Learning how to build a gaming PC can be intimidating, especially if you’ve never built or upgraded one before. Fortunately, it’s much easier than you might think.
Once you have your components, it’s simply a matter of plugging things in where they fit. We’ll walk you through the assembly process part-by-part with the interactive image above.
If you haven’t already, click on any PC part in the image above to begin. You’ll find a short video demonstration, installation instructions, and links to helpful resources. There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong order for building a gaming PC, but you can follow the order that the components are numbered in if you’re not sure.
We suggest installing your CPU, cooler, RAM, and M.2 drive onto your motherboard before moving that into your case. Installing bulkier items like your hard drives and power supply can also be easier before moving your motherboard in.
You can follow nearly any order of assembly you like as long as you don’t block yourself from installing something. If you need tools to get started, a basic screwdriver kit should get the job done. The kit we just linked comes with a small grabber tool like this that makes it easy to fetch loose screws from dark case corners.
Not sure if all the parts in your new build will work together? PCPartPicker lets you check the compatibility of all your components.
Phew, Now Let’s Install Windows
After assembling and powering on your system, installing Windows is all that’s left.
Download the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool on another system and grab a USB drive that is 8GB or larger. The tool itself is only 18MB but it will download a copy of Windows 10 (around 4GB) and walk you through the process of creating an installation media.
Here’s how that process goes:
- Launch the tool with your USB drive attached and choose “Create installation media…”
- Choose your installation preferences and your USB drive from the list that appears.
- Wait for the creation tool to download Windows 10 and configure your USB drive.
- Remove the drive when complete and boot off it from your new PC to install Windows.
- Follow the Windows 10 installation prompts. They’re self-explanatory preferences.
You can also make a USB installation media manually by downloading a standalone Windows 10 ISO, creating an active (bootable) FAT32 partition on your USB drive with Disk Management (search for diskmgmt.msc from Start), and then copying the contents of the ISO straight to that new partition using Windows Explorer. The USB drive should boot off those files. Tools like Rufus can also create a Windows installation media from an ISO without having to manually apply the active partition or copy the files yourself.
Loading off the USB drive might require you to configure boot priority settings in your BIOS or to open a boot selection menu from your BIOS splash screen. Tapping the F2 or Delete key will often open your BIOS settings, while F11 commonly opens the one-time boot selection menu, but you may have to watch for the specific keys that are displayed when you power on your PC.
What About Activating Windows?
If you upgraded from Windows 7 or Windows 8...
You might run into obstacles getting your key to work on a new machine. The Windows 10 license you received by performing the in-place upgrade is not the same as a standard retail license of Windows 10. And of course, OEM copies of Windows that came pre-installed on branded computers are bound to those systems.
If you have a standard retail copy of Windows 10...
You shouldn’t have problems getting it to run on new machines. And if the license is already tied to an online Microsoft account, you can log in to the new installation and your user profile preferences should be loaded if they were previously synced from another Windows installation.
If you need a key, there are discounted options available all over the Internet. Windows 10 Pro keys are readily available for as little as $5 or $10 on eBay and we’ve never been burned on buying one of them. The key usually arrives in less than an hour via eBay message or email.
If you don't have a Windows 10 license and can't afford one...
You can technically use the operating system forever without activating it. This comes with limitations like not being able to change your color preferences and having a watermark displayed on your desktop after a month or so. But all the other applications on your PC – games, browsers etc. – should still work like they normally would.
If you want to install an old drive with an existing copy of Windows 10...
Give it a shot. Sysprep can help prepare Windows for the transition and Windows has gotten better about detecting hardware and providing drivers on bootup. Worst case scenario, Windows won’t load or other software won’t work and you’ll have to run repair options or reinstall anyway. Make a backup of everything before you start.
Note: After Windows is installed, Ninite.com lets you download and install a bunch of your favorite programs as a single installer instead of handling them all separately yourself.
Congrats on Your New Gaming PC
Hopefully everything went together smoothly, but sometimes things don’t work as expected. If you need help troubleshooting a problem with your new build, these diagnostic flowcharts should help you get to the bottom of things.
Did we miss something? We’d love to hear your feedback on how this guide could be improved to make it even easier for new system builders to get started. If nothing else, perhaps we’ll see you again when it comes time to upgrade some of the components in your new machine.
Looking for some inspiration to complete your build? Explore some of the internet’s coolest PC gaming setups in our interactive gallery.