Archive for the Computer Building Guides Category

How to build a Home Theater PC

Friday, December 16th, 2011 | Permalink

Have you ever wanted to watch YouTube and Netflix on your TV, but you don’t have a internet connected TV? Or maybe you want to record live TV on your computer’s hard drive like a DVR? Or maybe you want to watch or listen to your pictures, music, and movies from laptop or desktop on your TV? The way to accomplish all of these and create the best home theater in the world is to build yourself a home theater PC (HTPC).

Before building any computer you should decide what you want the computer to be able to do. My list looks like this:

  • With a HTPC you want it to be able to output at least 1080p video via an HDMI cable.
  • Be able to take a coax cable input from your cable or satellite provider.
  • Have lots of storage space for recorded TV and digital copies of your movie library (you could alternatively have most of your storage space in a different computer or ideally on a server, but that will be discussed in other articles).
  • Be able to record multiple shows at once and be able to stream Netflix at the same time.
  • Last, but certainly not least, never hear fan noise coming from the home theater PC case.

From these needs you can interpret what the specs of the primary components of the system needs to be. From this list of vague needs we interpret that:

  • The graphics output has to be 1920×1080 resolution. If you added the want of a 3D TV then you need to find a video card with 3D capabilities.
  • To watch your cable or satellite you need a digital HD TV tuner with a CableCARD slot.
  • Storage is critical if you don’t have a home server on your network so filling the HTPC case up with 2 TB hard drives is not a bad idea, especially when you realize that a one hourTV episode in HD is almost 7 GB.
  • A home theater PC build should be expected to handle multiple tasks at once, the higher end digital TV tuners will record multiple shows at once, but you also need a mutlithreaded processor is a must for doing everything at the same time.
  • Silence is achieved by simply removing as many fans as possible or using large fans that spin slower over small fans that need to spin faster. This requires getting graphics cards that use passive cooling instead of fans. And cases that accommodate large diameter fans.

With this list of specs in mind lets dig into the buyer’s guide to building a home theater PC.

The Custom Components You Need in Building a Home Theater PC

SILVERSTONE Black Grandia Series GD06B ATX Media Center / HTPC Case

Silverstone Grandia GD06B HTPC Case

Because a HTPC is something that will be seen by everyone in your entertainmentroom you want a case that looks good and fits with the design of the room. You also want a case that has the large diameter fans and room for at least 4 hard drives if you aren’t going to be using a server to hold all your recorded TV and movies. With these requirements in mind I would choose the SILVERSTONE Black Grandia Series GD06B ATX HTPC Case. It looks good, is quiet, and has the required hard drive space.

AMD A6-3500 Tri-core APU

The next thing is to decide what processor to put in your home theater computer. Remember that we wanted it to be multithreaded to handle multiple recordings and streamings at the same time. But we also want it to be low power so it doesn’t require a huge heat sink and noisy fan to keep cool. The AMD A6-3500 triple core APU (accelerated processing unit, like a CPU but better) fits the bill quite nicely. Its three cores allows it to multitask nicely, only draws 65 watts, and can output 1080p video without the help of an additional graphics card. By using an APU and not needing an additional video card we also save on the power it takes to run one and the noise another cooling fan would cause.

ASRock MB-A75M Motherboard

Now that the case and processor are set we know that we have to find a motherboard that will fit in the Micro ATX space in the case and has an AMD APU socket. The motherboard we also want to make sure it has at least 5 SATA ports so we can attach the optical drive and the four hard drives. I like the ASRock MB-A75M Motherboardbecause it has 5 SATA II, 1 eSATA II, 2 USB 2.0, and 4 USB 3.0 ports. This will help keep this case relevant and less outdated longer. It also can output 7.1 channel HD audio for the true surround sound experience.

Ceton InfiniTV Digital CableCARD Quad-tuner

The next main component we need to decide on is the digital TV tuner card with cableCARD support. The key to this is the cableCARD support. Because satellite and cable providers now encrypt their signal you must get a cableCARD from them that decrypts the signal. Currently there are only a few digital TV tuners that meet this requirement. They are priced loosely on how many TV shows can be recorded concurrently. Right now the best card out there is the Ceton InfiniTV 4 Digital Cable Quad-tuner Card, which can record four channels at the same time with a single cableCARD. If you don’t want to spend money on the top of the line tuner you can check out this post on a run down of all available cableCARD digital TV tuners.

Hitachi Deskstar 3TB Internal Hard Drive

Western Digital Caviar Green 2 TB Internal Hard Drive

The last key part that is needed to build a home theater PC a large hard drive or multiple large hard drives. If you truly need tons and tons of space to hold your large movie library and/or plan to record and store hours and hours of TV then you should be looking at 3 TB hard drives. 3 TB drives are still new and not every system is compatible yet, so make sure your motherboard has an EFI or UEFI BIOS and your using a 64 bit version of Windows 7. If you don’t need quite as much amounts of space then a 2 TB is cheaper solution. My recommendation for a 3 TB drive is the Hitachi Deskstar 3 TB 5K3000 and the Western Digital Caviar Green 2 TB for the 2 TB drive.

To finish up the computer we still need to get some memory (at least 4 GB, but memory is so cheap now I’d suggest 8 GB), a power supply, and an optical drive. These can be chosen based on cost because they aren’t critical to the performance of the HTPC. I’ve chosen the following components for my build. A OCZ ModXStream Pro 500W power supply, G. Skill Value Series 8 GB (2 x 4 GB), and a Lite-On Internal Blu-Ray drive. The last thing you need is Windows 7 64bit, because this comes with Windows Media Center which is a very good program for recording and watching TV as well as movies.

OCZ ModXStream Pro 500W

G. Skill Value Series 8 GB

Lite-On Internal Blu-Ray

Now that we have all the pieces of the home theater pc it is time to actually put it together. The only difference in building a HTPC and a standard desktop is the case, every other component is the same. It shouldn’t be any more difficult to assemble, hard drives and optical drives are just in different places than in a normal tower. For instructions on how to put a computer together piece by piece read my post on how to build a custom desktop computer.

Home Theater PC Build

Silverstone Grandia Series GD06B Case$69.99
AMD A6-3500 APU$89.99
ASRock MB-A75M Motherboard$74.99
Ceton InfiniTV 4 Digital Cable Quad-tuner Card$269.00
Hitachi Deskstar 3 TB 5K3000$220.99
OCZ ModXStream Pro 500W$64.99
G. Skill Value Series 8 GB$34.99
Lite-On Internal Blu-Ray$59.99
Windows 7 64bit$99.99

In review, we have the components of a very good home theater computer. The total cost of this build on Newegg is about $1000, while this is not cheap, you aren’t getting a cheap TV, receiver, and/or speakers so why scrimp on the brains of the setup. Of course you can substitute pieces in or out to save money or upgrade as desired, and probably drop the price below $500 without too much effot. And don’t forget because we made sure we had a case and motherboard that could handle an optical drive and 4 additional hard drives, as well as an external drive or even multiple drives the expandable storage space is as good as unlimited.

If you have any questions or comments be sure to let me know in the comment section.

How to Build a Desktop Computer From Scratch

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011 | Permalink

You are feeling the notion to build a custom desktop computer from scratch. Great. Now what? Its not like you can just go down to your local retailer and just pick one up, that’s missing the point of building a custom desktop. Anyone can get a cookie cutter PC, but how do you make one that does exactly what you want it to?

Decide the Purpose of the Computer

What is this computer going to be doing most of its life? Is it a gaming PC, a DVR replacement computer, glorified typewriter, or just a multimedia creation computer? Deciding on the purpose before you build will help you get the components you need and make your desktop truly be customized for your tasks. Building a computer from scratch allows you to not waste money on stuff that doesn’t matter to you. Now lets look at the components a couple different builds will need to have.

Gaming PC

Gamer’s are all about speed. They need fast processors, fast video cards, and the extreme gamer’s even have super fast solid state hard drives. They also need a fair bit a fast memory to make sure everything runs smoothly.

Home Theater PC

The home theater computer needs to have large hard drives to store all of the recorded TV and movies, ideally in excess of 4 TB but you could start the build with 2 TB with the option to expand later.

Another key item is a TV tuner. There are many TV capture cards out there, but with cable and satellite providers encrypting their channels you need a tuner card that is capable of decrypting them. The HD Homerun Prime or the Ceton Inifinity 4 are currently the only two cards in production. Both can handle recording multiple channels at once which saves you from needing to buy a second card. Personally I couldn’t afford the high prices so I bought a used ATI TV Wonder HD 600 for only $99.

The only other thing a HTPC needs is a graphics card cable of at least 1080p output, however this is pretty standard so it shouldn’t unnecessarily increase the price of the build.

 The Cheapest Desktop You Can Buy

If you truly want to build the cheapest desktop possible then you are going to want to combine as many components as possible. Get a case that comes with a built in power supply. Get a motherboard that has built in video capability. Then simply find the cheapest of everything else. I’ve built a nice desktop for $500, so a super cheap desktop should be in the area of $300 or so.

Find your main component and build around it

The first step to build a desktop computer from scratch is to choose the primary piece of hardware and then make sure everything else is compatible with it. This applies especially if you are building around a specific processor or motherboard because they are connected by the socket requirement of the processor.

The other instance is if you are building around multiple video cards. AMD card use Xfire technology to connect multiple cards while Nvidia uses SLI. Therefore you need a motherboard that will support the brand you choose.

The main component that my future computer is going to be based on is a Samsung MD230X6, which as the image shows is a 3 by 2 array of 23″ HD monitors that have thin bezels. This is the multitasking and gaming dream setup. If you want a computer than can actually use all of these monitors then you have to get a AMD Eyefinity capable graphics card and a AMD Xfire motherboard for a future addition of a 2nd graphics card.

How to Actually Build a Desktop Computer From Scratch

No you’ve purchased all the right parts (computer building checklist) it is time to put the computer together. What is the best way to assemble everything you ask? Well the build order I would suggest is as follows.

  1. Open case
  2. Screw motherboard into case
  3. Insert memory dimms into slots on motherboard, make sure they are firmly snapped into place
  4. Install the CPU, ensure that the markings on the socket and CPU line up so no pins are bent. It should fall into place with almost zero resistance, don’t force the CPU into place.
  5. Install CPU cooler
  6. Connect case fans and front panel wires to motherboard
  7. Install video card into appropriate motherboard slot
  8. Install power supply if not preinstalled in the case
  9. Connect power to motherboard, CPU, and graphics card
  10. Install hard drives and connect them to motherboard and power supply
  11. Install optical drives and connect them to motherboard and power supply
  12. Connect monitor
  13. Connect keyboard and mouse
  14. Connect external speakers (optional)
  15. Connect plug power supply into outlet
  16. Turn on the computer

With so many manufacturers and so many different parts you are going to have to refer to either the motherboard manual or the case manual on how exactly to connect each component. But it is not difficult. Just last month I was able to help my friend assemble his first AMD APU gaming desktop over Skype by basically relaying the instructions I listed above.

Post Assembly (The Operating System)

After powering on the desktop for the first time you need to install an operating system (OS). This can be Windows XP/Vista/7 with Windows 7 being the recommended operating system or a version of Linux, with the recommended version being Ubuntu. Whichever OS you choose you will need to burn it to a DVD and then insert it into the optical drive. You then need to make sure you boot from the DVD. If that doesn’t happen automatically look in your motherboard manual for how to access the boot menu, once your in then choose the optical drive.

And that is how to build a computer from scratch. If you have any questions drop a comment.

Complete List of Parts Needed To Build a Computer

Saturday, October 15th, 2011 | Permalink

I’ve built a few computers over the years and the components you need for each build varies depending on your budget and purpose of the computer. Therefore, the list of parts that you need to build a computer depends on what type of computer you are trying to build. Because giving you a list for a super computer will do you no good if you only have a couple hundred dollars I’m going to provide a couple different lists. This way you can choose which list suits you best, get all the components you need, and build yourself an awesome machine. The three different lists will be Essential, Basic, and the Gamer.

Essential v Basic v Gamer Component Lists

The essentials list will be only the absolutely required parts, this is also known as a bare bones build. The basic list will be a good computer, like the one I built for myself and something you wouldn’t be ashamed to own, and would serve as a low budget gaming computer. The gamer’s list of computer components will be top of the line and built for graphics and speed.

List of Essential Parts Needed to Build a Computer

You may ask yourself, “What do you need to build a computer?” Well I’m here to tell you that despite what Newegg or other retailers are trying to sell you, the parts that you absolutely have to include in order to have a functioning computer are as follows:

Essential Components
Motherboard with built in GPU
Case and Power Supply combo
Hard Drive
Optical Drive
Operating System

Even though the operating system, or OS, is required to use a desktop computer you don’t have to purchase it. There are many free OS’s available. My favorite free OS is Ubuntu. Simply download, burn to a DVD, and install. It is true that many people will choose Windows 7 as their OS, but it is not required. If you want to save around $100 on the most basic of computers then Ubuntu is very good choice.

Another way to get an operating system is to get the product key from an old machine, say the computer you are replacing. It is as simple as finding a free product key finding program and running on the computer you are getting the operating system from. You can then download the Windows install disks for free and then install

There are also things that are necessary to you using the computer but that you may already have (or be able to get used for really cheap):

Needed Peripherals

Example of a Bare Bones Build

You should note that a bare bones build is the cheapest desktop computer you can get.

Foxconn H67S Micro ATX Motherboard$54.99
Intel Pentium G620 Sandy Bridge 2.6GHz$72.99
G.SKILL Value Series 4GB 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333$24.99
Rosewill R363-M-BK Black Computer Case with 400W Powersupply$49.99
Western Digital Caviar Blue WD1600AAJS 160GB 7200 RPM Hard Drive$33.99
LITE-ON Black 18X DVD-ROM 48X CD-ROM$17.99

With the operating system either being from an older computer or a free version of Ubuntu.

List of Basic Parts Needed to Build a Computer

The main difference between a bare bones computer and a basic computer is that you getting a discreet graphics card and a better processor. A motherboard upgrade is also included, but that doesn’t improve your machine on the same scale the graphics card and processor will. You also get to pick a power supply independent of the case, but that doesn’t really affect performance that much. The parts that a basic, low end gaming computer would need are as follows.

Basic Components
Video Card
Hard Drive
Optical Drive
Power Supply
Operating System

I’ve already written a post about how to build a mid range custom desktop computer. I helped an old roommate of mine build that one and as you may have noticed it had no discreet video card. That is because it uses one of the new AMD accelerated processing units (APUs) which gives you the performance similar to a high end video card with just the processor. It saves you a lot of money and gives good performance.

List of All Computer Components that can be used to Build a Gaming Desktop Computer

The gaming computer is what all other desktops aspire to be. It has the fastest processor, the fastest GPUs, the fastest hard drives, and best of everything else. There are two main configuration differences with this custom gaming rig and the two other builds I’ve shown, first is multiple video cards and second is multiple solid state hard drives as well as a traditional hard drive.

If you are a serious gamer then its all about performance. By adding two, three, or even four video cards to your system you are ensured that you can run the most visually demanding game on the highest settings without a drop in your fps, frames per second. This is a must, especially if you want to use multiple monitors to give you a truly immersive experience.

The second big change is the upgrade to solid state drives (SSDs). By going solid state your load times will be vastly improved and you won’t be left waiting for practically anything. Of course you still have a giant standard hard drive for storing all your music and movies on. But the operating system and all of the games go on the SSDs. By using two of them in a RAID 0 configuration you can increase the speed even further.

Gaming Components
Video Card x 2 (or 3 or even 4)
Solid State Hard Drive x 2
Hard Drive
Blu-ray Burner
Sound Card
Power Supply
Operating System

Example of a High End Gaming Build

ASUS Rampage III Black Edition Motherboard$559.99
Intel Core i7-990X Extreme Edition Gulftown 3.46GHz$999.99
ASUS MARS II GeForce GTX 580 X 2$1499.99
G.SKILL Sniper Gaming Series 12GB 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 Memory$189.99
G.SKILL Phoenix Pro Series 120GB SATA II Solid State Drive X 2$393.98
Seagate Barracuda XT ST33000651AS 3TB 7200 RPM Hard Drive$179.99
ASUS Black 12X Blu-ray Burner$91.99
Antec High Current Pro 1200W Power Supply$279.99
SILVERSTONE RAVEN RV01-BW Black Computer Case$229.99

While everything in this build is expensive, the majority of the cost comes from the dual top of the line graphics cards and the 6 core extreme edition of the Intel i7 processor. But if performance is top priority and price is of no importance, then a build very similar to this would be top choice.


The differences between the essentials only, basic, and gamer’s list of computer components are huge. Make sure you know what you need and know your budget so you don’t end up with something you can’t afford or something that doesn’t do what you need it to do. Most people will choose something along the lines of a basic build. Only the people on the tightest budget will get an essentials only build. Only an extreme gamer will be able to afford the high end gamer’s build, but he will have a machine in the top echelon of all custom built PCs for his efforts.

Complete Guide On Why And How To Build Your Own Custom Desktop Computer 2011

Thursday, July 21st, 2011 | Permalink

How to Build A Computer?

The simple answer is that you just need to follow this computer building checklist below and follow the instructions the motherboard gives for how to put everything together.

The long answer however,find the perfect components for what you want and need at a good price, is everything you find below.

Checklist of Parts Needed To Build A Computer

Required PartsOptional Addons
MotherboardWireless Networking
Graphics CardSound Card
MemoryPCI Cards (USB 3.0, eSATA, Thunderbolt, etc)
Hard DriveWebcam
Optical DriveTV Tuner
CaseMedia Card Reader
Power SupplyExternal Hard Drive
MonitorHeat Sink and Fan
KeyboardCables (DVI, eSATA, Fan Power)
MouseSurge Protector or Battery Backup
Printer and Scanner

#1 How to Choose a Processor

What is the Processor

The central processing unit, the CPU or simply processor, is the brain of the computer. It is also the central component to a custom built desktop computer. The choice of CPU will largely govern the overall performance and price of the build.

The Options

When it comes to desktop processors there are two main producers, Intel and AMD. Intel is the current market leader with the fastest and most advanced processors, while AMD has integrated its graphics processing unit (GPU) into its CPU to create an APU (accelerated processing unit) that provides significantly better CPU based graphics performance than Intel. Both companies have their different strengths that you should be aware of to make the best purchase for your needs.

Intel Processors

Intel has four main processor families: the Intel Core (i3,i5,and i7), Core 2, Pentium, and Celeron (a full list of Intel Processors can be found here). In addition to these families Intel uses code names to denote different steps in the evolution of the processor. Take the Core i7 for example, when it was introduced in 2008 it was code named Bloomfield, then in 2009 the next iteration was code named Lynnfield, in 2010 came Gulftown, then January 2011 out came Sandy Bridge. This means that you may think you’ve found a fantastic deal on a Core i7 processor when in actuality you are looking at a processor that is already a few years old. To make sure you are getting the newest processors check out this full list of code names for the Core type processors on this Wikipedia page.

AMD Processors

AMD also has four processor families: the A-series APUs, Phenom II, Athlon II, and Sempron CPUs. AMD also uses code names but they don’t necessarily mean that a processor is newer just different, for example the Phenom II has dual cores (X2) code named Callisto, tri cores (X3) named Heka, quad cores (X4) as Deneb, X4s with Turbo Core code named Zosma, and six cored (X6) processors with Turbo Core code named Thuban. Check these links for a list of all AMD CPUs and APUs or this Wikipedia list that includes future processors.

Specs Explained

Number of Cores: A core is simply a processing unit. Processors with cores can perform multiple processor operations at once. Thus the more cores the better the CPU is at multitasking. Many new programs are also making use of multiple cores to speed them up as well.


This is the speed of the processor. The higher this number is the more operations it can do per second. This is typically given in gigahertz (GHz).

L2  and L3 Cache

Cache is memory that is stored on the processor, thus accessing that memory is much faster having to go to the slower ram or super slow hard drive. Without getting too technical the smaller it is the faster, but the larger it is the more that can be stored in it instead of in RAM. There is a trade off, but that being said if the processor has the same frequency but different cache sizes, the one the biggest cache size will, in most instances, be faster.

Manufacturing Technology

This number is typically given in nanometers (nm), it refers to how small things are inside of the processor. The smaller things are more cores, cache, and other parts of the processor can be fit into the same space.

Power Usage

This is how much power the processor will draw from your power supply. This number also determines how much cooling is required. If you want a quite computer then getting a lower power CPU will decrease the need for noisy cooling fans.

Socket Type

The socket is the physical connection to the motherboard. Not all CPUs, not even from the same manufacturer, are interchangeable on a motherboard so make sure you get a motherboard with the same socket as your processor.

Relationship with other components


The choice of processor will determine the type of motherboard you must buy, Intel vs AMD, and then refined by socket type. The power that processor draws can affect the choice of power supply. If you want to overclock the processor then you may need get a different cooling system than the stock cooler (note: all desktop processors come with a heat sink and fan, although the one that came with my Phenom II X4 955 didn’t keep it under the manufacturer’s specified maximum temperature while under heavy CPU load).

If you choose the AMD APU then you may not need to get a graphics card and still be able to watch HD movies and play video games. Not having to buy a video card could save $30-$125 off the total price of the system (if you were to get an equivalent card, but you could spend much much more on a premium high end card).

Price range (high, medium, low)

The range of prices for a desktop processor can range from $30 to over $1000. Don’t get them confused with processors made for servers which can be over $1500. The mid range performance processors will most likely be in the $100-$200 range.

#2 How to Choose a Motherboard

What is the Motherboard

The motherboard is part that connects the different pieces of your computer so they can work together. The motherboard often comes with some functionality built into it like Ethernet, sound, and sometimes even graphics capabilities.

Specs Explained

Socket Type

The socket is physical interface with your CPU. The critical thing here is that they match. There is no upgrading your socket, if you change your processor and it needs a different socket, you have to change your motherboard.


This is the PCI Express controller and on board graphics processor (if there is one) for the motherboard. Gamers will want to choose which north bridge they want based on how it supports multiple video cards and what type of video cards it supports. For example, if you want to have multiple NVIDIA video cards you need a northbridge that supports SLI and for multiple AMD video cards you need CrossfireX support.

I personally would choose a board that supports Hybrid CrossfireX and get an AMD video card. I say this because with the Hybrid CrossfireX you don’t have to have two identical cards to get the increase in performance. AMD also allows the use of more than two monitors, which I haven’t put to use yet but am planning to in the future.


The south bridge controls most of the peripherals including PCI, USB, SATA, network, and audio. You usually don’t have a choice to which southbridge you want because the northbridge more or less dictates which southbridge will be used on the board.


Slots: This is simple the number of DIMMs (a stick of RAM) that can be put into the board. Most boards will have either four or six with small low end boards only having two.

Supported Memory: This tells you what type of memory you can put in the motherboard. New motherboards will take DDR3 with varying clock speeds. Keep this maximum clock speed in mind when choosing the ram, you could end up paying for memory with a higher frequency only to have your motherboard down clock it.
This section also includes how much memory the board can handle, low end boards will max at 8GB while extreme boards will be over 24GB.

Relationship with other components


Motherboards are either AMD or Intel processor specific. Each motherboard is also processor specific based on the motherboards socket type.

Video Card

Motherboards can also determine the graphic card setup. If you want to use multiple GPUs you will need a board that supports Xfire or SLI (depending on the brand of GPU you choose). If the motherboard doesn’t support one of the multiple GPU technologies or supports AMD and you bought Nvidia then you won’t get the benefit you hoped for.

The layout of the motherboard can also make long video cards not fit or be difficult to reach SATA connectors or the DIMM slots. While this isn’t usually a problem don’t neglect physical size completely.


Depending on the motherboard you will need DDR2 or DDR3 ram. Most new motherboards support DDR3, but don’t forget to check just in case. You will also need to see if the motherboard is dual channel or triple channel. Because memory always needs to be done in pairs with dual channel and have multiples of three sticks for triple channel memory.

Price range (high, medium, low)

I just barely helped a friend choose the cheapest motherboard we could fins that would work with the new AMD APU and it only cost him $64. If you want a gaming motherboard capable of having four video cards at once then you are $500+ price range.