Planning and Designing your Homebuilt Computer
Like anything else worth doing, designing and building a new PC begins with planning. Proper planning prevents rushed trips to the computer store in the middle of the assembly process, as well as problems with incompatible parts or not having the right tools when you need them. By the time you're ready to assemble your computer, you need to have worked all of these things out.
There are many factors to be considered when designing a homebuilt computer. The most important among these are:
It would be nice if we never had to worry about how much things cost; but for most of us, that's not the case. So the first step in planning your new PC should be to set a budget. Decide how much you can afford to spend on the entire project. Later on, you can use this budget to help you make decisions about individual components.
I live in a big house in the country. I can have as big a computer as I want. But if you live in an apartment, small room, or other small place, you probably want a small computer. I suggest you take a look at the Intel Nuc platform. It's a lot of computing power packed in a small package. It saves a lot of electricity, too. Be careful with the graphics, though. If you're a gamer or use video-intensive software, a Nuc probably isn't the right choice for you.
What do you plan on doing with the machine? You didn't just wake up one morning and decide that you wanted to build your own PC, right? You actually want to do something with it when it's all finished. What is that "something" that you want your new computer to do?
If you just want to run office applications, surf the Internet, and do other low-pressure tasks, then you can save a bundle by selecting components that are not quite state-of-the-art. This is especially true of processors, which get a lot cheaper once the next, usually faster version of a chip is released. So if you're building a machine to do simple things, you can probably save some money by choosing less than bleeding-edge parts.
On the other hand, if you are into gaming, audio or video editing, music composition, engineering, heavy-duty math, or other high-resource computing, you will want to get as close to the bleeding edge as your budget allows you when choosing a CPU, RAM, motherboard, etc.
The computer's intended use will also affect decisions such as what case to buy and how many fans to install. Computers that do harder work need more cooling.
How long do you want the computer to last? Hardware advances that make a component cutting-edge this year may just barely satisfy the minimum system requirements for software released a few years from now. If your budget allows for it, selecting the most current components available may endow your computer with an extra year or so of useful life.
As you begin sketching out your new PC, check online reviews and forums to see what others think of the components you are considering.
Pretty much any computer part you buy will come with drivers for most recent versions of Windows (but check the box anyway, just to make sure). If you are planning to use Linux, BSD, or some other non-Microsoft operating system, however, then make certain that your components will work with that system. Most Linux distributions, for example, maintain lists of hardware that will work with their distribution. There are also Internet forums devoted to hardware issues on specific operating systems.
Most computer enthusiasts have "favorite" companies. I like Nvidia video cards, for example. It doesn't mean that the others are no good, but I happen to like Nvidia. I've always found their products to be durable, high-performing, and dependable. I also like Samsung SSD drives and Crucial SSD drives, for the same reasons. I've never had any problems with them, and they work well.
Some people disagree with my opinions, and that's fine. I'm used to that. I was a Mets fan when I was a kid. But when I build a machine for my own use, I choose hardware from companies that I like and whose products I've had good experiences with. That is my right; and it's your right to choose which companies' parts will go into your computer. It's your baby.
Consider a Kit or a "Barebones" Computer
If you've never built a computer before, you may want to consider a barebones computer kit. Kits come with pre-selected parts that have been tested to work with each other. They usually also include fairly detailed assembly instructions. Whether they suit your needs are not is another story. But if you can find one that does, you can save both time and money.
Barebones computer kits straddle the line between a home-designed computer and a pre-configured kit. They usually include a case, power supply, motherboard, CPU, and little else. Some may also include other components, such as the hard drive or optical drive(s). They're usually a pretty good bargain as compared to buying the same components separately.
If you decide to design your computer yourself (and even if you decide to use a barebones kit, for that matter), check online forums like PC Parts Picker to see if anyone's had problems with the particular combinations you've selected. Some components simply don't play nicely with each other.
Finally, remember that this is something you are designing and creating yourself. It's okay to want to build a machine that you will be proud of.
While you're fantasizing about all of those great parts you want to put in your new computer, let's look at the tools that you'll need.