Learning How to Build a Computer
Building a Computer – A Tutorial
Building your own computer completely from components is both a fun and rewarding experience. Building your own computer also provides several advantages. The major benefits of building a desktop PC over purchasing a branded system are:
- The PC can be customized to fit your exact needs.
- By building your own system, you learn exactly how your computer works.
- Self-built computers are more easily upgraded than branded systems.
- PC components are less expensive when bought separately.
The following tutorial will take you step by step through how to build a computer.
Tools and Materials Needed
Building your own computer requires few tools, but a couple of tools are necessary. Required and recommended tools are:
- Phillips-head screwdriver – The single-most important tool.
- Anti-static wristband – Static electricity can wreak havoc on the circuit boards of your hardware, especially the motherboard.
- Flashlight – If you have good overhead lighting, this is not necessary but can be helpful.
- Tweezers – May be necessary for jumper settings on the motherboard or hard drive.
The hardware to build a computer system will vary depending on your computing needs. The necessary hardware and optional recommendations are:
- PC Case – This houses all the components of the computer, provides an on/off switch, and may also provide additional interfaces such as front speaker jacks and USB drive slots.
- Power Supply – The power supply regulates all the electricity and voltages needed for each component.
- Motherboard – The motherboard is the interface for the processor to communicate with all of the other hardware.
- Processor (CPU) – The processor is the brain of a computer.
- Processor Cooling System – Processors get extremely hot when active. A cooling system is needed so that its delicate parts do not become fused together through the high heat.
- Case fans – While not absolutely necessary, a rear case fan is recommended to control internal temperatures.
- Memory (RAM) –Memory has dedicated interfaces on the motherboard. Most motherboards provide 2 – 4 memory interfaces.
- Video Card – Many motherboards have onboard video systems but a dedicated video card is recommended.
- Sound Card – Onboard sound provided with the motherboard are sufficient for most every need. Only professional music editors/mixers and high-end home theater systems will need a separate sound card.
- Optical Drive – The standard in optical drives today is the CD-RW/DVD-RW drive. They are so affordable, anything less is not recommended.
- Floppy Disk Drive – Floppy drives are almost extinct but some users still have a need for them.
- Keyboard – The standard input device.
- Mouse –The standard pointing device. Options include a touchpad or trackball.
- Monitor – For viewing output.
- Cables and Power Cords – Usually included with the relevant hardware.
- Standard case screws – Included with newly purchased cases and sometimes with other hardware.
- Thermal Cooling Compound – It is recommended to use a silver-based cooling compound to draw heat from the processor to an attached cooling system.
- Software – An operating system and device drivers are the minimum required software for computer functionality. Device drivers are included with most hardware but when building a computer, the operating system must be purchased separately.
Prepare the Case
To begin, remove both side covers of the case with the screws on the back. The sides should slide toward the rear and unhook. Install the power supply in the proper location. It is usually screwed onto the top rear, inside the case. There should be vented area below the power supply. Screw the rear case fan on the inside of the case over the vent holes. Follow the case instructions on how to install the plastic motherboard spacers. Remove any metal plates that cover the drive bays you would like to use. Punch out the plate for the I/O shield and replace it with the I/O shield provided with the motherboard. Make sure the cables attached to the case for the on/off switch, USB ports, lights, etc are accessible.
Prepare the Motherboard
Put on the wristband static protector and attach it a grounded piece of metal such as the computer case chassis. Remove the motherboard from its plastic sleeve. Place the sleeve on a work surface and the motherboard on top. Remove the processor from its box in the same manner.
Install the Processor, Fan, and Memory
Processors installation is relatively simple. Most motherboards make use of a zero-insertion force (ZIF) socket. Holding the sides of the processor, check that the pins are straight. One corner will either have no pin or have a flat edge. Pull the lever on the socket and slide the socket-cover up. Insert the processor, aligning the pinless or cut-edge corner to the correct side of the socket. Lower the cover and secure with the lever.
Clean the top of the processor and the connection plate on the fan with a lint-free cloth and a little alcohol. Some heat sinks require a bracket be attached to the rear of the mother board. It will fit into the holes provided around the processor. Apply a small, pin-head sized dollop of thermal compound on top of the processor and place the fan on top. Secure the fan with the pins or screws provided.
Make sure the tabs on both sides of the memory interfaces are pulled down. The memory can only be inserted in one direction. When fully inserted, the tabs will pop slightly and you will be able to secure them over the brackets on the memory stick.
Install the Motherboard
The motherboard is now ready for installation. Align the screw-holes in the motherboard with those of the case and align the rear connectors with the slots of the I/O shield. Tighten the screws. There will be one large 20-24 pin power connector on the power supply. Attach this to the motherboard. There may also be a separate, square, 4-pin connector for the chip. Attach this also. Check the mother board manual to locate the proper pins for the rear-case fan, on/off switch, hard drive lights, and any other accoutrements included with the case. Slide each pin into place and attach the proper power cables to the rear fan and any that may be needed for the case.
Install the Drives
First, install the floppy drive, if you are using one. Most floppy drives use a small ribbon cable with a dedicated interface on the motherboard. Secure the drive with 4 screws to the sides of the slot. Now, attach the cable and the proper power cable.
The hard drive and optical drive will have one of two interfaces. Most newer devices use an SATA interface. After securing the drives to the proper slots, simply attach the SATA cables to any of the available connectors on the motherboard and then connect the power to each. If one or more of your devices uses an IDE ribbon cable interface, it may need to be configured. If you have only one device, no additional configuration is needed. However, if you are attaching two drives to the same IDE cable, one must be configured as master and one must be made a slave. The master and slave configurations are made on the back of the drive with a 2-pin jumper. Refer to the drive instructions on how to properly set the jumper for master or slave.
Install Video and Sound Cards
The video card will usually connect through a PCIe card slot. This will usually be the topmost slot facing the rear of the case. Check the motherboard manual to be sure. Secure the video card into the slot gently and then attach it to the case with a single screw. The sound card will most likely use the standard PCI slot. Insert in the same manner as the video card and secure with a screw.
You can now attach your monitor to the video card or motherboard connector along with the keyboard, mouse, and any other devices you have, such as a printer.
Secure the side panels to the case, insert the power cord and prepare to turn on the computer. Once on, you will need to set up the BIOS, install the operating system, and the device drivers.
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