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1st time building: How hard is it? What help can I expect?

I?m considering building a computer for the first time. As far as the parts go, I?ve done my homework but still have a few choices yet to be decided. I?ll save those questions for another day based on answers to the following question:

I am mechanically inclined and feel I will be able to physically put together the hardware of the computer successfully. The problem comes from my lack of understanding of the actual operation. I don?t know many important things such as how to work with BIOS (or what it does) and I don?t know how to make other adjustments to get it running properly once the parts are together.

The only assistance I will have is help from this forum. Do you think I have a shot at building one? Should I try to find someone to build it for me at a ?boutique shop?? Or, maybe I should give it up and buy an existing name brand computer. How hard is it?

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Yes you can be as easy as pie and

In reply to: 1st time building: How hard is it? What help can I expect?

painfully frustrating.

Draft your list of part and post here for review/comment.

Buy as many parts as you can from a single source and prepare to assemble soon after receipt. Return any defective for new replacements from supplier.

Assemble the basics outside the case before installing in the case.
Makes it easier to check and switch out parts outside the case.


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Practice on a used computer.

In reply to: 1st time building: How hard is it? What help can I expect?

If you practice building on a used computer, you will be more confident...
And less likely to worry. It worked for me; but, it may not work for you.

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Build It!

In reply to: 1st time building: How hard is it? What help can I expect?

If you are somewhat familiar with the insides of a PC, then it should be fairly easy for you to build your own, provided you do a little homework first. There are quite a few guides available on the internet for first time builders that I would recommend reading. I believe CNet actually has a decent one, but there are other reputable sites. These guides will give you a good background on what to expect, and you will be able to familiarize yourself even more so with the PC's innards.

"Name Brand"? "Boutique Shop"? Definitely not for me. It's infinitely more rewarding to have a PC you've built yourself. Go for it. Grin

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A few things to expect.

In reply to: 1st time building: How hard is it? What help can I expect?

1. Most boards come with out of date BIOS.

Why this matters is that you may get memory or a CPU that is not supported by the old BIOS. If you get an out of date BIOS you have 2 choices. Update it or return the board. I can't count the times the new builder suffers.

2. If you concoct a new combination no one has seen then you are the designer. Not everything works.

3. Drivers. There can be 10 or more drivers for Windows. Example at

Many try to install just Windows and wonder why stuff doesn't work.

4. Power supplies. While you could try and calculate what size I just fit the largest the budget will allow to get the most trouble free years. There is no downside to fitting a 650 Watt PSU to a system that tops out at 200.

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Just a few...

In reply to: A few things to expect.

1. If you get yourself memory chips or a CPU not compatible with your motherboard, you should really have read up on which kind of memory chips and CPU that are compatible with your board. BIOS-upgrades are readily available at the manufacturer's website.

2. Not everything works as intended even if you buy from a name brand.

3. Drivers for Windows usually ships with the parts you buy, and updates can be retrieved from the manufacturer's website.

4. 650W for a 200W demand? If your setup demands 200W, why not go for a 300W or 350W instead? You still have expandability in the future. 650W is for a high-end setup like a gaming machine or an application server. And should that not be enough in the future, it's easily upgradable.

For the OP: Building a machine on your own isn't too hard. I bought parts this Christmas for my first self-built machine, and last month I bought parts to build another one. They're both working like a charm. Some small problems, but I know they have been smaller than if I had tried to install Windows in some way. I have used several distros of Linux on all my machines, but my main choice is always Ubuntu.
I was nervous as hell when trying to assemble the machines, afraid I might damage the parts in some way. You should get anti-static armchains along with the rest of the parts. Usually, all the tools you need is a screwdriver, so get one if you don't already have it. Some configurations will be a "no-tools setup" meaning clips or thumbscrews secure the parts on the inside of the cabinet.

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Power Demand

In reply to: Just a few...

How do you know your power demand? 200W? 650W? I thought bigger was better in this area.

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I use one of these...

In reply to: Power Demand

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Building system

In reply to: 1st time building: How hard is it? What help can I expect?

Mechanically easier than you might think, just make a list of all components, pick and choose fairly carefully if you want a hot set up and then get your checkbook out because it is WAY cheaper to buy a ready made. The saying "HARDWARE IS EASY, SOFTWARE IS HARD" sort of comes in to play but it IS worth doing , if just for the experience. You will have a feeling of accomplishment (assuming everything works) and you will know what you have for components. Loading software and getting things set up can get a bit sticky but it is all part of the deal of setting up a personalized clone. Go for it and have fun!!!

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Knows his parts?

In reply to: Building system

> and you will know what you have for components.

Only if he WRITES IT DOWN. Very important.

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I don't remember. . .

In reply to: 1st time building: How hard is it? What help can I expect?

how many I've built. It's not double digits, but close. None have failed. The planning order is thus:

Find a processor. Unless you're going to be a power gamer, decoding the human genome, and calculating the number of stars in the Milky Way, you don't need the latest and greatest. A fast single core or dual core is all 90% of users need.

Now find a motherboard that will work with that processor. Each processor will list the motherboard it will work with. Standard features on a motherboard are USB-2, memory slots (and total memory handled), expansion slots for audio and video (unless you get on-board A/V), IDE and/or SATA hard drives and optical drives. Get something that will fit your needs. I'm partial to boards that offer both. I prefer IDE for master drive and maybe SATA for a slave drive.

Video and audio cards are more numerous. You can spend as much for a video card as you can for a small home. I'm a firm believer in the KISS theory (Keep It Simple, Stupid). Unless you want to connect the PC to a high def TV, a video card with 64 Mb of memory is quite nice. Sound is also a personal preference and really pretty standard. One of mine has 7.1 and optical output. Do I use it? Nope. Overkill? Yes.

RAM is also an overrated item. No one needs 8 Gig of RAM. Two Gig is more than enough for 99% of all applications.

Optical drives are pretty standard also. Only one of my machines has two. But you really need a burner. Get a DVD burner as they work with DVDs and CDs. The only reason one of mine has two (one DVD burner and one DVD ROM) is that I had an extra in a drawer.

Power supplies are really cheap nowadays. Get the largest you can afford as Bob says. An overrated power supply will last longer as it doesn't work as hard.

BIOS (Basic Input/Output System). The BIOS is the hardwired programming on the motherboard that control how all the "parts" work together. I have to disagree with Bob a little. Unless you get a motherboard that's been on the store shelf for years, the BIOS will be up to date if not close. It will handle the items you attach. I've never had the need to update any of mine, with one exception. My server has two SATA ports and the user's manual described how to connect a SATA drive. But my BIOS does not have the option, the picture in the book does not match the BIOS options. Did I update it? Nope.

Hard drives. You can now get a Terabyte. Do you need a TB drive? Only you can decide. My server has an 80 Gig master and a 140 Gig slave. My desktop has an 80 Gig. More than I need. Get something basic because if you need to store a lot of "stuff", extra drives are readily available. I also have two external drives for "stuff", one a USB-2 and the other a SATA.

Keyboard and mouse. I will NOT use a USB keyboard simply because if I ever need to get into the BIOS, the keyboard is not detected and available in that portion of boot up. Mouse is your choice.

Wayne (IBM freak - 6)

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I would add...

In reply to: I don't remember. . .

I would add to get a case that's easy to open.

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Case choices

In reply to: 1st time building: How hard is it? What help can I expect?

Ok. It seems I don't get far before I have lots of questions. Although I have been researching several parts at the same time, let me ask about the case first. I would like to be forward thinking with the case, psu, and motherboard. These are the parts that have limited upgrades for me in the past.

Let's take the case - in addition to future considerations, I would like a case that is quiet, has I/O ports on top or near the top to be easily accessible (I keep it on the floor) and mid sized. I'm not into flashy lights, windows, or extra doors.

Now, some of the questions -

I think I will need several USB 2.0 ports. When the specifications just say USB, does that include 2.0 or do I have to specifically look for USB 2.0? If so, do I also need plain USB ports? I intend to keep my Logitech cordless keyboard and mouse which each operate from USB ports. I also sync my mp3 player with a USB port and use flash/thumb portable devices. How many USB/USB 2.0 (of each?) should I get?

What is SATA and will I need it?

I think I read that IEEE 1394 is older technology and is associated with ipod stuff. I don't have an ipod and don't know if I will need this kind of port for something else.

How many fans should I have? Should I look for ones that are included or buy them separately? Is the speed of the included fans important? Most of the cases I have looked at have at least one 120mm fan.

I intend to transfer my current hard drive into the new build and use it solely for the operating system. I thought this was a good idea when I read about it. I would also like to get 2 additional large hard drives. I'm considering using one of these large HD's as part of a back up system (also something I read). Since I want to include 3 hard drives, do I need at least three internal drive bays? Are they 3.5" drive bays? How many external/internal bays do I need and what size?

I intend to keep my current monitor (to be upgraded at a later time). It is a 19 inch off brand (Kogi) presently with ATI Radeon 'All in Wonder' 7200 AGP, 32mb memory size. I am also looking into graphics cards for this build. Will this monitor work with the new card and system? Is it powered from the motherboard or does it have its own gpu? Does it (or the associated parts) need a bay?

How important is cable management? Should I look for something that is 'modular'? What about tool-free cases? It seems the 'upside down' cases make sense. Is this a consideration?

The cases I have been researching turn out to be around $100. They include:
Lian Li: PC-7B plus II, Lancool PC-K7B, PC-A05 A
Cooler Master: RC-690-KKN1-GP, Centurion 590 RC-590-KKN1-GP
Antec 300

I wish I knew how to make a hyperlink to these parts but maybe you are familiar with them by name. I would appreciate any detailed help/advice you have to offer. Thanks in advance for you time.

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Some answers. . .

In reply to: Case choices

Case is your choice, totally. I once had two home-builts in clear acrylic cases with colored LEDs on the fans. I outgrew them.

Most motherboards come with at least four USB (and everything today is 2) mounted on the rear of the board and ports for 2, 4, or 6 more to be used by the case. Just connect the USB port on the case to the port on the board. Each case and/or MB should come with those jumpers.

SATA is simply a newer and faster hard drive/optical drive (in theory). It uses a different connector cable and power cable. All motherboards today have those ports in addition to the IDE ports for hard drives and optical drives. The SATA ports are extra at no charge.

IEEE-1394 = Firewire. Dead.

Make sure the case has at least one large fan. The power supply will have at least one, and maybe two depending on the model. One of my cases had seven fans. It was not quiet, but my system stayed cool.

You cannot move your HD to a new system without headaches. Windows takes an inventory of all pieces when it's installed. You can change a few items at a time such as adding RAM, adding an optical drive, etc. But when you move a drive to a completely new system, Windows will want to reactivate because everything has changed. Best case is that if you're on line (LAN/broadband) Windows will "phone home" and activate. Worst case is you'll have to call Microsoft, plead your case, and get a new key.

All desktop hard drives are 3.5". You'll need a drive bay for each HD.

All graphics cards fit the same slot, either PCI or AGP. All motherboards today have both slots. Any monitor will work with any graphics card. Just make sure the monitor cable fits the card port. Standard is the D-sub, the one you have now. All graphics cards (except maybe some specialty cards) have a D-sub port/connector. The higher end cards may also have a digital port, DVI also. If you get a new LCD monitor and it has a DVI port, and your new card has a DVI port. . . Just make sure everything will connect.

Cable management? Not a fan or impressed. There are round IDE cables available. And some light up. Your choice.

To make a hot link, open a web page. Copy the link in the address bar and past it to this discussion. Instant hot link.

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Firewire is not dead!

In reply to: Some answers. . .

IEEE1394 (Firewire) is *NOT* dead. Apple used it for its first iPods (which were Mac only), but it is primarily used as an interface for digital video cameras.

All halfway decent motherboards these days will come with Firewire.

The other suggestions I will give are to be aware of case sizes (ATX, MicroATX are the popular ones) and choose a motherboard that also fits the size. An ATX case will generally be able to accept a microATX motherboard. Also, check that the motherboard is compatible with the CPU; you should be alright because the current CPU sockets from Intel and AMD have been around for a while.

Don't buy a quad-core "just because I can". Quad-core only increases performance over simultaneous tasks; if you find yourself doing a single intensive operation at a time, a fast dual-core processor will be better as it can dedicate more of itself to a single task.

If you're going to be playing games and hooking up two graphics cards in SLI or Crossfire to increase 3D performance, make sure that your motherboard is compatible with SLI (for Nvidia cards) or Crossfire (for ATI cards).

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Multitasking and Quads?

In reply to: Firewire is not dead!

In my research, I read somewhere that in addition to gaming, quad cores were also useful for multitasking. Is this true? I do a lot of multitasking.

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Hard Drive choices

In reply to: Some answers. . .

I'm not looking for a fancy case either. Just one that will have room for expansion and not be outdated for 5-6 years.

So, two fans will do it? One on the case and one on the power supply?

I didn?t mean to imply I would be using my current hard drive in the new computer with its operating system/programs. I planned on reformatting it and using it as one of the drives in the new computer. I read that having a separate drive dedicated for use by the system and programs (separate from all other files) was a good idea. It seemed like a good idea to me. Is it? I was going to use my original drive for this purpose because it will be smaller than the new drives I intend to buy. I want to buy two new, larger drives of the same size. One for all other files and stuff and the other for a back up system. Is this too much? I?m also not too clear on RAID. Should I make one RAID 1?

Thanks for the explanation of SATA. I?m looking into the hard drive choices now and was considering Western Digital 640GB Caviar SE16 and Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 500 GB (both around $90) among others. But, I read that the SATA 3.0Gb/s had more problems that the SATA 1.5 Gb/s. Is that why the SATA 3.0 is cheaper than comparable SATA 1.5 drives?

I?ll be using hot links when I post the new specs soon. Thanks for the tip on how to do it.

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Do not installl old HD...

In reply to: Case choices

As stated in the previous reply, do not install your old HD as the boot drive of the new one. Instead keep the old drive in the old computer. The old computer is then a backup. (Or you could sell it, donate it, or give it away.) If you get the new computer up and running with the old HD, which will mean lots of changes to the HD, you will not be able to put it back in the old computer should the need arise.

Better to get the new computer up and running, then maybe install the old HD in the new computer in order to transfer files. If all goes well, you can either put the old HD back in the old computer or reformat it and use as a second drive.

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In reply to: 1st time building: How hard is it? What help can I expect?

Is this the right place to post follow up questions?

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(NT) Yes.

In reply to: PS

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My experience

In reply to: PS

jpm1999 - perhaps you can benefit a little from my experience. I decided last winter to build a new machine that included XP/Pro. One objective was to build a machine in which Vista would work without apology. Also, I wanted to do some video and audio editing. And I manage about 20 websites, so I needed something that would allow me to do multiple tasks and would make PhotoShop run like a rabbit. And I wanted quiet, and I wanted cool.

Case size was not an issue, so I selected the Cooler Master CM Cosmose 1000. It is a big and heavy (35# empty) case with two handles on the top to aid in moving, and a skid on the bottom to aid in sliding. To that I added the Cooler Master "Real Power Pro" 750w power supply that is certified "80 Plus".

My motherboard is the eVGA nFource 780i, which supports a wide range of Intel chips, and had on-board support of RAID-1 and RAID-5 disk arrays (more on that later). I chose the Intel Core 2 Q6600 processor, and have not been disappointed. I have a few software packages that implement multiprocessing, and it is nice to be surprised that my Mozy backup is completed when I didn't even know it had started. The processor can be upgraded with this motherboard and/or overclocked if needed (the case has enough cooling for that configuration).

I have a drive "C" and drive "D" hard disk ... the system/program drive C consist of a pair of WD Raptor X's 150GB drives in a RAID-1 array. These spin at 10,000 RPM. I suppose I could have sprung for a pair of 15,000 RPM drives, but I kept one eye on the budget. My data drive is a pair of WD Caviar 500GB drives also in a RAID-1 array. Applying 20-20 hindsight, I now wish I would have installed another drive in each array and gone with RAID-5. Perhaps I?ll do this - but in 6-8 years, when I do this again, everything may well be solid state and I will not have rotating memory. We'll see.

To all of that I added a floppy disk drive that includes a bunch of flash memory card sockets, a modem (which I've never used), and a DVD/CD-ROM reader/burner, plus and OEM version of XP/Pro.

Finally, the case is heavy (I have upper body strength problems) and I was in a hurry and otherwise engaged with my work, so I had a local shop assemble and burn-in the basic system ($200), so all I had to do was add my application software and data.

I'm very pleased with the result. Cost was about $2,600. You can do it for about half the cost (or less) if you start eliminating things (RAID, drive D, less expensive case) ? your choice.

Good Luck !!

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In reply to: My experience

Thanks for your well considered reply and sharing your experience.

I?m leaning toward E8400 Wolfdale 3.0 GHz 6mb L2 Cache LGA 775 65W processor or, maybe the E7200. I still keep being drawn back to the possibility of a quad core. Isn?t Q6600 a quad? They have become so much cheaper and seem to be on the forward wave of technology. Gigabyte motherboard?

What is Muskin?s 4 GB DDR2 ? 800 kit? Memory? Processor? Found that tidbit in my reading somewhere as being recommended.

How is the Mozy backup system? I don?t have critical need for a redundant backup system but I had a crash once and lost several years worth of work because of a combinations of failed backup designs. Please see my note to Coryphaeus above regarding my backup system ideas. Comments?

As far as graphics cards, how different is PCI and AGP. I?m just starting to get to know this stuff and I have read only about PCI. In particular, PCI Express x16. How many will I need in the computer?

What about ethernet? How is it used? Will I need it?

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Response to "My Experience"

In reply to: My experience

(1) Your Wolfdale processor uses the 775 socket, so that gives you a wide range of choices. The 3.0GHz dual core processor will be VERY fast, and at $175 I think it is a bargain. I just reviewed NewEgg and see that the price of my 6600 has dropped by about $50 in the last six months. Such is progress!

(2) As far as memory is concerned, I intentionally selected a motherboard that supported up to 8GB RAM in four slots. I wanted to grow beyond 4GB when I eventually went to some 64-bit operating system. I selected two Patriot DDR2 Extreme 2GB sticks (PC-6400) of RAM. When I purchased my motherboard DDR3-based motherboards were on the horizon but not readily available. If I were doing this today, I'd go with the DDR3-based motherboard and get the faster RAM.

(3) Graphics: I forgot to mention that in my earlier post. I selected nVidia GeFource 880GT, 512MB, SLI. Works with the motherboard and is fast. I?m surely no expert on graphic-motherboard interfaces, so I?ll leave that to others. I believe, however, that if you are not gaming, the current interfaces are fast enough no matter what the configuration.

(4) Gaming - I really don't do gaming, but if I did, I think my rig would be up to the task. I wanted first class performance and I believe I got it. Sure, I could have pumped some more money into the project, but the gains would have been marginal. I believe I have a good platform for the next few years.

(5) Mozy ? I?ve had a wonderful experience with Mozy. It backs up in the background so I really don?t pay attention to it. Mozy will provide free backup for up to 2GB of storage; however, I have over 20GB backed up with them, so I pay a small monthly fee for the additional space. I also consult with a local non-profit organization, and we have a business account setup with for their backup requirements. I?ve only had two problems with the process: (a) if a file is in use by a program, Mozy will not back it up. This means that at least once a day I make sure that MS Outlook is completely closed (I check with the Windows Task Manager) and I manually run the backup to grab the outlook.pst file to backup my Outlook stuff. (b) the other problem is with my ISP ? they get real nasty if I backup stuff a full speed. So I limit my upload speed to 128 kb/s for my backups, and they don?t bother me.

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Q6600 vs. E8400

In reply to: Response to "My Experience"

Should I consider the Q6600? It's only $20 more than the E8400 but only has 1066MHz compared to the 1333MHz on the 8400. But, it is 65nm compared to 45nm on 8400. Which is more important?

The cache is also different along with 'Virtualization Technology Support". What's that about?

Now, the 64 bit question - what do you recommend? I have windows xp pro now. Can I transfer it to the new computer? Should I go straight to 64 bit, use xp for a while then switch, keep xp? And the dreaded question - Vista or not?

I'm still not up to speed on graphics cards as yet. Will get back to you on that.

Thanks for your input.

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Do you have a Phillip's screw driver?

In reply to: 1st time building: How hard is it? What help can I expect?

If yes, then yes, but.........

It's all in the homework. Everything must work together, be compatible. I hope you like learning about computer specifications because here in lies the rub. You need to read them and know what they mean. Then make sure all those specifications work together.

Someone mentioned working with old PCs first; I'll add another, upgrading have you done much of this? Having done these proceed. If not, buy.

There is more to it then you think.

This thread untracked.

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My general advice

In reply to: 1st time building: How hard is it? What help can I expect?

My general advice for people wondering if they should build their own is don't.

Instead buy a name-brand computer and upgrade the memory and video board (if needed).

It'll be cheaper, you'll avoid a bunch of potential problems you might not be able to fix, and it'll be easier to repair later.

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get help from a friend who has built before

In reply to: My general advice

Hardware is relatively easy. Get an antistatic wrist strap, have a large area to work, label everything. It's more expensive to build than it is to buy a complete system. Upgrading an existing system is easier. I am a grandmother. I have built 4 computers. Remember that individual components have shorter warranties than complete systems. Buy all your components as close to the same time as possible and build your computer as soon as possible. On my first computer I took 4 months to buy components and by the time I built my computer the warranty had epired on a faulty power supply. Oh, and pay the extra $5-10 to have components tested. And you have to do the troubleshooting yourself when things go wrong. And with a system you usually get extra software. When you build, you have to buy the software. But then you have the software to reinstall when it gets corrupted.

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Not hard at all

In reply to: 1st time building: How hard is it? What help can I expect?

I build my first computer a few years ago and had no problem at all. You really don't need to know that much about the software/OS/bios, etc., as pretty much everything you need to know is contained in the instructions that comes with the motherboard and other hardware/software you've purchased. Just take your time, follow the instructions, and you'll be fine. In addition, it's really gratifying to know you've built one from "scratch."

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