Preparing to Build Your Own PC
Assembling your own PC takes time, skill, and research, but it can be a great learning experience. You might even want to consider it your “rite of passage” toward being a PC technician. All the skills needed to be a PC technician are tested: research, knowledge of users’ needs and the computer market, planning, organization, patience, confidence, problem-solving and extensive knowledge of both hardware and software.
However, don’t build your PC in order to save money because you probably won’t. The total price of all parts usually equals the price of a comparable clone PC that is prebuilt. Here are a few good reasons to assemble your own PC:
The whole process can be quite fun
Knowledge is power. The knowledge and experience gained in researching the parts to buy, studying the documentation, and finally assembling the PC can’t be overemphasized.
When you buy all the parts and software for a PC individually, you are also getting the documentation for each hardware component. This is most likely not the case when you buy a PC already assembled. If you plan to upgrade your PC later, having this documentation can be very valuable.
Many prebuilt PCs come with software already preloaded. You may not receive the original CDs or disks or the documentation for these programs, which can be a problem when you try to maintain your system. However, when you buy each software package individually, you have the installation disks, CDs, and documentation.
When you purchase each computer part individually, you are more likely to understand exactly what you are buying, and you can be more particular about the selection of each component. You have control over the brand and features of each component in the PC.
Here are a few reasons why you might not want to build your own PC:
If you are in a rush to get a PC up and running, assembling your own is probably not a good idea, especially if you are a first-time builder. The process takes time and requires patience, and the first time you do it, you most likely will make a few mistakes that will need to be resolved.
Individual parts may be warranted, but if you build your own PC, there is no overall warranty on the PC. If a warranty or a service agreement is important, then look for a ready-built PC with these services included.
Clone PCs have been tested to assure that individual component are compatible. When building your own PC, it is possible you might select components that are incompatible. For these reasons, buy quality mainstream components to best assure compatibility.
Don’t plan to assemble a PC for the first time unless you have access to an experienced technician or some technical service center you can consult if you encounter a problem you cannot resolve. For example, you may buy all the parts from a store that has a service center. The store may offer to assemble the PC for you for a charge ($50.00 to $75.00 is about right). If you find you cannot resolve a problem, you can always go back to the store for this service.
Remember, don’t assemble the PC to save money, because you probably won’t.
Getting Ready for Assembly: Selecting Parts
If you have decided to buy parts and assemble a PC, expect the process to take some time. The system board and expansion cards are full of jumper switches, connections, and ports and the documentation must be carefully read to determine just how to configure the system board and all components to work together. Technicians in service centers can assemble a PC in less than an hour, but they have already assembled the same group of parts many times.
Planning the assembly of a PC is like packing for a camping trip to a remote location. You must plan for everything you will need before you begin. As you select and purchase each part, two things are important: part functionality and compatibility with other parts.
Almost every computer needs these essentials: system board, CPU, RAM, hard drive, CD-ROM drive (or you can substitute a DVD drive for added functionality), floppy drive, case, power supply, video card, monitor, keyboard, and mouse. And, most likely, you will also want a sound card and modem. Make careful and informed decisions about every part you buy. Selecting each component requires reviewing your functionality, compatibility, and budget needs and determining what parts meet your criteria. Select the system board first, and then select the rest of the parts around this one most important component. Remember that the Intel chipset is preferable to other brands of chipsets.
When selecting parts, including the system board, carefully examine the documentation. Look for good documentation that you can understand without struggling. When buying parts of your first assembly, you should probably not use mail order. Buy from a reputable local dealer who will allow you to examine apart and look at the documentation, and who is willing and able to answer any technical questions you may have. Know the return policy
of the store and the manufacturer’s warranty for the part.
If you can buy the system board, CPU, and memory from the same dealer, who can help you determine that all three are compatible, do so to avoid later problems with compatibility. The documentation for the system board is quite valuable. Make sure it’s readable and complete. Does the CPU need a voltage regulator, heat sink, or fan? Ask the dealer for recommendations, and read the documentation for the CPU. Often a dealer will sell a system board with the CPU and fan already installed and jumpers on the system board set correctly. After you have selected the system board, RAM, and CPU, select the case and accompanying power supply. Remember the two rules: the case must meet your predetermined functionality, and it must be compatible with other parts (especially the system board). Next, select the hard drive and other drives. Does your BIOS on the system board support the IDE or SCSI hard drive selected? Is there an IDE adapter on the system board? Are connections available for the CD-ROM drive, floppy drive, removable drive, and the like? If the video logic is not included on the system board (for clone system boards it probably will not be), select the video card next, and make sure that you have an AGP or a PCI slot to accommodate it. Next, select the hard drive, CD-ROM drive, and floppy drive and then the peripherals, including a mouse, keyboard, and monitor.