How to Build a Computer / PC

Computer Case

A computer case will usually cost you (when not on sale) between 30 to 100 (and up) dollars, the 100 dollar one being those big fancy black cases. Note that these prices are with the power supply already included. Strip out the power supply, and a case will cost you between 5 to 20 dollars. Computer cases come in two flavors: AT and ATX. The difference for these two is simply the power supply. You will see that when you buy your motherboard, you have the option of getting an AT or ATX motherboard. Just make sure you get the right one that fits with the power supply of your computer case.

The AT cases are really fine, and they are much cheaper (so are the AT motherboards), and you can still build a very reliable system.

The next thing you will be faced with when buying your case, is the size. Keep in mind that bigger is not really better. You can get a full size tower, and pay a fortune, and never end up filling up all of the available space. Basically you will want a full size tower for a server of some sort. For basic home computing needs, you should simply go with a mini tower, or a mid sized tower case if you plan to add allot of extras into your system. Also, you may be tempted to get once of the fancy non-gray cases, but consider the price difference and try to judge for yourself if a fancy computer case (which might or not might be ever seen by anyone) is really worth it.

Motherboard

The motherboard is by far the most important ingredient for building your own computer system, which is why it’s very important that you get the right one. In general, a normal motherboard for regular home based usage shouldn’t cost you more than $150, and that’s a high price. Sure there are some board out there that will retail for 500 to 1000 dollars, but do you really need these? More than likely, the answer is no.

So what exactly do you have to look for in a motherboard? For starters you have to get either an AT board or ATX board, depending on the power supply you have (see computer case above).

Next you will have to decide what kind of “horse power” you want your board to have. They’re a bunch of options in motherboards, which I’ll try to cover:

  1. Supported bus speed. Your board’s bus speeds is sort of how fast data is moved around throughout your board. The minimum bus speeds you want for your motherboard will be 66mhz, anything less would be insanely slow. You may consider to get a 100mhz one, but these tend to be slightly more expensive, yet it is worth the extra money.

  2. Supported CPU. Now this is really important. What type of CPU do you want? A very expensive CPU, like the PIII, or the new AMD? Maybe something less expensive but with power, like the PII? Although the above 3 CPU’s are really great, unless you have allot of extra money, go with the PII, or better yet, go with the bargain CPU’s, AMD K6-3 and the Intel Celeron. Both of are really great CPU’s and aren’t really expensive (around 100 to 200 dollars). Whatever you do plan on getting, I advise you to stick to the above list. At the worst, you can always get a regular Pentium MMX, or AMD K6 (usually less than $100), but don’t expect these to hold out to long with all the new software available today.

  3. RAM Sockets. RAM (random access memory) is another important thing for your computer. Without it, you won’t really get far. Nowadays you should only consider a motherboard that can support DIMM RAM. This type of RAM is a little more expensive, but much faster than it’s antiquated ancestor, SIMM RAM.

  4. ISA, PCI, AGP. These are the slots available for the various cards you will be putting into your computer, such as video cards, sound cards, modems, etc. If you’re looking to be using allot of video and 3d games, then make sure the board you will get has an AGP slot. AGP video cards are really great for video, since they deliver the best speeds. Now about ISA and PCI … since most cards being built today are PCI (modems, network cards, video, sound, etc.) you may want to get a board that has more PCI slots than ISA. Although if you’re not really concerned about very high quality 3d audio, fast network cards, or high tech 3d
    cards (in case you don’t get a board with an AGP slot), then stick with a board with more ISA slots. These types of boards will be cheaper (and so are the ISA cards).

  5. In built sound and video. Motherboards with inbuilt sound and video may seem to be a great bargain, but once you hear, and see these add-ons, more than likely you will be disappointed. Unless you really don’t care about great sound and video (such as for a computer for regular web use, or basic work) go ahead and get this type of board. If you do care about sound and video, stay clear away from these.

  6. USB or no USB. USB is a really great feature you may want to have for your computer. It’s basically “real” plug and play. In most cases it won’t really cost you so much extra to have a board with USB. Unless you think you’ll never get yourself a USB device (keep in mind that just about every type of peripheral coming out now works with USB), then you won’t need this feature.

  7. Onboard cache. Not really the most important feature, you may want to take note of the amount of cache memory the board you want to get has. As a rule of thumb, anything under 512K cache is not worth it. Anything above 512K cache is very good, and just plain 512K is average. While you may not really notice any big difference, it doe’s improve your computer speed. The cache acts just like RAM, except it’s much more faster.

Well that’s about all the really important stuff for a motherboard. I didn’t mention anything about SCSI, because SCSI costs much more money. Another thing is getting an extended warranty on your motherboard. Usually not all that expensive, it might be worth to get. If your motherboard ever dies on you, you’ll be happy you got that extended warranty.

So, do you think it’s allot of stuff to consider? Of course it is! Yet it’s all worth to study. Remember, your motherboard is VERY important, so make sure you choose your board carefully. Of course, if you’d prefer that I suggest a good board, then go for the FIC VA-503+ (www.fic.com.tw), with 1 meg of on board cache. It’s a great board, and you can probably pick it up for around $75 (look for those specials and clearances!).

CPU

The mighty CPU. The brainpower behind your entire computer. What to get? There are so many choices! Well here are a few things that should help you choose the right CPU.

For one, stick only to AMD and Intel. Both produce fantastic CPU’s, and both have a wide selection.

You should stick to Intel, if you want efficient, compatible and powerful processing power. You may be tempted to get the PIII, but these are really expensive. If you wait a few months you can get these for cheaper. Your best buy with Intel would be a P4 (preferred for applications) or a Celeron (preferred for video games). As for the speed of these CPU’s, 1.5 Ghz should be the minimum you’d want.

You can also opt for AMD. Actually, if you do a little research on the web, you’ll find out that a lot of people actually recommend AMD. My own past experiences with AMD has been really great (yes I’m recommending AMD to you right now). Not only do they make good CPU’s, but their costs are considerably lower than Intel. You can easily get an AMD CPU (and above) for about $100. Although you may want to get the speedy AMD Athlon64, which are just slightly more expensive.

Also, before buying the CPU, find out what Bus frequency the CPU can support (233mhz or 400mhz). Getting a CPU that supports a higher frequency will drastically affect the overall speed of your new computer.

RAM

Getting RAM is pretty simple. Like I mentioned above in the motherboard section, you’ll only want to get DIMM RAM. I won’t get into the really technical aspects of RAM (such as PC-100 or non PC-100) but I will explain the three main types of RAM you can buy.

The first type, are of course the best. While they are usually priced higher (10 to 20 dollars higher than the second type), you do get the performance for your money. You usually also get a lifetime warranty when you get this type of RAM.

The second type, are pretty much average. They perform very well, but you’ll usually only get a 1 year warranty on these. If you don’t want to pay that extra money for “the best brand”, then get the second type of RAM. More than likely it won’t ever fail on you.

The third type is the evil OEM brand, or better yet, the no name brand. Whatever you do, DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT get fooled into buying this brand of RAM. It can be really attractive (price wise) but performance, compatibility, and warranty – just simply not worth the trouble of testing and returning it to the store.

Next, you have to decide how much RAM you’ll need. To be quite honest, 256 megs of RAM should be the minimum to consider (not recommended). If you want something with some power then consider getting 512 megs (my own personal minimum recommendation), or even 1 GB (which is really great). Now if you want POWER, then just buy yourself one 1 GB DIMM.

About the DIMM’s themselves, don’t get anything slower than 10ns (nanoseconds). 8ns is pretty much an average. Another thing about DIMM’s, unlike the older SIMMs, you don’t need to buy these in pair. So if you just want 256 MBs, get yourself one 256 MB DIMM. If ever you want to upgrade to 512 MB, then simply get yourself an extra 256 meg DIMM. It’s that simple.

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