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

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
ProcessorSpeakers
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.

Frequency

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

Motherboard

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.

Northbridge

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.

Southbridge

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.

Memory

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

Processor

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.

Memory

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.

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