Building your own desktop isn’t as difficult as it looks—it’s often called “LEGO for adults.” And while that phrase might be a bit condescending (adults can enjoy LEGOs too, ya jerks), it’s not wrong. Even so, the sheer breadth of choices, options, and compatibility issues can be intimidating, especially for a first-time builder. Here’s a collection of online tools to help you make sure that process goes as smoothly as possible.
PCPartPicker is probably the quintessential “pick my parts” service. Start using the tool with a single part, like a processor or motherboard, and you can search its massive database of PC hardware for components that are compatible with the other parts in your build. It’s perfect for someone who’s afraid that their $300 graphics card won’t fit into their $100 enclosure. You can start from any point, too: if there’s a particular case or a weirdly specific Blu-ray drive you want to build around, start with that and go nuts.
The site defaults to showing the lowest available price from the more popular and reliable online merchants, so you know exactly where to buy for the lowest total price on your build. It also includes plenty of other options, so you can see specifically how much your build will cost if you want to buy every part on, say, Newegg, or to factor in Amazon Prime’s free shipping. There are built-in price comparisons and alerts, too. If you’re still feeling intimidated by the whole process, don’t sweat it: PCPartPicker also includes completed builds with pre-selected components and guides on how to assemble them. If there’s one site you’re going to bookmark for your new PC, make it this one.
If you want an easy-to-use graph of the best PC builder parts at any given time for any given budget, Logical Increments is a great site to check out. It’s essentially a big, constantly-updated spreadsheet, showing you the best possible build for each price range. The unique presentation makes it easy to select an entire build’s worth of parts quickly according to your specific budget. It’s also great for the extended life of your machine: when you’re wondering whether it’s worth it to upgrade to a new GPU or power supply, just check the latest version for their picks and see if it’s worth it. There’s also a handy glossary and guide for all the parts below the main graph, if you want something easy to parse at a glance.
You don’t have to use their exact builds, of course, but it’s a great way to get started and see what a balanced gaming machine looks like in your budget, and adjust from there.
CamelCamelCamel isn’t specifically a tool for PC builders, but it’s amazingly handy for them nonetheless, especially since cost savings are a big reason to build your own computer in the first place. This price tracking website covers Amazon listings for more or less anything, and its historical price view is an excellent way to know when to buy the part you’re looking for. Alert tools can integrate with your Amazon wish list, instantly telling you when that juicy GPU is on sale. Unfortunately the tool is limited to Amazon alone (Newegg kicked them out of the affiliate program, because apparently Newegg hates money), but it’s still an excellent way to automate shopping on the world’s biggest marketplace.
How-To Geek (That’s Us)
Hey, you know we have a bunch of articles about PC building right here on this very web-a-ma-site, right? Just do a search on our site for whatever topic you’re looking for (it’s up there at the top of the page). We’ve got you covered for static protection, LED and fan add-ons, aftermarket CPU coolers, Mini-ITX comparisons, myths that need to be busted, and even a tool-less part guide, just to name a few.
The intimidating thing about building a PC is the nigh-endless combinations of hardware. As much as we love textual guides here at How-To Geek, sometimes there’s no substitute for watching someone perform a task. Enter YouTube. If at any time during the build process you’re confused, just do a search for your specific part on YouTube. Odds are amazingly good that someone already has a hands-on or review video showing exactly how to install or activate it.
Windows Download Site
Getting Windows onto your computer isn’t the hassle it used to be. Microsoft will let you download the OS, make a bootable USB drive, install it on a new PC, and start using it right away—so long as you have access to another Windows or macOS machine and an Internet connection, it’s easy as pie. You don’t even need a license to get it up and running, and you can use it in free mode with very few restrictions indefinitely. You can upgrade your installation by buying a software key from the Microsoft store at any time if you feel like “going legit.”
PC Building Simulator
Okay, so this one isn’t entirely practical, since you need a computer that can handle at least basic 3D graphics before you can use it. Also it’s a commercial game, and it won’t be available until January of 2018. But darn it, it’s just so cool that we can’t wait.
PC Building Simulator lets you build an entire PC, complete with licensed parts and painstakingly accurate renders and spaces. It’s a way to go through the entire tedious building process virtually, to see if all your chosen parts are compatible with each other both digitally and physically, without ever buying a single piece of hardware. It even includes virtual PC benchmarks based on your hardware picks!
If you can’t wait for the full release (or you’re reading this in 2018 and you just don’t want to pay for it), there’s a demo of PC Building Simulator available now.