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 are 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 most 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 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.
- 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 as 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 with either a Serial ATA interface. Some performance users may consider using solid state drive either for primary storage or for caching.
- DVD or Blu-ray Drive - Optical drives are the component used to install most of the software on a computer system. Without one, it will be hard to even get an operating system installed. Most drives these days are DVD burners that can also playback and record CDs as well. Blu-ray is an option for those wanting to watch HD movies. More and more systems are not shipping with optical drives but if you are building a PC from scratch, you will still need one.
- 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.
- Network Card (Optional) - Ethernet has become so common a media for networking computers that this should be a standard feature on all motherboards. Some motherboards even feature wireless network adapters built in. A network card will only really be required if you want to networking wirelessly and it isn't built onto the motherboard.
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 8 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.