Computers - A General Guide to Building

There are a lot of benefits when it comes to building your own computer. Many people do this for several different reasons.. Some people just do it for fun, others do it for a living, and the rest just build to get maximum performance for a good price. When you build a computer you really can choose what best fit's your needs. This guide should give you an overview of all the essential information to get the best build possible for you.

Within a computer case is all of the essential parts to allow a computer to run.. I will go through a list of all the required parts with a nice summary for each one.

The motherboard is the most important part of your build, it determines what parts you can have and what parts you can upgrade to in the near future. That's why you wanna buy the best mobo you can with lots of features. Even if you don't need those features now, you might need them later, so instead of buying a mobo and then needing to upgrade it in the future, buy a nice one now and save some trouble. Without a mobo your components would not connect to anything. Without a place to connect the components of your computer would not be able to send and receive data. The two most common form factors are ATX,and Mini ITX. Each form factor has different subcategories that either makes them smaller or larger.

XL ATX- The largest ATX factor available
Extended ATX- Slightly larger than Standard ATX
ATX- The most common form factor available. Has a traditional layout as seen below.
Micro ATX- A small version of ATX
Mini ITX- Is an incredibly small form factor for use in applications that need a decent amount of power with a small footprint.
Top Overview

(Image Source: Newegg)

This is a picture of a standard motherboard. It is what most standard ATX motherboards will look like. Let’s go over some of the labels.

8-Pin CPU Power Connector: Exactly what it sounds like. A PSU(Power Supply Unit) will have either an 8-Pin plug or a 4+4 Pin plug that you connect to this socket. This line will provide the power needed to the CPU.
Memory Slots: This is where the memory goes. The reason for the coloring is to help you put your memory in dual channel mode. If you bought a 2x2GB pack of memory you would have 2 sticks totaling 4GB. To allow them to run in their full potential in dual channel mode you would put one stick in the light blue socket and the other stick into the other blue socket. You could choose to use the black socket to if you want. There is more to memory but we will get to that later.
24-Pin ATX Power Connector: This is where the 24-Pin or the 20+4-Pin connector from your PSU would plug into. It provides power to a majority of the components on the motherboard. It supplies power to the memory, front panel indicators, PCI and PCI-E connectors that do not require and additional power source, and all of the rear panel connectors.
CPU Socket: This is where you would insert your compatible processor that you bought. There are many different types of CPU sockets available. We will get to this later.
PCI Express x1 Slots: This slot has uses ranging from sounds cards, wireless cards, even some low power video cards and RAID cards.
PCI Express x16 Slots: This slot is almost exclusively designed for graphics cards. It is the successor of the old AGP slot.
PCI Slots: PCI slots are designed for the same reasons as PCI Express x1 slots.
SATA Connectors: SATA connectors are where you would plug your HDD’s (Hard Drive Disc) and CD/DVD/BR drives.
Rear Panel Overview

(Image Source: Newegg)

IEEE 1394a Port: Just a fancy name for a Firewire port. Uses in audio, video and storage applications.
RJ-45: Fancy name for Ethernet. The Gigabit nomenclature refers that it can support speeds up to 1Gb/s.
Chipset-: Just a standard part of the motherboard that helps components to communicate effectively.
PS/2: Fur use with PS/2 mouse and keyboards
Optical S/PDIF Out- Used in audio applications.
USB 2.0/3.0: Standard connections for mice, keyboards, external sound cards, external storage and many other applications. USB 2 and 3 are backwards compatible. You can plug either device into either socket. But note that if you use a USB 3 device in a USB 2 socket you will not get the full speed of your selected application.
Analog Audio Ports: Standard plugs for audio devices.

(Credit to Psycho Homer & UBA Fatman)

A CPU is another vital piece of the computer construction puzzle. All programs you run on your computer use the power from your CPU to run. In the field of a home desktop there are 2 brands of processors to choose from. Intel and AMD. Each brand offers many solutions at different price points. Since Intel releases processors so often, you never really wanna drop more than 500$ on an Intel processor because better ones will be released for much cheaper. The reason I chose Intel over AMD is because AMD is falling behind in the performance department and also it's more expensive to get more feature rich AMD mobos. (See how it's all about the mobo?)

Intel is the largest processor company in the world. They have been making processors since 1968. As you can see from the above picture the processor does not have pings. When Intel first released Socket 775 in 2004 they stopped using pins on the processors. Instead the motherboard contains the pins which touch the contact points on the processor. This is known as LGA. LGA stands for Land Grid Array. LGA was first designed to allow for a higher density of pin contact points to ensure a stable power connection. It also turned out that the chances of damaging the CPU during handling or installation decreased.

AMD stands for Advance Micro Devices and is the second largest manufacturer of processors in the world. AMD was founded in 1969. Since then they have the number 1 competitor with Intel. They have been trading performance blows with Intel since the 90’s. From the picture above you can tell that AMD is still using pins on the CPU itself for their processors. And will continue to do so for the next generation. AMD does offer LGA chips but they are meant for server applications.

RAM stands for Random Access Memory. Another term for RAM is memory. A single stick of memory is referred to as a DIMM. Which stands for Dual In-line Memory module. In today’s world of computing there are 2 types of memory to know about. DDR2 and DDR3 memory. The “DDR” stands for Double Data Rate. As you may have assumed DDR3 is faster than DDR2. On average it is twice as fast. DDR3 and DDR2 share the same 240-pin count design. This does not mean that they are interchangeable. There are many factors here which do not allow such to happen. As you can see from the image below the placement of the “notch” is not the same. If you were to try to insert DDR2 into a DDR3 slot, or vice-versa, you could potentially physically damage the memory stick and quite possibly the memory slot.

Ram determines your multitasking capability. With ram, it's less about the amount and more about the ram's quality. Safe brands are usually corsair, gskill, kingston, mushkin and patriot. When you buy ram it'll come in packages of something like 2x8gb(2 sticks of 8 giga bytes each) Usually, you wanna get more sticks(For instance, 4x4gb instead of 2x8gb). We do this for a few reasons: If a stick fails, you lose less memory. Also, lower capacity sticks are more stable.

The choice between memory depends on the motherboard you use and how much money you have to spend. Getting a motherboard that supports DDR3 is not much more money than one that supports DDR2. The same goes for the memory itself. But some people are unable to spend extra. So as long as money is not a huge limiting factor you should always pick DDR3 memory and a compatible motherboard.

Graphics Card
Graphics cards are what supply video to your monitor. Graphics card are either NVIDIA or ATI branded. NVIDIA and ATI supply the cards to companies like EVGA, XFX, MSI and others to rebrand, modify and sell them. Everyone needs to have a graphics card (or onboard video). But how good of one you needs depends what applications you run. A person who only uses the internet, video streaming and basic applications such as word processors is not going to need a monstrous graphics card. It would be a waste of resources. Next up are people who do all the above and possibly some graphic designing. Certain applications are able to make great use of a graphics card with rendering and whatnot. There are cards made specifically for graphic workstations but they are far more expensive than their gaming counterparts. And are designed with graphic design in mind which can hinder their performance in areas such as gaming. Next we have the group of gamers. No I do not mean Facebook or any other flash games. Games such as Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Crysis, Metro 2033 and others. These games require a decently powerful graphics card to lay at optimal settings.

There are more factors than just the uses for a graphics card. A giant factor is your monitor’s resolution. A person who uses a resolution of 1024x769 is not going to need an insanely powerful video card. Unless he plans to buy a new monitor that supports larger resolutions. Using a high end graphics card on a small resolution will not let you receive the full benefits that the card has to offer. People who play on larger resolutions such as 1680x1050 and larger are the ones who are going to need more powerful graphics cards.

Another factor in graphics card performance is your processor. If you have a slow processor you could essentially bottleneck your card. This means that your processor does not have enough power to keep up with your video card and you will not be getting your maximum performance.

Hard Drives
All of your data including your Operating System (OS) is stored on your hard drives. The more files you have the more space that tends to be used. You want to have the right balance between HDD capacity and HDD speed. There are to types of storage devices. Traditional Hard Drive Discs (HDD) that use spinning platters and magnets and Solid State Drives which are based off of flash memory.

HDD’s are the most common way we have been storing data for decades. A HDD contains platters. Each platter can hold a certain amount of data depending on the manufacturing process. The fewer and larger the platters are the faster speeds you’re generally going to achieve. The rated Read and Write speeds are not the only factor in a HDD’s performance. These other factors include Average Seek Time, Average Write Time and the average latency in general. These measurements are the amount of time it takes for your HDD to recognize the input. Latencies on HDD’s are measured in milliseconds. Even though the latency can range from 4-11ms it can be a lot faster. The read speeds are an important factor in load times. The faster your HDD can interpret the data the faster you can access data the less time wasted on waiting.

SSD’s are not a totally new breakthrough but an important one. A SSD does not use platters or magnets. It uses flash based memory. The same thing you would find in a flash drive. The SSD is made of many flash chips on a PCB. The flash chips communicate through the built in controller on the SSD. The flash chips are designed to work together which is why they are able to achieve such great speed. Unlike a HDD a SSD contains no moving parts. This is why they have virtually no latency. Resulting in as close to instantaneous response as possible.

One great feature of HDD’s and SSD’s is that you can chain them together. This is called a RAID array. RAID stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks. There are many types of RAID. The more common ones are RAID 0 and RAID 1. In a RAID 0 array you get double the capacity and theoretically double the speed. In reality you do not get linear performance unless you use a quality RAID card. But the speeds are greatly increased. RAID 1 takes the second HDD’s and copies all the data from the main HDD for a backup drive. In a RAID array it must consist entirely of mechanical HDD’s or all SSD’s. You cannot interchange. You can use multiple drives of different sizes though. But if you use different size drives the RAID array will only account for the capacity of the smaller drive. For example I you had a RAID 0 array between a 500GB and a 640GB HDD you would only get 1TB total size. The extra 140Gb would be unusable.

Power Supply
Power Supplies (PSU’s) are what takes the power from the wall and distributes it properly among all of your components. The power from your wall is known as Alternating Current (AC) and the components in your computer use Direct Current (DC) voltage. Past that each individual component has different voltage requirements. Each cable of the PSU regulates the amount of voltage and current the component needs. There are 2 types of PSU’s that you can buy. Modular PSU’s and non-modular PSU’s. The power supply is the 2nd more important part of your build. Why? It protects your delicate computer parts from the high voltage current from the wall. If you get a cheap power supply, it can fail and all your computer parts can get fried. NEVER buy a cheap power supply. The only brand I will ever trust my computer to like that is Corsair. You can use this to find how much power your PC will use. It's the only honest calculator I could find because the others give me high amounts that are not needed.. http://extreme.outervision.com/psucalculatorlite.jsp
You alwasy wanna go 100 watts or more above what you need for upgrade room and so that you have space for when you powersupply gets older and starts giving out less watts.

Before the day of the modular PSU all PSU’s were non-modular. This means that all the cables are connected directly inside the PSU. You cannot remove or add cables based on your need. This in turn could mean that you have many extra cables that you have no use for lying around causing clutter. Or you could run into the problem of not having enough cables.

Modular PSU’s are a godsend. There are fully modular and partially modular PSU’s. A partially modular PSU will have a few essential/common connectors already hard wired into the power supply. A fully modular PSU will not have anything plugged in. You can choose at will which connectors that you are going to have.

When choosing PSU you have to take into account the wattage of the PSU and the Amperage. To get a fairly accurate rating you have to see the recommendations from each component. Due take note that the recommendations on components are overrated. But it is nice to have a buffer.

CPU Cooler
Now, the CPU always comes with a cooler(Unless it's OEM, but it'll say that it's OEM in the product title).. but those coolers aren't the best at dispersing heat. An after market cooler gets you better temperatures which make your hardware last longer. Normally with a high price build I'd recommend water cooling, but since this is your first build, yo do NOT wanna be messing with water around your expensive parts (I've had my share of accidents...). Noctua is pretty much the defacto in fans and air based cooling, so this is a safe bet. When you buy a cooler, you really just need to a pick a brand, figure out if it'll fit in your case and make sure it matches your CPU socket.

A case is a place to store and protect all of your components. Cases come in many different shapes in sizes. Some cases are designed for portability, airflow or even water-cooling. When purchasing a case you must make sure it supports the form factor of your motherboard. There are some features which cases contain that can make your life considerably easier.

In the above you probably see a few features that you may not be accustomed to. One of the nice features is the bottom mounted PSU. Traditionally PSU slots were located at the top of the case. This allowed the cables do dangle below casing clutter and restricting airflow. With a PSU mounted in the bottom it removes the clutter of having dangling wires. Another feature you may notice is the rubber grommets. With this case (Corsair Obsidian 800D) you actually pull the wires through the other sides of the case. Then you re-route them through these grommets. This greatly improves the airflow of a case and adds to appeal.

Now these features are nicer which means they can drive the cost of a case up. You also have to remember that they are not required just a luxury. Just remember when selecting a case to always make sure it supports your form factor.

Operating System
The Operating System is the software that brings all of your components together. It lets your components talk through an underlying interface. The 3 most well known operating systems are Windows, Linux and Mac.

The Windows operating system is by far the most widely accepted OS to date. It is on millions upon millions of personal, business and educational computers around the world. The newest revision of Windows is known as Windows 7. Windows 7 is the successor of the widely unpopular Windows Vista. Windows 7 changed the GUI (Graphic User Interface) overall system stability and performance impact.

Linux is a mature OS based off of Unix. It is a completely free and open source operating system. Linux is the core of many popular distributions such as Ubuntu, Fedora and Arch Linux to name a few.

Mac is a proprietary operating system that was developed for Apple computers. The core of the Mac OSX is Linux. Mac OSX is not meant to run on traditional PC hardware. However there are OSx86 variants that can run off of certain traditional hardware.

One of the big questions about operating systems is to go x86 (32 bit) or x64 (64 bit). At one point in time the support for x64 was extremely limited and severely buggy. But since then the architecture has matured a great deal. There is simply no reason to choose x86 over x64. The chance of you running into an incompatible application is very small. The biggest advantage of x64 is the ability to use more than 4GB of memory. X86 have a limit of 4GB (2GB for Windows 7 Starter) usable. This includes the memory on your graphics card. Which will severely limit your performance on memory intensive applications.

I need to give so much credit to M14 Network and my friend Tanveer Hussain.. A lot of this information came from those two guys. I did do my own editing to this, though. If you guys need any help with builds or anything computer related feel free to let me know!

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