Introduction: How to Build a "top-of-the-line" Custom PC
Well, I have been an Instructables member for quite a while after stumbling to this website on Google a year or so ago. I decided it's time for me to write an Instructable and actually publish it. So this ends up being my first Instructable so be kind. :)
I am going to give you tips and pointers on building a custom PC. I recently priced a gaming computer for a friend of mine that he should be asking me to build in a couple months when he gets the money. This computer I will be "demonstrating" ended up costing about $1,100 after shipping, taxes(New Jersey 7% sales tax) and rebates(instant and mail-in). Which in reality is much better/cheaper than customizing one from a big company such as Dell, or HP, etc.
All products I will show can be found on www.newegg.com and all pictures courtesy of them. They have some really good deals, low prices, and good quality products.
Always when looking for electronics items like this, read customer reviews, and I mean read A LOT of them. They will give you advice about if the item is good, bad, or in-between. I must have read at least 500 reviews total when researching the items. I also researched all this in a period of about 1-2 weeks.
Step 1: Finding a Good Case
The first thing you should do is find a case that will house all your equipment.
There are a couple things you should think about:
-Find the correct motherboard (most are ATX)
-Do you want the case to look good or just be a box to hold your stuff.
-You will want a good power supply so it is sometimes better to buy a case without an included supply. They tend to be a bit cheaper as well.
-How much space do you want it to take up? Mid-Tower's are the typical size, not too big, and small enough to carry around if needed.
My friend was looking at used AlienWare PC's and they are expensive, almost as much as a new one. I explained to him that he could get a better PC if he builds one himself, or has it built for him. He wanted a case that looked as good as an AlienWare and I found this one.
It is an ATX mid-tower size. It is extremely durable since it is made of steel. The only downside to this is that it weighs just over 12 pounds, so when you get to adding the Power Supply Unit, hard drive, CD/DVD drive, and a couple other components, it might get a bit heavy.
This case is really nice value being only $39.99.
You want a case with many hardware slots, just in case you ever want to do some upgrading in the future. -That's another advantage of a homemade PC, is that it's much easier to upgrade.
This case has many hardware slots:
4- 5.25" external drive bays(CD/DVD, other peripheral)
2- 3.5" external drive bays (floppy, etc)
4- 3.5" internal drive bays (hard drives)
and 7 rear expansion slots for the motherboard.
The Newegg product number for this case is N82E16811121067
Step 2: The Mothership.... No Wait, the Motherboard!
The motherboard is one of the most important parts of the PC. It is the main hub of everything in the computer. You want to find a motherboard that supports a very good processor and also supports at max 8GB of memory. 8GB is a lot, you will probably never need that much, at most you will need 4GB these days with the programs and operating systems on the market. It's always better to be safe than sorry. With a motherboard that supports that, you may not need to upgrade it in the future if you want to add more RAM, just add the new RAM chips when needed.
Now you probably don't need a motherboard as advanced as this one either, but if you are planning on building a gaming computer, then this board is great. It has one of the latest nVidia North Bridge chipsets, supports up to 8GB RAM.
Another thing about most modern motherboards is that they have a Digital Optical output which lets you hook up a surround sound system if you like. (as you see both the ones shown have it)
These are two of the important things to write down or remember when looking for a processor:
-The board is compatible with LGA 775 socket processor.
-Make sure to look for a Quad-Core, Core2 Extreme, Core2 Duo, or a Pentium processor. Those are the processors compatible with this motherboard.
The motherboard is one of the most expensive parts of a computer.
*first image* This is one of the high end motherboards, so it costs a bit more at $239.99 before mail-in rebate.
The Newegg item number is N82E16813188024
*second image* If you are looking for something more affordable or for basic computing then the following motherboard is fine at $134.99. Newegg item number: N82E16813131232
Step 3: The Processor
Now the processor is the second most important component. It's the "brain" of the motherboard. The processor is what handles all the computers operations and tells it what to do.
The average processor in most PC's these days is the Intel Core2 Duo processor.
In the previous step we noted that we would need a LGA 775 socket processor to work with the motherboard.
You want to find a processor with at least 2.4GHz speed. A good feature to look for is the manufacturing tech to be 45nm. Not all processors use this and that's fine. The only advantages is that it runs a bit cooler than others. A nice thing to look at is the Cache, which is the amount of memory used to store operations. The more a processor has, the quicker it can process things.
This is a higher end processor better for gaming, being a 3.0GHz Core2 Duo. This processor is great for the price, which is $169.99 The Newegg item number for this processor is N82E16819115037
For less intense processing power, you will do fine with something like this: Newegg item number N82E16819115052
Step 4: The Power Supply Unit (PSU)
Now you have a case, motherboard, and processor. You will need a PSU to power the computer... No it does not run on magic energy sucked from the air. :P
There is not much to say about the PSU except that it should be at least 550 Watts. The more Watts the PSU is, the more components that can be hooked up to it. (more hard drives, optical drives, etc, can be powered) The PSU is obviously the component that provides power to the motherboard, hard drives, and all other components in the PC.
The one here is a 680W PSU which is about average for a gaming or non-gaming computer. This is a nice powerful PSU for the price of the unit. It has a built-in 120mm fan to keep it cool. The one shown goes for $35.99 before rebate.
Step 5: Memory
Most computers these days only need 2-4GB of RAM memory. There are many combinations you can have. The motherboard you get may have 2 or 4 RAM memory slots on the board. Each slot can have a 2GB RAM chip in it. At most you only need to use 2 memory slots on the motherboard.
You can buy 4GB of RAM a few different ways. you can get a 2x2GB RAM package, you can buy 2 separate 2GB chips, you can buy a 4GB chip, you can get 2- 2x1GB RAM packages, or you can get 4 separate 1GB chips. You typically don't want to go with the latter 2 options. Option 1 is usually the best, and option 2 is OK. I wouldn't suggest the single 4GB chip because they still are a bit on the pricey side. Sometimes you can find a real cheap 2GB chip and buy 2, but why do that when you can get them together.
You want to make sure the RAM is a DDR2 667 speed or higher. The higher the speed the faster the information transfers back and forth from the processor to the action on the screen and the smoother your PC will run. The one shown is a DDR2 800 (PC2 6400)
Here's an example of a 2x2GB package at Newegg item number N82E16820134582
Kingston makes really good quality products. Their RAM chips are great quality, low price and they are just great overall(in my opinion).
Step 6: The Hard Drive
The hard drive is an important component because it holds all the files, folders, software, and everything else the computer needs to run.
The only thing you need to worry about with a hard drive is the size. If you are going to be using your computer for music, you want at least 500GB. For basic computing and file storage (word documents, etc,) then you should be fine with a 250GB hard drive. If you play a lot of computer games AND like music, then you might want a hard drive larger than 500GB, probably something like 750GB.
You can always have multiple hard drives. For the extreme computer user, you can have something like 2 500GB drives to make 1000GB or 1TB. Now its highly unlikely that you will need anywhere near 1TB of hard drive space, unless you download a ton of songs, and videos.
Now, the price of hard drives has practically hit rock bottom. They are amazingly cheap for the amount of space you get.
Samsung Spinpoint drives are really good.
Western Digital is one of the top hard drive manufacturers.
In my opinion these are the best 2 hard drive manufacturers I have seen.
Seagate makes some good products as well.
Here are a couple hard drive options:
Samsung Spinpoint 250GB hard drive $54.99- Newegg item number N82E16822152107
Western Digital 320GB hard drive $64.99- Newegg item number N82E16822136074
Western Digital 500GB hard drive $69.99- Newegg item number N82E16822136073
Samsung Spinpoint 750GB hard drive $99.99- Newegg item number N82E16822152100 (the price has gone down $10 since I last looked at this one)
Step 7: Dedicated Graphics Card
The motherboards that are shown in this Instructable do not have on-board graphics cards. You will need to get a dedicated graphics card.
The graphics card is what is used to output to a monitor or screen to view what your computer is doing. No your PC can not teleport images to the back of your eyeballs. :P
The graphics card is also used to run games, and basically anything else you see on the screen.
The nVidia GeForce 8800GTS is one of the top-of-the-line graphics cards out there. It is one of nVidia's newest cards. It is better to spend the money on a newer graphics card than to buy a lower model and have to upgrade it in 6 months.
nVidia makes great graphics cards and a lot of game developers use their hardware to test and run games on at optimized specs.
This graphics card is great because it handles HIGH DEFINITION! woo! It has HDCP so you can get a DVI-D to HDMI cable and connect your PC to an HDTV and use it as a monitor. It comes with the adapters to connect it to a regular monitor as well.
The Newegg item number for the 8800GTS is N82E16814130317
Step 8: Sound Card (optional)
If you want to build a gaming PC, you are going to want a dedicated sound card. On-board sound cards normally don't have great sound. For basic computer use, you do not need to buy a dedicated sound card.
A dedicated sound card will provide different sound options than the on-board card. It also provides you with much crisper, clearer, sharper sounds. Dedicated sound cards can also support up to 5.1 or 7.1 channel surround sound.
Creative is one of the leading sound card manufacturers. They make some pretty good quality products and are relatively affordable.
If you are planning to build a gaming PC and would like a good dedicated sound card then I suggest the Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi XtremeGamer 7.1 channel PCI Interface sound card.
This can be found at Newegg item number N82E16829102006
Step 9: CD/DVD/Blu-Ray Drive
Now this is picked by preference. There are many options in this category.
You can get a CD burner, DVD burner, CD/DVD combo burner, a DVD combo burner with LightScribe, a DVD/CD burner with Blu-Ray ROM, or a DVD/CD/Blu-Ray burner.
The cheapest and most common drive is probably the DVD/CD combo burner. These drives are able to read and write CDs and DVDs.
You select this by preference. If you want to be able to burn DVDs/CDs then this is obviously the best choice. If you want to watch high definition blu-ray movies on your computer then you can get a DVD/CD combo drive and a separate Blu-Ray reader drive. Or you can get a DVD/CD/Blu-Ray combo. The disadvantage to wanting and getting a optical drive with a Blu-Ray option is that they are typically $189 or more.
My personal choice for an optical drive would be the LG 22x DVD/CD burner with LightScribe. The Newegg item number for this drive is N82E16827136147
LightScribe drives are usually a bit expensive, but this one is relatively cheap at $24.99
Step 10: Operating System
This also depends on the user. You can order an operating system such as Windows. Or you can install your own such as a Linux Distribution.
If you don't want to deal with any hassle, just purchase an operating system. I suggest Windows Vista Ultimate to get the most out of Vista. If you don't want to spend that much, then Vista Home Premium is for you. I would never suggest Vista Home Basic because it is just way too watered down for the operating system that it should be.
You want to look for a 32-bit edition unless you plan on getting a 64-bit processor and motherboard. However 64-bit is not as widespread as 32-bit, so I suggest just sticking with 32-bit.
32 bit operating systems can't address more that 4GB of ram including the memory on graphics cards . so if you get 4GB or more of total ram buy the 64 bit version of the operating system. However, you should stay away from 64-bit Windows XP. (thanks de-evolution)
For Windows Vista Ultimate can be purchased for $179.99 and found at Newegg item number N82E16832116490
For Windows Vista Home Premium can be purchased for $99.99 and found at Newegg item number N82E16832116485
Step 11: Optional Accessories
Keyboard and Mouse: You can find a cheap keyboard and mouse at a retail store near you. Nothing special needed here, unless you are a super PC gamer. (you should already have an uber gaming mouse if you do that stuff)
Wireless network card: Only needed if you won't be near a router or internet connection source to use a wired connection. If you don't have a wireless router then don't bother with this. :)
A nice good quality wireless network adapter card is the Linksys WMP300N at Newegg item number N82E16833124069
DVI to HDMI cord: I mentioned this in the Graphics Card Step. You shouldn't have to spend more than $10 on a cable like this. A cheap, simple cable that gets the job done can be found at Newegg item number N82E16812337021
Extra Cooling: Some cases don't come with multiple cooling fans. If you are building a gaming PC you are going to want some extra cooling fans. One that mounts in a back expansion slot is a good idea because it sucks the air out away from the graphics card. A cheap, good airflow fan can be seen here at Newegg item number N82E16835150006
Step 12: Put It Together! :)
Now all you have to do is order all your components. Wait for them to arrive, then put it all together following any instructions that come with individual components.
It shouldn't be too hard. Just make sure you don't have any electrostatic charge built up in your body or you may short out anything with a circuit board at any time.
Have fun and enjoy your new custom built computer :)