After seeing countless threads on a daily basis about building a computer, I decided it was time to put some of the common questions to rest! So lets start, shall we? First off, for those of you that are COMPLETELY clueless when it comes to building your own computer, lets start at the beginning... Q: What are the advantages of building my own computer over buying a pre-built? A: There are a lot of possible answers for that question, and many people will have their own input on the topic, but here's a few of my personal reasons why I build my own. Most pre-built computer systems from big-name corporations use cheap proprietary hardware, including motherboards and power supplies, which makes it nearly impossible to upgrade over time without buying a whole new computer system. Most pre-built computer systems DO NOT offer any means of overclocking. For some this won't be a big negative, but for the majority of the people on bit-tech 'free' speed is a plus. Nearly every pre-built manufacturer will offer a short (typically 1 year) warranty, with the ability to purchase an extended warranty. On the flip side, most part manufacturers (motherboards, graphics cards, etc) offer a standard 3+ year warranty, while more and more are offering lifetime warranties. There's a good feeling of satisfaction when you press that power button and everything is working as it should. Q: But pre-built computers can be cheaper! A: A pre-built computer CAN be cheaper in the short run, though if you're planning on having the computer for any duration of time (over a year) you're better off building your own. As I stated above, most pre-built manufacturers only offer a 1 year warranty, and they tend to use cheap hardware to keep costs down. I can't tell you how many times I've heard of pre-built systems dying just after they're out of warranty, with no easy way to fix the issue short of buying another computer. Also, while pre-built systems CAN be cheaper, you can typically build a comparable system for the same price, and tailor the system more to your needs. If you want more memory and less GPU power for rendering, you can do that without changing the overall price of the system. Lastly, you really don't WANT to be cheap when it comes to a computer. Buying high quality parts ensures that your custom computer will last for years to come. Say you spend $1000 on a custom computer today, and the shortest warranty part in the computer is 3 years... Now let's assume that the computer dies one day out of warranty... (365 days/yr * 3yrs = 1095 days/3yrs) $1000 / 1095 days = ~$0.91 per day Now lets flip that to a 'typical' pre-built computer that costs $700, with a 1 year warranty... Assuming it dies one day out of warranty as well, here's what we get... (365 days/yr * 1yrs = 365 days/yr <-- Duh ) $700 / 365 days = ~$1.92 per day While I realize the chances of either system failing 1 day outside of warranty is small, cheap components WILL fail before high quality ones will. When it comes down to it, you have to decide if you want to take the chance with the cheap components, or spend the extra on the high quality ones. For those who already know that you want to build a custom computer, pick up here... Q: Okay, I've decided to build my own computer, what do I do now? A: Once you've made up your mind, you need to decide what you will be using your computer for, and what your budget is, and you need to be honest with yourself about it. While the latest and greatest always sounds good, in many cases you can get just as good of performance from a cheaper setup. There's no point in spending more money than you have to in order to get the performance you want. I also DO NOT recommend putting together a system online without a budget in mind, because you will find yourself not wanting to 'settle' for the PC you will end up 'having' to build because your budget won't stretch far enough to build your dream machine. I had the same issue with my last build on a budget, but ended up loving the system I built anyway. So, with a budget and a purpose in mind, it's time to move on to parts... I'll start off with the most popular places to buy parts in the US and the UK. The most popular site for US customers is Newegg.com, and one of the most popular sites for UK customers is Scan. When starting a build, the order that you pick your components makes a difference. I'm going to be pretty vague on which specific hardware to choose, because it varies greatly depending on what you are planning on doing with the computer, and the hardware changes so often I would have to keep this thread updated every week! Anyway, here's the order I recommend using... Processor - There's only two real choices for desktop computers... Intel, and AMD. Both have their own advantages and disadvantages, though when gaming the performance difference between either manufacturer is slim with the current chips. Motherboard - Once you have your processor selected, you need to pick a motherboard with the socket type and support that your processor needs to run, and you need to determine what features you want to have in a motherboard. This also goes back being honest with yourself on what you need. As an example, if you don't need dual-LAN, you can typically save a bit of cash by going for a board with similar features without the second LAN. You should also be aware of any SLI or Crossfire abilities of any motherboard you're interested in purchasing. If you ever plan on scaling to multiple cards, you will need a motherboard that supports one or the other. RAM - This one is a tad tricky... You need to pick the proper type (DDR2, DDR3), and a speed (DDR3 1600, DDR3 1866) that your motherboard supports, however you DO NOT need to get the maximum speed RAM you can find to have good performance. The faster RAM is only really faster in benchmark programs. In real-world scenarios there's no tangible benefit past 1600MHz when it comes to DDR3, as an example. Graphics - This is probably the most important item in the computer for gamers... There's a lot of choice when it comes to graphics cards, and which card is right for any one person depends on the resolution they will be gaming at. The two graphics card manufacturers are ATI and nVidia, and as with the processors, each has their advantages and disadvantages. Power Supply - Arguably THE most important part of a computer. If there's one place you DO NOT EVER want to skimp, it's the PSU. Choosing a cheap PSU not only puts your computer at risk for early death, but it also has the possibility of damaging other components in your system. As far as wattage goes, it's not always the case of 'more is better'. For 95% of the systems built today, 650 to 800 watts will be plenty of power. Also, as with the motherboard, if you are considering Crossfire or SLI, be sure the power supply you choose has the proper mix of 6 and 8 pin PCI-E connectors. Hard Drive - For the hard drive, there's two main choices... Traditional Mechanical HDD's, or Solid State Drives (SSDs). SSD's are EXTREMELY fast, and offer huge benefits on load time, though they also degrade after multiple write cycles, and they're expensive compared to traditional drives. Because of those factors, they work especially well as boot drives, though not well for storage drives. For storage, mechanical drives are still king. DVD Drives - Really a toss up on this one... Most DVD drives are cheap as chips, and the quality of each of them lies in the 'good enough' range for most people. If you plan on getting a Blu-Ray reader / writer, the LG drives have very good reviews. Case - I saved the case for last, because you really need to know every other piece of hardware before choosing one. If you were to pick a case first, you may find that after you've ordered everything and are in the process of building the system, one component (such as a long graphics card) may not fit in the case. Along with physical dimensions, it's important to look for a case with good airflow for the type of cooling you plan on doing. Multi-chamber cooling systems have also become popular as they separate components and cool them individually. Just a quick note in here as well... Unless you're going to buy an OEM motherboard, you should have EVERY cable you will need for the installation included with your motherboard, including SATA cables and even the occasional IDE cable. This means you can go cheaper on things like the hard drive and pick up an OEM version! With any piece of hardware you decide to buy, do plenty of research before settling on any one product. This is especially true when it comes to graphics cards, where there's a LOT of variation between product lines. Bit-tech has its own buyers guide that's also very helpful, and definitely worth a look if you've still go no clue where to go at this point... What Hardware Should I Buy? Once you've researched and formed a list for a build, post a thread with the list you've come up using the format Mystiik has posted HERE and see if anyone has any constructive criticism. If multiple people suggest one product over another that you have chosen, there's usually a reason for it. Also, keep in mind that ABOVE ALL ELSE, we're a community here! We are here to help you along the way. If you've got any issues or questions that need to be cleared up, use the search feature to see if anyone has had a similar question, and if not, make a new thread! Q: What about a sound card? I don't see one in your list! A: I didn't include one in the build because there's mixed feelings on them. On-board sound has become quite good over the years, and it is 'good enough' for the majority of the users out there, though there's plenty of purists out there that HAVE to have a sound card. My personal feelings on the matter? Unless you're running a higher quality speaker system, you probably won't notice a sound difference. I would suggest testing out the on-board sound before making a decision about a sound card... This does mean that if you choose you want one, it will be after the build is already completed, though it's not a big deal to add in a sound card after the fact. --------------------------------------------- [UPDATE: 09 FEB 2010] Putting it all together! So you've got everything you ordered sitting in their lovely colored boxes laid out in an arrangement in front of you. Feeling a sense of self accomplishment yet? No? You will be soon! First things first, when starting to build a system, it's a VERY GOOD idea to ground yourself first! This can be done using anti-static wrist straps, or by grounding yourself on something metal nearby. That said, the best place I have found to complete a computer assembly is the kitchen table. Why the kitchen table? It's a large flat surface that puts everything at a proper level for assembling the system, in a lot of cases the floor is tile or vinyl (which means no static build up), and the area is usually very well lit! Definitely my recommendation . Moving on to the build! Here's how to do it, step by step... The Case - First and foremost is the case... Unpackage the case, and make sure you have all of the bits and pieces ready for the rest of the build. This includes the package of screws, drive cages, etc. I find it easiest to install everything in the case with most of the 'removable' parts taken out and set aside for later. Your preference may vary! Once you've removed everything you want / need to remove before installation, you're going to want to place the case on its side. I prefer to place a towel under the case for two reasons... 1. It keeps the side panel clean from any scratches, and 2. It makes maneuvering the case easier on a hard surface. Anyway, on to the rest... The Motherboard (and Processor, and RAM) - Next up for unboxing is the motherboard. For now, you can leave all of the accessories your motherboard came with still in the box. Grab your Processor's box, and open it up. Take out the CPU itself, and the heatsink included, and set the heatsink aside for the moment. The next part is the most important part to be grounded for! Any static discharge into the processor can render the chip unusable. On to the installation! Most motherboards come with some sort of cover for the CPU socket these days, so first and foremost you will need to remove it. Got it? Good, now discard it and lets move on. Grab the plastic clamshell containing the processor, and gently open it up. Before grabbing the processor, make sure of the orientation it needs in the CPU socket on the motherboard, then gently grab the corners of the processor to lift it out of the package. Again being gentle, set the processor into the motherboard socket, and latch the processor down using the motherboard's latching mechanism. The processor is installed! Now for the tricky part... The heatsink you set aside earlier? Well it's time to install it (unless you've purchased an aftermarket cooler, in which case simply follow the manufacturers instructions for installation!). For the AMD users out there, the install is relatively simple as AMD still uses a lever system for stock heatsink installation. Intel on the other hand has a habit of using god-awful push-pin heatsinks, which are literally a pain to install by hand! AMD - Easy enough to do, simply remove the cover from the bottom of the heatsink so that the thermal paste is exposed, make sure the heatsink's attachment arms are in the proper locations, and set the cooler into place. I prefer to use a left-to-right motion when placing the heatsink to help avoid any air bubbles. Simple to do, set the left side in first, then apply gentle pressure and roll the rest of the heatsink on in a right-ward motion. Once the heatsink is set into place, attach the pressure lever side without the handle to the mounting bracket. Using a bit of pressure, attach the second side of the lever (the side with the handle) to its respective tab, and then lock it in place with the handle. Plug the fan into the pin header on the motherboard marked 'CPU' and you're done! Intel - Not quite so easy... Intel has a heatsink that uses four push-pin type arms to attach the heatink to the motherboard and processor. As above, I prefer to use a rolling motion to ensure the heatsink's thermal paste doesn't get any tiny air bubbles that will affect performance, so line up the push pins on the left, and give a left-to-right squish on the heatsink to set the thermal paste. Got that done? Good, now for the hard part... The push pins. Remember me saying they're literally a pain? You'll soon find out why. With the heatsink lined up on all four holes, press the top left push-pin until it FIRMLY clicks into place. I've had a couple of instances where the push-pin clicked, but wasn't fully seated. Make sure it's properly attached by carefully lifting the motherboard and checking the back side of the board. If the 'catch' on the push-pin is fully through, then it's on to the next. For the second pin, go to the opposite corner of the one you just did (which should have been the top left, so on to the bottom right), and repeat the process. Once you have all four push pins SECURELY fastened, plug the fan into the pin header on the motherboard marked 'CPU' and you're done! Ah hem, done with the processor, on to the rest of the motherboard installation. From here it's pretty straight forward. Depending on your case manufacturer, you may have to install motherboard standoffs before you can install the motherboard. Refer to your case's installation manual for the proper hole locations! Once the standoffs are installed and ready, it's time to head back to the motherboard's box and grab that back panel! Most cases come with a generic back panel already installed, so you will need to remove it. A simple tap from the outside of the case will suffice. Once the old one is removed, simply press in the one that came with your motherboard. Once completed, pick up your motherboard at the edges, and set it into place... You may need to do yet another left-to-right roll motion to get all of the ports aligned properly with the back panel! If you've done everything correctly with the motherboard standoffs and back plate, you should have screw holes lined up with all of the holes in the motherboard. Grab your favorite large-head phillips screwdriver, and lets get to work! Using the screws supplied with the case, attach the motherboard to the standoffs. Didn't I tell ya it was straight forward? The only thing left to do now, is install the RAM. Easy and simple, after checking your motherboard's manual to determine the proper slots, press the RAM into the proper slot until it clicks in place. Done with the motherboard. Expansion Cards - With the motherboard installed, it's time to move on to the expansion cards, such as graphics cards and sound cards. This is by far the easiest thing to do, requiring a couple minutes and the same phillips screwdriver you used for the motherboard. For each expansion card, you will need to remove the stock back plate the case has installed from the factory. Most modern graphics cards will require you to remove two plates. With the plates removed, the cards should simply slide into their respective slot on the motherboard. After a bit of wiggling to make sure everything is secure on the motherboard side of things, reuse the screws from the original back plates to attach the expansion cards to the case. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done. DVD Drives and Hard Drives - I'm lumping these two together as they're basically the same steps. Again depending on your case, may or may not have drive rails to use with your hard drive(s) and DVD drive(s). If you do have drive rails, installation is pretty straight forward, with a simple attach-and-slide-in system. For those cases without drive rails, slide the drives into their proper locations, and secure them with the screws supplied with your case. I can't really go into detail on either of these as they vary greatly depending on the case. For better instructions, refer to your case's instruction manual. Once installed, back to the motherboard box for the proper cable, be it SATA or IDE. On to the PSU!