Build Your Own Computer

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Reiokeshia (sp?) started the idea of having a D.I.Y. guide for building a computer. It seems B also likes the idea so I am starting a thread for the people who are interested in doing it themselves, instead of pay crappy companies like Dell to push crap "Ultimate Computers." However, like most decisions in life, there are pros and cons.

1) Level of quality. Companies like Dell, Compaq, etc... may cut corners on certain parts like motherboard or power supplies to save money.
2) Part knowledge. If you select the parts and you know the quality, obviously you know what kind of components you have. This helps tremendously in trouble shooting.
3) Standardized. For the most part, most companies adhere to the standardized form factors, but certain companies or certain models don't follow the standard and if the part breaks, usually it is more expensive to replace it since it has to be specific and not off the shelf things.
4) Potential savings. Sometimes it is considerably cheaper to build your own. This is the main reason people DIY.
5) Self-satisfaction. Knowing you built your own makes you feel good =).

1) Time consuming. Waiting for the parts could take days and just putting it together is a weekend project for most people.
2) Support. You have absolutely zero support except the internet and fellow "geeks."
3) Compatibility. Components sometimes just don't like each other and this can lead to frustration and a lot of downtime. This happens seldomly now a days.
4) Cost. It maybe easier and cheaper to just buy a system from Dell or HP, especially during certain promotion periods. This isn't very often though.

The next thing to mention is, "Where to even shop?" Best Buy, Wal-Mart, etc... don't carry all the parts you need to complete a system, so where do you get it? In most cases, e-tailers are the only way to go because the majority of the stores that do carry everything are Mom and Pop stores or specialty boutique ones that charge an arm and a leg. Here are a few great places to shop:

1) The definitive of great consumer service, component selection and competitive pricing.
2) Great place to get parts and most often free shipping. Price and selection isnt as great as Newegg.
3) Fry's. This is an electronic store equivalent to Costco with great prices during sales promotions.

Now with that out of the way, lets get to the good stuff.

Basic components of a complete computer:
1) CPU. This is the brain of the operations and the most important. It dictates how fast the system can compute calculations and will decide most, if not the rest, of your components.
2) Motherboard. This is the base e.g. thats why its considered the "mother." Everything connects to this piece of board somehow.
3) RAM (Random Access Memory). Also an important factor in deciding how fast your system is. Works in conjunction with the CPU. The more the merrier
4) H.D.D. Hard drive. You need something to store all the info and operating system, right? This also decides how responsive your computer is.
5) Video. Displays the information. This can be bought separately or integrated with the motherboard, meaning its already there and doesnt require another purchase.
6) PSU (Power supply). All the parts need juice to run and this is where it gets it from.
7) Case. The components need something to housed in.
8) Monitor. Displays the information decoded by the video.
9) Input devices. Covers mice and keyboards. User utilizes to command the system.
Optional Components (Most likely want):
10) Sound. Displays audio. Can also be separate or integrated.
11) Optical drives. Parts like CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, etc...
12) Speakers/headphones.
13) Floppy disk. Very outdated and most computers dont even come with them anymore, but very important in updating the motherboard.

Well this covers the very basics and I will cover the importance of each component and details later along with pictures and guides.

[FONT=&quot]Part II[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Selecting your components: [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]The most important aspect of building your computer is researching and understanding what you are buying; corny but “knowledge is power.” Why? Because you’ll know what the quality, capabilities and compatibilities of each part, besides it will provide you the best bang for the buck because you won’t get suckered into buying useless crap or overpriced crap.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Another important thing to mention is whether to buy OEM or retail. OEM is the bare parts itself with no extras, not even pretty packaging. Retail is with the colorful boxes, extra software and accessories. Why even bother with OEM then? Most of those extras are useless and cost extra, sometimes upwards of $30-40 dollars. I will state which components to consider for OEM or retail.

[FONT=&quot]1) CPU: [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]What to look for: [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]The most important decision is either to go single-core or dual-core. Dual-core chips are two processors in one package allowing you to perform more tasks at once without slow response or lagging or do it faster if the program is written to utilize both cores. Dual-cores have come down considerably in price so I wouldn’t even consider single-core unless I was on a really tight budget. [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]The next thing to consider is the mhz. The higher it is, the faster the processor, but that is only when you compare it to the same type e.g. AMD X2 vs AMD X2 or Intel Core 2 Duo vs Intel Core Duo. Comparing an AMD and an Intel chip is like comparing apples and oranges.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Lastly, the processors come in certain “sockets.” Each generation of processors usually change sockets so a new gen. processor will not fit in older socket motherboard e.g. Intel’s socket 775 processors will not fit their old Intel socket 478 motherboard because it will physically not fit (idiot proof) and it’s a new/improved architecture. [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Note[/FONT][FONT=&quot]: As of right now, Intel’s offerings are superior over AMD’s both in power consumption and processing power.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Recommendations: [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Retail is the better choice because you get a longer warranty (3 years vs 1) and a heatsink (cooling unit). Also, the price difference is only $5-10 between OEM and retail, which a generic heatsink roughly cost that you need to buy unless you have one already.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]High-end: Intel Quad-Core Extreme QX6700[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Middle-end: Intel Core 2 Duo E6600[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Low-end: AMD X2 3800+ AM2 [/FONT]
2) Motherboard[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]What to look for:[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Choosing the processor will decide which socket type motherboard you must use. However, even after that, there is still a wealth of selections. [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]The next important thing is to consider the chipset, a mini-processor that communicates with the RAM and CPU. They handle everything that is on the motherboard. Chipsets come in different varieties such as allowing you to use dual-video cards or provide more connections for your devices and are priced accordingly. The more the chipset can do and handle, the more expensive it is. Also, consider looking for a motherboard that allows expandability like multiple RAM slots, PCI slots, etc for future upgradability and onboard options like PCI-Express and gigabyte LAN. If you don’t plan on getting a separate video card or sound card, it’s a good idea to get a motherboard with integrated video and sound.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Recommendations: [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Come only as retail. [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Too difficult to really suggest because there are so many choices and it depends on which processor to choose. However, the two main players are Nvidia and Intel. AMD/ATi is a good selection, but only for the budget boards. So, instead I will list a tier system because of the numerous choices.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Top-tier: ASUS, Gigabyte, MSI[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Middle-tier: Biostar, Foxconn, Epox[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Low-tier: ECS, PC Chips [/FONT]

3) RAM: [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]What to look for: [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]There are two main varieties, DDR and DDR2. DDR isn’t used much anymore because all the new systems and processors utilize DDR2 for its superior bandwidth and low power consumption. Also, look for 800 mhz because it is usually the same price as lower frequency models, the higher the frequency the more bandwidth. However, if the lower speed ones are a lot cheaper, say $20-30 it is worth considering because if you don’t plan on overclocking (modding and voiding warranty to gain speed) or anything, it works just as well. Last thing is get as much as your budget allows. 1 GB is the norm now, but 2 GB is where the sweet spot is at. Anything lower than 512MB and your computing experience will be like a d15 motor with an oversized T88 turbo. [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Note[/FONT][FONT=&quot]: ECC or buffered RAM are reserved for servers and cost a lot more than non-ECC or unbuffered RAM. Little gain unless data is crucial like on servers.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Recommendations: [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Like motherboards, retail only. And like motherboards, too many selections such I will list a tier system. Most of the manufactures provide life-time warranties and the only real difference is support. Top tier provides the best support and compatibility.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Top-tier: Crucial, Corsair, OCZ, Mushkin[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Middle-tier: PNY, G. Skill, Kingston[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Low-tier: Adata, Wintec, Geil[/FONT]
4) Hard Drives:[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]What to look for:[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]If you’re gamer look for a hard drive with high RPMs. The faster the platter on the hard drive spins, the faster it can access the data. However, with faster speeding platters they create more heat, noise and cost more per gigabyte than standard drives. Another thing to look for is high buffers, which is a tiny amount of memory stored on the hard drive, also called cache, for fast retrieval. 8Mb is good for anything under 200GB, anything higher than that, you’d want at 16Mb. Another way to improve performance is run it in a RAID array, which requires at least two identical drives. The most common versions are 0 for speed, but increased risk of data loss, and 1 for data mirroring for backing up data. For most people, standard speeds (7200RPM) and higher capacity (160GB for starters) are the way to go.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Hard drives common in two flavors, regular old IDE or SATA. SATA has a higher theoretical bandwidth, but in all intent and purposes provide no extra performance enhancements. On the other hand, they do increase case flow because the wires are 4 times smaller and create less mess in the case.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Note[/FONT][FONT=&quot]: SCSI are another form are hard drives but are not common for consumers, although they are possibility the fastest drives you can get (up to 15,000RPM), because they cost a sh*t load.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot] Good to go OEM here because the motherboard usually comes with all the extra connectors required for the hard drive and most come with the same warranty as retail models. [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]High-end: Western Digital Raptor series (10,000RPM)[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Middle-end: Seagate 7200.10 320GB w/perpendicular recoding (5 year warranty)[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Low-end: Whatever you can afford[/FONT]
5) Video: [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]What to look for:[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]The soul for gamers because it is the equal to the CPU in terms of importance. The better the video card, the better the graphics and gaming experience will be. There are a lot of things to consider here, but most importantly are the MHZ on the RAM and GPU (graphics processing unit), the number of pipelines and the amount of RAM available. But getting into these beasts requires a whole separate write up. Thus, to put it simply if you’re just browsing and watching videos then the integrated versions work great. If you want to game or do heavy video like high def., a video card is a must.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Video cards can be linked together and run as one unit in either Crossfire (AMD/ATi) or SLi (Nvidia) for even greater power. I don’t suggest doing this because for the price of two middle level cards, a single higher model card solution usually matches or exceeds them. SLi or Crossfire are usually reserved for the ones who need the best graphics ever or the uber rich.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Lastly, look for HDCP. It’s a stupid copyright protection that if you don’t have, you cant watch High def media on your computer.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Come in only in retail flavors.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]AMD/ATi and Nvidia are just about the only video card makers that matter these days. They make both professional and enthusiast level cards for either rendering or gaming. Third party companies take these cards and add additional software, performance or enhancements. Companies to consider are BFG and eVGA for Nvidias and Sapphire and PowerColor for AMD/ATi.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]High-end: Nvidia 8800GTX (fastest card on the planet, period. For now anyway)[/FONT]
6) PSU (Power supply):[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]What to look for:[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot] Many people tend to overlook this component, however its crucial to stability and longevity. An under powered unit will cause weird stuff like crashes, hangs, graphical artifacts or not even booting. [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot] Most, if not all, new power supplies come with a 24-pin main connector. Older systems require only a 20-pin. Always buy 24-pin unless you need a cheap 20-pin to run an old rig because all 24-pin are backward compatible. You can go the 20-pin to 24 with an adapter, but I do not recommend this at all. Other things to look at are SATA power adapters and 4-pin or 8-pin EPS, PCI-E pins, etc depending on the board and what other components you are using.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot] Now the most important factor to look for in a power supply is the amps on the 12v. Watts matter to a certain extent, but amps is where it counts. A 500watt with 18amps will be outperformed by a 350watt with 30amps. [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot] Lastly, if its modular and if its loud. If you care for looks or just ease of case management, modular units fit the bill. And if you care about noise, try looking for one with bigger 120mm fans as opposed to 80mm.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot] Can only recommend retail. OEM units are usually used and refurb units that I rather not have fail and take out other components like the motherboard or worst, your CPU. I’ll recommend manufactors as opposed to certain units because too many to choose from.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]High-end: PC and Power Cooling, Zippy[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Middle-end: OCZ, Corsair, Seasonic, Enermax[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Low-end: Athena, Kingwin, Raidmax[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]7) Case:[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]What to look for:[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot] Cases are the most subjective out of all the components. But I’ll mention what to consider in choosing one.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot] Most important is cooling. The larger and more fans the case can handle the better. Second are connections for external devices like USB and Firewire. Lastly, is a removeable motherboard tray. It makes installing a system 100x folds easier. [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot] However, like I mentioned before, go for whatever you like. You’ll be staring at it. Oh yeah, make sure your case can handle your parts. You can’t buy a micro-ATX case and expect to fit a full-ATX board inside.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot] Retail only. You can even get a used one as long as YOU like it. Ill mention manufactures with the best build quality and most people use.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Lian-Li, Cooler Master, Antec, Thermaltake, Silverstone and many more.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]8) Monitor:[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]What to look for:[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]I can’t recommend boob-tubes aka CRT. Only professionals that require the absolute best in color reproduction and geometry need apply. Even at that, high grade LCDs can almost match them.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Get the largest LCD screen you afford. And try to go with widescreen because it will maximize work space and viewing widescreen games and movies will look better on a widescreen LCD. Also look for the most resolution and highest contrast ratio. The higher the resolution the better the images will look and always try to run it at native. Higher contrast ratios will help make the blackest black and whitest white.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Another thing to look for is the response time. The lower the better. It is usually resented as ms. Anything under 8ms is great because if you have higher than that, fast moving objects may blurr and what is known as ghosting. Gamers especially hate this.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Lastly, consider connections. Most new ones have DVI, which is required for HD media. Along with DVI, your monitor must be HDCP compliant like your video card.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]3 year warranties are standard and look for dead/stick pixels when you buy it. Its either a black, blue, red or white spec on your monitor. There are tests out there to help you detect them like DisplayMate. Like many other components, too many to chose from so Ill recommend manufactures. [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Viewsonic, LG, Apple, BenQ, NEC, and Sony are among the top. [/FONT]

9) Input devices:[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]What to look for:[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]There is really only one thing to consider, do you want wireless or wired? Also, try to get an optical mouse as they are easier to use and maintain than old ones with a ball. Gamers and others make argue about buttons, weight and what not. But get what you can afford and feels comfortable and the other aspects are luxuries. Not everyone needs a $100 keyboard.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Lastly, if its PS2 or USB. PS2 are older ones and not every motherboard may have these connections, but an adapter can be bought.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]I like Logitech a lot, but feel free to scrub whatever you like.[/FONT]
Optional Components (Most likely want):

[FONT=&quot]10) Sound:[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]What to look for:[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot] Now adays, the onboard HD-audio works wonders. They are a ton better than old ones, but someone may feel the need to get a separate card. Sound cards can improve frame rates on games because it unloads the work from the CPU or enthusiasts may just want better sound. [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot] Only one real manufactory and that is Creative. Their new X-Fi models are the best, but the old Audigys still work wonders. For audio professionals there are other makers, but I am not familiar. Bottom line, if don’t care about sound all that much and frame rates don’t matter as much, onboard is fine and great.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]11) Optical drives:[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]What to look for:[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]DVD burners are so cheap now that I can’t image you not getting one unless you have one already. However, some people never burn anything and can get by with virtual ones like Daemon tools.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Anyway, look for one that has the highest speeds and most compatibility like dual-layer, DVD-RAM, etc…Also a neat feature is lightscribe. Instead of printing labels, you can burn them right onto discs. Only downside is its monochromatic and can only use lightscribe discs (cost more).[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Lastly, most come in old IDE. However there are some that are SATA, but slowly penetrating the market.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]OEM is great because you don’t need the extra bundled crap like extra wires or software. Additional wires can be bought for like $1-2 if needed and the software can be found for free after rebates at many retailers. Plus you save like $20 to even $50 compared to retail.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]One brand separates itself from the rest and its Plextor. They make the best in terms of burn quality and compatibility. However, Lite-On, NEC, Pioneer, Sony and BenQ make great sub $40 burners.[/FONT]
12) Speakers/headphones:[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]What to look for:[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot] Watts in terms of RMS and the number of speakers. The more satellite speakers and the bigger the subwoofer the better. The rest is subjective in terms of sound quality. [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot] Get what you can afford. If you’re an audiophile or really care about sound, get the best you can afford. Most of us can get away with $10 desktop speakers. [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot] Logitech, Creative, Klipsch and Altec Lansing all make great speakers.

Miscellaneous (Not Needed)

13) Floppy Drives:
What to look for:
Just make sure its the "newer" 3.5". Why even a floppy drive? Some stuff, specifically RAID drivers and BIOS updates still require the usage of this ancient things. However, more and more manufactuers are making bootable CD-ROMs and hopefully soon these things can put to rest.

Anything you can scrounge up. Pay no more than $2-3 because these things should be everywhere. Pull it from old computers people are throwing anyway, donating, or whatever. Some are actually integrated in multi-card readers for like $10-15.

Mitsumi's and Sony's are share the same consensus that they are the best. But who cares, these things are expendable.
14) Heatsinks:
What to look for:Heatsinks should come with the processor you bought unless its the OEM model. Its the little device that gets rid of the heat from the CPU or the chipsets. People get them for two reasons. 1) Better cooling. 2) Quieter operation. There are really two things to look for when choosing the right one. How big is the unit and how big is the fan. The bigger the unit, the better it'll cool the processor. BEWARE: Bigger the unit, the heavier it is and the more likely hood it will tear off the board and damage components. So if you get a monster one, try not to move the case around too much. Lastly, the bigger the fan, the slower it will have to turn to match the CFM (how much air it can move) of a smaller fan, which means its a lot quieter. And if don't care about the noise, you can crank these bad boys and get some serious cooling that rivals water cooling.

Get one that will fit in your case. Some people get huge ones and find out they cant use it because its way too big once in the case or blocking other components on the motherboard. Heatpipe (look like radiator pipes) ones that are towered are the best performing ones and are usually paired with 120mm fans.

The king of air cooling is the Thermalright Ultra 120 and variants. A close second is the Sunbeam Tuniq Tower. Another brands and makers to look for are Thermaltake, Scythe, and Zalman, among others. Good fans to pair with some of these are Panaflo, Yate Loons, Vantecs, and more. Figure to spend around $30-60 for a good setup.

15) Thermal paste:
What to look for:
In a thermal interface you want the paste kind. The pads dont do shit except lower heat transfer efficiency. Becareful, some interfaces will be PERMANENT. You will NEVER be able to REMOVE the heatsink from the processor and thus blocking its removable from the motherboard. The good ones can lower overall temperatures a few degrees from 1-10 C.

Arctic Silver 5 or Arctic Silver Ceramique, depending the application. End of story.

16) Fans:
What to look for:
Sometimes you just want more airflow to the case or you just dont want your computer to sound like a Boeing 747. Replacing fans can solve the problem. If you want it for cooling look for higher CFM (Cubic Feet/Minute) and if you want it for acoustics look for lower dBA (decibels). Regardless, size does matter. The current standards are 80mm (too small IMO) and 120mm.


Same brands that pair with the heatsinks: Vantec, Panaflo, Nexus, Yate Loons, etc...


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I've been doing it for over 15 years- earned all my extra spending money in college by building PCs for people.
i think a good thing to hit on is all the misc crap. pretty much any one going to build a machine knows they need a mb, cpu, etc.
but, there;s a good chance they will forget to order the heat paste for the cpu, and so on. So if you can, in your post include those misc things that most people forget to order.
floppy disks arent needed to update motherboard BIOS anymore, and this is increasingly apparent in new systems that come without floppies.
I used to build 'em for a living. Now I buy Dells. Cheaper/easier. And all components are vigerously tested for compatibility. You just cant get that from a home built PC.

But to some, its a hobby. And it can be a very fun/challenging hobby. Or it can be very frustrating. Especially for new comers.

Three most important things to know about home building PC's.
1. Research
2. Research
3. Research.

If you go buy all the top of the line and/or best deals without doing any research, you are inviting a headache. You may get lucky and build Uber Wonder PC. but more than likely you'll run into issues. Hard to work out issues because this ram just doesnt agree with that paticular processor. Or a video card that doesnt like a certain motherboard. They all claim 100% compatibility. Not true.
i'd rather fight with compatibility than have my MOBO blow up 366 days later, exactly after warranty :P
hey guys ive just finished the build and write up the rest with pictures and descriptions by this weekend.. ive been incredibly busy with work and finals/midterms.

anyway, I know theres winflash and bootable cd-rom to update the BIOS, but there are some vendors that do not support any other way besides floppies.

and i disagree with you phyregod about rigorous testing. a lot of manufacturers have drivers that are incompatible, or faulty BIOS. hell even the whole rig might not boot up. if you do your research, computability isnt much of an issue except for bleeding-edge stuff. maybe the high end models like server or flagship models get tested heavily. also their "rigorous" testings still produce bad eggs. ive had experience where the opticals, motherboards, power supplies take a shit within a few weeks of purchase or even come broken. besides many parts that you buy yourself come with more than 1 year warranty eg retail cpu's, hard drivers, power supplies, cases, ram, videocards, etc come with warranties that range from 3 years to lifetimes.
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i'd rather fight with compatibility than have my MOBO blow up 366 days later, exactly after warranty :P


Plus all of Dell's wonderful proprietary parts, power supplies, and horribly space inefficient cases.
I just added the second part. This is really rough and any inputs or suggestions are welcomed. Maybe we can finally get this finalized and sticky soon. Ill up the pictures and misc. stuff like different cooling methods and fan selections. But I think so far, its covered the basic bases.
Note: the recommendations are my personal opinions and dont be limited to them. this field evolves extremely fast so whatever is fastest today wont be a week down the road. and most importantly, this is the tip of the iceberg. pracitcially each component or section of this guide can have a whole web site dedicated to it including reviews and more indepth coverage and such as aspects.
Damn I need to come into this part of the forum more. I've been wanting to build my own computer from a cabinet to completion ever since my dad bought me my first one and we built it together for a mere 600 bucks. Sure it was slow, but it beats the 2,000 base price + 15% interest over SIX YEARS I spent on my Dell desktop.

I think I'm going to give this a try, nothing fancy but it'll have a 50 gig harddrive, 1 gig of ram at the very least and a semi decent video/audio card.

Thanks for this write up man, definitely need to give some rep for this thread.