Article 9: Building Your Own Desktop, Part 1

Hey guys, Aaron back again with the Modern Nerd. I’ve been working on a special edition this week, a topic that some of the amateur computer users may be hesitant to tackle by themselves, but putting together your own desktop computer is something that can save you a ton of money, and it’s a ton of fun if you enjoy computers as a hobby.

Computers aren’t all that difficult to understand when you break them down to their components. We’ll examine the parts you need, and what you need to know to make sure everything works together properly. Part 1 will focus on your parts list, and next week in Part 2 I’ll show you how to bring it all together.

Motherboard and Processor – The Heart of the Operation

The motherboard connects everything and gives your processor life. You’ll need to decide what processor you want and how many fancy add-ons you want. New motherboards these days have HDMI outputs, USB 3.0 slots, as well as onboard sound cards, with support for more RAM than you could ever want. Take note of the power pin configuration, whether it’s 20 or 24 pins, and what processors are compatible with your motherboard of choice. A motherboard that will last you for a long time will cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $150, depending on what deals and options you can find.

Your processor must be compatible with the motherboard, but other than that you are free to choose at your discretion. Intel and AMD are the major manufacturers of processors that are available to the public as parts, and the latest and greatest thing in processors is how many cores they have. Intel’s i7, i5, and i3 processors are the current choices, and AMD’s Athlon series are very much comparable, but the benchmark you want to measure by is operating frequency, or the speed. AMD processors run from 2.0 GHz to over 3.0 GHz, while new Intel processors have a wider range, from 1.5 GHz to 3.5 GHz. Generally speaking, a processor around 2.0 GHz will be a good starting point, and for more performance you should start at 3.0 GHz. You can pay anywhere from $50 to $300 for your CPU, all depending on what you want to do with it. The speed of your computer all starts at the processor.

Power Supplies – It.. Is.. ALIVE!!

Next we will need to supply power to your machine. This is a little tricky to get right, but you should choose a power supply based on your processor speed as a good starting point. If you are looking at a CPU under 2.0 GHz, a power supply around 400 Watts should do just fine. More is needed if you want to put a processor around 3.0 GHz in, or if you want a power-intensive graphics card. Remember that more power is always better than less, but you should read the power requirements of your motherboard, graphics card, and any other peripherals. Higher requirement motherboards require 24 pin connections, whereas the more modest boards take 20-pin connections. There is a ton of useful information out there to go on, but don’t hesitate to ask for help if you need it.

Graphics – Who’s holding all the cards now?

Do you need a separate graphics card? It’s a legitimate question that depends on what you need your computer for. Gaming applications, video editing, and multiple monitors all benefit from separate cards. This all comes down to choice, so you will have to decide for yourself. I will say however that you should at least go with something entry level at the minimum, to make sure that videos and programs run smoothly. If you make a decision about a card, be sure that the power supply will be sufficient for it. My current card in my desktop required a power supply upgrade.

RAM – Not the pickup truck

You’ll need RAM to run the computer, and the type of RAM you get will be dependent on the motherboard. DDR2 vs. DDR3 RAM is important to take note of, because you can’t mix the two up. Most new boards use DDR3 RAM; it’s the faster and newer standard. More important than the standard is the amount of RAM you use in your computer. Your computer’s architecture is important because of the way RAM works. A 32-bit operating system can only use up to 4GB of RAM, and even then it’s less than that because of the RAM that is used by the system’s idle processes and can’t be helped. A Windows 7 operating system uses around 2 GB of RAM just to run all of the bells and whistles. I recommend at least 4 GB to run new programs smoothly, my personal desktop runs great on 6. To use more than 4 GB of RAM you’ll need a 64-bit operating system, which is slowly becoming standard. The improved coding architecture is enough to support a virtually unlimited amount of RAM. The limits of the hardware come into play much more so than the 16 Exabytes of RAM limit. That’s 16.7 billion GB for anyone keeping score.

Storage and Optical Drives – A place for all your things

Next you’ll need a hard drive. You get to decide how much space you need. HDD’s are inexpensive, and offer plenty of storage. One terabyte of storage is only around $100. Solid state hard drives offer a speedy alternative, (for more information on this, check out my other article on SSD’s). If you want to put an SSD in your machine and still have plenty of storage, you can just do both. You can just as easily install more than one drive, which is one of the best parts of building your own machine. Nothing comes close to the freedom you get when building your own machine.

Your CD/DVD drive will be used for burning discs, watching movies, and installing programs. If you want to create BluRay movies then you’ll need a specialty drive, which is pretty inexpensive for the utility. You can get a BluRay combo drive for around $70. If all you want is a DVD burner, than you can get one for less than 30.

Extras, Extras…

Here comes the fun part. Do you need a network card to make the machine wirelessly connective? Do you need a Bluetooth connection to your phone to sync your files? How about a separate TV Tuner to record internet TV? All of these extras are available and most internal options will plug into your computer’s expansion slots in the motherboard. Your machine; your call. The most fun part is customizing for your individual needs.

Towers and Peripherals

You’ll need a case for your computer, which is the most intuitive piece on the shopping list. The most important part is to make sure that your motherboard will fit inside your case. Your case needs fans to cool everything, and from there feel free to add cool features like LED’s and transparent panels.

Monitors run the gauntlet from basic to totally over the top, but you can also connect HDMI compatible televisions to your computer if you have the graphics output. Your keyboard and mouse are also aesthetic choices, but basic ones are essential. I won’t ramble too much here; you decide what cool features you want.

Overall, you can save a ton of money for the powerful options you have when you build it yourself. My favorite place online for computer parts is, they often have great deals and amazing shipping offers. Next week I’ll talk about the assembly process, so check back in with me next time. Thanks for reading.

Aaron Krick
Blog Contributor at The Computer Fixer

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