Components Product Guide
Learn how to Upgrade It
The main function of a personal computer is to run software. Games and video applications are becoming more graphics intensive. Many computer models, available from manufacturers (i.e. Sony, Gateway, HP), don't necessarily include everything you might need for running your applications the way you want. In addition, the technologies in software and in computers evolve rapidly. The desktop you've been using for the last two years may already be incapable of running the most recent software updates or accessing some high-level websites. So what do you do? Does it make more sense to upgrade your current PC, replace it, or build your own?
Upgrading your current desktop may be your first choice. For example, if you want to play or process videos, you might want to upgrade your video card. Adding a video card is relatively easy. Most desktops have an available expansion slot for adding cards. This slot is known as PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect). The PCI slot was later revamped and called PCI-E (express). The most advanced video cards require PCI-E slots but your PC only has a PCI. The only way to upgrade a PCI to a PCI-E is to replace the entire desktop system board (motherboard). The motherboard is the core of your desktop where the drives are connected, where the main processor and memory reside, where many ports connect. That means pulling out most of the drives to get to the core of your desktop case. Replacing the motherboard with one that has a PCI-E slot may also mean that you'd need to install a different processor and different memory. You might even confront stranger issues. Some PC manufacturers create their own exclusive parts (proprietary) to prevent anyone from doing what you're trying to do. At this point, you should consider whether it's all worth it.
Building your own PC from scratch may be the wisest and most economical solution, especially if you want to be able to refine your PC for evolving needs. It's akin to buying a suit off the rack or having one custom tailored to fit the way you look and live. It may not be as simple as buying one at a store and plugging it in but it may be simpler than you think. A custom PC that you build will be a better investment and the best value overall. You'll also be more acquainted with the inner workings of your PC for troubleshooting issues and tweaking better performance. For time, money, and performance, you may find that this is the time to build your own desktop PC.
Deciding what you need
The simplest way in answering this question is what kind of software you will need to run. If you are building a family computer for e-mailing, surfing the Internet, viewing photos or listening to music, the most demanding software program would most likely be the Windows Vista OS. You would need to check all the software you plan on installing and check the highest recommended system requirements. You might want to double these system requirements if you plan on keeping the same machine for the next few years. Some of the more demanding programs out there are generally photo / video / audio editing, architectural drawings, and 3D games.
Here is a list of the computer parts you will need:(Click on the links to check out the current products available)
- CPU processor (Intel or AMD)
- Motherboard (must be compatible to processor used)
- RAM memory
- Hard Drive
- DVD or Blu-Ray Drive
- Video Card (Optional)
- Sound Card (Optional)
- Computer Case with Power Supply
- Cooling Fans (Optional)
- Operating System
Here's three possible Computer Specs you might want to consider
High End System
- Intel Core 2 Quad
- ASUS P5KPREMWIFI
- 2GB RAM (800MHz Cas 4)
- 2 x 500GB Hard Drive
- Geforce 8800 OC 768MB Video
- X-Fi Xtreme Gamer Sound Card
- Blu-Ray Playe
- Computer Case
- Windows Vista Ultimate
Average Cost: $1200 ~ $2500
- Intel Core 2 Duo
- GigaByte GAG33MS2
- Built-in X3100 Video & Sound Card
- 2GB RAM (667MHz)
- 320GB Hard Drive
- DVD Burner
- Computer Case
- Windows Vista Home
Average Cost: $800 ~ $1200
- AMD Athlon X2
- MSI K9N6PGMF
- Built-in nForce Video & Sound Card
- 1GB RAM (667MHz)
- 200GB Hard Drive
- CD Burner
- Computer Case
- Windows Vista Home
Average Cost: $400 ~ $800
The CPU handles sequences of stored instructions call programs and then executes them. Compared to the old days when you just looked at the GHz speed, you have the option on deciding between Core 2 Duo, AMD Athlon X 2 and the new Core 2 Quad. Adding more cores will give you much more performance than any clock speed increase. Why is it more important to have 2 or 4 cores in a CPU chip? We'll take a look at a typical user running multiple simple programs like Antivirus, MSN/Yahoo messenger, Internet Explorer and listening to music with Windows media player / Realplayer, running all these programs the same time on one single core just wont do. It would then require a powerful processor such as deciding between 2 or 4 core processors. We've looked at the number of cores but now the other important feature in processors is the L2 Cache and system bus, you would generally see 1MB, 2MB, 4MB, 8MB L2 cache and you will also see 800MHz to 1066MHz bus speed. These two factors can also improve your system performance by 10% to 30%. That is why a Celeron D 3.4GHz processor with 512KB L2 Cache with 533MHz bus would run slower compared to Core 2 Duo 1.8GHz with 4MB L2 cache with 1066MHz bus.
The motherboard or desktop board is the body of the computer. I would consider this your 1st important choice in building a computer. Here you will be limited to what type of CPU chip you can use like Intel or AMD, you will then need to decide on which series of chip such as Athlon, Athlon X2, Core 2 Duo or Core 2 Quad to use. Next is how much RAM memory 4GB or 8GB, and what speed of RAM memory it can handle, choices are from 400MHz to 1066MHz. Most likely you would look for maximum 4GB with 533MHz to 800MHz speed memory slots. The standard connection for most hard drives, DVD Burners and Blu-Ray drives is SATA 3.0GBs, so look for 4 to 6 connectors. Another important feature is what types of ports are found in the back panel, 10/100 or 10/100/1000 network, modem, audio connections, how many USB ports it has or does it come with FireWire. Lastly the number of PCI Slots in the motherboard and how fast are they, PCI-E x16 or x8 are generally used for the video card and PCI for expansion such as a TV Tuner card. Inside the motherboard package you will find detailed information on what plugs into what.
RAM (Random Access Memory) memory is used as main memory; you have area used for loading, displaying and manipulation of applications and data. RAM is purchased and installed as chips, tiny microprocessors that fit into slots provided on the motherboard. A typical memory chip is an integrated circuit (IC) made of millions of transistors and capacitors. In the most common form of computer memory, a transistor and a capacitor are paired to create a memory cell, which represents a single bit of data. The term RAM was later changed to SDRAM (Synchronous Dynamic Random Access Memory). Currently, most available motherboards use DDR2. DDR2 SDRAM or double-data-rate two synchronous dynamic random access memory offers greater bandwidth for rapid performance required for higher speed storage of the working data in a computer. RAM lives as the computer or software remains 'on'. Once it's off RAM content erases. (For permanent storage see Hard Drive).
How does RAM affect your computer? Consider you have two cups, one filled with water (hard drive) and the other cup (CPU processor). RAM would be a spoon transferring the water (Information) from the filled cup to the other cup. The size of the spoon would be 1GB, 2GB or 4GB RAM and the speed at which you transfer the water is Bus speed and CAS Latency. There are many different speeds of memory such as 400MHz, 533MHz, 800MHz, and 1066MHz. Higher MHz means the more data transfers per second (MHz equals million transfers per second). The lower the CAS latency the less time it takes to fetch data. How much RAM to get depends on your software system requirements and if your running multiple programs at the same time, generally you would want to stick to 2GB RAM. Even though you might consider getting less memory now and upgrade later, the price of RAM won't make that much of difference in the future for savings. When running advanced operating systems, like Microsoft Windows Vista, you may opt for 4GB RAM, especially for advanced or server applications.
For intents and purposes, you want a motherboard to accept the latest and advanced available memory. While there may be plans for more advanced DDR memory chips, the key here is what's available as you build your computer.
Two fundamental drives are used in computers. Hard Drives have permanent, non-removable discs with very large storage capacities (up to Terabytes - trillions of characters). A removable disc drive reads CD, DVD, and other formats of removable discs. Capacity is rated on the capacity of each disc type.
A Hard Drive is like a large closet. It is where you store your saved pictures, songs, video, data and programs. The size you should be looking for if your doing video editing, would be in the neighborhood of 500GB or greater, also if you want faster access to you video you might want to purchase 2 exact hard drives to RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Discs) with, improving performance and integrity. The average the typical user who doesn't want to uninstall, backup on CDs or delete information would need between 160GB to 200GB hard drive space to last the next few years. If you want to store lots of high-res pictures, videos, and music files, it's wiser to use a larger capacity hard-drive (500GB or greater). Another factor in considering the size of the hard drive is how many people will be using the same computer, most families will have 2 or more people using the same computer, so you would be looking at 500GB storage space. Considering most people have digital cameras you will constantly be adding photos to your hard drive through out the years, so its sometimes best to get an external USB hard drive to back-up these files for safe keeping. Some Cases and many motherboards have the capability of accepting more than 1 hard drive. It's an important feature. You can use it to back-up your prime hard drive or provide additional hard drive space for your computer, when necessary.
Removable Disc Drives
The standard drive for a computer is a DVD Burner (Writer/Reader), which is also a CD Burner that comes in different speeds and same SATA connection as the hard drive. A DVD typically holds 4.7GB information per removable disc. A dual layer DVD holds about 8.5GB information. A CD holds up to 700MB information. Most software is packaged on CD, with some more complex applications on DVD. Video output on a DVD is typically 720x480. There are two emerging removable disc formats - Blu-Ray and HD-DVD. Each of these were initially designed as formats for presenting HDTV. Each disc holds up to 50GB of information and can offer TV/Video display up to 1920x1080. Both HD-DVD and Blu-Ray drives are backward compatible for DVD and CD use.
Since some motherboards come with built-in video and sound cards, building a computer is even easier. For most users, word processing, emailing, spreadsheets, watching videos, photos, chess / card games, you would do fine with the built-in graphics card. The only time you would need to purchase a video card would be for 3D gaming, Video editing, or for 3D Graphics. The benefit for getting video card is to better handle the intensive 3D animations found in architectural, 3D games or just redesigning your home. Some of the choices of video cards out there vary from the amount of video memory such as 128MB, 256MB, 512MB, and 768MB. The general rule is, more memory devoted to video processing the better to handle complex and 3D graphics.
Since Blu-Ray or HD DVD drives gives you high-definition images that are up to six times the detail and are eventually going to replace DVD, you would need to get a dedicated video card that will decode the massive amount of data that these drives hold, to give you sharp ultra smooth video and vivid colors in images on your HDTV or Computer LCD screens. For gamers the most important boost in running 3D games is the graphics card, there are two major types of chipsets Nvidia and Radeon. Getting a video card with one of those two would allow you to see more lighting, shadows, weather effects, increased textures and faster frame rates at higher resolutions. If you don't want the jitteriness when playing massively multiplayer online role-playing games look at spending $300 or more in a video card. An important note is when your getting a high end video card you would also need to make sure the power supply will be able to handle the video card, mostly a 550W to 700W power supply would suffice. Also when getting a video card with PCI-E x16, make sure the PCI Express slot on the motherboard is compatible. Getting a video card can improve you system power by 20% to 40% in the area of 3D and HD content, but would also increase the price of the computer by 25%.
If you're composing, editing, recording music for adding a sound track to videos or for creating your own CD of your music band, getting a high quality sound card would be needed since this would let you record at higher frequency so you'll hear everything in crystal clarity. Generally the audio jacks coming out of the motherboard audio does not give you the quality you would get from a separate sound card, adding a sound card would give you up to 7.1 channel surround sound coming from DVDs or Blu-Ray when you need to connect to home theater system to provide you with THX, Dolby Digital or DTS decoding. When playing video games you will be able to locate enemies by sound from crisp gunshot sounds and explosions before you even see them with positional audio. This will also give you more than 15% game performance over ordinary motherboard audio by freeing up the CPU processor to handle enemy AI and physics.
Case & Power Supply
Selecting computer case is really based on ones own personal taste, black or silver, design, access to the power button, USB, FireWire ports. Computer cases come in different sizes such as desktop, mini, mid and full. If the motherboard is ATX sized it'll only fit into a mid or full sized case, where as micro ATX would fit in all. Also make sure the size of the case gives you enough room to work with in assembling your computer together and for possible future upgrades like adding more hard drives, Blu-Ray drive or memory card reader. The only time you would prefer smaller case is if your deciding to build a home theater PC and want to place it with the rest of your home theater components. In this case you would need to make sure the video card or sound card would fit inside a case like this. A decent power supply would be in the range of 400W to 550W to allow you the capability to add more hard drives or upgrades you might need in the future.
Cooling & CPU fans
Purchasing extra cooling fans for your computer is optional. The reasons for getting separate cooling fans depends on how many hard drives, DVD drives, video card or if you plan on overclocking the system. There are new cooling methods out there such as water-cooling to give you a quieter system. Another way to get quieter computer performance is replacing the CPU fan and case fans for quieter ones inside your computer. Better cooling is recommended if the room your working in gets hot. If the computer overheats the computer system will shut down, possibly losing what you were working on.
The whole reason for building this computer is for running software. The most important software to get your computer running is the Operating System such as Windows Vista. Windows Vista Home Premium comes with Media Center, which is perfect for photos, music and videos. Windows Vista Business doesn't come with Media Center but does provide you with greater networking tools, such as remote access, VPN and more. Windows Vista Ultimate might be expensive to purchase but the benefit here is that you get everything Vista Home and Business has to offer. You can also install other OS such as Linux or Windows XP. The only reason for choosing Windows XP is for system capability found in business that hasn't upgraded in the past 5 years.
Putting it all together
Collect together the necessary tools nearby, such that they are close to hand. It is advisable at this stage to set up your anti-static precautions. Make a collection of all your new components (still in their packaging) and place them nearby, ready for use. You will notice that it is packaged in anti-static bag. Try to keep the products inside this bag until it is needed.
Unpack the computer case and place it up on the work surface (if it does not have a power supply already built-in, unpack your separate power supply). Find the main power cable for the power supply, but do not plug it in.
Opening the Case
Check your case instructions to determine how to remove the outer casing (or in some styles, both side cover panels). This should give you clear access to the inside such that you can fit all your new equipment. Once this is done, carefully lay the case on its side, so that the opening faces up. The Fitting Kit that should be supplied with the case, will have a number of items in it most of which should be explained by the PC case instructions. It is important not to force a screw fixing or over tighten it. If, when fixing a device, the screw does not rotate smoothly into place or gives any resistance to the movement, try another screw or another type of screw.
Fitting the power supply (if your case did not come with one)
You will notice at the rear of the case there will be a large hole (at the top in most cases). You will need to install the power supply, such that the fan outlet and power socket on the power supply will face outward and the power connectors all hang loosely inside the case. If you have not already done so, fit the power supply to the PC case using screws from the fixings kit. Do not connect the other end to the mains supply yet.
Unpack the Motherboard. A good brand motherboard will be supplied with a User Manual, driver CD and all the cables you will need to configure your PC, including a Floppy Drive cable, one or more IDE cables and one or more Serial-ATA cables. In addition, you should also receive an I/O Shield which can be fitted into the PC Case to match the connectors on the motherboard. You will notice, in various places on the motherboard, there are small holes with bare metal rings around them. These can be used to fix the motherboard to the inside of the PC Case. Under no circumstances should the motherboard be mounted such that the back of the board is in contact with the metal case. This will cause a short-circuit and could damage the motherboard. Find the corresponding points inside the case and fit the spacers as appropriate to allow you to screw the motherboard into place. The spacers should raise the motherboard around half an inch off the metal mounting plate, preventing a short-circuit. You will notice a collection of coloured 'blocks' along one of the edges. These are the connectors for the Keyboard, Mouse, USB etc. The Motherboard should always be fitted such that these are accessible to the rear of the case.
CPU processor and CPU Fan
Unpack the CPU processor. Try not to touch any exposed metal pins or components. If you take a look at both the CPU pins and the holes in the socket you will see that in one corner there are some missing pins. Gently lift the free end of the 'arm' on the edge on the socket until it stands upright. Align the 'missing CPU pins' with the 'missing socket holes' and carefully drop the CPU into the socket. Check that the CPU sits perfectly flat onto the socket and is not raised at any corner. Lower the arm again to return it to its original position. The socket will grip the CPU pins and lock it in place. Coolers for CPU processors will require some form of heat transfer material (thermal paste) on the top. Failure to do so will cause the CPU to overheat very quickly and destroy itself. When applying the thermal paste onto the top of the CPU processor just squeeze out the size of two rice grains. Carefully, attach the CPU cooler (it will clip onto the lugs on either side of the socket) and connect the power wiring as necessary.
RAM chip has a grove on the chip itself that matches up with the slot on the motherboard. Check with the Motherboard manual to find the first slot (usually slot 0) and fill the slots in numerical order as appropriate. RAM insertion is a simple case of pushing the small white retaining clips slightly outwards, then inserting the RAM into the slot. You will know when it is fully inserted as the retaining clips will automatically move into position and secure the RAM.
SATA Hard Drives
On one end of the Hard Drive will be the sockets for connecting the cables. This end must point into the case such that the cables can be connected later on. Gently slide the Hard Drive into the bay, move the drive around until you find the fixing points. You may need to clear any obstructions to this insertion from inside the case if necessary. Once inside, use screws to secure the drive to the case.
You will notice, on the front panel of your PC case, there is an opening the same dimensions as the front panel (if there is a plastic cover plate fitted, just gently push it out from behind.) Slide the DVD drive into the opening backwards such that its front panel becomes flush with the front of the PC case. Once fully inserted, there should be some fixing holes inside the case such that you can screw the DVD drive to the case.
PCI-Express, PCI cards
If your motherboard has video and sound card built in, you may skip this step. You will notice at the back of the PC Case, there are a number of thin strips of metal held in by a screw. In order to fit adapter cards (video / sound cards etc.) it is necessary to remove these plates as necessary. PCI-Express are generally only for Video cards. PCI slots can be used for any other add-on card (Wireless network, Sound card, TV Tuner). Check the motherboard manual to find out which is which. Unpack your add-on card taking extra care to handle it by the edges and not touching any of the components. You will notice that it has a plate at one end very similar to the plates as discussed earlier. It should be possible to gently push the card into the matching slot, such that the plate on the card fits into one of the plate holes at the back of the PC Case. You can then use the original screw that held in the plate to secure the card to the case. Repeat this procedure as necessary with any other add-on cards you may have.
Plugging in Cables
You will have noticed during the previous work, that the PC Case itself has some cables. These are for the Front Panel Display. These are usually labelled as the following;
SPK - Speaker - Small speaker mounted in the PC Case
PWR SW - Power switch - System power on/off
RST SW - Reset switch - Reset system
PWR LED - Power LED - Light shows when system is on (usually green)
HDD LED - HDD LED - Light shows when system is accessing HDD (usually red)
SLP LED - Sleep LED - Light shows when system is suspended (in 'sleep' mode)
Basically, these connectors slide onto a set of grouped pins on the Motherboard. Since there are many variations of Motherboard, it will be necessary to refer to your Motherboard manual for the connection method of these cables. It is worth noting that a speaker or switch cable can be connected both ways round and work perfectly well, while an LED (Light Emitting Diode) cable must be connected the right way round to function properly. If an LED fails to light when it should, reverse the connection.
Motherboards will usually have some SATA ribbon cables supplied in the box, ready for use. Use one of these to connect each SATA Drive to the motherboard connector as instructed by the motherboard manual. The hard drive and DVD drive will use a connector each. Power supplies already have SATA power connectors, plug these cables to power the hard drive and DVD drive. Once everything else is connected up, we can go ahead and make the final connection - providing power directly to the Motherboard itself. Locate the main power connector cable from the power supply, the ATX-style connector should 'clip' into place when correctly seated. If you have any other devices, which require power (such as separate video card), remember to connect these also.
If you have successfully completed the steps so far, you have built your own PC! All that remains is to connect it up and test it. Having completed your new PC, take some time to go back over your work in the previous steps, and check that all your connections are correctly aligned and secure, and that your CPU, RAM and cards are all secure in their fixings. A thorough check here can save a lot of frustration later on. Proceed now by connecting the remaining devices, such that you can power up and test the new machine. Position the PC case such that you have clear access the connectors at the back. Plug in the monitor cable, keyboard, mouse and speakers (optional). Press the 'POWER' button on the PC case. What should happen? Check that the CPU fan is spinning to prevent heat damage to the CPU. You should be able to hear the faint 'rushing' noise of some fans and the noise of the HDD spinning up. The 'power' light on the PC case should illuminate and the HDD light may flicker a little. After a few seconds, the Monitor will begin to display various texts and eventually stop at a message similar to "Unable to load Operating system". This is a good response and shows that the system is ready to have the Operating System installed. Now just close back up the computer case and begin installing the OS.
Installing Windows Vista
To start this Windows install insert the first CD or the DVD into the drive and start or restart your computer.
Windows will automatically run as the hard drive is blank, and will load files, this may take some time so be patient.
The Windows Vista install will begin to load.
Some of these stages can take quite sometime so be patient.
Now select your install Language.
Enter Time and Currency Format, plus keyboard type, once you are happy with the settings, Click on "NEXT" to continue.
From the next screen click on "Install Now" to continue.
Windows will begin to carry out some processes.
This section is the collecting information part. First you will need your Windows "Product Key". This will be on the disk packaging provided with your CD's/DVD's. The product key will be 25 digits long and will contain letters and numbers.
Input key (Dashes will be added automatically), and click next when completed.
Now the License terms: Read and confirm that you accept the License by selecting the box on the bottom left of the screen.
Once done click next to continue.
Now you will be asked the type of installation you wish to do. Click on "Custom" to continue.
Next you will select the location of the install. Select the drive, and then click on "Drive Options" to setup and Format the drive.
To setup the hard drive, click on "NEW".
Select the amount of size you wish to use and click on "APPLY".
It will take a few moments to apply the settings.
Once done, click on "FORMAT" to format the drive.
You will receive a warning, click "OK" to continue, as all info will be permanently deleted.
Windows is now formatting the drive, this may take a few moments so be patient.
Once done click on "NEXT" to continue.
This section is for installing Windows, it will take sometime and does not require any input from you, so go make a cup of tea or watch TV as it may take up to an hour. The computer will reboot a few times during this process.
Windows now copies files.
Windows expands the files.
Windows is installing features.
Windows is installing updates.
Windows is doing a restart: It will do this automatically if you are not about, otherwise you can click "Restart Now" to speed things up slightly.
The computer reboots.
Windows continues Loading.
Windows is now booting for the first time, don't be fooled there could still be a few reboots and quite a bit of installing to go.
Windows continues to install.
Windows does more updating and installing.
Windows reboots a few more times and then finally.
Setup is almost complete.
Next Input your Username for the computers Administrator account. Then click on Password.
Now input your password (One you will remember) and then retype the password to confirm. Also type in a password hint that would help you remember it just in case. Once done click "NEXT" to continue.
Now select your Windows protection method. We recommend the top option "Use Recommended settings", click on your selection to continue.
Next you need to check the time zone is correct and also the time and date. Time and date in from the BIOS, but "Time Zone" needs to be set. Click the "Down arrow" at the end of the box.
Now select your "Time Zone". Once you are happy with your selection click on "NEXT" to continue.
That is all the information gathered that is needed, Windows Install will thank you, click on "START" to continue.
Windows will now check your computers performance and begin to load.
Now the Windows "LOGIN" screen.
Type in your password and press "ENTER" to continue.
Windows "WELCOMES" you.
Windows now "PREPARES THE DESKTOP".
Windows desktop appears and the stages of the install begin.
Several personalized settings will be installed.
The desktop will soon appear.
It is time to check your drivers and install all other software that you will require.
Take the CD drivers that came with the motherboard packing and begin to install in order motherboard chipset drivers, network drivers, sound / video drivers from the motherboard CD or from sound / video package if you purchased separate one. Connect to the Internet by either following the instructions that came with the ISP Company or call the support number. Next step is to run the "windows update" from the "START" button then move your cursor to "ALL PROGRAMS" and it should be somewhere near the top of this column. This will connect you online to Microsoft website to download new features or fixes. Once you are done install an Anti-Virus program to ensure your computer will be running virus free.
Proper maintenance can prevent burned out parts and save you money in the long run. Cleaning the machine depends on the environment and should be cleaned once a year. Make sure the room your working in is cool and the computer 2 feet off the ground so the machine will get less dust inside from the foot traffic nearby. Air cans for cleaning the keyboard and inside the computer and surge protector to regulate the power and prevent the components inside the computer from burning out.
Building your own PC may not be for everyone but it should be. It helps you build a desktop PC to meet and even exceed your needs. Should emergent technologies require upgrades, you can decide what you need to address and boost performance of your PC without buying a new one. For one who loves to use a PC, it's the best way to go. And J&R is your source for all the products you need.
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