Building Computers 101

Discussion in 'Desktop Computers' started by Lax, Jul 4, 2005.

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  1. Lax

    Lax VIP Member

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  2. Lax

    Lax VIP Member

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    Section 1 - From The Ground Up
    When the thought of building a computer comes to mind most people think to themselves that it's a very hard and arduous task. This is in fact not the case most times. In actuality it's very simple and is usually a pretty quick process. When building a computer the parts you buy pretty much only fit in one way and almost all parts (OEM not included) come with manual's, driver disks, and little accessories to make your life easier.
     
  3. Lax

    Lax VIP Member

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    Section 2 - Choose Your Path
    The first step in really building your computer is which path do you want to take, Intel or AMD. The general consensus is that AMD is made for gaming, while Intel is made for multitasking and processor intensive work. To see what the real differences in the chips are the best thing to do would be to read the CPU 101 created by Praetor. It outlines the types of chips on the market and gives info on what to expect and what not to expect from each chip after you purchase it and stick it in a system. Now as this thread is only a guide on how to put your machine together you'll have to decide what parts to buy on your own, or search on the forum or computer review sites for the parts that best suit your needs.
     
  4. Lax

    Lax VIP Member

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    Section 3 - Purchasing Parts
    When buying your parts you're gonna want to look for the cheapest price usually with the least bit of hassle. If money is of no option to you then it won't really matter if you buy your parts online, down the street at your local computer store, or at a major company such as CompUSA, BestBuy, Circuit City, or the like. But if you're like most people you're gonna want to find a deal. As for this there are more than enough companies and places online that sell computer parts and accessories. To find the right sites is indeed the key. A site that is commonly used just to get a bearing on what you should be paying is www.pricewatch.com It shows the lowest prices per part and then the lowest prices per distributer. So if you were looking for the newest Intel chip out there pricewatch would show you the lowest price on that specific chip for each site or company offering it.
     
  5. Lax

    Lax VIP Member

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    Section 3a. - Specifics on parts:
    This section will provide just a brief over view on what you might want to look for in your parts. It won't tell you exactly what parts you should buy, but merely a guide to point you in the right direction when you're buying parts. For information on some parts and what you might want to buy I suggest reading the 101 threads written by Praetor, some important ones are as follows.

    CPU 101
    HDD 101
    PSU 101
    RAM 101
    CD/DVD 101

    CPU: Mind you, when you buy your CPU you're going to have to buy a motherboard and ram that go along with it. All the major motherboard companies makes their own variations of their boards for Intel and for AMD. To find the right one you'll have to first decide what you'll be doing. Generally speaking AMD is for gaming while Intel is for processor intensive tasks or a lot of multitasking. If it's going to be an all around work machine then it really doesn't matter which path you take.

    Motherboard: With buying a motherboard there's more than one thing that needs to be considered. Which chipset do you want, which CPU are you using, what onboard functions do you want. To find the one that suits you best you need to take into consideration what you'll be doing with your machine. If you're going to be a hardcore gamer you're going to want stability and possibly a nice board that won't fail while being overclocked and a board that has PCI express or AGP or whatever you plan to use. If you're going to be running a high speed machine with it being largely overclocked you're going to want a board without all the bling and with more of the stability factor than the ability to run stuff you'll never need. If it's going to be a general work computer (email, word, viewing pictures etc.) you're not going to need the top of the line board or one with the stability of an ox, just one that can do what you want it to do because you won't be putting it through major stress.

    Memory: Memory is an integral part of the system and depending on what you're doing you again don't need the top of the line memory, memory standard is something that's important though. Generally speaking the standard of memory is that of 256Mb CL3 of a brand name (Micron, Samsung, Kingston, OCZ, Corsair, Crucial, Geil) in 1 or 2 sticks depending on if you want/have dual channel mode. For most systems 256Mb will be fine if you don't do anything intensive such as playing the latest games or rendering full scale movies in real time. If you're a gamer you'll generally want 512Mb CL3/2.5 memory of a respectable company (listed above). For the hardcore gamer 1Gb (1 or 2 sticks) might be the necessity for you (CL2.5/2) depending on what games your playing and at what settings and whether or not your board/chip supports dual channel mode. Another factor to take into consideration is what speed and type ram can your motherboard handle, PC2100, PC2700, PC4200, SDRAM, DDR1/2, etc. If you buy the wrong speed or type of ram you risk loosing performance and in some cases stability. Each speed and type are different (obviously) meaning that PC4300 DDR-2 RAM will most likely out perform PC2100 DDR RAM and may not fit in the same motherboards. It's up to you and to the specifications on the motherboard which ram you ultimately end up buying.

    Graphics: The Graphics card is another integral part of the system you're building. Buying the right one can be a deciding factor on what you can do with your rig. If you want to make the high end gaming machine you've been dreaming about you're not going to go out and buy a graphics card from 10 years ago. If you're going to make an old machine just for word, email, and the like then you can save money by not buying the brand spanking new 500$ card on the market and simply sticking with an old 32 or even 16Mb graphics card. The graphics card you buy can be determined by what ports you have on the motherboard you are purchasing. If the motherboard only supports AGP1/2/4/8x then you will be looking for an AGP card that fits with the board. If it's a board that supports PCI Express or SLI then you need to find yourself a newer card such as the Nvidia6600/6800 series (Also made in AGP) or the ATIx3/6/800 series (Also made in AGP). The card depends also on how much do you want to spend, and what kind of performance do you want/plan to get out of it. The final decision to buy the card however is up to you.

    Hard Drive: Hard Drive (for those that don't know) is what stores everything you have on your machine. So whatever size Hard Drive you have is how much data or "stuff" you can keep on your machine. Base HDD's now a days are 7200RPM in either PATA or SATA format (not including SCSI drives). The average size is anywhere from 60-500Gb per drive. Since prices are at an all time low now it almost doesn't matter if you buy PATA or SATA for your computer. However if you're doing things such as major gaming you're not going to want to buy a brand new 6 disk SATA array and setup a RAID 5, a single SATA or PATA drive would be enough for your needs. If however you were going to be running a storage comp as a server for games or as some sort of hosting device you might want to spend the money and setup a nice SCSI or SATA array. In most cases however a single drive (like mentioned) will be ok for almost anyone's needs.

    Cases: The case is just that, a case that houses your components. There are many different types of cases in many different shapes, sizes, and colors. To find the one that's right for you it sometimes comes down to personal preference or the amount of money you have available to spend on the machine. There are base models, and then there are high end models. Some with 2 fans, some with 8 fans. Which case you buy is up to you and what you want it to A. Look like or B. Perform like.

    Power Supply: The Power supply unit (PSU) is just that, it's what gets the power to your machine. It's what gives all the parts their juice. So if you buy a crappy power supply then you get just that, something that you can't trust to run your system correctly. If you buy a beast of a power supply that's ok, you'll get a nice PSU that runs your system with good overhead. If you're a gamer or if you're a base user the PSU should always have at least 18-20Amps on the 12 volt line. Any lower and you'll be playing with fire to see if it will support your system. If you're a hardcore gamer you're gonna want to buy a decent PSU with a nice stable 12v rail that has a good amount of umph behind it (somewhere in the range of 26-32A).

    CD/DVD Drives: DVD, CD-RW, DVD-RW, there's so many choices it's sometimes hard to decide. Depending on the machine you can buy many different types of drives. If you want to just have a drive to backup your data on you might want to consider buying a CD-RW (CD-ReWritable) drive or a DVD-RW drive. If you don't ever plan to burn any data from your computer onto a CD or a DVD then you can stick with just a normal CD-ROM drive. However with the prices of drives now it's more worth it to spend the extra 5$ to buy a CD-RW drive than it is to buy a regular CD-ROM or spend the extra 20$ to buy a DVD±RW drive or Dual Layer drive than it is to buy a normal DVD-ROM. Whichever drive you buy they will all be able to play the same media but not necessarily read or write the same media.
     
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2005
  6. Lax

    Lax VIP Member

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    Section 4 - Assembly

    First things first, get the case out of the box and remove both side panels. This will allow you best access at the case and will make it easier for you to install things. The first thing you should do is mount the Hard Drive and floppy drive (if you're using one). Putting this in now will save you a lot of trouble when trying to put the motherboard in. Normally there will be a few slots in the case where the Hard Drive and other 3.5" drives will fit (3-5 of them depending on what case you bought). Slide the drive in as far as it will go and slowly pull it back out until the screw holes line up (same with the floppy but make sure it's flush with the front of the case). Get some M3 mounting screws (or whatever came with the case usually) and screw in both sides (2-3 screws per side).

    First thing you're gonna want to do before installing your motherboard is figuring out where the risers need to go (if they aren't already in place). Different motherboards require risers in different spots. If you get a mini-ATX board then you may only need five risers. If you're using a server board you may need eight risers. Usually the case should come with a little ziplock baggie or the like that contains the risers ands screws and all the good stuff you need to mount the motherboard to the case.

    After the motherboard has been mounted you're gonna want to stick all the components in. Don't worry about putting things in the wrong way because parts will only fit one way (except for IDE cables without a nubbin). Take that shiny new processor out of it's box and; on a flat surface with the case lying on its side, lift up the little locking lever (should be on the right side of the CPU socket if you're looking at the board with the PCI/misc slots towards the bottom) and carefully line up the CPU with pin 1 (should have a little triangle marker in the corner or something to identify it) towards the upper right of the socket. If it's lined up correctly the CPU will fall into place (don't drop it though) and you can then push the lever back into position. If you will be using some sort compound now would be the time to put it on. Before you do however you will need to remove the black pad or whatever other stuff is already on the heatsink. To do this take a plastic tool (card or something else that won't bend or scratch the metal) and scrape off the pad. Wipe off the rest with a xylene based cleaner, acetone, or isopropyl alcohol. Putting on the heatsink is fairly easy also, lay the heatsink on top of the CPU (Don't push it on the clips will do that for you) and very carefully push the clips into the correct mounting spot. After they've been "clipped in" push down on the 2 locking levers (they are in different spots for different heatsinks, just look around).

    Next will come the memory (because I said so) so remove it from it's little case you got it in, or box, or whatever it came in (doesn't matter). Now, memory will only fit in one way (just like the CPU and everything else) so don't worry about breaking it, the only way that would happen is if you forced it in the wrong way (which is hard to do because of the little notch in it). DDR slots are usually lined up vertically but may also be aligned differently depending on the board. If it's vertical the shorter end of the chip (on one side of the notch) will be near the bottom, while the longer side (on the other side of the notch) will be on the top. If it's horizontal the shorter end will be to the left while the longer end is to the right. Open up the two clips on one of the DDR slots (they are small and reside at the two ends of the slot). Carefully line up the memory with the slot and push one end of it in until the little clip clips back into place (you will usually hear it AND see it). Next take the other end and push that in too. Repeat the process for however many sticks of RAM you bought for your motherboard.

    Now we go onto the graphics card and any other miscellaneous cards you bought. On the left side of the case (if you didn't move it) there will be little covers held in my screws (if you bought a clip-less case). Remove the correct cover that is in line with the slot you intend to use. Again, don't worry about putting them in the wrong way, they will only fit into one type of slot because of the way the cards are designed. Take the card out of the anti-static bag or whatever it came in and gently push it into the slot (for the graphics card you may need to open a clip first or slide a slot cover over, replace to original position when done). Screw it into place and you're done. Repeat step with however many cards you have purchased or need to install. At this point there's not much more to do, install the optical drives you bought and the PSU and you're all done. To put in the optical drives you're going to need to remove the bay covers (just like you had to do with the floppy). The optical drives however slide in from the front of the case, not from the back (like the HDD and the floppy). Open the drive up and push it into whichever bay you want. It should stop itself when it is flush with the front of the case, if not then simply line it up where you want it and screw it in place (like the HDD). Repeat the steps for as many optical drives you bought.

    Almost done, time to set the masters and the slaves. Normally the HDD is on its own channel while the opticals are on another. On the back of all the drives there will be a jumper block. Since all drives differ there is no set spot that a jumper needs to go. However, you can tell by reading the block. There will be three settings usually, MA (master), SL (slave), and CS (cable select). Set the HDD as master and plug the IDE cable (usually comes with the motherboard or the HDD) into channel 0 on the motherboard and then into the back of the HDD, it will only fit in one way. Do the same for the optical drives (setting master and slave doesn't really matter in this situation so long as both aren't master and/or slave). Plug the IDE cable into channel 1 on the motherboard and then plug one connector into one drive and the other connector into the other. Floppy drives and SATA drives don't need master and slaves because they are the only ones on their channels. All you need to do in this case is plug the floppy cable into the board and into the floppy (it's the smaller cable). If you're using a SATA drive the cable will be ever smaller (descriptions shown in the HDD 101) and can only fit in one way, plug it in and you're good to go.

    Final step, putting in the PSU. This is fairly straight forward and is not that hard. At the top (or bottom) of the case depending on what you bought there will be a big hole, that's where the PSU mounts. Push it into the hole so that the power switch (if it has one) and the power plug face the outside of the case and that the vent faces towards the motherboard. Usually it will be held in place by 2-4 screws that screw in from the outside of the case in the back, screw them in (normal case screws will work with the PSU). Now that the PSU is in place you can plug it all in. On the inside of the case on the motherboard there are 1-2 connectors, these are the main power connectors for the board. They will be either 20-pin or 24-pin depending on what board you bought and what chip you're using (P4's use a special 4-pin connector that looks like a square, you will also need to plug this in). Plug them in; they only fit one way, and push until they click into place. Do the same for the HDD, optical drives, and floppy drive (these connectors are 4-pin and are look like a rectangle) these also only go in one way. Push them all the way in, there will be no click so you will feel it hit the end of the slot. If you're using a SATA drive you will need a special converter (not always) to plug the power into the drive. This usually comes with the drive or maybe the PSU (depending on what you bought). Most graphics cards also need a power connector, 6-pin for PCIe cards and 4-pin for AGP, plug it in the same way you did with the HDD and the opticals.

    Plug in any fans that may be in the case (either 3-pin or 4-pin) and you're done with building your own computer.
     
    Last edited: Sep 6, 2005
  7. Lax

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  8. Lax

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    Section 6 - Addendum

    When the idea of building your own computer comes up one of the first things you may think of is how much will this cost me compared to a prebuilt one. Well, the cost will vary depending on where you buy your parts from and how much shipping might cost (if any) on each part. Buying a prebuilt machine the price is generally set and then raised or lowered depending on what options you get in it. The short answer is this, building your own will usually cost less and yield you a more customized machine (which is more towards your liking) instead of a stock machine that is prebuilt by a company such as Dell or HP.

    The long answer is this, if you build your own machine the cost is effected by how much each part costs at the time and how much you are charged for shipping or taxes. With a prebuilt machine the price you are charged is determined by the company and is a single lump sum (not being payed for by each piece). The prices of both ways of building though are effected by the current technology on the market and how readily available it is. Generally however when you buy a prebuilt system you're not getting the exact parts you want to get. So the memory may not be up to par, the motherboard might not be that great, and the way it's all setup might not be all that nice inside the case. This is to keep the price down on systems such as Dell and HP (In the 700-800$ range for a base system). When building your own the cost is again determined by what you want in your system, except you get to pick exactly what's inside your case, and you will know what brands you are putting in there.

    As for the price differences between a prebuilt machine and one you build yourself; it's marginal, but can also be huge. The difference in either direction is based on what type of prebuilt machine you get and what's in them, and what parts you would want in your own system. In the long run it is generally cheaper to build your own machine, and you can customize it more towards your liking instead of having it customized towards Dell's liking, which is using no name parts which are made cheaper to lower the final cost of the total system. Companies that build machines will also raise the price a bit (depending on the company) to make some profit on each machine they sell. If they were to sell you a machine for the actual price of the parts they wouldn't be making any money, and hence would be usless for them to build so many machines for so many customers while the company themselves makes 0 profit.
     
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2005
  9. Lax

    Lax VIP Member

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    Section 7 - Step by Step
    This section is meant as a rough idea of exactly how to put together a computer piece by piece. To start you're going to want to leave anywhere from 3 hours to 6 hours for construction time just in case you run into anything un-expected or any major porblems with the parts (wrong part, damaged part, etc.). For this build I will be using an older SocketA Duron chip with an ECS K7S5A motherboard.


    All photo's are clickable via the highlighted orange links, this is to save load times for anyone still on a slower non-broadband connection.


    To start with find a large table or area you will be able to spread stuff out on if need be and preferebly wood or some other non-conducting material. Remove all the parts from their respective cases and place them on the table or wherever you're working. Survey the parts to make sure your received all the items you were supposed to receive in the packaging. Remove all the uneeded parts (such as extra converters and cables) from the table to 1. Save space and 2. To keep yourself from getting confused over what is what (if you are a new time builder). The main parts you should have left are the Case, motherboard (plus back panel plate), CPU, Heatsink and fan, RAM, Hard Drive(s), CD-ROM drive(s), PSU, Graphics card, Floppy (if you are using one), and IDE/SATA cables. Once this has been done it's time to start assembling the parts and getting everything into the case.

    To start out with you're going to want to put the CPU into the motherboard first. To do this you will need to remove the protective cover (on some motherboards) an lift the lever to allow the CPU to be dropped into place. Once that is done you can take the CPU (very carefully) and place it into the mount with pin 1 in whichever corner it is supposed to be in (upper right in the case of this motherboard). Once the chip is in you can put the lever back down (it will feel tight when you push it down but that is ok). Next apply any thermal compound you might have. Place a very small dot of compound (enough to cover the core when smoothed out), in this case it is a very small amount because we are using an older Duron chip. Smooth the compound out (doing a better job than me) with a credit card or other flat plastic object (just as a business card). Next you will want to lay the heatsink on top of the chip. In this case it is an older heatsink and uses 2 clips on either side of the chip to hold it in place. With newer heatsinks they use either 4 push clips on all 4 corners or in some cases are screwed into place on the motherboard. Clip the farside of the heatsink into place first then position it on the chip. Using a screwdriver or other small flat object push the opposite clip down onto the holder. It will be very tight when you push it down, that is ok. Finally, plug the CPU fan power connector into the motherboard. It is usually the connector closest to the CPU and will be labeled as CPUFAN or the like. On this board it is a 3 pin connector, on most new boards it will be a 4 pin.

    Next you will want to insert the memory. This is done very simply by opening the clips on either side, positioning the RAM module in place (there will be a notch in the ram that lines up with a notch in the mount), and pushing down so that it clips into the mount. This will also feel tight and that's ok, just push with constant pressure on one side at a time until it clips in then move onto the next side. Repeat as necessary for however many modules you have.

    Now that the RAM and CPU are in you are done with the board for now so put it to the side. Take the case out of the box and remove both panels from it to access the inside. This case hapens to have a removable motherboard tray which will be benificial to us to put the motherboard in later. If you have a motherboard tray remove it and put it to the side with the motherboard. Next you'll want to take your CD-ROM drive(s), Hard Drive(s), and Floppy (if you have one) and mount them into the case. To do this you simply find a spot you want to put them (usually CD-ROM's are up top and Hard Drives and floppy's are down low) and screw them into place with the provided screws (or if you have a screwless case attach the mounting clips and slide them into place). Repeat the process for however many CD-ROM drives or Hard Drives you have.

    Next you're going to want to mount the motherboard to the motherboard try (or inside the case, depending). Line up the motherboard and find the spots where you need to use risers (usually 8 or 9) and screw the risers into the tray or into the case if you need them. Most cases now need risers because of the wide range of motherboard choices and styles. This tray happens to need only one (a plastic riser) at the upper right corner of the motherboard. Once the risers are screwed in lay the motherboard on top of them and screw it into the risers to mount it. Put the rear panel plate into place in the case (you may have to pop out the old one) and make sure it clicks into place or screws into place depending on what type you have. Once that is done you can slide the tray back into he case and screw it back into place. The holes in the rear plate should line up almost perfectly with the motherboard.

    Now that you have the motherboard and drives in place you can insert the graphics card. In this case we are using an older AGP graphics card (Nvidia Vanta/LT). To insert it all you need to do is remove the plate that covers one of the rear slots, line it up with the port you are using (either AGP or PCIe) and push it into place (in this case the AGP port has a locking mechanism which needed to be slid to the right before inserting it). Once it is in place simply screw it in at the top or if you're using a screwless case close the mounting clip (after you have installed all other PCI or extra cards first). Repeat the process for however many extra cards you have.

    Now it's time to connect all the cables to the motherboard. Find the front panel connectors and connect them to the labeled front panel connector header on the motherboard. Do the same with any front panel USB connectors you have. With this board they were seperate cables for each part of the front panel USB ports. On newer boards they are usually a block connector and only fit one way. Also connect any IDE cables you have for the CD-ROM drives, Hard Drives, and floppy. Once all the cables are connected you can install the PSU.

    Take the PSU and carefully slide it into the mounting spot. The screw holes will only line up one way so there's no way you can put it in backwards. If it has many different screw holes the easiest thing to do is look where the vent/fan on the bottom of the PSU is pointing. When you install it the vent should be pointing into the case if it's mounted on a side vertically or towards the bottom of the case if it's mounted at the top horizontally. Screw the PSU into the case with the four screws you received with it (sometimes they send more, sometimes they send none). If for some reason you received no screws with the PSU any four case screws will work. After the PSU has been screwed in you can start plugging things in. First plug the 20pin (or 24pin) power connector into the motherboard and the 4pin ATX12 connector (if you need one). After you've plugged in the cables to the motherboard proceed to plug in the power cables to the Hard Drives, CD-ROM drives, floppy drives, and graphics card if it needs one. After everything is plugged in you can button up the side panel, plug in the monitor and power cable, turn on the PSU (if it has a switch) and turn on the computer to see your handy work.
     
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2008
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