Buyer's Guide For Building a Computer
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If you're a fanatic about building computers and want to know what types of parts to get, this page is for you. I'm sure that you will find this page interesting and you may just want to go out, get the parts from a store, or salvage them from the junkyard. Feel free to add information on new products (especially CPUs), and don't be biased towards one brand unless you have actual evidence or personal experience, and if you have that, please mention it.
Note to the reader: this book supplements one other Wikibook titled "How To Build A Computer".
- 1 Building a computer
- 2 Buying the right parts
- 2.1 Core components
- 2.2 Additional components
- 2.3 Drives
- 2.4 Chassis (case), power supply and cooling
- 2.5 External output devices
- 2.6 Peripherals
- 2.7 Software
- 3 Safety and precaution
- 4 External links
- 5 Videos on assembling the computer
- 6 References
Building a computer
This supplement is designed to help readers understand the methods on what is needed in order to build a computer. I will break down each part definition and then talk about ways to pick each part that all relate to the target of what the machine is being built for.
Why build vs. buy?
What do you want to use it for?
- Extreme Gaming
- Business / Office / Technical use
- Video / Photo / Music Editing
- Multimedia / Home Theater / DVR
Background and planning
When building a computer there are many things to consider. Budget, quality, brand warranty and support, value, needs VS wants, performance, expandability, types of software that will run on the computer and many other things. When designing a system it is important to look at each part of the decision making process as noted above. Let us look at each area of focus:
When determining the budget of what is needed, when picking computer parts, it is very important to set the expectation upfront. Costs can exceed planned budgets very quickly so I would suggest being careful and realistic on what you plan to spend. Good references to understanding costs would be to use resources such as computer shopper magazine or visit a local computer parts store website to get a general idea. Even visit a local store to window shop. What might be easier is assume that an already assembled machine would be about 2/3 the cost starting, on a system that you build yourself. This is assuming that you are able to find an off the shelf product that has your requirements, but want to take it further by building one from scratch.
The subject of quality is very difficult since everything more or less is made outside the USA, usually at factories in China. What it comes down to is the track record overall of the company. Then follows the purpose of the product and product features. A big issue that occurs with trying to define quality electronics is having no knowledge of what a quality part is supposed to look like. People tend to rely on stuff they read on forums, but what is difficult is forums are anonymous so anyone who likes to talk whether accurate or not will post their comments and make it sound like they are an expert. The other side of the coin is you can review the Manufacturer’s website, but the problem you generally run into is the bias perspective of a company who is marketing its own products. The other issue is you cannot necessarily look at the parts and know, since most of you might be unaware of what you are looking at. Your best bet is to take in as many resources as possible. Try using the power of the web and see if you can get a broad overview of reviews and perspectives from consumers and hopefully experts. It is not always easy to do. Sometimes you have to take a shot at a company that seems to be very popular for the type of equipment you are buying, and hope that the quality standards are there. Consumer reports are options as well since they are right to the point on trying to find good products. Overall, quality has too different levels: consumer and business. Parts that are rated for business needs are generally more expensive and in some cases higher quality since they require a better record of accomplishment on life expectancy and reliability.
Overall, you need to educate yourself on brands as much as possible before you start picking parts. No brand is a perfect match, but generally, you have a handful of various brands within a given part. Many products will be very similar in design and quality as mentioned before. It will really come down to support, warranty, product features, and so on, which I will talk about in later sections.
Brand warranty and support
This topic is a big part of making choices on certain parts and brands that go hand and hand with quality. What you will notice real fast is parts might have all the features you need and the quality is good, but when you go to obtain service via phone, the web or email, you find out real quick how difficult it is. What is important is being able to access a website, not hosted in China, which allows you to download software drivers and bios support as well as manuals and other important information without any hassle. If you have a question, can you easily make a phone call and talk to someone who can assist you with quality customer service. Especially if a problem arises like the part is not working correctly or the part fails. A difference in purchasing one brand VS another is mostly premised on the service quality. It does not matter how great something is, if there is no service to back it up. For example; waiting a month for a replacement part as well as paying shipping both ways. Can you download drivers on the website easily or do you have to register a product and create a user account just to get support or answers to questions. Again, how easy is it to get service? Do I have good software support for current technology and Operating System versions?
One short statement that everyone needs to be conscious of; When building your own computer you are not getting total system support for the first year, that normally a new off the shelve system would come with. Each part has it owns warranty for different durations with separate support guidelines. Please save all paperwork and packaging. DO NOT DISPOSE OF ANYTHING. If there is ever a problem, you can easily exchange the part with the store you purchased it at or send it in to the MFR for replacement. You have limited troubleshooting support since when you call a Manufacturer; they always point the finger at the other brand as being the problem. If they do determine that the part might be bad, since again they are not 100% sure, you have to send them the part first so they can review it and then mail you out a replacement. You seem to go around in circles when troubleshooting issues with your newly built machine. Certain companies might allow a part to be sent out first, but you will have to pay for the part first and when the old part is returned, you will get a credit. What is frustrating about this process is that you may be wrong on the bad part or there might be more than one part that is bad.
You have to be ready to support the machine yourself, and troubleshoot yourself with the assistance of the manufacturers, but they can only do so much since all they really care about is their specific brand and there is not much that can be done over the phone. What needs to be done in certain cases if you decide to build on your own then you are responsible for what you build. In other cases, you can buy the parts from a retailer and in most cases, they offer build services. Going out to third party building companies can sometimes be very costly so use care. If you do use a company to build your machine, I recommend adding additional service and support so that if something does come up you are not left hanging. This is very important if your computer is used for business, so use care when acquiring additional service. Make sure you are clear on the terms and that it is conducive to your needs.
Value, features, and performance
The next topic we move onto is the question of value. Am I getting my money’s worth for the features and Performance I want? A big factor in making a decision is determining if you are getting value for your money and making sure you do not become caught up in the marketing and pretty cosmetics. Many parts available will suit your needs. What you need to understand is does the part have the performance and features needed, in combination of other part choices, that suits the goal I am building the system for? Performance is a very inflated term since almost anything you try to shop for in computers refers to performance everything. You have to focus more on the design and the specifications rather than the inflated use of big marketing words. Words such as ultra, super, high performance, heavy duty, etc. You will tend to notice most of the designs are similar since many concepts are duplicated from one manufacturer to another. The best way to determine which option is best is review the main specifications and compare. At least you will have an “apples to apples” comparison. Specifications are printed either on the packaging or on the product website.
Another important factor is expansion over time. Can I upgrade to newer equipment or add additional components as time goes on. The biggest problem with all technology is the fast changing industry that is constantly updating. After 3 months, your computer technology is dated, since new products are already hitting the shelves. Realistically there is no way you can keep up. What you buy today might be dated tomorrow. All you can do is purchase the best bang for your buck now, and allow for expansion over time. Some suggestions I can make are choose a bigger case with more standardized setups so that installing newer parts later down the line does not become an issue. Regardless, of what you choose there is a general rule of thumb, which is think one-step above what your current needs are. Look for ways to add later.
Operating systems and other software
Software plays a mission critical part in which components you choose for the computer. Options are limited based on the software that is installed on the new machine. For example: Linux, UNIX, and other open source flavors have strong support in the hardware world, but not everything is supported. You must use care when picking parts if you plan to choose an open source route to operating systems. The driver support and technical support is usually on the assumption you are using a Microsoft Operating system. The other options for operating systems include Microsoft Windows as well as Microsoft Windows Server. There are also options such as Novell and Sun, but those Operating Systems are out of the scope of a build your own system. There are big differences in part selection when choosing a product, which truly depends on its support with the software you are using.
To explain the differences, we must understand the fact that companies pay money for hardware support through operating system companies. Everything has a cost, and the hardware company has the choice whether or not they want to pay for it. Open source options, since open source are generally free, takes a longer time to provide support for new hardware. Unless there is mention of the support on the packaging or product literature then do not assume. I would call the company to be sure. If you are looking at building a server, be aware that many manufacturers do not offer windows server support from a driver and tech support standpoint. Various consumer brands only have either Linux/Unix or Desktop Windows support. Windows Server versions are supported on parts that are classified for use in a server environment. The design and features will vary completely from the consumer features with specifications focused on high heat and heavy user traffic with long powered on durations VS consumer systems that tend to be turned off regularly and the average user is not stressing the machine to extreme unless it is a gamer, but again it is only one user. My suggestion is look closely on the product specifications when making part selections to make sure you do not run into a snag with an unsupported part.
Buying the right parts
The next topic of discussion is about part choices. Here we will describe each part and how it works with a computer system. A person cannot shop for parts if they do not know what parts they need or how the parts work. Every part has a purpose and each part works together with other parts to satisfy an ultimate goal.
You can buy virtually everything listed below online, if you are patient enough to wait for a good deal. You can use price watch to look up prices on parts through various vendors. Double-check the advertisements to ensure that the item you have found is what you really want. A search for a "DVD burner" may find results such as "external enclosure for DVD burner" or "DVD burner software."
Some website recommendations for shopping:
- microcenter.com ONLINE AND ONSITE
- Tiger Direct.com
CPU and sockets
The central processing unit (CPU) of a computer is the brain that is responsible for processing information from any piece of hardware. It runs the programs and commands that the system attempts execute. It is important to check with the Motherboard manufacturer for CPU compatibility before purchasing a supporting board and additional components. Rather than go into a strong opinionated discussion on what processor will work best, my suggestion is review the manufacturers suggestions on processor selection as noted on the below websites. Realistically three big factors are how many applications are you running at one time, the types of applications you are running, and how many users are accessing the system. The system that is built based on these three topics. My suggestion is reading up on recommendations from the software companies for best overall performance and consistency to assist in your decision making process. There is never a perfect option, but you always want to shoot for something right in the middle rather than over or under estimate the need. Once you have found the middle ground as mentioned before, go when step higher so at least you have some cushion for possible changes in the future.
“The Central Processing Unit (CPU) or the processor is the portion of a computer system that carries out the instructions of a computer program, and is the primary element carrying out the computer's functions. This term has been in use in the computer industry at least since the early 1960s . The form, design and implementation of CPUs have changed dramatically since the earliest examples, but their fundamental operation remains much the same.”
For additional information on CPU’s look at the following link: CPU
Intel: XEON / Core i7 / Core i7 Extreme / Core i3 / Core i5 / Core 2 Duo / Core 2 Quad / Pentium / Pentium Dual-Core / Celeron / Celeron Dual-Core
AMD: Opteron / Phenom II (X6 / X4 / X3 / X2) / Phenom X3 & X4 / Athlon II (X4 / X3 / X2) / Athlon 64 X2 / Sempron / Sempron LE / Sempron X2
There are various processors to choose. My suggestion is to understand what type of processor is needed to support the applications you will be running. Any processor above will support all the various Operating Systems available. Some will obviously perform better than others will, but what it comes down to are the applications within the operating system you will be running, how many applications will be running at one time, and how many users will be accessing the machine at any given time. That is what will place you in a certain class of processor choices.
Also take note that some of the new processors have integrated video processing right on the CPU, so certain processors that you purchase might require a video card rather than using on board video that some motherboards might have. Again, it is important to check the manual.
Sockets are very important when deciding which boards to choose to support your system. Once you pick the processor you want you build the system around it. Sockets are located on the motherboard of every computer. It is the interface between the CPU and the rest of the system. The CPU is locked in place into the socket and then a heat sink is placed over the CPU for cooling. When choosing a processor the socket choice must match and in turn this limits your choices for other supporting parts. That is why I recommend choosing the processor to start with and build the system around it.
For more information on understanding CPU sockets see the following link: CPU SOCKETS
Intel LGA 775: Socket T / Core 2 Duo / Core 2 Quad / Pentium / Pentium Dual-Core / Celeron / Celeron Dual-Core
Intel LGA 1366: Socket B / Intel i7 9xx Series Processors / Intel X58 Chipset
Intel LGA 1156: Socket H / Intel i7 8xx Series Processors / Intel i5 6xx & 7xx Series / Intel i3 5xx Series / Intel Pentium G6xxx Series / Intel (P55/57 H55/57 Q57 Chipsets)
Socket AM2+: DDR2 Memory / Athlon (64 / X2 / FX) / Phenom / Sempron / Opteron
(Compatible with AM3 Processors)
Socket AM3: DDR3 Memory / Incompatible with AM2+ Processors / Phenom II / Athlon II / Sempron
Tom's Hardware Guide has many CPU reviews that will usually compare the CPU to others. Charts for all parts including CPU’s
“A motherboard is the central printed circuit board (PCB) in many modern computers and holds many of the crucial components of the system, while providing connectors for other peripherals. The motherboard is sometimes alternatively known as the main board, system board, or, on Apple computers, the logic board. It is also sometimes casually shortened to mobo.”
Most motherboards today are over engineered to some extent and there are various choices ranging from 30 dollars all the way up to 500 plus dollars. Everything is linked to the features and additional component support. How much do you want to spend before you realize you may not need all the bells and whistles? The real important thing is that everything must be compatible with the motherboard. Buy an expansion card for each function that is not included with the motherboard. Be sure to check compatibility and the number of expansion card slots on the motherboard. If you want to be able to adjust clock settings or have more control over your partnering electronics, make sure the motherboard can support it.
Be sure to compare features and specifications of boards you have selected. Keep in mind that it must support the socket and processor you have chosen. If you are like some people and choose the board first, the board you choose dictates the processor. Regardless either one limits the other. Review the product manuals, which in most cases are downloadable online by visiting the manufacturer’s website. If you are very new to computer hardware, my suggestion is be patient and understand what features you are looking for that are important.
Some features that you need to look at are the following:
- CPU support and socket – What processor are you looking to use and does the board have the socket and the actual support to run the processor.
- Integrated Peripherals – Depending on use of the motherboard, the question you need to ask is what does the board have built onto it and what is necessary to purchase extra? Most boards come with onboard sound, video, network card as well as various USB ports and in certain cases PS2.
- Peripheral Card Slots – Depending on the use of the computer and future expansion determines how many and what type of card slots you actually need. Common slots to see are PCI-E and PCI. PCI-E comes in slot sizes from 1x to 16x depending on the type of interface card you are plugging into the motherboard.
- Ports and Channels – Ports can include USB, SATA, FireWire, IDE/EIDE, IRDA, or Floppy. SCSI is not common to see on a consumer system. You would normally see SCSI on some server based boards.
For more information on the differences: BUS
- Temperature, Reliability, and cooling system – “Motherboards are generally air cooled with heat sinks often mounted on larger chips, such as the Northbridge, in modern motherboards. If the motherboard is not cooled properly, it can cause the computer to crash. Passive cooling, or a single fan mounted on the power supply, was sufficient for many desktop computer CPUs until the late 1990s; since then, most have required CPU fans mounted on their heat sinks, due to rising clock speeds and power consumption. Most motherboards have connectors for additional case fans as well. Newer motherboards have integrated temperature sensors to detect motherboard and CPU temperatures, and controllable fan connectors, which the BIOS or operating system can use to regulate fan speed. Some computers (which typically have high-performance microprocessors, large amounts of RAM, and high-performance video cards) use a water-cooling system instead of many fans.”
- Form Factor (size of the board relative to the case size) – “Motherboards are produced in a variety of sizes and shapes called computer form factor, some of which are specific to individual computer manufacturers. However, the motherboards used in IBM-compatible commodity computers were standardized to fit various case sizes. As of 2007, most desktop computer motherboards use one of these standard form factors—even those found in Macintosh and Sun computers, which have not traditionally been built from commodity components. The current desktop PC form factor of choice is ATX. A case's, motherboard and PSU form factor must all match, though some smaller form factor motherboards of the same family will fit larger cases. For example, an ATX case will usually accommodate a microATX motherboard.”
Note: More and more motherboards are coming with Non Legacy technology meaning that support for older interfaces have become obsolete. Such things like PS2, IDE, Floppy, and PCI are being seen less and less. Keep this in mind when buying parts so that your system does not become obsolete faster than expected.
For more information on this topic visit the following link: MOTHERBOARDS
RAM (Random Access Memory)
“Random-access memory (RAM) is a form of computer data storage. Today, it takes the form of integrated circuits that allow stored data to be accessed in any order (i.e., at random). "Random" refers to the idea that any piece of data can be returned in a constant time, regardless of its physical location and whether or not it is related to the previous piece of data.”
It is very tempting to buy generic brands of memory. Generally, the savings are incredible, and large amounts of fast memory will improve your performance. However, cheaper memory tends to be less reliable than higher-end memory, since the quality control measures for generic brands is often less stringent. When RAM is unreliable, it can contribute to crashes. On the other side of the coin, all memory is made overseas and there are only a small handful of actual manufacturers. My suggestion is to focus on a company who is well known for quality memory at a reasonable price.
Performance is the next factor when choosing, but at that point, all you need to do is review the basic specifications. Latency and Frequency as does the ram have any heat sinks or are the chips exposed freely. Everything is relative to the type of memory you are purchasing. Again, check your motherboard manual for compatibility. Regardless of what anyone says that ram is universal, is not an accurate statement. Various brands are usually compatible with most motherboards, but it is important to review the compatibility list on the website or in the manual. If for whatever reason you ram is not compatible it may only partially work as well as cause numerous intermittent problems. Do not assume; check and be certain.
Your processor can calculate all it wants, but how quickly it is given the information and how quickly it is retrieved will be controlled by the memory. You have to balance the need for performance and your budget. If you are buying for performance, you want low CAS latency and the fastest speed your motherboard can take. (PC2100 memory is greater than PC1600, for example.) Be aware that if your motherboard supports dual channel you should try to buy the ram in a pair of two. The technology allows the computer to access memory at a much higher speed than if you had just bought one module (if your motherboard and the two modules support it when working together). Check the voltage of the memory as well and match it to what your motherboard supports. Adjusting voltages are sometimes required as well as frequency when installing memory into a new machine. The motherboard does not always adjust to the correct frequency and voltage. It will usually adjust to the minimum in order to post the system, but once you push the memory under normal and extreme conditions you might have an issue. Usually these specifications are printed on a label on the side of the memory. If all else fails, check the website.
For more information on this topic, visit the following link: RAM
Graphic cards have always been a tough choice as one of the final pieces of hardware that is most crucial to the overall system performance. Choosing a video card is very difficult since so many manufacturers make video cards, but what you will find is the chipsets and GPU’s (similar to CPU for video cards) only have a few chipsets available. Realistically, the quality of the card is what your final decision becomes after you know what chipset and GPU brand you want. My best recommendation is understanding what the purpose of the machine is. If the machine is for video editing or graphic design, you will tend to use more of a professional series card rather than a gaming card. If you are doing gaming, you will choose the highest performing one you can find. My recommendation is pick one with a proven record of accomplishment. Stay away from new releases since in most cases bugs, stability, heat issues and various other problems have not all been worked out yet. Let others be the beta testers so that you can enjoy a solid, consistent performing machine.
Good resources to use are:
Application: Multimedia / Video Editing / Gaming / Extreme Gaming / Technical (Engineering / CAD)
Graphics processing units (GPUs)
- Advanced Micro Devices|AMD (ATI Technologies|ATI division)
- Matrox Graphics
- VIA Technologies|Via (S3 Graphics division)
- Silicon Integrated Systems|SiS
The two biggest giants here are ATI and nVidia. Intel is also commonly found, but not competitive on the video aspect since the other companies focus on just video. Intel still does make a reliable chipset, but in the professional and gaming realm, they are not commonly found. Each company will tend to release "families" with similar new technology that usually consist of cheap and lower quality, moderate, and expensive with higher quality. Check your motherboard to see what expansion slots it has for these cards. The video included on the motherboard is usually sufficient for most tasks except gaming and video-related work. PCI Express runs at 16x. Whatever you are doing with your computer will determine how much video memory you need. Try to go a bit heavy on that. Reviews are available at http://www.tomshardware.com about graphics cards as well. Some families of cards from either company are better than others. Video cards not from a well-known company may or may not be easy to research as far as how well they function, and are more likely to lack features like a GPU (Graphics Processing Unit, which takes some load off of the CPU and only does graphics). This product should be heavily researched for information and reviews. If someone gives you a recommendation whether online or in person, I suggest having support facts to derive the same conclusion.
Note to reader: We have recommended ATI and nVidia, because the lack of speed and performance of an Intel based Graphics Card (ex. Extreme Graphics, Extreme Graphics 2 etc.) I still recommend reading reviews and specifications of card choices and deriving your own decision based on available material. Bottom line, know your need and buy the card that supports the need. Keep in mind that if your focus is a data server then video card performance is not mission critical, but if you are doing video editing on the machine, then the video card in combination with the processor and board all have a strong bearing on system performance.
Side note is video cards that process a numerous amount of information at any given time can generally become hot, so a recommendation is a good cooling system on the card and the main case to allow the card to perform correctly. An overheating card will crash the system in a heartbeat.
For more information on this topic, visit the following link: VIDEO CARD
Sound card and speakers
There are a small handful of brands to choose from when deciding if you need a separate sound card. Most motherboards come with integrated sound. Basic boards have analog only all the way up to digital, optical and pure surround sound outputs built on. Most of the time these integrated sound devices are plenty for the average or even the above average user that is looking for quality sound without adding additional expense. If you determine the need is there for a higher quality card or a card that has more inputs and outputs then you can look at options to add one to your system. Necessary needs would be higher gaming quality or for example sound recording and editing. Even instances with using your computer as a media center and you might be looking for the best quality output for your High Definition TV or Home Sound System. Everything is relative to the quality of the speakers you are outputting too with the type of cabling. If you are using 10-dollar speakers, you will get 10-dollar sound quality.
For speakers I am going to leave it simple with saying that until you hear the quality, there is nothing written that can make your decision. My suggestion is read up on reviews and perspectives of what others have used for the type of sound you are outputting and go to a local store and listen to some speakers. It is the only way to make a true decision. Be aware that sound is better as you get better equipment, but the sound card, the wires and the speakers all play a part. Sometimes sound capabilities included on your motherboard are more than adequate, but I would listen to it before determining you need more.
Some common brands to look at:
- Creative Labs (A3D)
- Turtle Beach
- VIA Envy
- Video Games
For more information on this topic, visit the following link: SOUND CARDS
“A modem (modulator-demodulator) is a device that modulates an analog carrier signal to encode digital information, and also demodulates such a carrier signal to decode the transmitted information. The goal is to produce a signal that can be transmitted easily and decoded to reproduce the original digital data. Modems can be used over any means of transmitting analog signals, from driven diodes to radio.”
If you are using a broadband Internet connection, and have no interest in using your computer for voicemail, faxing, or dial-up communications (like BBSing), then you do not need a modem. Some servers still use dialup for updates and maintenance, but you very rarely see one installed on a new machine.
Today, almost all modem users are using them for dial-up Internet access. Most modems are 56k speed modems. It is advisable to get a 56k card to experience the fastest connection speeds your ISP (Internet Service Provider) can provide using dialup. Two predominant standards exist: v.90 and v.92. The difference is that v.92 has some extra features that allow you to stop your Internet connection temporarily and receive a call. However, you need call waiting and an ISP that supports this.
Motherboards do not have an integrated modem built-in. Most already built machines do not come with a modem installed anymore. Again, unless you have a specific need for a modem, there is no reason to purchase one.
For more information on this topic, visit the following link: MODEMS
“A hard disk drive (hard disk, hard drive, HDD) is a non-volatile storage device for digital data. It features one or more rotating rigid platters on a motor-driven spindle within a metal case. Data is encoded magnetically by read/write heads that float on a cushion of air above the platters, with modern storage capacity measured in gigabytes (GB) and terabytes (TB). Hard disk manufacturers quote disk capacity in SI-standard powers of 1000, wherein a terabyte is 1000 gigabytes and a gigabyte is 1000 megabytes. With file systems that measure capacity in powers of 1024, available space appears somewhat less than advertised capacity.”
“The technological resources and know-how required for modern drive development and production mean that as of 2010, virtually all of the world's HDDs are manufactured by just five large companies: Seagate, Western Digital, Hitachi, Samsung, and Toshiba.”
There are few main types of hard drives, which include IDE hard drives, SATA drives, and SCSI drives. The drives can either be in the form of Solid State or Motor Driven. Currently SATA is the standard type of drive sold on the market in the form of motor driven operating between 5900 to 10000 RPMs. Depending on the need and budget common drives are usually motor driven 7200 RPM SATA drives. The larger the size of the drive, the speed drops down. Solid-state drives, meaning no moving parts, have become very popular, but the cost is still extremely high relative to the cost of standard drives. The capacity is small in comparison to standard motor driven drives. Solid state will give you the fastest read and write speeds with an assumed long-term life expectancy, but at the same time, it will cost you 3 times as much.
Everything is based on need, and it would make sense to determine which option works best for the price you are willing to pay, and have the storage amount you need. The main purpose of this drive is too store data on a permanent medium to be accessed any time. The data can be erased and re-written endless amount of times, but a hard drive is a place to park data. My suggestion would be to determine what will be stored on the drive and how sensitive your access speed is to the software you are running, and determine what drive or drives would work best.
For more information on this topic, visit the following link: HARD DRIVE
“An optical disc drive (ODD) is a disk drive that uses laser light or electromagnetic waves near the light spectrum as part of the process of reading or writing data to or from optical discs. Some drives can only read from discs, but recent drives are commonly both readers and recorders. Recorders are sometimes called burners or writers. Compact discs, DVDs, HD DVDs and Blu-ray discs are common types of optical media which can be read and recorded by such drives.”
It is possible to get an inexpensive drive of good quality rather easily. As far as speed goes, 1x is the speed of the first-generation CD devices. It is generally agreed upon at around 150kBps. A 48x CD-ROM drive would then be 7200kbps. DVD-ROM drives use the same measure, except that a 1x DVD-ROM can read around 1,250kBps. The media for each of the drives usually contain different amount of space.
- CD/R: 700 MB
- CD/RW:650 MB
- Formatted Audio CD/R: Approx. 48 Minutes
- DVD: 4.3 GB
- DVD/RW: 4.4 GB (And Sometimes Less)
If you want a burner, be aware of the types of media it can write. CD-R's are usually only recordable once. Using multi-session technology, you can write to a CD-R multiple times, but you cannot erase data already on a disc. CD-RWs can be erased and rewritten. DVD-Rs and DVD+Rs are two different standards, but neither can be erased. DVD-RWs and DVD+RW's are also two different standards but can be erased. Some DVD players may only support DVD+R/RW or DVD-R/RW, or maybe neither. Dual-layer discs follow DVD-R/RW or DVD+R/RW standards, but require special burners to be used. They can store about twice as much because it literally has two writable layers. If the drive says it works for "RW" discs, it will also work with "R" discs. The software needed to operate the drive normally comes with your operating system, but I strongly recommend obtaining third party software that includes more features. All drives come with the software necessary to operate the part fully.
You might also see a DVD-RAM drive. DVD-RAM is a very uncommon format, but it is technically superior. They use concentric tracks on the disc, instead of one long spiral, and they usually come in cartridges (which protects the disc.) These discs can be re-written more times than a DVD+RW or DVD-RW, and can operate similar to a hard disk drive.
For more information, see the Wikipedia article on DVD-RAM.
For more information on this topic, visit the following link: OPTICAL DRIVE
These days, a floppy drive is not entirely necessary. Many new computers are manufactured without a floppy drive. However, being able to boot off a floppy disk for diagnostic purposes can be more convenient in some ways than booting off a CD. Also certain bios flash utilities as well certain OS installations sometimes require a floppy drive for certain parts of the software installation. Floppy Drives are legacy and only certain boards still come with the controller to interface with this kind of drive. If you need to purchase a floppy drive, my suggestion is make sure the motherboard supports it as well as mounting in the case for it.
“A floppy disk is a data storage medium that is composed of a disk of thin, flexible ("floppy") magnetic storage medium encased in a square or rectangular plastic shell. Originally announced as the "Type 1 Diskette" by IBM in 1973, the industry then adopted the terms "floppy disk" or "floppy."
For more information on this topic, visit the following link: FLOPPY DRIVE
Chassis (case), power supply and cooling
The case and power supply are selected based on your other component choices being made prior. The final touch is the case or shell the holds everything now and future upgrades. Choose wisely.
A cheap power supply will work fine for many purposes, but it may not be as reliable as a more expensive one. A good power supply means that your components receive steady, even power, and a good cooling system means your components do not overheat. This tends to prolong the life of your system. If you want to buy your power supply separately, you may want to visit an actual storefront. Your power supply must be compatible with the motherboard you are purchasing. Generally, your motherboard and power supply will conform to the ATX standard, unless it is a MICRO. A prime consideration for your power supply is the wattage output. A 500 watt power supply can provide electricity to more components, (and more power-hungry components) than a 250 watt power supply.
Keep in mind that your power supply must have a connector for each device you intend to connect, including the motherboard! Review the amperage since Watts is only one part of the power equation. It is important to have good available amperage on all your power rails so that as power consumption increases, the power flow stays consistent and steady, in addition to the wattage draw. Make sure that the wiring is long enough to reach your parts in the case and that you have more connectors then you have components. Do not get stuck buying adapters or extensions.
Factor in going one notch up above your requirements just in case you might have a future need as well as a higher output power supply will work less to supply the needed power and in turn last longer. Whatever your total required power consumption need is plus the connectors needed to power everything, you choose the unit that will work best. Depending on the case you have chosen, will also determine the length of the wiring that extends from the power supply. Always make sure that you have enough slack to reach your components.
For more information on this topic, visit the following link: POWER SUPPLY UNIT
Cases and cooling
NOTE: When you buy a chassis, it might come with a Power Supply, but in most situations, you are purchasing just the case. All cases have some basic to complex cooling system depending on the case you choose. You can always add more cooling or a bigger power supply.
Decide whether you want your case to look attractive. Vendors now sell a variety of cases in aesthetically pleasing designs and colors. Aside from appearance, there is no benefit from a silver case with an acrylic window compared to a plain beige case. Keep in mind that cases for higher-end gaming systems tend to have the more advanced cooling system. Retail stores whether online or brick and mortar will generally have many cases to choose from, which can range in price from $30 to $1000 dollars. Keep in mind that cooling is one of the most important factors when building a computer. Cooling in most situations is not the number one concern of the manufacturer designing the case, more over then the way it looks. Looks sell. I would shop in person if possible for a case that looks good, but with the cooling system portion top notch.
If you feel compelled to buy a case on-line, make sure you are 100% clear on the design, size and look. You do not want to be stuck with a poor case that looked great in a picture. In some cases, you may not need to upgrade the cooling system for the case itself, but only for the computer's CPU. Still, anything that lowers the total heat will probably help the lifetime of the components. Know that you may regret your case if it has sharp edges or if it makes it difficult to get to a part you plan on frequently upgrading. The best option is to see it in person, even if you are going to buy it online, try to see it up close.
The expandability of future upgrades is important. Always choose a case one size larger with the assumption of future expansion. If the cooling system is poor then upgrade it. Fans are cheap. Just add a few more. It would be different with liquid cooled since the case realistically should cool well on air and liquid, just in case the liquid fails as well as it is good to have fresh air circulation around parts regardless how good the cooling system is. It is difference between a computer lasting two years rather than six or more.
The main thing that you want to see is good air intake in the front with exhaust out the back of the case and top if possible. The goal is to pull air in and out quickly so that hot air is replaced with cool air. The air moving across the motherboard, video card, and hard drives becomes very important. If there is no air moving over these crucial parts then short-term failures occur. Another part you need to look at is quality. Is the mounting hardware and assembly solid? Are features such as tool-less mounting brackets sturdy and lock into place correctly? You need to make sure that everything is spaced well, and the parts are made well and there is plenty of breathing room in the case.
Lastly, I always greatly recommend upgrading the heat sink for the CPU. In normal situations, the stock heat sink is fine, but having additional cooling always helps. Especially, in stressful operating conditions such as gaming and video editing a good solid cooling system is crucial. Look for a copper sink that sits on the processor with aluminum fins with plenty of cooling surface and a good fan. The more surface that heat can disperse over at a faster rate and then cool quickly is a better system overall.
For more information on this topic, visit the following link: COMPUTER CASES
For more information on this topic, visit the following link: COOLING SYSTEMS
External output devices
A good LCD screen will be crisp and clear, and may be easier on your eyes. CRT’s have become obsolete and not commonly found as far as a new purchase. LCD’s have significantly dropped in price. You have to buy according to your needs. If you have a small amount of space, choose a smaller flat panel and decide on a reason screen size. Screens are measured by a diagonal viewing area, similar to how TV’s are measured. Average sizes range from 17 to 24. Anything larger than that becomes costly and unless you have a specific need for a large screen, such as graphic design work then I would stay with something in-between.
Flat panel displays are not always visible from certain angles, or look odd from others. Realize that flat panel and flat screen are different things. Flat-screen only means the surface of the viewing area is flat, as opposed to flat panel screens, which are only an inch or so thick. LCD’s would be flat panel screens, not flat-screen.
One of the big factors will be cost. The choice of screens can be mat or gloss finish. Depending on the quality of the picture you need would determine which screen is best. Mat finish does not create a glair, but the colors are not as bright and flowing as a gloss screen. The big issue with gloss is a richer color, but you need to be in an environment that will not create glare or a bad reflection. Again, regardless of the quality of the video card you have the final output is the screen. Same thing applies if you obtain a high quality monitor, but purchase a poor graphics card, all you will receive is poor quality graphics. You need to find a middle ground for both quality and price.
“A monitor or display (sometimes called a visual display unit) is an electronic visual display for computers. The monitor comprises the display device, circuitry, and an enclosure. The display device in modern monitors is typically a thin film transistor liquid crystal display (TFT-LCD), while older monitors use a cathode ray tube (CRT).”
For more information on this topic, visit the following link: Computer Monitor
Keyboard and mouse
If you are building an inexpensive computer for general office use or basic home computing, a generic mouse and keyboard may be fine. Optical mice, trackball, and ball mice are your options. Optical mice do not need to be cleaned VS a ball mouse, which accumulates lint on the inside of the housing. Be aware that laser-based optical mice are available, and are generally more accurate. Always build the computer to the purpose. When shopping for a mouse mainly what you are looking for is comfort and resolution. Resolution refers to how precise the movement of the mouse is.
Keyboards come in many sizes and shapes. My suggestion is various keyboards will suit your needs, but what it comes down to is comfort, style, and how many additional functions it might have. For example would be a keyboard with audio controls built on. My suggestion is visit a local store and experience the feel and comfort of different models. It is not something I would recommend to purchase online. Regardless of how nice it looks and how many functions it has, it comes down to comfort. Especially for something that you will be using for long durations, comfort is important.
“In computing, a mouse is a pointing device that functions by detecting two-dimensional motion relative to its supporting surface. Physically, a mouse consists of an object held under one of the user's hands, with one or more buttons. (Although traditionally a button is typically round or square, modern mice have spring-loaded regions of their top surface that operate switches when pressed down lightly.) It sometimes features other elements, such as "wheels", which allow the user to perform various system-dependent operations, or extra buttons or features that can add more control or dimensional input. The mouse's motion typically translates into the motion of a cursor on a display, which allows for fine control of a graphical user interface.”
“In computing, a keyboard is an input device, partially modeled after the typewriter keyboard, which uses an arrangement of buttons or keys, to act as mechanical levers or electronic switches.”
For more information on this topic, visit the following link: Keyboards
For more information on this topic, visit the following link: MOUSE
Since the focus of this page is to talk about choosing the parts needed to build a system there is some strong weight on the type of operating system you choose. I have already mentioned details about how relevant the OS is when picking parts in the beginning of the page, so I will recommend visiting the following links for more information:
Safety and precaution
- ESD: Electro Static Discharge
- Have a reliable ground point available near the work site
- Connect your body to the ground point with a wrist strap
- Keep all components in anti-static containers until required
- Handle PC components only on a grounded anti-static work surface
- Do not wear clothing or handle objects which generate ESD
- In an ACPI enabled motherboard, the system is never really “off” unless unplugged, or the master power switch is turned off
- There is the risk of damaging not only the component being installed/removed, but the motherboard as well, if power is not completely off
- Many motherboard manufacturers have installed an LED on the board itself to remind the user of the power state
- the Computer Components wiki has some buying tips.
- Tom's Hardware Guide has many CPU reviews.
- Tom's Hardware Product Review's and Ratings Overall Product Ratings.
- Microsoft.com For Operating System information.
- Linux Support For all Linux Operating System Support.
- newegg.com Parts shopping
- computershopper.com Parts shopping and Comparisons
- pcworld.com Parts shopping
- cnet.com Part Reviews and Articles
- Tiger Direct.com
- Amazon.com Parts shopping
- Engadget.com Part Reviews and Articles
Videos on assembling the computer
(5 part series from Computer Shopper)
- Meyers, M. (2007). CompTIA A+ Certification. New York: MCGraw Hill Publisher.
- Microsoft Corporation. (2010). MICROSOFT TRAINING AND TUTORIALS. Retrieved June 10, 2010, from MICROSOFT: http://www.microsoft.com/en/us/default.aspx
-  PC Hatch Build a PC Guide
- microcenter.com ONLINE AND ONSITE
- Microsoft.com For Operating System information.
- Linux Support For all Linux Operating System Support.
- Tom's Hardware Product Review's and Ratings
- Desktop Processors
- Server Processors
- AMD DESKTOP CHART
- AMD SERVER
- Charts for all parts including CPU’s
- GPU REVIEWS
- VIDEO CARD REVIEWS