How to Build a Computer

By: DirectPC




Step 1: component selection




The first and most important part of any computer system assembly is proper component selection, both compatibility- and performance-wise. Ensuring that the memory is compatible with the mainboard, videocard is of the proper interface and supports the necessary features, power supply is of adequate wattage and quality, enclosure having adequate ventilation is a must-do in order to have a trouble-free system which performs as expected. The best ways to make sure that all the candidates for your system are compatible with each other are:
Review websites: searching for a review of every part is a good idea, as the editors often indicate whether any issues were encountered. A good review will also give you a performance comparison to other similar parts, so you will know what to expect from your system
Salesperson or customer service representative: since it is a part of their job description, a knowledgeable service rep will be able to offer a good advice or suggestion as well as prevent possible complications
A knowledgeable friend or acquaintance: chances are high that either you know someone who is into computers or someone you know knows one. Beware of biased opinions though

In the end, the more sources of information you use, the better the chances of you getting the right hardware.












Step 2: assembly




Now that you have all the parts, time to make them a whole.

Prepare for assembly: make sure you are not wearing synthetic clothes as they could cause an electrostatic discharge and damage the delicate electronics. Also ensure the space is well-lit since you may need to operate with really tiny parts like jumpers. When unpacking the parts, it is best to leave them in/on the electrostatic packaging they came in until installation.

Install the power supply into the case and bolt it down. If it is a modular type then also install the connectors corresponding to the number/type of devices in your system. Now would also be the best time to install the extra case fans, if you got any.

Line the mainboard up with the case (or removable mainboard tray, if your case has one). Screw/snap the standoffs into the case/tray ensuring that you have the same number of standoffs as the mainboard's holes. If you have one or two fewer, no big deal; if you install an extra one it will touch the mainboard from the backside and will either short-circuit it or prevent it from powering up. Small but important detail.

Install the CPU by opening the locking mechanism on the mainboard and carefully dropping it in (refer to your mainboards' manual). Do not ever use any force; if it doesn't fit it means you may need to rotate it. Install the heatsink by placing it on top of the CPU and either pushing the locking pins through the holes (Intel) or locking the lever (AMD). Refer to the manual if not sure. Next, install the RAM modules ensuring that you match the notches (RAM fits only one way), as well as placing the stick in dual-channel mode, if your system supports it.

Now that the CPU and RAM are installed in the board, time to place it inside the case. Before you do that, however, make sure that you place the IO shield (the metal plate with cutouts for mainboard connectors) in the case. Almost every shield is unique, so you must use the one that came with your mainboard. After that, place the board right over the standoffs and bolt it down. Plug the large 20 or 24-pin power connector as well as the smaller 4- or 8-pin 12V power connector into the board. Now connect the HDD activity LED/power/reset button connectors, referring to the manual for proper placement.

Install the optical and hard drives as well as floppy drives and/or card readers into the case. Connect each one to an appropriate data cable, such as SATA cable for hard drives and flat IDE cable for opticals. If you have more than one optical drive, you may need to set the jumpers at the back of the drives, with one drive becoming the master and the other - slave. Plug the corresponding power cables from the PSU into each device as well. Card readers do not require a power cable, and get both power and data through the USB cable connected to the mainboard. Again, refer to the manual for proper USB connection guide.

Install the graphics card and other devices such as sound card and TV tuner. Connect the 6-pinIf you have an SLI or Crossfire platform, connect the two cards with a bridge if required. Note: it is also a good practice to first install nothing but a single videocard into the freshly-built system, as it will prevent possible conflicts which older operating systems are prone to, and then add one component at a time.

Now that your system is assembled, check that every component has power running to it from the PSU: videocard should have one if it is a high-powered one, HDD's, floppy and opticals should have a data and power cable.

Connect a keyboard, a monitor and the power cable. Now hold your breath and push the power button on the system you have built with your own hands. Considering everything was done properly, it should emit a short beep and start booting. It will stop at the point where it detects that no operating system is present, saying something like: "Boot disk failure, insert a boot disk and press any key when ready". Read on to find out what's next!












Step 3: OS and drivers installation and testing




So you have a system that's successfully powered up and is humming along. But to make it useful, you need to be able to interface with it. In the future, humans will be able to hook directly into the system; today, we use different Operating Systems, with Windows XP or Vista being the most common ones and others like Linux being used in more sophisticated fields.

First, restart your computer by hitting Ctrl-Alt-Delete simultaneously. When it starts booting up again, press Delete again right after it beeped in order to go into the BIOS setup. BIOS stands for "Basic Input Output System", and it performs the most basic tasks such as detecting hard drives before an Operating System has been even installed. Navigate through the options to find one that is called "Boot priority" (refer to the mainboard's manual). Set one of the opticals as the first boot device, and the hard drive(s) as secondary ones. Put the Windows installation CD/DVD in the drive designated as the first boot device. Now hit F10 to save the settings and reboot. Note: if you have a card reader connected, it might be a good idea to disconnect it for time being; otherwise, the main hard drive may be designated not as C: on some mainboards. Always power down the computer and disconnect the power cable when connecting/disconnecting devices!

This time, the PC will find the Windows CD/DVD in the drive, and will start the interactive installation. All you need to do is answer simple questions such as Time zone, who will be the main user etc. Upon completion of the installation, the computer will finally boot to Windows desktop.

Now, you must be eager to start using your new system. However, there is the last step to be taken: driver installation. Drivers enable the OS to recognize and use the hardware such as graphics and audio cards, network adapters, and even the mainboard itself is not fully functional until the chipset drivers have been installed. All the drivers can be found on the bundled CD's that came with the hardware. You should install the mainboard drivers first (sometimes the manufacturer creates a program that does all the driver installation for you), then everything else. Remember to reboot every time you are prompted.

Finally, it would be a good idea to test out the new system, to make sure that all devices are functioning properly. To do that, you can either simply use the computer for whatever purpose you created it, or run specialized programs which quickly determine whether your system is fully stable and is able to cope with heavy loads. The most popular ones are the 3DMark series by Futuremark for graphics stability and performance measurement, HDtach for hard drive performance measurements, memtest86 for memory, Prime95 for overall chipset/CPU stability and S&M for extreme load simulation. The exact way to use each one is included in the program's manual as well as is available on many forums/discussion groups.

There you have it, a pile of parts turned into a complete computer system. Unfortunately, the above guide represents the best-case scenario, and the reality is such that quite often a problem may occur at any one of the above steps, and resolving or even listing every potential one is well beyond the scope of this article. The best way to resolve one is either asking for manufacturer's help, browsing the forums or maybe even taking the system to the shop to have a certified technician take a look. Either way, there are no miracles and every problem has a fully logical explanation and a way to resolve it.





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