If you would like to build a laptop for business or pleasure, then there are a lot of excellent options out there to make it happen.
Since IBM launched the first commercial laptop in 1988, consumers have called for more powerful, sleeker, but less power-consuming designs.
In fact, every year laptops seem to get so much thinner that pretty soon they’ll include paper cut warnings (just kidding).
However, there’s been a persistent question asked year after year by curious PC builders.
Many builders would like to know if it’s possible to build a laptop the same way they self-build PCs.
As it turns out:
The answer is “sort of.”
How To Build A Laptop: DIY Versus Custom Built
When it comes to options as to how you can build a laptop, there are two choices.
You can buy a barebones laptop kit and install some components yourself, or you can order a custom-made laptop.
Both approaches can have their own unique appeal, depending on what you’re looking to gain.
The challenges associated with building a laptop from scratch
When you build a laptop from scratch, it’s important to keep in mind that the definition of “building from scratch” is different with laptops as compared to PCs.
When you build a PC from scratch, you are literally buying everything that goes into it separately and assembling the machine piece by piece.
Components such as the mouse, keyboard, monitor, motherboard, case, and power supply are all separate parts that you must buy.
However, with a laptop, that’s not going to be the case. There are specific components that you just can’t buy separately.
Lack of standardized components
Perhaps the biggest hurdle when you build a laptop from scratch is the fact that unlike desktop PCs, there’s no standardization of parts for laptop components.
Laptop components such as the motherboard are typically designed only to fit and work with a brand’s specific model.
In other words:
Almost every commercially sold laptop is like an iPhone. There are parts in each machine that will not work in others.
With desktops, you can take the motherboard out of one case, and fit it in another case so long as it’s the right size.
In the beginning, when laptops weighed as much as a kindergartner, they also had more of a uniform design that may have made it possible for greater customization.
However, with today’s laptops, the motherboards are physically designed to only fit and work in a specially designed laptop case, which you can not buy separately.
There are many reasons for this, such as:
Laptops all have very uniquely tailored cooling designs that require components that are cut for that specific model’s case and motherboard.
If you open up a laptop, you’ll likely find a thin cooling plate of some sort that touches most of the major components.
Think about it:
On a desktop, you have a heatsink, which usually includes a fan, that covers the CPU. You can also go the water cooling route and add components such as a pump to your system.
Many cases also let you add a certain number of extra fans to increase airflow throughout the case.
On the other hand:
With laptops, you are limited to the design of the motherboard and the location of vital components on it that require cooling.
You’ll also have a limited number of fans that you can install, many of which are also customized to accommodate the laptop case and motherboard.
While airflow is important in a PC, it’s critical in laptops, which until very recently could not be liquid cooled.
Once again, each laptop will likely feature cooling systems that are slightly to significantly different from each other.
Since laptops are getting thinner and thinner, when you build one from scratch, you’ll likely have to live with a much bulkier and heavier design.
Today’s laptop manufacturers use specialized components that you can’t buy.
To make a point:
If you took a shell from an Apple MacBook Air and tried to fit a different motherboard in it, you’ll fail.
In many cases, even components from last years MacBook might not fit or work in this year’s laptop shell.
Since space is limited, the design variations, which can be small, make a huge difference.
Determining and sourcing laptop parts
The next major hurdle is figuring out what parts to get and where to find them.
Unlike self-built desktops, the right parts for laptops can be a real pain.
Components such as the GPU, CPU, case, motherboard, and more must all be compatible.
The cooling solution must also be in harmony with the needs of all these components. Again, this is no walk in the park.
In all but a few cases, you’ll need to salvage used parts from other laptops that are the same model as the one you’re building.
Let’s say you manage to overcome the first two hurdles and put together your own DIY self-built laptop.
But, not too long after, you decide you want to upgrade individual components as you would a self-built desktop.
Well, that’s going to be unlikely, especially if you’re building a gaming laptop.
That isn’t to say that you can’t upgrade individual components. Parts like your RAM, SSD (solid state drive), and HDD (hard disk drive) are usually things you can swap out.
That’s because these components are some of the few parts that are universal for most laptops.
Upgrading GPUs and CPUs
PC gamers know that newer games usually require more powerful hardware to run them on settings that bring out their full potential.
With a desktop, for example, you can usually upgrade your GPU to accommodate this need.
However, very few laptops offer the same option, as most GPUs are built into the motherboard, as is the case with most CPUs.
In other words:
If you want to upgrade your system, you’ll have to rebuild the whole thing from scratch.
That is assuming that the components you want for your system even exist outside of a commercially made laptop.
Imagine finding a new mobile GPU made by Nvidia that you’ve decided that you must have in your new laptop.
It’s likely that Nvidia specially designed that GPU to only work on specific boards for a limited number of laptop models.
This fact also holds true for most CPUs which are also likely to be soldered onto the motherboard.
Unlike desktop GPUs and CPUs, there’s no incentive for manufacturers such as Intel and Nvidia to make their laptop components stand-alone.
For one thing, a mounted GPU or CPU would require more space.
Anyone who’s ever taken apart a laptop will tell you that it’s much more difficult than breaking down a PC. It’s also a lot harder to put back together.
The difficulty factor is another reason why upgrading a GPU or CPU on a laptop isn’t practical. The work it takes just to open the laptop is more effort than most people want to spend.
With a desktop, you can buy a tool-less case that allows you to open it up and swap out different parts within minutes.
In other words:
If working inside of a desktop was like a doctor checking blood pressure, then working inside of a laptop is like performing triple bypass surgery.
Not to mention, the time you’ll spend researching and finding parts can (will) become excessive.
Cost may be the biggest reason why it doesn’t make much sense to build a laptop from scratch.
The money you’ll spend if you happen to find all the right parts will be about the same or more than if you bought a new laptop.
But let’s say the cost of building a laptop costs a few hundred dollars less.
That would likely be because you couldn’t find the same quality components which are exclusive to specific laptop models.
Just as with a PC, after you build a laptop from scratch, you won’t have a warranty for your system.
When you buy an HP laptop, for example, you’ll likely have a limited warranty that will cover a wide range of issues.
But, building an off-brand Frankenstein laptop will mean that you’re on your own if your monster machine breaks down
Advantages of building a laptop from scratch
At this point, you’re probably wondering if there are any benefits to creating a laptop from scratch.
Actually, yes there are.
For those people who enjoy a great DIY challenge, building a laptop is right up there with the best of them. If you want to enjoy the bragging rights of building a functional laptop, then by all means, go for it. There’s nothing wrong with a little vanity project.
Another good reason to build a laptop from scratch will be if you’re looking to start making your own brand of laptops and selling them. Making one from scratch would be a great way to get design ideas, and make improvements on pre-existing models. Before you know it, your company could become the next Razer or Alienware.
Step By Step DIY Instructions For Building A Laptop
This is a very generalized step-by-step “how to” guide on how to build a laptop.
We should note that many of the components referred to in this guide may not have up-to-date models that are available for sale.
The barebones kit and components that would allow you to make a copy version of the MSI GS65 Stealth Thin 15.6-inch gaming laptop probably doesn’t exist.
When making a self-built laptop, it’s best not to set your expectations too high in terms of performance.
Once again, you’ll likely need to source older parts that will work together.
Part 1: Locating the parts
First, you should determine what kind of machine you want to build. Is it going to be a gaming laptop or used for business?
This distinction can make a big difference. That’s because a laptop designed for business may have components that are much easier to find than one designed for gaming.
You’ll also need to consider factors such as battery life and screen size.
Step 1: Choose your CPU
The first part you’ll need to decide on is your CPU. You’ll need to build a laptop around this component. Your CPU will determine what type of case or “shell” you can use.
When buying a CPU, remember to look for a mobile processor, not a desktop.
As you build a laptop, keep in mind:
There may be some mobile processors that are only available integrated on certain motherboards.
There are two major CPU manufacturers: Intel and AMD.
AMD CPUs are generally less expensive and more geared toward multi-core processing, making it an excellent multi-tasking CPU.
Intel CPUs are usually more expensive and are generally better for single-core processing tasks like gaming.
Step 2: Choose a laptop shell
The laptop’s shell will determine what other parts you can put into your system. You need to choose a shell that’s compatible with your CPU or has the CPU integrated.
The shell will include your touchpad, keyboard, motherboard, and screen.
The motherboard’s specs will dictate what type and how much memory you can use in your system.
Another factor to consider is weight. A laptop with a larger screen will likely weigh more.
Also, you’ll need to decide on the quality of your screen.
If you’re a gamer or graphics designer, you’ll need at least a screen that can display 1080p resolution.
Additionally, finding shells that offer 4K resolution may prove to be incredibly difficult if not next to impossible.
Laptop shells are not as readily available as desktop cases. You’ll need to search for “barebones notebook” or “whitebook shell” to find retailers that stock them.
Step 3: Find your RAM
Now you need to find RAM for your system. Remember, when searching for RAM it needs to meet the specs of the motherboard inside your shell.
If you buy DDR4 RAM for a system with a motherboard that only offers DDR3 support, then you’ve wasted your money.
Generally, we recommend getting a shell with DDR4 support if you’re into gaming and need high-performance for business-related programs.
If you want to build a laptop for light tasks such as emailing, social media, and maybe watching videos, the cheaper DDR3 RAM should be fine.
As for capacity, you shouldn’t need more than 8-Gigabytes (GB) of RAM unless you’re into video editing, in which case you’ll likely need at least 16GB of DDR4.
Now if you want to build a laptop for gaming, generally you won’t use more than 8GB of RAM.
With that said:
If you want to do a little bit of futureproofing, you may decide to go with 16GB if your motherboard supports it.
Step 4: Find a hard drive
Most laptops use 2.5-inch drives, as opposed to the 3.5-inch models used in desktops. You have your choice between drives that offer 5400 revolutions-per-minute (RPM), 7200 RPM, or a solid state drive with no moving parts.
Solid state drives offer the best performance, but are more expensive and are not the best suited for long-term storage. They also usually offer less storage than cheaper HDD drives.
If your model allows for an additional HDD drive in addition to your main SDD drive, then that would be an ideal option. However, for long-term storage, you can always use a portable HDD drive.
Another advantage SSD drives have over HDD drives is a lower failure rate due to them having no moving parts.
As for capacity, most people these days have at least 500GB to 2-Terabytes of space on their primary drive.
But, keep this in mind:
If you want the fast performance of an SSD drive and storage capacity within that range, you’ll probably have to pay a premium.
Step 5: Decide on a graphics card (optional)
Most shells will not allow you to install a separate graphics card.
Instead, the CPU’s integrated graphics unit would do the job of a graphics card.
However, for gamers and graphic designers, having a dedicated graphics card could make or break their system.
But if you can’t find a shell that allows you to install a graphics card, there are ways around it.
You can set up a DIY or commercially sold external GPU system that connects to your laptop.
Of course, this solution would take away a bit from your laptop’s portability, as you’d have to lug around extra equipment.
Step 6: Find an optical drive (optional)
As computers become more advanced, having an optical drive has become more optional.
After all, you can now install your operating system from a USB drive and download any programs you need directly.
Today’s newer laptops don’t include an optical drive.
Some notebook shells still include an optical drive, but some will not accommodate them, so make sure the drive is compatible with your shell.
However, if you loathe doing without an optical drive, you can always buy an external optical drive, which is pretty lightweight and thin.
Step 7: Choose your battery
To find the right battery, you’ll need to find one that has the correct shape and utilizes the same connector.
Laptop batteries have multiple pins.
The battery also contains ICs and the IC notifies the computer about the battery’s temperature, the battery’s power levels, and if the battery isn’t working or should not be charged.
If you are on the go a lot, then you’ll need a longer battery life for your laptop. It may take some time, as you may need to compare many batteries to find the right fit for your system.
It’s also a good idea to look at user reviews before buying a battery to get an idea about other people’s experiences with the battery.
Part 2: Putting it all together
Okay, now it’s time to get to work. You’ve got all your components, and now it’s just a matter of putting everything together.
Step 1: Gather your tools
The first thing you’ll need is a set of jeweler’s screwdrivers with magnetic tips (trust me magnetic tips makes life easier).
Laptop screws are much smaller than desktop screws. Therefore they are much easier to lose.
You’ll also need a pair of needle-nose pliers to reach any screws that may fall through cracks.
Keep your screws in plastic baggies until you need to use them. That will keep you from losing any screws.
Step 2: Stay grounded
You’ll need a grounding strap or grounding wristband to help discharge any electrostatic discharge (static electricity).
While a static discharge may only give humans a little shock, it can be fatal for computer components.
You can also purchase an anti-static mat to stand on while you work for extra security.
Step 3: Turn the shell over
Turn over the laptop shell so that the bottom is facing up. You’ll have to access the motherboard from a series of removable plates located on the back of the shell.
Step 4: Remove your first panel
Starting out, you’ll need to remove the panel over the hard drive bay. This panel covers the 2.5-inch bay that holds the hard drive.
The location will vary based on the shell, but the bay is typically located near the front of the laptop.
Step 5: Mount the drive
Next, you’ll mount the hard drive into it the bracket. With most notebooks, you’ll need to mount the drive within a bracket that fits around it.
Make sure you tighten the four screws to secure the drive to the bracket.
The screw holes usually will ensure that you’re installing the drive in the right direction.
Step 6: Slip the bracketed hard drive into the bay
The bracket should have some grip tape attached to it that will allow you to seat the drive into the system.
Using this tape, you’ll be able to apply enough pressure to seat the drive.
Once you’ve done this, most brackets will line up with two screw holes. Insert the screws to secure the drive.
Step 7: Install the optical drive
The exact method will vary between different shells, but optical drives are usually inserted from the front of a bay opening.
You should be able to slide the unit into the SATA connectors.
Step 8: Remove motherboard panel
The motherboard panel is likely going to be a bit more challenging to remove than the hard drive panel.
After removing all of the screws, you may need to use a small flat-head screwdriver to pry it open.
Step 9: Install your RAM
Once you’ve got the panel open, you will have access to the motherboard and RAM slots.
Insert your RAM into their slots at a slight angle, then push them down into place. You should hear a click once it’s done.
The memory sticks can only be installed in one direction, so if they don’t fit, don’t force them.
Simply flip them around and try again.
Step 10: Install your CPU
Most newer systems are going to have an integrated CPU, however, if you’re building an older system or one with a removable CPU, here’s what you do.
There may be a CPU lock located around the socket where the CPU is installed.
You’ll need to take a flathead screwdriver and turn it until it reaches the “unlocked” position.
Once this is done, turn your CPU over so that you can see the pins. The notch should line up with the notch located on the socket.
The CPU will only fit in the socket one way.
If the CPU does not seat itself, never try to force it, or you might end up bending the pins and ruining your processor.
Once you’ve inserted the CPU, put the CPU lock back into the “locked” position.
Step 11: Install the cooling fan
Most laptops use centrifugal fans which are used to cool the CPU and sometimes other components as well.
Your CPU should include a cooling fan in its package. Many of the fans will have thermal paste pre-applied to the bottom where it connects to the CPU.
If the fan doesn’t have thermal paste, then you’ll need to apply a small pea-sized drop of paste to the back of the fan before putting it on the CPU.
You can find thermal paste at almost any outlet that sells computer parts.
You never want to apply too much thermal paste; this can cause a lot of issues down the road. Just use about a pea-sized drop. That’s all you need.
When installing the fan, make sure the exhaust lines up to the vents on your shell. This part can be a bit tricky as you try to line everything up.
No matter what, don’t try to force the heatsink and fan assembly into place. Instead, just wiggle the component a little until it lines up.
You may also have to install some mounting bolts if the heatsink requires them.
Also, if your case includes a bay to install a dust filter, use it to prevent dust from clogging up the heatsink.
When installing the fan and heatsink assembly, keep the heatsink angled until you can wiggle into the right position.
It will also help keep the thermal paste from getting all over your other components.
Finally, once the fan’s in position, attach the fan’s power cable to the motherboard.
If you fail to connect the fan, the laptop will overheat within a few minutes of use.
Step 12: Closing up
Once all your components are installed, it’s time to close up shop.
Place the panels back over the openings and secure them with their proper screws.
Your laptop is now complete.
Part 3: Starting up your laptop
Now comes the moment of truth: Starting up your laptop for the first time.
Step 1: The battery
First, you need to insert your battery. Forgetting the battery is relatively easy to do during the build process.
You’ll need to ensure that it’s inserted and charging correctly before you can boot up your new system.
Step 2: Check your RAM
Before you install your operating system, you’ll first want to make sure your RAM is working properly.
To do this, first, download and install a program called Memtest86+ to either a DVD or USB flash drive.
Then you’ll start up your system, go into BIOS and change the boot order so that your system boots off of the media Memtest86+ is installed on.
You may also have the option of checking your memory in BIOS, depending on your motherboard’s firmware.
Step 3: Installing the OS
To install your Windows Operating System (or Linux), you’ll need to have the software burned onto either a DVD or USB flash drive.
Windows costs money, and Linux is free. However, Windows offers a much fuller range of programs and hardware compatibility than Linux.
If installing Windows, we recommend that you install the latest version, as older versions lose support over time.
Once you’ve installed your OS, then you’re ready for the final step.
Step 4: Install your drivers
The last step is installing your drivers.
Once you’ve installed the OS, you’ll need to make sure that all the drivers for your new hardware are up-to-date.
Although most newer operating systems will do this for you, you’ll need an internet connection. However, there may be a few components that you’ll need to install manually.
Your shell should include a CD that contains all the drivers you’ll need. You can use this CD if the OS can’t find the drivers you need.
You can also check online for the most up-to-date drivers for your motherboard model.
Letting Someone Else Build A Laptop For You
If you decide to allow a company to build a laptop for you, there are a few things you’ll need to consider.
First, you’ll need to know how you plan to use the laptop, the same way you would if you build a laptop yourself.
If you’re building a gaming laptop, your priorities are going to be different (and more expensive) than a laptop made for business use.
Graphics designers also require laptop specs that are very similar to those used to build a laptop for gaming.
How to custom-build a laptop for business
If you want to custom build a laptop for business, the cost may be more of a factor than it would be for gamers.
Business users are more likely to want to get something preassembled and not bother too much with details such as graphics cards and RAM speed.
With that in mind:
Here are some suggestions on what to expect from systems that fall under a certain price range.
Laptops $ and under
If you’re looking to spend no more than $, at this range, you’ll almost exclusively find low-end Chromebooks and windows machines.
For business users, machines at this price point are not highly-recommended as they usually have limited storage, cheap build quality, and overall slow performance.
Even if you need a laptop for light business use, you can do much better.
Laptops $ to $$
At this price range, you’re looking at relatively mediocre Windows laptops and a few good business Chromebooks.
The reason why Chromebooks are generally better than Windows machines in this price range is that they sacrifice storage space.
Since storage space can be expensive, Chromebooks elect to put those savings into their build and display quality.
Either way, when buying a laptop from this price range you should only expect it to perform basic tasks like using Microsoft Office, posting to social media, or browsing the web.
These are laptops for the bare minimalist in business.
Laptops $$ to $$$
For most professional business users, laptops within this price range will meet their needs.
Users should not have any problems finding a machine with the memory and storage capacity they need as well as a CPU powerful enough for business multitasking.
Work laptops in this category may also include attractive business-class security features, such as fingerprint scanners. They also tend to have much better battery life than lower-cost laptops.
Laptops $$$ and beyond
At this price range, you’re getting the best of the best. You’ll find many of the thinner, premium ultraportable models, such as the Dell XPS 13, at this range.
However, you can also find bulkier, more powerful workstations at this price range that can cost from $ to $$$ on average, sometimes more. That is the price range for power users.
Choosing your OS
Technically when you have someone custom build a laptop, you should have four choices for your OS which currently include:
However, very few retailers and builders sell machines with Linux Operating Systems. So realistically you’re looking at three choices.
Apple OS X
Not so long ago, this wouldn’t have been a serious question for most laptop users. But with the rise of Apple products, users now have another option other than Windows.
Apple laptops do tend to carry a much stiffer pricetag than Windows laptops.
Historically, Apple laptops are favored more among creative professionals because of their function keys, high screen quality, and ability to run high-powered programs such as AVid, Dreamweaver, and Maya.
In fact, many creative professionals still swear by Apple laptops.
In recent years, Apple has enjoyed enormous success with the launch of their much more affordable MacBook models such as the MacBook Pro.
These laptops feature less RAM than previous models and target more of a mass audience than traditional Apple laptops.
The biggest issue with using Apple products for business is that you may run into some problems with compatibility if your company uses software that only works on Windows machines
While you can technically still buy a few systems with Windows 7, most machines available are going to offer Windows 10.
Windows is by far the most expensive OS, but also the most comprehensive. Plus, the latest version comes with a host of new features aimed at increasing productivity.
Features such as Cortana, Microsoft’s virtual assistant app, can perform all kinds of tasks, from checking the weather to scheduling appointments.
Then there’s Task View, which allows you to set up multiple virtual desktops for easier multitasking.
The Chrome OS, made exclusively for Chromebooks, is designed to take advantage of the growing number of cloud-based services.
Chromebooks are perfect for users using cloud-based storage services instead of relying on a lot of physical storage space.
The OS also features support for such cloud-based programs as Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Adobe Creative Cloud, and more.
Best hardware for business users
Here’s a quick list of the best-recommended hardware for business users when having someone custom build a laptop.
How to custom-build a laptop for gaming
For gamers who wish to custom-build a laptop, price considerations may be less of a factor than for business users.
While you could go nuts and spend thousands of dollars for a gaming laptop, you can honestly get one that plays the latest games for between $700 and $1,500.
Here are a few hardware recommendations for the best gaming experience at bare-minimum cost.
Our Best Recommendation For Building A Laptop
There are a few good reasons that you may want to build a laptop from scratch.
However, if you’re looking for the most cost-effective and technologically advanced laptop, building one from scratch isn’t the way to go.
In that case:
You want to have someone custom build a laptop using components you pick out to ensure the best performance.
Custom laptops can be pricier than mass produced retail laptops but may offer better build quality in return.
We hope you’ve found this information on building a laptop helpful, and wish you the best of luck in your search.
Have you built a laptop? If so, share your experience in the comments!