Building Your Own PC
Ready for more on building your very own computer? We’ll get started in just a second, but first, I have good news for you today! I will be back next week to bring you even more information about completing this project. For example, we’ll talk about choosing and installing a hard drive and we’ll tie up some loose ends. So, make sure you come back next week and finish this computer journey with me. Okay, next up are parts 7 and 8. Here we go!
If you have already chosen a motherboard, read the documentation for the supported RAM. Each motherboard was built with a specific type of RAM in mind. Although you can get unsupported RAM for your motherboard, it will not always work. It’s best to stick with RAM that your motherboard fully supports. Before we get into which RAM or how much RAM you should get, let’s talk a little about how RAM works.
The purpose of RAM is to store information that your processor needs at any given moment. When you run an application, all the program information has to be loaded to the processor. All of this programming information is stored on your hard drive. While the hard drive and the processor can send and receive this information freely, it isn’t very efficient. When your processor needs to access files on your hard drive, it sends a request for that information across the motherboard bus. Once the request gets to the hard drive, the hard drive will then find the information and send it back to the processor. Now, the processor is not a storage device. It can only store very small bits of information at a time while it processes other information. Even the Notepad program has too much programming code to be completely stored on the processor. Since the code needed at any given time depends on what the user needs to do, data will constantly be transferred from the hard drive to the processor. This process takes anywhere from five to 30 seconds. If you think about it, that is really a long time in terms of the speed of your computer.
This is where RAM comes into play. RAM takes all of the programming code needed to operate Notepad (for example) and stores it for the processor. Data transfer between RAM and the processor is a lot faster than data transfer between the hard drive and the processor. When the processor needs to access data on the RAM, it takes (depending on the type of RAM) about five to 30 nanoseconds. If you’re not familiar with time measurements, a nanosecond is one-one billionth of a second. That is an extremely vast improvement, time wise, over data transfer between the hard drive and the processor.
This has almost everything to do with the amount of RAM you have also. Say for instance, you only have 512 MB of RAM. You run Notepad and let’s say it takes up 512 MB of space (it probably doesn’t, I am just using this as an example to get the point across). Now, if you run any other application, it can’t be loaded into RAM, because Notepad is occupying all the space. What happens is the processor is forced to go to the hard drive to get the other information. This will slow your computer down drastically.
So, when shopping for RAM, keep in mind how much RAM your commonly run applications use and buy accordingly. In today’s market, 1 GB is the going normal, but you can get as much or as little as you want depending on your motherboard. There are a few catches to this though.
Not having enough RAM will cause your computer to run extremely slow or not at all. Chances are, your operating system alone needs at least 256 MB of RAM to operate. On the other side of the fence, having too much RAM can be a problem as well. Anything over 3 GB of RAM may cause problems with your computer. If your motherboard supports up to 4 GB of RAM and you install 4 GB, you will see that your computer will only detect a little over half of your actual RAM. This is because your computer will reserve a certain amount of RAM for specific pieces of hardware. It’s smart enough to decide how much RAM is too much. When you have “too much” RAM, your computer will actually start using the excess RAM for dedicated pieces of hardware. If your computer will boot with “too much” RAM, go for it. It isn’t hurting anything.
Installing RAM is the same process for any type of RAM you could ever get. No matter which type or how much, it is all installed the same way. Once you have double checked the RAM type supported by your motherboard and purchased them, you are ready to install it.
The picture above is the spot on the motherboard where you will be installing your RAM. Notice the notch circled in red. Use this as a guide to help you figure out the orientation of your RAM. RAM will only fit into the slot one way. If you try to force it, you may end up breaking the RAM. Each individual slot is called a DIMM. Also take notice of the white tabs on the ends of each of the DIMMs. Before you install the RAM, you must press down on the tabs to open them. Since there are several types of RAM and several types of motherboards, there would be no way for me to go over how each and every one will look. For the sake of simplicity, I will be showing you how to install PC3200 or DDR 400 RAM. Besides, it’s basically the same for every other type of RAM and motherboard.
The above picture is that of two DDR 400 sticks of RAM. I have circled the notches in red to make it easier to identify. When you are installing the RAM, you want the notches on the RAM and the notches on the DIMM to match up. This ensures that you have properly seated the RAM in the correct orientation. As you press down on the RAM to snap it into place, the white tabs should snap into the outer notches of the RAM, as indicated in the picture below.
Be sure to read your motherboard documentation on which DIMMs you need to use. RAM will only work in certain DIMMs. If you install the RAM on the wrong DIMM, your computer may not boot. So, double and triple check documentation for which DIMMs you should place your RAM onto.
In the next article, we are going to talk about graphics and sound cards. Also, just to let you know, there is going to be quite a bit of information to go over in the next few articles, so get ready to do some reading and possibly more research. Let’s go!
Whether you plan on playing games or running a computer workstation, you are going to need some sort of a graphics card with your computer. There are several to choose from and your choices are just about endless. They can cost anywhere from $20 to $800 or more. Picking the right one for your computer can be a daunting task. It’s often easier just to keep a budget in mind when shopping for one. In today’s market, there are generally three major types of graphics: AGP, PCI-Express and on board.
You may have noticed that in the first part of this series, you will not find anything about an AGP slot anywhere in the article. I didn’t mention this, because AGP graphics cards are soon to be extinct. Within the next few months, you may not even be able to purchase them anymore. Despite that fact, there are still a few of them out there on the market and a few manufactures are still making them, so they still deserve to be mentioned. Describing how it works and how to install it would be irrelevant, because this entire article series is based on using either on board graphics or a PCI-Express graphics card. Just know that the main reason AGP graphics cards are being phased out is because they are slow compared to the faster PCI-Express graphics cards. So, when searching for a graphics card, make sure your motherboard supports it. Double check if your motherboard needs an AGP graphics card or a PCI-Express graphics card.
PCI-Express graphics cards are the future of computer graphics and they are widely available all over the Internet. Finding one that suits your needs can be a difficult task if you do not know what to look for. The important specs you need to look for when searching for a graphics card are how much RAM it has, the core clock speed and which types of graphics programming it can handle. Without going into specifics of graphics programming, to find the one right for you, simply check the system requirements for the games you plan on playing. If you do not intend on playing games, then this specification would be irrelevant to you. Let’s take a look at what a basic graphics card looks like.
I have pointed out several sections of the graphics card to help you get a general idea of what makes up a graphics card. You do not need to concern yourself too much with any of it, except for the red and black squares. The connections outlined in red and black are the most important things you need to pay attention to. Most graphics cards come with both, but sometimes they will only come with one or the other. The connection outlined in red is a DVI port. The connection outlined in black is a VGA port. DVI is newer than VGA and it’s said that DVI is better than VGA, but the visual difference is so small, it doesn’t really matter. Some will swear by DVI, saying it is a lot better, but I personally can’t tell any difference whatsoever. So, the choice is yours. DVI or VGA. Either way, you can purchase converter adapters for both. Either of these connection ports are what your monitor will be connected to. If you are looking to save about $10, make sure your monitor is able to connect to it without the need for the adapter. When you buy a retail graphics card, it will most likely come with an adapter anyway. They will look like something similar to this:
No matter which type of graphics card you choose, make sure your motherboard will support it.
On Board Graphics
On board graphics is basically a graphics processor integrated onto the motherboard. It is a small chip about the size of a normal processor.
While this type of graphics may have trouble running some of the most recent graphic intense games, it will do for those of you who do not plan on playing games that often. The best thing about on board graphics is that it is considerably cheaper. You will also not have to worry about installing it, because it comes on your motherboard. The choices for on board graphics are very slim. There are currently only three or four different types of on board graphics that motherboard manufactures use. All types offer the same amount of performance, so it really doesn’t matter which you want to use. Just keep in mind that if you plan on playing graphic intense games, you will have to buy a graphics card of some sort.
Sound cards offer a wide range of features. Some offer more than others. The most important thing you need to consider when looking for a sound card is how big of a speaker system you plan on using. The size of speaker systems can range anywhere from headphones to eight or more speakers. Depending on the speakers you choose, you will have to make sure that your sound card can handle them. The power of sound cards is often measured by how many speakers they can handle. A basic speaker system consisting of two speakers and a subwoofer is said to be a 2.1 surround sound speaker system. That is the way that all computer speaker systems are rated. Simply take the number of speakers and add a .1 to the end, if it includes a subwoofer. So, a speaker system with four speakers and one subwoofer is a 5.1 surround sound speaker system. If you choose to go this route, make sure your sound card can support a 5.1 surround sound speaker system.
And that’s that. Like I said before, I will be back next week for more computer fun, so make sure you stay tuned. In the next article, we will go over the procedures for installing both a sound card and a graphics card.
Click here  to continue with parts 9 and 10!
~ Tony Coffee