Take the 2-minute tour ×
Super User is a question and answer site for computer enthusiasts and power users. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I'm interested in getting a new desktop computer soon, and I'm wondering whether I should build it or buy it. I'm very good with software, but I don't have much experience with hardware (recently, I successfully tore apart my Toshiba laptop to replace the fan and add new thermal grease, so I at least do have some experience).

I'm worried that if I build it myself, I'll spend ~$600 on parts and get a non-working computer. I'd rather not waste that much money if it is somewhat likely that it may not work. How safe is it to build it myself?

share|improve this question

14 Answers 14

up vote 16 down vote accepted

As long as you take proper ESD precautions and research your parts compatability properly it's safer than it's ever been.

Motherboard choice will be dependent on CPU choice.

RAM is easy - DDR3 is pretty much the only standard in use ATM (mid 2012), DDR2 is considered legacy and DDR4 isn't ready yet - higher numbers are compatible with lower requirements. High end systems (Sandy Bridge-E at this point in time) use a Quad Channel RAM configuration which means you need multiples of 4 sticks of Matched RAM. Mid to High end (most of what an enthusiast would WANT to build) uses DUAL Channel, i.e. multiples of 2 sticks of matched RAM. And low end setups still use single channel, so you you can mix and match brands and capacities across the board.

Pretty much all Graphics cards are PCI express now however just make sure you have adequate PSU power. Here spending more really does make a difference. A name brand 400W such as Corsair is miles better than a no-name brand "800W" (hint the 800W isn't).

Beyond that just be patient, research component compatibility (if in doubt ask) and you should be fine.

share|improve this answer
5  
clarification: ESD = static electricity. even if you don't feel a 'spark' you can generate huge amounts of it that will kill CPU's. you can buy special static discharge wristbands so you don't fry components –  geocoin Jul 16 '09 at 14:31
1  
The compatibility research was the bit that made my head spin last time I considered building my own machine - at that point, I said "stuff it" and asked the shop to do it for me to my specifications. –  Margaret Jul 16 '09 at 14:45
    
yeah it does take a bit of forcing your way through it... especially as there is huge 'Alphabet soup' among the specs. best thing to do is usually have an idea of what you want e.g. CPU, MOBO features and graphics, then run the selection by a tech forum (such as SU???). So for instance i might know that i want an intel quad core - I already know i7 is too expensive, so know that i want a P45 chipset (based on research, so then just need suggestions for RAM and HDD. bit-tech.net is doing monthly What to buy features which are really good –  geocoin Jul 16 '09 at 14:56
    
ESD preventive measures are overkill in countries/regions where humidity tends to be really high (over 80%). For basic protection, try not to work over a carpet, and touch doorknobs from time to time, that should do. –  Manuel Ferreria Jul 16 '09 at 15:47
1  
if humidity is over 80% I'd be more worried about dripping sweat onto the components ;) –  geocoin Jul 16 '09 at 15:59

It depends on your knowlenge and your lego experience ;-)

Some things you need to know:

  • Don't try, only do what are you sure are doing well, i.e., plug the things you know what are plugging.
  • Unplug the power cable before doing any thing
  • Before touching any electronic piece, touch the power supply to discharge the static electricity.
  • Don't put a coffe drink near the box ;-)
share|improve this answer
1  
Plenty of Lego experience... (although a long time ago) –  Zifre Jul 16 '09 at 14:40
    
if you unplug the power cable, touching the power supply will have almost no effect. when the PSU is plugged in but off, it is still grounded –  geocoin Jul 16 '09 at 15:27
    
The nice thing is that it's almost impossible to plug the wrong thing into the wrong spot due to the crazy connectors on most cables –  Travis Jul 16 '09 at 15:40
1  
It depends of the strong one can be ;-) –  FerranB Jul 16 '09 at 16:21
2  
One bullet point more: make sure you have lots of desktop space and are comfortable. The assembled computer can sit under your desk, but you'll bound to do lousy job assembling it there. –  Tadeusz A. Kadłubowski Jul 20 '09 at 12:13

I would say it sounds like you have enough experience (and confidence) to give it a go.

As long as you take proper precautions handling the components, and do enough research to make sure everything's compatible, it's pretty safe.

share|improve this answer

As FerranB suggested, it's relatively safe depending on your knowedge/experience. I built my first machine about 2 years ago, and would have been in big trouble had I not had help from a friend with a great deal of experience. He identified a broken motherboard for me before I had powered-up.

To be on the safe side, read the question "Resources for building computers." Find a good forum, and get help along the way.

share|improve this answer

Building a computer isn't hard, but it can be infuriating sometimes. No matter how careful you are about ESD, you'll often get components that are broken on arrival.

I use an iMac, which I bought because I was sick of building my own systems for this reason.

share|improve this answer
    
I've order many components and assembled many PCs and never had the problem you mentioned –  Drake Jul 16 '09 at 14:28
    
For personal use? Who do you go with, maybe I'm using the wrong suppliers –  Kevin Laity Jul 16 '09 at 14:40

How much spare time do you have, and how much is it worth to you?

Building a computer can be a lot of fun, but it's expensive in terms of time compared with the money you can save by finding the exact parts you want at the best price.

I used to build my own stuff quite a bit, but now being married with kids I'll take "hassle free" any day of the week.

share|improve this answer
8  
I'd say, its not just the money saved. Its the fun of having done it too. Every regular computer geek should build at least one of their own computers. –  nik Jul 16 '09 at 14:31
3  
And, once you get one built successfully, its kinda addictive ;-) –  nik Jul 16 '09 at 14:31
1  
like you Jon i have next to no spare time... I just can't resist the urge to build systems! Oooh Shiny! –  geocoin Jul 16 '09 at 14:36
    
I got lucky. I built a couple of my own systems, then a bunch of my buddies asked me to build theirs since I was the "resident geek" and could build it for a fraction of the purchase cost. I think I got most of it out of my system by the time the kids came. 8^D –  Dillie-O Jul 16 '09 at 15:28
    
@nik, I wholeheartedly agree. I built my own machine from scratch in January, and since then, two more for friends. (today i am building my third). Once you know the insides, you do it much quicker than the first times. –  Manuel Ferreria Jul 16 '09 at 15:48

if you've done some replacements on your existing machine without any problems you're probably pretty confident in yourself and would do fine. if you have some doubts i suggest using our faithful friend, google :) and doing some research first. notes, how-to's etc to get you going & educate you. you'll either be really confident or become aware that maybe it's not the thing for you. Good Luck!

share|improve this answer

The only thing you are likely to damage is the CPU if you power it up before putting on the thermal paste and fan.
A bigger problem building just one machine is that if it doesn't power up you don't know which bit is faulty unless you have other machines to swap MB/CPU/PSU with

share|improve this answer

I like the suggestions in other answers.
Have one small idea to add.

Look for friends who have built one for themselves.
Friendly experienced people would be a great advantage to have around.
And, if they have built their machines, they would probably like discuss details too.

share|improve this answer

One easy way to get experience is taking apart an older computer, you already started with a laptop, but a computer should be much easier. Just take it apart completely and then try to get everything back in the right spot (perhaps consider taking notes). Most of the hardware is very robust, so you don't have to worry breaking things by just holding them.

If it still works you already set the first step.

I think that current motherboards are protected again short-circuiting, so it will probably just stop if something is plugged in the wrong way. Plus if you start with the most basic hardware first: CPU, Power Supply and RAM you can at least check if it boots. From there you can start adding other hardware, but really there shouldn't be too much to it ;-)

It does help if you have an experienced person to show you how to do it or at least guide your way!

share|improve this answer

It's not very dangerous as such. Get an anti-static strap and work grounded and you should have no real reason to break anything. There is little if any money to be saved by doing this, however. The benefits come from being able to hand-pick components that might be more up-market than a mass market vendor would use by choice.

The last system I properly built from scratch as my main PC was quite expensive - it had SCSI disks and a fairly upmarket motherboard. More recently (when I moved to the UK in 2004) I recycled some components into a pair of small-footprint machines with micro-ATX motherboards. I put some effort into these to keep the interior tidy - cable ties and sticky-backed plastic hooks, quiet molex fans and some other niceties. They did me quite nicely for about 18 months after I got here.

Since then I have just bought secondhand PCs - mainly two socket Xeon or Opteron workstations used for data warehouse development (new ones are expensive but secondhand ones are much cheaper). While I didn't assemble these from scratch I did do memory and CPU upgrades (single-dual core CPUs and suchlike) and fitted third party RAID controllers and arrays of SCSI disks.

Given how cheap a secondhand PC is (you can get ex-lease machines for less than £100 off ebay) there's no real point in building a system unless you have some specific requirements. It can be worth doing for the experience if you haven't done it before but don't expect to save much if any money doing it.

share|improve this answer

Building your own PC is pretty safe... Most component have only one possible connection to the mother board, so as to make this task easier. I advise you to read about every piece of hardware you're about to connect, just to make sure. Another good option is to have someone who knows this stuff guide you through it.

Of course, connect the power supply in the wrong way and you'll start World War 5! =;-)

"Ah. This is obviously some strange usage of the word "safe" that I hadn't previously been aware of." - Arthur Dent

share|improve this answer
1  
+1 for hitchikers comment :) –  geocoin Jul 16 '09 at 14:58

The biggest problem in building a new system is figuring out what parts to buy. Actual assembly isn't that big of a deal, as long as you are smart about static precautions (touch the PSU, keep everything bagged until the last second, etc, etc). The only physically 'difficult' bit is the CPU heat sink, and that's not so much hard as it is scary (I have to screw this big monstrosity to that little CPU board????).

For my most recent system, I started with the Ars System Guide (the Budget Box) and modified from there. It gives you a good, consistent set of parts to think about, and then you can decide which parts you actually want to use (Do I want more or less memory? CPU? Cores? Etc).

Their suggestions won't exactly meet your needs, but as I said, they are a good starting point.

share|improve this answer
    
+1 most decent tech sites do a budget based system guide every month or quarter or so. toms, hardocp, anandtech, extreme tech etc. i usually trawl them all then make my own up! –  geocoin Jul 16 '09 at 15:01
    
Yea, pretty much any of them will do as a basis. The important thing is to have a consistent set of things to start with, then tweak till it meets your needs. Otherwise you just have to wade through every possible part at your vendor of choice, and that just takes too long. –  Michael Kohne Jul 16 '09 at 15:39

Some basic non-technical tips:

  • Make sure your room-mate, significant other, children are not at home when you are doing your assembly (and take your phone off the hook).

You are going to be with your hands on small, fragile, expensive parts. You simply can't be interrupted and count on not dropping something, or putting a charge on your body to 'zap' your components with. I'm serious. Murphy's Law states that the time your wife will scream "aaaghh, cockroach!... HEEELLLP" will be the time that you are attaching a CPU to your motherboard with heat grease everywhere.

  • Use the brightest room, with the largest work surface.

You'll need this space to arrange your tools, screws, stand-offs, etc. and clearly see the location of each pin on the header blocks. Plus, have you ever tried to put a jumper on in a dim room? Don't even try it.

  • Read the manual(s)

Enough said.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.