Putting together your own custom gaming PC is great fun and has many benefits over buying a pre-built system. As a complete newbie there are some things about the overall buying and building process that you should be aware of to ensure your experience is a smooth ride.
1. Be Clear On Your Wants & Needs
If you're embarking on your very first PC build adventure, you want to be clear on exactly what you'll be using your new PC for so that you don't spend too much, spend too little, or miss out on features that you wanted.
Think of the exact games and programs you'll be using the most, and what sort of performance you want. You also want to take into account the resolution you'll be playing at, as there's a huge performance difference between say, 1080p and 4K resolutions.
For example, the GeForce GTX 1050 Ti (a popular graphics card for gamers on a budget) will play modern titles very smoothly in 1080p (1920 x 1080), yet if you're playing in 4K resolution it'll be a totally different (and very laggy) experience.
You also want to think about what in-game graphic settings you like to play on as that will affect the amount of power you need - are you someone who cares about cranking all the settings to max to play the games in all their graphical glory as the developers intended? Or are you someone who just wants to play and doesn't really care for the little graphic details?
As well as thinking about your gaming performance aims, you'll want to plan ahead for the future. In general, spending more now will mean your build will last longer without having to upgrade or build a new system altogether.
If you're on a tight budget and plan on upgrading your system down the track for added performance, then make sure you pick a combination of parts that will allow you to do easily (such as making sure you have the right slots/ports for the specific upgrades you plan on doing, as well as having a power supply and case that can accommodate such upgrades).
2. Buy Online to Save
These days this goes without saying as buying goods online has become the norm over the past few years. Nothing beats buying online from trusted sellers like Amazon. 9 times out of 10 you're going to get a better price than at your local store.
Online retailers have less overhead and costs than brick and mortar stores and so they can afford to offer much more competitive prices. These days buying online is very safe, secure and fast. Your parts will conveniently be delivered straight to your door.
3. Buy Parts at the Same Time
There are a couple of reasons why you should consider purchasing all of your components at the same time, the most important being that some parts will have a limited time frame in which you can return them for a replacement in the odd case that they are defective.
So if you buy one component at a time, you can't test them before you have all of your parts together. So if you have a defective part and you end up testing it after the expired time frame for returning it, then you're stuck with a defective part and there's not much you can do.
Sure, you can argue that it is quite rare that you will get a defective part which is true, but in my opinion it's not worth the risk as it does still happen these days so you are better off avoiding this potential problem altogether by buying your parts in one go.
Another reason to buy all your parts together is that as times goes on new parts come out and prices drop on older parts. It's possible that if you wait a fair while between buying parts you may find that some new parts aren't compatible with older parts. Again, this is uncommon but it's definitely a possibility especially if you wait a long time between your component purchases.
4. Possibly Re-use Old Parts
This may seem obvious but it's worth repeating. If you're building a new machine on a tight budget, don't forget to scavenge for reusable parts that you may have lying around in an older PC.
Not all components can be re-used, but you might have luck with things like peripherals (monitor, keyboard, mouse, speakers), optical drives, hard drives, the case, or perhaps even with components like the power supply or CPU.
5. Don't Rush the Installation
If you're building your very first custom computer you will want to allow enough time for you to take your time with it. Allow yourself a decent slot of time (2-3 hours if brand new) to complete your build so you don't rush it.
Enjoy the process - rushing will only increase the chances you do something wrong or forget something (and then have to backtrack and figure out what you missed when your PC doesn't turn on) - or worst of all you could damage a part if you try and speed through the process too quickly.
Ideally you want to build your system on a large table in a well-lit room. Avoid placing your build and your parts on carpet at all costs.
6. Handle Parts With Care
Computer hardware can be quite fragile and you want to be cautious when handling your parts. Keep your parts in their anti-static bags until you are ready to install them, and ground yourself at all times when handling components be either wearing an anti-static wrist brand OR by touching your case (or another metal object) before picking up a component.
Also, pick up your components on their metal sides and never use too much force to install something. Components shouldn't require much force to install if you're doing it the correct way.
7. Don't Panic If Your PC Doesn't Start
If you think you have installed all your parts correctly and you press the PC power-on button and nothing happens, stay calm. Or perhaps your computer turns on but your monitor is blank and you don't see anything. These issues are quite common and they could be due to a number of things. More often than not it will be something simple that you missed.
There are a few basics to check that we sometimes take for granted. Firstly, double check every power connection. The motherboard requires a 24 pin connector, and also either a 4 or 8 pin connector. Your video card will need either one or two 6 or 8 pin PCI-Express connectors.
Check that you connected the cables that came with your case to the bottom of your motherboard. This may seem stupid but also be sure you have plugged the power supply cord into a wall power socket and switched on the power supply.
For full detail on troubleshooting and finding/fixing issues see our comprehensive PC building tutorial.