Unlike most other electronic devices in our homes and businesses the idea of taring apart or building a computer is not foreign to a lot of people. If you are willing to put in a little time to research what you need and you have general ability and a screwdriver the likelihood is you too can build your own computer.
This How To will cover the basics of what you need, what you might want and how to gather all the parts. We will also cover some hints and methods but we can’t cover it all. If you are thinking about building a computer you should give yourself about a month to learn everything you need to know and gather all the parts. You should also visit tech sites and view YouTube videos that are specific to the steps you need to take.
The best thing is you can normally find a detailed video for the exact part you are interested in using. If you need to learn how to install ram on a itx mini computer motherboard just type the make and model into youtube and you can bet someone else just bought one and uploaded a video about it.
For that reason it is beyond the scope of this how to take you through every exact step you will need to take. When in doubt and when you can’t find any other information ask the manufacture by visiting their website.
What Parts are needed to build your own computer?
Some computers are sold as bare bone kits. These kits will contain a variety of different parts that are put together by a retailer to get your purchases started. They can be a good deal if they contain what you want but sometimes buying each part by its self can be cheaper. Even if things are not cheaper you will definitely get more for your dollar by picking and choosing. Meaning if you could buy a pre-assembled computer for $500 then one you can build yourself will be stronger and more versatile for the same price.
When building your own computer you will need the minimum of the following:
Keyboard and Mouse
Out of all of these parts the most important and starting point will be your CPU. The manufacture and type will dictate a lot of other purchases so lets start there.
Today there are basically two manufactures of CPUs (AMD and Intel) and your choice will be based on budget and power. AMD and Intel will both offer a variety of families of CPUs for your selection and within those families there will be a selection of CPUs of different speed.
For instance right now the Intel Line offers three different families of CPUs. The Atom, Celeron and (i) Family of CPUs. The Atom and Celeron lines offer CPUs of different speeds and both of these families are considered lower end basic computing and low powered computing CPUs. The (i) Family of CPUs come in the i3 , i5 and i7 lines and within each of those lines you can select CPUs of different speeds and power consumption needs.
Power consumption is a consideration for people who want to build Media Center or Mini Computers. The faster the CPU the more power it will take meaning the larger the power supply and Case you will need to install it in. The lowest power consumers are found in Laptops and they require the least electricity and cooling considerations. The faster the CPU the hotter it gets.
Speed is a consideration for everyone and of course we all want the fastest CPU we can get for a good price.
Faster CPUs mean videos will play better and if you’re a Gamer your games will play faster with more features.
Research the right CPU for your project and then you can move on to selecting your Mother Board and Ram.
Motherboards are directly connected to your choice of CPU because of the special socket required to mount the CPU. If you have special requirements you might end up changing your CPU Selection to match an available motherboard. This is true for Media Centers, ITX and mini computers where normally not all of the higher end CPUs are supported.
Motherboards provide expandability for your computer. You will find that some come with a large number of features installed. You can get onboard: Video, Networking both Wired and WiFi, Sound, you can get IR Features for a remote control if you are building a Media Center and addon card slots for anything they can’t put on the motherboard.
In my desktop which is general purpose and not a gaming computer I do not require addon cards. The same will be true if you are building a small desktop or media center. In those applications you want to get everything on the motherboard or externally through a USB connector.
Your Ram will be dependent on the requirements of the motherboard and CPU buy the manufacturer’s specified ram in the size you need. Four Gigabytes of Ram is normally a starting point with 8 Gig being good enough for almost all applications.
Computer case is your next consideration. It must be made at the time of Motherboard Selection. Motherboards come in 3 basic form factors: ITX (very small), Matx (small but full featured), ATX (largest size most features).
Honestly ATX is an old standard and is only necessary in special applications. If you are building a gaming computer with more than one video card or if you are building a Server computer with high demands for Raid Controlers then ATX might be a consideration.
ITX is a small sized motherboard used in mini computers and Media Centers. They allow you to have most of your features onboard such as video, sound, networking but they do not allow a lot of expansion for addon cards, lots of ram or other features.
Matx is the middle sized motherboard and it is the choice for most commercial computers and it is the most common for people building computers. You will have the option for all of the Onboard features along with 3 to 5 expansion slots to use as you like.
Purchase your Computer case first based on your motherboard form factor then look for other features you would like.
Front Case connectors, Number of Hard Drive bays, Physical Size and Shape, Cooling Features and more.
Making the tough choice
As you can see your Motherboard CPU and Case are all very tied together a CPU will only fit in a specific motherboard and a motherboard will only fit into a specific Case. Lucky for us there are normally a lot of matching parts to get this accomplished but you must decide up front. Do you want a very small computer which means an ITX Motherboard and slower CPU … or do you want a Really fast computer that means a larger motherboard and Case .. or do you want something in between for general use.
Completing your Computer
Once you have selected your CPU, Motherboard and Case and purchased Ram Memory that matches your Motherboard you are more than half way done.
The next thing you want is Drives to store your Files.
Hard Drives come in a variety of styles but you can break this down to three basic selections.
SSD Solid State Drives are like USB Memory Sticks they have no moving parts and they are very fast. For this reason they are the choice of Gamers that want fast processing of their game software and also Media Center builders that want a smaller drive that can fit in a small case and not give off as much heat.
Standard Hard Drives are normally in the 7000 to 5000 RPM range and can vary in size from 1 TB to 4 TB. I would suggest that you go with the largest drive you can afford and faster RPMs mean your drive will be more responsive if you are an occasional gamer. Most drives are now Sata and that includes SSD Drives.
Server Drives are the final choice. The selection here is dependent on what the drive will hold. Does it contain lots of files that need to be served to many people? Then you want a larger faster drive. Is this for a backup server where files are not used that often and backups happen in the background? Then you will want a slower Green Drive that will cost less to purchase and use less power and give off less heat in the server. SSD Drives are now making their way into the Server Market and are often used to store the Operating System or in High Demand Environments such as Web Servers that require a lot of speed.
DVD Drives .. Personally the last time I used my DVD Drive was to install the Operating System and you might find this to be true too. Gamers often store their games disks on more than one DVD Drive and some archive situations may serve DVDs that are burnt as read only so the files can not be changed. If you are like me or if you are building a small media center PC then you can also buy an external USB DVD and unplug it after you are done.
Operating System is your final choice and Windows will be the choice for most of us. If you are building a computer with a 64bit CPU then buy a 64bit version of windows and get at least the home professional version because it has some advantages.
If you are on a budget or if you know what you are building … a server.. networked attached storage, a media center or something else then BSD or Linux might be an option. I personally would not install this as a desktop operating system because the number of software packages for anything outside of windows is pretty limited. You may find a solution like Gimp to replace Photoshop.. but honestly nothing replaces Photoshop and thats true for other applications.
As you can see we only touched on the basics that you will need when you consider building your own computer but honestly most of this goes very fast. Actually assembling your computer shouldn’t take more than a day including installing the Operating System but if this is your first time it might take a couple days to get everything working correctly and configured how you like it.
Time is on your side when you are building your own computer and you should remember to make your purchased during sale days. Normally Black Friday is the best time of year but the real sales come 3 weeks before Black Friday. You can also find great back to school and Father’s Day / Graduation sales. But if you are outside of those windows do your best to find the normal low price for any item you want to buy and if you see it on sale in the month or so while you are gathering parts grab it. For instance if you see a nice case that has a Rebate on it then buy it rather than getting one exactly like you wanted. I am looking at a case right now that is $19 after rebate but its original price is $69 so its a good deal and these sales happen all the time when inventory changes or just to attract customers. Also remember to look for free shipping or free store pickup if you buy online and there is a store near you.
Good Luck and look for our other how tos where we will get into the specifics of choosing different parts of your computer and how to install the parts for the best results.