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Selecting the Parts for Building a Computer

A good friend is coming to visit soon and he is bringing his two teenage sons. The youngest has expressed an interest in building his own computer so we’re going to spend some time discussing the process. Since I was originally going to be preparing some notes for us to discuss, I thought I’d just put them in a blog post so that all of my loyal readers can benefit.

While I am going to discuss the process for selecting the components you’ll use to build a computer, I will not be making any specific recommendations. Often I do write about my recommendations so you may want to look at my hardware archives to find what I’ve recommended.

Selecting the CPU

It is important that you select the components in a specific order as the available choices change based on selections. Your first choice is the CPU. The two biggest players are AMD and Intel with each offering a wide range of CPUs, features and prices. In general, I look at one of the most powerful options and then step back just a bit. This gives me good performance and I don’t pay the extreme premium for the top-of-the-line choice. Obviously, choose something that fits your needs and budget.

While most CPUs will include a basic cooler and thermal paste, you may want to buy a higher-end cooler or paste. This is especially important if you plan to tweak the performance. With more performance comes more heat and too much heat will cause serious problems. A better cooler and/or thermal paste can aid in keeping the heat increase in check. It won’t stop the heat increase, just slow it down.

The Motherboard

CPUs are designed to fit in a specific type of socket. Once you’ve chosen the CPU, you’ll need to find a motherboard supporting that socket. There will likely be a huge range of motherboards for the socket flavor you need and then you’ll want to compare the features offered and the prices to determine the best choice.

Memory

Now you’ve got two huge pieces chosen and it is time for the next piece. You need RAM and likely a pretty high capacity! How many memory sockets are on the motherboard? What type of RAM do they support? Is there is a maximum size module? What speed is supported? When you’ve answered all of those questions, get RAM that will work on your motherboard. Often you have to buy modules in matching pairs so you’d either get two modules or four. I tend to go for the highest capacity modules even if I only get two. That allows me to add two more modules down the road if I want more RAM.

Drives

I’m going to assume that you’ve chosen a motherboard that supports SATA III since that is by far the most common way to connect drives these days. Do you want an SSD drive? It is one of the fastest choices, but has a higher cost per gigabte. Do you want an SSD for the operating system and then a mechanical drive for data? This balances speed and budget. Or do you want only mechanical drives?

Once you have your primary storage drives, do you also want an optical drive? I still feel it is important to have a DVD or BluRay drive, but you may not have a need for one.

Graphics Card

Most motherboards have some sort of built-in graphics. It may be all you need. If so, you can move on to the next section. For gamers or those creating video/graphic content, you should at least consider a dedicated graphics card.

Power Supply

Each of the components listed above will require some amount of power. Now you’ve got to choose a power supply that covers those needs with plenty to spare. Let’s say that all of the components will need a total of 500 watts. You’d likely want a power supply that delivered at least 750 watts.

Case

All of the parts need a place to be installed and that’s the case. You’ll find a wide variety of designs so you should pick something you’d like to see on or under your desk. It is also important to pick one that has features you desire and good airflow. Some cases can be really quiet (they all have fans) and you’ll typically pay a premium for less noise. Most importantly, make sure the components you’ve selected fit in the case you’ve chosen.

Accessories

You’ll need an operating system, a keyboard and some sort of pointing device at a bare minimum. Beyond that, you may want to get other accessories for your new computer. Maybe you have a favorite keyboard that you’ll grab from an older computer. It is certainly OK to grab the old parts as long as they will work with your new computer.

Assembling

I’m not going to focus on every step of the assembly in this post. For the most part, anyone who can turn a screwdriver can build a computer. Of course it is important to follow instructions carefully so you might want to have a techie friend nearby during the build. There are a number of tutorials online to help walk you through the process and I’d highly recommend you read a couple before you even purchase the components.

In the end, you’ll have a computer that fits your needs perfectly and you can take pride in selecting the components and building it yourself!

Photo by Maxime Rossignol

About Foster D. Coburn III

Foster D. Coburn III is the author of thirteen books on CorelDRAW, the latest being CorelDRAW X6 Unleashed. He has been a contributor to numerous magazines. Foster has taken many projects, including this Web site and many more, from the early design stage through to a finished piece. He has been a featured speaker at many graphics and Web conferences.

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