(An Introduction for Beginners.)
Many people are building computers nowadays so that they can have a better system for their needs. Here’s an introduction to building computers.
What do you need?
We don’t all need the same computer or computer hardware. Depending on the tasks you want your computer to do, you can choose the performance, quality and price range of the computer components you have. Getting the right parts for you guarantees the best performance for the price of your computer.
It’s not always about saving money though. You might want the best performing parts – parts that are probably not included with most stock PCs.
Different users have different needs
There are various types of computer users. Gamers need a fast video card and processor. Graphic Design artists value a high-quality monitor. Video professionals 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 computers is easy and fun
Building computers is probably 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 computers can be, you might not buy another stock PC again!
How do you start?
Decide your needs and your budget.
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:
Typically, these are the computer parts you will need:
The CPU or processor (Central Processing Unit) is the main brain that processes information.
There are two leading 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 more modern 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 a 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.
The motherboard is the main board onto which the other components attach or connect.
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 use only 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 two 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 two 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 two, three, or even four 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 technology to allow for two, three, or four of their cards to run alongside each other. ATI (now AMD) called their technology CROSSFIRE, and NVIDIA called their technology SLI.
3. GPU / Video card
The GPU (graphics processing unit) or video card or graphics card, displays everything you see on the screen.
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 two leading CPU manufacturers, there are also two 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.
4. Hard Drives
Programs and files are installed and stored on hard drives and or solid-state drives.
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.
The memory or RAM allows the computer to temporarily store and remember information, which it can quickly access when required.
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.
6. 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.
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.
The PSU (power supply unit) is the power supply that powers your computer.
Many power supplies are modular. Unused cables that run from a modular PSU to the computer components can be removed or unplugged from the PSU. Having fewer cables 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.
The case or tower is the main housing or frame that everything else sits inside.
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.
9. 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.
You can add more, better, or quieter fans if you want. Just make sure they are the required size for your case.
Like a TV, the monitor displays all of your visual information.
For many of us, the monitor is essential3. 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.
11. (Sound card)
Most motherboards have onboard sound, but many people believe (especially in the past) a separate sound card produces better quality audio.
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.
The keyboard is for typing information, letters, and characters and controlling various things
The mouse is for pointing to and controlling things on your screen.
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.
14. (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.)
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 provided by the OS.
If you’re building your first and only PC, and Windows doesn’t have your motherboard’s ethernet (internet connection) driver, you might have trouble connecting online – if you don’t have a DVD player to access and install that internet driver.
(Drivers are like instructions or code that helps to synchronize hardware with software or software with software.)
15. Operating System
The operating system (OS) is the controlling 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 particular hardware.
16. (Gaming Peripherals)
Gaming peripherals can be inexpensive and fun, adding a level of realistic control to your favorite game or simulator.
Performance & reputation of your computer parts
To find out how good computer parts are, 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.
An extensive 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.
There you have it. Building computers, instead of buying stock computers, is a way to balance your budget and get the type of computer you need.
Let me know in the comments if you’d like to see a video on building computers.