I recently just finished building my first custom PC and felt as though I should share my experience with others who like me; don’t have any more upgrades to perform, don’t want to pay bookoo bucks for a limited pre-configured PC from Dell, HP, or Apple, and that want to provide ample room to upgrade in the future.
This is Part I of a 2-part series dedicated to building your very own fully customized PC from scratch. Part I will address the “pre-build” considerations and will include things such as the bare essentials, how to order parts, where to order them from, what you want out of your new custom PC, checking compatibility requirements, etc. Part II will address the actual hands-on portion–taking those purchased parts and stuffing them into your case; for lack of better words.
But why build your own computer? What are the pros and cons? Do I have to have a degree in computers to do this?
Well first, no you don’t have to have a degree to do this. Computers have come a long way since they were first mass produced in the late ’80s and early ’90s and beyond. Putting together a computer is similar to putting those shapes in the plastic container when we were kids – put the circle in the circle and the square in the square – so to speak. You see, computers now days make it extremely difficult for you to mess things up. Most computer parts and their associated connectors, interfaces, and so on are often shape or color coded, making it easier for even a “non-computer” person to put a computer together.
Here are some pros associated with building your own computer:
- You pay tens, possibly hundreds of dollars less than a comparable pre-configured PC from a manufacturer
- You have the ability to fully customize your PC so it is tailored to your specific computing needs
- You know exactly how it was built and what parts went into it
- You don’t have to pay for things you won’t use as you will in pre-configured machines
- The freedom to choose favored vendors and parts as opposed to using what Dell, HP, or Apple mandates
Now a list of the cons:
- You’re your own technical support. Dell, HP, and Apple won’t be there to save (or in most cases wreck) your custom PC
- Depending on your amount of research and knowledge, adding or upgrading parts can introduce compatibility issues amongst your existing hardware & software
- Research can be incredibly time-consuming if you don’t know what you want in a new PC
BEFORE YOU BEGIN
Building a new custom PC shouldn’t be taken lightly. Despite the fact you will save money by building your own PC, you’re still going to be investing a couple hundred (for a budget PC) to a couple thousand (for a gaming PC) dollars into this venture. Furthermore, while I did mention how easy it is for someone to put a computer together, you still need to have some mechanical skills (no, not automobile mechanical skills but mechanical skills in general). You need to have a basic understanding of how parts fit together, how they inter-operate, what they accomplish, etc. If you have the money, a little bit of patients, and some mechanical skills – read on.
The first thing you need to determine (which you should already know) is how you use your existing PC. Are you a gamer? Do you just surf the Web and check e-mail? Are you a student that uses computers only for research and word processing? Are you a video & photo editing junky? The answer to “how do I use my computer now” will allow you to make informed and conscious decisions when it comes to answering this next question…
What do you want out of your PC? For example, do you want it to be blazing fast? Do you need a particular I/O (Input/Output) feature such as an HDMI port for HD capabilities? Do you have an infrastructure capable of running gigabyte Ethernet? Will you want to burn CDs from a music application and so on? The answers to these questions will allow you to make detailed decisions about what parts & features you’ll want/need to tailor your new PC to your computing needs. After all, if your new PC can’t do what you want it to do, why customize?
Now that you’ve answer those series of questions, you are ready to compile a list of parts and/or features you want to comprise your new custom PC. But before you go crazy buying the biggest and baddest of everything, read on.
Research & Compatibility
Know that there are 5 essential parts that EVERY home-based computer needs to function – and they are:
- Motherboard – the centerpiece of your computer where EVERYTHING will connect to
- Processor (CPU) – the brain of the PC
- Hard Drive – houses the operating system as well as system and personal files/data
- Power Supply – self-explanatory
- RAM – (Random Access Memory) – a form of computer memory used to retrieve files and program data quickly
While not actually required to power a PC, here are some obvious parts a home user will need/want:
- Computer case
- Video Card (if not already supplied by the motherboard)
- Media Card readers (SD, MicroSD, etc.)
- Optical Drives (CD/DVD Burners)
As a suggestion, it would be a great idea to purchase the essentials first, then purchase any extra components if your budget allows. And just because they are essentials doesn’t mean they aren’t customizable; in fact, most, if not all of your customization starts with the essentials. For example, do you want 8 GBs of RAM with an i5 Intel Core processor, and an HDMI port? There is a motherboard that will support that, I promise. Do you want 32 GBs of RAM, an i7 Intel Core processor with 64-bit technology, an HDMI port, with Gigabyte Ethernet capabilities? You guessed it; there is a motherboard for that.
Researching parts can be extremely fun but it is also perhaps the most time-consuming and stressful part of putting together your own PC. Checking compatibility is a huge part of research and if you do not ensure all your parts are compatible with each other, you ARE going to run into issues. Take the motherboard I purchased for example:
I purchased a BIOSTAR TH67B LGA 1155 Intel H67 HDMI SATA 6Gb/s Micro ATX Intel motherboard. For those beginners, you’re probably thinking WFT!!! No fear, let me explain briefly what all that means.
“LGA 1155” is a CPU (processor) socket type which is ONLY compatible with i3, i5, and i7 Intel processors. You will NOT be able to fit an AMD processor or any other Intel processor for that matter into this motherboard. Because I knew this beforehand and because I knew I wanted an i3 processor, everything was all good. Moving on, the “Intel H67” is referred to as the Northbridge chip set which is responsible for functions within the RAM modules, the CPU itself, as well as graphics related functions. Conversely, Southbridge chip sets support things such as PCI, USB, IDE, and BIOS related functions.
Continuing, the “HDMI SATA 6Gb/s” informs the user there is an HDMI port on the motherboard as well as SATA III interfaces which process data at a rate of 6Gb/s. In other words, you will not want to purchase an IDE drive if you have a SATA motherboard. Finally, “Micro ATX” is a form or size factor. Typically motherboards are mini ATX, micro ATX, and just ATX, smaller to larger respectively. It is here where the case comes into play but we’ll get into that later.
If you’re confused at this point, don’t be. Let me offer you some tips to ease the compatibility stress. First and foremost, many vendors (particularly www.newegg.com) offer packaged deals where they will sell a motherboard and processor together, a case and motherboard together, a power supply and case together, a motherboard and RAM modules together, etc. – virtually guaranteeing no compatibility issues. Advancing on that, these same vendors will sometimes throw entire “DYI” kits together that includes everything you need to get a new PC up and going but then again that’s not exactly customizing because these DYI kits include preselected items from various vendors. There are a few approaches to ensuring compatibility such as:
1. Purchase your motherboard first, then purchase your other parts based on your motherboard specifications.
2. Purchase your processor first, then select a compatible motherboard.
3. Purchase your computer case ensuring its form factor will be compatible with the motherboards’ form factor (i.e. if the case supports Micro ATX, then you’ll need to purchase a Micro ATX motherboard or vice versa)
4. Power supply – Just a general suggestion here – buy the same brand of power supply as your case. In my situation, both my power supply and case were purchased from a vendor by the name of Antec. This almost guarantees the power supply will fit in the case.
5. Purchase all other parts (hard drive, optical drives, video cards, etc.) ensuring compatibility with the motherboard.
The motherboard and processor are by far the most important pieces to a computer system. The motherboard is very important because every single component of a computer system interacts with it in some way shape or form including but not limited to USB ports, the power supply, the operating system, the hard drive, the graphics cards, etc. The processor is equally important in that it is the “brain” of the computer system. Much like our brains must process every thought and action we take, the computer processor is what executes every single instruction given to it by the computer or the user. Something as simple as a keystroke or mouse click must interact with the processor before it is displayed on your screen. Absolutely no instruction or process bypasses the processor ever, and this is why these two components (the motherboard and process) need to intertwine seamlessly.
Where to Buy
By far the best vendor I’ve ever ran across in all my years of upgrading my dinosaur of a Dell 4600 is www.newegg.com. NewEgg has just about any and every computer part you could ever conjure, be it legacy hardware or technology that’s just been released. Not only do they sell computer parts, they also sell software, cameras, TV’s, and just about anything that needs a power cord.
Every single part I purchased for my build came from NewEgg, which I’ll be showcasing here very shortly. Their prices are extremely competitive, they offer free shipping on a great deal of their items, they run promotional items (and not just the crappy items no one wants) very frequently, and they ship their items very fast. Additionally, in all the years of fiddling with my Dell, every single part has come from NewEgg and I’ve been thoroughly satisfied. Even when I got the wrong part, a bad part (very rare), or just wanted to return a part because I didn’t need it after all, the return process is very painless and quick. Another online retailer that I used to buy from is www.tigerdirect.com. And of course, there are your local Best Buy’s, Office Max’s, Radioshack’s, and Wal-Mart’s.
In conclusion, I’d like to present to you all the parts I purchased as part of my build. Introducing…
BIOSTAR TH67B LGA 1155 INTEL H67 HDMI SATA 6Gb/s Micro ATX Intel Motherboard
THE PROCESSOR (CPU)
Intel Core i3-2100 Sandy Bridge 3.1 GHz 2 x 256 KB L2 Cache 3MB L3 Cache LGA 1155 65W Dual-Core Desktop Processor
THE COMPUTER CASE
Antec Three Hundred Illusion Black Steel ATX Mid-Tower Computer Case
THE POWER SUPPLY
Antec BP550 Plus 550W Continous Power ATX12V V2.2 80 PLUS Certified Modular Active PFC Power Supply
THE HARD DRIVE
Western Digital Caviar Blue WD3200AAKX 320GB 7200 RPM 16MB Cache SATA 6.0Gb/s 3.5” Internal Hard Drive
THE RAM (RANDOM ACCESS MEMORY)
G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10666) Desktop Memory Model
THE OPTICAL DRIVE
ASUS 24x DVD Burner
Thanks for visiting everybody! Tune into Part II for the fun part…putting it all together and watching your new baby come alive!!