My old PC is 4 years old and has been falling apart piece by piece over the past year. Most notably, the video card and on-board LAN both burned out. Performance has also become sluggish due to accumulated age, even after cleaning out all the dust, fresh installs of Windows, and my best attempts at optimization. I’ve been putting up with it for months now, but I finally decided to upgrade this weekend at long last. With the recent release of Intel’s new 2nd generation Core CPUs, this is an opportune time to upgrade!
While I consider myself a technology enthusiast, I don’t follow the PC hardware world much until the time approaches for an upcoming upgrade. Luckily, PC builders are passionate and extremely helpful so it’s very easy to get caught up with the latest developments and make an informed purchase decision. Building a PC is a three step process: 1) picking out and buying components, 2) assembling the PC, and 3) software installation. It’s a lot of fun and easy as well, even if you’ve never built your own PC before. If you can put together Ikea furniture, you can build a PC. It’s like Lego for adults.
The benefits of PC building over buying complete PCs from a retail store? Cheaper computers and learning about your PC components come to mind (even superficial knowledge can be helpful if your computer breaks down in the future and you need to troubleshoot). But most of all, you get a sense of ownership and pride with your shiny new PC that you built with your own hands!
First I have a few photos of my new PC, then at the end of this post, I will provide some handy resources that were very helpful after a 4 year absence from PC building.
|CPU||Intel Core i5 2500k||$192|
|Graphics card||ASUS GTX 460 1GB||$120|
|RAM||G.Skill Ripjaws X 8 GB DDR3 1333||$70|
|Power supply||Antec TP-550||$40|
|Hard drive||Samsung Spinpoint F3 1 TB 7200 rpm||$60|
|DVD drive||ASUS DRW-24B1ST||$32|
|Case||Fractal Design Define R3||$127|
All prices include tax, shipping, and/or rebates
Here’s all the new parts that I purchased. My system configuration hits the “sweet spot” for price vs. performance and is a speed demon perfect for PC gaming and everything else I need a PC for. I replaced almost everything from my old PC, including the case, so this was a near total upgrade. I only kept a 60 GB SSD (solid state drive) and a Windows 7 Professional disc that I bought a couple years ago and haven’t used yet. More information on Windows 7 upgrade discs at the end of this post.
I purchased these components at excellent prices, almost everything from sales on Newegg.com. They have deals on computer parts so often that I would recommend picking out all the components a month or two in advance of your planned build, then following the SlickDeals front page or Twitter feed on a regular basis. You’ll likely find discounts for nearly every component you’re looking for or at least a similar model. I even could have saved an additional $40, but I had some free time this weekend and was in a hurry to build my PC, so I bought my motherboard and DVD drive at a Microcenter retail store instead of through Newegg.
I spent a little more money than necessary on a nice case because a good one can last you for multiple builds. My old one was decent but quite noisy and lacked the nice features of modern cases like cable management and tool-less hard drive trays. The sleek, minimalist design of this case is really appealing to me, plus the case is padded with sound dampening material for whisper quiet operation. The empty case is beckoning — let’s start building!
Isn’t this motherboard gorgeous? I love the black circuit board with all those blue accents. The wavy blue heatsinks are especially awesome. Spectacular job by ASUS.
The finished PC! I did my best to hide / organize the wires for a clean appearance. This involves snaking wires through portals built into the computer case and hiding the bulk of the wires behind the motherboard panel. I didn’t do a perfect job, but I am very pleased with how everything turned out.
My happy place. I am so glad I finally upgraded my computer from my old Intel E6750 PC. Everything is working great, and I can not believe how fast this machine is. Blistering speed!
As I’ve mentioned, the last PC I built was 4 years ago so I used some great resources to help me build this PC. Hopefully this list will help you out as well!
Step 1: Selecting PC parts
This step may take the most time, depending on how picky you are and how much research you want to do.
- Great buyer’s guide that provides recommended system configurations broken down by budgets. Within each component category, it also discusses features you should be looking for.
- All-purpose guide from Reddit’s Build-A-PC forum that leads to many useful links and covers everything from picking parts to putting it all together
- Popular NeoGAF forum thread where users can get advice. Unfortunately, you need to be a registered member in order to post, but the first page is regularly updated with helpful information and you can browse through the latest pages and likely see people asking about a computer build similar to your future one.
Step 2: Building the PC
Getting your hands dirty and assembling everything may be especially daunting to someone who has never done this before. I find that watching how-to videos is more helpful than reading a tutorial. Here’s a few good ones:
- Detailed 1.5 hour video by Tested.com. They discuss the components they picked and then build the PC in real-time
- NCIX video that’s a little shorter (half an hour)
- Great video if you’re interested in getting tips about cable management to make your case interior clean and tidy
Step 3: Software
Installing Windows and all the applications you need is the final step. This part is mostly up to you. I do want to discuss an issue that came up for me though. Years ago, I had purchased a 32-bit Windows 7 Professional upgrade disc through my school. For my new PC, I wanted a 64-bit version so I can use more than 4 GB RAM. Also, Windows 7 upgrade discs technically can’t be used for “clean installs”, meaning that you need either Windows XP or Windows Vista installed before you can upgrade to Windows 7. I didn’t want to install Windows XP first but here’s a solution for both problems.
- When you buy a copy of Windows 7, you’re really paying for the license key. That means that you can legally download a sanctioned copy of Windows 7 and use that license key to register the downloaded Windows, although you’re only supposed to use the key on one computer. Here’s a Windows 7 ISO download link for all versions of Windows 7.
- Your license key is valid for both the 32-bit and 64-bit of the Windows 7 version you bought. So although I only have the disc for Win 7 Professional 32-bit, I can download Win 7 Pro 64-bit through the above link and use the same key.
- When you download the ISO, you have to either burn it onto a DVD, or you can make a bootable USB flash drive to install Windows. I did the USB method and it worked great.
- To clean install Windows 7 using an upgrade version, here are several methods to try that worked for me.
- One final tip: here’s some solid state drive articles about how to set-up your SSD and how to save drive space. At current market value, SSDs are kind of a luxury item, but they are tremendously faster than a standard hard drive and can dramatically improve your PC experience. The 60 GB SSD I have was gifted to me by my brother, but I didn’t get a chance to install Windows on it until now. It makes a HUGE difference in how fast your computer boots up into Windows as well as your day-to-day computing use.
That’s all I have! Happy PC building!