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Aug 4, 07 at 3:12am ^Computer Build & Compatibility Guide
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Beginners Guide to Building a Computer
What is this guide for?
This is for people who have little or no computer building experience, and want to build their own computer. The goal is to help educate and show users how to properly build a computer for the first time.
**STATIC ELECTRICITY WARNING, And disclaimer**
Static electricity is dangerous to any computer part. Take proper static electricity precautions, including: Keep all parts in anti-static bags when not in use. This helps to prevent the static from even getting to the part. Before you begin to handle computer parts, ground your self. You can do this my simply touching another computer that is plugged into a wall outlet. When working with parts outside of the computer (such as a motherboard), keep the anti static bag it came in under it.
This is simply a GUIDE to help you build a computer. Not all computers are alike, so you will need to make necessary changes to your own system. We can not be held responsible if you break a computer part, mess up, or anything else. You should always read your motherboard manual, and any other manuals that came with your part(s) before assembly. If you have any questions, you can usually find the answer in one of the manuals, or you can ask in this forum and we will attempt to answer your question(s) the best we can.
Step One: Ordering the parts.
This can be a very confusing step for first time builders. If you are not sure what you should buy, you can make a post in this forum for suggestions, and we will be glad to help. Just tell us what your budget is, what you will be using the computer for (gaming, photo/video editing, just a regular office computer, etc), and what country you live in (so we know what websites to recommend and do money conversion), along with any other information you think we need to know.
Step Two: Assembly of the Computer
This is the longest step of the process. This step describes how to assemble the computer once you have ordered the parts and have them all with you.
First, make sure you have everything. These are the basic requirements to building an average computer. Your computer may have more parts then this.
Disk drive (DVD burner, CD rom, etc)
Do you have everything? Good. First, keep everything in the original box it came in. You might be tempted to inspect the parts, but if you don't want to risk loosing something (like screws, or a driver CD), its recommended you keep them in the box until needed.
The first part we need is the case. Carefully remove the case from the box, and set it on a large, clutter free work area. The more room, the better. Remove both sides and set them aside. Most cases come with a bag of parts and screws. You can keep the screws in the bag, or empty them into a small bowl so they are easier to get and you won't loose them. Lay the case on its side (with the big opening on the left facing up).
Place the stand offs in the correct location on the case, there are usually 9 for a full ATX motherboard. The standoffs put a space between the motherboard and computer case so they don't come in contact and short out your motherboard, so it is very important to place these properly. For the proper location of the standoffs, refer to your case manual, motherboard manual, or the following step.
Step Three: The Motherboard
The motherboard is what everything on your computer connects to. Its one of the most important parts on the computer, and with out it the entire computer will be useless.
This is a picture of my motherboard, and what some of the main connections are. Yours will most likely look different then mine, have a different lay out, or different colors.
A 4 DDR2 ram connections.
B Processor socket
C Rear I/O connections
D PCIe x1
E PCIe x16
I Main power connector
Red dots Motherboard Mount screws; where the standoffs should be.
Now we prep the motherboard to go in the case.
Locate your ram and remove it from the package. Insert it onto the motherboard. You may want to consult your motherboard manual if you are unsure as to which slots to use. It will take a little force to get the ram to snap in place.
Next, locate your processor and heat-sink. Very carefully remove the processor from the packaging. The pins are very delicate, and are a pain to straighten if you bend them. Open up the latch on the processor socket on the motherboard, and insert the processor. There should be almost no force required to place the processor in the socket, so if its not fitting in right make sure you have it correctly aligned and no bent pins. Close the latch to secure the processor, and place the heat-sink on the processor and latch it into place. Refer to your motherboard manual if your not sure how.
Now its time to place the motherboard into the case. Lay the case down on a flat surface (with the big opening of the case facing upwards). Carefully lift the motherboard and place it into the case. Align the rear I/O panel with the I/O shield (should have came with the motherboard), and make sure all standoffs are in the correct location, and that there are no extras. Screw the motherboard into place with the 9 standoffs and screws.
This would be a good time to plug in all the case buttons, LED's, and USB cables. Cases come with a power button, reset button, power LED, and hdd or IDE LED. Some even come with audio and USB connections. Plug these into the motherboard. Refer to your motherboard manual on the correct placement of each connection.
Step Four: Add-on Cards
Now is the time to add in any cards that connect to your motherboard, such as the video card. This is a pretty simple step, and only requires that you remove the back plate on the case, and insert the cards into the correct slot. See the compatibility post if your not sure where to place a card.
Step Five: Disk Drives
In this step, you will install all Hard Disk Drives (aka HDD, or harddrive), and all CD or DVD drives/burners. You will need to configure proper jumpers if using IDE. Its more simple if you are using SATA. The jumper settings depends on how many drives you are using, and how many cables. Refer to your drive manual (if included), or look on the top label of the drive to find correct jumper information.
Recommended Jumper settings:
If you are using a single harddrive on a single cable, then make it Master on the Primary IDE.
Two harddrives on one cable: Make your primary drive (the one with your operating system on it) the Master, and your secondary drive the Slave
A harddrive and CD drive on one cable: Make the Harddrive Master, and the CD drive slave.
single CD drive: Set it to Cable Select. If you are using 2 CD drives on one cable, make them both cable select.
You can mount the drives pretty much where ever you want to as long as it fits. I put my CD drives on top, and my main harddrive in front of the intake fan. Once you get the drive installed and screwed in, connect the DATA cables. IDE cables have 2 ends, one with one connection, and one with 2 connections. The end that has one connection connects to the motherboard; the other connects to the drives. SATA drives are pretty simple. Just connect the cable from the drive to the motherboard. There are no jumpers on them.
RAID: If you want more speed, or reliability then a standard harddrive, then you might want to try out a Redundant Array of Independent Disks (aka RAID). If you want the maximum speed, then go with a RAID0. It involves two or more identical harddrives performing as one. On average, you gain 50-90% more speed then on a single harddrive. If you want redundancy, then go with a RAID1. That uses two like harddrives, and performs a mirror image from one harddrive to another. This is usually used in severs to backup critical information. You can read more about the different RAID versions Here.
Step Six: Cooling
Some cases come with a fan or two, but usually that's not enough for the power user. If your going to be doing more then just average office work, such as email, Internet, and word processing, you might want to invest in some better fans.
Size matters. The bigger fan you get, the more air it moves, and lower its RPM (rotations per minute), and thus is quieter. I recommend having a strong exhaust fan under your power supply/next to your processor. That will pull all the hot air your processor generates out of your case. I would also put a fan in front, and anywhere else you can. For good air flow, have the front and side fans sucking air into the case, and all rear and top fans blowing air out. This will also be a good time to install any other cooling methods you are planning to use.
Step Seven: The Power Supply
Now you can install your power supply. You can do this pretty much how you want, as long as your plugging in the right connectors. Start out by connecting the motherboard main 20/24 pin main connector, and 4 pin 12volt cable. You MUST use all power cables on the motherboard.
Plug in the molex cables onto your CD drives, connect any fans, and harddrives.
Important Note on SATA drives: ONLY connect the main SATA power connector! Do not plug in BOTH SATA and molex connectors. Doing so may cause serious damage to your drive.
Step Eight: The Test
Now that you have everything plugged in, you can test your system.
Plug in a monitor, keyboard, mouse, and the power cable. Press the power button on your computer. Did it turn on? awesome, make sure it POSTS, and recognizes all the hardware you have installed. If it didn't turn on, don't worry, it happens to the best of us. Just go back and see what you missed. Check this guide to see if you missed anything.
If after you made sure everything was right, you could have a bad part. Unplug everything except the motherboard, one stick of ram, processor and video card. If it works, then one of the parts you unplugged is messing up. Plug one component in at a time until you find the bad one. If your still having problems, then can post a message here detailing your problem, what you have done to troubleshoot and attempt to fix it, and all the hardware you are using.
Step Nine: Software
Now that you have all the hardware installed, you can install your operating system. To install windows, or any other operating system via CD or DVD, go into your BIOS (you can access this by either pressing Delete, F2, F10, or F12. Refer to your motherboard manual for the correct key). Go into the boot settings, and set the boot priority for the CD drive you are installing from to boot before your harddrive. Save and restart. Insert the disk into the drive, and install your operating system.
You have successfully built your first computer ! If you used this guide either to help you build a computer, or look up a step, or even just enjoyed reading it, please leave a comment! I wasn't paid to write this , so your comment is my only reward. You are also welcome to stay as a member if you wish.
[color=#666666]This message was edited by The Slayer on Aug 04 2007.
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Aug 4, 07 at 3:13am ^Compatibility Guide
More often than not, quite a few of the questions that come through this forum are people literally asking if parts will not only work together, but will they physically fit into each other. That's what this guide is meant to serve. As a basic compatibility guide for the lighter end of things. Every piece of your computer fits into something else just like a puzzle piece. I'm going to try and help you fit those pieces together. Hopefully after reading this, anyone with further questions will now be able to ask them on a more technical level.
There are tons of different motherboards to choose from when building your own computer. These boards come in differnt size formats. ATX, BTX, eATX and mATX are all somewhat common sizes and formats. This single specification can change how you purchase the rest of the computer's components.
One of the most important things to keep in mind are the features that the motherboard offers and it's stated compatibility with different types of hardware. If it is compatible with everything except for one item, it won't do what you want. Move on to the next option.
The most expensive motherboard isn't always the best one for everyone. Often, unless you are a hardcore computer freak, most of the options on the high-end boards will go unused. Why pay for something that you're not going to use? Match your projected gameplan up with a corresponding motherboard and you will have just picked out the perfect board for your purposes. Hopefully, we can help you develop that gameplan with the information provided here regarding each components compatibility restrictions.
With the plethora of processor choices out there, and motherboards to match, it's no wonder that some new builders get confused between all of the options they have. Does this CPU go with this? Or does it go with that? Here's your answer.
The CPU will physically sit in your motherboard. The area that it sits in is called the socket. The socket looks like a square with tons of little holes in it. Each hole lines up with a single pin on the back of the processor or vice versa. Different socket types have different pin configurations which will prevent a CPU from working in the incorrect socket type.
Starting with the newest, some of the recent socket types for AMD are AM2, 939 and 754. Recent socket types for Intel are LGA775 and 478.
The socket type on the motherboard must match the socket type of the CPU for the two to work together. Below are a few pics of the socket and the corresponding pins on the back of the CPU.
Specific processor compatibilities most always are mentioned within the motherboard specifications on the retail site of your choice. Keep in mind though, that just because a certain multi-core CPU isn't listed in the motherboard's specs doesn't always mean that it isn't compatible. It would be worth your while to check out that motherboard further to see if a BIOS flash will enhance it's compatibility with newer processors. This information can often be found by emailing the manufacturer or by visiting their website's support forum.
Another tid-bit you might like to know is that the speed of the processor means nothing if the speed is measured on crappy architecture. Most newer processors can perform three and four times better at noticeably slower speeds than their predecessors just because the architecture is by far better.
For example, a 3Ghz P4 will be far overshadowed by a 2.4Ghz Core2Duo. The architecture is different and the C2D chip is much more efficient. When choosing your processor type, make sure that you are within the current times and not purchasing something that is defined as "out-of-date" technology.
The memory choices far exceed the CPU choices. The same with the socket type of your processor, your RAM must match the RAM type of the motherboard. From Newest to oldest some of the most recent and still used are DDR3, DDR2, RDRAM, DDR and SDRAM. The most noticeable difference between the lot is the pin count and "notch" spacing. After that, bandwidth and latencies are the most noticeable differences, seemingly proportional to each other as time goes on. Bandwidth goes up, latencies get higher. Out of the bunch, a few brands shine through with high bandwidth, low latency RAM from time to time.
Just like with the CPU sockets, the RAM must match the motherboard's compatibility. You can't mix and match different RAM platforms. DDR must go with DDR and DDR2 must go with DDR2, ect ect. Aside from a few obscure "converters" and cross-platform motherboards, this has always been true to date. With cross-platform boards only one type of RAM can be used at any given time, either DDR or DDR2. Also, either DDR2 or DDR3. They can not be mixed.
Below are a few pics of the different pin counts and "notching" on RAM and the corresponding motherboard DIMM slots.
When adding RAM to existing RAM modules, it's important to match them up as best as you can. Different sticks run at different voltages with different timings. This can cause problems, but sometimes it doesn't. Play the safe bet with your money and match them up evenly. If you plan on adding more RAM, find out what type and how much you currently have by either downloading a system utility such as CPUz or by using any number of online scans such as the one at www.crucial.com.
There are many different add on cards that you can add to your computer. Sound cards, GFX cards, USB hubs, NICs, ect, ect. The two main things you need to know are whether or not you have an available slot for that card type(AGP, PCI, PCIe(x1, x2, x16) and if you have enough power to power it. More often than not, non-graphical cards will feed off of power through the motherboard slot they get plugged into and demand relatively little amounts of power. Mid-to-high end GFX cards will most likely require an additional connection directly to your power supply unit. You need to know if you have these extra connections available and if your power supply can supply enough steady power to the card. Power requirements for GFX cards are often found on manufacturer websites giving particular attention to rail amperage, efficiency and wattage.
See the Video Card Guide, courtesy of Tweaker, for more in-depth coverage on the different types of GFX cards and their requirements. When dealing with power connections, more often than not you will be able to find a converter for any type of connection, not limited to graphics cards.
There are several different types of drives you can use. From hard drives to DVD drives, they all require something.
In the case where you are sharing a single IDE cable between two devices, you would need to set the hard drive jumpers to "master", and the other device to "slave". Similarly, you can set the jumpers to "cable select" where the device on the very end of the cable is recognized as being "master" and the device in the middle is recognized as being "slave".
IDE and molex cables come in many different shapes and sizes. Round, flat, color and length all can vary depending on your needs.
Motherboard Connection (green)
Multipe Drive IDE Cable
PSU Molex Connector
SATA drives are also compatible with SATA2 ports and cables. This means that if your board supports SATA2, a SATA drive will still work regardless of SATA or SATA2 cable type. A SATA drive connected to a SATA2 port will only work at SATA/150 speeds.
A SATA2 drive will work with SATA connections, but it will operate at only half of the bandwidth. Effectively, your SATA/300 drive will be running at a SATA/150's bandwidth.
Be careful as FDD cables are able to be installed upside down. If your FDD light is constantly on and then shuts off once a disk is inserted...your cable is upside down.
The basic compatibility needs are an available port on the motherboard(either IDE or SATA depending) or an available port on a multi-device cable(IDE). Along with the data connection you will need a power connection as well. This is typically a molex dongle(pictured above). If you don't have available molex dongles, you can buy a "Y" converter. These converters split a single molex connector into two separate molex connections.
Molex "Y" Splitter
These splitters come with 1 to 2, 1 to 3, and all sorts of other configurations.
Power Supply Units
When choosing a power supply unit(PSU), it's very important that you get one that is wired to your appropriate platform. Power supplies come wired for ATX, BTX, and some other unpopular choices. You also need to consider if the unit has the appropriate motherboard power connections such as 20-pin, 20+4-pin and 24-pin. In addition to that, you also want to ensure that you have enough connections for the entire computer, paying attention to the special connections required for SATA devices and GFX cards. Finally, you want to ensure that your unit has strong 12v rails(the higher the amperage the better) and a high efficiency rating, as well as the appropriate wattage recommended for your set-up. A nice free calculator to figure out these numbers can be found at Extreme Outerversion
Your computer's case is probably the last thing that gets picked out for purchase. Once you have all of your specifications down, you can then select from an array of accommodating cases. The most obvious choices are between form factors ATX, mATX, eATX and BTX. The differences between these standards are pin configuration in the main motherboard power points, physical PCB size and mounting hole alignments.
After that, you can choose full tower, mid-tower or micro case. An mATX board will fit in all three types of ATX cases. An ATX board will fit in a mid-tower or full tower. An eATX(extended ATX) will fit in a full tower only.
Depending on your case size, you will want to verify that you are getting the appropriate length of your assorted cables for each device in your computer. A 10" SATA cable will probably do no good inside of a full tower.
Some retail computers are manufactured in a proprietary fashion. This means that certain replacement components will not work and will possibly destroy other components if the user attempts to use them(they are designed and wired on that specific company's standards rather than on the universal standard). Be cautious of this because a mistake like this will certainly void any manufacturer's warranty on your computer.
Common proprietary parts are cases, motherboards and PSUs. Cases often have different mounting hole alignments which will prevent you from using just any average motherboard and also they might have odd dimensions which can prevent you from using standard size PSUs. Likewise, with the motherboards, mounting holes are aligned differently so it will be difficult if not impossible to mount your retail board in any random case. Power supplies can be wired completely different from the common standard of ATX. A PSU that is wired differently will most likely fry several components on the initial power up.
It is best to go through the manufacturer to assure that you will be receiving a correctly formatted replacement part.
Images taken from Google/Yahoo and independently hosted.
[color=#666666]This message was edited by Anonymous on Aug 04 2007.
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Jan 18, 08 at 11:15pm ^re: Computer Build & Compatibility Guide
The guide is so good, theres no reason for anyone to post on it or comment on it ^^ just a view at it helps i think even the novice
good job slayer and anonymous!
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Jan 19, 08 at 12:21am ^re: Computer Build & Compatibility Guide
Here's a virtual pat on the shoulder "pat pat, good job old boy" It should help noobs all across the galaxy.
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Jan 19, 08 at 5:40am ^re: Computer Build & Compatibility Guide
About time we got some comments on it
If anyone has some recommendations for it, or adding a section/more information (like DDR3 or PCIe 2.0), send me a PM about it and I'll work on adding it in.
Thanks for the comments
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Feb 29, 08 at 4:07pm ^re: Computer Build & Compatibility Guide
This guide helped a lot. I'm still a little unsure about hardware compatablity but it the specs of a motherboard you can find that all out. I have one question though. How would you find out if you can update your bios to run a duo core processor?
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Feb 29, 08 at 6:05pm ^re: Computer Build & Compatibility Guide
vargaman, glad the guide helped out. Out of curiosity, how did you find it? Did you do a google search, and this was one of the results?
I'm pretty sure that all LGA 775 motherboards are fully compatible for all the current LGA 775. The duo core is a bit out dated compared to the core 2 duos (I recommend going with the core 2 duos instead of core duo), so it should work on it. If you find that the bios wont support it, then you probably need to send it off to the manufacture to update the bios, because you cant update the bios with out a processor.
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Feb 29, 08 at 11:02pm ^re: Computer Build & Compatibility Guide
If you are unsure whether or not you can upgrade, an email to the motherboard manufacturer will settle what CPUs are compatible with your board. Visiting the motherboard manufacturer's website will usually show you if you have an available BIOS update. You'll probably have to look for that info...but it will definitely be there. If the info isn't there, then there's no available update.
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Mar 2, 08 at 6:10pm ^re: Computer Build & Compatibility Guide
yeah I googled this site out and I have built a computer from scrapped parts for fun... multiple times. I'm looking to build a gaming computer and I was thinking of going with a microATX case because I don't have a lot of space. Anyway great post.
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Nov 4, 08 at 12:46am ^re: Computer Build & Compatibility Guide
Thanks for this
I read this a while ago and joined to ask a question about a hw problem and to say thank you. this guide really helped me. I think I broke my cpu but it was my fault. Anyway, thank you very much, anon!
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Nov 22, 08 at 1:26am ^re: Computer Build & Compatibility Guide
NEW BUILD, just bought the coolermaster cosmos 1000, and ultra x31000 PSU, was about to get the rest and BAM new processors came out, looking for advice 1386 versus 775 and boards I am partial to ASUS DDR3? and how much do I need for graphics?
Jun 26, 09 at 2:01pm ^re: Computer Build & Compatibility Guide
What a professional guide. One question, how do you know if you need a better power supply?
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Jun 26, 09 at 2:53pm ^re: Computer Build & Compatibility Guide
you can use the PSU calculator linked in the thread, or you can look at the minimum power required for your video card, then add some watts (i usually add 50 to 150, depending on the performance of the system) as a buffer.
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Aug 22, 09 at 6:01pm ^re: Computer Build & Compatibility Guide
I just bought a motherboard http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813130228
and it's power pin is 24 pin. But my PSU http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817341017
is 20+4 pin.
Well, 20 + 4 =24. So these will work together, right?
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Aug 22, 09 at 6:04pm ^re: Computer Build & Compatibility Guide
yes. a psu with a 20+4 pin is basically a 20 pin, with a loose (separate) 4 pin to work with all boards (20 pin boards and 24 pin boards), unlike the 24 pin power supplies, which have the extra 4 attached onto the 20 pin.
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