General Computers

How to Build a Computer / PC

Network Interface Cards (NIC)

A network card is something you may really want to get. Since you’re probably reading this from your own computer, if you build another PC and install a network card in it (and your present computer), you can actually network them together.

The advantages of having your own network are many; you can share Internet access, you can share hard drives, you can play multiplayer video games against other people in your household and more.

If you’re only going to connect two PC’s, then make sure both have a network card, and that you get the correct cable for direct connection, and you will not need a network hub (this is called Networking, and it’s something far beyond the scope of this article).

Stick to a regular PCI network card. These deliver better speeds, and are much, much easier to configure than the ISA ones. A good brand to get would be Linksys. They deliver great technical support; if you have a problem, you give them a call, leave your name and phone number to a friendly operator, and a techie gets back to you really within an hour (no “on hold”! What a concept!).

One thing you should do, is look for a sale on network components and you can get yourself 2 network cards (or even an entire home network kit) for less than $50.

CD-ROM drive

While I’m classifying a CD-ROM drive as non-essential, we all have to face the fact that a computer without a CD-ROM drive is pretty obsolete.

It’s quite simple. Don’t get anything less than a 24x speed drive, and don’t get the bargain CD-ROM drives if your kid’s use the computer a lot.

Two good brands would be Sony and Creative. These will be much more expensive, yet you can rest assured that they will last you a long time. I still have an antiquated 2x Creative and an ancient 4x Sony that outperforms my 24x NewCom CD-ROM (don’t get NewCom!).

Also, you may consider getting yourself a CD-Writer or a CD-RW.

What’s the difference? Well a CD-Writer (CD-R) can write on regular blank CD’s (which cost about 50 cents to a dollar), but never erase or write on them again. A CD-RW can write on both regular blank CD’s, and rewrite, erase and modify special blank RW CD’s (which cost about 1 to 2 dollars). Again, if you want to get a CD-R (or CD-RW) stick with Creative or Sony.

So that’s about everything you really need to know about what to buy! Next, you’ll learn how to assemble all of the new computer hardware and to finish it up by installing your operating system (OS) software.

Well once you get passed the awful “spending” money part of building your own new computer, you can start getting into the fun stuff.

Assembling the system

Assembling the entire system might be a little tricky if you’ve never done it before. Some things you will want near you while doing this, is a cold drink, plenty of light, computer screws, all the manuals that came with the hardware you purchased, a screw driver and of course, your sanity.

Oh and a word about static electricity. Make sure you de-static yourself (by touching your computer’s power supply or wearing a very expensive anti static bracelet), and it would be a good idea to work in a non-static area, such as on a table, or a kitchen counter, and away from carpet. Whatever you do, be very careful not to zap your components.

Configuring the motherboard jumpers.

Configuring the jumpers is the first thing that needs to be done. What you will want to do is consult your motherboard manual on how to set everything correctly. There are just to many motherboards out there that I can cover in this article. Most jumpers listed in your motherboards manual are already set up for you. The main ones you will have to configure are:

a) Power supply type. In the event that you have an AT/ATX motherboard you will need to set this one correctly.

b) CPU external bus frequency. This is where you specify what bus frequency your CPU is at.

c) CPU to bus frequency ratio. Look at the little box that contained your CPU, it will show you the exact ratio (should be a number like 2x, 3.0x, 3.5x, etc.)

d) CPU voltage. It’s really important that you get this one right, or else you’ll end up with a *really* hot CPU or a non-working board.

Inserting the CPU.

This one is really easy. Take the CPU, and hold it with your right hand. Look on your motherboard for the CPU socket. With your left hand hold the motherboard with a firm grip while you insert your CPU. Then connect your CPU fan. Easy isn’t?

Screwing the motherboard to the computer case.

This process can be a little frustrating. A good thing to do would be to remove the piece where the motherboard screws too, which is a large panel within your computer case.

Next you should have little plastic looking screws. Use these to secure all four corners of your motherboard. Don’t worry if you can’t secure each corner, more often than not you will only be able to get 2 to 3 corners.

Finally, you will see holes in the middle of the motherboard. You should be able to insert two screws to secure the middle of your board. Screw these in, but make absolutely certain that you have those little red rubber looking washers. This will protect your board from damage that the metal screws can cause. Like the corner screws, it’s really no big deal if you can only screw in one center support screw.

Inserting your RAM.

Once your board is securely inserted within your case, you will want to pop in the RAM. Here you will discover exactly how easy it is to perform the 40-50 dollar job that CompUSA and other stores will charge you.

Look up in your motherboard manual exactly in what sockets your RAM has to go into. Then insert your RAM slowly, but firmly into its socket. DIMMs can only be inserted in one way. Simply align the indents found on the lower part of the DIMM to the indents found in the RAM socket.

LED cords and the RESET Switch cord.

In the lower right part of your case you will see a bunch of cords ending with black heads. These black heads will be labeled HDD, RST, PWR, TURBO, etc. If they are not labeled, then good luck trying to figure out which goes where. I’ve actually had the chance of trying to figure that out … it took me a few tries, but basically it’s trial and error.

Anyhow, take a hold of those cords, look up in your manual where the proper connectors go to, and plug them in.

Connecting your power supply to the board.

You should refer to your computer manual as to how exactly the power supply cords should be connected to your board, but generally the black cords of the two power supply strips will be found in the center of the two connecting power supply outlets on your motherboard.

Connecting your LPT, COM1 and COM2 cables.

On the outer edge of your motherboard, usually near the keyboard connector, you will have 3 outlets. The first two will be close together and are of the same size (small). This is COM1, and COM2. Not to far from these you will see an outlet that is just a little bigger, and this is your LPT outlet. Consult your board manual to find the exact location.

So you will have to take the gray ribbons with the red dots/stripe on the side and connect them to the correct connector.

Make sure that the red stripe/dots face towards the left side of your motherboard (the side where your power supply is).

These gray ribbons then go to a little metal bracket that holds another connector that looks exactly like your printer port. You will have to screw these brackets into your case.

Installing your floppy drive.

Next, take your floppy drive, insert it into an available bay (in the upper right hand corner of your case). Connect a power supply to the drive, which will be a thin cable coming out of your power supply. Next, take your floppy drive gray ribbon (it’s the only one that will connect to the floppy drive). Connect one end to the floppy drive, and the other to the board. Look in your manual if you’re not sure where this is located. Like in the above step (#6), the red stripe/dots must face towards the left part of your board.

Installing the IDE drives.

The IDE drives are the hard drives and CD-ROMs. Before putting them in their respective bays, make sure you have their jumpers set up right (consult their documentation). You will need your hard drive to be set as a master, or slave (depending on how many hard drives you have).

Then connect the IDE gray ribbon (it’s the only one that will fit to the IDE drives) to the drives themselves and then to the motherboard. Like in the above step (#6), the red stripe/dots must face towards the left part of your board.

Finally, connect the power supply to the drives.

Inserting your expansion cards.

Next you will want to insert your expansion cards into your motherboard. These are the sound cards, video cards, modems, etc. Each one of these go into their correct slot (AGP, PCI or ISA) with the metal bracket facing the left part of the case so you can screw them in.

If you have an AGP card, this o
ne will go into the AGP slot, which is brown, and there shouldn’t be more than one AGP slot on your board. Slowly but firmly insert the card into the slot. You will know when it’s all the way in.

PCI cards will go into the PCI slots. These slots are the smaller white ones.
The ISA cards will go into the ISA slots. These are the longer black slots.
If you got a sound card, which supports CD-ROM audio, now would be the perfect time to connect the digital audio cord to your CD-ROM.

Booting up for the first time.

Now it’s the moment of truth. Connect your monitor, mouse, keyboard and power cord to the computer. Don’t screw the exterior case cover just yet, because you might have to fix something that doesn’t work (let’s hope not).

Now turn the power on. If you see something on your screen that matches your CPU speed, then a Memory test that matches your amount of RAM, then you got it done!

Sure you may have to fix some problems, but you can rest assured you got the core stuff done. If you don’t see nothing, then you probably omitted one of the steps above, or you didn’t do it right. Consult your hardware manuals! They will explain to you exactly how everything needs to be connected.

Setting up your BIOS.

Once you boot up, you will probably see a heading labeled “Press DELETE to enter setup”, or maybe “Press ESC to enter setup”. Whatever the key, press it to enter your BIOS.

First thing you will want to do in your BIOS is set up your hard drive. More than likely you will have an option labeled “Auto-detect IDE devices”. Use this to configure your BIOS to use your hard drive(s).
You may also want to screw around with other items. I can’t really help you there, but grab your motherboard manual, and read what it says about your BIOS.

That’s it! You’re all done! Well at this point, if everything worked great, you deserve a good pat on the back. It sure isn’t an easy task to build your own computer.

Some people tend to “rush build” their PCs. Well unless it’s a dire emergency, I don’t recommend this. You’re better off taking each step one at a time, and to make sure everything is securely screwed and connected.

Installing an Operating System (OS)

Probably one of the easiest steps of all is to get your newly built computer set up with an operating system.

You have a very wide choice of operating systems: Windows XP, Linux, FBSD, OS/2 …. and the list can go on.

I’ll be very honest right now. I will not explain how to install any OS except the main basics of getting Windows XP installed. If you want to install a UNIX OS, Linux or OS/2, then you probably know enough about computer to do it without my guidance.

The Windows XP Installation CD is bootable. Insert the CD and turn on the computer to install the OS.

Once setup starts, you will need to decide how to format the drive. You have two options: FAT32 and NTFS. If you want backwards compatibility with Windows 95/98, choose FAT32 – otherwise, select NTFS.

Once you have formatted the drive, setup will install the necessary files. Once it is complete, your computer is ready.

Well now you’re all done. What’s next? Maybe it’s time to get yourself a snack, or maybe go to bed if you’ve been working on building the computer all night.

Whatever the case, you now have a brand new computer, that you can be proud of to say “I built this computer on my own!”. More than likely you’ve saved a bundle by building it yourself, and you also learned tons on how computers work. Now don’t go telling everyone that you can build PCs, because you’re going to get tons of friends and relatives asking you to fix their PC or even build one!

Have loads of fun and good luck!