Intro: Daisy, Daisy, Build Me a Super Computer Please
New computer games come out all the time. New games means higher system requirements. Have you ever gone to the store to get a game, only to find out you can't even run it on Low settings?
Or maybe you are an amateur photographer/video editor. As you move your clips of video around, your computer freezes and takes forever to process your command.
Sure, you could go out and buy a powerful pre-built machine that is expensive forces you to buy things you don't need, or you could make a powerful computer yourself and design it according to your needs and save cash!
This guide will teach you how to build a computer that can run Mass Effect 2 or Crysis on Very High settings with 16X Anti aliasing and full water effects, or edit High Definition video as if you were editing a text document.
This project can take a long time. Deciding what parts to buy and learning about those parts is not difficult to do, but it is a timely endeavor. Don't let this scare you away! This is an incredibly fulfilling and learning experience that anyone can do given enough time!
Step 1: Basic Components
The hardest part of building your own computer is deciding what you want to put in it. A very wide selection of these items can be found at www.newegg.com. This website will provide the specifications for each product, which will let you know what is and what is not compatible.
Here is a brief description of the basic parts every descent computer needs.
Motherboard - This is the 'nervous system' of your PC. It not only communicates with all devices in your computer, but also allows different devices to communicate with each.
Compatibility- The type of motherboard you get will determine what technology goes into your computer. Your motherboard must be compatible with everything that goes into your computer. It must support the processor, graphics card, operating system, hard drive, CD drive, and RAM you chose.
Processor (Central Processing Unit, or CPU)- A processor does nothing but make calculations, so faster the processor, the faster your programs will run.
Compatibility- Processor technology progresses at a great rate; new socket types of processor cores are being created all the time. Some processors are only compatible with certain types of RAM and motherboards, so take great care when choosing your processor.
Cooling Fan- Lastly, every processor comes with a cooling fan. While a processor is running, it generates far more heat that it can dissipate by itself. With the aid of a cooling fan, the processor can stay cool and continue to complete calculations.
Graphics Card (Graphics Processing Unit or GPU)- A GPU is a processor that is specialized to calculate the position of points in a program and translate that into an image on the screen. If you want things to look beautiful and smooth on your computer, then you need a good graphics card.
Quality- If you are building a computer for the best video editing, 3D modeling or gaming, then you need a very high powered graphics card, such as this one. However, better graphics cards come out every quarter, so even if you buy the best one on the market now it will be average in a year. Unless you need to play the most taxing game on a computer, buy a graphics card that is high quality but not necessarily the top-of-the-line.
Power- Graphics cards draw a LOT of power, so it is very important that you purchase a power supply that can feed the card the energy it needs. Newegg will list a card's estimated power requirement.
Compatibility- Make sure the motherboard you buy has the correct port you need (PCI, PCI Express, etc.). If it does not then you need to find a new card or motherboard.
RAM (Random Access Memory)- This is the "short-term" memory for your processor. It stores data that is relevant to a processor's task in a series of cells. After the data is used, the cells are erased and ready to receive more information.
How much?- The more RAM you have, the faster your processor will be able to calculate. 3 X 2GB means the package contains three 2GB sticks of RAM for a total of 6GB. Today, 4GB is a good standard for a high powered machine.
Compatibility- As of right now the standard form of RAM is 240-pin SDRAM DDR3, though there are a few others, such as 240-pin SDRAM DDR2, and 184-pin DDR SDRAM. Your motherboard will dictate which type of RAM you buy, because motherboards only support one type of RAM.
Hard Drive- This device is the "long-term" memory of your computer. It holds every type of file you have on your computer, such as Program Files, Documents, Pictures, and Music. Therefore, it is important to consider
Quality- Get a high quality hard drive (i.e. one that people have rated highly). If a hard drive dies, you may not be able to recover your data.
Size- Today, a 500 GB hard drive is very cheap. Unless you are downloading a lot of movies and music, you shouldn't need anything bigger than this.
SATA- To make life easy, buy a hard drive that uses SATA. This interfaces with nearly any motherboard and is incredibly convenient.
Disk Drive - These are becoming used less and less now that nearly all software can be found online. However, a CD drive is necessary for installing drivers and your operating system.
CD/DVD- CD drives can read CD's. DVD drives can read CD's and DVD's. DVD technology is replacing CD's, so buy a DVD player.
Burn Capability- Burning CD's and DVD's is very useful if you are video editing or need to move large amounts of files on disks. However, be aware that CD burners do not burn DVD's and DVD burners do not always burn CD's.
SATA- For the same reasons as the hard drive, purchase a disk drive that runs with SATA
Power Supply- In order to get power from the wall, your computer needs a power supply, which divides the power from the wall into safe, usable outlets. If you plan your computer correctly, you can avoid spending too much on a power supply that is too powerful.
Output- Useful power supplies range from 500W to over 1000W. Generally, the two things that will affect your need for power are your processor and graphics card. Both of these will have estimates on their box tell you how much power they draw.
Computer Case- This is the metal box that holds your computer within it. There are several things to consider when choosing a case:
Price- Do not make the case very expensive; all it does is hold a computer.
Number of Fans- A case that only comes with 2 fans and no other places to put purchased fans is not a good buy. Instead, find a case that either comes with or has places for many fans.
Size- There are several sizes of motherboards, but desktops usually have an ATX motherboard ( there is also the MicroATX). In addition to different motherboards, there are different sized cases to consider as well. A larger case will allow for bigger, better components and better cooling.
Looks- Do not get an ugly case! The case is all you will get to see! Get something that you like (I recommend one with a side window so you can see inside the case).
Required Tools- There are a number of tool-less cases on the market, which make assembly a piece of cake. If you can find a large, tool-less case with many fans that looks good, get it.
Operating System- You need this to run programs on your computer. There are two options for the newer computer builder: Microsoft Windows (Easiest), and Ubuntu. The operating system package contains an installation disk that contain instructions on how to install it.
Compatibility- As with all components, ensure that the operating system is compatible with your motherboard. Call the manufacturer if compatibility is not obvious. Also, If you have more than 3GB of RAM, than you need to get a 64-bit operating system (rather than 32-bit). 32-bit operating systems can only handle a little over 3 GB of RAM, so any extra bytes of RAM you have will go to waste.
Other- This includes a keyboard, screen, mouse, and speakers, etc. You can also find these on Newegg, or you can just use old ones.
Do not be worried if you frequently change your components. Every component is dependent on several others, so it will take time and effort to end up with the machine of your dreams.
Step 2: Grounding and DOA Products
Grounding- Because we are dealing with electronics, we must address the issue of grounding. As you build your PC, you may move your feet across a carpet or rub your shirt against a fabric chair. Both of these actions create static electricity (this is most notable in the winter when light switches shock their users). If this static charge is discharged through one of your components, it will ruin them.
To prevent this from happening, remove the charge from your body by touching the frame the computer case between every step (if not more frequently). This effectively discharges your body, allowing you touch your components without damaging them.
DOA Products- Even if you do not fry your components with static electricity, there is a chance they won't work. Some products will arrive Dead On Arrival (DOA). To prevent getting a DOA component, read the user reviews for everything you buy and make sure there is not a high chance of receiving a DOA product.
If you do receive one, Newegg has a fantastic customer service program and will likely do something for you. Contact them if there is ever any problems with something you buy. Do not contact me. In fact, I accept no responsibility for anything problems you might encounter, or any damage done to any goods.
Alright, enough talk, let's put this thing together!
Step 3: Inserting Power Supply
This first step may not be necessary if you buy the case and power supply together. Generally the supply is placed in the upper rear of the case (2nd Picture).
1. Hold power supply with the female power plug in facing the rear of the case-- 3rd Picture.
2. Place power supply in its position with the four screw holes lining up with the four holes in the case-- 3rd Picture.
a) Ensure the female plug end is accessible.
3. Insert and tighten screws.
There are many different plug ends that are connected to the power supply. A brief overview of them is below in the fourth picture, and the rest can be seen here.
Step 4: Processor
Warning: Inserting the processor into your desktop is the "riskiest" part of the entire process. With one wrong movement you can either fry your processor or bend one of the connections pins in the CPU socket. No pressure.
1. Ground yourself
2. Locate the socket- 1st Picture.
a) It will be easy to spot. There should be a metal square with a lever that opens it on the motherboard.
3. Correctly orient the processor
a) There is a golden arrow located on one corner of the processor--2nd Picture.
b) Find the corner in the socket that is missing the very corner pin. This corner corresponds with the golden arrow--3rd Picture.
4. Place the CPU in its socket-- Video and 4th and 5th Picture.
a) Gently place your processor in its socket, taking care not to bend the pins in the socket.
5. Secure the CPU in its socket-- 6th Picture.
a) Locking the lever requires quite a substantial amount of force. Do not be afraid to use a little force to lock the CPU.
Step 5: Installing CPU Cooling Fan
Processors get very hot when they are operating. This heat slows the processor significantly and can actually destroy it. The CPU cooling fan pulls this excess heat away from the processor, keeping it cool at about 30-80 degrees Celsius. In order for the fan to pull enough heat away, thermal paste is placed between the processor and fan to quickly transfer heat from the processor to the fan.
1. If the fan does not already have thermal paste on its bottom, apply a small dab in the center that is no larger than a dime.
2. Locate the CPU fan socket (will be labeled).
3. Orient the fan so that the power cord can most easily access the CPU fan socket.
4. Secure the CPU fan. There are two methods by which this is achieved:
- Pushpins-- 2nd Picture
Pushpins are found on Intel fans. Just push the pin in and it will stay. There may or may not be a click when a pin goes in, so just push the pins until the fan will not fall out, regardless of whether or nor the pins click.
Warning: Do not push too hard on the pins, as this may result in a cracked motherboard.
Step 6: Inserting RAM
Random Access Memory (RAM) is another key player in a desktop's performance. RAM is how a processor remembers things that it needs during calculations. The more RAM a desktop has, the faster the processor can complete its calculations.
1. Locate the RAM slots-- 3rd Picture
2. Open the clips on the sockets that will be used.
3. Locate notch on RAM stick and socket. Line these up-- 2nd Picture.
4. Place RAM in socket and press firmly until both clips snap shut-- Video.
5. Check clips to ensure they are closed.
Step 7: Inserting Graphics Card
The graphics card is the device that creates the visual models and colors you see. A faster graphics card means higher resolution graphics in video games and smoother video feed on high definition movies.
1. Locate the Graphics card port that you card requires-- 2nd Picture.
2. Remove punch-out metal panel on the rear of case to allow for the graphics card ports to stick out-- 3rd Picture.
3. Orient graphics card correctly-- 5th Picture.
4. Press down on Graphics card until a snap is heard and the card is secured firmly in its port-- Video.
5. Insert screw that attaches card to the frame.
Step 8: Installing Motherboard
Now that all of the components that are directly attached to the motherboard are installed, it is time to secure the motherboard to the case.
Notice: When I took apart my computer, I did not remove the motherboard because it is a pain. So, make sure that you have done everything you need to before you secure the motherboard.
There are screw holes that line up with holes on the board. These screw holes are slightly elevated with respect to the case. There is also an outlet on the rear or the case case that makes room for the ports on the motherboard. Generally there is a plate that comes with the motherboard that should be placed in the outlet before motherboard installation.
1. Lay case on side (or remove motherboard panel if case allows)
2. Insert plate into outlet on case-- 1st and 4th Picture.
3. Lay motherboard on the panel, fitting rear ports into plate and lining the motherboard with its screw holes.
4. Insert screws and tighten-- 2nd and 3rd Picture.
Caution: Holes in the motherboard and hole in case may not exactly match up, so it may be necessary to use force to align the holes, or just leave out some screws.
Step 9: Installing Your Hard Drive
The hard drive holds all permanent data, such as text documents and your operating system. If this breaks you can lose all of your data.
1. Locate hard drive bay (generally towards the front near the bottom of the case)-- 2nd Picture
2. Secure hard drive into case by either of the following two methods:
a) Screws-- Once again, there is a choice between screws and special clips. Depending on your case, there may be screw holes in the bay for your hard drive. Just slide the hard drive in until the screw holes line with the holes in the bay and insert screws.
b) Rails- The case i bought came with rails, which just snap into the screw holes and slide into any spot in the hard drive bay.
i) Insert rail guide into screw holes--3rd Picture
ii) Slide hard drive with rails into bay-- 4th Picture
3. Plug in SATA cable into hard drive and motherboard-- 7th - 9th Picture.
a) SATA connectors are usually a red color-- 5th and 6th Picture
Step 10: CD Drive
CD drives are essential for reading the drivers disks and downloading the operated system.
1. Remove punch-out-- 2nd Picture.
a) Remove the punch-out that you want to have your CD drive in.
2. Insert CD drive into slot-- 3rd Picture.
3. Line up holes of CD drive with the holes on bay-- 4th Picture.
4. Secure CD drive in case using either screws or clip provided with case-- 5th Picture
5. Connect SATA cable from disk drive to motherboard.
Step 11: Case Wires/USB
Cases have LED's, power and reset buttons, and USB ports that must all be connected to something. USB ports and other case functions plug directly into the motherboard, while the LED's plug into the power supply.
There are normally two located in the front of the case, and two in the rear. The two in the rear must be attached to the case while the two in the front are already attached.
1. Find rear USB port that came with your case-- 1st Picture.
2. Remove punch-out from the rear panel.
3. Insert screw and attach to case in the same way you attached the graphics card-- 2nd Picture.
4. Plug USB ports into USB socket on motherboard (will be labeled)-- 3rd and 4th Picture.
Most cases come with a few LED's that make the computer look cool in the dark. These need to be plugged in to the powers supply. The plugs for these can be found somewhere in the case.
The power and reset buttons must also be attached to the motherboard. The wires that connect to the buttons will be found in the case-- 5th and 6th Pictures.
1. Locate button wires.
2. Read motherboard instructions to find out how to place wires into adapter.
3. Plug adapter into motherboard.
Step 12: Connect Power Supply to Components
Motherboard- There are plug options- 20 and 24 pin. If you have the 20 pin, just plug in the 20-pin plug from the power supply and go. If you have the 24-pin plug:
1. Place the 4-pin plug in the outlet first-- 1st - 4th Pictures
2. Insert the 20-pin plug.
1. Plug in 6-pin plug into outlet located on the side of the card-- 5th and 6th Pictures
Hard and Disk Drive
1. Plug in SATA power cord into device-- 7th Picture.
Fans- Fans do not consume much power, so they can be linked together on the same plug. Each fan has a male and female plug end used to hook it up with other fans.
1. Plug fans into power supply-- 8th Picture.
Step 13: Plug In, and Insert Operating System Disk
Now, close up the case, connect the keyboard and monitor, plug the beast into the wall. Press the power button. It should roar to life, and ask you to insert the boot disk. Insert your operating system disk and follow the instructions from there.
Congratulations. You have just created a machine that will do everything you ask of it quickly, and at the highest settings. Now install your programs and have fun!
Step 14: Sources
All links provided were found using the Google search engine. All other information was from my own knowledge.