Building computers

(An Introduction for Beginners) Computer parts and monitor

Many people build computers so that they can have a better system for their needs. Here's an introduction to building computers.

What do you want and need from a computer?

We don't all need the same computer, parts or components. Depending on the tasks you want your computer to do, you can choose the quality and price range of the computer components you have. This guarantees the best performance for the price of your computer.

Having said that, it's not always about saving money. You might want the best performing parts, parts that are probably not included with most stock PCs.

Gamers - people who play computer games - usually want a fast video card and processor.

Graphic Design artists might require an expensive monitor.

And video professionals might need a fast processor and lots of memory.

Some people want the best, the fastest, the latest, the quietest, or even just the cheapest.

Building a computer is easier than you think. It doesn't require any soldering or special skills, because you simply plug, screw or connect the components together.

After realizing how simple and rewarding building a PC can be, you might not buy another stock PC again!

How do you start?

First decide your needs and your budget.

Why do you want a PC? Are you replacing an old one? Why? What's wrong with the old one? What will the benefits of having a new one be?

Research

You will need to research PC parts, but if you like window shopping online, it can be plenty of fun. It's all about your needs, the parts to do the job, price, performance, and compatibility.

The parts you need:

CPU

The CPU or processor (Central Processing Unit) is the main brain that processes information.

CPU / Computer Processor - Building computers

There are 2 main CPU manufacturers. Intel and AMD. Intel CPUs and AMD CPUs are different. They have a different connecting pin configuration and therefore require motherboards with the appropriate SOCKET type for those pins to attach. Because of this, manufacturers make motherboards that cater to either an AMD CPU or an Intel one.

As the years progress, Intel and AMD produce newer CPUs that require a newer and different socket type. The motherboard manufacturers then make the appropriate motherboards to cater to these latest socket types.

There are many types of CPU available for purchase. Some have more cores (like brains or engines) that allow for multiple tasks to be done at the same time, which helps to speed up workflow or get things done more quickly.

Many CPUs have built-in graphics engines too, so you might not need to buy a separate video card for your PC - if your video needs are on the less intensive side.

Motherboard

The motherboard is the main board onto which the other components attach or connect.

Z77X-UP7 Motherboard - Building computers

After deciding what kind of CPU suits your needs, you will need a motherboard that will run it.

You can choose a motherboard first and then the CPU to go with it. It's up to you.

When deciding on a motherboard, we have a few things to consider.

A. How big do you want your computer to be? Motherboards come in various sizes.

B. How many CPUs do you need? Most people only need one, and most motherboards are designed for one CPU. But some are designed for two.

C. How many graphics cards (GPUs) are you going to need? Most people only need one, but many motherboards can run up to 4.

D. How many PCI slots do you need, for other cards like a TV Tuner card, for example?

Many motherboards can support up to 2, 3, or 4 graphics cards at the same time.
However, you can't use 2 different GPU manufacturers together. Ie. You can't have one AMD GPU, and one NVIDIA GPU plugged into the same motherboard at the same time.

Edit: More recently, you can have 2 manufacturers' cards in the same system. It is possible with DirectX 12's Explicit Multi-GPU mode, along with the appropriate in-game support.

Most people only require one graphics card for their system. Some gamers, however, like to have 2, 3, or even 4 cards connected, to try to improve their graphics performance or frame rates (fps: frames per second) when playing games. For these people, it's necessary to find a motherboard capable of holding this many cards.

Some years ago, the GPU manufacturers each developed their own technology to allow for 2, 3, or 4 of their cards to run connected together. ATI (now AMD) called their technology CROSSFIRE, and NVIDIA called their technology SLI. These terms are still used today.

GPU / Video card

The GPU (graphics processing unit) or video card or graphics card, displays everything you see on the screen.

GPU / Graphics card / Video card - Building computers

Now, you might not need a video card if your CPU has integrated graphics, and your video needs are on the less intensive side. If, however you want to play the latest games in high quality or produce or edit lots of videos, you would be advised to get a decent video card.

Just like there are 2 main CPU manufacturers, there are also 2 main GPU manufacturers. NVIDIA and AMD.

(It used to be NVIDIA and ATI, but AMD bought ATI.)

Differing from CPUs, GPUs share the same connector type, so they are compatible with most motherboards.

There are many types of video cards for various budgets, each with different levels of performance. The more powerful the card, the more expensive it is usually. You can check product reviews, and make sure that any card doesn't get too noisy under pressure. The more they're pushed, the faster the fans spin to keep them cool. Some cards run quieter than others.

Hard Drives

Programs and files are installed and stored on hard drives and or solid-state drives.

Computer Hard Drive - Building computers

For data storage, we need traditional hard drives (HDDs) or Solid-state drives (SSDs). Solid-state drives don't have any moving parts, are less likely to fail, and are faster than traditional hard drives. By faster - we are talking about the time it takes to read or write data, open and close apps, and start and shut down your computer..

When choosing our drives, we need to have enough room for the operating system (like Windows), apps, music, videos, games, and any other files you expect to install. Fortunately, you can have quite a few hard drives or SSDs in one system to store whatever you want.

When choosing the SSD or hard drive, just weigh-up capacity, read and write speeds, and reputation.

Memory

The memory or RAM allows the computer to temporarily store and remember information, which it can quickly access when required.

computer memory - Building computers

Memory or RAM is pretty cheap nowadays, and it's probably advisable to get at least 8 gigabytes of it. You will need to check which type of RAM is compatible with your motherboard.

If you are going to be overclocking, then you might look into getting higher-performing sticks of RAM for your system.

CPU Cooling

Depending on your requirements, you might benefit from a powerful 3rd party cooling solution like this Noctua NH-D14 CPU air cooler. Or you could go for liquid cooling.

Noctua NH-D14 - CPU Cooler - Image supplied with permission by Bit-tech.net - Building computers

Most CPUs come with a fan and heatsink to keep the CPU cool and stop it from overheating. If you are looking to overclock your PC, or if you live in a hot climate, or if you want a very quiet system fan, then you could look into a 3rd party higher-end cooling solution that can do a better job at keeping your CPU cooler. The two most common methods of cooling are air cooling or water cooling. Both of these methods have a variety of cooling solutions for different budgets.

Some fans have colored LEDs, which are for visual effect. They are a convenient way of checking that the fans are turning properly, though.

PSU

The PSU (power supply unit) is the power supply that powers your computer.

PSU Power Supply Unit - Building computers

Many power supplies are modular. The cables that run from a modular PSU to the computer components can be removed or unplugged from the PSU - if they are not being used. This reduces clutter inside the case and helps to improve airflow, which helps with cooling.

Make sure that the power supply you buy is powerful enough to handle the computer you are building. How many GPU's will you have? Will you have lots of fans, water cooling pumps, hard drives, CD drives, and other powered devices? There are a few sites online which can help you calculate your power needs.

Case

The case or tower is the main housing or frame that everything else sits inside.

Computer Case - Building computers

There are many types of cases for all tastes, portability needs, or space requirements.

Make sure that there is enough space inside to house everything while having plenty of room for good airflow around the components.

Case Fans

Most computer cases come with one or two fans. They provide good airflow into and out of the case - to keep everything inside cool and prevent components from overheating.

Computer fan - Building computers

You can add more, better, or quieter fans if you want. Just make sure they are the required size for your case.

Monitor

Like a TV, the monitor displays all of your visual information.

Computer Monitor - Building computers

For many of us, the monitor is important. It's good to consider panel type and picture quality for designing, viewing angle for convenience, screen responsiveness for gaming, and screen size for screen real estate or multitasking. It's worth taking your time and finding the right monitor for your setup. You might consider buying two or more monitors, depending on their sizes and your needs.

(Sound card)

Most motherboards have onboard sound, but many people consider (especially in the past) a separate sound card to produce better quality audio.

Computer Sound Card - Building computers

Nowadays, the onboard sound quality on motherboards is good enough for some, and those wishing to improve their audio experience are questioning the advantages of sound cards and their promise of producing clear noise-free audio.

If you're producing audio for others to hear, or if you are building a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), you might consider researching other audio interfaces, or digital-to-analog converters (DACs) - depending on your needs.

Keyboard

The keyboard is for typing information, letters, and characters and controlling various things

Computer keyboard - Building computers

Mouse

The mouse is for pointing to and controlling things on your screen.

Computer mouse - Building computers

You probably know what a keyboard and mouse are. There are hundreds of different types, for all budgets and styles.

Many keyboards have buttons for controlling the music and other media on your PC. Many mice have extra configurable buttons for gaming or other functions. You can check the variety of options available - especially if you have particular accessibility requirements or preferences.

DVD Drive

Although not necessary, and avoided by many PC builders nowadays, a DVD drive is used by some people to install software that comes on a DVD. (You can still use it to listen to CDs, watch DVDs and record and save data to DVD-Rs.)

DVD Drive - Building computers

Bear in mind that many Operating Systems and programs bought from a high street store, still come on a DVD, although Windows 10 now comes on a USB flash drive.

Regular builders know that new motherboards and other components come boxed with their drivers supplied on a DVD. They also know that it's usually sensible to ignore the contents of the DVD and get the latest and newest versions of software straight from the manufacturer's website.

An Operating System like Windows can supply the minimum driver requirements to get our PCs up and running, but not everything is guaranteed to be supplied by the OS.

So, if you're building your first and only PC, and your motherboard's ethernet (internet connection) driver only exists on the supplied DVD, then you might have trouble connecting to the internet - if you don't have a DVD player with which to access and install that internet driver.

(Drivers are like instructions or code that helps to connect hardware with software or software with software.)

Operating System

The operating system (OS) is the main software and interface on your computer. Most people who build a PC install Windows 10. Windows 7 is no longer supported. If you want to go the free route, you can install one of the many versions of Linux. You might be able to install macOS if you have very specific hardware.

Operating System - Building computers

Security

A good security app is necessary to keep your PC healthy and secure. You can find out more about security apps on the Free Security Apps page, and keep your PC in good shape on the Computer maintenance page.

Gaming Peripherals

Gaming peripherals can be inexpensive and fun, adding a level of realistic control to your favorite game or simulator.

Logitech Extreme 3D - Gaming joystick - Building computers

Performance & Reputation of your computer parts

To find out about the performance and reputation of your computer parts, you can visit hardware sites or online shopping sites that have tests or customer reviews.

A site like Tom's Hardware offers performance charts for CPUs, GPUs, and other components.

A large online shopping site like Newegg has lots of customer reviews for all of its products.

PCPartPicker.com has guides and compatibility charts for computer components and builds.

With these types of resources available, plus many online forums, you can easily focus in on the ideal parts for your computer.

Summary

There you have it. Building a computer is a way to balance your budget and get the type of computer you need, and it's probably easier than you think.

Let me know in the comments if you'd like to see a video on building computers.

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