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Building Your Own PC

Building Your Own PC

Are you ready for some more computer knowledge? I thought you might be. I’ve been getting some good responses from these articles and it’s great to know I’ve been able to help. Okay, let’s keep going, full force forward!

Part 5

Choosing the Right CPU

There are basically two main brands of processor manufactures: AMD and Intel. Both companies make really good processors and the performance difference between the two is so small that you will not be able to tell which processor is better. This article isn’t going to focus on which brand is better, but rather, it is going to describe what really matters when it comes to buying a processor for your computer.

The first thing you have to consider when choosing a processor is what you are going to be doing on your computer. If you don’t play games that often, or at all, you will end up saving a lot of money by buying an older processor. However, if your intentions are to build a new computer that can play all the recent graphics intense games, be prepared to spend a little extra cash on a better processor.

The next thing you need to consider is how much you will be using your computer. The more you use your computer, the more you will be doing on it. If you only plan on using your computer for browsing the Web, checking your e-mail and running a few office applications, then you can get away with spending no more than $25 to $80 for everything you need. Knowing how often you are going to use your computer will help you decide how powerful of a processor you will need. If you only spend a few hours a week on your computer, it would be a waste of your money to get the fastest processor available. Browsing the Internet, checking e-mails and running office applications are not very demanding on any computer.

As I said before, if you plan on playing graphics intense games, you will be spending quite a bit more on a processor. Some of the newest games on the market today require at least a minimum of a 2.0 GHz or higher in processing speed. The prices for these processors usually start at around $100. Before we talk more about what to look for in your processor, let’s talk about what really matters in all the mumbo jumbo specification lists you will be seeing when looking for a processor.

Processor Specifications

The typical specifications that you will see when searching for a processor are: Brand, series, model type, socket type, core type, operating frequency, FSB, L1 and L2 cache and a few others. The most important ones to look at are the FSB, the operating frequency and the socket type.

Socket Type

For obvious reasons, the socket type must be looked at first. It has to be of a socket that your motherboard supports. If it isn’t, you will have to either choose a different motherboard or a different processor. There are several different types of sockets, but the only reason it matters for the average users is for motherboard compatibility.


FSB stands for front side bus speeds. It is a unit of measurement that will tell you how fast your computer can send information across your motherboard. This number is measured in MHz (megahertz), usually. If you plan on using your computer for surfing the Web or running office applications, you will be able to get by with a FSB of around 533 MHz. I wouldn’t go any lower than that, because it is extremely hard to find a processor with a lower FSB speed. 533 MHz is really all the speed you need for doing your online and office applications. For a gaming computer however, you will want the FSB to be as high as possible. Whatever you use your computer for, the FSB is the determining factor in how fast information is passed through your motherboard.

Operating Frequency

The operating frequency is what determines how fast your processor sorts and processes information. Think of it as solving a complex math problem. The faster the operating frequency is, the faster you will get an answer. Operating frequencies today are measured in GHz (gigahertz). This is like a unit of electronic speed measurement. The higher the number, the faster the processor.

Operating Frequency and FSB Working Together

These two “specs” work hand in hand in deciding how fast your computer operates as a whole. The processor is responsible for solving problems, running the code for applications you run and sorting information. After the processor has done its task, it then passes the information through the motherboard at the FSB speed. However, keep in mind that motherboards also have an FSB speed. If your processor’s FSB is faster than your motherboard’s FSB, you will create what we call a bottleneck. This bottleneck of information will potentially slow your computer down. If your processor is sorting the information at high speeds and trying to pass it through the motherboard and the motherboard is already “full” of information, the information will have to wait for an open spot before it can be passed.

Once again, do not get too worked up over FSB speeds. Motherboards and socket types generally make it work. No matter what processor you choose, the FSB speeds are typically the same. Faster processors require faster motherboards. This helps avoid creating bottlenecks of information and will keep your computer running smooth.

If this is still confusing for you, then just keep something in mind. For the average user who uses a computer for browsing or running office applications, stick with an FSB of 533 MHz or higher and an operating frequency of 1.2 GHz or higher. For gamers, you will typically want at least 800 MHz of FSB and an operating frequency of at least 2.0 GHz.

Your last choice in picking a CPU is whether you want an OEM processor or a retail processor. The biggest issue in buying a retail or OEM version is price and packaging. The OEM version of processors cost anywhere from $5 to $50, which is less than the retail version. If this is your first time installing a processor, I would highly recommend getting a retail, boxed processor. There are several reasons for this.

The first is that the retail boxed version of any processor comes with everything you need, including a heatsink and thermal paste already applied to it. OEM processors are simply just the processor in a small cardboard box. OEM processors come with no documentation on how to install it. Retailed versions of processors come with the documentation. As I said before, it would be wise to invest in the retailed version, because if you do not understand how to install the heatsink and processor, based on what is written in the next article, the documentation supplied with the retail version of the processor will go into a lot more exact information on how to install it.

And that brings us to the next article where we will go through the detailed process of installing a processor and a heatsink to your motherboard. I’m not done yet, so keep on going with me. We’re just getting to the good parts now!

Part 6

Take Extreme Caution

This is possibly the most risky part of building your computer. If you do not seat the processor into the socket properly, you could run the risk of bending a pin. Bending a pin on the processor could either cut the performance in a third or render it useless. So, be extremely careful when you are installing it! I build computers for a living and I have bent more than my share of processor pins. It’s really easy to bend them and it’s almost impossible to tell if the pin is bent in some situations. You do not want your processor looking like this:

For the most part, no matter which processor you choose, the installation process will be the same. The purpose of this article is to give you a basic idea of how the installation process will go. When you buy a retail version of a processor, it comes with documentation on how to install it correctly. I urge you to follow those directions first and only come here for reference. Since most processors are different, I can’t go into how to install each and every processor on the market. Instead, I’ll simply go over the general procedure on how to install an AMD Athlon processor with a heatsink. Use this article at your own risk. I, in no way, will be responsible for you bending pins!

Installing the CPU

Enough documentation comes with your CPU to keep you busy reading for awhile. Regardless of what is written here, read your documentation! Here is a screen shot of what a typical new age CPU looks like.

This may seem a little overwhelming because of all the tiny parts, but it isn’t that difficult. Take note of the small triangle located on the back picture of the CPU. Now, let us take a look at what this processor fits into, the motherboard socket.

In order to find the correct orientation of the processor, you have to locate a small, inset triangle on the socket. It can be a little difficult to see or find. Be sure to check your motherboard documentation before you proceed. Once you find it, simply line the triangle up on the back of the processor with the triangle on the socket.

Before we install it however, you have to lift up the little black lever. All sockets are different and the lever may be black or silver or any color that the manufacturer chooses. Just remember that it must be lifted up, as far as it will go, before you try to seat the CPU into the socket. When seating the processor into the socket, double check to see if the two triangles are matched up and make sure the lever is completely up. There is only one correct orientation that the processor will fit correctly into. If you follow the documentation supplied with the processor and motherboard, you should have no problems doing this.

Once they are lined up, give your CPU a little push to make sure it is seated all the way. Once again, be sure to double check this. It’s often rather difficult to tell if the processor is in all the way or not. If your eye sight isn’t very good, invest in a magnifying glass of some sort.

After you are sure it’s in there correctly, slowly lower the lever. It will take a little pressure to push it back down, especially with a brand new motherboard. Don’t worry if you hear a small squeak noise, it’s very common. Voila! You have installed a CPU! It wasn’t that hard, was it?! Now, you’re not quite done yet. We still have to install a heatsink.

The above picture is that of a basic heatsink. It consists of a metal “block” used to conduct heat, a small 8mm fan and a few wires. Heatsinks come in different sizes and shapes, but if you get a retail processor, you will most likely get one that looks like the above picture.

Now, you may have noticed a black square mount surrounding your socket. This is where the heatsink mounts to. There are notches, circled in red, in which the heatsink bracket needs to line up with.

In the pictures above, you can see how the notches of the socket hook onto the heatsink. The tool used is a flat head screw driver. There is an inset space on the heatsink clamp specifically for it. There may or may not be a slot for the screwdriver on both sides of the bracket. If it is only on one side, you will want to start with the side that doesn’t have it.

Use the screwdriver for the other side. It will take quite a bit of pressure to get it to snap on there correctly. Apply enough downward pressure and it should snap into place. Congratulations, you have just installed the heatsink and we only have one last thing to hook up, which is the power connector for your heatsink.

On most motherboards, the power connection is near the socket and it’s often labeled like in the picture above. You can see that it’s not too far away from the socket and it’s labeled on the motherboard as well. This applies to nearly all motherboards.

Now that you have done the most difficult part of building a computer, the rest is down hill. Everything else is simple compared to the last few articles. In the next article, we will look into which RAM you need and how much you will need.

Make sure you come back once again tomorrow as I finish up this article series. We’ll cover the last pieces of information you need to know to complete your computer project. Don’t miss out!

Click here [1] to see parts 7 and 8 to keep on going!

~ Tony Coffee