How to build a gaming PC step by step

There’s never been a better  time to be a PC gamer. And building a great custom gaming PC has never been cheaper or easier.  

But, we admit it—if you’ve never built a custom PC for gaming before, it can still be a little intimidating.

Your build will likely differ slightly, but most of the steps are universal and will look and function similarly:

Prcoessor:

Motherboard:

Memory:

Graphics card:

Power supply:

SSD 

HDD:

CPU Cooler:

Case:

But it’s easy. We promise.  And we think you should go ahead and build your own custom gaming rig now.

If you’re ready to take the plunge and build an awesome gaming PC, let’s get started.

This is  our step-by-step guide to building your own custom gaming rig, with each major  step of the process in detail.

Here are some general tips to get started before getting into the step-by-step process:

Avoid static electricity! Build your custom gaming PC on a table or some flat surface  away from carpet.

Ideally, dispel any built-up  bodily charge by touching a grounded  metal object before you touch sensitive PC components. 

Open up your motherboard  manual to the diagram page that shows  a layout of the motherboard. 

If you ever  get confused about what goes where, the  labels on this page should help you sort it out.

Install the CPU

Remove your motherboard  from its anti-static sleeve and place it  on a clean, flat surface, where you’ll be doing your  build. 

Remove the protective plastic covering  over the CPU socket on the motherboard by pushing  the lever arm down and to the side,  then pulling the covering up. 

Now you’re ready to  install the processor.

Open your CPU box and  take the processor out. It’s probably safely housed in a plastic sleeve. 

Look at the CPU,  and match the arrow on the bottom-left  corner of the chip with the bottom corner of the socket.  

There are also two notches on the top half of the chip. The pins face down, so the plain silver  side should be facing up. 

There’s only  one possible way to correctly orient the CPU,  which makes it easy to install!

The CPU fits into the socket,  and youdon’t need to press  down to force it into place.

It doesn’t “snap” in—it just  rests on top of the pins. 

To finish the installation,  simply lower the socket covering and push the lever arm back into place.

Install the CPU cooler

Ready for what is (usually)  the hardest step of your gaming rig build process?  

Everything from here on is a total breeze, but installing  a CPU cooler can be a bit tricky, especially  because they vary in design.

For this step, you  should primarily be following the steps  shown in your CPU cooler’s included instructions. 

But  I’ll walk you an example: installing  the stock Intel cooler included with Intel’s processors.

Stock Intel cooler: This little  guy will keep an Intel processor cool  enough if you’re not doing any overclocking, but it’s  not as quiet or efficient as an aftermarket  cooler. 

Its greatest strength, however, is simplicity.  If you look at the bottom of the cooler,  you’ll notice it already has thermal material on it.  

This means you don’t need to add  thermal paste to your CPU.

Intel’s cooler is also easy  to mount. Simply place it over the CPU  socket, oriented so that its labeling faces the same  direction as the text on the processor. 

The  frame of the socket is the top, while the lever arm juts  down to the bottom. 

Push the cooler’s  pegs into the four holes surrounding the CPU socket until they click into place.

This step is easy. So easy.  Take your RAM sticks (you probably  have two or four) out of their packaging. 

Before installing,  refer to your motherboard manual’s  page about the RAM slots.

This page will tell you which  RAM slots are the ideal slots to use  based on how many sticks you have. These slots are  usually color coordinated.

Once you know where you’re  putting the RAM, unlock the slot by  pushing down on the hinged tabs on one end. 

Orient  your RAM so that the notch ⅓ of the way through  the stick matches with the notch on the slot. 

Now press the RAM sticks firmly into the  slots. 

Don’t worry about pressing too hard—it takes  some pressure. The tabs will click into  place when the sticks are fully inserted.

Snap the I/O shield into place

Time to open up that shiny new cool gaming PC case you bought. 

Opening it  is as simple as undoing the thumbscrews at the back  of the case that hold the panels in place, and then removing them.

Now lay the case flat on  your table so that the main cavity faces  up.

Your motherboard should’ve  come with a rectangular plastic or metal  I/O shield that fits over the motherboard’s input/output  ports. 

To install the I/O shield into  the case, first orient it correctly in relation to the  motherboard, then fit it into the rectangular  slot at the back of the PC case.

You’ll have to  press it firmly into the slot from within the  case; they can be finicky to install, and the edges are sharp, so watch your fingers.

Press against  each side of the I/O shield until it gives you a  solid snap.

Install the motherboard standoffs in the PC case and screw in the motherboard.

Your case should’ve come  with a box or bag full of screws, zip-ties,  and other odds and ends you’ll use for installation.  

Find the motherboard standoffs—the bottom  halves of the standoffs are threaded, while the top  halves are screw holes that you’ll be  screwing the motherboard into.

Now examine your case.  There should be about a dozen small holes  around the inside of the case where the standoffs  go.

Depending on your case, they may  be labeled for different size motherboards: A for ATX,  M for micro ATX, and I for mini ITX. 

Depending  on the size of your motherboard (in most cases,  you’ll be building with a standard ATX  size), you want to put the standoffs into the correctly labeled holes.

If they’re not labeled, you  should have enough standoffs to simply cover  every hole. 

Screw them into place using  the included standoff tool, which fits over the standoff  and lets you use a screwdriver.

With the standoffs in place,  it’s time to screw in the motherboard.

Orient it so that the I/O ports line up properly with the  I/O shield, then lower the motherboard until  it’s resting on the standoffs. 

Most cases have  a peg that fits up through a hole in the  center of the motherboard, so if you have it properly  positioned, it should now be locked into  place. 

Once the motherboard’s placed, find the motherboard screws that came with  your case and tighten it down.

Take  your power supply out of its box and set  aside all the cables, which you’ll be using a bit later. 

Depending on the model, the power supply  may be completely modular (in which case,  no cables are permanently attached) or  partially modular (primary motherboard power cables  are hardwired in) or not at all modular  (a whole big mess of permanently attached cables). 

Regardless, this step of the installation  process is the same:

You’re going to put the PSU  into the case, usually at the bottom,  so that the rear vent and power plug and on/off switch  face out of the rear of the case.

Depending on your case,  you may have the option to orient the power supply face up or face down. 

See the big fan on  top of your power supply? If your case  has a vent at the bottom, you can orient that fan down to pull in cool air from below the case.

But don’t  orient the PSU downwards if your PC  will be resting on carpet. The fan needs  clear airflow. 

If your case doesn’t have that ventilation  at the bottom, simply orient the power  supply so that the fan faces up, into the case.

With the power supply nestled against the back of the case, find  the power supply screws that came with your case and  screw it in tight. 

You’ll probably need to  push against the power supply from inside the case to make sure it’s snug.

Insert hard drives and/or SSDs. A pretty standard configuration  these days is an SSD for your  Windows installation and games, and a HDD for bulk  storage of media.

In a typical case, there are  convenient hard drive trays that slide  in and out, or plastic runners that snap onto the sides  of the HDD. 

If it’s a tray, it probably mounts  onto the bottom of the hard drive. Orient your HDD  in the tray so that its ports face out of  the back of the tray. 

This will allow you to run cables  to it on the backside of the case, and  keep the interior cavity nice and clear. 

Now find the HDD  screws included with your PC case  parts and screw the HDD to the tray. 

Then simply slide  the tray back into its slot, where it should  fit with a nice click.

Runners are even easier:  just snap them to the sides of the HDD  and then slot it into an empty space in the hard drive cage.

SSD mounting methods  vary: some cases now have dedicated  2.5-inch SSD slots, while others use adapter trays  to fit the SSD into the same part of the case  as the HDDs.

If it’s a tray, the installation will be similar to a hard drive. Refer to your case’s  manual to figure out how your SSD should be  mounted.

Once you have all your drives installed, it’s time to plug ‘em in. 

Find the SATA data cables included with your motherboard,  and plug those into the small SATA  ports on the drives. 

The SATA port is notched, so  the cable can only fit in one way.

After the SATA data cable  comes the SATA power cable.

These  cables may already be attached to your power supply—there  are usually plugs attached  to a single cable, and you should have several extras  included with the power supply. 

If your  HDD and SSD are installed close together, you should only need one cable to power them both. 

Find the cable where it’s connected to the power  supply, pull it through one of the cable management  openings along the wall of the case, and  plug in both the SSD and HDD. 

Like the  SATA data cables, these are notched, and can only  plug in one way.

Final step: your SATA data  cables are probably just dangling from  the drives right now.

Thread them through one  of the cable management openings into  the main case cavity and plug them into the SATA  data ports on the motherboard.

They’re  usually located on the right side of the board, conveniently close to a cable management opening. 

Which port should you use? All of them should  work fine, but refer to your motherboard manual  for information on the SATA controller.

It will tell  you which ports belong to the motherboard  chipset (I’d recommend using those) versus a third-party  SATA controller.

Plug USB, power, fans, and case controls into the motherboard.

You’re in the home stretch!  For this step, open up your motherboard manual to the layout page, because you’ve got  a bunch of cables to plug in. 

There should  be a big wad of cables somewhere inside the case, which control its built-in fans and external  power and reset buttons and front panel USB  and audio ports. 

Most of them are small  pin connectors that plug in at the bottom-right of the  motherboard. 

They’re all labeled, so plugging  them in is as simple as reading your manual  and figuring out what goes where.

From the power supply,  you’ll also need to plug in two cables: the  large, primary ATX 20-pin molex power cable plugs  into the motherboard to provide power.  

And ATX motherboards also need a secondary 6-pin  molex power cable up near the CPU. 

To  plug in that cable, you may want to run it around the  back of your case and through one of the  cable management slots near the top.

If it’s too short,  you can thread it around the side of  the motherboard and CPU cooler.

Just don’t stretch  it across the center of the cavity, as that’s  where we’ll be placing the graphics card momentarily.

With the motherboard powered,  the last plugs you need to attach  are fans.

First, make sure your CPU cooler’s fan is  plugged into the port near the CPU socket.  

Then make sure all your case fans are plugged into  their nearest fan power pins. 

Those should  be visibly labeled on the motherboard, but again,  refer to the manual to make sure you  place them properly.

Insert the graphics card

Here we are: the final step  before your custom gaming rig is fully operational.

Find the first x16 PCIe slot on your motherboard—the  long slot closest to the CPU socket—and  remove the expansion slot cover plates  to the left of it. 

Most video cards use  a dual-slot design, which means you need to remove  the cover plate directly left of the PCIe  slot, and the one above it.

To take them off, simply  unscrew the thumbscrews and slide them  out.

Now align your graphics  card’s PCIe PCIe interface with the slot  and press it into place.

When it’s slotted in, re-insert the thumbscrews you just took out to keep  the graphics card strongly locked into place.

All that’s left is to feed it  power. Your power supply probably already  has two six pin molex power connectors plugged  in, unless it’s a fully modular design. 

If  it is fully modular, find those cables in your supplies,  plug them into the PSU, and then plug them  into the graphics card.

Depending on how much  power the card needs, you might also have  to plug in the extra 2-pin attachments that can fit snugly  against the 6-pins. 

With your graphics  card fully powered, you’re ready to game.

Powering on and troubleshooting

Don’t completely close up  your case just yet. Before you do, you  should test if your computer is working as intended. 

Plug  in the system and attach a monitor (make  sure you plug the monitor cable into the video  card) and a keyboard, the bare essentials for testing if the system will boot. 

Then make sure  the power switch in the back is in the On  position, and press the power button.

If you see the BIOS screen  pop up on the monitor, that’s even better.

If nothing shows up on the  screen at all, or the system doesn’t turn  on properly, the most likely issue is with your cables. 

Double check that everything is plugged  in where it needs to be (don’t forget the molex power  cable that runs up to the CPU socket!),  and make sure nothing is loose. 

Now start that bad boy up, install your windows software and you will soon be gaming on a custom gaming PC you built all on your own. Congrats!