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How to make sure all your PC components are compatible

There's nothing worse than ordering a bunch of PC parts online, receiving the delivery and finding out that the CPU you've ordered isn't compatible with the motherboard. Some components like the CPU, have specific characteristics that only work with supported hardware. You won't be able to install an Intel CPU into an AMD socket motherboard, for example. We take a look at some ways you can help avoid this.

The main culprit when it comes to compatibility issues is the motherboard, which has to work with various other components, like the CPU, RAM, and more. It's the heart of the PC and needs to interact with various connected hardware, and thus we need to be vigilant when checking specifications and requirements. When building a new machine, it's best to start with the motherboard and CPU. Here are a few tips that will help to ensure the motherboard and other parts you're purchasing will work together:

  • Check the motherboard CPU socket and compare against your chosen processor.
  • See what RAM the motherboard supports (example being DDR4 2300MHz).
  • Similarly to the board, see what RAM the CPU can support.
  • Whether or not the motherboard will support an GPU SLI configuration.
  • Check ATX size and dimensions when fitting inside smaller cases.
  • Ensure your PSU will provide enough juice.

PCPartPicker

PCPartPicker

There's a handy website that can help out with configuring a new PC build (or an upgrade if you select what hardware you have already installed. Working with the CPU first, the system actually eliminates incompatible motherboard sockets and RAM. Should you somehow manage to add in various items that simply won't work together, the website will throw out an alert for you to fix an issue.

There are some handy little features as well, like the ability to save and share builds. Should you be new to system building, this makes it possible for you to have your list of components checked over by someone with more experience who can verify the build and possibly recommend cheaper alternatives to save a little cash. As an added bonus, it will even provide a rough estimate as to how much power the PSU will need to output.

Overall, PCPartPicker is an invaluable tool when it comes to picking out parts for a new PC.

Visit PCPartPicker

Updated on July 10, 2018: This guide has been refreshed with up-to-date information.

Rich Edmonds
Senior Editor, PC Build

Rich Edmonds is Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him over on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.

13 Comments
  • Thanks for the heads up.
  • Pcpartpicker was a dream come true to me when I found it last year. It's a must for anyone interested in building a pc or just shopping for pc parts.
  • Hey there thanks for this article!
  • I can see only if a Cpu is compatible with the motherboard or I can check if I have enough space to put a big GPU or a PSU in a mini tower?
  • Your tower should tell you what dimensions it can support, then compare it to what you want to put in it.
  • Check ATX size and dimensions when fitting inside smaller cases.
    Probably would be better phrased as "form factor" rather than ATX imo.   Edit: It's worth noting that while PCPartPicker is very good, it's still worth shopping around as it doesn't always find everything.
  • thanks for the article
  • Thank You
  • Pcpartspicker is awesome!
  • Never needed to use the site, old schoolers' probably used to research and buy.
  • Well, you know you're a noob if you bought an Intel CPU for an AMD motherboard or vice versa.  In reality it's the memory that one needs to be particularly careful about.  Again, you're a amateur if you've picked DDR-3 for a DDR-4 motherboard, but the more likely problems are the speed, the number of memory slots that you can populate for a particular speed (or at all), and perhaps if the memory is dual or single sided.  Look closely at the suggested memory documentation (Qualified Vendor List, QVL) for your motherboard.
  • PCspecialist has a similar function and it's always fun to max everything and laugh at the 7 grand+ price tag it gives you.
  • Sometimes the parts are compatible but they don't play nice. Its a PC thing.
    Or worse you have one or even more than one part detective on arrival.
    No way of knowing which is which if the PC has never come on for the first time.