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Build Your Own Computer

Written by:
Santana Holcomb
5 Star Support Technician
  • First a word on Electrostatic Discharge:

The components of a computer are very sensitive to electrostatic discharge. That is the normal build up of an electrical charge in your body that you cannot feel. It is discharged into metal or your computer parts when you touch it. You can fry/damage your parts from it and then you will need to buy replacements. You cannot tell when the electrostatic discharge will happen. 
Buy a anti-static wrist strap to wear while working inside your system.
You can also discharge yourself by touching the metal case of your power supply inside your system.
Always leave your parts inside the anti-static bag they come in until your ready for them. If you must place them down lay them down on the anti-static bag.

  • Tools needed:
    • Flashlight-Even with the best lighting I have found you still need one.
    • Screwdriver-Phillips head-looks like a cross on the end.
    • A screw extractor- unless you are able to grab little things quite easily. A dropped screw that is not removed could end up shorting out your system. 
    • Tweezers-For moving jumpers if your motherboard has them.

  • Hardware:

You must decide if you want a desktop or tower or one of the new small cases. You will want to allow for expandability unless you are building a small form case.  Make sure you get a case that will fit the space where you plan to put it. Make sure the case has at least one intake fan or a place to install one in the front. Bottom front is best. A place for an exhaust fan in the back near the middle to just below the power supply unit (psu). Make sure all the cables that are suppose to come with the case are present and all the screws and motherboard standoffs are there also.

  • Power supply:

Buy a brand name power supply (psu). A power supply is the 2nd most important item to a computer. A cheap psu can cause you lots of problems as it goes up and down with supplying power to your unit. I have fixed many a problem for clients that were caused by the psu. Buy at least a 350-watt unit. I recommend at least 400 watts. I use Enermax PSU myself but there are plenty of other makers of psuís out there. Make sure all cables are presents that should be.

  • Floppy Drive:

I still recommend a floppy drive (3.5). They still have their place or so I believe they do. The choice is up to you. Make sure the ribbon cable is present if it is suppose to come with it. Usually they donít include them.

  • Hard Drive:

I recommend at least an 80-gig drive. Get the ones with 8 Meg of cache if you can but a standard 2meg of cache will work just find. The 8 Meg of cache will speed of your system by it being able to put more things in the bigger cache. Make sure all cables are present that is said to come with it.

  • CD-ROM/BURNER Drive:

These are quite useful and now days they do not cost much at all. Make sure all cables are present that is said to come with it.

  • Motherboard:

Here you will have to decide if you want a motherboard with everything built on the board or if you want one where you add the stuff to it. Also you will need to decide if you want to use an Intel or AMD CPU.
Buy the best board you can. Also you can check out the motherboard and CPU combos for sale. You should get a collection of ribbon cables with your motherboard. Make sure all cables are present that is said to come with it.

  • Processor:

You need to decide if you want Intel or AMD.  They both are excellent units. They usually come with a heatsink and fan and they work fine for the basic setup. I recommend that you buy a heatsink and fan unit that is a couple steps up from the stock unit.  Make sure you have the cooling compound that comes with the CPU or buy the compound you want to use instead.

  • Memory:

I recommend you buy good quality memory. There is plenty out there. Make sure you buy what your system can use. I also recommend you get at least 512meg of memory. WinXP can use and will use if it can 256 Meg of memory for itís self. If you can afford it and your motherboard will use more than 512 Meg I recommend you get at least 768 to 1 gig of memory. Memory is the best upgrade and can make or break a system in my opinion.

  • Video Card:

There are plenty of video cards out there. The 2 biggest names are ATI and NiVida.  What you choose is up to you. Buy the best you can afford. Make sure it will work with your motherboard. Since newer motherboards have the PCI EXPRESS SLOTS NOW.

  • Keyboard and Mouse:

Choose from standard ones to wireless ones. It depends on what you want.

  • Software:

Choose what operating system you want to use. WinXP is the standard now but you can use Win2000 or Win98 if you so choose. Have the disk from your dives and add on cards handy for installing their drivers.

  • Start to build the computer:

Open the case. If you have a case that doesnít use thumbscrews or is screwless then use the screwdriver to remove the 4 to 6 screws from the back and place them where you will not lose them.  Clean out the case with a lint free rag or a can of compressed air. Then install the case feet if it uses them. Install your case fans if your case came without them. Remember you want the front case fan to suck air into the case. There is usually an arrow showing which way the air flows thru it. Have the arrow point into the case. Install the exhaust case fan. Have the arrow pointing out of the case. Install the ATX plate into the back of the case. The cases come with these plates so it can use different motherboards. Most motherboards come with these plates if it is different from the standard plate.

  • Install the power supply:

Install the power supply so that the fan faces out the rear of the case and the wires face the front of the case. Make sure the holes on the case match up to the screw holes on the psu. If they do not then you will need to turn the psu upside down. Install the 4 to 6 screws to hold the psu in place.  Now make sure the voltage switch on the back of the psu is set to 120 volts for USA and 220 volts for countries overseas.

  • Before installing the motherboard:

While the motherboard is sitting out of the case would be the best time to install the CPU and heatsink and fan. There is more room outside the case and much easier to do it.  Most motherboard have the zero insertion force socket. The socket opens and closes with a small lever. The lever up is the open position and down is the close position. Intel and AMD use different sockets and amount of pins. Turn your CPU over and make sure that none of the pins are bent. With the socket open match up the number 1 pin on the CPU with the number 1 pinhole in the socket. They are usually marked by either a notched corner or a big number 1. When you insert the CPU it should just about fall into the socket. It it doesnít then you need to recheck the orientation of the number 1 pin and pin hole. Once inserted move the socket lever down to lock the CPU in place.  Use some isopropyl alcohol and clean the CPU and the heatsink base. If the heatsink has a pad remove it and use the paste. Now take the CPU cooling paste and put a light film on the CPU. Then install the heatsink and fan according the instructions that came with them. Usually there is a 2 to 4 clips to hold it in place. Now take the CPU fan lead (wires) with its plug and slid it onto the 3-pin power outlet on the motherboard. The motherboard manual will point this out. But it is usually by the CPU socket somewhere. Next you should install your memory modules or memory sticks as most call them.  The memory stick will have a off set notch in the bottom where you stick it into the memory slot which will have a little off set bridge or solid piece that lines up with the one in the memory stick. That way the memory is in proper alignment. Make sure the memory stick is fully installed and locked into place with the little plastic or metal clips on each end.  Next if your motherboard needs to be configured with jumpers (remember the tweezers) use your motherboard manual to set the jumpers at this time. Once again it is easier to do this outside the case. If yours uses software to configure it then you can move on.

  • Install the motherboard:

Ok now lay your case on itís side for installing the motherboard. If your case has a removable motherboard plate then take it out to install the motherboard on it. Match up the motherboard mounting hole (they will usually have metal washer like stuff around them) with the case or plate. Now use the standoffs and install them to the case or plate where the holes lined up. Then use the screws and screw the motherboard down to the standoffs. Some case use plastic standoffs. These usually have pointed ends you push up thru the back of the motherboard and then slide the flat head into the case or plate. Make sure that the motherboard is not touching the case or plate on the back of the motherboard. Now install the plate if your case came with the removable one. Make sure your motherboard is tight but not too tight as to cause it to crack.

Next connect the power to the motherboard. If you have an AT motherboard it will use 2 large 6 wire plugs. The black wires have to be together in the middle or you will fry your motherboard and believe me it has happened a lot. They will be hard to install but they will fit just keep trying. The problem is the little tabs placed on 1 side of them. If you have a ATX motherboard then you will have 1 large 20 wire plug. It is made so it can only be installed the right way. If you have a cpu that needs the extra 12 volt hooked to the motherboard then you will need to install it also. It looks different from the other connectors and will install only the right way. Not all CPU need the extra 12volt connector. Using the motherboard manual go on to connecting the power switch, reset switch, power led, PC speaker and the hard drive activity led. Double-check all your connections to make sure all is how it should be.

  • Install Floppy drive:

Now if you decided to install a floppy drive this is the time. If you put it in a 5.25 bay then you will need to use the adapters that came with it or the case. After installing the floppy connect the power cable. The plug is very small and is the smallest coming from the PSU. Then hook up the ribbon cable to it. The ribbon cable for the floppy will have a twist in the cable at one end. Hook the one end of the ribbon cable to the motherboard labeled FDD. Make sure to hook the cable with the pin marked number 1(edge of cable will have a red stripe) to the connector with the pin marked number 1 so the pins match. Hook to floppy drive the same way. If you get this reversed it will not hurt you floppy drive. It will just not work and the floppy drive light will stay on. Just reverse how you hooked the ribbon cable.


It will only fit in a 5.25 bay. Make sure you mount it tightly then hook up the ribbon cable. The ribbon cable will be a 40 pin on and the number 1 pinhole on the connector will have the red edge or stripe. The number 1 pin on the drive unit is usually the one nearest the power connector on the drive unit. Use the end connector for the unit on the ribbon cable and the other end connector for the motherboard . On the motherboard it will have a little number 1 marked on it near the corner. Hook the ribbon cable to the secondary connector on the motherboard usually marked IDE2. The primary motherboard connector is usually blue color but it is marked on the motherboard and it is pointed out in the motherboard manual.  If you install a 2nd unit use the middle connector on the ribbon cable for it. Now hook up the power to it. Use a 4 pin connector. It will be shaped so that it installs the right way. Hook up the audio cable to the drive with the 3 wire connector. Plug it into the back where it says audio on the drive and then you will connect the other end to your sound card when you install it or to your motherboard if you are using the onboard sound. The motherboard manual will show you where to plug into.

  • Install the Hard Drive:

Install the hard drive into your case. It will go into a 3.5 space. Mount it as far from other devices as possible since it will generate lots of heat and it will need to have plenty of air moving around it to keep it cool. Make sure you mounted it tightly.  Before installing the hard drive look at the back end of it and make sure the jumper is set to master. The instructions for setting or checking the settings will be printed on the topside of the drive. Install the ribbon cable with the end connector with the number 1 pin hole lined up with the number 1 pin on the drive. The cable will be marked with a red edge or stripe to mark the side of the connector that is the number 1 pinhole. The hard drive number 1 pin will be near the power pins.  Install the other ribbon cable end connector into the primary connector on the motherboard which is usually marked IDE1. Now days the IDE1 connector on the motherboard is usually blue in color. The motherboard manual will point it out for you in case you are not sure.

  • Install video card:

Remove the back case insert cover that lines up with the video slot you are using. They could be held in with a screw or they could be of the punch out type. These inserts cover the slots in the back of the case.  There are AGP card slots which most motherboards have used for the last few years. The slot is usually the top most one and is brown in color. There are still PCI video cards out and they use the PCI slot and they are white in color.  Take your video card and insert it into the slot. You may need to rock it into place. Place one end in the slot and then move it back and forth to insert the rest of the pins. Let me point out that AGP video cards insert upside down. Take the card will have a cutout for a screw to hold it tightly in place. Take a screw from the supplies ones or if your insert was held in place with a screw use that one. If your card has a cooling fan that uses a power connection that is not on the video card hook it up and then make sure it doesnít hit the fan and that all ribbon cables and power connector wires are out of the way of the fan.

  • Before starting system:

Now take your flashlight and recheck all your connections to make sure they are firmly in place. That all wires and cables are out of the way of any fan blades. Push down on your memory to make sure it is still firmly seated. Most important is to make sure your CPU fan is plugged in. Now hook up your keyboard and your mouse. Hook your monitor to your video card and plug the power cord to a power source.  Turn your monitor on. Last but not least plug your power cord into your power supply unit and take the other end and plug it into a power source.

  • Start your system:

Turn your power switch on the power supply to the on position if it has the extra switch on the back of it. Now turn on your power switch on the front of your computer. The power on led should light up. If so then congratulation on getting this far. You should get your BIOS screen on the monitor. You will need to get into the CMOS/BIOS so know which key or keys to push. The motherboard manual will tell what you need to do.

  • BIOS (Basic Input/Output System):

Using the motherboard manual just go to where the boot up devices are at and make sure that your CD-ROM is the first boot device. Unless your operating system uses floppy disc instead. If so then make sure that the FDD is set as first boot device. Make sure the boot up floppy seek is enabled and then exit out of the bios. You can leave the rest at their default for now.

  • Install Operating System:

With your system on load your CD if that is what your OS is on. Reboot your computer. Follow the on screen instructions. If it ask to install from CD (win98 & ME) say yes. If it ask to partition the hard drive say yes. Say yes to formatting the drive after that also. The keep following the instructions to finish the loading of your OS.

That is the basics to building a system on your own. It is not as hard as it may seem to be. Now go build yourself a computer and then impress your friends when you say I build my own systems!




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