Obviously upon entering this thread, those wondering about how to build their own computer will be wondering, “why would I want to build my own computer? Aren’t computers pretty cheap by now?” So, allow me to answer this first.
3. (3, 4, & 5 all-in-one) Paperwork, Replacement, Warranties – It may not seem important at first, but wait until you’re required to replace even something so simple as a power supply unit. A lot of these desktop brand name companies have specially-made (proprietary) hardware to prevent you from just replacing anything in their desktops. From what I remember, the hardware most often customized are the motherboards, casings, & power-supply unit. They would tend to have special screw spots for the specific motherboard & casing that may not allow it to be refitted onto a regular casing or for the casing to be refitted with just any motherboard, and with the PSU – they’ll have the cable specially made for their particular motherboard so that you can’t just replace it. Not to mention, they almost always use the lowest-possible quality parts.
2. Money – It’s almost always going to come down to this. I know about the car analogy, the idea that if a computer is cheaper to build, then why isn’t a car – but the fact of the matter is, you don’t need anything more than a small workplace (probably about 5 square feet or a small room at most) & a screwdriver to put a computer together whereas to put a car together you need an entire garage actually outfitted for putting together a car which will not in any way pay off by merely building that single car (in fact we could be talking about having to build dozens of self-built cars for the garage to be paid off).
P.S. Even if you paid someone locally to build your computer while you order and bring them the parts, it’s still going to be cheaper than buying a brand-name desktop.
1. I would say the single-most important reason is not price, but the pride you’ll have put into it. For a lot of people, they see no pride in something when they just buy it together, but if you’re like me – your greatest pride comes from the stuff you build or put together yourself.
Now that we got the reasons why (which there are more to put out, but I consider those to be the main reasons) out of the way, it’s time to start with what you need & what you should do first before buying.
There are many components to a good computer. Most people that I know of will claim that the CPU, motherboard, or GPU is the most important component. But with the problems I’ve seen and personally have had, I’d say they’re all important but it’s your power supply that becomes the difference between a salvageable computer versus living on the streets. Without a good power supply, and I don’t mean in relation to just its wattage rating, your computer will burn up. Your whole house could be burned to a crisp while you’re away on your job if you have such a horrible power-supply. I’m not even exaggerating, the possibility is there clear as day since we’re talking about electronic devices here (ever seen how electricity can cause fires?).
But again, that does not any shape or form negate the importance of the other main components that’re required to make a computer work, either. So don’t get me wrong. In fact, all of the main components tend to complement one or another. Whether it’s the power supply unit (PSU), the central processing unit (CPU), motherboard (MoBo), the memory (RAM), video card or graphics processing unit (GPU), storage drives like your hard disc drive or solid-state drive (HDD/SSD), and a removable storage drive which often at least includes an optical drive (like a DVD or Blu-Ray drive). However, thanks to how technology has evolved, some are not needed as much as others and are far cheaper. For instance, you can always buy plenty of memory & hard drive space (like I just bought a Toshiba 3TB 7200RPM hard drive for $150 from Newegg and can get a decent 4×4 memory kit for as little as $100, both of which will last you years now).
Of course, to access the internet you need a network interface card (NIC), to hear audio or chat you need an audio card, and other smaller things – these are universally integrated into the motherboard though. So unless you’re an audiophile, there’s almost never a need to buy an audio card, and it’s unlikely you need an NIC if you’re not going wireless.
So the next thing you should be wanting to know is, “what does each part actually do?”
Quite simple, & yet it can appear to be complicated – I’m not always the best at explaining, but I will try, so here goes.
Central Processing Unit is often considered the brain of the computer, true to its name it is the central component responsible for processing every instruction that goes through a computer. But today, thanks to advances in technology, it can off-load various data to other processing units (eg. it can off-load data to a video card specific to graphics & physics).
Motherboard is a printed circuit board that acts as the system’s body and strictly refers to a board with expandable capability. Literally, everything in a computer connects to it; even housing the CPU & RAM often in the middle (or the right/top-right section). It’s also very easily breakable, so you should always be very careful when you pick it up and set it down.
Power Supply Unit as its name implies is a unit that supplies power to the computer. Aside from what I already covered, that’s pretty much all there is to it for this section (you’ll learn more later).
Graphics Processing Unit or the video card is often the most-talked about among gamers and any other graphically-intensive hobby. Why? It is a processing unit dedicated solely to the graphics you see on the screen along with the mathematical & physics input. At least so long as the develops actually program their games to use it properly, the game’s engine will be telling the CPU what to send off to the GPU (when not used properly, you get FFXIV 1.x).
Random Access Memory, better known as RAM or just memory, is often a kind of volatile memory that can be accessed randomly while still just as quick as other forms of memory (often considered storage). Today, there are various kinds of RAM such as Dynamic, Static, & Video (RE: Graphic).
Hard Disc Drives / Solid State Drives – up until recent, hard disc drives were the main storage devices of the computer world. They were the devices you’d install your main system to & download/store everything on to retrieve at a moment’s notice. Now, we have what’re called Solid State Drives. Whereas a hard disc drive would have several magnetic-coated platters (hard discs, hence the name) being spun around & read by these sphincter-like things, a solid-state drive instead uses flash memory to store data. (Since I use both, I’ll cover the pros & cons of both at a later date.)
To address the HDD/SDD info more precisely, I need to go over what storage is. It is non-volatile memory, so of course I’ve told you about how RAM is volatile memory – so you may be wondering, “what’s the difference?”
Firstly, volatile is, according to Dictionary.com:
evaporating rapidly; passing off readily in the form of vapor: Acetone is a volatile solvent.
tending or threatening to break out into open violence; explosive: a volatile political situation.
changeable; mercurial; flighty: a volatile disposition.
(of prices, values, etc.) tending to fluctuate sharply and regularly: volatile market conditions.
fleeting; transient: volatile beauty.
In this case, volatile memory is simply any kind of memory that gets erased when there’s no power to it. Due to its position, the length to the CPU (and Northbridge, a motherboard component to be discussed about later), RAM is the most easily-accessible memory in a computer and why it’s used so much.
Actually, this link explains it in a real-world scenario: http://pubs.logicalexpressions.com/pub0009/LPMArticle.asp?ID=71
Removable Drives on the other hand, are devices with removable storage, or are easily portable. Any optical drive qualifies, so what is an optical drive? Any device that uses an optical light to read the surface of a disc (ex.: Blu-Rays, DVDs, CDs, Mini-CDs). What else qualifies? Flash drives (often called thumb drives or USB drives), External Hard Drives, and even internal hard drives can actually qualify (just require a sort of kit), but for the sake of the discussion we’re only qualifying flash drives – AKA those little gizmodos that you may carry to school with anywhere between 1GB to 1TB (yes, one company either has or is planning on releasing a 1TB thumb drive).
What makes these guys important? Well y’know, if you’re reading this you will need some sort of medium to install your operating system and doing it via a network just won’t work (yes, some of us have installed OSes over a network cable, just not something you’ll be doing any time soon). And unless we’re talking freeware like Linux that can easily fit on a thumb drive, you require something to read that OS system disc you have to install the OS, which often will be the optical drive (at least for now, anything can and will change eventually of course)
Now, we’ve covered a lot of the hardware, but before we move forward let’s talk about something else that’s very important: the Operating System.
It is the most vital piece of software. You pretty much cannot do anything without it as it’s the software that directly communicates with your hardware and allows all other software to send instructions to the hardware. It also acts as your interface, which originally was completely text-base (see: DOS, Linux, & Microsoft’s first Windows program I think) and has since become graphic-based today (see: Windows XP/NT/2000/Vista/7, various flavors of Linux, Apple’s Mac OSes, etc.). If not someone else, I’ll create an entire section devoted to the OS at a later time.
So now that we’ve covered the basic, you’re definitely looking at me going, “wait a… there’s more!? OMG! I don’t wanna…” I know your types, you all wanting everything instantly! *grumbles about how the new generation wants everything*
Lol, yes, I’m being sarcastic (‘cept for the fact there’s more to come). <3
But you can’t just buy a CPU & Motherboard and expect them to work together. No, there are certain things you need to look for. So let’s start with the CPU. For now anyways, every CPU has certain features you need to make sure that’re compatible with your motherboard, that being the socket type.
Let’s go with the latest Intel generation of processors (but just because I’m going with Intel doesn’t mean you can’t apply the same logic to AMD) since this is part of my next upgrade, the Sandy Bridge Enthusiast. Now, my current motherboard is an EVGA X58 SLI3 motherboard which has the LGA1366 socket while the Intel i7-3820 I want employs an LGA2011 socket configuration. Thus, in order to use the new processor I also need to find a motherboard with an LGA2011 socket to replace my current motherboard because LGA2011 & LGA1366 are completely different sockets. (Fun Fact: I’m going with either an EVGA X79 FTW or Gigabyte X79 G1.Assassin2 motherboard when I get the money.)
Next, you’ll want to find RAM that’s compatible with your motherboard. Albeit most RAM now is compatible with most motherboards, it hasn’t always been so (due to the types of RAM, etc.). But let’s say above you decided to go with a Sandy Bridge CPU/motherboard – Intel i5-2500k & the Gigabyte Z77 G1.Sniper 3 (I’ll cover what the Z77, X79, etc. parts are later). At least with Newegg, you always have the type of compatible memory listed by looking down, under details where “Memory” gets listed. In the case of the Gigabyte motherboard: you’ll notice that firstly, it’s limited to 4x memory slots & a maximum of 32GB memory (also known ax a 4x8GB memory kit), secondly that there are 4 numbers next to where it says DDR3 which you’re going to be wondering about, then it shows the channel supported which in this case is dual-channel.
So what does that mean?
Starting with the limits, you’ll only be able to use up to 4x memory modules up to 32GB maximum (there are only those 4x slots). If you try to add any memory beyond the 32GB size, the motherboard will only recognize the 32GB and anything else is wasted.
As for those numbers you see? First, DDR3 or rather DDR3-SDRAM as it’s properly called, is an acronym for “Double Data Rate type-3 Synchronous Dynamic” RAM (not really much to worry about). Being a type-3, it’s quicker at sending data than its predecessors (more than twice as fast as DDR2 which is faster than DDR1, and likewise DDR4 will be at least as twice as fast as DDR3), with the four numbers 2666(OC)/1600/1333/1066 demonstrating their clock speed in Mhz, which would be: 2666 MHz (OC being that it requires an overclock to reach that high), 1600 MHz (or 1.6GHz), 1333 MHz, & 1066 MHz. (My own opinion is that 1333 & 1600 are more than enough, I’ve never felt a need to go higher and no point in underclocking on these.)
Next, you’re wondering what the 2nd number between AxBpin is, which is the number of pins the memory module has. It isn’t so important anymore as it used to, but it’s worth keeping in mind since you can’t put memory with 120-pins into a 240-pin module or vice versa.
So what do you want to look for concerning RAM? Analyzing the data given, you’re going to want to look for a 2X or 4X memory kit (I’ll try to cover why the multipliers matter later, but generally you want the memory kit that the memory channel your motherboard uses can divide into evenly), and you just want a 4x4GB memory kit which comes to be 16GB in total (side note: most people don’t need more than 8GB of RAM which is either a 2×4 or 4x2GB memory kit). All you really need to is firstly look for DDR3 memory, then preferably look for something in the field of 1066MHz, 1333MHz, 1600MHz, or 2666MHz (which again, as I said: not worth getting higher than 1600 or lower than 1333). That’s how you pick out your memory basically.
Next thing you look at on the motherboard’s details is the expansion slots, which in the Gigabyte Z77 G1.Sniper 3′s case will provide the following info: 2x PCI Express 3.0 x16, 1x PCI Express 2.0 x16, & a single PCI Express x1. With all the multipliers you must be like, “wadafaq man!?” But this is quite simple: the PCI Express 3.0 x16 has 16 times the normal bandwidth speed as a regular PCI Express 3.0 for example (I think that’s right? someone correct me if wrong), and most people say it hardly matters if you use x8 or x16 anyways. What really matters is that here it says it has 2x PCE Express 3.0-compatible expansion slots, 1x 2.0 compatible slot, and a PCI-E 1.0-compatible slot.
This is where you’ll want to find a video card, but that’s not even hard either since most new video cards are PCI-Express 2.0 compatible (certainly for Nvidia’s Geforce GTX2xx lineup and newer, “I” am not sure about the Radeon lineup, but I’d imagine that since AMD bought out ATi the same is true for AMD’s Radeon lineup). And yes, there’s a difference between “Desktop” & “Professional” video cards: professional lineups are designed specifically for those using graphic intensive applications inside the workplace (like game designers) while desktop video cards are what we gamers want since the non-professional video cards perform better for our wants. (Sidenote: some motherboards can and will come with integrated graphics just as most motherboards come with an integrated NIC, just depends on the CPU having an integrated graphics ability or something like that, certainly the Ivy Bridge generation does currently; just remember that integrated graphics will never be better than a GPU, making them a waste of money unless you don’t play video games on your PC.)
Likewise, anything else you want to put in that expansion slot also holds true.
So let’s see, we’ve covered the CPU, MoBo, RAM, GPU, & Expansion Slot Cards. What’s left for this theoretical build? An HDD, SDD, PSU, and a component I’ve not covered at all yet, the computer’s case. (You probably will have noticed I will have not included the optical disc drive in this section, because really I did cover it earlier to best effect. It’s real simple though: get a DVD burner unless you plan on using Blu-Rays in the near future.)
The computer case is basically a box or house that, yes you guessed it, houses the computer inside. While looking at the motherboard’s details you will have come across its form factor, which in this theoretical build is a Micro-ATX (there are various form factors, but for desktop motherboards the only important form factors are Micro-ATX and ATX). Well that means you need a Micro-ATX compatible casing (which generally any ATX case will); meanwhile, the smaller cases provide less air flow AND less room for future expansion. Then you have your video card to worry about – if you want a high-profile video card, it may not fit in a small case.
So how do you check it out?
Every single computer case has its dimensions listed. (Actually, I myself just go with full-towers anyways so I always know my case is compatible with everything, but that’s beside the point.) You could always check out reviews to see if the combination works and just ask around about it. On the other hand, usually (or at least with Newegg & Amazon via my experience) you can return an item if it doesn’t work with your system free of charge and trade it for something else. (Sidenote: I always am going to suggest NZXT’s Phantom lineup, I absolutely love my NZXT Phantom and NZXT has done me good on warranty.)
On the other hand, another thing you need to take to heart in regard to your computer case is the amount of fan mounts you can use. Some people tend to go with hydro/liquid cooling options but if you’re building your first computer I would advise against it. For example, the NZXT Phantom can be equipped with 2x 120mm side-panel fans, 1x120mm rear fan (often called the exhaust fan), & 2x200mm top fans. I’d suggest buying fans in bulk myself, so you always have some laying around.
Now, you’ve probably heard about SSD having less storage capacity than HDD for the same price, but there’s a reason behind it. The Solid-State Drive, being a flash drive, uses newer technology & is able to read, write, transfer, etc. faster & more efficiently. Now that’s not to say you should only have an SSD, far from it after all; hard drives are still very useful since you can get a 2TB or 3TB HDD for as little as $150, so they’re still good to have but the SSD is better for your system drive (a system drive being any sort of storage drive with the OS installed to it).
(Yes, a couple years ago people were talking about their instability & that they more easily produced what’re known as “black” sectors, which are binaries of data that become corrupted & useless while non-removable. Since then, SSD technology has become much more reliable – or at least Intel & Samsung provide very reliable SSD, I can’t say about the rest and even the HDD can still fail.)
So this leaves the one unit this section has not covered: the Power Supply Unit. I saved it for last because I want to again stress its importance. It is a huge mistake to NOT get the better quality power supply unit, and if it costs you an extra hundred dollars to where you may not get something else – at least that’s only that amount of money when a bad quality power supply could cause you the loss of everything.
Here’s a rather interesting article on the PSU’s role too:http://www.maximumpc.com/article/features/how_pick_right_power_supply
Firstly, you want to find out your motherboard’s power connector, which in this case will show both a 24-pin ATX main power connector & an 8-pin ATX 12V power connector. Then you want to consider how many other devices you’ll be hooking up to your PSU, which will include: the amount of drives you’re getting (in this case, just 2 SATA drives), your PCI-E connectors (eg. a high-profile video card like my GTX580 requires both an 8-pin connector & 6-pin connector), and possibly other variables.
So you may be wondering, “how much wattage do I need?” Unfortunately, this is never a set-in-stone answer. Different options require different amounts of wattage, but fortunately it’s the video card that requires the most power. Unless you plan on going SLI/Crossfire, I’d say 750w is just fine for a high-profile, others go lower. If you go SLI/Crossfire, I’m not even sure, but always make sure they say SLI/Crossfire compatible. (I myself own an XFX 850w Black Edition PSU.)
Then, y’know, like the article above says just because a PSU is advertised as at a certain wattage, doesn’t always make it so. So really, it’s also always a good idea to just ask people around even if you are fairly certain.
Even though I forgot about it, CPU Heatsink/Fans & Thermal Grease are also quite an important subject to cover. Why? They are what keeps your CPU cooled (so does liquid cooling, but that’s not a subject I’ve the ability to discuss). Without them, your CPU would get fried, probably burn your motherboard too.
Like with your CPU & motherboard, heatsinks are fitted around certain sockets; but unlike CPU/motherboards, heatsinks are more easily flexible since they come with adjustment kits. They always say in their description what sockets they have kits together for use with, and they often come with more than one socket kit as well. When you buy your memory (RAM), this is why you should look to get low-profile RAM: the better heatsinks are currently always going to cover an area over where the memory modules can be fitted. You also want to make sure the casing you get is wide enough as well (another reason I love my full-towers, always room for the large HSF). Meanwhile, when you look at the details of your heatsink it’ll tell you what sized fans can be equipped to it and usually come with an appropriate fan.
Nonetheless, while the average CPU comes with its own HSF, universally they should be replaced and tossed immediately because they are horrible at keeping a processor cooled. This brings us to the next piece of the puzzle: thermal grease. How much is enough? I would say just a small “X” on the CPU is enough, very thin lines. Too much will not only stop the HSF from effectively cooling the CPU, but it can sink down into the socket or onto the circuit board and cause irrepairable harm that most manufacturers will not cover. So then, what kind of thermal grease? Just go with the cheap $5 stuff like what you can get at Best Buy, it works just fine.
(Originally posted here by myself.)