Here at The Tech Buyer’s Guru, it's our goal to make building a PC easier for everyone, from first-time builders to veterans. Whether you’re a serious gamer looking to build the all-conquering gaming rig, a professional needing an affordable but powerful PC to use while working from home, or a parent looking to share a great hobby with a child, there’s so much to gain by putting together your own PC.
We’ve previously published four step-by-step builder’s guides, starting with a basic PC, moving on to a high-end PC, and most recently, adding two very different mini-ITX small form factor guides, one a bookshelf PC and the other a super-charged gaming box. Now the time has come to publish the guide that perhaps the greatest number of our readers have been looking for: the step-by-step guide to building a mainstream PC. This is that guide!
First, a confession: in putting together this guide, we decided it was important to build a PC that we actually wanted ourselves, and that meant it couldn’t use a ho-hum case like so many we’ve used before. So we chose the incredibly-stylish and incredibly-affordable NZXT S340. It’s a case we’ve actually been recommending for a long time in our $1,000 Gaming/Productivity PC Builder’s Guide, and it has received rave reviews, but there’s no doubt that it's not your average PC case.
And that’s what’s so great about building your own PC – you can choose to stick with the crowd or do something a little different. With the NZXT S340, being a little different means radically changing the way data drives are handled within the case, and also adding a whole lot of visual pizazz. It’s not the easiest case to work with due to its compact dimensions and unusual interior layout, but we think the payoff is worth it – it gives you the chance to create a beautiful PC worthy of showing off, without spending any more than you would to build a plain black box. If you’re up for just a little bit of a challenge, we think you’ll find that the build we profile in this guide could well be the basis for your next affordable dream PC.
Another thing we should mention is that the video card we used in this build, the GeForce GTX 980, isn’t exactly a midrange model, but it’s one we had in for testing, and it slots into the case just like a less expensive model would. Just to make sure readers don’t get too scared off, we’ve also included details on installing the more mainstream Radeon R9 290, which comes in at around half the cost of the GTX 980 and represents an absolute bargain in the midrange video card world, as of this writing. Ironically, it first appeared in our High-End Gaming PC Builder’s Guide a year ago, when it was decidedly high-end.
Here are the parts we used for this build:
- CPU: Intel Core i5-4690K
- Motherboard: ASRock Z97 Extreme4 (thank you to ASRock and Newegg for providing this review sample)
- Video Card: EVGA GeForce GTX 980 FTW 4GB or Sapphire Radeon R9 290 Tri-X 4GB
- SSD: Samsung 850 Evo 500GB
- RAM: Corsair Vengeance 2x4GB DDR3-1866
- Optical Drive: Asus 24x External DVD Writer
- Case: NZXT S340
- CPU Cooler: Noctua NH-U12S (thank you to Noctua for providing this review sample)
- Power Supply: EVGA Supernova 550 GS
- OS: Windows 8.1
Note that we used an external optical drive, as the NZXT S340 case cannot accommodate an internal model. During our testing, we also installed a second SSD, but this isn’t included in our parts list. The total cost of this build as of our publication date is approximately $1,250 with the Radeon R9 290 or $1,500 with the GeForce GTX 980.
This guide assumes that you’re coming in with a bit of knowledge about building PCs. We’ll be taking a look at each component, but we don’t detail every single cable and screw that you’ll be working with when building a PC. If you’re new to PC building, or just want a refresher on the basic CPU and motherboard installation, along with the cables you'll be working (for example, SATA, power, and front-panel connectors), flip over to our Guide to Building a Basic PC.
The first step in building any computer is setting up your work area, and that means placing your case in an appropriate spot. Whether it’s on the floor, a desk, a table, or a workbench, you’ll want to be sure to have a towel, sheet, or other protective layer between it and the surface to prevent damage. Then you’ll want to take stock of the various case features you’ll be working with, such as removable side panels, the removable front panel, fan filters, fans, front port cables, slot covers, and of course the vast assortment of screws included in the box. Note that every screw you’ll need for your build will be included with the case, but not all manufacturers sort them into separate bags, so you might need to sift through them, matching them up with the legend shown in the instructions included with the case. These will include screws to attach the motherboard, data drives, the power supply, and expansion cards. Luckily, the NZXT S340 case we selected for this guide had each set of screws separately bagged and labeled. Nice touch, NZXT!
OK, with that out of the way, let's move on to the building process!