How Do I Build a Fast Desktop Computer?

David Bishop

While laptops and tablets have become a larger part of the computing market, a fast desktop computer is still the workhorse for processor-intensive tasks such as video encoding and gaming. Many computer enthusiasts assemble their own desktop computers from parts ordered online or purchased from a local computer hardware store. Prospective builders should begin by estimating a budget for their new PC and determining if they have any existing parts that can be reused in a new build. The builder should then select a central processing unit (CPU) and motherboard to match the computing needs of the end user. Finally, the builder should select storage, a graphics processing unit (GPU) and the amount of random access memory (RAM) for the system.

A fast desktop computer might incorporate one or more hard drive.
A fast desktop computer might incorporate one or more hard drive.

The case and power supply are basic elements of any desktop computer. In most instances, a case can be reused between upgrade cycles, though some builders may want to purchase a new case to better support features such as liquid cooling. The power supply can also be reused, but one should make sure it can supply enough power for the GPUs on the market at the time. Buying a high-quality, reliable power supply can ensure a steady level of current to the CPU and help avoid system errors.

A high quality power supply must be able to support the latest GPUs.
A high quality power supply must be able to support the latest GPUs.

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Once a builder has figured out which parts he needs to buy for the new desktop, he can then create a budget for his new system. Most computer components are subject to the law of diminishing returns, so it is important to select parts that will provide the most power for the money. For a fast desktop computer, a builder should concentrate on a quick CPU and GPU, and enough RAM to support the processor.

A desktop computer, keyboard, and mouse with a hidden tower.
A desktop computer, keyboard, and mouse with a hidden tower.

The CPU is the heart of any computer, and the rest of the hardware should be built around it. If the computer is going to be used for video editing and encoding, the builder will want to select the most powerful CPU his budget will allow. Gaming systems may only require a mid-range processor. Next, the builder should find a motherboard that is compatible with his CPU and supports the fastest and most recent interface standards. The motherboard should also fit easily inside the PC case.

A SSD, which can help a computer boot faster.
A SSD, which can help a computer boot faster.

The CPU will need some sort of cooling system to function properly. Most CPUs come packaged with a stock cooler consisting of a heat sink and fan. To get the most out of a fast desktop computer, some users may want to overclock the CPU to get faster processing speeds. This may require the use of a more efficient fan assembly or a liquid cooling unit. One should use caution when installing liquid cooling, because it can leak and damage other components.

All parts must be placed in the appropriate order for a computer to function.
All parts must be placed in the appropriate order for a computer to function.

Some desktop systems will use a combination of solid-state drives (SSD) and hard drives for data storage. Generally, the operating system will be installed on the SSD and allow for faster booting and load times, while the hard drive will be used for storing larger files. It’s also a good idea to invest in an external hard drive to back up or transfer important data.

There are many GPU or video card options for a fast desktop computer. The builder may wish to purchase a high-end card that will last for several years or buy a cheaper card and replace it more often. In some cases, he may wish to have two or three cards installed in the system to support multiple monitors or for GPU-intensive tasks. The GPU will be the most important component for gaming enthusiasts. One should always make sure the power supply is providing enough wattage for this component.

RAM should be matched to the motherboard and CPU. Different CPU types will usually have different optimal amounts of RAM. While more RAM is always better, very few specialized applications will need the maximum amount of RAM allowed on the motherboard or even half that amount. RAM prices tend to be volatile, so it’s usually a good idea to look for deals or wait for price drops when buying memory.

A central processing unit.
A central processing unit.

Discussion Comments

Fa5t3r

@KoiwiGal - If you are thinking about building a roughly average computer, I would make sure that it is actually going to be cheaper to build rather than just buy. There are a lot of very good sales in computers and often, if you don't mind not getting the very latest and greatest, you can end up with something awesome for a relatively low price.

Some people just like to design their own machine and I respect that, but it's not always going to be a bargain going that way.

KoiwiGal

@bythewell - I actually just built my own computer and I tried to make it an all arounder rather than just focusing on one aspect. I love playing games, so that was definitely a priority, but I also dabble a little bit in graphic design and in video processing, so that was also important.

I guess I'm not getting into professional levels with anything, so I didn't really have to compromise. I did get a dedicated graphic card, but I didn't get the most expensive one. I did make sure I had quad-cores but that's all. I couldn't afford anything better, but you know, it's actually a fantastic little computer and it does work really fast. Definitely fast enough for my needs.

bythewell

Remember that it all depends on what you want to do with the computer. If you are really just after a fast computer to play games, then it's useless to pump a whole lot of money into getting multiple cores. Most games don't really use multiple cores at the moment.

At the same time, there's not much point in buying the best video card money can buy (which would be extremely expensive) if you are only going to be using your computer for graphic design.

You should do a lot of research on what you need in particular, rather than trying to get the best of everything.

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