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The Official "How Do I Build a Computer" Thread

Austin

Austin
Joined
Feb 24, 2010
It's been brought to my attention that the images do not size correctly in the default ZD theme or the Pokemon Dungeon theme. If you'd like to view the images in full size, either temporarily switch your style to ZD Brown or Darksiders, or right click the images and click "View Image". Thanks!

I've seen a few threads in this section asking about how to get into PC building, so I thought I would do the community a service and create a somewhat comprehensive guide on computer building. This thread will be kept open for any questions and I'll try my hardest to keep tabs on it, updating it when necessary. A disclaimer before we begin, while I have built my own computer and repaired it several times, I am by no means a tech expert. Nothing I say should be taken as professional advice. Do your own research and see if it compares to mine. If you see any errors, or think that something can be explained more or better, let me know! Make a post and I'll add it in!


Special credit goes to Kazumi for helping write sections of this guide!


*Part Overview*


Case

It is possible to do a build without a case, but unless you'd like your build to look like the first picture on the right,
I'd recommend a good case. Cases vary widely in price and quality, there are six hundred dollar cases that have entirely tool-less installation and are shaped like a train, and there are ten dollar cases that basically require you to superglue your components inside. In this writer's professional opinion, you'll want to spend between $50-120 on a case. I've owned a forty dollar case that wasn't awful, but had a few flaws, you needed a screwdriver to do anything and once you took out something like a pci cover or a disk bay cover, you couldn't reattach it. I currently have a case that went for around $100 that doesn't require tools to slide the side door off, has replaceable pci slot covers and plenty of fan bays. You'll want to buy a case that has the right amount of convenience and fan bays for you.


Processor

Processors are basically the "brain" of your computer. I know jack **** about computer engineering so that's all you'll hear from me about what your processor actually does. As far as you need to know, you need one to boot and the quality of your processor will heavily affect the quality of your computing experience. When it comes to desktop processors, you basically have two choice as far as brands go, Intel and AMD. I don't want to start a fanboy war here so I'll try to keep this as simple and accurate as possible. GENERALLY, AMD makes cheaper processors, and GENERALLY, while Intel ones are more expensive, they perform better. There are of course, exceptions to this with certain processor models and architectures but for the layman, this should serve as good advice. I currently have an AMD processor and while it isn't a powerhouse, it's certainly reliable.

Processors can be one of the more expensive parts of your build. The Intel i5 3570K, a processor you'll see in many desktop gaming computers today, sells for roughly $220. There are cheaper ones that are at least in the same ballpark as far as quality goes (I believe the AMD Phenom X4 goes for about $90), but generally you'll spend a good chunk of your budget on your processor.

There are two main things you need to keep in mind when choosing a processor beyond architecture, its clock speed and the number of cores it has. I've said it before but just to reiterate, I am not a computer engineer so I cannot give you a satisfactory explanation of how these things affect your computer experience, but I can tell you how to compare them and what to shop for. As far as clock speed goes, the simple rule is that the higher the number, the better. This doesn't exactly work for comparing processors however, as different architectures perform differently. An i5 clocked at 2.4 GHz can outperform an Intel Core 2 Duo that's clocked at 3.0 GHz. But, unless you're comparing, high number = good.

Cores are another thing I have difficulty explaining. I can tell you that your first instinct is probably incorrect, the number of cores doesn't multiply your processor speed or anything. A quad-core with a 2.4 GHz clock speed DOES NOT have an effective clock speed of 9.6 GHz. However, an increasing number of applications are programmed to use more than one core, so they'll work more efficiently if you have more cores available. Unless you're performing a specialized task like video editing, you should shop for a quad-core processor. A dual-core won't horribly cripple your computer but a quad will make it more future-proof. You should NOT buy any processor with more than four cores unless, again, you need to perform some special job with your computer. Today's games and applications simply won't use more than four cores.


Motherboard



The motherboard (or mainboard, mobo, etc.) is where everything comes together in your PC. It has a socket to for your processor, slots for your RAM and GPU (more on those later) and connectors for your power supply and other peripherals. Mobos have no real simple numbers to compare them by, so it all amounts to research. There are a few comparable stats however. One is form factor. The two most common form factors for motherboards are ATX and Micro-ATX. These generally refer to the size of the motherboard and establish compatibly with computer cases. Make sure that the case you buy can fit the motherboard you purchase! All this information should be available with whatever retailer you choose to go with for parts, so make sure you check! Your motherboard will also have to be compatible with the RAM and processor you've purchased. Generally, unless you have either an older motherboard or an older processor (in which case you'll want to make sure the processor socket is compatible), all you have to do is make sure that the mobo fits the brand you've bought. There are mobos compatible with Intel processors and mobos compatible with AMD processors.


RAM
Random Access Memory, otherwise known as RAM or just memory, is volatile storage on your computer. By volatile, I mean that upon turning off power to the computer, all information is dumped from the RAM. This is different from a hard drive where data is stored permanently and upon rebooting all the data (under ideal circumstances) is still there. However, unlike a hard drive, RAM is much quicker to access, and as such any data that does not need to be kept forever is loaded onto it for quick access. This includes active modules of your operating system, whatever programs you have open, and more. You need RAM to boot but luckily, it's quite cheap these days! Unless you go over the top, memory will be the cheapest part of your purchase. There are a few things to keep in mind while buying memory.

Assuming your motherboard was made in the past five years or so, you'll want to purchase DDR3 RAM. What you need to decide yourself is what speed this RAM should be at, and how much of it you want. The standard for computers these days is to have at least 4GB of RAM, although I would not be surprised if that were different by the end of 2013. I personally would recommend at least 8GB of RAM. Next is the speed of your RAM. This is a simple one, faster speed leads to greater efficiency. Unless you want your prices to skyrocket, stick to either 1333 or 1600. I have 8GB of DDR3-1333 RAM, and I've never gotten close to maxing it out. It was only about $40 to purchase as well. However, RAM is similar to cores in that if you do certain tasks, you'll need more RAM than the average person. Otherwise, I would take my advice.


Hard Drives

Hard drives (or HDDs) are the other storage mechanism on your computer. Unlike the RAM, which is volatile, an HDD can store data even the power has been turned off. Your hard drive is where the long-term data is stored, like your operating system, all of your documents, your application files, etc. It is possible to use a computer without a hard drive, but the average consumer will need one. Hard drives are pretty simple to explain. There are two things you need to look at, the brand and the storage capacity. Storage capacity is obvious, it's how much data you can store on the drive. The brand is a little trickier and requires a bit of research. There are two big companies when it comes to hard drives, Seagate and Western Digital. There are others you can buy drives from but in the interest of time I won't get into them here. These two companies make several different lines of drives suitable to different needs, like RAID drives, drives for media storage, and drives for every-day use.

Personally, I recommend a Western Digital Blue drive, at the reader's preference of storage capacity. The unfortunate part of hard drives is that due to a flood in Thailand the summer before last, the supply of hard drives has gone down and as a result they've become slightly pricy. I have no idea why it's taken close to 18 months to rebuild a stable supply but I'll leave any speculation out of this guide. A standard 1TB drive can cost around $100.

You can use an Solid State Drive as an alternative to an HDD. I'll expand more on those at a later date.


Graphics Cards

A graphics card (video card, GPU, whatever) is not necessary in every computer. If you don't do any gaming, you can make due with the integrated video most motherboards/processors come with. However, if you plan to do any serious gaming, you will need to invest in a graphics card. Depending on your needs this can become the most expensive part of the build. There are really only two main brands when it comes to GPUs, Nvidia and AMD/ATI, but there are many different lines, series and models. It's designed to confuse you. There are comparative stats but what it really comes down to is the specific model you buy. Fortunately, there is an excellent chart here that compares most GPU models on a tiered list. I refer to this list often, and I recommend it as a bookmark. In order to know how much power you need, I'd take a look at the requirements of any games you want to play, and round up a bit from the recommended settings. GPUs can cost anywhere from forty to four thousand dollars, but the average gamer will probably spend somewhere between $200-300.


Power Supplies (PSUs)

A PSU is what delivers power to your computer and all its parts. The PSU you need depends on what hardware you have in your case, some configurations require more juice than others. There are many different brands of power supplies, but be careful. Do not underspend on a PSU! Cheap or malfunctioning PSUs can fail, not only taking itself out of the picture but possibly some of your other hardware as well! I've also heard some reports of fires started by cheap PSUs, but I don't know if those are true or not. Bottom line, don't cheap out here. You don't need to spend a fortune, but do your research and don't buy anything that sounds like it's too good to be true. Odds are, it is.


Everything Else

Everything not important enough to get its own section.

-Heatsink. Your processor likely comes with one, but if you plan on overclocking the stock one won't do. This is essential to keep your processor cool.

-Fans. Computers get hot. Unless you prefer a computer setup like the one on the left, buy a case that has room for several fans. Ideally you want at least one blowing air onto your motherboard mounted on the side panel, and another one blowing the hot air out mounted on the back of the case.

-Watercooling equipment. The author knows nothing about watercooling, and as such will not go into it here. If you don't like fans, look into watercooling.

-An operating system. You need an operating system to use your computer. If you're building your own, you're basically limited to Windows and Linux. Linux distros are free, but aren't great for gaming. Windows you have to pay for but has great support for games. You can technically install OSX on a homebuilt PC but it's a pain in the ***. Look up Hackintoshes if you want more information on that.

-Soundcard. Not essential. Most motherboards have built-in sound that nearly all users will find acceptable. However, if you want more out of your sound, look into purchasing a sound card.

-An optical drive. This is again up to the reader. Optical media (read: CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray, etc.) are becoming less common these days, so it's entirely possible that you'll only end up using it to install your OS. If you can install your OS via USB flash drive, you don't need one at all. However, if you still use optical media or enjoy burning CDs or something, you'll need one. DVD burners usually run about $25, while adding in Blu-Ray will double the price.

-Peripherals like monitors, keyboards, mouse, etc. Self-explanatory.


Part Picking

I could make a part guide to different tiers and brands, but someone has already done that and there's no need to reinvent the wheel. The credits for the image are on it but go to a /g/ user named Th !.FaLconO6. The guide is updated every so often.





Assembling the Computer
I think this is something that's rather hard to describe with text. One day I may try, but until that day I'll just link a few YouTube videos. That's mainly how I learned outside of actually doing the act itself.












Troubleshooting

So you put everything together, but when you tried to boot something went wrong. In this section we'll try to eliminate some common problems. If your problem isn't listed here, or the solution doesn't work, please feel free to make a post in this thread and I or someone else will try to assist you as best we can. Also, make sure to turn your computer off before making any adjustments to the hardware! Another guide put this best, you may not kill yourself by fiddling with the hardware while the computer is on, but there's a good chance you might kill your computer!


-I hit the power button, the fans whirred and the hard drive churned, but then my motherboard started making a lot of scary beeping noises.

This doesn't indicate a specific error, but rather one of many errors that your motherboard manual or documentation can explain. Your motherboard (assuming you've added a speaker, something I highly recommend) can make several beeps depending on the situation. One short beep indicates a successful boot. Any other patterns indicate a problem, although what this problem is depends on the motherboard. Refer to your documentation to locate and then solve the issue. Usually it's something simple, like RAM not being seated correctly.

-I hit the power button, the fans whirred and the hard drive churned, but then nothing happened.

Did you remember to connect the four-pin cable to your motherboard as well? Remember, you need to connect two separate cables from your PSU directly into your motherboard.

-I hit the power button, the fans whirred and the hard drive churned, I heard the motherboard beep, but I don't see anything on my monitor.

If you're using an independent card and not the on-board video, make sure that your monitor is connected to the card, and not the I/O panel of your motherboard. Make sure your card is in the PCI slot properly. You may have to push a bit to make sure, but don't break anything! If your card requires its own PSU cable, make sure it's plugged in!

-I hit the power button, but nothing happened at all!

Yikes. This could be indicative of several things. First, you're going to want to make sure that you've wired everything correctly. Make sure that the switch on the power supply is set to on. Make sure you've got the right voltage setting for your region. It's possible you've got a dud PSU, or motherboard.



Post Assembly


The first thing you'll need to do, once you've made certain that your computer is assembled properly and can boot with no issues, is install your OS. Immediately after POSTing, your motherboard will attempt to boot from any device you have connected to your computer. It does this in an order, however. Normally, it attempts to boot from the hard disk first, and if it cannot do that it moves to the next item in the order. If you're having troubles getting your motherboard to recognize the installation disc/USB flash drive you've got containing your installation media, double check the boot order in your motherboards BIOS. Installing the OS itself varies in ease. If you chose a Windows OS, it's an entirely brainless procedure. If you chose a Linux one, it may graduate in difficulty depending on what distro you've chosen.

Once you've installed your operating system, you'll discover something important. Other than the OS and any programs that come bundled with it, you will have no applications or programs installed, including systems drivers. Your first objective is to install all your drivers, and make sure they're all in working order. This is an essential part in maintaining a stable system. You'll first want to install all of your motherboard-related drivers. Your mobo probably included a disc including all the drivers you'll need, but these are not up-to-date. In order to get the best performance out of your hardware, you'll want the most up-to-date drivers available. To get these, go to your hardware manufacturer's website, search for your specific model and download the drivers straight from there. Besides your motherboard, you'll also need drivers for your GPU and any other peripherals you have installed. However, (assuming you're using Windows, no idea how Linux distros handle this) simple devices like your mouse, keyboard or webcam often do not require you to manually install a driver. The OS can do that itself.

After you've done all this, you're basically done! Congratulations! You'll want to install any software you use on a daily basis, but I assume you know how to do that already. Enjoy, and good luck!



Remember, above all, it's really not nearly as complicated as you probably think it will be at first. Nearly anyone can assemble their own PC. Please comment and ask questions! Good luck!
 
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Kazumi

chagy
Joined
Dec 3, 2008
Location
Canada
Helpful Infographics From Kazumi
Right Click > Open Image in New Tab to view larger!

Recommended Cases:


Solid State Drives:


Motherboard Size Reference:


Power Supplies:


Truth:
 
Joined
Dec 21, 2011
As Kazumi knows, I've been buzzing around the idea of building my own PC. This comprehensive thread will undoubtedly be of incredible use to me, and I thank anyone who contributed to its information.

Now, I have two question:

1.) How difficult is it to transport your PC? I want to make one, and I have the money, but I'm moving out of my house and going off to college come summer's end. Will it be difficult to pack it up and un-pack it? Maybe I'm just over-thinking it, but I'd like to here someone's input on this.

2.) This one is sort-of irrelevant, but it has been annoying me for a while. Why are Mac's so terrible? I recently got the new iPad and love it. I know tablets are not comparable to PC's, but I can't imagine a company doing so well (IMO) in one category of technology, and doing so horribly in another. I looked at your image Kazumi, but could someone further elaborate or explain why they're your worst option?

Thanks!
 

Austin

Austin
Joined
Feb 24, 2010
1.) How difficult is it to transport your PC? I want to make one, and I have the money, but I'm moving out of my house and going off to college come summer's end. Will it be difficult to pack it up and un-pack it? Maybe I'm just over-thinking it, but I'd like to here someone's input on this.
It's a pain in the *** but it's possible. So long as everything is assembled well in the first place and you don't drive like a maniac when you've got it in the trunk, it shouldn't be a problem. I bring my desktop back and forth from college a few times a year, and I usually surround it with other things so it doesn't fall on its side. I think that's the only real danger.

2.) This one is sort-of irrelevant, but it has been annoying me for a while. Why are Mac's so terrible? I recently got the new iPad and love it. I know tablets are not comparable to PC's, but I can't imagine a company doing so well (IMO) in one category of technology, and doing so horribly in another. I looked at your image Kazumi, but could someone further elaborate or explain why they're your worst option?
That last bit is actually pure opinion and I don't know if Kazumi should have added it. I do personally feel Macs are overall overpriced machines, and Apple is a terrible company, however. The main issue is always price with Apple. OSX is mostly stable (the file system it uses is reportedly terrible, but I've never experienced any problems as a pure end-user), and they're mostly reliable machines, but the fact with Apple computers is that you're paying large amounts of cash for mostly average hardware. It simply isn't worth the bill. I think the average Mac is about $2000. As you can see from the Falcon guide, the machine you could get with that money would be a goddamn supercomputer, not an average iMac.
 
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Joined
Oct 14, 2013
Location
San Diego
Holy **** there are some smart people out there. :O Anyone who can do something like this by hand and the power of their own brain earns my eternal respect. I'll go back to...uh...writing fantasy and SF.
 

Ventus

Mad haters lmao
Joined
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Akkala
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Hylian Champion
I made a computer:

AMD Athlon X4 750K @ 3.5GHz
XFX R7 260X 2GB GDDR5
6GB RAM DDR-1333
Windows 7 Hore Premium
450W Generic PSU

And it makes my games beautiful and play well. It even plays GW2 @ some mediums/some highs at full 60FPS.
 

Terminus

If I was a wizard this wouldn't be happening to me
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Does anyone have some monitor suggestions? I'm not too experienced in this area, all I want is a 22-24" monitor that's 16:9 with a resolution of 1920x1080 that can be set up for dual-monitoring, but I'm not sure what other criteria to look for.
 

Emma

Eye See You
Site Staff
Joined
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Location
Vegas
Does anyone have some monitor suggestions? I'm not too experienced in this area, all I want is a 22-24" monitor that's 16:9 with a resolution of 1920x1080 that can be set up for dual-monitoring, but I'm not sure what other criteria to look for.
I used to do this for my school and the students there, but that was in 2008 and it's 2015. I'm completely out of touch with all the modern hardware. I'm working on my own build now. And this is the monitor I chose:
http://pcpartpicker.com/part/asus-monitor-ve228h
It's 21.5", so a bit under the size you want, but it is 16:9 at 1920x1080 with built-in speakers. From what I could gather in my research this is a good monitor to get. It's one the best monitors for its price you can get right now. If you want a slightly larger model, there's a similar one here that's 24" if you want that extra 2.5" of size.
http://pcpartpicker.com/part/asus-monitor-vh236h
 

Mercedes

つ ◕_◕ ༽つ
Joined
Nov 12, 2007
You should really post a price-range, it's harder to recommend things without knowing what you're looking to spend. I could, for instance, suggest the XB270HU from Acer which is pretty much the best monitor you could hope for in regards to everything but the aspect ratio, though that leaves it in the high-end of IPS so it still has its positive side, but that's about $700. Which is often more than most people will be willing to pay for a monitor.

As for criteria to look for, ideally you want to grab a G-Sync monitor, considering I know (or I think I know) you're buying a n980 with the rig. ASUS and Acer are pretty much the only vendors really producing great monitors utilizing it right now, and it really is an amazing piece of tech, with the former being the ideal choice, but it will bump up the price quite a bit and isn't wholly needed. It's a very nice touch but it's not something you'll miss if you don't have it. The other things I'd recommend, like ditching the idea of 1080p and welcoming your new 1440p overlord, or ensuring the monitor utilizes an IPS display feature over a TN, aren't mandatory as they'll bump the price up even more, but would be a good choice still (and you can find cheaper IPS monitors nowadays anyway). With your rig, I don't think you want to skimp out on a monitor and under-utilize what it can do. No real point in that.

If we're talking standard, bottom-tier monitor you should ever consider, an Asus VS239H-P (Clickable) or equivalent will do the job just fine and is comfortably under $200. It utilizes IPS in it's display for better clarity and colours in its d-production, 1080p, good refresh rate and importantly a very good response time, too, all for a great price for what you get. That should probably be the minimum of what you're looking for, I wouldn't go anything under. If you're willing to spend more on a better monitor with a higher refresh rate, I'd recommend the Asus VG248QE, which, again, would be the minimum in that area you'd want to get, hovering just under $300. The VG248QE is also G-sync compatible, though would require manual installation if ever you wanted the feature, so you'd need to bust out the screwdrivers. I'd recommend that one overall, it's a very good monitor.

And if you wish to welcome 1440p as your new resolution overlord, you won't find much better than the Vue 27, by Nixeus. About $450, can likely find a better deal somewhere else as I recall on RPS someone saying they picked one up for under $400. Best bang for your buck when it comes to H-IPS monitors, boasting a higher resolution, though you'd want to get a 4k monitor if you want to off-set the necessity of a second monitor as 1440p won't do that, in which case you'd be looking ~$700 price range, for a PB287Q or something, or the XB270HU. It might seem like a lot, but sometimes one great monitor is better than two decent monitors. Ends up being personal preference at the end of the day; I, for instance, dislike double monitors and just have one very large monitor, with a second monitor usually disabled and only used occasionally, so it's your choice on which you'd prefer.

Also it's worth noting, though this might not be necessary to point out, that pretty much any monitor you buy can be set-up for dual-viewing support. That's handled by nVidia's software, there doesn't need to be anything special done to the monitor to accompany it. You can even use a TV if you wanted to, put your TV on your desk and use that as a second monitor. It's all fair game as long as you purchase the right cables and the thing isn't a relic which might have issues displaying rates properly.
 

Ventus

Mad haters lmao
Joined
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Location
Akkala
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Hylian Champion
PC """building""" has gotten simpler and simpler over the years. With sites like PCPartPicker and Logical Increments, it's almost impossible to fail in building one unless one flat out lacks Internet connection. the real question i have, though, is why are GFX cards from years back still so expensive? the 780, for example, is roughyl on par with the 970 especially when taking the utter lack of graphics drivers into account. and yet it still runs the price of the 780 despite running less than.
 

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