How Do I Build a Computer Anyway?

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“I bought a Dell computer, and I understand that overclocking it is either impossible or close to it. So I want to build a new computer specifically for overclocking. I’ve added RAM, or a new video card, to my computer before, but that’s all the experience I have with computer innards.”

If that is you, this article was written for you. I wrote this article for all the people who love computers, but want to build a new one and don’t know how. This is more of a starting point than a “How-To” – it covers the “What parts do I need” and “How do I know which parts to buy” subjects.

Ask yourself the following questions:

Do I want to go with Intel, or go with the increasingly popular AMD choice?

There is much debate in this area, and I’m sorry to say that only you can decide which is best for you. The best advice I can give is go with whatever you feel is best for you after heavy research.

How do I want to cool the CPU?

If you decide to use standard forced air cooling, you need a heatsink and fan combination designed for your CPU. If you need a heatsink recommendation, please ask others in the Forum; they will know what’s hot (era . . . . effective at cooling) and what’s not.

If you decide to go with liquid cooling, you will need a waterblock designed for your CPU, a pump (and a reservoir if the pump is a submersible type), a radiator, a fan for the radiator, and some tubing. Again, check out the Forum to find what the good stuff is.

What type of RAM should I use?

You may have some old PC100 or PC133 RAM that you want to use. If you chose a P4, RDRAM is the way to go (as of the time of writing this, it is the only way to go). If you chose a P3, Celeron, Athlon, or Duron, DDR is the best choice (as of the time of writing this, motherboards for this RAM are not yet available – sit tight).

Which motherboard do I get?

Choose one that is compatible with the CPU and RAM you already chose to use. Look for one that you think will be upgradeable in the future. PCI slots, and lots of ’em, are your best bet. Don’t buy motherboards with on-board video (unless cost is a BIG factor, or you like crappy video with pathetic frame rates).

Some motherboards may feature on-board audio; some sound good, others sound like excretions that are birthed from an orifice in the lower part of your anatomy. Unless you know someone with the motherboard in question (or a motherboard with the same audio chipset) to test the audio quality, don’t buy these motherboards. Last, I recommend a motherboard that supports the fastest, current industry-standard hard drive interface (right now, ATA100).

Which case should I get?

Choose a case that conforms to the standards of your motherboard. The P4 motherboards may require an ATX 2.03 or higher standard case with ATX 12V power supply – check the motherboard’s manual (available at the manufacturer’s website) for more information.

Look for a case that has, or can accommodate, multiple fans. Current CPU’s are emitting large amounts of heat; inadequately cooled systems suffer stability problems and don’t overclock as well. Many overclockers are choosing cheaper cases with little fan provisions and modifying them with additional fan intakes and exhausts, commonly known as “blow-holes”.

If your wallet is light, or you pride yourself on your handiness, this may be the route for you. If you choose to use liquid cooling, I recommend buying a full tower case to fit everything in.

Which video and sound card?

If you plan on gaming with this system, get one that features 3D acceleration (OpenGL, Direct Draw, and Direct 3D). Currently Nvidia is the speed king. ATI cards currently have a richer feature set and slightly better DVD hardware assistance. 3dfx has sold its core assets to Nvidia; product support for these cards is questionable in the future. I’m recommending that you don’t buy a 3dfx graphics card unless product support becomes a reality.

Be sure to get a hold of a sound card too (unless the motherboard features on-board audio). The Sound Blaster Live “Value” is a great card at a good price. A good alternative is a YAMAHA four channel audio card.

What about drives? What are my choices?

When contemplating which hard drive to purchase, check to see how much space you have used on your current computer’s hard drive and then give yourself an additional 50-100%. Be sure to get a hard drive that supports the fastest, current industry standard interface (as of the time of writing they it is ATA/100, and Ultra SCSI 2 Wide 160).

You will need a floppy disk drive; they’re pretty much all the same – just pick one on price. CD-ROM drives are required – get the fastest one you can find. Some consumers may opt for a DVD-ROM drive; if you like movies purchase one of these instead of a CD-ROM drive.

If you choose a SCSI hard drive and a motherboard without a SCSI controller, you will need a SCSI controller card. Many controller cards will not like elevated PCI bus speeds. Seek help in the Forum on choosing which controller to purchase.

What can I scavenge from my Dell (or Compaq, Gateway, etc.)?

Of course, you will need all that stuff that’s not inside the case in order to take full advantage of the stuff inside the case.

Here you have to be careful. In their own sneaky way, sometimes the name brands use components that are non-standard. For example, I have seen Compaq power supplies that use non-standard plugs. Almost all the time, however, hard drives, floppies, CD ROMS, third party video, sound and modem cards can be used in another system.

The problem you may have with peripheral cards is that the drivers may not be included with your system. As long as you can identify the card’s manufacturer, you can get drivers off their websites.

Here is where I cut and run. Their are other tutorials out there that cover system assembly – seek and ye shall find. The one piece of advice I am willing to offer is this:

“Don’t plug stuff in where it doesn’t fit”

Duh! If at any point this tutorial becomes pathetically out of date, drop me a line and I’ll get to work on a revision. So remember, women might not find you handsome, but they sure will find you handy.

Jeff Evans (Forum Senior Member)


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