How To Build Your Own Computer: Part 1

In this two part series, I will try my best to give you an easy to follow beginners guide on building your very own computer from scratch. I’m sure there are hundreds of other guides out there (and probably written with a lot more detail than what I can do here) but I thought it would be fun to document the process since I’m building a budget computer right now. Again, I want to make it very clear that this guide is mainly meant for beginners or users who are on the fence on whether to build their own computer or not because they are scared of what is required. There are no super tricks or ultimate tips to find here. I’m just going to go over the basics. However, in the end though, you should have a functioning computer. In the first part of this mini-series, I will go over all the parts that is needed to build a fully functional computer from scratch along with providing tips on things you should know about before making purchase of any kind. In the second article, I will actually go over how to put everything together.

Before going deeper, I want to make it clear whose audience I am trying to target with this article. By doing so, I hope I will not waste anyone’s time.
  • Undecided users. If you are on the fence on whether to build a computer or not, I hope by you going over this article, you will have a easier time making the decision. Honestly speaking, building a computer is not hard at all! If you are afraid of the expertise required to building a home computer, I can tell you right now that if you can follow instructions, everything will be fine. Seriously! The hard part is not actually putting everything together. The hardest part for a beginner is purchasing all the separate computer parts and having everything be compatible with one another.
    • Gaining experience. If you even have an ounce of curiosity on what makes a computer tick, I believe building a computer yourself is one of the best solution. You really can’t call yourself a computer geek till you have built a custom computer rig yourself! Again, by you reading this article, I hope you’ll see how easy it is to put a simple custom PC together. Once you have gained a little experience, it will be a lot easier the next time around. If you find yourself needing a computer upgrade right now, why not take the chance to build one yourself?

Tips to follow:

Plan, Plan, Plan! The fun part in building any custom PC is planning what will go into it. Remember, we have free reign to pretty much do whatever we want, provided that all parts will be compatible with each other. I wouldn’t recommend going all out if this is your first build but there’s definitely nothing stopping you from doing so! The important part is to always plan ahead. Also, think about what you will be doing with the computer in the future as well. Once you do that, planning what parts to purchase will become a lot easier. Trust me on this.

Do Not Wing It! Please make sure you are as comfortable as you can be before actually assembling your computer! What I mean is that you do not want to start learning about how to actually put the parts together during build time. Learn ahead of time! Nothing is stopping you from reading other articles or even better, watching videos on Youtube, on how to put a computer together. Watch and re-watch the videos until you are comfortable with how things should proceed. By doing so, you minimize the chances of making mistakes or worst case scenario, damaging your precious components because you didn’t know how to handle them. By the time you read this, I should have the second article published. Therefore go over it and see how to actually put everything together.

Do Your Research! I can’t stress about this part enough. Even if you are a veteran computer builder, it pays off to do your research on any computer part before purchase! Granted, most companies have very generous return policies. However, it’s a hassle and not something you really want to be doing. You want to get it right the first time. By research, I mean what capabilities the hardware is capable of, what type of connection(s) it uses, etc. This article tells you what the type of hardware you will need to assemble your PC but I can’t tell you exactly which brand and model of hardware to buy!

Read User Reviews! Again, this is a very crucial step before making any purchase. Chances are that you are not the first person to be purchasing a particular hardware. Therefore, take the opportunity to read up on user reviews of the product first. If many users experience the same type of problem for a device, then it’s a sign that you should stay away from it unless there is a known workaround. Also, don’t let one negative review put you off from a purchase! Almost every product you see will have negative reviews. I have known people that can read 8-9 positive reviews in a row and be put off completely with a product with just 1 or 2 negative reviews. If you keep doing that, you’ll never finish the project!

Be a Smart Shopper! Unless money is not a thing to you, you’ll want to compare prices of your hardware components with various different outlets. Depending on your location, your may find the parts you need right at a local electronics retailer. However, the products are usually marked up and so it’s best to take your shopping online. There are tons of places to shop for computer parts. One of the most known online retailer is Newegg.com. Unless you live in Hawaii or Alaska, Newegg offers free or very generous shipping rates. Newegg is also a place you should go to check out user reviews of a product. Other online retailers include Amazon, ZipZoomFly, Frys, and TigerDirect.

With that out of the way, let’s begin! Below is a list of what you will need to build your own machine. Because I am building a budget PC to replace the desktop which my sister mainly uses, don’t expect me to use any hardcore components for my build! I will however go over each component needed in details in hopes so that you can make your own decision on what to put inside your own machine. Everyone is different so there is no way I can recommend you any hardware without knowledge of what you will actually use your computer for! In other words, please take this guide for what it is. You do not have to follow what I buy or recommend! Whatever the case maybe, feel free to post a question in the comment section or email me. I’m not a veteran computer building expert but I should be able to help you out, even if it is just a little.

Case

The case is what will obviously hold all of your components together. Selecting a good case is very important. Many users who have just started building computers think that a case is just for looks. However, they couldn’t be any more wrong! A good designed computer case provides proper airflow, which is very important. Heat is one of the biggest enemy when it comes to electronic devices and so you’ll definitely want to purchase a case that provides adequate cooling. The cooling methods usually just involves fans placed strategically on the case that helps blow air over all your hardware. The computer case you choose will also have a factor on how upgradeable your computer will be in the future. If you will be adding a lot of internal hard drives but your case doesn’t have enough empty drive bays, then you’ll be out of luck. If you’ll be purchasing a high-end video card in the future for gaming, you’ll want to get a case that is big enough to fit it. A case also can have other features that may interest you. For example, some cases allow you to easily remove the back motherboard housing plate so you’ll have a much easier time mounting the motherboard. Some cases gives you the option of removing the hard drive cage for easy hard drive installations. A computer case also needs to support the motherboard form factor as well. For the most part, ATX motherboards are the most popular so many cases support it. If you will be getting a micro-ATX motherboard, make sure your case supports that as well! Do not overlook a computer case!

Part used: Antec Nine Hundred

Case
I know some of you are laughing right now thinking I’m crazy for pairing such a high-end case with budget PC parts! It’s just that I got this case for a steal a couple years back and it has been collecting dust ever since. I won’t be building a gaming rig anytime soon so I figure I might as well put it to use! Hey, don’t laugh!

Motherboard

The motherboard can be considered the heart of your system. This is ultimately where all the rest of your components and hardware will plug into. The motherboard is also a big factor in deciding how you can upgrade your rig in the future. You’ll definitely want to spend some time thinking this one over. There are many brands and models of motherboards out there for you to choose from. Going over all of them is not possible. One of the best advice I can give you is to think long and hard about what you will using your PC for. A motherboard will determine what parts can be used so if you want to use the latest processors, you’ll need to get a motherboard that will support it. If you want to install 8GB of RAM, then you’ll need a motherboard that will support it. Get the point? You’ll mostly see two types of motherboard form factors: ATX and micro-ATX. The main difference between the two is the physical size. ATX and micro-ATX boards have different screw layouts to attach to the case so once again, make sure your case supports the form factor of the motherboard you will be using! If you are building a budget PC like me, you’ll want to choose a motherboard that also includes on-board video and audio capabilities. This allows you to save money from not having to buy a dedicated video card and/or sound card.

Part used: Gigabyte Micro ATX Motherboard GA-G31M-ES2L

Motherboard

CPU (processor)

The CPU chip is the brains of the operations. This critical component determines the “speed” of your PC. Similar to many other components, you’ll need to think a bit before purchasing a CPU. You can obviously spend a ton of money to buy the best CPU out there but if all you’ll be doing on the PC is watching Youtube videos and email, that will be one wasted CPU because it will be idle for most of the time! That’s like driving a Ferrari but only going 20mph! In my case, the computer will only be used to perform fairly mundane tasks such as email, Youtube, Facebook, online shopping and picture editing so it doesn’t make sense to buy a quad-core processor! A Pentium Dual-Core processor is more than enough for the job at hand. The one thing you do have to consider is whether going with Intel or the AMD brand processors. Personally, I prefer Intel but that’s just my personal preference. Also, be sure to check that your motherboard will support the type of processor you will be using. Whether Intel or AMD, different processor families have different pin layouts. Your motherboard’s CPU socket must match your purchased CPU type so don’t overlook this factor!

Part used: Intel Pentium Dual Core E5500 Processor, 2.80 GHz, LGA775 Socket

CPU

RAM (memory)

RAM modules is what your computer uses to store information and data as you are using it. You’ve have probably heard the saying that you can never have too much RAM in a given system. The more RAM you have, the more data that can be stored to be utilized by your processor. Technically speaking, having little RAM will still allow your computer to function but at a much slower pace. This is because without enough RAM, your computer now have to store data on your hard drive. Fetching data from the hard drive rather than from RAM is much, much slower and that is why you should provide adequate amounts of RAM for what you will using the computer for. Similar to having a “too fast” CPU, having too much RAM can also harm you as well (actually, just your wallet). If you provide a lot of RAM for your system but you don’t actually need to use that much, then they are just sitting there without having anything to do. That’s a big waste of your money and resource! For an average user, 2GB of RAM matched with a fairly powerful CPU is more than enough to support their everyday tasks. Another important reminder is that if you want to install more than 4GB of RAM in your system, you must use a 64-bit operating system rather than 32-bit, which most users are familiar with. Another thing to note is the amount of RAM slots provided by your motherboard and the maximum amount it can handle. Obviously, the more RAM slots your motherboard provides, the more flexible you are. For my motherboard, it only supplies me with two slots and it can only handle up to 4GB of RAM. Therefore, if I buy two 1GB sticks of RAM (which fills it up) and later want to add an additional 1GB, then I’m partially screwed. I now have to buy one 2GB RAM module, take out one of the 1GB modules and then install it. This leaves me with one extra RAM stick that I would have no use for. Speed is another important factor. If you buy a faster rated RAM module than what your motherboard can handle, while it would still work, the RAM will be downgraded to operate at the highest rated speed the motherboard can support. You do not want this to happen!

Part used: Corsair CM2X2048-6400C5 XMS2 2GB PC2-6400 800MHz 240-Pin DDR2

RAM

Power Supply

This component is what powers your entire rig. It cannot be stressed enough about how important the power supply is for any computer. Almost every piece of hardware will need some type of electricity to power it and guess where that “electricity” comes from? Your power supply! A faulty power supply can be your worst nightmare as it can literally fry your hardware and in worst case scenarios, your motherboard. Once this happens, it usually cannot be fixed or even if it can, it’s probably going to cost a lot of money and at that point, you’ll be better off buying a new replacement instead. You will want a power supply that have enough connectors for all of your current hardware along with future upgrades. The first thing you’ll want to look at is how much wattage the power supply is rated at. The higher the wattage, the more power it can provide. The more power you have, the more hardware you can connect to it. Many modern high-end video cards require a lot of juice and so those systems require a fairly high wattage power supply. For the basic PC, a 500W power supply should be more than enough. The other thing to look for is the amount of connectors the unit comes with. Since every component in your system needs power, there needs to be enough of the right connectors. For example, if you have 2 hard drives and 1 DVD burner, you’ll need 3 SATA power connectors. If your computer case has 2 fans, you will need 2 peripheral connectors (molex) and so on. Once you have purchased the power supply, you’re just going to have to pray that it is not a faulty one. There is no way to find out other than using it. It’s good to know that many power supply companies offer generous warranties and replacement guarantees.

Part used: Thermaltake TR2 500W Continuous-Delivery Power Supply

PSU1
PSU2

Graphics Card (optional)

If you don’t want to use the on-board video output of your motherboard, then you will need a dedicated video card. On-board video technology has definitely improved from the early days but it is still not good enough for many users who want to play video games on their machine. Let me put this out there right now: if you are not a gamer, there is no need to purchase a video card of any sort provided that your motherboard has on-board video output capabilities. If you do decide to purchase one, then you’ll have to do your own research (just like with all the other hardware components I list here) and find one that suits your needs. Once again, you can spend up to $400-$500 for a high-end video card but if you’re not doing anything with it, then you’re not putting it to good use! Because video card technology is always evolving, you can pick up a very good video card (although not the newest model) for a very cheap price.

Part used: None (on-board)

Sound Card (optional)

For the many computers I have built, I can’t really remember anytime I had to purchase a dedicated sound card. The reason is simple: I don’t need one and you most likely as well! One of the main reasons for purchasing one is to get a higher audio quality output from your system. However, if your speakers are fairly simple and generic, you really don’t need a dedicated sound card. The on-board audio from the motherboard is good enough for average computer users. You will need a sound card if for example, your on-board audio doesn’t work anymore but chances of that happening is pretty rare if you take good care of your computer. Almost all the motherboards I have seen includes some type of audio output. Newer models even include built-in digital output! If however you have or will be using a complicated speaker setup, then it makes sense to purchase a dedicated sound card.

Part used: None (on-board)

Hard Drive

To hold all of your data and files, you will need a hard drive. Be glad that internal hard drives have come down a lot in price so you can pick up a big 1TB drive for less than $100. That should be plenty enough for casual users. If you wait for a deal, you might be able to pick up a 2TB drive for that cheap as well. I really don’t have to say this since most IDE drives are already extinct but please make sure your drive is using a SATA connection to the motherboard. SATA is a lot faster than the older IDE technology so you’ll definitely want to take advantage of that. Other than that, there really isn’t much to it. A hard drive either works or it doesn’t work. Once you have put your system together and installed the operating system, you’ll want to test the hard drive for any errors which I’ll show you in the next article. For my build, I am recycling a old Hitachi 160GB drive. I have scanned it for errors and the results came out positive so I will be re-using it here. Please do not purchase this drive for yourself! Get a much better and bigger one!

Part used: Hitachi Deskstar Hard drive – 160 GB

Hard Drive

Optical Drive (CD/DVD)

An optical drive allows you to install Windows and other CD/DVD based applications on your computer. You need to decide what capabilities you will require of your optical drive. For example, many users will definitely want basic CD and DVD burning capabilities but would you need to burn to a dual-layer DVD disc in the future? If so, you’ll need a drive that can support that feature as well. Be sure to purchase an optical drive with a SATA connection.

Part used: Liteon 24X DVDrw Sata Retail

Optical Drive

Operating System

To actually make use of all your hardware, you’ll need an operating system! In my case this will be Windows 7 Professional. Most casual home users can get away with using the Home Premium edition instead. The good news here is that you do not have to purchase the retail version. You can opt to buy instead an OEM version of the operating system software and save a ton of money. The two biggest differences between the two version is that with the OEM version, you will have no technical support from Microsoft. Basically, you are on your own. If you’re not one to call Microsoft for help, this limitation shouldn’t apply to you. The second difference is that with the OEM version, the license is locked to the computer it was first activated on. You cannot at a future date retire that license and re-use it on another computer. For the amount of money you will be saving, I’d would say these two trade-offs are definitely worth it. The one important factor is knowing which operating system type you need. This can either be 64-bit or 32-bit. Remember, only 64-bit operating systems can address more than 4GB of RAM.

Part used: Windows 7 PRO 32 Bit System Builder 1pk

OS

Misc.

Here are other parts that you will need to complete your custom rig. Some are definitely optional.

Monitor: Whatever screen output device you are using, make sure that it has a matching connector with the video source (on-board motherboard or video card).

Keyboard: Nothing special here. Just pick one that suits your taste and comfort.

Mouse: Same as keyboard.

Speakers: For average home users, a 2.1 system (two speakers, 1 sub-woofer) is plenty enough. Logitech is a very popular brand for home computer speakers so look there first.

Anti-Static Wristband (optional but highly recommended):Static electricity is no joke. If you are not properly grounded when assembling your computer, you could fry the components. You most likely won’t notice the effects right away but as time goes by, it will slowly start to creep in. Buy a cheap antistatic wristband to rid yourself of this problem!

Cable Ties (optional but highly recommended): Unless you have a modular power supply unit (in which you get to install only the cables and connectors you need), wires will be hanging all over the place by the time you finish putting together the computer. In many cases, you will have a lot of unused cables coming out of the power supply and you need some way to manage them so they don’t get in the way (blocking air flow for example). A very simple and cheap management solution is to use plastic cable ties. You use these to tie cables and cords together rather then leaving them dangling. Your system will not only look cleaner but you will have improved air flow mechanics as well!

Standard Phillips Screwdriver: This is pretty much all you will need to put together a basic computer system. Hard to believe eh?

Alright, so with the parts out of the way, we can move on to the next article which will detail how to put everything together!

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