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Specifics of Computers - How to Build a Computer

Updated on April 13, 2017

Note

This guide will be aimed mainly at people who are trying to build a gaming computer, but a gaming computer is basically a high quality computer, so this guide can help anyone aspiring to build a computer.

Overview

First off, let me dispel a few misconceptions. First of all, I have been told many times that it is very difficult to build a computer, this is pretty much a flat out lie. If you read the directions, everything will go just fine; everything is, for the most part, standardized so everything will fit if you planned it right. Next misconception is that it isn't worth it to build a computer, most people who are reading this will say, "What?! Nobody thinks this!" But I have been looking around a forums and various other posts, and there is almost always an argument that it just isn't worth it to build a computer. The main reason that people haven't come to a conclusion is because, it's kind of true. It will take about 5 or 6 hours to build a computer the first time, just because you don't know what you are doing. You can build computers much faster as you build more, but it takes time to begin with. Furthermore, more advanced builds are simply very complicated, such as a very high powered, but also very small computer, it would be better to go to a professional as they can take care of all of the hassle and you can be assured that the computer will work almost always. Building a computer for the first time is more a learning experience than completely practical, but it will give you a basic understanding of what is going on in your computer and you have bragging rights to all of your less tech-savvy friends who haven't built a computer. Building a computer is much cheaper, which is always good. I have designed several computers based on computers that are sold built and can generally shave off about $400.

Next I would like to go over how I design my computers. First I start with the very basics, "What do I want from this computer?" Then I will design a computer based on what I want. Say I wanted a gaming PC, I would then want higher quality parts that would run faster and be more effective than if I wanted to make a PC for writing essays. The first thing I would pick is a CPU, if you don't know some of these terms that's alright, they will be explained later. I am just giving a basic outline of how I like to design computers, you can do what you want with this information. After the CPU, I would pick a motherboard that matches the chip set and has the different ports and features I want. Next I would pick the memory and storage I want, followed by a GPU if I want one and finally a power supply. Find a nice case, monitor and the peripherals I want and we are done. Next, I will start going over the specifics of how you could build your own computer.


If you want to compare any parts I highly recommend https://www.cpubenchmark.net/ for most anything you need in computers, they have pretty much every part you could possible think of (within reason).



CPUs (Central Processing Unit)

Probably the most important part of a computer. It is what does most of the heavy lifting when you try to run an application (The only exception would be in graphics, where the GPU will do most of the work). Because it is such a vital part of your computer, make sure you pick the right one for your needs. The 2 producers of CPU's you will see are AMD (Advanced Micro Devices) and Intel. Intel is focused mainly on making smarter chips, or chips that can run more effectively so are generally better than AMD CPU's, but are significantly more expensive. Intel has created various techniques that you can go search up on your own if you are curious, but they basically allow a CPU to execute processes faster. Now, please don't think AMD is an inferior CPU producer. In fact, most of their CPU's will actually have higher stats than similar Intel CPU's because Intel and AMD approach creating CPU's in different ways. As I said before, Intel focuses on creating more efficient CPU's but AMD focuses on creating simply faster CPU's with more cores. You could compare Intel and AMD as a smart car vs. a muscle car. Intel can run more efficiently, but AMD can push through any programs. Especially recently, AMD CPU's have managed to score higher on benchmark tests than several Intel CPU's due to pushing the limits of their CPU's, some running as fast as 5GHz. In summary, most Intel CPU's can run better than their AMD CPU counterparts, but cost more. So you have to ask, "More power or less total cost?" I know this paragraph has been a little convoluted, and that is mainly because it is very difficult to look at stats and know which CPU is better. Because of this, I highly recommend using a benchmark website to see their real world comparisons. I have used both AMD and Intel CPUs, and they both can work well. It's a matter of how much you want to spend.

Now it's time to get into the specifics of CPU's. The 2 most important things to think about while choosing your CPU is the number of cores and it's speed (Generally in Ghz or Gigahertz). The best analogy I have ever heard about what they do for a CPU is this; Think of a CPU as a highway. Cores are the number of lanes and the speed is the speed limit. So if you had more lanes, you can send more cars at a time, and if the speed limit is higher, they can go faster. So basically, more cores lets you do more things at a time, and higher speeds lets you do things faster. Those are the only really important facts about CPU's. Just make sure you are aware that while cores and speed are the main things to be aware of, AMD will almost always look better than it's Intel counterpart, but make sure to check out benchmarks to see if it actually is.

Motherboard

The next important part of a computer is it's motherboard. There really isn't much to say about motherboards, for the most part just find a motherboard that has the features you want. If you want your PC to be wireless, they have wireless motherboards, or some have Bluetooth, or different audio setups, from just average stereo to full 7.1 setups. If you need some features, but not others, you can bet that there is a motherboard out there that has exactly what you need. The only important features you would really want to focus on in a motherboard is how much RAM it can hold, RAM slots, and if it has enough slots for what you want to put in it; such as if you want to have 2 video cards, make sure the motherboard has 2 slots that will hold them. Other than that, find a motherboard that suits you.

Storage

Storage is what stores all of your files, pretty self-explanatory. There are two distinct types of storage, SSD (Solid State Drive) and HDD (Hard Drive Disk), and they both have pros and cons. I'll start with SSDs. SSDs are newer technology and their main feature is that they are significantly faster than most HDD, they also have no moving parts, so they are much quieter and don't generally break down. However, they are much more expensive. HDDs are, in comparison, dirt cheap. Buying a 1 terabyte HDD can cost $45 while buying a 1 terabyte SSD can cost $420. So the cost difference is immense, and HDDs can still do just fine for even gaming, but I've personally mpved to only SSD's, because I love the speed boost that I get from them. There is, however, one last option I haven't discussed yet; it is a hybrid drive. Basically, it is two storage drives in one, a small SSD and a larger HDD. A program will move any files that you use often to the SSD so it runs faster, and then files that are used less often are moved to the HDD so you can keep larger files as well. If you were curious, most hybrid drives have a 7.8 gigabyte SSD portion.

Let's get into the specifics of storage drives. The things you will most likely see when finding a storage drive is: Form Factor, Capacity, Cache, Price per GB. RPM will only be for HDDs, and then SSD Controller and NAND Flash Type are both for SSDs.

Form Factor: Form factor is what size the storage drive is. It doesn't change too much except your case will have to have a spot to store it. The two form factors are either 2.5" or 3.5" and most computer cases have at least one of each. Most HDDs will be 3.5" and most SSDs will be 2.5" but be sure that your case has a spot for which ever you chose.

Capacity: Capacity is pretty self-explanatory, it is how much data it can store. If you are new to data measurements, capacity will most likely be in gigabytes (GB) or terabytes (TB). 1 terabyte is 1024GB.

Price per GB: This one is pretty self-explanatory as well, it will show you how much a GB will cost you. Sometimes you will also see GB/$1 which is just how much capacity you will get per dollar.

Cache: Cache is a HDD specific stat, meaning that SSDs won't have this, or if you are looking at a list, it will show up as N/A for SSDs. (Please note, some newer SSDs do have a cache.) Basically, cache is a small section of the HDD that will prefetch data that is being sent to your CPU, which will make there be less wait time as new information is loaded to be sent to your CPU. So you want to get more of this if you have a good CPU, otherwise information will be bottle-necked at your HDD. By bottle-necked, I don't mean for like a few seconds, more like a millisecond, so if you are doing average activities, don't worry about it, but heavy gamers should try to get a decent cache to prevent lagging.

RPM: RPM (Rotations Per Minute) Is a HDD only stat. No SSD that I am aware of has it. RPM determine how fast data can be read on a HDD, so higher RPM equals faster data for you.

SSD Controller: This is a SSD specific stat and you can, for the most part, ignore it. It will tell you what controller it is using, and some SSD controllers are faster than others, but not by very much.

NAND Flash Type: This is also a SSD specific stat, and tells you the NAND Flash Type, which is a very technical thing. If you are actually curious, you can search it online, but there is no way to easily describe it. Other than that, I think they put it there so they can feel good about themselves for putting it there, and you can ignore it.

Notes about SSDs, and Hard Drives in General

In a HDD it is recommended to defragment it, which is basically reorganizing the data on the drive so they run better and helps prevent basic corruption of files. I do it probably once a month on my HDD. However, IT IS VERY IMPORTANT THAT YOU NEVER DEFRAGMENT A SSD. While it won't straight out break your hard drive, it will wear it out more quickly, and you will get no improved performance. Another thing is that you want to do for your SSD is enable AHCI (Advanced Host Controller Interface) which you can do in your BIOS under storage type, the option will probably show IDE, AHCI, and SATA. Don't worry about the other types. The best way to figure out how to do it if you don't know how is to watch a video of someone doing it; most BIOS setups are pretty similar.

Memory

Memory, also known as RAM (Random Access Memory), is used to actually execute any program you are trying to use. I recommend 8GB for gaming, 4 for average use, and anything more if you are doing video editing. As a small note, a Heat Sink (Heat Spreader) is a metal object on top of RAM that takes heat so it can be more easily dissipated. Important things to know about RAM are Speed and CAS, and other stats you might find are Type, Size (sometimes shown as Modules), ECC, or Buffered.

CAS: CAS (Column Address Strobe Latency) is how long it takes the RAM to actually execute the process in clock cycles, which is a very small amount of time. This number is not an actual number, as the actual speed will differ slightly, but isn't far off.

Speed: Speed is how fast the RAM can actually execute the program after being told to. You will also see a few letters and a number before the actual speed. Such as DDR3-1600. The "DDR3" part shows what type of RAM it is, the latest type of RAM out when I am writing this is DDR4. The number afterwards is it's actual speed.

Type: This is basically what pins it has to plug into your computer, it will probably be 288-pin. The main thing is you need to make sure it is DIMM rather than SODIMM. SODIMM is laptop RAM.

Size: Size is normally shown as 8GB (2 x 4GB). Which is the total, then how many sticks of RAM there are and how many GBs are on each one.

ECC and Buffered: ECC (Error-correcting code) is mainly used for servers where any error is completely unacceptable, and is unnecessary for any other use. Even normal RAM will probably never mess up in a way that would actually do anything. Buffered RAM is normally slower than normal RAM, but places less electrical load on your computer, so you can put more, but it is pretty much only used for servers, and I don't recommend getting RAM with either of these features, unless you are planning to creating a server.

Video Card/ GPU (Graphics Processing Unit)

Note: You will only need a GPU if you are building a gaming computer, or a computer for graphic design/ animation. To be a little bit short, you can ignore every stat you find for a GPU, except for memory. Even then, it is only kind of important. Just look at benchmarks to find one that is powerful enough for you, and in your price range.

When you are looking for a GPU, you will have to pick between Nvidia and AMD. I personally recommend Nvidia; more games are optimized to play with Nvidia than AMD. After you do that, you need to check which connections the GPU has, so it can connect to your screen (or you can just use the motherboard's connector). But wait! Why are there so many options of the same GPU? Basically, you have the default (base) GPU that was the original. Then other groups take that original and put their own tweaks on it. This is the time when stats would come in handy. Since the GPUs are all the same base, different memory and clock speeds will make a difference, so go with the one that makes you happy.

Clock speed: This will speed up your GPU. (That was easy)

Memory: Memory helps the resolution of the screen, so if you have 2 screens, you will want a little bit more (just a little) or if you want to play games with all ultra settings, you are going to want a little more as well (still just a little).

SLI support/CrossFire support: These are the same thing, SLI is for Nvidia and AMD has CrossFire. It is whether or not that GPU can team up with a second GPU on the same motherboard to do the graphics for the computer. The GPUs have to be the same type for it to work though.

Summary: Yeah, this section was a bit short. GPUs are so complicated on the insides, that stats really aren't that helpful. The easiest way is just to look at benchmarks and go from there.

Power Supply Unit (PSU)

The power supply unit is pretty easy to figure out, but it powers your computer (No way, bro...). But there are a few things that you might not understand, so here we go.

Form: Form is the form it is designed to be be paired with. If your motherboard is ATX, make sure your PSU is too.

Efficiency: This is a rating of how energy efficient the PSU is. The scale goes like this (worst to best): none, 80+, 80+ bronze, 80+ silver, 80+ gold, 80+ platinum, and 80+ titanium

Watts: Watts is hard just because you need to figure out the total power consumption of the computer. To do that, search "watt calculator PC" and you will find some sites that can help you find how much you need. Make sure your over that limit, I generally go for at least 100 watts over, so I have a buffer, and even more if I want to overclock the computer.

Modular: This will tell you if the PSU is modular (No way...). Modular means that the PSU can be in several parts, and you have 3 types: None, Semi, and Full. None means that all cables are attached to the PSU. Semi means that the main, completely needed cables are attached to the PSU, and full means that all cables are not attached to the PSU and you will need to connect every one to the PSU. Being modular means that any cables you don't want can be taken out, so they don't waste space, and you can add cables if you need to. Just make sure that you have enough ports for all the cables you need, so you don't end up having to remove an item you want because you can't power it.

Ending

I'm going to leave peripherals to you, there are so many you could add that it would take forever to try to explain them all, and most are pretty self-explanatory. Use Google if you can't figure it out. Good luck building your computer!

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      Anthony 20 months ago

      Thanks a bunch for this guide. I was really confused before I read this, but now I feel I am ready to build my first computer. Thanks a bunch and keep up the good work.

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