A Complete Guide to Building Your Own Computer
A Complete Guide to Building Your Own Computer
This is an in-depth tutorial for building your own computer and getting the necessary hardware. The article is aimed towards novice users who are interested in building a computer for the first time. In addition to a brief introduction, the article is divided into three sections for purchasing the required hardware, assembling it and installing the operating system.
Building your own computer from scratch may sound like a challenging task and something that is only ever considered by enthusiasts who know exactly what they’re doing. In reality, building your own computer actually isn’t that complicated. It is time consuming and it requires a great deal of care in choosing compatible components, but it does not require the attention of an expert.
There are many advantages of building your own computer. Firstly, you get exactly the machine that you want. You don’t need to pay for extra components that you’ll never use and you won’t have all of the junk software installed that usually comes with new computers that you buy off the shelves.
The following guide will walk you through the process of buying all of the necessary components, assembling them and then installing your operating system.
1 – Getting What You Need
Getting the parts that you need is often the most time consuming part of the job. This is mostly because you need to take care to ensure that everything is compatible. For example, there’s no way that you’ll be able to run an AMD processor with and Intel motherboard. Here’s a list of what you need to get before you can move on to the assembly:
Case – The computer case houses all of the components. In addition to the standard midi tower case, you can also choose from other form factors such as desktop, full tower, mini tower and media centre PC. Many cases provide a power supply as well, although it is generally best to buy this separately unless you are building a low-spec budget computer.
Power Supply (PSU) – One of the most often overlooked pieces of hardware, choosing the right power supply is actually very important. More powerful computers need more powerful power supplies and it’s not just a matter of overall wattage either. A high-end machine needs to have a quality power supply which offers ample wattage at excellent efficiency. Always purchase a quality power supply from a well-known and respectable company. Budget solutions should only be used with the lowliest of PCs.
Motherboard – You’ll either be building an AMD- or an Intel-based computer. The motherboard is basically what everything else plugs in to. Modern motherboards also contain network adapters, sound cards and, sometimes, graphics adapters. You’ll need a motherboard which is compatible with the processor and memory that you choose. You can find compatibility charts on the homepages of most manufacturers. If you’re building a budget computer, purchasing a motherboard with integrated graphics will save a lot of money.
Processor (CPU) – The brain of your computer is the processor. These days, all processors are 64-bit and almost all of them are multicore. The cheapest processors are typically the dual core Intel Celerons or AMD Athlon II models while the highest-end solutions have six to eight cores and provide exceptional performance in both productivity and gaming. You’ll need to make sure that the processor is compatible with the motherboard and memory type. Retail processors also come with a cooling unit and the necessary thermal pad or paste. Enthusiasts, however, often prefer to buy a more powerful third-party cooling solution.
Memory (RAM) – Four gigabytes of mid-range memory is normally ample for most uses but, with the prices often being low, it’s a good idea to get as much as you can afford. It’s also a good idea to buy memory of the latest specification (DDRIII as of 2011). If your chosen motherboard has two or four memory slots, purchase dual channel kits to fill them. If it has three or six slots, triple channel kits are suitable.
what you need
Graphics Card (GPU) – The most basic computers do not have dedicated graphics cards and instead, graphics processing power is done by an integrated chip on the motherboard. However, if you wish to play the occasional game or have your computer display any kind of 3D graphics, you’ll need to have a dedicated card. Graphics cards require a large PCI-Express slot which almost all motherboard provide. You’ll also need to make sure that your PSU is powerful enough for your chosen graphics card.
Hard Disk – This is where all of your stuff will be stored. Hard disks are getting larger and larger every year. From megabytes in the 90s to gigabytes in the 2000s and now to terabytes in the 2010s, there’s rarely any excuse for running out of space on a modern hard drive. Unless you go for the highest capacity model available, hard disks are normally quite cheap components and provide enough storage for large collections of programs, games, music, movies and more. If you want exceptional performance, a solid state drive (SSD) is an option you may want to consider. They are a lot more expensive and have a lower capacity, however.
Optical Drive – Most computers have a DVD-RW drive at minimum, although you may want to go for a drive which can also play Blu-ray disks if you intend to watch movies on your computer.
Sound Card – Virtually all modern motherboards provide sound functionality to your computer via an integrated Realtek sound chip. For most users, these are perfectly adequate, although audiophiles and gamers often prefer to have a dedicated sound card. If you want one of these, you’ll need a spare small PCI-Express or PCI slot (depending on the model) on the motherboard.
Card Reader – A minor, yet often very important accessory, a card reader usually fits into a 3.5” bay in the front of your computer and reads memory cards from phones and digital cameras. You can also get external ones which plug into a USB port.
Monitor – Long gone are the hulking CRT screens of old. These days, flat screens are the norm and prices are constantly dropping. Most modern flat screens use the DVI interface.
Speakers or Headphones – If you plan to use your computer for watching movies or playing games, you’ll most likely want a 5.1 surround sound system. Most modern sound cards and chips provide the necessary ports for these.
Keyboard and Mouse – Purchase a USB keyboard and mouse. There are both corded and cordless varieties available.
Broadband router – If you’re home doesn’t already have one, you’ll need to sign up to a service provider who will also give you a broadband router to allow you to connect to the Internet.
Operating System – You can’t do much with a computer without an operating system. Get the latest 64-bit version of Windows or another operating system of your choice. These guides assume that you are going with Windows.
2 – Assembling the Hardware
Now that you’ve got everything you need, you are ready to start assembling all of the hardware. Any required internal cables and screws should already be provided among the hardware that you purchased. This includes SATA hard disk and optical drive cables and network cables for connecting to the Internet. Before you begin, unpack everything and ensure that you have everything you need. You’ll also need a small Phillips screwdriver and the schematics for your motherboard (found in the manual).
Unpack your computer case and, depending on the design, remove the cover or side panel. Some cases provide a removable motherboard tray to make installation easier. On the motherboard tray, you’ll see multiple screw holes. Find out which ones you need by holding the motherboard over the tray. Place spacers in the holes in the tray so that they correspond to those on the motherboard. You should be able to find these in the set of screws which came with the case. Once you’re done, simply screw the motherboard into the spacers and make sure that it is tightly fastened in place.
Locate the CPU socket on the motherboard and lift up the lever beside it. Without touching the chip or the pins, gently place the CPU into the socket. Fool-proof designs ensure that a compatible CPU will slot into the socket effortlessly when inserted the correct way round. With the CPU in place, pull the lever back down to lock it.
Unpack the cooling unit for the processor and ensure that there is a thermal pad stuck onto the bottom of the heat sink. Cooling units that come with retail processors normally provide this. Third party solutions, however, often don’t. If there’s no thermal pad, apply one before continuing. This is essential in ensuring proper heat dissipation. When done, place the heat sink and fan unit on top of the processor and ensure that the metal clips are all attached to the socket. With the unit in place, pull down the lever to the side. The cooling unit should make a very tight fit over the processor and should not wobble easily. Plug the fan cable into the correct socket on the motherboard (normally labelled CPU FAN).
Pull back the levers at each end of the memory sockets and slot your RAM sticks in place. Push the levers back to lock the memory into the sockets. If you’re not using all of the available sockets, use only the first ones.
Install the graphics card into the long PCI-Express socket. To slot it in, you may need to pull back a lever at the back of the socket. Ensure that the graphics card is fixed in place by screwing the metal L-bracket to the back of the computer case. If you have a dedicated sound card, install it in the same manner in a compatible slot.
Install your hard disk drive, optical drive and card reader in any suitable bays in the front of the case. You’ll need to push out one of the front panels to accommodate the optical drive. Using four screws for each device, fasten them in place so that they don’t slide or wobble.
Install the power supply unit into the provided bay at the back of the case. Connect all of the power cables. Thanks to fool-proof designs, you cannot connect one of these incorrectly. Connect power cables to the hard disk and optical drive. Connect the motherboard and CPU connector from the PSU to the motherboard and connect the 6- or 8-pin connectors to the side of the graphics card as required.
Connect the cable from your card reader to any internal USB port on the motherboard. Connect your hard disk and optical drive to SATA-II ports on your motherboard using the provided cables. Finally, connect the small front panel connector cables from the front of the case to the motherboard. You’ll have one for the power button, reset button, power LED and hard drive LED. If you cannot find exactly where to connect them, refer to the motherboard schematics.
Leave the case cover off for now, as you may need to modify something later on. Connect the monitor, keyboard, mouse and speakers and you’ll be ready to turn the computer on for the first time.
3 – Getting Everything Up and Running
Provided everything is compatible and connected as it should be, your computer should start without any hitches, although you won’t be able to do anything with it until you install an operating system. With nothing but a blank hard disk, you’ll most likely see a message along the lines of “No operating system installed” when you switch on the computer.
Insert your Windows DVD and start the computer again. Since the hard disk isn’t bootable, the computer should allow you to start up from the DVD instead. Follow the on-screen instructions to install Windows.
When Windows is installed and you finally make it to the desktop, you’ll need to install all of the latest drivers for your hardware and updates for Windows. Usually, Windows 7 and later are able to connect to the Internet immediately after installation, without requiring any extra network adapter drivers. If, however, this is not the case, you’ll need to install the correct drivers from the installation disk provided with your motherboard.
Run Windows Update to download and install the latest service pack and all of the latest updates for your computer. At the same time, download and install updated drivers for your computer. You’ll need these for the graphics card, sound card, any peripherals and sometimes the motherboard as well. To ensure that all devices on your computer are working correctly, type “Device Manager” into the start menu search box and press Enter. If you see any unknown devices or other problems, then it’s normally because you still need a driver for that piece of hardware.
Once everything is installed, restart the computer. When you log in to Windows again, everything should be working as intended. If this is the case, put the case cover back on your computer and start installing your software!
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