Home > Computing > Building a PC? Here’s how to pick every part…

Building a PC? Here’s how to pick every part — now with 100 percent more VR

pc build guide a custom component system
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Building a new PC has always been an exciting and nerve-wracking experience, but the nature of it has changed over the years. The do-it-yourself approach was once a challenge, requiring significant skill and carrying a decent risk of destroying thousands of dollars in hardware. Today, assembly is straightforward, but that obstacle has been replaced by new hurdles. Even a budget PC can reasonably last five years or more, so the components that you choose are very, very important.

Related: A grand is all you need to build an incredibly quick desktop — and here’s proof

Don’t worry. Digital Trends has your back. In this guide we’ll start by recommending a few ideal configurations. We’ll also explain the hardware we picked, component by component, so you can understand the reasoning, make your own choices, and build a rig that does exactly what you need.

The builds

If you’d like to get right to it, and assemble a system with minimal fuss, then go ahead with one of the four builds below. Rather than targeting a specific price point, we’ve designed these systems around certain use cases, from a simple everyday PC to a high-end, 4K capable gaming powerhouse.

The Everyday Machine

Cooler Master N200
CPU Intel Core i3-6100 3.7GHz Dual-Core Processor $125.00 Buy Now
Motherboard MSI B150M Pro-VD Micro ATX LGA1151 Motherboard $65.00 Buy Now
Memory Crucial 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR4-2133 Memory $40.00 Buy Now
Storage Samsung 850 EVO-Series 250GB 2.5″ Solid State Drive $85.00 Buy Now
Case Cooler Master N200 MicroATX Mid Tower Case $45.00 Buy Now
Power supply EVGA 600B 600W 80+ Bronze Certified ATX Power Supply $50.00 Buy Now
Optical drive Asus DRW-24B1ST/BLK/B/AS DVD/CD Writer $20.00 Buy Now
 Total $430.00

Not every machine built by an enthusiast needs to have enthusiast-grade components. There are many reasons to build a basic machine that is capable, yet affordable. Maybe you’re building a rig for a relative, for your home office, or you’re simply a little tight on funds.

This isn’t a pure budget build, however. It’s theoretically possible to throw together a PC for quite a bit less, but that would mean significant sacrifices. The 850 Evo hard drive, for example, is not necessary – yet having it greatly improves the user experience.

A GPU is not included in this build, so you’ll have to use Intel HD graphics. That means gaming isn’t this machine’s bag. If you do want to game, however, we recommend adding a GTX 950. It’s inexpensive, and a good match for these system’s specifications. If you need more performance than it provides you should upgrade to the “Big Bang” build, which also has a quad-core Intel processor.

The Big Bang (for your buck)

Corsair Carbide Series 200R
CPU Intel Core i5-6400 2.7GHz Quad-Core Processor $180.00 Buy Now
Motherboard Asus Z170-A ATX LGA1151 Motherboard $155.00 Buy Now
Memory Crucial 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR4-2133 Memory $40.00 Buy Now
Storage Samsung 850 EVO-Series 500GB 2.5″ Solid State Drive $155.00 Buy Now
Video Card EVGA GeForce GTX 960 4GB Superclocked Video Card $200.00 Buy Now
Case Corsair 200R ATX Mid Tower Case $60.00 Buy Now
Power supply Corsair CX 750W 80+ Bronze Certified Semi-Modular ATX Power Supply $80.00 Buy Now
Optical drive Asus DRW-24B1ST/BLK/B/AS DVD/CD Writer $20.00 Buy Now
 Total $890.00

While the Everyday Machine is a great mid-range computer that can accomplish almost anything with reasonable speed, it does make some major sacrifices. The lack of a quad-core processor means it may lag in demanding multi-threading applications, its motherboard is basic, it doesn’t have a discrete video card, and the solid state drive’s capacity is limited.

The Big Bang rectifies those issues, and does so without splurging. The result is a system that, though more expensive, is a better overall value. While it’s obviously not the fastest you can build, it can handle anything you throw at it. It can game at 1080p with ease, it tackles Photoshop without trouble, and it can accept a wide range of future upgrades.

The video card can be upgraded as desired, potentially all the way up to a GTX 980 Ti or AMD R9 Fury X. While the Gamer’s Delight build is a better foundation for a killer gaming rig, The Big Bang is adequate, and a lot less expensive. Alternatively, the processor can be upgraded to a Core i5-6600, and the video card dropped, if you want a powerful PC but don’t care about gaming.

The Gamer’s Delight

Cooler Master HAF-932
CPU Intel Core i5-6600K 3.5GHz Quad-Core Processor $250.00 Buy Now
CPU Cooler Noctua NH-U12S 55.0 CFM CPU Cooler $65.00 Buy Now
Motherboard MSI Z170A GAMING M5 ATX LGA1151 Motherboard $180.00 Buy Now
Memory Crucial 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR4-2133 Memory $70.00 Buy Now
Video Card EVGA GeForce GTX 980 Ti 6GB Superclocked ACX 2.0+ Video Card $650.00 Buy Now
Storage Samsung 850 EVO-Series 500GB 2.5″ Solid State Drive $150.00 Buy Now
Case Cooler Master HAF 932 Advanced ATX Full Tower Case $170.00 Buy Now
Power supply Corsair RM 750W 80+ Gold Certified Fully-Modular ATX Power Supply $120.00 Buy Now
 Total $1655.00

The Big Bang can game, but it’s not a dream machine. A real gaming powerhouse needs more graphics power, excellent cooling, and a motherboard specifically designed to support the best gaming hardware.

To be clear, this isn’t an absolute maximum performance build. There are faster components – you could substitute the i5-6600K for an i7-6700K, for example. That would net a hair-thin performance gain, however, while ramping up the price.

Speaking of the processor, we decided to cool it with a high-end Noctua air cooler. Pre-built liquid coolers are popular, but don’t often outperform a high-end air cooled heatsink. We also find mounting a liquid cooler troublesome because of the beefy radiator, and the tubing that connects it to the water block. The Noctua should be sufficient for modest overclocking. If you’d like, you can go all-out and buy a much larger heatsink, like the Noctua NH-D15. We didn’t go that route, however, because its large size may conflict with nearby components.

The GTX 980 Ti in this system can handle anything at 1440p, and a great many games at 4K. If you’d like to play anything at 4K, then you’ll need to throw in another GTX 980 Ti. The MSI motherboard can handle that with ease. We don’t usually recommend SLI because it can fall victim to game support and driver woes, but if you want to play at 4K, you don’t have a choice. No single GPU can handle the toughest titles in UltraHD.

The Virtual Boy

corsairair540
CPU Intel Core i5-6400 2.7GHz Quad-Core Processor $180.00 Buy Now
Motherboard MSI Z170A GAMING M5 ATX LGA1151 Motherboard $180.00 Buy Now
Memory Crucial 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR4-2133 Memory $70.00 Buy Now
Video Card EVGA GeForce GTX 980 Ti 6GB VR Edition $700.00 Buy Now
Storage Samsung 850 EVO-Series 500GB 2.5″ Solid State Drive $150.00 Buy Now
Case Corsair Air 540 ATX Mid Tower Case $125.00 Buy Now
Power Supply Corsair RM 750W 80+ Gold Certified Fully-Modular ATX Power Supply $120.00 Buy Now
 Total $1,525.00

While Virtual Reality is usually associated with gaming, the Gamer’s Delight isn’t necessarily the best build for a capable VR platform. The difference has less to do with hardware, and more to do with connectivity.

The first difference that makes its way to the Virtual Boy is a step back to the Core i5-6400. This isn’t a big deal, and was made mainly to reel the price back to near the $1,500 mark. The Core i5-6400 fulfills the recommended CPU requirement for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive at a very low price.

We also changed the video card, but not to a more or less powerful model. Instead, we went with EVGA’s rather unique GTX 980 Ti VR Edition. What sets this model apart is its internal HDMI connector and its front-facing connectivity, which is designed to slot into an enclosure’s 5.25-inch external drive bay. This makes it possible to connect a VR headset to the front — rather than the rear — of a PC, which is certainly convenient and should cut down on cord clutter.

The last change we made is a switch from the large Cooler Master HAF tower to a small, boxy Corsair Air 540. While the Air 540 can still accommodate an ATX motherboard, its shape makes it easier to place in a room away from a desk, as you might if you’re building a dedicated VR computer.

At $1,500, the Virtual Boy is certainly expensive. If you’d like, you could save a lot of money by downgrading the GTX 980 Ti to a GTX 970 or an AMD Radeon R9 390. Sadly, however, there’s no VR Edition of either card.

The Workstation

Corsair 900D ATX Full Tower Case
CPU Intel Core i7-5960X 3.0GHz 8-Core Processor $1000.00 Buy Now
CPU Cooler Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO 82.9 CFM Sleeve Bearing CPU Cooler $30.00 Buy Now
Motherboard Asus X99-DELUXE/U3.1 ATX LGA2011-3 Motherboard $400.00 Buy Now
Memory Crucial 32GB (4 x 8GB) DDR4-2133 Memory $150.00 Buy Now
Storage Samsung 950 PRO 512GB M.2-2280 Solid State Drive $325.00 Buy Now
Storage Western Digital BLACK SERIES 4TB 3.5″ 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive $200.00 Buy Now
Case Corsair 900D ATX Full Tower Case $350.00 Buy Now
Power supply SeaSonic Platinum 1000W 80+ Platinum Certified Fully-Modular ATX Power Supply $210.00 Buy Now
Optical drive LG WH16NS40 Blu-Ray/DVD/CD Writer $55.00 Buy Now
 Total $2720.00

Many enthusiasts build rigs around gaming, but there are other reasons to spend thousands on an extremely powerful system. For some, a fast processor can save both time and money. Professional video editors are a great example.

The workstation is built to meet the demands of the most demanding users. It has the fastest consumer processor available, a versatile motherboard with support for all the latest standards, gobs of RAM, and a cutting-edge solid state drive.

We decided to go with the 5960X for this build. It’s the most powerful consumer processor available from Intel, and the best choice for most workstation users. However, the motherboard can support Xeon processors on the LGA 2011 socket, including the E5-2697, a 12-core behemoth. Most buyers will have trouble justifying it, given its retail price of $2,650 is as much as our entire recommend Workstation build. But it is an option.

One component is missing – the video card. We decided not to include it because your needs can vary tremendously in that area. If you don’t use software optimized for GPU compute, you can use whatever you’d like. And if you do, it’s likely optimized for, or only supports, certain hardware. Take a look at the recommended hardware for the software you use before deciding on an expensive workstation video card.

You will need something, though, because this particular Intel processor does not have an IGP and so can’t put out video on its own — even if that something is a $50 video card. AMD’s Radeon 6450 is a good choice if you work at 1600p or below (it doesn’t support higher resolutions). If you need 4K support, buy a more capable card like the AMD Radeon R7 250X or Nvidia GT 750 Ti.

1 of 3