What Parts Do You Need to Build Your Own Desktop PC?

List of Components That Make up a Desktop PC

Various computer components
Mark Kyrnin

Before embarking on building your first computer system, it is important to make sure that you have obtained all of the necessary components to make a functional home desktop computer. Below is a list of the key components that will be necessary for building a complete system. Some items are not mentioned on the list such as internal cables as they are generally included with other components such as the motherboard or drives. Similarly, peripherals such as a mouse, keyboard, and monitor are also not listed. It is best to check and make sure you also have them as well.

  • Case: This is what holds the whole system together. All the other parts of the computer will reside within it. The choice of a case size may impact what other components will be able to fit inside of it. This is also the visible portion of the system, so selection should be based on functionality and aesthetics.
  • Power Supply: Some computer cases will come with a power supply pre-installed inside them but many do not. As a result, it is necessary to get a power supply that works with your components and has sufficient power. Newer features such as modular cabling and efficiency ratings are also something to consider.
  • Motherboard: The motherboard is the backbone of the system. It determines the type of components that can be used with the system and the number of internal peripherals the system can support. It will directly impact the processor used and total amount of memory that can be supported.
  • Processor: The brain of the computer system. This will be the primary factor in how fast the system is. Ironically, performance has gotten so good that many people don't need a very expensive processor for what they use their computer for.
  • Heatsink: If the processor was purchased via the retail packaging, it will include the manufacturer heatsink. But for those who purchased an OEM or specialized processor, it will also be necessary to have a CPU cooler. Without it, your CPU will quickly burn itself out. Make sure that any heatsink you use is designed for the socket, is properly rated for the thermal output of the processor and will fit inside of your case. It is also possible to use a liquid cooling system in place of a fan and heatsink.
  • Memory: Without memory, the computer will not be able to function. The CPU needs it to store the code to tell it how to properly process data. You will need to know the type that your motherboard uses and also determine how much you need it directly impacts performance.
  • Hard Drive: The primary method of storage in all desktop computer system is a hard drive. Typically it will be a 3.5" hard drive. Some performance users may consider using solid state drive either for primary storage or for caching.
  • DVD or Blu-ray Drive (Optional): Optical drives were once a required component for a desktop PC but they are not the requirement they once were. You can even get Windows on a USB drive for installation. You really only need one if you plan on using the system to playback CD, DVD or Blu-ray discs.
  • Video Card (Optional): Pretty much every desktop processor now features an integrated graphics processor. This makes video cards more specialized than they were in the past. You will use one of these if you are planning on playing 3D games or will be accelerating non-3D programs like Photoshop or video encoding.
  • Sound Card (Optional): Most motherboards feature some form of built-in sound controller on them. As a result, sound cards are not required unless you want higher fidelity computer audio or less reliance upon the CPU to assist with the computer audio.

While this is a focus on the hardware of the desktop PC system, it is important to also remember that the computer needs to have an operating system. In terms of the Microsoft software, it is generally possible to purchase an OEM or System Builder version of the Windows operating system at a significantly reduced cost if it is purchased at the same time as hardware components such as the CPU, motherboard, and memory. Of course, there are also free options such as Linux as well.