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Build Your Own Computer

Have you ever wished you knew how to build your own computer? There are several good reasons why you may want to do it: building a PC is fairly easy, and even inexperienced users can do it. You don't need any special tools, apart from a screwdriver and maybe a grounding bracelet. No significant technical knowledge is required aside from choosing compatible parts and after reading through this guide it will be no trouble at all.

Benefits of Building your own Desktop

  • You will improve your technical knowledge and skill.
  • It's usually cheaper than buying a branded computer with equivalent specs.
  • You get to choose components matching your exact needs.
  • It will make for an engaging experience, and it's certainly simpler than it sounds.
Educational, useful and interesting: building computers can actually amount to a good hobby! Once you have all the parts, you can assemble your machine in a matter of hours... and when you first turn it on and watch how it works, I guarantee you'll feel proud of yourself.

Choosing the right components for your new build

This section will cover all the components you need to build your desktop PC, aside from the peripherals (such as mouse, keyboard and printer, for example). We'll list each component and explain its basic function.

Case + power supply: This is the framework that will hold the other components together. Choosing a case is relatively simple. You should just make sure it's big enough to suit your needs. An average-sized desktop case will usually have room for three DVD/Blu-ray drives, two hard drives and one or two floppy drivers. If you think you may need to install more drives, you should choose a bigger case. On the other hand, if you're sure you won't install that many drives, you may as well choose a smaller case that takes up less room. Computer cases are usually available in either vertical or horizontal orientation, although most of them can be used either way. Not all computer cases include a power supply. So you need to check that and buy one separately, if necessary. The required wattage of your power supply will depend on the other parts of the computer. For example, if you are going dual video card, multiple optical drives, and multiple hard drives, you will want to choose a video card of a higher wattage. If you are doing a normal build, it is probably fine to choose a power supply that is middle of the line when it comes to wattage.

Motherboard: This is probably the component that will require the most research and consideration, provided you want to make the right choice. It's also the largest component inside the computer case, and all of the other parts connect to it: hence the name "motherboard". You have to choose this part carefully and make sure it's compatible with your desired CPU this is probably one of the most important considerations you will have to make. Some motherboards include on-board graphics and sound, which may be a good option: besides not being much more expensive, it will provide you with a back-up solution in case your main graphic card or sound card fails. Also, many users are happy enough with the onboard graphic and sound cards. If you are only using your PC for email and word processing, the onboard cards are probably good enough.

CPU (Central Processing Unit... or simply Processor): This can be the most expensive part of all, especially if you want to assemble a top-of-the-line computer. Your main decision will be choosing AMD or Intel CPU. While the former tend to be more inexpensive, many users swear that Intel processors have superior performance. Truth of the matter, there are usually processors available from both manufacturers, roughly with similar specifications. The most important thing to keep in mind while choosing a processor is making sure its socket is compatible with the motherboard you're planning to use. The "Socket" is the physical plug that connects the CPU and motherboard, and there are several types available depending on factors such as CPU brand, type of CPU, and even its architecture.

Graphics card (also known as video card, graphics adapter, graphics accelerator card): This can be one of the most expensive parts in your list, depending on your goals. If you want to build a gaming computer or if you work with 3D generated graphics, you should definitely go for a high-end graphics card. Currently, there are two main types of graphic cards: AGP or PCI-express. Most motherboards usually have at least one port of each type. At this point it time, you probably want to opt for PCI-express, as AGP video cards are a thing of the past. Video cards have embedded memory, with the most common cost-efficient options being 512MB 1GB. Some cards include various outputs asides from the typical VGA-out: DVI and S-Video are some examples, but there are several others. Certain models even allow using two screens at once with a single card.

Sound card (or audio card): While most motherboards these days have embedded sound, many people prefer getting an external sound card to get an optimum audio experience. Getting a powerful sound card can be useful if you're interested in audio production, but also if you want to get high-fidelity audio in your machine. Sound cards vary in polyphony, with better models allowing for 5.1 output. An audio card is also meant to provide various inputs and outputs for audio, allowing you to connect a microphone to the computer, or even an external sound system, for example... as well as various other sound devices such as synthesizer.

RAM (also known as memory): This part should not be confused with the hard drive, as novice users sometimes do. Whereas, the RAM can be compared with the size of your desk (a bigger desk will help you do more things at the same time), the HD drive can be compared with a file cabinet (you don't use it to actually work, but to store data). Currently, modern computers tend to use anything from 2GB of RAM upwards to 8GB. There are two considerations you should follow while choosing RAM sticks. You should check whether its clock speed frequency is compatible with your motherboard, and you should check how many slots are available. Ideally, you should get fewer modules with higher capacity as to leave slots available for future expansions, if you ever find them necessary.

Hard Disk Drive (also known as HDD): A HDD with larger capacity won't necessarily make your computer faster, but it will increase the storage space available (see previous point). There are, however, faster and costlier hard disk drives that can increase the speed of file transfers, thus increasing the overall performance of a computer. You may want to get a hard drive of at least 1TB (=1024GB), although you should know it's possible connecting various HDD's simultaneously in the same computer. This means that you can always add additional hard disk drives to increase the available storage capacity.

Additional Cards/Drives: There are several other expansion cards you may want to include in your machine, depending on your goals and depending on whether you chose a motherboard where such cards are embedded on-board. For example, if you will be doing video editing on this machine you may want to add a fire-wire card. Additionally, you should also get the appropriate drives, such as DVD, Blu-Ray, Floppy Disk drives, etc depending on your personal requirements. Remember, you can always add these parts later on, since they're not essential for the computer to work.

Got all the Parts? Now Put It Together!

It's a good idea to choose all the parts at the same time to make sure they're compatible with one another. You should pay special attention to the CPU<-Motherboard->RAM to make sure the sockets fit and the clock speeds match, respectively. Once you have all the parts available, that's when the fun begins! Armed with just a plain screwdriver, you will actually put together your own computer.

Warning: Computer parts are very sensitive to static electricity, and you can actually damage some of these parts just by holding them, with static discharges from your body. To avoid this, it's extremely important that you stay grounded while putting together your machine. We don't mean just figuratively grounded (i.e. focused): you will do best to wear a grounding bracelet in your wrist. You have been warned! Also, make sure you do not plug anything in until the very end. This is a safety precaution. Now, let's have some fun.

To begin, you should examine the case and make sure the power supply is in place. You will then be placing a bunch of screws in the right places, attaching the motherboard to the computer case. Finally, you want to look over the instruction manual that came with the CPU to learn how to attach it to the motherboard. It's usually a straightforward process, but in some cases applying thermal glue might be necessary. Also, you will need to install the heatsink/fan on top of the CPU at this point as well. Don't rush yourself and make sure to review all the instruction manuals that came with your computer parts.

Ok! That was the challenging part. From here on, it's just like playing with Lego blocks. Get the graphics card and audio card and then connect them to the main board. Likewise, insert the RAM modules in their respective slots notice how they only fit in a specific orientation. They are usually marked with numbers on both sides. Also, with the RAM, make sure to read the motherboard instruction manual on how to install. Putting your RAM in the correct slots will ensure maximum speed. Now, place the DVD/Blu-Ray and Hard Disk /Floppy Drives drives in place, make sure to use four screws for each part... don't be lazy! When everything is in place, you just have to connect all the cables, both power cables and cables to the motherboard. Next, connect your case fans to the power supply if applicable. The last thing you will have to hook up is the activity lights, front USB (if applicable), front sound, and reset/power switch wires. These are usually small one to four pin wires and they vary by motherboard and case. Refer to your motherboard manual on how to connect the wires to the correct pins. The small wires will be labeled on the connector itself. For example, the power wire will probably be labeled with something like "POWER SW".

Are you ready? With all these components in place, it's almost time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Just make sure to go through all the connectors at least once, make sure you didn't forget anything and notice whether all the parts are in the right place. Start it up and install your operating system of choice. That's it! You have just finished building your own computer and hopefully you had good fun doing so.

Troubleshooting Your New Build

Hopefully everything started up just fine. However, if you had problems, you will need to troubleshoot your new build.

Did your system power on but then had a beep or series of beeps?

If so, then you will need to check your motherboard's website to decipher what the beep code means. You can also check out our guide about common beep codes for help. One of the most common reasons for this is a memory problem. So, make sure to recheck your memory.

Computer Won't Turn on or Beep

In this case, there is something wrong that is big such as a hardware failure or a power supply problem. Before you come to this conclusion, you should make sure that the power switch on the power supply is flipped on and that you don't have your surge protector or wall outlet turned off.

Computer Turns On and Immediately Turns Off

First, you should check that your heatsink and fan for your CPU are installed correctly. Also, verify that the heatsink turns on when you start the system. Next, make sure that the case wires for power/reset are connected correctly. The last thing you should look for is a blown capacitor. They will look like the top has blown off.

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