Thursday, October 28, 2010


Hi my friends,

Today I am going to discuss a subject that might be scary for some of you:

" Build my own computer, are you kidding me?"

Well relax, it is not that complicated; if you have some knowledge of what goes inside a computer and you can work with a screwdriver, you are almost there...

Seriously, building a PC is a lot easier than you think and above all, you'll be able to build just what you want, (your dream PC), with good quality components, in most cases better than a factory built machine. Besides, in the end, it is a lot of fun and you will be very proud of what you have accomplished.

I have built my own computers for the last 4 years. I have now the ultimate machine I just built late last month. I spent about $850.00, (no monitor included, because I used the 22" flat screen I already had), but I have a machine that would cost close to $1,750.00 if bought from a dealer. I have also built a few computers for friends and members of my family. They are all very happy about the machines they have now, as compared to what they had before.

PC computers, (although the technology that goes inside in quite complex), are modular in design, therefore you can buy each component completely assembled and with a little patience and care put them all together successfully.

There are very excellent sources for computer components, such as Tiger Direct, Newegg, ZipZoomfly etc. where you can select just about all computer of parts at several levels of quality and price.

Let's first discuss what components you need to build your machine:

1- A computer case. These come in several sizes and quality, (mini, mid tower and full tower sizes), with or without a power supply installed. I like to buy the power supply separately, because I can always select a good trusted brand and power capacity that I require for my build. My favorite case brands are "Apevia", "Cooler Master", "Gigabyte", "Thermal Take" and "Ultra". There are many more good brands, but the above are the ones I have used most often.

Selecting a case should take into consideration how much "stuff" you want to install in your build, such as video cards, number of hard drives etc. (we will discuss this later).

2-The Power Supply. As I said above, some cases come with their own power supply already installed. That is OK if the case manufacturer is reliable and most important also a maker of power supplies, such as "Ultra", "Antec" and some others. However make sure the power supply has the power rating you are going to need for your build.

I always buy my power supply separately and make sure that the Watts rating is large enough for my needs. I like "Ultra" and "Antec" brands the best.

3-The CPU, (Central Processor Unit). The CPU is the heart of your computer. There are two main manufacturers dominating this field: INTEL and AMD. Both build extremely high quality and very high technology units.

The computer CPU is normally, (with some exceptions such as very expensive video cards), the most expensive component in a good computer that you will build. CPU's prices range widely from less than $100.00 to $2,000.00/$3,000.00 or more. The high priced CPU's though are mainly for server applications and very high tech machines, not the ones we use at home or work.

I use in my builds AMD processors rather than INTEL. Why? both companies build the very best processors, however you get more value for the "buck", (meaning more processor power for the money), with the AMD brand. It is a matter of preference, I know other people who will not use any other processor but INTEL.

We will discuss this later, but just for now, the processors I have recently used have been
"2 core, 4 core and 6 core units" depending on the application. 2, 4 and 6 core classification just means that in a single CPU you have 2, 4 or 6 individual processors available. Prices for the CPU's I have used, range from about $120.00 to $300.00 in the AMD brand. These units all come with their own specially designed cooling systems, (a very important detail we'll discuss later).

4-The Motherboard. What is a motherboard? Let's say that the CPU is the brain of a computer and the Motherboard is its body. When selecting a motherboard, one has to be careful and make sure that it is compatible with the CPU you have selected, otherwise... nothing will work. This is not difficult to do because all motherboard specs indicate which type and design of CPU it will accept. A motherboard will also affects what type of other parts and devices, such as RAM memory type, such as DDR2, DDR3 etc., Hard drives and optical drives connection type such as PCI Express, SATA and so forth.

Most good quality motherboards today come with "onboard" installed Audio systems of such good quality, ( multi channel HD output, recording capability etc.), that in most cases there is no need to purchase separate Audio Cards. (I never did!).

Also some motherboards come with "onboard" integrated graphics support, such as ATI Radeon HD 4290 GPU. This graphics "video chipset" is capable of delivering high quality graphics on your monitor, even for gaming; unless you are a high gamer who plays top expensive games that need more graphics power, the ATI Radeon HD 4290 GPU will be all you need.

5-The RAM memory. In the old days, RAM memory, because it was very expensive, was no more than 256 MB, 520 MB or in the very best home PC's 1 GB. What is RAM memory?

(Random Access Memory) is a group of memory chips, which functions as the computer's primary workspace. The "random" in RAM means that the contents of each byte can be directly accessed without regard to the bytes before or after it. This is also true of other types of memory chips, including ROMs and PROMs. However, unlike ROMs and PROMs, RAM chips require power to maintain their content, which is why you must save your data onto disk before you turn the computer off.

Today, RAM memory has changed along the years, in technology and price. From DRAM to DDR, to DDR2 to DDR3 types, you can buy 4GB of RAM memory for a little more than $100.00, therefore, I recommend that you install in your build no less than 4 GB DDR3. If you install Windows 7 64-bit, then there is no limit to the amount of RAM you can install. I use in my own computer 8 GB RAM, (4 stick @ 2GB each). Later we will go into this with more detail, but just that you know, Windows 7 32-bit will not recognise more than 3 GB RAM memory.

There are many RAM memory brands, my favorites are: Corsair, Crucial, OCZ, Patriot and PNY. This does not mean thal all the other brands available are not as reliable, but the above are the ones I have used successfully.

6-The Hard Drive. Hard Drive storage capacity used to be very expensive years ago. Today it is amazingly low priced. Let me just say that the hard drive I installed in my last built supercomputer is a Western Digital Caviar Black, (top of the line HD), 1 TB capacity, SATA configuration with 64 MB of cache! and all this for $90.00! two or three years ago this would have cost up of $300.00!

Depending on your needs, decide on the capacity of your hard drive, but I would recommend no less than 500 GB, which will cost around $60.00 to $70.00. You may even install two hard drives, (like I do), one for your OS and main programs and another just for backing up your files and store photos, music and other stuff.

There are many hard drive brands available, most of them, (do to the modern technology used in building these complicated pieces of equipment), are excellent and last a long time; however there are three brands I have used in all my builds that have always been very reliable: Western Digita, Seagate and Hitachi. Remember though, that no hard drive lasts forever, so make sure you have all your files backed up on a regular basis.

7-The Optical Drives. Here is another component that has dropped in price at lightening speed in the last couple of years. However, if you buy a computer today from any of the main manufacturers, HP, Sony, Gateway, Dell etc. etc., most units only come with one Optical Drive! why? they save money, a lot of money because they build millions of computers.

There are many Optical Drive manufacturers, most of them very reliable. I have used the following brands, all excellent: Sony, Samsung, Plextor, HP, Asus, Lite-on and Pioneer. Prices range from $20.00 to $35.00, unless you want to go with "Blue-Ray" drives which will cost at the moment in the area of $120.00 to $150.00. Give it another year or so and those prices will also fall.

Having two Optical Drives saves you a lot of time specially if you want to copy and burn disks: put the original CD or DVD in the first OD and the empty target disk in the second OD. It is worth spending an extra $20.00!

When selecting OD's make sure the specs are at least as follows:

DVDRW Internal Drive - DVD+R 22X, DVD+RW 8X, DVD-RW 6X, DVD-RAM 12X, CD-R 48X, SATA, LightScribe.

The above may look complicated, but most OD's today include all these specs. They read and burn DVD's and CD's at the speeds indicated, i.e. 22X, have SATA connection as standard and with "LightScribe" can actually print a disk label on the disk itself. (This takes label writable disks that cost a little more than the standard disks.

8-The Keyboard and Mouse. Of course you use these two items to communicate and give commands to your computer. They are inexpensive, very inexpensive indeed if you select units that have to be wired to your computer. You can buy these for #20.00 to $30.00, (keyboard and mouse). However for about $40.00 to $50.00 you can buy a wireless set, meaning that both the keyboard and mouse are totally free from any wires. There is only a small transmitter unit that has to be connected to an USB outlet and set on top of the table. My favorite brands of Keyboard/Mouse sets are Logitech and Microsoft.

9-Operating System. Of course, without an Operating System a computer cannot operate. Most computers use Windows as you all know. There are Windows versions (95, XP, Vista) still operating around the world by the millions, however, all new computers today, (except for Apple computers), are sold with Windows 7 32-bit or 64-bit. If you look at my post of September 22,
"Taking the mystery out of 64-bit Windows", you'll understand the difference between them.

Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit, brand new not an upgrade, costs around $200.00, HOWEVER, because you are building a computer, you can buy the OEM version, which is just the same, for only $99.00 from any of the computer components dealers such as Tiger Direct, Newegg, ZipZoomfly and others. The only difference is that you will not have direct assistance from Microsoft for the installation of the software, but really that is no big deal and you save over 100 bucks by getting the OEM version.

Assuming that you have an older computer that you will replace with your new build, it is very possible that you can use your monitor, if it is a flat screen type, or even your old keyboard/mouse set.

If your old monitor is still a monster weighing 20 or 30 lbs, get rid of it and replace it with a nice 19" up to 22" flat screen unit that can be bought today from $120.00 to $180.00 !

When I built my first computer in 2005 I paid $850.00 for an 18" flat screen monitor. Today for that kind of money you can build a dream machine following the advice I gave you above.


I hope you enjoyed this post, if anything just for the subject, which I hope will be entertaining even if you do not plan to build your own computer.

For our readers in Portugal:

There are several computer component dealers such as

And others, that to my knowledge sell the same products described above.

Have fun,

George Freire

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