A Guide To Building Your Own PC
do you need to build your own custom computer? Believe it or not,
it's not as complicated as it seems. There are ten basic steps
to building the perfect PC:
Choose Your Processor First
Then Choose The Motherboard
Then Choose The Case & Power Supply
Then Choose Your Components
Prepare Your Workspace
Then Assemble Your Computer
- Power On &
Install The Operating System
Install Updated Drivers
Install Application Software
Choose The Processor Before The Motherboard
processor you choose usually determines which motherboard you
select: Motherboards are designed to work with specific CPUs,
indicated by the type of socket that the processor fits into. For
example: Socket A, Socket 939, and Socket 940 are designed to work
with Athlon processors, while Socket 478 and the new LGA socket 775
are for Intel CPUs. Many resellers offer bundles consisting of a
processor, a motherboard, and memory; these can be a good way to
save some money, and make the selection and compatibility process
best processor & motherboard
you can afford!
system chip set (the chips that pass data between the peripherals
and the CPU) is the other component that differs among motherboards;
it determines which integrated components (graphics, sound,
Ethernet, etc.) will be included. Though integrated graphics aren't
generally as good as dedicated cards, they're usually adequate for
simple office tasks (home users will probably want separate Video
Adaptors for game playing).
The Computer Case (Chassis):
variety of computer cases is staggering, with hundreds of styles,
shapes and sizes available. We recommend that you look closely at
the features. Some gorgeous PC cases are nightmares to work with, or
are cheaply built.
Get the best
case you can afford!
recommend you ask for "tool-less" case design, which enables you to
click > open, click > closed. Most cases and
motherboards use the
ATX form factor, standardizing the sizes of the components and
all of the power connections. Speaking of power:
Choosing Your Computer Case
right Computer Case can make working with your system a dream, but
picking the wrong one will come back to haunt you. Though you can
find a case plus power supply for less than $50, it is recommended
that you invest a bit more to obtain a case that will last through
many upgrades, has a high-quality power supply, and is attractive.
Case Form Factor:
cases and motherboards use the
ATX form factor (a set of design standards that specify things
such as the size of the motherboard and the connectors on the power
supply). It's critical that your motherboard match the form factor
of your case. Be aware of other standards are available (for
example: Shuttle-style cube-shaped systems that come with their own
custom motherboard). Check carefully and note the form factor when
buying your case.
Steel cases weigh more than aluminum ones, they cost less, and
they muffle the noise from components such as hard drives better
than aluminum cases do. On the other hand, aluminum boxes tend to be
more stylish, and they are certainly easier to carry around.
Even the best-looking case will seem ugly if installing your
components becomes a pain. Look for helpful features like a
removable motherboard tray, tool-less drive carriers (where the hard
drives are installed), and multiple fan locations for cooling the
system (cooling can be one of the most critical features to ensure
the long term health of your PC).
Case Included Power Supply:
Cheaper cases often come with cut-rate power supplies that may
not be up to the task of powering a high-end PC.
View our Guide To PC Power Supplies for more information.
Some expensive cases don't come with a power supply at all, which
lets you choose your own. If you've added a lot of new components to
your PC, you may be overtaxing your existing power supply, so look
at getting a bigger, better one. Power supplies can cause
problems--including random crashes or even component failure--if
they are asked to produce more power than they are designed to
generate. Reputable manufacturers will typically include a chart of
Although many PC cases are sold with a pre-installed
power supply, check it carefully - your power requirements may
exceed the capacity of the pre-installed unit. How do you know?
Here's a quick guide:
Mid To High-End CPU
PCI Add-In Card
Low To Mid-Range Graphics
IDE Hard Drive
may need to purchase a higher-output power supply for your new PC.
And remember the air flow, your power supply provides much of the
system ventilation and cooling!
Memory: The More, The Better:
Boosting a PC's RAM is one of the most effective
hardware enhancements possible. This 5-minute procedure can
let you keep more programs open, accelerate memory-hungry graphics
programs and games dramatically, and sharpen your PC's
Minimum Of 2GB Of Memory
The memory modules that most recent systems accept
are 184-pin DDR2 DIMMs, DDR2 DUAL, and now DDR3 of varying speeds. The type you should buy depends on the
motherboard and processor you choose: For best performance, choose
the fastest type of memory module that works with both.
you've selected a case and power supply, be sure that you have the
A set of screwdrivers (small, large, slot, Phillips), or a PC
- An anti-static wrist strap (is recommended in low humidity
environments, but you are safer using one regardless)
- Needle-nosed pliers (great for pulling and installing jumpers)
- CPU (processor) or two
- CPU cooling fan(s) and heat sink(s)
- Sound Card
- One or more hard drives
- Graphics card (or two
- One or more RAM DIMMs (Memory modules)
- An operating system
what you need to get started. Now you are ready to begin
building your new PC!
days, anyone can build or upgrade a computer. It's really very
simple and it can save you hundreds of dollars.
little more technical know-how than a typical upgrade requires, you
can build a PC yourself from pre-selected compatible parts.
Obviously, determining which parts to use is critical to
successfully building the perfect PC. Therefore, it is recommended
that you buy a complete kit, or seek the authoritative advice to
help you choose, and get you started on the right track.
following is a guide to the main components in a PC, including
recommendations for each part (based on your intents and needs for
your new system).
Building Your Own System
Assemble and stage your components carefully. You will be
handling sensitive electronics that can be damaged if dropped, or
Before you start, take inventory of your parts. Don't begin your
build when you if you don't have everything you need. Once you've
determined you have everything you need, then begin!
Make Space, Make Time:
Building a PC take space - about a dining room table worth. So
make sure you have plenty of working room and a few hours to proceed
with minimal interruption.
on a flat, stable table top surface or bare floor, where you have
room to layout all of the items.
Static Electricity Kills:
Please note: that carpeting is potentially dangerous to
your computer, as a source for static electricity that can destroy
components. Don't assemble your computer on the carpet!
an inexpensive antistatic wrist strap (they are often priced at less
than 6 bucks) is the perfect preventive measure if you have no
alternative to working on carpet. Remember, a table top or bare
floor is always the best place to build your system. Make sure
you're wearing your antistatic wrist strap correctly (it does you no
good at all if you don't wear it!), and you are ready to proceed.
Assuming you have another internet connected PC, download the
latest drivers from the vendors' Web sites for each component you'll
be installing. Sometimes drivers are updated between the time
the component was manufactured and the time you are installing it.
It is always best to have the latest. Copy them to a CD for
Installing the Motherboard
Great care should be taken when installing the motherboard. First,
take the board out of its packaging and put it on top of the
antistatic bag it came in. Remember, you always want to safeguard
your components from potentially hazardous static electricity (wear
Inspect for defects
Read the manual
Install CPU & Memory
Before you secure the motherboard onto the PC case/chassis, inspect
it carefully for any visible defects. Next, review the
motherboard manual, to make sure you are familiar with the
motherboard layout and which socket is which - the manuals are
extremely helpful, usually easy to read, and include illustrations.
Then, you can install the processor, heat sink and the memory
modules on it.
unlocking mechanism to open the CPU socket - usually a lever.
Carefully line up the pins and place the chip in its socket; it will
fit only when oriented the proper way. An arrow or a missing pin on
one corner of the chip will show you how to line things up. Lower
the lever to lock the CPU into place.
CPU Heat Sink:
Next, follow the manufacturer's directions to install the heat sink
and the fan that will cool the processor. If you bought an OEM CPU
and a separate heat sink, you may need to spread a thin layer of the
thermal grease that came with the heat sink over the chip to ensure
proper transfer of heat (some heat sinks come with this grease
already applied). Attaching the clip that holds the heat sink in
place may require a fair amount of force. Again, the instructions
that came with the heat sink will show you how to fit it correctly.
If you are in doubt, you can visit the manufacturer's website for
more information. Plug the CPU fan's power connector into the proper
connector on the motherboard.
to install the memory modules, insert them into the proper sockets
and push down firmly but evenly until the clips on both sides of the
socket pop into place. If your motherboard supports dual-channel
memory, consult the user manual to determine which pairs of RAM
sockets you should use. The motherboard and the CPU are the brain
and nerve center of your PC, so selecting these components is the
most important decision you'll make.
Placing The Motherboard Into The
Some PC cases have a removable motherboard tray. If
yours does, remove the screws holding it in place and pull it out of
the case. Note the pattern of the holes in your motherboard, and
screw brass standoffs into the motherboard tray or into the PC case
in the correct locations (ALWAYS check the manual and follow their
instructions to the letter). Check the layout of the sockets on the
motherboard, and confirm that the ports on your motherboard's back
panel match the holes on the Case's I/O shield that is installed in your
case. If necessary, remove the old I/O shield by tapping it firmly a
few times with the butt-end of a screwdriver, and then replace it
with the shield that came with the new motherboard.
Carefully position the motherboard on top of the
brass standoffs, line up all the holes, and use the screws that
accompanied the case to fasten down the motherboard. If you are
using a removable tray in your system, slide the tray and
motherboard back into the case and then secure the tray.
Connecting The Power Supply
Making the proper connections is crucial to your
successful PC system build. Fortunately, manufacturers now provide
color-coded power cables and unique connector shapes to make the job easy.
First, plug the large ATX power connector for your power supply into the matching port on
your motherboard. Next, locate the smaller, square processor power
connector ( you can't miss it - it's the one sprouting the yellow
and black wires) and attach it to the motherboard. Note: your
connector is usually located near the processor. As always, refer to
your motherboard manual for the exact locations. Use your motherboard user manual and find the description about
front-panel connectors. Be forewarned - you're going to be doing
work now that requires attention to detail and can be quite
frustrating if you don't go into it with the right attitude. Attach each of the tiny leads from the
power and reset switches, the hard-disk activity lights, the PC
speaker, and any front-panel USB and FireWire ports to the
corresponding pin on your motherboard. The needle-nose pliers are
useful for manipulating small pieces.
Install the Video Card
install the video card, first remove the backplane
cover for your AGP or PCI Express X16 slot (the metal piece where
the monitor connector will emerge), install the graphics
board in that slot, and then secure the card with a screw. Some
graphics boards require a dedicated connection to your PC's power
supply. If yours does, you should plug in the correct power
connector now. Some video cards allow the insertion of a
second video card connected to the first (see
CrossFire) - if you purchased such a configuration, install
and connect the second video card.
Best Video Card You Can Afford!
Make sure you get the features you want:
boards today let you connect a second display to your PC. If you'd
like to use your PC to record TV, a board with an integrated TV
tuner is a good choice. Although USB based TV tuners are also an
This is the next generation of video display. The
latest graphics cards now use PCI Express, an improved version of
the AGP slot on most PCs. The actual performance boost you can
expect depends on your application.
Gamers Don't Skimp On The Video Card:
An integrated graphics processor (GPU) is vital to fast game
performance and the most realistic visual experience. Dual
Video Card solutions provide even more performance.
Connecting Keyboard & Mouse
Connect a keyboard, mouse, monitor, and power cable to your computer
and turn it on.
the internal fans begin to whir, the system beeps, and you see the
machine starting to boot, power down (by holding the power button
for 5 seconds) and continue building. If nothing happens,
back up a step and recheck all of your connections. Make sure that
both the processor and the memory are properly seated, and recheck
those minuscule leads connecting the motherboard to the power and
performs as expected, shut down your PC, unplug it, and open the
Installing The Drives
Now it's time to install your drives. It's an easy process, but
again requires attention to detail.
Make any necessary changes to jumpers on the
drives before mounting them in the case. A two-drive system (one or
two SATA hard drives, plus one parallel ATA optical drive, for
example) is easy to set up; the SATA drives are jumper less, and the
optical drive can be set as master on its own parallel ATA channel.
Many cases have removable drive rails or cages to house drives. Use
the included screws to attach your drives to the rails or cage, and
slide them into the case. For externally accessible drives such as a
DVD recorder, you can save time by installing one drive rail and
sliding the drive in for a test fitting to make sure that its front
is flush with the case.
the drives are installed, connect power and data cables to each one.
Parallel ATA drives use wide, flat data cables that can be installed
only in the correct way. Floppy drives use a similar but smaller
cable; SATA drives use a thin, 1cm-wide data cable. SATA drives use
a new type of power connector that many power supplies don't come
with. Fortunately, many motherboards ship with adapters for
converting a standard four-pin power connector to a SATA power
The flat, wide ribbon
cables that Parallel ATA drives use to carry data can restrict
airflow inside your case, robbing your system of valuable cooling;
and functionality aside. Rounded data
cables available at your local PC store look much nicer, and they
don't impede airflow.
drives ship with both the older connector and the SATA power connector. In that case, use one power connector or the
other, but not both. The capacity of hard drives continues to
increase: You can now hold over 1TB (Terabyte or 1,000GB) of data on a single drive. But though
you don't have to compromise on the drive's size, you still have a
few choices to make when picking a hard disks.
Important Note: OEM hard
drives do not always include cables, software, or hardware
(screws, brackets, etc.). Mounting hardware may be required,
but this usually comes with barebones kits.
Data Safety - Choose
RAID, which stands for Redundant Array of
Independent Disks, lets you use multiple hard drives to boost disk
speed or to keep a mirrored backup of your data in case a drive
fails. Either setup requires multiple identical drives, and
configuring them calls for a slightly complex configuration. An increasing
number of systems use a
configuration called RAID 0, which can significantly increase system
speeds for data reading and writing. To configure your drives for
first select a pair of drives that match the storage capacity you
want. With 160GB hard drives available for under $90 and with RAID
support included on most new motherboards, RAID can be a great
Most motherboards now
include SATA support, and going with an SATA drive will make your
system easier to set up and your drive simpler to move to a future
PC when the time comes.
CD And DVD:
When build a new PC, adding a fast optical drive
can increase its flexibility. And even if you're on a budget, drives
that read and burn any format are now inexpensive.
Get An "All-In-One" DVD Burner Drive!
an all in one drive, there is nNo need to worry about whether
your drive supports DVD+RW or DVD-RW. Such drives are now
inexpensive, and writes to all major formats of
rewritable DVD and CD.
18X DVD burners
can write an entire disc in a few minutes, and CD burning
speeds are now amazingly fast. Consequently, if
you're on a budget, there's no reason to pay a premium for a 12X or
16X DVD burner or to insist on buying the fastest CD-RW drive you
stand-alone DVD players can play the dual-layer discs that these
dual layer drives burn, boosting the amount of video or data that
will fit on one disc. You may pay a small price premium for
dual-layer drives, but the additional storage is well worth it.
Install The Add-In
For each add-in card,
you must choose a free PCI slot - remove its backplane cover to
allow access from the rear of the case, carefully position the card
above the slot, and press down firmly to seat the card. Secure the
card with a screw. Many motherboards have additional sound
connectors or ports housed on small add-in boards. Some of these
plug into slots on the motherboard; others screw into the back of
the case in place of slot covers. Usually the additional ports are
not essential to your PC's operation. For example, if you install a
sound card, you do not need connectors to the motherboard's built-in
sound chip. Check your motherboard manual to determine what
each of these boards does.
Turn It On
Check your PC Set
It's time to turn on your system and check your PC set up.
Be sure the keyboard, mouse, and monitor are all plugged into the
appropriate ports on the back of the PC. Plug the power cord back
in, and turn the machine on.
prompted, enter your PC's BIOS setup screen by pressing the
indicated key (often Delete) as the machine boots. Menu options will
vary from motherboard to motherboard, but they share the same
general categories. Set the date and time, and then look for a
setting that deals with PC health status and monitoring. That choice
should bring up a screen showing processor and case temperature.
Watch the processor temperature for a few minutes. It should
stabilize at a level between 30°C and 50°C. If it keeps increasing,
your heat sink probably isn't installed properly. Power down and
check to see whether the heat sink is securely attached and making
good contact with the processor. Next, find the section of the BIOS
setup that determines the order in which your machine checks drives
and devices for one it can boot from. Set CD-ROM to the highest
priority so that your machine will boot from the Windows
Before Installing Windows
You may be "cloning" a PC, and want to copy the same configuration.
To do this you would use a "ghosting" tool to create an exact copy
of the data from the first PC on the new one. Follow the
instructions for the software to perform this operation. Some
create the clone before the OS is installed, some afterwards.
Installing the Operating System:
just a couple of steps away from using your new custom-built
personal computer. Now you will install the operating system and
then update your drivers, and install the programs.
First, place the Windows installation CD in your optical drive,
reboot the PC, and allow the system to boot off the disc (assuming
you setup the BIOS to boot from the CD/DVD). Windows setup should
in the process, Windows may ask you whether you need to install a
third-party SCSI or RAID driver. If you're using a RAID setup, press
F6 when this message appears; then insert the disc containing the
appropriate driver when it is requested.
Important Note: If your machine hangs while installing
Windows, there may be a problem with one of the components. Try
removing everything except the core components (motherboard,
processor, one memory module, and hard drives); then, once you've
successfully installed Windows, begin reinstalling each component
one by one to isolate the source of the problem.
is up and running, the last step in this
process is to update your hardware
drivers. This is not an optional procedure. Insert
the CD with the latest drivers (downloaded from the web, or provided
otherwise by the manufacturers) and install them,
starting with those for the motherboard and graphics card and then
moving on to less critical ones like mouse and sound card drivers.
(Windows comes with basic drivers to get you up and running, but
specific or updated drivers are vital.)
Several reboots later, you should have a fully updated PC!
your network & internet connection up and running - don't forget the
security (a good Antivirus product, such as CA's is strongly
recommended), install a firewall, and
download the latest Windows patches. Finally, make sure that
everything runs okay, and then back up your system. Also,
save the hardware configuration under Windows. That way you'll
have a clean, current image of Windows to go back to if serious
trouble arises in the future.
Install Your Software
installing the operating system, you will need to install the
software you will be using, such as Microsoft Office, Adobe
Photoshop, Corel Draw, and others. Some software will require
registration or validation, so have the original discs with the
software registration or license key ready. After installing
the software, you may need to validate the software with the
manufacturer or published via the web or by phone. Once this
is all done, you are ready to use your new PC!
New PC Is Ready!
Your motherboard, and components come with manuals
that will help you diagnose problems, and provide technical support
if you need it.
The first thing to do, is power off the computer,
disconnect the power code, and check ALL connections. Then
power on, and check your BIOS settings again!
everything installs, and runs, but you are experiencing spontaneous
reboots, your problem may be one of the following situations:
Overclocking: We do not recommend overclocking.
Memory Timing: Go into your BIOS and set your memory on
"Auto" or at a more conservative setting and see if the reboot
problem goes away.
Outdated BIOS: Make sure you have the latest BIOS for your
board. You can determine if your CPU is supported by browsing the
BIOS updates of the motherboard manufacturer's website. Also check
the latest BIOS version and updates.
Inadequate Power: The power supply may be overstressed or
failing due to heat or other malfunction.
Ghosted/Cloned System: Or you've migrated (Ghosted) your OS
and other files from one machine to another machine. You may
have to perform a "repair install" to clean up Windows. Or
you may have to perform a full install - realizing you will have
your data, but will have to reinstall the application software as