Introduction to Computer Building

Everything but the Building

If you’re tired of buying a whole new system when all you really need to do is buy more memory or upgrade your processor, then you may consider building your own computer. For most people buying a prepackaged computer may be sufficient, but if your needs are more specific, a scratch-built computer just might fit the bill. Here are some things to consider before you start.

First and foremost, do your research. Visit computer stores and talk to technicians. Hop Online and crawl computer hardware forums. Know the difference between a PCI slot and a PCI-express slot. Learn the lingo and always ask for advice. If you have an old computer that no one will miss, take it apart and look inside. See how everything fits. You can never have too much knowledge when it comes to computers. It can be a lot of work, but the more you do now, the less frustration you’ll have later when you’re building.

Secondly, decide on the kind of machine you want to build. Will it be strictly for office use or for power gaming? Your decision here will drastically affect the parts you buy, since you really only need to buy high end components if you utilize graphic intensive software like videogames or video editing tools.

Now, shop around for the best price. Online stores, known as “e-tailers,” often sell parts at drastically reduced prices, because the components are usually OEM parts. OEM or original equipment manufacturer means that all you’re getting is the part; no box, no additional software, no instruction manual and no tech support. Depending on how brave you feel, buying OEM parts can save you upwards 40% on each individual item. Try for some good deals.

Here are the basic parts to any computer:

Computer Case: This is the enclosure that houses the inner workings of your computer. Its purpose is to keep dust out and to keep your computer from overheating. They come in various sizes and styles. Not every case comes with fans, so make sure you pick one up to keep things cool.

Power Supply Unit (PSU): This is where all of the power to your different components comes from. The power of the PSU is measured in watts. Since each component in your computer requires a minimum wattage, make sure your PSU has enough power to keep those components running. Also make sure that your PSU has enough connectors for your different parts. Some cases come with a PSU included, which can save you some money.

Central Processing Unit (CPU): The CPU processes most of the data for your computer and is therefore the greatest limiting factor. The power of the CPU is measured in hertz. The higher the hertz, the faster your computer can process information. Currently, there are two leading manufacturers of CPUs: Intel and AMD. Both have their pros and cons, but what’s most important is to know the specifications of your CPU and to make sure they match your motherboard. Otherwise, the motherboard may mitigate the power of your CPU or the computer may not run at all. Lastly, you must have a fan for your CPU or it will overheat and possibly damage itself and other parts.

Motherboard: The motherboard is the traffic controller for all data. Any component that inputs or outputs data cannot run without the motherboard. As such, your choice in a motherboard will dictate the parts you buy for your computer and your ability to upgrade later. For the thrifty shopper, buy a motherboard with as many “onboard” peripherals as possible. Most motherboards will have graphics, sound and network connections built right into the board. Granted, the onboard peripherals usually pale in comparison to off board peripherals.

Hard Disk Drive (HDD): Also known as the hard drive, this part stores all of your data, like your operating system, Online gambling applications and bootleg MP3s. Storage capacity for the HDD is measured in bytes. The more bytes, the more you can store. Additionally, since the HDD is comprised of spinning circular discs called “platters,” the rotations per minute (RPMs) of the HDD can affect the “seek time” of the drive, which is how long it takes for the drive to find the particular data the CPU needs to access. Therefore, better HDDs have high bytes and RPMs but low seek times.

Memory: Memory comes in modules that connect to the motherboard. Its primary function is to act as a buffer between the CPU and the HDD by storing immediately needed data for quick access. Therefore, if you were running your favorite program it would be stored in the memory so that the CPU could access the files in one place rather than having your HDD spinning like crazy trying to find the right file.

Disk Drives: These are the drives that read external media like CDs, DVDs, ZIP disks and floppy disks. It is essential to get at least a CD-ROM or you will not be able to install the operating system onto your HDD, as the program comes on a CD. You can splurge and purchase a CD or DVD writer which offers more storage space than a floppy drive.

Graphics and Audio Peripherals: Videocards and soundcards connect to the motherboard via either PCI slots, AGP slots or, for newer boards, PCI-express slots. These cards assist the CPU by processing data on the card itself. Since the card is dedicated to this one function, it greatly enhances the graphics or sound that is output. Video and sound cards can be quite costly for those builders on a budget.

With your parts ready it’s time to assemble the computer. Just remember to take your time, follow the directions and don’t be afraid to ask questions. When everything’s up and running you’ll find that nothing compares to building something with your own two hands and saving some cash to boot.