Home > Computers > The Partial Guide to Building a Computer

The Partial Guide to Building a Computer

Image courtesy of Maximum PC

Image courtesy of Maximum PC

After being consistently frustrated by the lack of finding your ideal computer at a local Best Buy, Electronic Fry’s, or Circuit City (RIP), you have finally come to the simple and common conclusion of many computer enthusiasts: It’s time to build myself a computer. Basking in the glory of your newly discovered calling in life, the limelight suddenly dissipates with the daunting realization that you have no idea how to build a computer. Slamming the door and kicking your neighbor’s cat in anger, you drive your 1998 Mustang around the neighborhood trying to blow off steam, without resorting to any Grand Theft Auto style hit-and runs. But fear no more, young Jedi. I was also in your footsteps only a mere four months ago. Accomplishing this task is no simple chore at all. It requires dedication, passion, and of course, listening to the printed words that your eyes will soon fall upon as they pore through this awesome guide. If you are not up for the task or have too much money to spend or your time is just too damn precious, please stop reading and never come back.

If you are reading these words, then your journey has now begun. I will be your Professor Oak to your Ash Ketchum. I will be your Sam to your Frodo. I will be your Professor Dumbledore to your Harry Potter. Alright, that’s enough.

Step One:

The hardest task of all! Where many have tried and died! RESEARCH. That’s right. Understanding every aspect/component of your dream machine (DM) is absolutely important in preventing a horror story about how your DM exploded the moment you pressed the power button for the very first time. With me at your side, you will only have great stories to tell like about how you can get more than 50 frames per second on Crysis. Anyways, due to the lack of dedication on my part, I will only list the resources that YOU instead must look through in order to further cement your understanding of building computers. Come on, stop complaining and keep reading.

1) Newegg.comSimply the best website and source to purchase every component of your DM. They have all the cheapest deals in the world, TONS of customer reviews, detailed system parts, and of course the most important thing in the world, FREE SHIPPING (most items). You won’t be sorry.

2) Tigerdirect.comAlthough newegg owns tigerdirect in all areas that I mentioned and more, one key reason why you should still browse through its website is because of its comprehensive and detailed reports on many of its products. Make sure you read through it.

3) Tomshardware.comA great source for the most recently released computer components on the market like the 4890 and the core i7. Note: This statement may be obsolete by the time you read this.

built it4) Build it. Fix it. Own it. By Paul McFefriesI mention this book because I bought it as a guide for myself. Yes, yes, I know it is already obsolete, but hey, at least it’s the closest book you’ll currently find (as of 8/2/09) that fit the criteria of “recently obsolete” and helpful. It lists all the key components that you’ll need to pursue, along with several sections containing a guide to building such things as a “budget computer” or a “killer gaming pc” (don’t laugh). Anyways, if the recession has already eaten holes through your pockets faster than a colony of rabid moths, then try to purchase a used book or borrow a copy from the library.

upgrade5) Upgrading and Repairing PCs: 18th Edition By Scott Mueller– Not a necessity, but if you consider yourself deserving of the title, HARDCORE, then go right ahead and purchase a copy. The book itself is extremely comprehensive, not to mention, very dense. It’s over a thousand freaking pages! Most of the stuff will be of little use, but the book contains a how-to-guide on building a custom pc. Wow! Look at how time flies by at the blink of an eye! The 19th edition is already coming out in November of this year!

6) Google.com I like to call this revolutionary website, “God”, because it will answer any of your questions. HONESTLY.

Step One, Part 2:

The following is a list of essentially every component that you’ll need. (Top items are most important and, thus, the most energy, time, and $$$$ should be placed into these components)

  • Motherboard (Mobo)- The brains of the computer. I think of it as the thalamus of your brain; it controls and acts as a relay station to all the information that passes from component to component.

A) Buy a motherboard that matches the cpu. Such as an intel mobo with an intel cpu.

B) Make sure your mobo’s socket type matches your cpu. Such as a socket LGA 1366 with a core i7 cpu or a socket LGA 775 with a core 2 duo, quad core, Celeron, Pentium dual core, or core 2 extreme cpu. LGA 775 sockets are the most common socket size in the market for Intel cpus. If you decide to go with an AMD sempron, athlon 64, athlon 64×2, or Athlon 64 FX processor, you will need a Socket AM2 motherboard. (Note: Some Athlon 64 FX processors require a Socket F motherboard.

C) Make sure your mobo contains enough expansion slots, the correct memory slots match your ram, and the form factor matches the case. For the first one mentioned, if you want to run SLI or Crossfire (two video cards placed side by side to supposedly increase performance by having the two split up the workload of rendering an image on the computer) you must have a mobo with at least two PCI Express 2.0 X 16 slots. For the second one mentioned, if your mobo supports ddr2 memory (most common one in the market) only buy ram that is ddr2. Lastly, and the most important, a mobo’s form factor is its specific size/shape. The most common one is the ATX form factor. If the mobo’s form factor does not fit the case’s form factor then problems will arise.

D)  To save some money and possibly avoid buying incompatible parts, look for mobo/ processor bundles.


  • Central Processing Unit (CPU)/ Processor- The heart of the computer. It conducts all the calculations that go on in your computer, so a powerful and maybe expensive cpu is essential to having a fast-running DM.

A) Make sure the cpu socket type matches the mobo’s socket type.

B) Most of the time, the cpu should come with its own heatsink/fan. If the one you’ve been eyeing has one, don’t worry about it being “faulty”. It’s usually quite reliable and efficient.

C) Cache is like short term memory for the cpu just as ram is short term memory for the computer’s hard drive. The more the cpu has, the better performance you’ll get.

D) Buy at least a dual-core cpu. Single core cpus are HISTORY. Forget about it. Dual-cores are now the standard with quad cores eventually taking over. Don’t worry about price because you won’t be sorry with the performance you will get. For those who don’t know what all this gibberish about dual core or quad core is about, you won’t be left out in the dust. A dual core cpu simply means that the computer is capable of running two programs efficiently by having two cores instead of one working separately on the two tasks. Quad-core of course means that the computer can run four programs simultaneously.

E) Buy Intel. Why? Because I said so. Just kidding. Intel, in my opinion, as of 4/07/09 is the king of CPUs in the entire universe. AMD, I admit, has made some impressive strides since its inception. But which one of its cpus can compete with the Godzilla core i7? Nadie. Nobody. AMD’s formula for success has been about selling extremely cheap products at the cost of lowered performance. So if your pockets are empty, join their side. I’ll just stick with Intel.

  • Power Supply Unit (PSU) – What? Are you surprised? I, myself, completely ignored all the details expect wattage when looking for a psu, but how on earth can you have the best components in the world but have nothing to power them to life? I have heard many horror stories about power supplies dying after a short while so make sure you have a psu from a well-known company and have more wattage than your computer actually needs.

A) Buy name brand. Here’s a list of reputable companies that you should buy from: Antec, Coolermaster, Corsair (definitely), PC Power & Cooling, Thermaltake (definitely), and OCZ.

B) If the psu is modular(fewer cables), you should definitely consider buying it. Having a psu that is modular is very convenient, especially if it’s your first time. Note: I, myself, bought a psu that wasn’t modular. I never experienced using one that is modular, so I have no clue how it is different. Make sure you research more into this.

C) Here are some general guidelines detailing wattage demands based on system type:


  • Budget PC 350 W
  • Business/Home Theatre PC   450 W
  • Mid-range Gaming PC   500 W
  • High-end Gaming PC   700 W
  • Memory/Ram– The short term memory of your computer. The formula works out like this: the more you have, the better your computer will be able to handle the work you give it.

A) If you have Vista, you should, in my opinion, have at most 4 GB of ram. No more, no less. Onto more important and pressing matters is whether or not you are running a 64-bit or 32-bit system (That’s just a description of how the cpu handles information. So 64 bit means it can handle more information than the 32 bit) For 32-bit operating systems, you should buy at most 3 GB and no less than 1 GB. For 64-bit operating systems, you should buy at most 6 gb, preferably 4 GB for most people.

B) Buy dual channel or tri-channel ram, assuming your mobo contains the correspondind memory slots. Tri channel is the latest version in the market, and dual channel is the current standard.

C) Buy name brand. VERY IMPORTANT. Buy from: Patriot, Corsair, Crucial Technology, G.Skill, Kingston, OCZ.

D) Don’t exceed your mobo’s capacity. The max is often 8 GB, so in most cases this shouldn’t be much of a problem.

  • Case- If you’re gonna be looking at your DM every single day, shouldn’t it make you feel good every time you look at it? Of course!

A) If you are browsing through newegg.com, which you should be doing, look for cases that have free shipping. The heavier a product is, the more expensive shipping will be. It will save you TONS of $$$ if the case you purchase comes with free shipping.

B) Buy your power supply separately. Why? Because very little information is given besides the wattage and more often than not, the psu’s have a high tendency to falter.

C) How many fans will your case contain? Count ‘em. The more fans you have, the better cooling the computer will receive and, thus, you’re components will not suddenly spontaneously combust. However, there is a downside to all of this. More fans equal a louder computer. Of course, if you consider yourself HARDCORE, you could decide to utilize liquid-nitrogen and even oil to juice up the performance to ridiculous levels. Make your decision wisely.

C) A very good convenience included in some cases is the removable motherboard trays and tool-free design. If it’s your first time building, you MUST seriously consider purchasing that kind of a case.

  • Hard Drive- This is a pretty basic component to buy. If you are going to store lots of pictures and videos onto your DM, buy a hard drive with at least 500 GB. Typical users will probably need just around 250-300 GB. Don’t worry about the cost. The cost per GB of memory has gone to mere pennies these days and will continue to do so.

A) Cache memory. Even hard drives need short term memory! Basically, the more you have, the better the performance you will see.

B) Buy from Seagate, Western Digital, Fujitsu, or Hitachi.

  • Optical Drive- This is where you place all your cds and dvds to run or either to burn. Blu-ray drives are rather expensive but may become cheaper later on.
  • Video Card- If you are planning to build a gaming pc, this component will probably be the most important component you’ll buy. It wouldn’t matter if you have a core i7 cpu, but if your video card is not decent or stellar, you will cry yourself to sleep every night for all the money you wasted buying such an expensive cpu. On the otherhand, if you’re not planning to play any games in the foreseeable future, then you should consider buying a mobo with integrated graphics to save some $$$·
  • Audio Card/Network Card- Not important because most mobo’s come with it.
  • Peripherals- If you’re buying a new monitor, the specs that are the most important to consider, are screen size (measured diagonally), screen resolution, and contrast ratio. Buy a mouse, keyboard, and some speakers of course. For the operating system (OS), I suggest going with Windows Vista. Oh, stop yelling will you. I haven’t experienced any problems whatsoever since switching to Vista one year ago (knock on wood) and many of the problems that occurred early on with its initial release have been corrected with Service Pack 1.
Windows 7 comes out October 22, 2009

Windows 7 comes out October 22, 2009

Step Two:

What better way to build a computer then to have a proper example to follow? Now, you can lay to rest your doubts and suspicions on the legitimacy of my abilities when you see the a list of the components I used to construct my first computer. Still not good enough for you? Then, may God help you.

  1. Motherboard – Asus P5Q SE PLUS LGA 775 P45 ATX Intel Motherboard$81.99 after $15.00 mail-in rebate
  2. CPU – Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 Wolfdale 3.0 GHz 6 MB L2 Cache LGA 775 65 W Dual- Core Processor $164.99 plus free shipping
  3. RAM – Patriot Viper 4 GB (2 X 2 GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM 1066 (PC2 8500)$49.99 after $25.00 mail-in rebate plus free shipping
  4. Video Card – Sapphire 100259L Radeon HD 4870 512 MB 256-bit GDDR5$149.99 after $15.00 mail-in rebate plus free shipping
  5. PSU – OCZ StealthXStream 600 W ATX 12V/ EPS 12V SLI ready $49.99 after $20.00 mail-in rebate plus free shipping
  6. Hard drive – Seagate Barracuda 500 GB 7200 RPM 16 MB Cache SATA 3.0 GB/s$59.99 plus free shipping
  7. Case – Raidmax Smilodon Steel ATX Mid Tower $79.99 plus free shipping
  8. CD/DVD Drive – LG Black $22.99 plus free shipping
  9. Operating System – Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit SP 1 $99.99 plus free shipping

Final Cost:
$759.91, not including tax and shipping
(All parts were purchased from Newegg.com)
Interesting observation:
The mobo has gone up to $86.99, the RAM has dropped to $43.99, the video card has fallen to $139.99, the PSU is now $79.99, and the case no longer comes with free shipping. (Prices may have changed by the time you read this)

Final Comments:
1) On newegg.com, there is an  “electronic waste recycling fee.” I was charged $16.00. I’m unsure how this is calculated, but just keep this in mind.

2) If you create an account with Newegg and subscribe to their newsletters/weekly deals, this would be a great way to save $$. In fact, they sent me a 10% off coupon ($40 maximum) right before I was going to purchase the hardware. Talk about good timing, eh?

3) Installing the mobo’s standoffs are a major pain.

6) The case is HUGE and very SEXY.

7) I’m thankful that I decided to go with a 500 GB hard drive instead of 250 GB hard drive.

8) I can play Grand Theft Auto 4 with decent framerates. Hallelujah! (Knock on wood)

9) Since I wanted to play games on the computer, I needed a decent video card. Lesson learned: Buy one that is at the “cusp” of being the best video card in the market. Why? Because in one year, that thing will be obsolete! Unfortunately, that is the sad reality of buying video cards. Since nothing has enough power to smoothly run Crysis (sort of), more and more video cards will continue to come out, making your computer look like a little shrimp.

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