Monday, 24 August 2009

A Step by Step Guide to Building Computer Systems

Welcome to Building Computers for Beginners.

If you have ever thought or are currently thinking about building computers you've come to the right place. I've decided to write a simple step by step guide for beginners to computer building. There are a couple of points that I want to make first of all, building a computer is not as difficult or complicated as many people appear to think. I'm not in favour of the building computers for dummies approach that several websites or books take. This implies that because you do not know how to build a computer you are stupid. In most cases it is simply a case of learning how to build a computer and gaining confidence in your new skills. There is obviously a level of technical ability and aptitude required to build a computer.

Personal computers are generally sold as home, business and gaming computers. It does not matter which type of desktop computer that you want to build. The principle is the same but you would use different specification of hardware components. This may already sound complicated but in simple terms a home computer is used for less demanding tasks such as email, word processing and surfing the internet. Business computers require more storage and processing power because they need to run specific applications often inclusive of large databases. Gaming computers require highest specification of components because computer games use a lot of system resources. It is possible to build computer system tailored to your exact requirements and install hardware components of a higher quality than those sold by many high street and internet retailers.

A custom built computer is often a good idea because it is built to run the applications or games that you are likely to use. It is often a worthwhile consideration to future proof the system (to some degree) by adding the most up to date technology.

There are several well documented pros and cons associated with building your own personal computer. In most articles disadvantages tend to outweigh advantages but only due to their being more of them whereas the pros are actually less in numbers but more significant in my opinion.

Advantages (Pros)
  1. Value for Money
  2. Clean hard drive free of unwanted pre-installed software
  3. Customized system to suit your requirements
  4. Less time waiting for the computer to be built or delivered.
  5. Unrestricted access to the computer tower or case. No warranty seals.
  6. Fun - some people actually enjoy the experience of building a computer
  7. Experience of build will make future upgrades, repairs and troubleshooting easier
  8. Good knowledge of hardware components in the PC
  9. High quality components throughout (essential for a stable PC).
  10. Sense of accomplishment - building a computer is a worthwhile learning experience.
Disadvantages (Cons)
  1. No 24 hour technical helpline or direct online support
  2. No collective warranty (although each component should have a Manufacturer's Warranty)
  3. You will need to buy an operating system or install a free Linux operating system (for example Ubuntu)
  4. Electrostatic Discharge (ESD) can cause damage to hardware components.
  5. No free software bundles/incentives. Some retailers are able to provide highly discounted or free software suites with their computers.
  6. Incompatibility of hardware components or peripherals (including printers and scanners)
  7. Extra postage or carriage costs when ordering components or peripherals from several different retailers.
  8. Motherboard's BIOS drivers are likely to be out of date and require updating.
  9. If you encounter faulty components diagnostics can be difficult and/or expensive.
  10. The BIOS settings have to be correct for maximum performance.
Admittedly, many of these points can be argued either way. Another example being that you get to choose whether to apply the "powered by stickers" that come with most components. There is little doubt that a properly built PC system is not comparable to a cheap discount PC from the high street stores.

Barebones Computers

It is understandable that many people want to build their own computer but have reservations about starting from scratch. There is a way to build a computer without the hassle of researching the compatibility of all hardware components. It is now possible to buy a computer building kit known in the trade as a barebones computer. These computer building kits contain pre-selected compatible hardware already installed in the computer case. Barebones computers are usually supplied with the motherboard already fitted and the central processing unit (CPU) seated. Depending on the retailer or the package various other hardware components may already be in place. Essentially a barebones computer is a partially built computer system that the buyer has to complete after purchase to get a fully working PC. This can be a real advantage to the beginner and also to the buyer who wants to recycle or re-use the components from their existing computer/s.

Fear of BIOS

Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) is an integral part of any computer system. This is the boot firmware for your personal computer. It is basically a set of instructions and settings stored on a CMOS chip on the motherboard. The CMOS chip is usually powered by a small lithium onboard battery. There has always been an irrational fear of the BIOS by new computer builders because the settings are essential for the PC to work. It is also possible to cause damage or instability to a computer by entering the wrong settings. Modern motherboards are more BIOS friendly than they used to be and can run on default/auto settings. There is no need to fear the BIOS but consider carefully any changes to the settings as they can prevent the computer booting up. It is always worth keeping a written copy and a backup disc of all the settings in case the CMOS battery loses the settings. The BIOS settings must be correct to get the best performance from the computer's hardware.

BuildingComputers for Beginners

It has never been easier to build your own computer. I think that the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. I built my first computer because a large computer manufacturer and online retailer let me down in all departments. They sent a computer with a very poor build quality and several inherent faults. They refused to accept responsibility or refund my money which triggered a lengthy legal dispute. This was an extremely stressful situation. Eventually, with legal advice and photographic evidence I did secure a full refund. However, this is not something that I am prepared to go through again. Since this happened I began building my own computers and have never looked back. The point that I'm making here is that there is risk involved even when dealing with the well known computer manufacturers.

Follow my step by step guide on how to build your own computer. Please read my next post about Custom Computer Cases

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