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How to Build a Computer

(Note – If you’re a complete beginner to computer building, I suggest you read through everything first rather than doing live work while reading this guide. Also, if you cannot see the pictures or the text are wrapped incorrectly with it, try zooming in or out by holding ctrl and then mouse scroll in our out)

Over the years, buying computers was the matter of how much it generally was. Common people would use the price of a computer to determine how good it is. Nowadays, sense like these wouldn’t be common. A lot of manufacturers are beginning to list detailed specs and deals on computers whenever people are buying or looking for one. Even today, people fail to realize that price is not always everything. It may be fun to wow your friends with your expensive gadget or device, but remember that your wallet is amused! In this tutorial, I will go in a complete order on how to buy, build and maintain our computer, even for first time beginners!

Why custom build

The old rival question when it comes to building your own computers has always been: “Why not just order an already built computer?” There are a mass variety of advantages and disadvantages of building our own computer, rather than just ordering an already done one yourself: Advantages -

  • You get to choose what you want in a system
  • You make the final decision on an exact price
  • You choose how fast it should be
  • No preloaded software bull
  • You save a small to large amount of money

Disadvantages -

  • Could take long to learn for beginners
  • Inexperienced personnel may cause problems, do something wrong
  • Medium-High amount of research on parts
  • Higher chance of defective units

Abide all of these advantages and disadvantages to your own risk. Yes, you may feel uncomfortable about it on your first time (I know I did), but you’ll eventually get the hang of it.

What you need to purchase

Before you make any major decisions, you will need to research and find the best parts suited to your needs. I have developed a list of parts and peripherals to help you check off the things you need. They are also hyperlinks to my other articles if you need information on what that specific component does.

Hardware

Hardware is essentially the building blocks to make a computer work. It’s very important to choose compatible and specific parts, as it will impact your performance, reliability, price and usage.

Peripherals Needed

Peripherals are described as any hardware that is not inside the case of your computer, but rather connected to it.

Sites that you can use

There are many sites that you can buy computer parts from. It’s important to know what sites to buy from, as they will have different shipping options/prices, final price, tax, components on listing and what not. There is even a site that you can add parts to a list and it checks price, compatibility and saves it. Newegg - Best choice for warrenties and quality control Amazon - Known for constantly changing deals, vendors and Amazon Prime NCIX - For folks in Canada, but occasionally have good deals PC parts picker - Allows you to add parts selected to a list, and outputs the wattage, price, compatibility and the cheapest site you can buy from. Don’t forget to research on what components to buy, and remember that Google is your best friend (reading is also one too)!

Precautions

Building computers are as confusing as it sounds, that’s why it’s important to be careful when you are either handling parts, all the way to installing software. If you happen to work in a dry or carpeted environment, be wary of any electrostatic discharges. Most components in a computer are electronic, which allows ESD (Electrostatic Discharge) to destroy them easily. It’s important to either ground yourself by touching a big metal object (likewise a metal desk), or a power supply connected to the wall. An Anti-static discharge wrist strap does exactly what it does. It is basically a wrist strap connected to a thin piece of wiring that loops around your wrist, to an alligator clip in which you clip onto something that is grounded (clipping it to your case while your feet are on the ground works also). Anti-static bags usually come with the component in which it prevents any ESD to your components, usually in shipping. They are conductive bags with shielding inside and outside of bag using the Faraday cage phenomena. You can keep your electronics inside an Anti-static bag so whenever you are not using them, they are always safe from any electrostatic discharge. An anti-static mat may also be used, but not really used in computer building as an anti-ESD strap and bag are enough. As much as it is obvious enough, handle your components like it’s your baby. The least you need is to spill water all over your computer (No, this hasn’t happen to me… yet). Unless you need to, no force is necessary when building a computer (things like inserting fan screws and cable management are completely necessary. Oh god, those fan screws). The CPU (AMD or older Intel Pentiums) can come with very delicate golden pins, get one of them bent and your time plus effort will be a waste for now (Modern day Intel processors come with flat pins, the socket on the motherboard usually connects to it).

Choosing what components to get

It is crucially important to choose compatible components, along with ones that will not bottleneck your components (slowing down your other parts, i.e. a slow CPU with a high-end Graphics Card). Choosing components probably is the most overwhelming part of building a computer, and you’ll spend the most time doing so. Lucky for you, I am going to tell you how you should pick your parts, what to choose based on your needs and how to pick the best ones.

Motherboard

Essentially, it is the main component in every computer that allows you to connect all hardware to it. The CPU, RAM and expansion cards all go in their own slot on a motherboard. There are different types of motherboard form factors you have to take on account of:

  • Micro-ATX motherboards are more for people who like a lower profile case rather than a medium-full desktop. These types of motherboards usually can only support so little, allowing a Video card, and one or two expansion slots.
  • Standard-ATX motherboards are normal form factors that allows you to have the full experience of a motherboard based on what features it has. Usually, it is not limited since most manufacturers can fit more than what you really need (Like four PCI Express ×16 slots for video cards). They’re pretty much for your standard medium size desktop and they’re a little bit more expensive than M-ATX due to the more features it has.
  • Mini-ITX motherboards are for those who really want low profile. It usually are used in flat, small cases like this one here. Note that because of its small form factor, you can only fit a PCI Express ×16 card (video card). They always come in two RAM slots, and most have built in WIFI adaptors like this one.

It’s also important to take the account of compatible CPU sockets, RAM module slots, and proper PCI bandwidth. I will explain what each of these is right now:

  • Make sure you have the compatible CPU socket with the CPU you are going to buy. For example, if you’re buying this Intel core I5 processor, you will need a motherboard that can support a LGA 1155 socket type like this, not this. If you’re really not sure, it’s safe to check out the website of your motherboards brand, go to the page about on that specific model and check out the CPU support list like here (You should see it in orange text).
  • Make sure that your RAM matches up the exact type to your motherboard’s RAM module slot. A DDR3 is not going to fit in a DDR2 because of 1) It doesn’t fit at all, 2) Different voltages, 3) Some CPU’s aren’t compatible. Also, if you aren’t sure if your motherboard support your chosen RAM, you may want to choose RAM from the Memory support list, the link is in the previous bullet.
  • Be prepared to choose a budget. Based on that budget, you should know what kind of components you need for whatever you’re doing on your new computer. If you’re gaming or video editing, it’s probably a good idea to take a look at the PCI Express x16 slot bandwidth. For example, this motherboard has a PCI-E x16 slot with a revision of 3.0, this graphics card has a revision of 2.0. Other than the graphics card being obsolete in modern day, you will receive bottlenecks in data transfers. PCI-e x16 2.0 has a transfer speed of 5 GT (Giga Transfers), while 3.0 has a speed of 8 GT, thus you would have wasted 3 GT of data. (Please note that all revisions are backwards compatible, you just would only have a bottleneck. Also, if the graphics card has a higher revision than the motherboard, it would still lose data due to motherboard bottlenecks)

Central Processing Unit (CPU)

Ok, so we know that GH means Gigahertz, which is the unit of how we measure processing power. It’s true that the higher the hertz the better the processing power, but not in this day of age. Mainly, during the Pentium chips by Intel they found that they can change the integrated wiring and creating a new system called an architecture. As technology advances, so does architecture of a CPU which allows faster and more efficient processing with the use of the same power as beforehand (unless a breakthrough in technology has been made). As we said from the motherboard part, it’s important you make sure that your CPU’s socket is compatible with AMD (Note that AM3 and AM3+ is the same thing physically, but if you need to support a FX-8350 on a non AM3+ board ‘but it is AM3’, it will not work). A different architecture of a processor usually has a name along with that series, like Bulldozer in the later FX series in AMD. Usually to see how fast an architecture is, you would have to rely on benchmarks and reviews. Then on from that point, you can use GHz to determine the speed as long as it’s based off the same architecture.

RAM

Like I’ve said for the motherboard, you need to choose RAM that is compatible with it. Depending on the type of RAM, it comes in different speeds. Usually, speeds like 1333 MHz and 1600 MHz does not make a huge difference unless you’re transferring big files. It’s best to pick the most up to date RAM, older modules are often more expensive because of its rarity. Once again, it’s best to check out the Memory support list of your motherboard’s website.

Storage

Of course, you need to store all your precious data to something. A hard drive would work well in large capacities and transfers. However, you can use a Solid State drive to drastically speed things up like operating system and program boot up. The only downside to Solid State drives is that since its technology is similar to RAM, it’s pretty expensive. We’re talking about around a dollar or less per gigabyte like this Samsung 840 pro SSD.

Power Supply

The power supply supplies a sufficient amount of power throughout each component. It’s important to choose a power supply with the wattage over your required amount. It’s also advised to make sure the amps on a rail are sufficient enough to power that specific component. For example, you can’t have 15 Amps on a PCI-E high-end video card that requires 17 Amps. Another thing to note on a good power supply is 80+ efficiency. 80 Plus energy efficiency means that whenever there is any unused load, the power supply will filter out any wasted electricity.

Preparing to build

Before you should do anything with building, you obviously need the tools to do it. Here is a picture of what I personally use: From the picture, I have two screwdrivers (one long and medium), an anti-static wrist strap, some Velcro for cable management, a LED flashlight for hard to see places of your case (Just use a table lamp), some screws that should’ve came with your case and motherboard, a box cutter and some pliers. Note that you won’t completely need all of these, but I’d like to have these around whenever I want to do some customization. All you really need is a screwdriver, the actual screws and the components itself along with a good understanding of what you’re going to do here.

(Note: The CPU is still on the motherboard, I will show how to place in a CPU though) What I have here is an OEM pre built from one of my old computers. Contrary to what this tutorial is about, I found that this covers the basic fundamentals of building a computer. What I did is that I took out every part and place some in a bag so that I can give you an impression of what to do with our ‘newly’ ordered parts. The next should give you a basic idea of what our workspace should look like.

This is what our basic workspace should look like. The screws I have is from the computer when it was still intact, so this is the required amount of screws I need (I only have 2 fan screws at this time, so know the fact that you are going to use. On the top left of the picture, the one that has cables coming out from its end is the power supply. Under it is Hard Drive along with its SATA cable. Right below the mess of cables is the 90mm case fan along with the motherboard in its anti-static shielding bag. Next to the right is 4 sticks of DDR2 RAM with a total of 3 gigabytes (I wouldn’t mix match RAM amounts in an odd number if I were you, you would get very slight performance issues especially if you’re going with different models). First things first, we’ll jump right into the motherboard. It’s very important to do this first so that things are easier for you instead of working in a case. Right here, we have the CPU itself, the CPU fan that should come with it and some applied thermal paste (It should be already applied on your heatsink when you first get it, just peel the plastic off or else you’re going to get a burnt surprise). I have applied some aftermarket thermal paste instead. The famous Arctic Silver 7 thermal paste is a great choice for overclockers.

You must be very careful when you’re inserting the CPU into its socket. Like I’ve said before, if you insert it incorrectly, handling it dangerously or not being careful enough, it will result in a dangerous and costly loss. For AMD processors like the one in the picture, there will be a yellow triangle on one corner of the processor. There will be a faded triangle on the CPU socket as well. (Don’t do this yet) You will have to place the processor with the triangle pointing towards where the triangle on the socket is. For Intel processors, you can tell what position you should place it by the two notches on both sides where the socket will match up. AMD processors have a huger risk since its pins are external, while Intel CPUs have flat pins where the sockets are pointing upwards to touch it (You cannot easily bend or break the sockets though).

The CPU socket contains a lever and a lock mechanism designed to hold your CPU in place without getting in the way of the heatsink and fan. Lift up the lever of your CPU socket and it should move a little when you lift it all the way up. This will unlock the mechanism, allowing you to place down your CPU (Now you can do it). Intel motherboard CPU sockets are a little different, but it shouldn’t be too confusing. Before you continue, make sure when you carefully place your CPU into the socket, check to see if the pins are in there. Failure to do so will result in catastrophic failure as I like to say it.

After you get your CPU in the socket, you can pull the lever down assuming you did everything correctly. This should lock the CPU in its place. After that, you can get to installing the CPU fan along with its heatsink.

This is the CPU heatsink and fan. This will cool down the CPU using copper conductive pipes for heat transfer, into strips of aluminum where the heat will sink to the top and be blown out through the fan. Installing a CPU fan is very straight forward and simple. Note that putting force into your CPU at this moment is ok to do as well being required. If you have any aftermarket thermal paste, you can clean off the reapplied one thoroughly with at least isopropyl alcohol with 94% alcohol, acetone works too. Place your CPU heatsink down onto the CPU.

On the back of the CPU heatsink, there is a notch. You want to put the extruding holes from the brackets that’s near the CPU socket into the hole of the moving piece of metal submerge in the heatsink. This should lock down one end of your heatsink in place.

You will want to do the same thing for the other side of the heatsink, it might be a little tricky in some cases.

After doing all that, you will want to lock the fan by pressing the lever down. Don’t worry about putting too much force, the worst you can do is break the lever.

We can finally connect the fan of our CPU heatsink into the CPU fan connector. You can identify which connector for the CPU you should use by markings on the motherboard, if you can’t find it then try checking up the model of your motherboard in your manual or online. If any of the connectors, whether it is the CPU fan or the motherboard has a different amount of pins than the other, it will always work (unless it is legacy, but you can improvise to make it work). If you ever buy an extremely powerful fan (like the 400 CFM Delta Fan) you would want to use a fan adapter that came with the fan which converts the pins into a Molex cable for power supplies. (Or any spare lying around). If you ever use a high-watt fan on the connectors of a motherboard, you have a high chance of frying it.

Next up, we will be working on the RAM modules. You will have to unlock the RAM slots by pressing down on the lock mechanisms like so in the picture.

Before you do anything, slide in your RAM stick and make sure the notch on the module is matching up with the notch on the RAM slot on your motherboard. This is that when you insert in your RAM module, you don’t damage the connectors because you were careless in checking it was in the right way.

Now that after checking the RAM, you are free to insert in. It’s very important that you insert it with your thumbs firm against both ends of the module so that you don’t get any loose connections. I can say for myself that most of my motherboard POST errors is because that I need to reseat my RAM.

After placing in your RAM, you will want to place in rest if any. Note that some motherboards will have markings near the RAM slots like RAM_x or DDRx_x. If you don’t use up all of your RAM slots, you will want to place the RAM modules into the slots in ascending order. For example, If would have two DDR3 RAM modules to go in a motherboard with four DDR3 slots, I would place the two modules into DDR3_1 and DDR3_2 slots. This ensures the best performance throughout the motherboard.

Now your motherboard should look something like this. (Note, placing your motherboard on top of an antistatic bag will not protect it from ESD)

Here is the case we’re going to put our motherboard in. Keep in mind that your case will obviously look completely different than mines, mostly for the fact that your case will not have supports to hold the motherboard. You will have to do that yourself which isn’t hard at all. You also probably won’t have a hard drive cage which is in the picture. A hard drive cage is what we insert our drives into.

This is the back of our case. You will have a similar layout with the exception that your power supply will probably be mounted on the bottom for medium-ATX cases. The I/O port should not be there. You will have to place it in yourself, take the shield that came with your motherboard and make sure the labels face it outwards of your case. You will have to insert it in by the inside of the case, and it should snap in. There is one more step, there should be little aluminum flaps over each input connector. You will have to bend that so it’s not in the way when you place your motherboard in. After you do all that, we are now done with our I/O port.

Installing a hard drive into a cage is easy as screwing things in, literally. This specific cage can support two 3.5” hard drives. I will also being going over with how to install them inside a 3.5” bay which most computers should have. For the sake of convenience, I will show you how to install it both though. All you have to do is slide it in and make sure the holes on the hard drive lines up with the holes on the cage.

Now that you have the previous section done, you can screw the hard drive its place. Note that the screws you use for your motherboard is different for when you use on your hard drive, and for other components.

After all that work, you can now put in your hard drive cage into your case. There should be a hole where you can line up with the right side of your case and then screw it into place. After that, you can go skip the other few sections until the hard drive tutorial is over.

If you don’t have a hard drive cage which is most likely, then you’ll probably find this more relevant. All you have to do is insert the hard drive into the 3.5” bay with its male connectors facing towards the inside of the back of the case. In case you didn’t read the other hard drive tutorial, take in note that the screws you use for your motherboard is different for when you use on your hard drive, and for other components.

After screwing the screws on the left side of the case, you would have to open up the right side of the case and put more screws on the other side of the bay. The other side of the case is not seen here because the other side is completely molded. The process of installing a SSD drive is very similar, except you would to install it into a 3.5” to 2.5” bay adapter bracket. Then you would install it into a 3.5” bay like any other hard drive.

Before we place our motherboard into the case, we need to make sure that the connections are not short circuiting each other. Modern day motherboards usually have protection if you ever forget to install the standoff sockets. You would have to consult your case’s manual to know where to place the sockets, as it is placed differently depending on the motherboard. If your motherboard is an ATX, you would read where to place the standoffs under ATX. If your motherboard is a Micro-ATX, you would read the placement location under Micro-ATX. Some cases may have the labels etched into the metal on the inside telling you what number or letter to place the standoff socket into depending on your form factor. Mini-ITX cases are generally the same but can allow for less socket holes to screw into when using an ATX or Micro ATX, so a case designed for a for the form factor of that motherboard is recommended.

After you’ve figured out where to place your standoff sockets, start by placing all of them ready to screw it in.

You’re probably wondering, how would I screw it in? Your case should have come with an adapter that converts your Phillips/flat head screwdriver into a hole that allows you screw your standoff sockets in place.

It’s pretty simple to screw in a standoff socket from there. All you have to do is place the ‘hole’ end into the standoff socket, and screw in the Phillips/flathead part. Do this for every standoff socket until you get the job finished. After that mess, you can finally put in the motherboard. Make sure you line up all the I/O ports through the I/O shield in the back of the case, and at the same time lining up the motherboard’s screw holes to their respected standoff sockets. We can now use the motherboard screws to secure it in place. If you don’t know what screw to use, consult the manual that came with your screws as they’ll probably tell you what thread size screw is the most fitting for the standoff socket.

This is what we should have so far. Double check everything to make sure you don’t have any holes left (if you do, it’s probably because you missed it or your case doesn’t support it the standoff socket for your motherboard’s form factor).

Now, we can get to place the connectors into their pins from the case. In order for our front USB and audio ports to function properly, we need to plug in the cables directly into the motherboard.

Usually, these pins are at the bottom of motherboard labeled. If there aren’t labels, then consult your motherboard’s manual. In the picture, you can see the label for the case’s front end audio input.

In this picture, we have the view of our USB input in the middle, and the case’s LEDs, button connectors and speaker inputs. This will probably be a little difficult, but there should be labels on the female connectors telling you what it links up too, along with labels on the motherboard.

Now that you have your motherboard inside you case, you can now work on the power connectors. Power supplies can come in two sizes usually, a low profile and a standard ATX size for most cases.

There are different ways to place in a power supply. Usually, you can mount your power supply on the bottom of the case. If your case contains vents on the bottom near the place power supply mounting location facing your power supply’s fan face down is probably a good idea. That way, the smell of burning capacitors isn’t blown into your graphics card.

After you’re done deciding how to place it and done it, you can know screw in your power supply. Just like your hard drives, you should take note on that you shouldn’t use motherboard screws on power supplies (but in some cases it would work).

Usually, you can take a look at your power supply’s cables and look at your components and know if they’ll fit or not (unless you’re dealing with a CPU cable and a PCI-E cable). On the left of the picture, you have 20 cables plus 4 for modern day motherboards. You’ll only need 20 cables of the power supply on legacy motherboards though. The CPU connector is where the PSU supplies a large amount of power to the CPU. Usually, 4-pin connectors are used but there are variants for 8 pin connectors which are included in high-end motherboards which is needed for overclocking. It’s important you distinguish them from PCI-E connectors used for graphics cards, as they have different amperage on each of the rails. A Molex cable is used for older hard drives or optical drives and can be used for computer accessories like cathode ray tube lighting and fans. A Hard Drive power cable is used for newer optical and hard drives. A PCI-E cable is not shown here, but it should be labeled “PCI-E” along with 6 or 8 pins.

After connecting everything, you should have all of your parts looking like this. If you don’t have a low-end graphics card, then you should have a PCI-E cable or two connected to your graphics card. We also have our SATA cable which is a data cable going from a newer optical drive or hard drive. Note that there are different SATA variants with different speed types. SATA1 utilizes 1.5 Gigabits per second, while SATA2 uses 3 Gigabits per second. You should use SATA3 which is doubled than SATA2, 6 Gigabits per second allowing for a healthy 768 Megabytes per second.

The fan of a case allows the computer’s motherboard, CPU, graphics card and other components to cool down by blowing hot air outside. Most airflow configurations allow a front fan and an exhaust fan. If you ever use a high-end graphics card, a side fan is suggested. Your exhaust fan normally should be on the rear end of your case, and your intake should be at the front of your case. Depending where your graphics card is, you should mount it directly where you want air to be blown in (I mean that you should blow fresh air into the heatsink of your graphics card, so that it’s built in fans can blow hot air more efficiently). The screws for your fan should be completely different from what you used on motherboards and other components. Any fans that are aftermarket should have come with these screws. If you didn’t buy a fan then you don’t have to worry about this though since the case already has it installed.

You should’ve researched into what fan sizes your case can support. This here is a 90mm fan, usually the more high-end cases includes bigger size fans which will move more air. Air volume is measured in CFM, usually the higher the CFM the more air it can move which will cool down the computer more.

Newer fans uses 3 pin fan connectors on the motherboard, while older systems use 4 pins.

After we have everything, your system should like this. Make sure you double check everything just to make sure that you didn’t connect anything wrong or you placed anything in wrong. After that, you want to place your operating system USB or CD into your port or USB drive, and install your operating system. Don’t forget to install drivers that it came with your motherboard, graphics card and etc. After you’re done with installing your software, you are done with building your computer. The next step to do is to tweak, play and make the most out of your new custom built computer. However, if you ever come into a problem you would have to troubleshoot carefully. If you cannot get a POST on your screen and your buzzers going off in a weird pattern, then it’s time to consult the troubleshoot section of your motherboard’s manual. Other problems may include like seating errors, whereas you need to take out and reinstall your RAM, graphics card or other components.

Troubleshooting

However, if you ever come into a problem you would have to troubleshoot carefully. If you cannot get a POST on your screen and your buzzers going off in a weird pattern, then it’s time to consult the troubleshoot section of your motherboard’s manual. Other problems may include like seating errors, whereas you need to take out and reinstall your RAM, graphics card or other components. There does come a time when an electronic device does not always work after being assembled from an assembly line. If you ever do get a defective product, immediately return it to the manufacturer using the website you bought it from. And the last of all, remember the fact that Google is your best friend.

Finalization

The next step to do is to tweak, play and make the most out of your new custom built computer. You can install an antivirus, tweak around in windows services if you have installed windows and there is some tweaking software that are actually decent. It’s up to you to decide what you want in a computer and what it can do. That’s the whole reason why we just built one anyway!


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