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Building Your Own PC

Wednesday, October 18th, 2006 by | Filed Under: Uncategorized
 
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Building Your Own PC

Part 1

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to build your very own computer? Well, if you’re interested in ever doing that for yourself or if you just want to learn about it, come with me on a computer journey and find out everything you’ve always wondered about! This is just the beginning of a four part series on this topic, so buckle up and enjoy the ride!

You are obviously using a computer if you are reading this, so have you ever thought about what makes a computer tick? Ever wondered what is inside your computer? If you have opened the case to your computer, you have probably been confused and amazed at the same time. It would appear that so many things go into computers and it may look extremely confusing.

Go ahead, open your case and take a peek inside. Don’t let the mess of all the wires and circuit boards scare you away from finding out what is inside your computer. When you get to know the parts that go into a computer, it is actually rather simple. In this article, we will go over the basic building block of all computers, the motherboard. If you have never opened your computer case or seen a motherboard then you’re in luck. The picture below is a motherboard. I colored all over it so you can see what each part is used for. I will discuss a few things about each part below.

This is a motherboard that has been stripped down and has nothing installed on it. Every computer in the world has one similar to this. If you opened the case to your computer, you will probably not be able to see the entire motherboard. There are simply too many things in the way. While it’s okay to move the wires around, don’t overdo it, because you could disconnect something. So, let’s start talking about all the parts to this motherboard.

The CPU and Heatsink

Outlined in a red square with the number 1 shown in the picture above is where your CPU and heatsink reside. Chances are you will not see what the picture above shows, because the heatsink is covering it all up. The heatsink is usually a piece of highly heat conducive metal or copper, with an 8mm fan attached to the top of it. The purpose of the heatsink is to help keep the CPU cool. When your computer is running, the CPU generates temperatures anywhere from 60 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. The heatsink actually keeps the temperature of the CPU around those temperatures. Without the heatsink, the temperatures would be too hot (probably around twice as much) and it could burn your CPU or motherboard. Each motherboard will only support a specific type of CPU and a specific type of heatsink. Usually, you don’t have to worry about getting a compatible heatsink, because it comes as a package deal with most retail CPUs.

RAM

Outlined in green and marked with the number 2 is where the RAM or system memory sits. There are various types of RAM that vary in size and speed, but only a specific type will be compatible with the motherboard.

Floppy and IDE-Device Connectors

Outlined in yellow and marked with the number 3 is where you will connect your IDE-devices. On a typical computer, IDE-devices are a floppy drive, CD ROM drive and the hard drive. You connect these IDE-devices by using an IDE cable, commonly named a ribbon cable. You can see in the picture below why they were given that nickname.

PCI-Express Slots

Outlined in dark blue and marked with the number 4 is where your PCI graphics card will sit. A graphics card is an essential part to any computer. They come in various sizes and designs, offering different features. The picture below shows what a basic PCI graphics card looks like.

PCI Slots

Outlined in light blue and marked with the number 5 is where other PCI devices make a home. The devices you put here can be anything from a networking card to a sound card. These slots are the most versatile slots on the entire motherboard. They can support a wide range of devices.

Rear Panel Connections

Outlined in black and marked with the number 6 is something you should be pretty familiar with. It’s the part of the computer that you connect your input and output devices to. You connect things in their designated slots, such as the keyboard, mouse, printer, Ethernet cord, phone cord and your speaker cords. This is also where the majority of your USB ports are located.

Power Sources

Outlined in brown and marked with the number 7 is where you connect your main power from your power supply. Note that there are two places on this motherboard that need to be connected. The larger one is where the main power source is connected and the smaller one, located near the top left corner, is like a power booster. It just adds a little more power.

Well, there you have it! You now know the seven major parts of a motherboard. There are so many things on the motherboard that we did not discuss, but the parts pointed out are the most important things to know about if you ever want to add or remove a piece of hardware from your computer. When the time comes for you to start building your own computer, these items are the easiest things to install. The rest of the parts cannot be removed or changed and it’s different for each motherboard. In latter articles, we will go into detail about the process involved with installing each and every one of these pieces of hardware. We will also talk about the different kinds of hardware that is available for each piece.

Ready for part 2? Here we go!

Part 2

Finding the right computer case for yourself can be an arduous task. You have so many choices. Whether you’re going for style, flexibility or trying to find the best budget case, it will require some time to sift through all the options. But, what exactly do you need from a computer case?

To answer this question, you have to know what it is you plan to be doing with your computer. If you are into gaming and you don’t want to be bothered with buying and installing a new power supply, you will want a case that comes with at least a 500 watt power supply. If you are a casual user, you should be able to get away with getting a case with at least 350 watts. The maximum wattage of your power supply will directly affect what types and how much hardware you can install in the case.

I don’t know about you, but when I am looking for a computer case, I mainly look for two things in particular: flexibility and room.

This is something you should also consider. If you ever plan on upgrading or changing around parts for whatever reason, it’s always safe to know that you have all the room in the world. The case pictured above will allow you to place five hard drives, two floppy drives and up to four CD/DVD ROM drives. Regardless if the power supply can’t give them all enough power, at least you know that your case is capable of holding that much hardware.

I would like to quickly mention that changing out the power supply is almost the same process for every case. There may be a few minor differences, but even then, the process is very similar. We will discuss this later when we talk about power supplies.

Another thing you need to consider when selecting a case is how much stock cooling it comes with.

This is a picture of an 8mm fan that is attached to the case. Different cases will come with a different amount of fans. More and more now, cases are being sold with only one fan, which is usually mounted somewhere on the left or ride side door. The only difference is that they have slots where you can install more. The number of fans a case is capable of holding may not be very apparent by looking at a picture. Some fan slots could be hidden by rack mounts or other objects. It’s best to get a good detailed specification list of the case to get the exact amount of fan slots.

Fans come in all different shapes, sizes and colors. Just keep in mind that the fans that have LED lights in them will generate extra heat and use more power from your power supply. I wouldn’t suggest placing fans in all available slots in your case. On average, you will only need about three. Depending on the design of the case, you may need more or less. Something else to consider when choosing how many fans you want to put in your case is noise. Each fan will generate noise. If you want a quiet computer, use fewer fans. However, use at least two fans to help keep your computer at a cool temperature. If your computer is getting too hot, it may not be stable enough to run for long periods of time. You will be able to tell if your computer is getting too hot if it is frequently rebooting.

All fans near the top of your case should be blowing air out. This will create a wind tunnel to force all the hot air out through the top of the case and keep cool air inside the majority of the case. Any fan you buy can be installed to either blow air in or blow air out. They are all universal. If you are not good enough at figuring it out by simply looking at the fan to decide which way will blow air in or out, remember that a counter-clockwise rotation blows air out and a clockwise rotation blows air in.

Well, there you go. An introduction to building your own PC. Make sure you stay tuned for parts 3 and 4 tomorrow, because we are going to discuss choosing and installing the right motherboard and more. You don’t want to miss it!

Click here for parts 3 and 4 to keep going!

~ Tony Coffee

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