Have you ever thought about building your own computer? Actually buying a motherboard and a case along with all the supporting components and assembling the whole thing yourself?
Here are three reasons why you might want to consider taking the plunge:
- You will be able to create a custom machine that exactly matches your needs.
- It will be much easier to upgrade your machine in the future because you will understand it completely.
- You may be able to save some money.
And, if you have never done it before, you will definitely learn a lot about computers.
In this article, we'll take you through the entire process of building a computer. You'll learn how to choose the parts you will use, how to buy them and how to put them all together. When you're done, you will have exactly the machine that you need. Let's get started.
The first step in building a computer is deciding what type of machine you want to build. Do you want a really inexpensive computer for the kids to use? A small, quiet machine to use as a media computer in the living room? A high-end gaming computer? Or maybe you need a powerful machine with a lot of disk space for video editing
. The possibilities are endless, and the type of machine you want to build will control many of the decisions you make down the line. Therefore, it is important to know exactly what you want the machine to accomplish from the start.
Let's imagine that you want to build a powerful video editing computer. You want it to have a dual-core CPU, lots of RAM and a terabyte of disk space. You also want to have FireWire connectors on the motherboard. These requirements are going to cause you to look for a motherboard that supports:
- Dual-core CPUs (either Intel or AMD)
- At least 4GB of high-speed RAM
- Four (or more) SATA hard drives
- FireWire connections (possibly in both the front and back of the case)
Then it all needs to go in a case with enough space to hold multiple hard disks and enough air flow to keep everything cool.
With any computer you build, knowing the type of machine you want to create can really help with decision-making.
Choosing a Motherboard
Choosing a motherboard is the most interesting part of any building project. The reason it is so interesting is because there are hundreds of motherboards to choose from and each has its own advantages and disadvantages.
One easy way to think about motherboards is to break them up into a few categories. For example:
- Cheap motherboards: Generally in the $50 range, these are motherboards for older CPUs. They are great for building inexpensive machines.
- Middle-of-the-road motherboards: Ranging in price from $50 to $100, these are one step up from the cheap motherboards. In many cases you can find motherboard and CPU combos in this price range, which is another great way to build a cheap machine or an inexpensive home/office computer.
- High-end motherboards: If you are building a powerful gaming machine or video workstation, these motherboards give you the speed you need. They range in price from $100 to $200. They handle the latest CPU chips at their highest speeds.
- Extreme motherboards: Falling into the over-$200 range, these motherboards have special features that boost the price. For example, they might have multiple CPU sockets, extra memory slots or special cooling features.
You need to decide whether you are building a "cheap machine," a "high-end machine" or a "tricked-out super machine" and then choose your motherboard accordingly. Here are some other decisions that help narrow down your motherboard choices:
- Do you want to use an Intel or an AMD processor? Making this choice will cut the number of motherboards in half. AMD chips are often cheaper, but lots of people are die-hard Intel fans.
- What size motherboard do you want to use? If you are trying to build a smaller computer, you may want to look at micro ATX cases. That means you will need to buy a micro ATX motherboard. Otherwise you can use a normal ATX motherboard and case. (There are also smaller motherboard form factors like mini-ITX and even nano-ITX if you want to go really small.)
- How many USB ports do you want? If you want several, make sure the motherboard can handle it.
- Do you need FireWire? It's nice if the motherboard handles it (although it is also possible to add a card).
- Do you want an AGP or PCI Express graphics card? Or do you want to use a graphics card on the motherboard to keep the price and size down? If you want to go the cheapest route, make sure the motherboard includes a video card on-board (easiest way to tell is to see if there is a DVI or VGA connector on the motherboard). PCI Express is the latest/greatest thing, but if you want to re-use an AGP card you already own, that might be a reason to go with AGP.
- Do you want to use PATA (aka IDE) or SATA hard disks? SATA is the latest thing, and the cables are much smaller.
- What pin configuration are you using for the CPU? If you want to use the latest CPUs, make sure that your motherboard will accept them.
- Do you want to try things like dual video cards or special high-speed RAM configurations? If so, make sure the motherboard supports it.
If you don't care about any of this stuff (or if it all sounds like gibberish to you), then you're probably interested in building a cheap machine. In that case, find an inexpensive motherboard/CPU combo kit and don't worry about all of these details.
Installing RAM and the Microprocessor
But before we start building, we need to say one thing about static electricity
. Most of the parts you will be handling when you assemble your computer are highly sensitive to static shocks. What that means is that if you build up static electricity on your body and a shock passes from your body to something like a CPU chip, that CPU chip is dead. You will have to buy another one.
The way you eliminate static electricity is by grounding yourself
. There are lots of ways to ground yourself, but probably the easiest is to wear a grounding bracelet on your wrist. Then you connect the bracelet to something grounded (like a copper pipe or the center screw on a wall outlet's face plate). By connecting yourself to ground, you eliminate the possibility of static shock.
Each combination of parts is unique. But in general, here are the basic steps you will need to follow when you assemble your machine:
First, you'll need to unwrap the motherboard and the microprocessor chip. The chip will have one marked corner that aligns with another marked corner of its socket on the motherboard. Align the corners and drop the microprocessor into the socket. You don't need to apply any pressure - if it's aligned correctly, it should fall into place. Once you have it in, cinch it down with the lever arm.
Now, you need to install the heat sink. The CPU box will contain a manual that tells you how to do it. The heat sink will contain either a heat sink sticker or heat sink grease to use when mounting the heat sink on the CPU. Follow the instructions closely to install it. To install our heat sink, all we had to do was put it in place, cinch it down with flanges on either side and lock it with a cam. Connect the power lead for the heat sink to the motherboard.
Next, you'll install the RAM. Look on the motherboard for the slot marked "one" and firmly press the RAM module into it. It will probably take more pressure than you'd think to get the RAM into place. Each side of the module should also have a rotating arm that will lock the RAM down.
Now your motherboard is ready to put in the case.