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GUIDES
Building Your First Computer

Introduction

So you are thinking about doing your first computer build, well you have come to the right place. Please take the time to read through this entire document. Our aim is to help you make this first build a success.

Quite a bit of time and effort goes into the design, planning and execution of a computer. At the very first we need to point out that there are pluses and minuses to building your own computer. Let's explore the negatives: DIY, do it yourself, means that there is no toll free number to call for support if things go wrong. There is no guarantee, no warranty, and no technician to come out and fix your problem. Further, if you make errors you can be out several hundred dollars by having to buy replacement parts for your goofs.

Also keep in mind that you will probably be purchasing components from several vendors, each of whom has their own return and replacement policies in the event you get dead or defective parts. These return/replacement policies usually are very short lived and that means that you have to deal with the manufacture directly when time expires. I have spent many hours on the phone, in single sittings, waiting for tech support to pick up. Support can at best be next day air of a defective part or it may take weeks and sometimes months to resolve issues with manufacturers, if they can be resolved to your satisfaction. And don't forget you usually have to pay shipping on returns and replacements. If you purchased parts in error and want to return them, not only will you have to pay return shipping, there is usually a pretty hefty restocking charge.

If these don't sound like the types of potential risks and hassles you are willing to undertake, then you can stop reading right now. There are many fine computers available that are already built and you can buy off the shelf. There are many places that will build a computer to your specifications.

The plus side of building your own includes a great deal of satisfaction for a job well done. You can build exactly what you want. In addition, you can and will learn more about computers.

Considerations & Product Choice

Now that we have gotten through the preliminaries, let's delve into your reasons for undertaking a build. If your only motivation is saving a small amount of money going the DIY route, forget it. Buy the pre-made computer. Having a warranty and 24-hour phone support is really worth quite a lot. Plus, on a pre built, all the parts have been qualified to work with each other. There is a lot to be said for just plugging in the power cord and going computing. On the other hand, there can be many valid reasons for taking on the potential risks/hassles that a DIY project of this magnitude can entail. The purpose of this article is not to dissuade you from building, but rather to help steer you on the correct paths to good decision-making and research.

Before you start planning your build, take the time to really consider what your goals are for this system. Your goals will help determine what hardware goes into your system.

Is there some specific software you want to run? If so, make sure that you understand the minimum/recommended hardware requirements. My experience has shown that to get any reasonable degree of performance, the recommended hardware should be met if not exceeded. Also, if the build is for such a specific software package, you need to consider where that package is in its development cycle. Will they be coming out with an update soon that could require a heavier hardware package? Will the system you are building be able to handle an anticipated software upgrade without modifications to hardware? If the answer is no, are you building a machine with a hardware upgrade path or are you choosing components that are already at the end of their up-grade path?

Here are some of the more common possible major goals, not all of which are mutually exclusive:

  1. Rock solid stability, 24/7
  2. E-mail, surfing appliance/econo box
  3. Family based system
  4. System for a student to do term papers, research, etc
  5. A unit capable of doing numerous things at the same time
  6. Lots of rendering, ripping, heavy processing
  7. Good solid gaming system
  8. Rocket ship gaming system
  9. Cutting edge electronics
  10. Bleeding edge electronics
  11. A quiet computer
  12. Server

Take some time and think about what you want out of a system. If you are going to be multi tasking a lot or rendering or ripping, at this moment, on a price/performance basis, Intel has a significant historical lead for moderate priced CPUs. If your highest priority is gaming and you will not be doing other tasks with the computer while gaming, AMD is the historic winner. Note that as more multi-processor chips come out along with more multi-processor hyper threading chips starting to arrive; the leaders for different uses can start to become obscured.

For rock solid stability, historically an Intel CPU on an Intel board couldn't be beat.

For econo boxes, where raw processing power is not important, the lower level AMD and Intel processors can be considered; the Sempron and Celeron.

An important objective is to achieve balance when evaluating your goals. Most computers we build will be a compromise in some manner. Make sure you read reviews on various CPUs and their extended families. The choices are quite wide as are the capabilities. You can get a 32 bit processor, a 32 bit hyper threading processor, a 64 bit processor, a dual 64 bit processor, a dual 64 bit processor with hyper threading, etc. Take your time and do your research to determine which of the many choices will best fit your needs.

Your first decision has to be what platform you will build, AMD or Intel. You are also going to have to make a lot more decisions.

A successful computer consists of a number of parts from various manufacturers that all work in harmony. Some of the parts that you may need or want, in no particular order, are here:

Yup, it is a pretty long list and some thought/research must be given to each item. If this is sounding like too much trouble, maybe a store bought computer may better satisfy your needs.

The next step is to realistically determine your budget. What is it worth to meet the goals you set? If gaming is your desire, then video card quality is very important. If your goals are processor intensive, then of course you want to get a stronger processor.