Despite what many people think, building your own PC is really not has hard as one may think. It involves basic knowledge of computers and some common sense. Building your own PC has many advantages over buying a pre-built system from say, HP or Dell.
• Save Money - As a whole, when compared to a pre-built system of the same specs, you'll generally save money by building it yourself.
• Better Performance - Many pre-built systems come with weak components. For example, in most pre-built systems, the video cards are weak and are no good for gaming. Building your own PC will allow you to avoid this issue and get the proper components you require. In addition to this, for many people, building your own PC has sentimental value. Building your own PC and taking care of it is an achievement many people are quite proud of.
• Knowledge - The knowledge of how your PC works so if needed you can troubleshoot it, take it apart to clean it, or help a friend with computer problems.
• Quality Control - Your building it yourself, not someone else who's halfway around the world. You know what's installed on it.
There are numerous websites on the Internet that sell computer parts. In addition to these websites, you'll also able to buy the parts from a local PC store or have them order them in for you. Most of the websites are oriented at a specific country or group of countries to which they sell parts, so make sure to use one sells to your country. Here are a few:
• United States Online Retailers
• Canadian Online Retailers
• UK Online Retailers
• Australian Online Retailers
• CPU's: Intel, AMD
• Motherboards: Asus, Gigabyte, MSI, Foxconn, EVGA
• Video Cards: EVGA, Asus MSI, Gigabyte, XFX, Sapphire
• RAM: Corsair, OCZ, Crucial, Kingston, G.Skill, Patriot
• PSU: Antec, Corsair, OCZ, SeaSonic
• Hard Drives: Seagate, Western Digital, Samsung
• Soild State Drives: Intel, Corsair, Crucial, OCZ
• Cases: Cooler Master, Corsair, Antec, Lian-Li, Thermaltake
• Cooling: Cooler Master, Corsair, Arctic-Cooling, Zalman, Thermaltake, Noctua
Your CPU (Central Processing Unit) is the main component of your PC. It controls everything. It's like the human brain. Without it, your PC won't run. Choosing one to suit your needs is one of the hardest parts of building your own PC because there are literally hundreds of different models out there. The two main manufactures of CPU's are Intel and AMD (Advanced Micro Devices). Each company makes a wide variety of single-core processers, duel-core processers, quad-core processers, and some others too. The difference between single-core, dual-core, and quad-core is the number of cores in each CPU. One core can process one thread at a time. So therefore, a single-core CPU can process one thread at a time, while a dual-core and process two, and a quad-core and process four. The more cores you have, the faster you PC will be able to process tasks. Recently, Intel re-released a type of technology called Hyperthreading. This technology allows each core to process one thread at a time physically, and process another logically effectively doubling the ability of the CPU.
In addition to the number of cores, each CPU has a clock speed - Example: 2.66GHz. The clock speed is how fast the CPU can process things. Generally, a higher clocked CPU indicates a high end CPU model.
As previously said, choosing a CPU can be a hard decision with all the CPU's out there. Intel and AMD both make great processers; however, generallyl, AMD's processers are cheaper when compared to Intel. On the other hand though, Intel processers tend to have more features and appeal more to enthusiasts than AMD processers. Another factor to consider when choosing a CPU is the motherboard which we'll go into next.
Your motherboard connects everything together and allows your system to function. Before choosing a motherboard, you need to pick a CPU. Each CPU has a socket type. The socket type is directly proportional to your motherboard, meaning you’ll need to get a motherboard that supports your CPU socket type. There are tons of different motherboards for each socket type and them all different features such as the number of USB ports, the number of PCI-E slots, and other special features.
In addition to holding the CPU, your motherboard is also where your RAM is held. When choosing a motherboard, make sure you get one that has sufficient DIMM slots for your RAM, and supports the type of RAM you plan on using. Another factor to keep in mind is the PCI-E slots. For one video card, a single PCI-E slot will work fine, however if you plan on using dual,triple, or even quad way SLI/Crossfire, you'll need a motherboard that has enough PCI-E slots to support your setup. For dedicated graphics cards, make sure the motherboard supports at least PCI-E 8x. This leads into another aspect of motherboards; the form factor.
All motherboards have different form factors. M-ATX, ATX, E-ATX, XL-ATX. M-ATX, or Micro-ATX motherboards usually only have one or two PCI-E slots and 1 PCI slot. ATX is the most common form factor, and usually have two or three PCI-E slots and 2 PCI slots. E-ATX or Extended-ATX are rare in normal desktop PC's. E-ATX motherboards are most commonly found in Server or Workstation PC's. E-ATX motherboards usually have three PCI-E slots, and three or four PCI slots. And finally, XL-ATX or Extra Large ATX is common amongst high end enthusiast boards. They usually have at least 4-6 PCI-E slots, and only one PCI slots.
M-ATX and ATX are the most common form factors for desktop PC's.
Choosing a video card (also known as a graphics card) can be a daunting task. Just like CPU's, there are tons of different models out there with different features and specifications. Depending on what your PC will be for will determine what kind of video card you should have. For those who are going to build a gaming PC on which you can play the latest games, you'll want to get a top of the line card, so be prepared to fork out at least $250. For those who are going to build a PC that's more for general computing tasks, you obviously don't need a top of the line card. You can basically get any card you want to that's within your price range.
All video cards have what's known as VRAM, or Video RAM. The more VRAM a video card has, the more textures it can process and stuff. Most video cards these days have VRAM in the ranges of 512Mb to 2GB. Since games are graphically intensive, you'll want to get a card that has lots of VRAM.
Choosing your RAM or memory is one of the easier tasks when building a PC. Your memory is a vital part of your PC. It stores all your session data and allows your system to function. The more memory you have, the fast your PC will run as it will be able to process things faster. When choosing memory, make sure to get the correct type supported by your motherboard. Whether it be DDR2 or DDR3. Get the correct kind, or your PC won't work.
In addition to that, make sure you get the right kind of channel memory supported by your motherboard. Generally, motherboards that have 4 DIMM slots will only run your memory in Dual-Channel mode, while motherboards with 3 or 6 DIMM's will run your memory in Tri-Channel mode. Because of the way it works, tri-channel theoretically offers more memory bandwidth.
Generally, memory modules come in 1GB, 2GB, and 4GB individual sticks. Every motherboard has an amount of maximum memory that it supports. This is also directly connected to what type of operating system you can run. If you have over 4GB of RAM, you're better off using a 64-bit operating system as it will use all of your RAM.
What type of power supply you get is affected by your PC components. The more high-end and powerful components you have, the higher the wattage power supply you'll need. For most people running your average system, a 550W or 650W will be more than enough. In addition to that, you should keep in mind the number of Amps on your 12V rails. The more Amps per rail, the higher quality PSU. To make sure you have adequate power for your PC, you should check out your video card manufactures website which will give you the base requirement for a PSU. You should never go any lower then what they recommend.
Also, be aware of the manufacturer of your PSU. While looking to buy your PSU, I'm sure you will notice there are some PSU's that have the same wattage that are quite expensive and others that are dirt cheep. Chances are, the expensive one is a brand name like Corsair, and the cheep one is a no-name PSU manufacturer. It is highly recommended that you stay away from cheep no-name manufactures of PSU's as they sometimes cannot be trusted to deliver adequate wattage, and can sometimes even damage your components. Always read the reviews on the PSU you're looking at getting.
Of the power supplies on the market, there are modular and non-modular power supplies. Modular power supplies allow you to choose what cables you use. Any that you don't need to use can be unplugged from the PSU. With non-modular power supplies, all the cables are attached and cannot be removed even if they're not being used. Because of this, non-modular power supplies are cheaper. It's really a matter of personal preference as to which one you want to get.
Your hard drive is where all your data is stored. The main variance between hard drives is their data capacity and the speed at which they write. Obviously the more capacity the drive has, the more data you can store on it. And the higher the speed, the fast you can access your data. Both are factors to consider when choosing a hard drive. Before we go any farther though, there are two types of hard drives.
Solid state drives or SSD's are more for high end PC's. They offer limited capacity when compared to normal hard drives; however they have higher speeds meaning you can access your data faster. Solid state drives are most commonly used as a dedicated hard drive for the operating system as their fast speed will allow the operating system to function faster. Some people claim the speed difference is noticeable, others say it isn't. Solid state drives really aren't necessary for the average user unless you really want one.
Normal platter hard drives are basically the opposite of solid states. They offer loads of capacity when compared to solid state drives. While their speed isn't as fast as solid states, they still have fairly good speeds. Usually around 7200 RPM's. They offer the best bang for your buck.
Optical Disk Drive(s)
Optical Disk Drive or OOD is the term for CD/DVD/Blu-Ray drives. Aside from the type of disk they read OOD's come in two types; Burners and Readers. Burners will allow you to take files from your PC and put them onto a disk, where as a reader will only allow you to read the files on the disk. Regardless of what type, they're all backwards compatible. So a Blu-Ray drive will read DVD's and CD's. And a DVD drive will read CD's. DVD drives are the most common as they're cheap and about a quarter of the price of a Blu-Ray drive. Most come with a speed of 16X. Don`t go any lower than that.
As you probably already know, the case is what holds all your components and protects them. Which case you get it really up to you regarding what one you like best. With that being said, there are however a few factors to keep in mind. All cases have a size. The most common sizes for desktop PC sizes are Mid-Tower and Full-Tower. What size case you get should be directly related to the form factor of your motherboard. Mid-tower cases support M-ATX and ATX motherboards. E-ATX motherboards are too big to fit into Mid-Tower case and therefore require a Full-Tower case. Needless to say Full-Tower cases usually handle all motherboard form factors. Most Full-Tower cases also have support for water cooling.
Another thing to keep in mind, although it probably won`t be an issue for most, is the number of bays the case. Make sure it has enough 5.25 external bays for all your optical drives, and make sure it has enough 3.5 internal bays for all your hard drives. Make sure your video card can fit inside your case too.
And the last thing is something that many people overlook when buying a case; is it`s cooling. All cases are designed to have airflow. At least theoretically they are. Cheep cases are bound to have a not so great cooling set-up when compared to more expensive ones. Ideally, you want to have fresh air coming in the front and non-
motherboard side of your case, and have the exhaust coming out the rear. Most cases come with two cases fans, however for optimum airflow, it`s recommended that you make use of all available case fan ports within the case. If you`re unsure about extra fan ports and what size they take, you should be able to find the detailed case specifications on the manufactures website which will tell you.
In addition to that, most cheep cases do not have/have a really crappy cable management system. If your a neat freak and want all your cables nicely organized, I suggest you get a case that has a cable management system as it will make your PC look nicer.
A sound card is something many people choose not to add to their PC. All motherboards have their own built in audio. It offers all the basics when it comes to audio. For most people, this is sufficient. Some people however chose to go the extra mile and add a sound card to their PC. Dedicated sound cards generally have better audio and support Dolby Digital 5.1, 7.1, or 8. If you're a hardcore gamer or someone who deals with a lot of audio related things, you may want to consider adding a sound card to your PC.
As mentioned just before in the article about cases, all cases usually come with two or three case fans. These fans help keep your system cool by removing the warm exhaust air and replacing it with cool new air. For optimum cooling and airflow it is recommended that you make use of all available fan ports in your case by adding the appropriate size fans for the best cooling.
When you buy your CPU, there is a CPU cooler that comes with it. The cooler usually consists of a heat sink with a fan mounted on top of it. These coolers are not the most effective when compared to other coolers; however for a stock CPU that is not overclocked in anyway it will be sufficient. If you plan on overclocking your CPU, it is highly suggested that you buy a high quality CPU cooler. The stock coolers will not be able to cool your CPU effectively, therefore to keep your CPU cool, you will need to buy a high quality CPU cooler that will keep your CPU cool when overclocked.
For most systems, constant airflow and heat sinks are what cool the CPU, and video cards. With high end systems, liquid cooling is quite common. It provides a far superior means of cooling when compared to normal air cooling. Liquid cooling can be quite complicated, so it is not recommended for new PC builders to use. With most liquid cooling set-ups, you set it up. You chose how much tubing you want and where to run it to, etc., etc. There are however a few all-in-one kits out there on the market. They offer a liquid cooling solution without all the hassle of the other kits.
Every PC needs a monitor. Without it, you wouldn't be able to see anything your PC is doing. There really isn't much to say about choosing a monitor. Most monitors these days are LCD's. This day in age, CRT monitors are pretty much done with. Very rarely are CRT monitors sold anymore. The main difference between monitors is their size and their quality. With the size of the monitor, just get the size you would like. The quality on the other hand is a little more advanced. Some monitors support 1080P, other support 720P. 1080P is a higher quality resolution then 720P, with that being said however, 1080P monitors are obviously more expensive.
There's not much that can really be said about keyboards. There are normal multimedia keyboards and gaming keyboards. Gaming keyboards have more features that suit the needs of gamers; the opposite is true about multimedia keyboards. Chose a keyboard that you like and is within your price range.
Basically the same as keyboards. There are normal multimedia mice and gaming mice. Choose one you like and is within your price range.
So by this point you should have decided on what parts you want for your PC and have them ordered. Hopefully they have arrived at your location, because you kind of need them to do this step. Before you start building make sure to read the instructions/manuals of all your components. Once you have done so, it's finally time to start building! Contrary to popular belief, you don't need many tools to build your PC. A Phillips screwdriver is usually all you need. A few cable ties may come in handy as well for cable management.
Before you start building just yet, you need to be aware of Electrostatic discharge or ESD. If you handle your components incorrectly, you could very easily damage them because of ESD. In order to prevent damage to your components, here are a few tips:
• Never handle any of build your components on carpet
• Never set your components down on a surface that could build up a static charge
• Always build on a static-free surface such as a wooden table
• Whenever you are inside your case, always wear an ESD wrist strap or have one hand on the case at all times
Now that that's covered, let’s get building!
1. Place your case on a table or some other surface that doesn't conduct static electricity easily
2. Install your power supply by inserting it into the slot in the rear of the case and mount it using the screws provided.
3. Place your motherboard in front of you.
4. Install your CPU by placing it into the socket on your motherboard and then close the holding mechanism to secure your CPU.
5. Before installing your CPU cooler, you need to apply your thermal paste. Place a generous amount directly on the CPU so that there is enough for a even coat.
6. Install your CPU cooler by using the appropriate mounting brackets for your CPU socket and then by mounting it to them.
7. Install your RAM by taking each individual stick and inserting it into the appropriate DIMM slot for whatever channel set-up you'll be using. Read your motherboard and RAM instructions for more
8. Install your motherboard with the CPU, CPU cooler and RAM in the case using the screws provided.
9. Install your hard drive(s) by inserting them into the appropriate slot inside the case, and then attach them using the screws provided.
10. Install your optical drive(s) by inserting them into the appropriate slot in the front of the case, and then attach them using the screws provided.
11. Install your video card by taking it and inserting it into one of the PCI-Express slots on your motherboard.
12.If applicable, install any other PCI/PCI-Express cards such as a sound card, networking card, or a USB card.
13. Add anything else such as extra case fans, etc...
14. Install Windows and follow the indicated prompts to continue with setup.
Here's a good detailed three-part series by Newegg.com on how to build your own PC.
And that's basically it. Of course when you install each component, you'll need to connect it to your power supply, connect your interface cables, and any others if applicable. There was no point in adding those here as it will vary by each system. Read your instruction manuals and they will tell you what cables to plug in where and what to use where. In addition to that, when assembling your PC, there a few components that will require a bit of force to get them to install or lock down correctly. Don't be afraid to apply a little bit of pressure, however on the other hand, don't force something if it won't fit.
If you need detailed help on how to install a specific component, read your instructions, or make use of the Internet by looking on YouTube or searching on Google.
SATA - Serial ATA is a type of interface that connects devices such as hard drives, and DVD drives. It is the modern standard.
PATA - The same thing as SATA only being the old standard. It is very uncommon to find this standard in modern PC's.
IDE - Another term for PATA.
CPU - Central Processing Unit. Your CPU is the brain of your computer.
PSU - Power Supply Unit. Your PSU is what takes the power and distributes it to where it is needed in the right amounts.
RAM - Random Access Memory. Your RAM or Memory is what allows your system to run by storing session information.
PCI - Peripheral Component Interconnect is the industry standard for connecting devices to your motherboard.
PCIe/PCI-Express - Same thing as PCI, only newer. Most video cards use this interface.
USB - Universal Serial Bus. This is the type of interface that is used to connect many different external peripherals to your PC.
eSATA - A variation of SATA that is similar to the use of USB.
Firewire - The same thing as USB, only less widely used and developed exclusively by Apple.
SSD - Soild State Drive. A type of hard drive using flash memory rather then disks.
HDD - Hard Disk drive. Your normal type of hard drive.
MoBo - A slang abbreviation for motherboard.
GFX Card - A slang abbreviation for graphics card. Also known as video card.
GPU - Graphics Processing Unit. Another term for a graphics card.
So that's it! Hopefully this guide has helped you chose your PC's components and assemble them into a working PC. While I'm sure this hasn't answered all of everyone's questions, I hope it has answered a few and given a good indication of the process involved in building your own PC. If you need help with your PC build or have questions, feel free to create a topic for them here in the Tech & PC Chat Forum.
Thanks to blitz and Narcis_speed6 for the graphics.
Edited by Ryan, 24 July 2011 - 12:28 AM.