Build Your Own Computer
Edited by Jerry Rivers, Lynn, Eng, Charmed
Of course you enjoy the convenience of your popular brand computer with all its many uses and benefits. Despite all its features, you probably have some software that you never plan to use, and you may also find yourself wishing there were capabilities that are not available on your computer. Why not build your own computer? It can be done rather easily and the finished product will not only be customized to your taste and needs, but will be less costly than its big name counterpart. As a matter of fact, even if you spend more on building the computer, the higher performance of your home-built PC will help you to save money overall. Another plus to consider is that the individual parts for your personally built computer have two- to three-year warranties, whereas a newly purchased computer only has a one-year warranty. This could save you as much as $500. Follow the information and steps below, and you can build that personalized computer. You should expect to take a couple days looking for the right components to build your PC, and another full day to put it all together. Your new, personally built computer should operate well for you once it's all together securely. There are troubleshooting tips at the end this computer building guide if there are any hitches,however
Protect the computer components from static electricity. You need some form of anti-static protection, such as the proper gloves or anti-static wrist strap. You can purchase either one at a local PC supply store. Keep the computer parts off the floor as much as possible, and never just leave a component on the floor for hours. They are in static-free bags when you purchase them, and it's a good idea to just leave them in the bag until they are connected to the motherboard once it is in the computer case. If you must have a computer part out of the bag before installation, keep it on a non-metal surface.
How much do you want to spend for your computer?
- 1Low Cost. With a lower price tag, expect a lower performance, but that may be all you need for personal use. For a few hundred dollars you can have a basic computer. If you only plan to use your computer to watch videos, and for emails, social networking, and internet surfing, this is for you.Advertisement
- 2Medium Cost. For $400 to $800 you can build a computer capable of multi-tasking. In this price range, you can install a high-powered video card for playing 3-D games that are very realistic. You can also, for example, play music on YouTube with steady streaming while you're word processing.Advertisement
- 3High Cost. Here, you are talking about spending anywhere from $800 and up. This is the cost of a very high performing computer that has exceptional power and memory, and can perform several operations simultaneously. If you are into the latest video games, you should build a high performance computer.
Build your own computer with these essential hardware parts
There are several basic hardware parts needed for any computer to operate. Here, I will explain the function of each. Each of these components is available within a wide range of performance levels. You should consider your needs before purchasing each one of these components.
- 1The Central Processing Unit (CPU). The expensive and much needed part is the brains of any computer. The CPU follows instructions from the program to perform logical tasks as it sits inside your computer case. Just briefly, it will have two parts: The Arithmetic/Logic Unit (ALU) and the Control Unit (CU). The ALU is self-explanatory, while the CU actually decodes machine language from the memory to perform tasks. It typically will have a cooling fan equipped, called a heat sink fan (HSF). If you need complex, demanding tasks done, such as working on videos, playing high-end video games, or using software codes, you need a speedier and more powerful CPU. The high performing computers require more than one CPU.Advertisement
- 2The Motherboard.
- 3Hard Drive (s). The hard drive stores all information in more of a permanent location. This is where the operating system, documents, games and media are kept. A hard drive has a large, but limited capacity. There are two types of PC hard drives: the Solid State Drive (SSD) and the Hard Disk Drive (HDD). Although they perform the same function, there is a huge difference in their storage capacity, processing speed, and price. It depends on your budget, and what uses you will have for your computer, as to which one is right for you. For example, this means for the maximum capacity HDD today, the price is about 0.04 X 4,000 GB = $160. The maximum capacity SSD has a price about 0.80 X 500 = $400. So, what this all means is that if you plan to use your personally built PC for heavy duty use, such as playing high-end video games, editing videos, and a lot of multi-tasking, I recommend that you go ahead and fork out over twice the money for a solid state drive. Even though the hard drive (HDD) has much more storage capacity, when it comes to overall capabilities, there is no comparison. It is the solid state (SSD) hands-down. If your budget allows, you can even equip your new computer with both types of hard drives. You could store documents, music and videos on the HDD, and have your operating system (OS) and many programs on your SSD. To assist you in your decision, here is the comparison in the three categories:
- Maximum Storage Capacity:
- SSD. 500GB.
- HDD. 4,000GB.
- Middle Range Drive Speeds. The average transfer rate of data:
- SSD. 280MB per second.
- HDD. 100 MB per second.
- Regarding drive speeds, the Input/Output Operations per Second (IOPS)is the random speed for transferring huge files of information, such as stored music, programs, and the latest video games. In other words, the higher the IOPS, the faster the hard drive transfers large amounts of data. Also, the higher the IOPS, the more your hard disk can multi-task without slowing down. This is called also Random Read and Write Speed:
- SSD. 10,000 IOPS
- HDD. 100 IOPS
- The average price for each drive:
- SSD. 80 cents per Gigabyte
- HDD. 4 cents per Gigabyte.
- Maximum Storage Capacity:
- 4The Computer Case. This is simply the house for your CPU and motherboard.
- 5Random Access Memory (RAM). RAM stores data for quick access, with data stored in no certain order, as opposed to hard disks like CDs or DVDs, which have stored data only in a specific order. Basically, the more RAM you have, the speedier your information is retrieved, and the more programs you can run at the same time.
- 6Graphics Card. A graphical user interface, or graphics card (GUI) is what allows your operating system (OS), such as Windows to function using only a mouse instead of a special code for every command. It allows all graphics, such as icons and "objects" to appear on your computer screen. A motherboard holds the GUI, and may already have a graphics card. However, for today's 64-bit video games, if you're a gamer, you will need a special graphics card, such as Acer.
- 7Optical Drive. This simply means a DVD and CD drive. This is definitely recommended for you to install due to the high use of CDs and DVDs these days. Perhaps surprisingly, you will only be out 20 bucks for investing in an optical drive.
- 9Other Needed Hardware Components. You will need a few more basics, such as a monitor, keyboard and mouse. These hardware devices, and any others, should be installed for your personal computer usage. If you are a gamer or graphic designer, you will want a large screen monitor and a joystick. Playing video games will wear out the keys on a keyboard fast if you don't have a joystick. If you want wireless internet, you must install a WiFi card. For pairing (connecting) mobile devices to your PC, you may desire a Bluetooth card. For social networking, a webcam will be handy. If you are uncertain about what specific hardware to choose for your purposes, there are many PC-tech magazines available these days. You can compare items and prices online for every component, too.
Building your computer
As Bruce Buffer says, "It's Time!". Here is how you build your own computer:
- 1Installing the power supply unit in the case (PSU).
- Open the case.
- There is a cutout on the back of your case for your PSU. You will first install the PSU there.
- Set your PSU in place at the back of the case. Be sure the fan is facing down.
- Your new PSU has four screw holes that you must align with the four holes in your case. Screw the PSU in place at the four screw holes.
- ATX Power Connector (20+4). This is the main power connector, and attaches to the ATX motherboard connectors. The pin arrangement may vary, especially if you are building a Legacy System computer. Check the instructions sheet that came with your motherboard to ensure that you have the right ATX Power Lead cable for it. Typically, it is the 20+4 pin arrangement.
- CPU Power Connector (4+4). This one will connect to ATX 12-volt connector on the motherboard. Typically, only one of the 4-pin clusters will plug in to this motherboard connector.
- Peripheral (Molex) Power Connector(4 pin). It connects to the IDE hard and optical drives.
- PCI Express Power Connector (6 pin) or (8+2). It connects to a PCI graphics card, but is not required for low-level graphics cards. The (8+2) will send more power for the high-level cards.
- SATA Power Serial Cable Connector.
- Molex Fan Adapter (3 pin). This connects for power to your computer fans.
- Set the motherboard on the standoffs. Screw it onto the case. This spacing helps keep your motherboard cool while operating.
- Connect the ATX Power lead cable. From your Power Supply Unit (PSU) to the ATX receptacle on the motherboard. This is the recommended ATC lead cable from the instructions that came with your motherboard. If you have a new motherboard, it will be the 20+4 pin receptacle. There will also be another 12-volt connector with as many as 8 pins beside it on a new model of motherboard. If you are installing an older model of motherboard, you will probably have a 20-pin receptacle with a 12-volt connector beside it with only 4 pins. If you are building a Legacy computer, there will be multiple connectors.
- Connect the motherboard power switch.
- Connect the Reset Switch.
- Connect the power LED hard disk indicator.
- Connect the Sleep message indicator if there is one.
- Connect the speaker connector.
- If there is an Audio, take off the jumpers that are on the motherboard connector. Then, connect the front audio panel lead. There will be a space rather than a pin in one spot on the lead which will make it easy to match up and connect. The connectors will be either HD Audio or AC97. Just in case they're not labeled, the connectors will be AC97.
- Find the front panel USB connectors. Then, plug in the USB leads which will easily match up and connect.
- Optical Drive. Place your DVD/CD (optical) drive into your case from the front. Now, it's time to configure the optical (DVD and CD) and hard drives. Note that if you have IDE drives set on the same channel, configure your hard drive as the "master" drive, with the optical drive as the "slave". This is simply so that your computer will start up quicker. If they are not set on the same channel, you can just set the optical drive as "master".
- More about the DVD Drive installation. You can connect your DVD drive to either an IDE (Integrated Device Electronics) or SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) cable. If you are using an IDE cable, the blue end inserts into the motherboard, while the red strip must connect to the back of the drive. There are small bumps on the inside of the plastic end-piece of the cable. They will connect into matching recessions for the appropriate receptacle. So, you can only plug in the IDE cable the right way, or not at all. Once again, for an IDE cable here, you will have to set the jumper to "master" at the IDE bus. Be sure to not bend the motherboard too much by just holding it while inserting your IDE cable for the DVD drive. Remember that if you use a SATA cable, life is much easier for your drive installation. All you have to do is connect with either end when you connect the DVD drive to the motherboard.
- Use SATA drive components rather than IDE whenever possible. As you see, the SATA cables are not only simpler to connect, but take up less space inside your computer. This allows more air circulation to keep your computer components running cooler.
- The Hard Drives (HDD, SSD, or both). If you are using IDE cable, jumper settings are important when you install the hard disk, or disks. If your hard disk drive is to be the master, set the jumper to "master", or to "cable select (CS)". SATA cables are simpler because they have no jumpers, and you can use either end to connect to your drive. You should be able to attach your hard drive easily onto the inside of your casing with four fixed screws.
- Connect the CPU to your motherboard.
- Attaching the Heat Sink (Cooling Fan).
- Random Access Memory (RAM). Just a reminder: Be certain that you are grounded with some form of anti-static device or apparel before you touch the RAM module (also called a memory stick). Hold it with your thumbs and index (first) fingers only on the ends, ensuring that you make no contact with the gold contacts. You can't go wrong inserting it thanks to a small space that matches it on the Dual In-line Memory Module (DIMM) where you insert the RAM module. Note that it should snap into place with little effort, unless it is being forced into place turned the wrong way. There are small levers at the ends of the DIMM to secure the RAM module.
- Once all cables are connected. Zip-tie them into bundles, which will allow better air flow to keep your computer running cooler.
- Installing Cards to your motherboard.
Installing your new software
- 1Plug in your computer. Turn on your monitor, and open the DVD/CD drive tray. If it does not open when you press the DVD button, insert a paper clip or pin into the hole next to the DVD/CD tray. It will open.
- 2Insert the operating system disk and close the CD drive tray.
- 3If the OS disc does not restart your PC. You will have to do it by pressing the power button till the computer turns off. Then, press the power button again to reboot.
- 4Consult your Motherboard manual. For the keyboard buttons to press for starting your computer into the proper settings (CMOS or Bios sequence). It will give you the key to press when the splash screen displays.
- 5On the menu that now appears. Set your DVD drive as the first booting option. You may have to manually reboot.
- 6Now install the OS by following the instructions. This will involve formatting your hard drive, setting the boot loader, configuring the OS, and then the final step of installing the OS. The drivers software will have to be installed, but can be done by going online and key-wording the part name and "drivers" in the Search box. If you are using Windows, to determine any drivers needed: Click Start > Control Panel > System & Security > System > Device Manager. Any missing drivers will be listed with an exclamation mark. If you have another computer available, you can save time by using it to download the needed drivers from the list onto a DVD disc. Once all of the drivers are installed into your custom-made computer, you truly have your own PC, or personal computer. Congratulations, you now have built a PC to your specifications, and have saved a bundle of money!
If you are "lost" during any step while building your computer, you have a few options. You can "play it by ear", and guess what to do. However, there are much better options. One is to ask for help from a veteran PC builder. Another is to consult the manual with each new component, which has excellent instructions. By the way, if you are installing used computer parts, there are online manuals for the part if needed. Just look up the manufacturer's website for the part in question.
If your PC doesn't work once put together, eliminate the most obvious cause or causes right away:
- 1Your power supply may not be connected. Make sure that your new PC is plugged in!
- 2Check the PSU voltage switch. Make sure that the voltage switch on the case is set for 115 volts if you are in the USA. Your PSU may have a switch that needs to be turned on.
- 3Check all cable and card connections. Many of the cables have no clips that you have installed. Check that they are all firmly in place.
- 4If an alarm is sounding, check your Motherboard for the following:
- The CPU or Video Card may be loose. If the LED lights, heat sink and other fans are operating, but your computer is not functioning, the CPU and/or video card may be loose. Turn off your new PC, and then make sure these two components are securely in place. Turn on your computer. If your computer still will not operate, move to the next step of elimination.
- If your PC starts but then stays on the splash screen with a loud high-pitched alarm, turn off your computer immediately. Secure the RAM "memory sticks" and peripheral cards. Turn your computer back on, if the alarm is still sounding, it is in a code designating the component causing the problem. Check your motherboard manual to decode the alarm, and find the component.
- If you still cannot pinpoint the cause for your computer not working, consult the motherboard manual once again. It has a diagnostics section, and you probably can find a way to get your computer running at this point.
- 5If your newly built computer is still not working, never fear. You can fix the problem by further steps of elimination:
- First, turn off your computer.
- Remove all non-essential hardware and carefully set the parts back in their anti-static bags, or set them on a glass or wood surface.
- Keep only the basic parts connected: RAM, motherboard, PSU, and cooling fan.
- Turn it back ON. Check that it is operating normally by looking at the BIOS start screen.
- Turn the PC back OFF. Plug in the hard drive/s first. Then turn it back ON again.
- Repeat the procedure of connecting one component at a time. Turning the computer OFF, then ON for each component as you put it back into the motherboard. You will find the hardware that prevents your PC from operating this way.
Tips Tricks & Warnings
- You must prevent static electricity (ESD) while building your computer. You can ground your body to prevent electrostatic discharge if you constantly touch the computer case. It's much easier and secure to just wear anti-static gloves or an anti-static wrist band.
- There will be a license sticker with a reference number for your Microsoft Windows if you purchased it new. If you ever need to contact Microsoft Support you may need it, so affix the sticker somewhere on your computer case. Keep all paperwork and manuals for the parts and software, and send the warranty information to each manufacturer. Remember, each of your computer components has a much longer warranty than for a ready-built PC.
- If you know someone who has built a computer, you may be able to recruit their help in building yours. Besides, the old saying, "Two heads are better than one" has merit when it comes to building a computer.
- It does take a little effort to connect cables and plug in cards to your motherboard, but don't use excessive force. If that happens it means you are trying to connect the wrong parts together.
- Check every connection before starting the computer the first time after it is built. Sine your RAM memory sticks (modules) do require a little force to plug into the motherboard RAM in-line receptacle (DIMM), make sure the notch matches the notch on the slot on the DIMM.
- Other than the RAM module, all other component connectors are rather delicate, so be careful as you install them. However, if you bend a pin, usually you can straighten it adequately with needle-nose pliers. If a pin breaks, though, you may as well throw it in the trash. It will be rendered useless.