Welcome back for the final segment in our build your own gaming PC series: software, troubleshooting, and helpful links. We hope you’ve found the series helpful so far, as we’ve walked you through setting up a budget, picking out parts, and even building the machine itself. In this last segment, we’ll discuss getting your OS and drivers installed, offer some basic troubleshooting tips, and provide a few helpful links for your perusal.
Installing the OS
Now that your machine has been assembled and the cables are managed to your heart’s content, it’s time to get an operating system installed. As noted in prior posts the vast majority of users will be installing Windows 10, so we’ll be walking you through this process. For this step, you’ll need your Windows 10 installation media (USB or DVD), your product key, and possibly an optical drive. The optical drive is only necessary if you have DVD installation media, and can either be one mounted in a 5.25″ bay in your system or a USB powered external drive.
Before we begin
With no operating system installed, and no media inserted in the machine, you may think there is not much you can do. This isn’t the case, however, as your motherboard has some built-in software which allows you to view and control some aspects of how your hardware operates. Simply turning on your machine with no OS and no media (USBs or DVDs) should bring your system into its BIOS. From here you can ensure that the motherboard sees each piece of installed hardware, potentially check fan speeds and operating temperatures, check whether your system is in UEFI or Legacy (preferably UEFI) mode, and manage your overclocking settings if desired.
If you decide to examine these settings, just make sure that your system sees all of the installed hardware (like RAM, disc drives, etc.) and make sure the system is set to UEFI. After you’re done exploring turn off your system, and we’ll begin the Windows 10 installation.
- Insert installation media into machine (USB or DVD).
- Power machine on.
- After boot sequence initializes, you should see the Windows 10 logo and some spinning white dots, which is the sign that the Windows 10 installer is starting up. If you see this prompt “Press any key to boot from CD or DVD,” press any button on your keyboard, which will start the installer.
- Choose your language and other preferences.
- On the next screen, click Install Now.
- Next, you’ll be prompted to enter your product key (which is on a non-transferable sticker found in the box/case that your media came in). It is a string of 25 characters in five groups of five characters (i.e., XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX-XXXXX). Don’t worry about the dashes, Windows will take care of that.
- You will then be prompted to accept the licensing terms. Check the box and hit next.
- The next screen will ask where you want to install Windows. If you only have one drive, you should see something similar to the screen below. If you have two or more drives, you’ll have Drive 0, Drive 1, etc. listed. Pick whichever you wish to install the OS on, and click next. This will partition that drive and begin the installation. Remember, if you have an SSD and a HDD, you’ll want to install to the SSD as you’ll benefit from the access and boot speeds of the SSD.
- If prompted, allow Windows to create additional partitions as needed.
- Then select the partition marked ‘primary’ and click next.
- Wait. Let Windows reboot your system. Then wait some more.
- Go through Windows’ setup screens. Here, you’ll be given the option to either “Customize” or “Use Express Settings.” Choosing express settings selects the default options for everything, but choosing customize will allow you to access some privacy-related settings that unless chosen here are set to send Microsoft a fair bit of information about how you use your machine. This is ultimately your decision.
- You’ll also be prompted to either choose a User Name or sign in to your Windows/Microsoft account. Then you’ll be up and running.
Once Windows is up and running, the next step is getting your system drivers installed. Windows has some of these setups by default, but they may not be optimized for your system or could be out of date. Since these are the important pieces of software that tell your system how to best interact with each piece of hardware, having obsolete or out of date drivers will negatively impact performance.
There are several different ways of getting your drivers installed and updated. Microsoft’s preferred method is to just let them handle everything through Windows Updates. This is probably the easiest method, but you don’t get the benefit of choosing which version of drivers to install and some of those provided on the Windows Update service might not be the most recent.
The second method is to go through each manufacturer directly, either by using the provided DVDs that came with each piece of hardware or by logging on to each website and downloading the latest drivers. The big advantage of this is that you will ensure that you have the most recent drivers available for your hardware, as well as having the ability to install optional software extras that come bundled with the drivers. While some of the software can be useful, the manufacturers are also paid money by the third party to add extra software to these bundles such as trial versions of anti-virus software, search bars, and other similar stuff.
This kind of extraneous software is generally referred to as bloatware, which is designed to give these software developers a foothold on your system. The idea is that if you have a free trial of something, you’ll generally find it easier to pay them to unlock the full version rather than take the time and effort to remove the software and replace it with something else. We recommend caution with this, as some of them may have unintended consequences on your system performance.
A third method of getting the most recent drivers available is to use a third party driver manager to do the legwork of pulling the drivers from the various manufacturer sites. In my experience with diagnosing and repairing systems, I have found that the majority of the time these “free” pieces of software tend to bundle in malware or spyware. As a general rule of thumb, I did not use any of these driver installers that required being installed onto your system.
The only one of these that I ended up trusting was a piece of freeware (actually free software supported via donation) called Snappy Driver Installer. The fact that it was legitimate freeware, portable (i.e., didn’t need to be installed on a given system), adware, spyware, and malware free, and didn’t have any ‘premium’ features that needed to be unlocked were key selling points for me. It’s not a necessary piece of software, but it is nice to have around on a flash drive.
Whichever method you choose, we heartily recommend making sure all of your drivers are installed and updated, and your system rebooted, before installing any additional software or games.
Once your drivers and OS are up-to-date, you’re ready to start installing other software: browsers, productivity software, anti-virus, and most importantly your games.
Do yourself a favor and start with your anti-virus software. There are way too many virus and malware threats out there to go unprotected. While this post won’t delve into reviewing and rating antivirus software, we will remind you of the phrase, “You get what you pay for.” That is, typically speaking paid antivirus software is better than free, and free software is better than nothing. What about Windows Defender? In our experience the only thing Defender is good at is defending Windows itself. Not your email, and not your browsers. Frankly, it’s near the bare minimum that Microsoft has to do to say, “Look, we’re doing something to protect you from problems!” Also, there is a nice piece of free software, Malwarebytes Anti–Malware Free, which can clean up a fair chunk of malware if it gets into your machine.
Typically for most people after their antivirus is installed they grab a new browser or two. As I heard frequently in the tech bay, “Internet Explorer (or Edge) is the best browser… to download other browsers.” Most people prefer Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or even Safari. Grab your favorite from the links at the end of the article.
Office Suites – Microsoft And Alternatives
For productivity, the vast majority of people use some version Microsoft Office. In the links section, we’ve provided a link for the official download site for Office. If you don’t already own a copy, you’ll need to buy a license or a subscription. The short version of difference is that the perpetual license (like Home & Student 2016) gets you one installable copy of that specific version, whereas with the subscription model (Office 365) you pay less up front, get multiple installable copies of the latest version, but pay an annual subscription fee. If you only plan on installing it on one computer, go with the perpetual license, if you need multiple copies then try the subscription.
However, if you’re either strapped for cash, want to save it for games, or just don’t want to give Microsoft more of your money there are some alternative productivity suites out there, like Apache OpenOffice or LibreOffice. See the links below. They may not have all of the same features as Microsoft Office, but they’re similar in a lot of ways and get the job done.
Finally, what we’ve all been waiting for: installing your games. If you need instructions on how to install your games, I’m sorry. Be glad you’re not an old timer who had to deal with installing everything from CDs or even floppy disks, because that was not fun. Especially if you lost one somewhere along the way. So get online, grab Steam, UPlay, Origin, GoG, or whatever you use to manage your library and get cracking. Those games aren’t going to play themselves. For your convenience though, we’ve provided the links to some common sites at the end of the page.
Eventually, your machine is likely to run into a problem. Whether it’s a blue screen error, a significant slowdown, hardware failure, or a game not running up to snuff, something will go wrong. When this occurs, it’s helpful to remember not to panic, this problem can be solved.
When I used to work in technical support and repair, my customers and non-computer geek friends always asked how I knew how to fix so many issues. Frankly, there isn’t any big secret other than experience and following the same steps over and over until the issue is resolved.
- Verify the problem. Can you replicate the problem, or is it a one -time occurrence? If it can be replicated, move on to step two. If it cannot, you’re done because there doesn’t seem to be a larger issue.
- Figure out the root cause of the problem. This entails methodical trial-and-error testing to figure out when the error is occurring. Is it only when a specific program or programs are open? Is it only when the computer’s been on for a certain amount of time? Did anything change with the machine before the problem started (like updates, new software or hardware, or even a power outage)? Any error messages you receive during this process should be fairly useful, take a screen shot or write down any codes.
- Research the issue. Simply put, Google is your friend. If you’re having a specific computer issue, other people have also had the same issue. Remember to be as specific as possible in order to get more relevant results. Searching for “black screen on startup Assassins Creed GTX 1060” will get you better results than searching for “screen goes black when starting game.”
- Try and correct the issue. Based on the research you found, try different suggestions to see if they resolve the issue. Maybe a driver needs to be updated, or even rolled back to a more stable version. Maybe that new sound card you installed is conflicting with other hardware. Try the different suggestions one at a time until the issue resolves.
- Verify the solution. Make sure that whatever you did to resolve the problem does so consistently. The last thing you want is to have the problem keep popping up over and over again. This can happen a lot if you have to switch drivers, because Microsoft thinks they know what’s best for your machine.
- When in doubt, get outside help. Call tech support from the manufacturer of whatever component is acting up. Visit a local repair shop. Ask questions in online forums. There are people out there who are ready and able to help you resolve this issue.
Helpful external links
This final section is a list of links to external websites you may find helpful. We are not affiliated with these companies or websites in any way, and this is by no means an exhaustive list. Simply put, they’re sites that are trustworthy and at least mildly helpful.
Comparison and review sites
- Keyboard Queen – https://keyboardqueen.com – niche keyboard and accessory review site
- Monitor Fanatic – https://monitorfanatic.com/ – Review site for all things monitor related, with some handy troubleshooting guides too
- PC Gaming Corner – https://pcgamingcorner.com/ – Accessory and Component review site
- AMD – https://www.amd.com/en – Processors and graphics chips
- Antec – https://www.antec.com/ – Computer cases predominantly
- ASRock – https://www.asrock.com/index.us.asp – Motherboards
- ASUS – https://www.asus.com/us/ – Motherboards, graphics cards, monitors, and more
- Cooler Master - https://www.coolermaster.com/ – Cases, air and liquid cooling, power supplies
- Corsair – https://www.corsair.com/ca/en/ – Cases, memory, power supplies, gaming gear
- Crucial – https://www.crucial.com/ – Memory and SSDs
- EVGA – https://www.evga.com/ – Motherboards, nVidia GPUs, power supplies, cases, cooling
- GeIL – https://www.geil.com.tw/ – Memory, and memory cooling
- Gigabyte – https://www.gigabyte.com/us/ – Motherboards, GPUs, cases, gaming gear
- G.Skill – https://www.gskill.com/en/ – Memory, SSDs, gaming supplies
- Intel – https://www.intel.com/ – Processors, motherboards, SSDs
- InWin – https://www.in-win.com/ – Cases, power supplies, fans
- Lian Li – https://www.lian-li.com/ – Cases
- MSI – https://us.msi.com/ – Motherboards, GPUs, monitors, gaming gear
- NZXT – https://www.nzxt.com/ – Cases, cooling
- Samsung – https://www.samsung.com/us/ – SSDs, monitors
- Seagate – https://www.seagate.com/ – Hard drives
- Thermaltake – https://www.thermaltakeusa.com/ – Cases, power supplies, cooling, gaming gear
- Toshiba – https://storage.toshiba.com/consumer-hdd – Hard drives and SSDs
- Western Digital – https://www.wdc.com/ – Hard drives and SSDs
- Zotac – https://www.zotac.com/us/ – nVidia GPUs, motherboards
- Amazon – https://www.amazon.com/computer-components – It’s Amazon.
- Fry’s – https://www.frys.com/ – Online and brick-and-mortar retailer (mostly CA, TX)
- Microcenter – https://www.microcenter.com/ – Online and brick-and-mortar retailer (mostly East coast and Midwest)
- NewEgg – https://www.newegg.com/ – Online retailer
- TigerDirect – https://www.tigerdirect.com/ – Online retailer
Helpful YouTube channels
- ASUS North America – https://www.youtube.com/user/asusrog
- Gigabyte – https://www.youtube.com/user/GIGABYTEChannel
- MSI How To – https://www.youtube.com/user/msihowtochannel
- NewEgg – https://www.youtube.com/user/newegg
Useful software sites
- Chrome – https://www.google.com/chrome/ – Google Chrome browser
- Firefox – https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/ – Mozilla Firefox browser
- GOG – https://www.gog.com/ – Good Old Games platform
- Humble Bundle – https://www.humblebundle.com/ – Humble Bundle store and bundles
- LibreOffice – https://www.libreoffice.org/ – Libre’s open source office alternative
- Linux distributions – https://www.linux.org/categories/popular-distributions.152/ – Official Linux forum containing some popular Linux distributions
- Microsoft Office – https://www.office.com/ – Microsoft Office login and download
- Oculus – https://www.oculus.com/setup/ – Oculus Rift setup
- OpenOffice – https://www.openoffice.org/ – Apache OpenOffice open source office alternative
- Origin – https://www.origin.com/usa/en-us/store – EA’s Origin platform and store
- Snappy Driver Installer – https://sdi-tool.org/ – Freeware driver installer
- Steam – https://store.steampowered.com/ – Steam gaming platform
- Unigine – https://benchmark.unigine.com/ – Unigine’s benchmarking tools
- Uplay – https://uplay.ubi.com/ – Ubisoft’s Uplay platform
- Vive – https://www.vive.com/us/ – HTC Vive setup
- Windows 10 ISO – https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/software-download/windows10 – Official Windows 10 media creation tool
This just about wraps up our series on how to build your own gaming PC. We hope you both enjoyed it and found it to be a useful resource. If this has inspired you to go out and build your own machine, then we consider this series to have been successful.
Obviously, we could not cover every combination and permutation of hardware components, but we still hope that the general lesson conveys enough information to guide you in picking out components and building a machine.
Thank you for reading, happy building, and happy gaming!