 each|
|Son's PC (2019 Build):||ASUS (2 monitors) 75Hz and 144Hz - Used, great condition||$200 total used|
|Other Option 1:||ASUS ProArt Display 24" WUGA 16:10 75Hz||$240 each|
|Other Option 2:||Check out Costco. Samsung, Asus, etc. Focus on Hz, HD/UHD, display size, and ports.||-|
Personal preference: Everyone has seen enough YouTube videos to admire a specific mouse or keyboard.
Keyboard - Gaming keyboard with switchable keys. Backlight is recommended, especially if the letters are also backlit. Great for dim situations.
Mouse - You can get fancy with LEDs and lightweight or be middle of the road. You probably have a mouse you can borrow as you figure out what you want. It is a personal preference.
The main thing is to find something that is the right size, durable, and comfortable. Also, you need to see/tell what keys you are hitting.
|My PC (2013 Build):||Logitec Wireless K520||-|
|My Mac:||Keychron K4 Hot-Swappable Mechanical Gaming Keyboard RGB Backlit, 96% layout BT/USB||$110|
|Son's PC (2019 Build):||Redragon K552 Mechanical Gaming Keyboard 60% Compact 87 Key Kumara Wired Cherry MX Blue Switches||$40|
Note: I don't game at my office, I'm a web developer, but I needed a mechanical keyboard with Mac keys and took up less space yet still had a number pad.
My son says to get an excellent key puller.
I only mention this because I have many Uninterruptable Power Supplies (UPS) for networking and computers around the house. Also, I taxed my previous backup system while gaming. So, if you use battery backups, you need one with plenty of power that matches your power supply wattage. Though you probably won't game while the power is out, it needs to allow enough power to flow through it while the power is on. If you live in a neighborhood with frequent electrical glitches (like I do), it is nice to have something to protect your PC from the five-second on/off, on/off that sometimes happens.
To calculate your needs, take the max watts from your power supply (ex 1000W) and add your monitors or anything else you have plugged into it. While benchmarking, I measured watts on my PC and had my monitors hooked up separately, so I only needed a 900W backup. VA is necessary to determine how long you can run in backup mode. I'm more worried about five-second outages, and if the outage is more extended, the UPS is connected via USB and will power down the PC.
|My PC (2013 Build):||CyberPower CP1500AVRLCD Intelligent LCD UPS System 1500VA/900W 12 Outlets, AVR, Mini-Tower||$160|
If you plan to play Blu-ray, you'll need a drive that can support it, special software to play it, AND at least one monitor that supports Blu-ray. Sadly, most monitors do not support Blu-ray.
I use CyberLink PowerDVD to play Blu-ray.
I recommend a name-brand drive. I think Samsung ducked out of the market, but Asus is still there.
|My PC (2013 Build) Drive 1:||Samsung DVDWBD SH-B083L (For BluRay)||Not Available|
|My PC (2013 Build) Drive 2:||Asus BW-16D1HT (For burning BluRay and M-Disc)||$95|
|Son's PC (2019 Build):||None. We do have a portable USB DVD drive though||$60|
|Other Option 1:||DVD (Can Write CD) No BluRay||$30|
|Other Option 2:||LG M-Disc BluRay (Can Write M-Disc, DVD, BluRay, CD)||$70|