how to build your own pc
How to build your own pc Contents:
- Type of computer you need
- Reusing old parts
- Operating system
- Overclocking considerations
- Where to buy
- Primary components
- Secondary components
DECIDING WHAT PARTS YOU NEEDSeveral factors will help you choose the the best computer for your needs such as:
- The type of work you will do on it
- The amount of money you can afford to spend
- Parts you already own and want to reuse
- The type of software you will need to run
- If you plan to overclock or mod your pc
Gaming computerThis is the most powerful of the home computers and its components will cost more than others. The premium components you will need to buy are a high-end video card or cards, lots of RAM, fast CPU and a monitor with a fast refresh rate. See an example.
Office computerThe average office computer will not benefit greatly by a fast CPU and high-end video card but does require user friendly peripherals such as a good mouse, keyboard, monitor, printer or all in one device if room is an issue. Comfort and usability are the key areas of concern when choosing these parts.
Multimedia and graphicsMany home users will want to copy movies, recode video, manage large audio files and edit digital photos, all of which take lots of computing power, RAM, and require large hard drives. For the video card you should consider buying one that supports video in and video out (vivo) and TV tuner if you want to use your computer as a personal video record. If you work with audio files or are capturing audio you may require a more robust sound card than what come on the mother board.
Basic UserBuilding a computer for the average person who simply checks emails or surfs the net can be done very cheaply but keep in mind that even inexperienced people will eventually want to do things they don’t anticipate. Choose components in the mid range and don’t buy something that you don’t need. A printer and scanner would likely be useful as well.
Reusing partsAlthough the thought of reusing old PC components sounds good it may not be very practical, remember why you want to build a computer in the first place. Some components will migrate to your new computer seamlessly however, such as floppy drives, DVD or CD drives, monitors and possibly your old hard drive although today’s standard is SATA instead of the older IDE. Of course the case can be reused as well but care should be taken with the power supply as newer components require more power and PSU’s (power supply units) do where out and cause over heating and system instability.
Things you shouldn’t reuse are:
You may also want to consider keeping your old computer intact as a back up, to sell or a hand me down and during the assembly process an internet connected computer will be an asset for troubleshooting.
*Note- If you plan to sell your old computer be sure to run a program to destroy all information on the hard drive. Simply reinstalling windows or deleting information will not remove your files they must be written over by other data to be erased permanently. Here is a free program to destroy private data on your drive – KILLDISK
CHOOSING AN OPERATING SYSTEM
WindowsAlmost all components available today will work with windows XP which is really the standard in home computing but as of January 2007 Windows Vista will be widely available for retail sale and certain hardware requirements are necessary. See the requirements here. To see all the proven compatible hardware for different versions of windows look at this guide Microsoft Compatible.
LinuxLinux is the main alternative to Windows on the PC and is absolutely free. The down side however is that Linux does not support the range of software and hardware that Windows does. I do not recommend using Linux as your primary OS (operating system) but instead set up a dual boot system or a virtual computer to try out the varied Linux distributions if that interests you. For more info on Linux visit InstallOS.com
CONSIDERATIONS FOR OVERCLOCKING / UNDERCLOCKINGOverclocking means running your components at a higher clock speed than they were packaged for, for example the CPU you purchased has a clock speed of 2.8 GHz you may be able to raise the clock speed to 3.0 GHz without any issues. Most CPU’s are actually underclocked so that they can be sold at lower prices compared to identical chips set at higher clock speeds. Some components such as video cards and ram can be specifically designed for overclocking, so do a little research if overclocking is something your considering.
* Almost all components warranties will be voided if the parts are overclocked.
Similar to overclocking, underclocking also involves adjusting the clock speed to a lower setting for power savings, heat reduction and quieter operation ( this can be useful for system that are always left on, such as media center pc’s) . Many modern motherboards automatically adjust the clock speed of the CPU to meet the demand of the user. Most of the new generation CPU’s will lower their clock speed to the computers needs, such as Intel’s new chipset Core 2 duo which lowers power consumption by up to 40%.
WHERE TO BUY YOUR COMPONENTSOnline - Finding the best prices will take a little investigating but don’t buy from just any site on the net take your time to insure their reputable and have a good exchange / warranty on the products they sell. Online stores will usually yield the best deals because of volume pricing that local stores can’t compete with. I recommend Tiger Direct and use them myself. TigerDirect, Buy Today, Ships Today!
Retail Stores - You may also want to check local computer shops and large retailers, these places may not have the best prices but do have the ability accept exchanges on damaged PC parts and offer advice as to what part may be best for you.
* You can save money by purchasing OEM components in stead of retail boxed parts. OEM (Original equipment manufacturer) parts are sold in large volumes to distributors and are identical to the retail versions except for the packaging. Some OEM components may have shorter warranties and support for the parts may be provided by the vender instead of the manufacturer.
SELECTING EACH COMPONENTMain components
- Case Power supply
- CPU cooling
- Hard drive
- Case and power supply
Case and Power SupplyChoosing the case (tower) is where you should begin when deciding what parts you will need to purchase. Today’s towers are very different than they were years ago, they come in many sizes and colors and have many new enhancements. Here is what to consider
- Formfactor – Basically this means the size of the case and the components it will accommodate. There are several formfactors, but the most common is ATX, which is really the standard for home users. An ATX case will accommodate future upgrades more readily and leaves room for air flow inside the case. Other formfactors include MicroATX, FlexATX, WTX, BTX, Mini-ITX and
- Case Ergonomics – One benefit of designing your own PC over buying a pre-built system is getting exactly what you want, like a case with lights or flashy design. Some niceties to look for on a case are : thumb screws for easy access, a carrying handle, case fans, multi-card readers, front USB ports and depending on your interests digital displays and lighted side windows. The most important feature however is a case with room to fit all of the drives your planning to use (hard drives, DVD players or burners, CD drives, multi card readers and floppy drives). Most people will find a mid-tower case more than sufficient for drive spaces.
- Power Supply – Selecting a power supply depends on two factors, noise and the amount of power the system may require. Bundled case and PSU (power supply unit) are usually cheaper but the PSU may not be of high quality and noise could be an issue. I suggest a PSU with a ball bearing fan and 500w of power which will run fairly quiet but if noise is a concern there are fanless models. To accommodate the more power hungry components used today such as dual video cards, an even higher wattage PSU (600-700W) may be required.
MotherboardThe motherboard is the most important part of the computer and is the most complex. The Socket of
the processor and the size of the case will determine the type of motherboard you will need but there many other considerations when deciding. Features that come on the board will very from different manufacturer’s so do a little research as to the components you might want now or later.
Technologies to look for on the motherboard are :
- PCI Express slots
- PCI slots
- Onboard sound controller
- # of USB ports
- SATA 2, SATA and Raid support
- Network card or wireless
- Memory slots ( RAM ) and the supported speeds
ProcessorYour most important component will be the CPU and for good reason it performs all the computing and should be the best your
budget will allow. Lucky for us the consumer there are two major chip manufacturers (Intel and AMD) battling for market dominance which benefits us in two ways; price and performance. Until Intel’s latest release of the Core 2 Duo, AMD has held the title of best in class, but today the spotlight is on Intel releasing a super fast line of chips at unusually low prices for new technology.
When deciding on the right CPU for your needs you will need to know what to look for in the spec’s to make an informed choice as higher speeds doesn’t necessarily mean faster. Today’s processors make use of many different technologies to make your computing faster, such as:
- Dual cores
- L2 cache
CPU coolingProtection of the CPU from heat damage is critical and a good heatsink and fan are a must. Most bundled heatsinks are of
mediocre quality and produce a lot of noise. Selecting a CPU fan begins with the socket of your CPU, if you have a socket 775 Intel chip; for example, then of course you will need a matching heatsink. Next choose a model that will accommodate your heat dissipation needs. Overclocking your CPU will require the best cooling such as a liquid cooler, while most gamers and average users will be satisfied with a quality copper (better) or aluminum heatsink and fan.
Memory (RAM)Finding the proper memory for your computer will depend on the type of motherboard and
the speed, number of pins it’s supports. Most Windows XP users were satisfied with 512Mb of RAM, however with the release of Vista 1 Gb or more memory will be used and future applications will only magnify this. I recommend 2 Gb for entertainment systems planning to run Vista and up to 4 Gb for high-end gaming, video and graphical editing. To select the correct RAM first find out what the motherboard supports. For example here are the supported memory specs for an Asus M2N32-SLI Deluxe motherboard:
Number of Slots
Number of Pins
Maximum Memory Supported
4GB – 32bit
Hard drivesChoosing a hard drive for your computer will be dependant on the type of work you will be doing. If you will be editing video or
storing DVD quality images a hard drive in the range of 320 Gb should suffice and won’t set you back financially costing around $100.00. Here is an example of what 320 Gb HD would hold:
This Drive Holds
- 127 two-hour DVD-quality movies or
- 450 hours of VHS-quality video or
- 265 days of MP3 audio or
- 112,500 vivid digital photos or
- 640 games
Once you determine the size of the Hard drive (or drives) you’ll need, the next step is choosing an interface. There are two main ways for the hard drive to connect to the motherboard, IDE and SATA. IDE drives connect to the motherboard with a large flat ribbon cable with 40 pins and has been the standard for a long time but has some limitations and will eventually be replaced by SATA. IDE hard drives are limited to a rotational speed of 7200 RPM’s, while SATA drives can reach speeds of 10,000 RPM’s. The speed the disk spins determines the speed the information can be retrieved but faster drives are much more expensive and have a shorter life expectancy. SATA drives are technically better with a faster interface to the motherboard and can easily be configured in a RAID on modern motherboards however problems installing Windows XP may be encountered. So make sure your motherboard supports installing XP to a serial ATA drive.
What is a RAID ? The term stands for Redundant Arrays of Inexpensive Disks and simply put means connecting multiple smaller drives together to make one larger volume. This drive configuration will be able to read and write to the drives faster by splitting the DATA between the drives.
The size of the hard drives cache is also an important feature and should be considered when buying. The cache retrieves data much faster than the physical disk and also prefetches data. Most drives are currently using an 8 Mb cache with more expensive models using 16 Mb.
SECONDARY COMPONENTSAdditional components
- Video Card
- DVD drive
- Sound card
- Floppy drive
- Fans and cooling
- Multi card reader
Video cardsAlthough most motherboards come with on-board video and may actually satisfy some people the majority of us want to play
graphic intensive games occasionally, edit movies, capture video and maybe even use dual monitors. If any of these things appeal to you, then a video card for your system is a must.
There are two companies producing today’s top cards but many others license out the technology and resell under different brand names. ATI and NVIDIA are the two manufacturers and both produce excellent products, ATI’s Radeon and NVIDIA with the GeForce line.
Selecting a video card that suits you will depend primarily on your budget as they can easily cost more than the rest of the system combined. Below we’ll briefly describe the factors that are actually important without confusing you with terms like TERAFLOPS per second.
GPULike the CPU for your computer the Graphics Processing Unit is the brain of the video card, controlling all the video and graphical processes. The power of the card is measured by the core clock speed in MHz, the more MHz usually means a faster and more powerful card but only when judged against a like model.
PCI Express and AGPThe interface between your motherboard and the graphics card will be more than likely a PCI Express slot on any new motherboard but older boards using the AGP slot are still out there. What’s the difference? SPEED. AGP (accelerated graphics port) is aging technology and has met it’s bandwidth limitations at 2.1 GB/sec. PCI Express on the other hand is capable of nearly 4 times the bandwidth and is the only interface that will allow dual video cards in the Crossfire or SLI configuration.
Onboard memoryVideo cards come equipped with their own memory to beef up the maximum resolution and help the card run faster. The memory itself usually in the form of DDR2, DDR3 and GDDR3 are all capable of sending and receiving data on both sides of clock cycle, in effect doubling the memory (DDR = Double Data Rate). While DDR memory is fine and a better price, GDDR is designed specifically for video cards and will work more efficiently. GDDR3 consumes less power and generates less heat than the standard DDR2. The minimum amount of video memory you should consider is 128 Mb but for the performance to play high end games 256-512 Mb will be required. Another point to consider with regards to the memory is the clock speed or effective speed, higher MHz means faster data transfer.
Outputs and inputsHow the card connects to your monitor is called the display interface and can be one of two ways: DVI (Digital visual interface) Standard for connecting LCD monitors and VGA (Video Graphics Array) usually associated with CRT monitors. If however you have a CRT monitor and want to connect it to a DVI port then an adapter can be used.
VIVO (Video In Video Out) is not standard on most cards so if you would like to edit video from a camcorder or use your PC as media center to capture TV shows for example then this would be a good investment.
Dual display’s or more are made possible by the amount of outputs on the card, as most high-end video cards have two DVI outputs, setting up a dual monitor user interface is easily accomplished as both windows XP and Vista will detect and prompt you to adjust the second monitor’s resolution.
CrossFire and SLI ConfigurationsIf building the ultimate gaming pc is what your after and you are willing to spend the money on two powerful video cards then this section is for you. Both dual video card configurations require support directly from the motherboard and are not inter-changeable forcing you to select one brand name or the other when selecting a motherboard.
SLI (Scalable Link Interface) is a way of linking two identical NVIDIA video cards together to double the graphical processing power available to the computer. The concept is simple both cards are responsible for rendering separate areas of the screen simultaneously there-by reducing the load on each. Capable of producing stunning frame rates at max resolution.
ATI’s CrossFire again allows you run multiple GPU’s on a single computer if supported via the motherboard. Selecting video cards for a CrossFire configuration will take a little more work as a not all ATI cards support it and some older cards may require a master-slave setup.
DVD and CD drivesThink there all the same? Well there are subtle differences that will annoy you if you make the wrong choice. Personally I would
forget about CD drives and go with DVD burners that can do everything and are very reasonably priced. Aside from the key features I’ll mention in a minute the are a couple aesthetic features to consider first, one is color of the face plate (so it matches the case) and the other is the sound level it produces. I only mention sound because some drives are unbelievably loud when spinning up the media. Read the product reviews for more info on whichever product you are thinking of buying to see how satisfied others are with their drive. The other important technologies to look for in a quality drive are:
- Cache size
- Compatible media – Should be able to write to all formats (DVD+,- R, RW, DL, CDR)
- Read and write speeds
- Supported read formats
Sound cardsMost motherboards offer excellent quality on-board sound but if immersive gaming or building a media center PC for home audio purposes then a true sound card from Creative is a necessity. Having a quality sound card will give you more options and create a truer sound designed to your environment.
SpeakersEvery computer will require some sort of sound system, either a pair of budget speakers for an office PC or all the way up to a
7.1 surround sound system. Considered a gaming necessity, high quality speakers will make all the difference in your game experience by completely surrounding you in the sounds of the game. Game manufacturers today spend considerable time insuring you get the most out your sound system allowing you to hear enemies approach from behind you or give the impression of bullets whizzing past. Here’s what to look for in the spec’s:
- RMS Wattage not total wattage is important
- THD (Total Harmonic Distortion) when it comes to distortion, less is more
- Convenient remote
- Adaptability, such as being able to plug in your console (PS2, PS3, XBOX, XBOX 360, Nintendo Wii)
- Magnetically shielded speakers are a must (monitors hate magnets)