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Build Your Own Computer

It's really NOT hard to build your own computer. Some people think it requires an engineer to screw a few parts into a computer case and connect some wires.

The truth is, if you own a screw driver and know how to use it, then you'll find building your own computer to be less complicated than some children's erector sets.

It use to be that component conflict was a major problem. But thanks to modern engineering, components are now made to usually work together with few conflict issues. Engineers have also designed the computer to fit together more logically, so they assemble much easier.

If you're like most people who love computers, then you probably always wanted to build your own computer. It's a great way to really learn about computers. And it's a great way to experience that particular feeling you can get from building your own computer with your own hands, completely from scratch.

But there are other good reasons to build your own computer. It's less expensive; and it affords you the opportunity to use only top quality components. In pre-assembled computer systems, the use of top quality components is something the manufacturers are often too quick to compromise (they'll reduce the price by reducing the quality). But when you build your own computer, you maintain total quality control. This guarantees you get exactly what you intended, and at a better price. That's a good combination. All that, plus you can boast and gloat and consider yourself a "techie."

So, if you have normal mechanical ability, you will find it easy to build your own computer. Folks, it's not rocket science. The basics are easy to understand. We'll guide you step-by-step through the process.

The First Decisions

Choosing the right components involves tough decisions.

Software programs vary widely in the strength of hardware components required to run them. Two factors usually determine software running requirements- the use of graphics and size. The more graphics-intensive the software and the larger the size of the database, the higher the level of hardware required to run the program.

Age of Component Design / Technology - Another factor to take into account when shopping for components is the age of the design of the component. The newer the design or technology, the higher the cost. This doesn't imply that an older design or technology is not as good as a newer design or technology. That depends on the intended use of the component. If an older component will run a selected program well, then there is no need for a newer, more "advanced" component. It becomes un-necessary, because it is not need to run the selected program.

Selection - The only way to pay only for what you need is to carefully decide which software programs you want to run on your computer over the next year, determine which components are needed to run these programs, then buy only those components.

Component Prices - Obviously, components vary in price. The most expensive component in any computer is the processor (CPU). In fact, in some computers, the processor accounts for half the cost of the computer. So, processor selection is very important. You need to get what you need, and that's all.

The age of the design of the processor (meaning it's technology) is a prime factor in processor cost. The latest processors from AMD and Intel are always the most expensive. Last season's model will cost less, and one from two years ago will be even less, and so on. For the cost-conscious buyer, although the little extra quality of this year's models would be nice, there is usually no need to buy the latest Intel Pentium IV HT Extreme Edition or an AMD Athlon 64 FX-51, when an older Pentium IV or Athlon XP will do just fine, even for demanding programs.

Certainly if you only wish to surf the Net, use eMail, and run a word program or the like, the inexpensive (and older designed) AMD Duron or Intel Celeron will serve you very well, and will save you many hundreds of dollars.

In order to better illustrate differences in quality in the Build Your Own Computer tutorial, computers have been divided into three levels or categories: basic computers, mid-level computers, and high-end computers.

The Levels

Following are the three computer levels that generalize the three levels of computer available to you that we will use in Build Your Own Computer. Of course, there are many variations, but no matter what computer you need will roughly fit into one of these levels. Later in Build Your Own Computer, we refer to these three levels when we discuss computer components and provide recommendations. Note that all prices in Build Your Own Computer are very rough estimates.

Basic - A basic computer is perfect for those that wish to surf the Internet, send and receive eMail, use word processing to write reports or papers for work or school, use an bookkeeping program, or any similar program. It is not intended for graphics rendering, photo or video editing, or the handling of large files.

Therefore, a basic computer is good for light small-business use and for casual users not using demanding graphics programs or large files. Almost any of today's computers can easily handle such work.

The cost of individual components and parts to build this type of computer could be as little as several hundred dollars, say $300. But this price can easily rise higher. At this level, even small improvements in components (which cost a little more) can mean a big improvement in the computer. So, when you build your own computer, there is a balance between spending as little as possible vs. getting a computer that completely fills your needs.
Mid-Level - A mid-level computer is suitable for more demanding software applications, including more graphics-intensive programs and those programs that require the management of a larger database. This level computer is appropriate for all business programs, some video editing, use for music, most (but not all) games, and a higher (but not the highest) range of graphics-intensive programs. Individual computers, of course, vary in their capabilities.

While nothing here will have all of this year's latest component power advancements, with the dramatic rise in component quality and cost decreases, mid-level computers are now more powerful and less expensive than ever before.

The cost of components to build a Mid-Level computer might be about $700 or more.
High-End - But yet again, maybe you're looking for a truly strong computer with all the latest power advancements. The high-end computer can handle huge databases, as well as serious video editing, 3D modeling, or any other power-hungry graphics-intensive program you can think of. This includes the newest, most sophisticated, texture-rich, full-motion 3D games available today.

Don't forget, you'll want a really great monitor and sound system.

At this High-End, expect a high price, at the very least $1400 and up.

To Start

Before you begin reading Step 1: Computer Component Selection in Build Your Own Computer, you need to take time and think about what you want to do with a new computer?

I suggest you take a piece of paper and pen, and make a list of exactly what tasks you want to perform on a new computer, and the type of software programs needed to perform these tasks. For example, writing reports will require a word processor such as Microsoft Word or Corel WordPerfect. Bookkeeping will require an accounting program, and so on. You can see a list of programs available in Part 5: Software, in Guide to Buying a Computer.

Select exactly which programs you need. You will want to price these programs with several retailers. If you are a full-time student, you can get a large manufacturer discount on some software programs when purchased at your university or college bookstore.

Read & Print - We recommend you read the entire Build Your Own Computer before you purchase any computer component or part. Feel free to print out this guide so you can follow it as you build your computer. Now, with the above said, let's begin.

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