Building a Computer Guide

Building a Computer Guide

A guide on how to put together your own custom built computer by Eaglerulez:
Table of Contents:

1. Introduction
2. Why Build a computer?
3. How Computers Work
- The Processor
-The Video Card
- The 4 Big companies
- Power Supplies
- Hard drives
- Optical Drives
- Cases
4. Buying Advice.
5. List of Recommended Manufacturers
6. Assembling your computer
7. Configuring your computer
8. Overclocking
9. Cooling

1. Introduction This is Version 2 of my building a computer guide. Not much has changed from version 1, though I have spruced it up a bit, and have corrected some minor flaws. This guide was designed towards first time builders and thus most of this content is directed solely towards first time builders. If you are not building a computer though, you can still learn a lot from this guide. 

Furthermore feel free to offer any comments, critiques, insights, or questions, as I feel it will help me improve this guide. The only thing I ask is that people not ask me questions pertaining directly towards their individual builds in this topic, as I will have another help topic to answer specific questions. 

Finally, I cannot stress enough, that this is a CRASH COURSE to building computers, I will tell you right now, you must do loads of your own research to truly get an understanding of how computers work and what you need to know when building a computer. Heck anyone with technical knowledge will laugh at this guide, because my explanations on the components of the computer are very primitive, and simple. This guide is merely the starting step when it comes to understanding computers...

2. Why build a computer?

Building a computer is so simple that I can't even find an adequate analogy. Find yourself a decent building guide (some on the 'net are dated, but that is no just want the general idea). Once you understand what parts you need and order, the particular components will have their own specific instructions, which may or may not vary from the guide you used.

The beauties of building your own computer are numerous.

- Yes, you do save money, no matter what other people try to say. Every commercial computer manufacturer cuts corners. They use cheaper versions of well-known parts, like video and sound cards. They are almost like their retail brothers, but something might be clocked differently or they might use RAM that failed certain tests. And when it comes to invisible parts, don't get me started. Even if you buy the highest quality stuff, you will spend about the same amount and know that you don't have junk inside your computer.

- Every part that goes into the computer is something you actually wanted. You aren't limited to the cookie-cutter options that companies give you.

- You get warranties on all your parts, so you can simply return them for a replacement, rather than screwing around with a company's customer service, which often make you jump through hoops.

- You will learn so much about computers by reading up and then putting the computer together than you will never, ever again be at the mercy of tech support staffs or friends/family members who know more about computers. You will be the guy who people are always begging for help.

If someone is just looking for an entry-level or mainstream machine, then they should by all means go the commercial route. But if you want a gaming machine or a computer at the center of your entertainment center, building is by far the superior route.

(By Codenameplasmasnake)

3. How Computer’s work

There are 4 main components that will determine the overall performance of your computer. These components are the CPU (also known as the processor), RAM, GPU (also known as video card), and the motherboard. Oddly enough there are 4 main companies in computing that have essentially developed the way computers work. So now let’s get down to business.


First we will talk about the CPU. The CPU is the brain of the computer. Just like your brain subconsciously keeps your heart pumping, organs working, etc, the CPU figures out a way to accomplish every task it is asked to do. Simply put everything that you do on a computer is accomplished with the help of the CPU. The CPU is essentially a processor that can do math really, really quickly. What happens is the program you are using sends the CPU instructions in the form of mathematical equations. The CPU solves the equations, allowing the program to do what it has to. There are 4 main things that determine a CPU’s speed.


The simplest to understand is the frequency of the processor. As you’ve most likely learned in science class the frequency of something is measured in hertz. At first computers ran at only a few megahertz, then a couple hundred megahertz, but now, most are running at atleast 1.8+Gigahertz. This frequency determines how fast the CPU can process information, do mathematical problems, ect. So obviously the more Ghz, means the faster the CPU. But this isn't always the case


The second way to determine a CPU’s power is looking at the Caches. The caches are essentially small caches of memory built inside the CPU. When the CPU gets a particularly complicated equation it can use these memory caches to help solve the equation. There are three levels of caches (although the first two are the ones that are usually used in processors) The first and fastest cache is the Level 1 Cache. The L1 cache usually has a smaller amount of memory then the later two levels, but this doesn’t mater because it is the fastest cache . Some modern day processors have as low as 64KB of L1 cache, while others can have 128Kb of L1 cache, the number varies among processors. The second level of cache known as the L2 cache this cache has a much larger amount of memory but is slower. Most L2 caches can range from 512KB to 4MB of cache. The final level is the L3 cache, the L3 cache is by far the slowest of the caches, but has the most memory. In most cases you will never find an L3 cache listed in a processor’s tech specs because it is not found in most processors, but it does exist.

The levels of caches are usually larger then the level before it. For instance if the equation is too large for the L1 cache to handle, the processor will send it down to the larger L2 cache which may send it to the L3 cache if your processor has one. All in all a processor with larger cache’s but slower frequency can sometimes perform toe to toe with a processor of higher frequencies and lower caches. However keep in mind cache does not make too much of a difference in performance. When comparing two processors with the same architecture and clockspeed, the one with more cache will perform better, however the difference in performance is nothing major.

For instance an Athlon 64 X2 4200 with 128MB L1 Cache, 512MB L2 cache, at 2.2Ghz performs equally to an Athlon 64 X2 4000 with 128MB L1 cache, 1MB L2 Cache. And 2 Ghz. 


The most important factor in determining performance is the processor's Architecture.

You see each processor on the market is named, for instance the name Pentium 4. What most people don’t know is that Pentium 4 is actually the branding for the type of architecture applied to the processor.

The architecture affects the way the CPU handles information, and will affect the frequencies, heat dissipation, power consumption, and overall everything that has to do with the processor. Now here’s the part where most people get confused. Architecture is actually the best way to tell a CPU’s performance. Let me give you an example.

An AMD Athlon 64 3200 that clocks in at only 2.0Ghz, 128Kb L1 cache, and 512KB L2 cache, can out perform a Pentium 4 630 that has a whopping 3.0Ghz, 64+52Kb L1 Cache, and a whopping 2MB L2 cache. From a purely technical standpoint the P4 significantly spanks the Athlon. Even though the Athlon has more L1 Cache, the P4 has 4 times the L2 cache, and a whole 1000Mhz faster frequency, so why does the Athlon out perform it? Because the architecture is simply more efficient in the way it handles information.

To give another example say we have an Athlon X2 at 2.0Ghz that can process 2 pieces of information per Mhz. 2X 2000Mhz= 4000 pieces of information per second

Now say we have a Core 2 Duo running at 1.86 Ghz, and can process 4 items of information per Mhz, since it has a more efficient architecture.4X 1860 Mhz= 7440 pieces of information per second. Almost double that of the X2.

While the Core 2 has a slower clock speed it can process more items of information per Mhz then the Athlon and thus is a better performer.

The only problem with using the architecture to tell how fast a processor is, is the fact that there are so many names, and architectures out there that it’s easy to get confused, plus what some people think as new and cutting edge, and thus fast, becomes obsolete 6 months later. So I’ve prepared this little factoid on the processor architectures that you should be looking at, keep in mind there are tons more on the market.

Guide to Architectures

To protect myself from elitists I would like to point out some things when it comes to architectures. Each processor is comprised of two things, a microarchiecture, and a core.

The Microarchtiecture, or as we call it in this guide, the architecture is the way the processor handles information, and executes instructions.

The Core is the physical makeup of the processor, which includes all the transistors, the physical memory of the caches, etc. To explain cores, say we are looking at a Pentium 4. The Pentium 4 will say something like Pentium 4 Prescott. Prescott would be the Core in this case. What this means, is that, that particular Pentium is using the Presscott core. A Pentium 4 using the Prescott core would be slightly different from other Pentium 4's using other cores (say a Pentium 4, that reads Pentium4 Norhwood) The differences between cores could be slight, for instance, one core may be designed with extra cache, or another would be designed for lower heat output and power consumption, however the differences between some cores could also be dramatic, with new cores introducing faster front side busses, more processing cores, etc even though they still use the same micro architecture. 

It is not really important to know the differences between cores, as they are minor and will usually make a minor impact on performance assuming, they all have the same architecture. Also any major differences between the cores will usually have a different branding to distinguish the differences. For instance some Core 2's have a 1066FSB, and they are branded as E6XX processors. While some core 2's have a 1333FSB and they are branded as E6X50 processors. However it is important to know that there is a difference between architecture and core.


The Athlon 64 The Athlon 64 uses the AMD64 architecture and is the single core equivalent to intel’s Pentium 4. The Athlon’s tend to have slower clock speeds than the Pentium 4's, as well as smaller caches, but their architecture makes them cooler, more power efficient, and equally, if not stronger performers then the Pentium 4.

The Athlon 64 X2.: The Athlon 64 X2, is the dual core counter part to the Athlon 64, and the equivalent to an Intel Pentium D. This baby has all the features of a standard Athlon, however instead of one processing core, it has two, making it dual core. What this means is that within the die there are two L1 Caches one for each processing core, two L2 Caches, and 2 cores both of which run at the same speed. These babies outperform their Pentium D equivalents, like their single core brethren. Dual core processors are essentially two processors doing the work instead of one.


The Pentium 4. The Pentium 4 uses the Netburst architecture which was made to achieve high clock speeds (frequencies) at all cost, this meant sacrificing, efficiency, which made them draw more power, and give off more heat. The reason for this was because the general consumer assumed that higher Ghz meant the faster processor so when looking at an Athlon at 2Ghz, or a P4 at 3.0Ghz they would obviously chose the P4. Intel's general goal for the Pentium 4 was to get clock speeds of about 5-7Ghz. However the P4’s hit a road block since in order to achieve speeds faster then 4.0Ghz too much power would be drawn, thus a ton of heat would be produced, and thus anything faster then 4Ghz would be unsuitable for a standard home PC. So for a good while the P4 lost its influence to the cheaper, faster, and generally better Athlon 64.

The Pentium D. The dual core equivalent of the Pentium 4, can be spanked by the Athlon X2. 

The Core 2 Duo: The Core 2 Duo utilizes the Conroe architecture which is intel’s newest architecture that was released very recently. Instead of sacrificing everything for speed the Core 2’s are extremely efficient. In fact one of the cheapest Core 2's the E4300 which only clocks in at 1.80 Ghz can outperform an Athlon 64 X2 4200 which is clocked at 2.2 Ghz, a way faster frequency. So why can this baby out perform an Athlon? Well for one it has a shared L2 cache. In most other dual core processors, each core was given only a fixed amount of cache. This meant if a core needed more memory it would have to use slower alternatives by borrowing the memory from other sources. If an equation didn’t require all of the L2 cache memory, the whole L2 cache memory would still be used, although it had no effect on the performance, meaning more heat would be produced, and more energy would be drawn. However with a shared L2 cache, each core can take however much it needs. So if it needs more for a certain equation, it is readily available. While if it doesn’t need a lot of memory, power can still be saved by not dedicating the whole cache. The two cheapest Core 2’s have a shared 2MB L2 cache, while the later ones have a shared 4MB cache. In older processors this would mean each core would get 1 or 2MB, but now each core can use however much it needs. The Core 2’s are the best buy you can get today. The cheapest one is only about 100 dollars; it is a fast dual core processor, and is extremely energy, and information efficient. It is said to have roughly a 30% performance increase against its’ priced equivalents. The other value of the Core 2 Duo's is that they can overclock very well, allowing a budget 1.8Ghz Core 2 Duo to reach speeds of 3.3Ghz.

See Overclocking

Process types

Finally, the last and most minor form of determining a CPU’s speed is its process type. What this means is how close the transistors in the CPU are together. Generally the closer together the transistors the less energy they have to use to communicate, meaning less heat, and overall better efficiency. The way this is expressed is in nanometers or NM. Meaning the transistors are only a certain number of nanometers apart. Most Athlon processors run on a 90NM process, while the new core 2’s run on a 65NM process (also contributing to why they are so efficient). As time goes on the processes will get smaller and smaller, meaning more cores can be fit into a single CPU wafer. For instance the new quad core processors that are out run on a mere 45Nm process which is why they can fit 4 processing cores on a single waffer, since everything is so compact together. The advantage of smaller process types is usually found when overclocking, since cores with smaller process types draw less energy and produce less heat, and are therefore ideal for reaching higher clock speeds.

Video cards

Video cards are what allow you to display images on your screen. What happens is a graphically intensive program, say a video game will send the graphical equations to the CPU, these equations are very complex, and with the CPU running a hundred other different things the computer/ program will slow down since the CPU is trying to deal with these graphical equations. So now with all of our extremely pretty video games, we must have a graphics card to solve all the complex graphic equations, taking a heavy load off of the CPU. With a graphics card, the CPU simply sends the equations to the graphics card for it to handle. Like the CPU there are 4 main things in determining a Graphic card’s speed.

The core: The core of a video card is very similar to that of a regular CPU. It takes equations, and solves them. However the answers to these equations are pixels, which are displayed on the screen. The cores of most modern video cards run around 400-600+ Mhz: This time though the faster the core, the generally faster the card, you don’t have to worry about the architecture or any of that, just simply the frequency.

The pixel pipeline: After the core is finished with an equation, it sends the result of the equation, a pixel, down the pixel pipeline. Here textures, lighting effects, shadows, colors, ect. Are added to the pixel, and then displayed on screen. In most cases the more pixel pipelines, the better since the pixel pipelines usually determine the graphical power of a card. For instance a card with a 400Mhz core and 12 pixel pipelines is better then a card with a 500mhz core and only 8 pixel pipelines. Most graphics cards that are decent have around 12-24 pixel pipelines. One thing that you should keep in mind is that graphic card creator ATI uses less pixel pipelines, but more shaders per pipeline. If you where to look at an ATI card’s spec sheet it may say 16 pixel pipelines (48 shaders). What this means is that while the card has less pixel pipelines, it can pretty much do more with the pixels that are coming down the pipelines. However a card with 24 pipelines can perform closely to that of an ATI with 16 pipelines and 48 shaders. In general the more pixel pipelines the better image quality you will receive. Newer cards use Stream Processors, which are very similar to pixel pipelines. The same rule follows for these cards as well, as the more Stream Processors the better. 

Memory Each independent video card has its own memory to hold the images that are displayed on the screen. These are the images that have been created by the pixel pipelines. Most cards can suffice with 256MB, but most higher end cards have so much data in the form of pixels (since higher end cards can create much more advanced effects) that higher end cards tend to have 512MB of memory or more. In all honesty a video card’s amount memory means very little as far as performance. You should only get a 512MB card if that’s the only way you can find a card that has many pipelines, and a fast core. Honestly though the improvements of 512MB or 256MB are minimal, and it is impossible to judge a cards performance by how much memory it has.

Memory speed: Video cards use high speed memory that communicates with the core at very high speeds, usually around 1-1.5Ghz. This serves as a way to tell performance, by how fast the memory can receive images, so generally the faster the memory speed, the smoother the amount of frames per second you will see on the screen. However there are several types of memory that video cards use. Some use GDDR3, which is clocked at only 700 or so Mhz, but is a performance equivalent of 1500Mhz in DDR2 RAM. Others are equipped with DDR2 ram which is clocked at around 1+ Ghz.

Things you should know:

Integrated Video cards: In order to save money, lower end computers (like low end dells, and such) use integrated video cards. These cards have weak cores, little pixel pipelines (like 2 pipelines) but worst of all it borrows its memory from your system’s RAM, which generally kills performance. This usually confuses people because they will think they have 512MB of RAM, but when they install a program that requires 512MB the program doesn’t install because the integrated card reserves a small portion of RAM for itself thus leaving the program to only recognize 500MB of ram. Some known integrated culprits are Intel Extreme Graphics, Intel extreme graphics 2, Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 900, and 950, ATI Radeon 200 Nvidia Geforce 6150. These are the worst performing cards on the market and should be completely avoided (although you will most likely only find them in prebuilt computers) 

Multi Card Configurations: About 10 years ago multi card configurations where established by the Voodo 2 card . However after the company that made the card (3DFX) collapsed, the configuration faded, until 2004, when Nvidia (who bought 3DFX's intellectual property) reintroduced it ( Thanks to HappyKhicken for informing me of this) What essentially happens is if you have two PCI-E X16 slots (the slot that all modern day video cards use) You can put two of the same graphics cards in each slot. Then you connect the cards via a bridge that is provided, or a dongle, and the cards essentially work as a dual core processor. The data is sent to both cards to figure out, and process data. Once they are done, they recombine the data to form an image. However Nvidia graphics cards have to use SLI capable motherboards, while ATI cards have to use Crossfire compatible motherboards. SLI, and crossfire are each company’s names for multi card configurations. Recently both companies announced the addition of a third card. This card will be used to process physics, which will make the game more realistic, and take a load off of the CPU, and the two other GPU’s. ATI has stated that older ATI cards that are weaker then the current two cards doing graphics may be used to process physics.

So that’s my graphics card explanation. One thing you should know is that unlike CPU’s you only need to look at the technical specs. So if you see a card that has a core that is 50Mhz faster, then a card with the same memory speed, and pixel pipelines, then chances are that that card is truly faster then the one with the weaker core. There’s a lot more to it, but this is the base of it all.


Now it’s time for RAM. RAM stands for random access memory. When a hard drive loads something up it has to store the data on another memory source to hold the transferred data while it is in use, this source of memory is called RAM. RAM is essentially non permanent memory storage, it will hold data, but if the power goes off, chances are whatever was on the RAM will no longer be there. There are also 4 main factors used in identifying a RAM’s performance

Size: The size of the RAM is the most accurate and easiest way to tell RAM’s performance. In general the larger the amount of RAM, the more the hard drive can store on the RAM meaning less slow downs, and faster loading times. It is recommended to have at least 1GB for today’s standards, but with 2GB you will receive almost no slow downs.

Speed: Like the GPU, RAM also has to communicate with the hard drive, the rest of the components, and the motherboard, to hold and transfer the RAM’s data. The speed that it communicates is determined by Mhz. Today ram can range from only 400 Mhz to 1000+ Mhz. Although most RAM is 400, 533, 627, or 800Mhz. Ram at higher speeds usually costs more, but adds extra performance.

Latency and timings: If you look at a RAM’s spec sheet you will see its CAS latency and timings. The timings for example look like this 5-5-5-5-12. The timings, and CAS latency represent the time the RAM can receive commands, execute commands, etc. The lower the latency and timings the faster. So RAM at 800Mhz with CAS latency of 4 and 4-4-4-4-12 timings is faster then 800Mhz a latency of 5 and 5-5-5-5-12 timings. Lower latency and timed RAM costs more then higher latency RAM but offer more speed. However keep in mind it would be better to get memory with downright higher Mhz then memory with lower latencies.

Type of RAM: There are two main stream types of RAM right now DDR ram (meaning Double Data Rate) and DDR2 ram (meaning Double Data Rate 2). DDR ram can reach a top speed of 400Mhz, but DDR2 Ram can reach speeds of up to a 1000+ Mhz. If you are picking out RAM it is best to get DDR2 because it is simply better, faster, and still the same price if not cheaper then DDR RAM. So getting DDR2 RAM is the way of the future. Recently though DDR3 RAM has been announced, it of course will feature faster speeds, etc. However I would say it will take atleast a couple of years for it to become mainstream, and to hit reasonable prices.

The Motherboard/ mobo

The motherboard is the thing that every single physical thing you have connected to your computer, is connected to. It is the blood veins of the computer (it connects vital organs (components) with blood/ oxygen (power, and data). The motherboard is what pretty much makes sure the operating system recognizes and utilizes all the components you have connected to the PC. The motherboard has a ton of ports, plugs, and sockets for every component to plug into, I will attempt to explain all these ports, plugs, and sockets.

The CPU socket: The CPU socket is what every CPU goes into. Depending on the processor family, and the motherboard, the mobo/CPU will have a certain number of pins/holes for the CPU to drop into. For instance an old AMD socket 939 motherboard would contain 939 holes in the CPU socket, while a 939 CPU contains 939 pins to drop into the holes. It is vital to make sure that you have the correct socket for the correct CPU.

The RAM slots: The RAM slots are where the RAM plugs into, each motherboard supports a certain standard of DDR or DDR2 ram. For instance old 939 motherboards only support up to DDR 400 ram, while the newer AM2 motherboards support up to DDR2 800 RAM. You can choose speeds that are slower then the standard, as long as the RAM is still the same type (being either DDR or DDR2 respectively). For instance, in a motherboard that supports DDR2 800 RAM in order to save money you can buy DDR2 533 RAM. However, you cannot buy DDR RAM on a DDR2 motherboard.

The Front Side Bus/FSB

The Front Side Bus is an extremely fast data link that allows the CPU and RAM to communicate. Each processor/motherboard will support a certain FSB. For instance most Core 2 Duo processors support either an 800 or a 1066Mhz FSB, therefore most motherboards that support the Core 2 Duo's have the ability to have a FSB run at 800Mhz or 1066Mhz. Generally speaking the faster the FSB the more performance you can yield. However the extra performance gained from a FSB is nominal (like only at max a 5% increase)

The PCI slot: The PCI slot is a regular expansion slot. You can put sound cards, video cards, physics cards, more usb ports, ect all into PCI slots. Most motherboards have several of these slots for expansion. 

PCI-E X 16 slots: These slots are the most important thing on modern day motherboards (in my opinion) you see as graphics cards where advancing more and more data had to be pushed through the regular PCI expansion slots so video card makers rallied for an expansion slot that was capable of handling more data, and they came up with the AGP X4/X8 slots. These slots could handle 4 and 8 times the data of regular PCI slots respectively. But with even more graphical data coming to the latest video cards a new faster slot was created, the PCI-E X 16 slot. This slot is 16 times faster then a regular PCI slot, and is made pretty much exclusively for video cards. In fact all modern video cards use this slot, so if you are buying a video card for a PCI or AGP slot, I can tell you, it’s going to be a weak card that can’t handle today’s standards. If you have a PCI-E slot you can pretty much make a decent system out of any computer. However you have to realize that lower costing computers (like the cheapest dells, ect) do not have PCI-E slots, so you are really ruined for upgrading, since you can’t get a decent graphics card. That’s why getting a PCI-E X 16 slot is vital.

Sata ports: The sata ports are small ports that connect the hard drives to the motherboard. These ports are capable of transferring speeds of 3 Gb/s and are supported by pretty much every hard drive out there. Be sure to get at least 3 or so sata ports with your motherboard. And make sure your hard drive uses sata to transfer data,

IDE ports: IDE ports where also made to transfer data, however I do not know the rate at which they transferred data. Up until recently hard drives used IDE ports to transfer data, but since larger and larger hard drives where on the market they had to come up with the beefier, and faster Sata ports to transfer the massive amounts of data on the hard drive. However IDE ports are still used for optical drives, the only thing you should realize though, is that now days motherboards will only have 1-2 IDE ports. IDE cables are the ribbon like cables you see that clog up the insides of your case (I know they do for my old computer) They should be easily recognizable.

Audio Ports: Most motherboards come with onboard sound meaning the sound chip is integrated into the motherboard. In early days onboard sound on motherboards was horrible, and oddly enough stressed CPU’s a lot (since old CPU’s only ran at 400 Mhz) However onboard sound has become pretty decent, and hardly does a thing to stress your CPU. Each onboard sound chip has its own color coding to determine which speakers go where, however I would like to point out that the actual audio ports appear outside the case in colors like green, blue, pink, yellow, black, brown, orange.

USB ports: Ports that you can attach any peripheral device to, they also appear outside the case.

Case Jumpers: Here’s a tricky one, most cases come with small little 2 pin jumpers that are about the size of a thin lego. These jumpers are meant to be plugged into the bottom corner of your motherboard. These jumpers contain things from the case like the power button, certain LED’s, ect. Infact when I was building my computer it wouldn’t turn on because I didn’t plug in the right case jumpers in the right area, so be sure to read your motherboard manual to find where to plug in the proper case jumpers. 


In each motherboard there is something called a northbridge and south bridge. The north bridge takes care of the RAM, CPU, and PCI-E X16 slots. While the south bridge takes care of the sata ports, IDE ports, Audio, and the USB ports. The combination of the northbridge and south bridge makes up your chipset. A chipset will determine the features, and general layout of your motherboard, since boards of the same chipset will usually have same or similar north or south bridges. For instance take the Nvidia Nforce 650iSLI, a rather popular chipset. In this chipset there are two PCI-E X16 slots (since it calls for SLI) however when utilizing SLI, both PCI-E slots will run only at X8, this is simply because of limitations built on the north bridge. Generally speaking each motherboard with the same chipset, will have the same base features, and limitations, even if the motherboards are made by different manufactures. Nvidia, ATI, and Intel all make chipsets.

Things you should also know about motherboards:

Expandability is key. Always get a motherboard with extra RAM slots, PCI slots, SATA ports, ect, just in case you choose to supe up your computer with extra stuff. Also try to be sure your motherboard has some support for future technologies. For instance make sure your motherboard can support Core 2 Duo processors even though you are getting a Pentium 4.

Stability is vital. Sometimes motherboards just aren’t stable, or just plain don’t work. For instance some motherboards will just automatically restart every 20 minutes, while others won’t turn on at all. In fact my first motherboard in my computer wouldn’t boot up, at all the fans would turn on, the optical drives would open up, the LED’s would come on, but there was no one home. Be sure to read the reviews at newegg to determine if the board is stable. Sometimes it is better to spend an extra 50 dollars on a motherboard just to make sure you get a stable system. Remember your motherboard is what everything in your PC plugs into. You wouldn't tape together the parts for a Ferrari, you would weld them on, be sure you do the same for your computer by getting a higher quality motherboard.

Form factors. Today motherboard makers, and case makers come up with certain form factors in which the motherboard, and components will fit inside the case. As of now we have Micro ATX, Baby ATX, ATX, and BTX. Right now though the one to look at is ATX. Everything will support an ATX form factor, because pretty much every motherboard right now is ATX. So make sure when you are looking for your case/ motherboards both say they are ATX or be sure the case supports ATX.

There’s your crash course on motherboards. 

The BIG 4: There are 4 main companies in computers, I am going to give you a brief list of their products, what they are doing, ect.

Intel: Intel is one of the first processor makers. For awhile it was declared the king of all performance, however in the days of the Pentium 4 AMD took that crown. Now though, they are dominating the market with their crazy fast core 2 duos. Intel also makes motherboard chipsets that support their processors. The core 2 duos are socket 775 as well as some of their older Pentium models.

AMD: AMD is intel’s long time rival, and although they really weren’t a rival to intel, they’ve gained a lot of ground until now with their cheap high performing Athlon 64’s. Recently AMD merged with ATI to make ATI/AMD. The fused company still makes processors, while the ATI part still makes video cards. Right now their supported socket is Socket AM2. Look out for the Athlon 64, Athlon 64 X2, and the FX series. AMD does not make motherboard chipsets

Nvidia: Nvidia is a graphics card company that designs graphics card chipsets, and motherboard chipsets. What happens is Nvidia creates the technology, and allows certain manufacturers to buy the chipsets with the technology and manufacture the cards. For instance one will see an Evga, Nvidia 7600GT video card. Evga happens to be one of Nvidia’s manufacturers. The same goes for Nvidia’s motherboards. Right now Nvidia’s strong graphics cards are the 7600GT, the 7800GT, the 7900GS, the 7900GT, the 7900GTX, the 7950 GX2, the 8600GT, 8600GTS, 8800GTS, the 8800GTX and the 8800 Ultra. Nvidia creates the Nforce chipsets for motherboards, with their latest release being the Nforce 6 series. Getting an Nforce chipset is always a good choice if you are planning to use an Nvidia card with the motherboard, however Nforce chipsets will still work with ATI video cards as long as you don’t plan to use cross fire. The 8000 series is Nvidia’s newest (and as of this publication) the fastest video cards in the world. These cards support the new DirectX10 standard of graphics, which will raise graphical computing to a whole new level. Besides these few 8000 series cards all of Nvidia's other cards support the DirectX9 standard of graphics.

ATI: ATI is Nvidia’s rival mainly in the graphics department. ATI also uses manufacturers to create their cards, their best manufacturer being the Sapphire company, since they release ATI’s cards the cheapest (but with still some of the highest quality). ATI supports crossfire, and has designed a few motherboard chipsets to support their crossfire configuration. There best graphics cards right now are the X800, X850, X1800, X1900, X1900GT, X1900XT, X1900XTX, X1950 Pro, X1950 XTX and the DX10 Compliant HD2900XT, HD2600, and HD 2400.

Power Supply 

The power supply or PSU is perhaps one of the most important components of your computer. What the PSU does is draw power from the outlet and distribute the power amongst the various components of the computer. There are several important factors that I will discuss.


Wattage is essentially how much power the PSU can draw from the outlet and deliver said watts to your components. Nowadays high end gaming PC's usually require around 600 watts, and perhaps a bit more if you are doing SLI. I personally don't see a need for 1000 watt power supplies unless you are the kind of person that likes to be over the top.

Amps on the 12V rail

Amps on the 12V rail are very important since the 12V rail is what supplies your video card (usually the most power hungry component in your computer) with power. Most high end cards nowadays require around 28 amps on the 12V rail. Some power supplies will have two or more 12V rails, to assist if one is running multicard configurations.

To find out how much amps you have altogether across your various 12V rails find the combined power that the 12V rails are capable of producing and divide it by 12.


Notice that in this picture the combined power of that power supply’s 4X 12V rails is 580W. Now we simply divide 580/12 which equals 48.3A amps which is the maximum power sported by the 12V line. Keep in mind though, you most likely won’t find the combined power of the 12V rails on the side of your PSU, so you may have to refer to your PSU’s manual, box, or the manufacturer’s website to find this.

(Huge thanks to FermiDirac for properly explaining this for me)


Your PSU will have a variety of cables, and it helps if you understand what each cable looks like.

24PIn- The 24 pin cable is the cable that directly supplies power to your motherboard. Sometimes a PSU will have a 20+4 pin cable. All this means is that if your motherboard happens to have a 20 pin power connector, you can draw back the extra 4 pins leaving you with 20 to fit perfectly into your motherboard.

4 Pin CPU cable- This is a cable that most people don't know about and thus don't realize it is vital to get your computer to boot. The 4 pin CPU cable supplies power directly to your CPU, it must be plugged in for your computer to boot. Some motherboards also have 8-Pin power connectors for the CPU, if your motherboard does, be sure that your power supply also has an 8 Pin CPU connector.

6 Pin PCI-ExpressX16 connector- The 6 pin PCI-Express connectors is the connector that powers your video cards. Many times a PSU will come with 2 of these in case one wants to run SLI. However keep in mind cards like the 8800GTX will actually need 2 of these connectors to run.

4 Pin Molex- The 4 Pin Molex is what powers your optical drives, hard drives, and most AGP cards use 4- Pin Molex cables for power. I personally find 4-Pin molex connectors to be the most useful since if you don't have a PCI-Express connector you can combine two 4-Pin molex connectors into a PCI-Express connector using an adapter.

There are a few other cables that you will find, but these are the most vital, and common ones.

Pictures of cables

Various cables all labeled-

20+4 Pin Motherboard Connector in action-

All the cables labeled-

Modular/ and Sleeved Cabling

An important factor to look for in a power supply is to see whether it has modular or sleeved cabling.

Sleeved cabling consists of cables that are wrapped around in sleeves, to make them easy to place/ deal with. Sleeved cabling generally makes it easier to hide your cables, and will give your case a more organized and tighter look. Sleeved cabling also offers better airflow.

Modular cabling shares the same advantages as sleeved cabling in the sense that most modular cables or sleeved. However modular cables can actually be disconnected from the power supply. The advantage here is that most power supplies come with more then enough cables for an average PC, and thus many of the cables are left unused. The problem with that is that the cables not only block airflow, but they make a mess in your case. With modular cabling you can pick which cables you need, plug them into your PSU, and you will be good to go.

I highly recommend modular or sleeved cabling, it makes things much easier to deal with, and it is actually beneficial for your computer's performance since modular/ sleeved cables allow better airflow. 

The importance of a quality power supply

Believe it or not your power supply is perhaps one of the most important parts of your PC. You see if you don't have a good power supply, your power supply may not be delivering enough power to your components causing them to under perform. Furthermore some low quality PSU's can offer tons of watts and amps, but since they are low quality they will either die, or surge, causing various components of your computers to either fry, or be damaged.


To find a list of recommended PSU's refer to the “List of recommended manufacturers section of the guide.

This video is also very helpful for understanding power supplies, it explains just about everything in more detail, and even covers some more things that I did not cover.

Hard drives

The hard drive is the component in your computer that stores all of your data. A hard drive works by having a small rewritable disk spin at fast speeds. While this disk is spinning, the hard drive accesses, copies, and changes data already on that disk. Unlike RAM, when you store something on a hard drive it will still be there until you delete it. When you want to use a program, your hard drive will upload the program and all of its according data to the RAM. Once you are done using the program, the RAM will send the program, as well as any other data that has been changed back to your hard drive to be saved, and stored.


Size is most likely the most important factor you should consider when buying a hard drive. Hard drive space is measured in Gigabytes (GB's) the more GB's the larger the hard drive. I would suggest getting around 250GB or storage, since it is ample storage for most people. However if you are music guru, or if you like to edit movies, then a larger hard drive would be necessary.


RPM determines the rate at which the small disk in your hard drive spins. The faster the RPM, the faster your disk spins, meaning the faster data, can be written, accessed, etc. Most common hard drives have an RPM at 7200RPM which is a perfectly fine speed. However some hard drives can hit 10,000RPM or even more. These hard drives generally have faster performance over their 7200RPM brethren, however hard drives that run at high RPM, generally cost more, and have less storage space.


Cache is a small cache of memory that your hard drive uses for recently accessed data. Say you accidentally close a program. Instead of having to have your hard drive, spin for awhile gathering all of the data the program holds, the program is already on the cache, meaning it can be instantly uploaded to the RAM. Most hard drives have a cache of around 8-16MB. The larger the cache the better, however keep in mind caches aren't all that vital in determining a hard drive's performance. but they certainly are a factor.


The sata cable is what connects the hard drive to the motherboard. A sata cable can transfer 3GB/s and is the fastest and best means of delivering data to the motherboard. Be sure your hard drive uses sata. 

Optical Drives

The optical drive is the component that reads and writes CD's and DVD's. Most optical drives use an IDE connection, though newer drives do use Sata.

Read/ Write speeds

The read and write speeds are listed with a multiplication sign. For instance one optical drive may have a read and write time of X48 for CD's, and X16 for DVD's. Generally speaking the faster these times the better. Most optical drives have a read and write time of X48 for CD's and X16 for DVD's.

Kinds of optical drives

Some optical drives will only read and write CD's, others will only read and write DVD's. I personally suggest getting a combo drive that can read both CD's and DVD's. There are also optical drives that can read and write Blue Ray and HD-DVD's, however these drives cost around 800 dollars, and can't really burn Blue Ray, or HD-DVD's very fast. I would wait until the price drops and the speeds for Blue ray and HD-DVD drives increase.

That's really all I have to say about optical drives. They are pretty cheap, and are simple to understand.


Cases are perhaps the funnest things to pick out when building a computer. Unlike prebuilts you can get very flashy, and stylish cases, which simply look awesome. The main function of a case is simple, to safely organize, and hold your components.


There are a few ways that a case can physically organize your components, the various forms of organizing your components are called form factors. There are a few form factors, such as BTX, ATX, Micro ATX, Baby ATX, AT, etc. However the most popular and almost universally used is the ATX form factor. You want to get ATX, since it is the best and most compatible form factor so far. When buying be sure that your case, PSU, and motherboard are all listed as ATX, or ATX compatible.


ATX cases come in a few sizes.

ATX Full tower: Full tower cases are the largest, and most spacious cases. They usually have the most ventilation, and fans. They are ideal if you are going to have a computer that has alot of components, such as multiple video cards, multiple hard drives, large heatsinks or water cooling systems. The only flaw with some full tower cases is that they take up a lot of room, and can sometimes cost alot, other then that though, they will offer the most space, and the most cooling for your components.

ATX Mid tower: Mid tower cases are medium sized. They are still rather spacious, and they don't take up a whole lot of room. Most mid tower ATX cases have around 3 or 4 fans for ventilation. Mid tower cases are ideal for people that have a fair amount of components, but don't want to take up too much room. Mid tower cases can fit multiple video cards, multiple hard drives, and some large heatsinks. It is possible to fit water cooling system in Mid tower ATX cases but it will be very cramped. Mid tower ATX cases make the compromise between small cases, and full tower cases, I personally like Mid tower cases since they have enough room for most systems, offer a fair amount of ventilation, but still don't take up a whole lot of space.

ATX Mini tower/media. Mini tower and media cases are very small, they are made for fitting a few components. These cases usually have few means of ventilation. ATX Mini tower/media cases are ideal for people who are short on space, or for those who want to make a media center PC to go along with their home theater, etc. ATX Mini tower and media cases are not recommended for people trying to build performance PC's , or PC's with large components, or components that produce alot of heat.

Case Power Supplies.

Many cases come with power supplies however I will warn you, do not use these power supplies, even if they produce high wattage, and amps, they are usually of low quality and will not last long. Case power supplies are known to fry your components, or in other cases under power your components causing them to under perform. I promise you, with very few exceptions, you do not want to go with a power supply that comes with the case.

4. Buying Advice 

Now that you have a general idea of how computers work, and what each part does, it's time to figure out what to buy for your new computer.


Before you start with anything else figure out how much you are willing to spend on the PC, doing so will allow you to determine what kind of components and specs you can get. If you are asking for builds on this board, PLEASE post a budget. Here is a general price guide of what you can get for budgets.

Less then 600 dollars- You should be looking at prebuilts and then upgrading them.

600-800 dollars- Decent builds, nothing over the top or fancy, but still rather solid builds.

800-1200 dollars- High end builds, strong processors, video cards, RAM, etc.

1200-2000 dollars- Higher end builds, higher quality motherboards, RAM, processors, etc.

2000+- Over the top, SLI GPU's quad core processors, highest end motherboards, etc.


The other important thing you have to figure out is what you are going to use your PC for. Doing so will help you determine what components you should focus on. For instance if you are building a gaming PC you will want to spend extra money on the video card as opposed to the hard drive. Here's an idea of what components you should get depending on the use of your PC.

Internet Surfing, word processing, etc- Dual Core Processor, Large Hard drive, 1-2GB of RAM, lower end video card. You may want to go with prebuilt computers if you are just going to use your PC for internet surfing and office work, since most prebuilts can get you these specs for a lot cheaper then you can build a computer. You really don’t need anything too fancy if you are only using a computer for internet surfing and office work, but it is important that you get something capable of upgrading so incase you want to use your computer for more tasking tasks, you can upgrade it to perform better.

Video/Audio editing- Dual or Quad Core Processor, very large Hard drive, dedicated sound card, 2GB of RAM or more, strong video card.

Gaming- Dual or Quad Core Processor, 2GB of RAM, Moderate amount of hard drive space, high end video card. 

Overclocking -

You should also determine if you are willing to overclock. For instance if you want to overclock you may want to purchase a weaker CPU (since you will be overclocking it anyways) and focus your saved money towards a higher end motherboard and RAM which will allow you to overclock higher. If you do not know what Overclocking is see the “overclocking” section of the guide.

After you've determined your budget and what you are going to use your computer for it is time to pick out your parts.

There are 9 parts in a computer. The CPU, RAM, Motherboard, GPU, Hard drive, Optical Drive, Power Supply, and Case, make up the 8 physical components of your computer. The last part, the operating system (for instance windows XP), is the software component of your computer.


When buying a CPU I personally suggest getting the strongest CPU possible. I say this because the CPU is usually the slowest aging component on a PC. Unlike video cards, which even if you get a high end video card will become almost unusable in 2 years. A high end CPU can last you a solid 5 years, before you start to see your CPU on the list for minimum requirements for games.

As a write this, if you are looking for the best performance then you can't go wrong with the Core 2 Duo's. They are easily the fastest performing, most power efficient processors on the market. If you are looking for a high end processor go with the quad core's, otherwise look at the various other dual core Core 2's depending on your budget. If you plan on overclocking you can't go wrong with an E4300, even though it is only clocked at 1.8Ghz, it is easily overclocked to 3Ghz, which happens to be around an 80% performance increase. Plus the E4300 is very cheap.

If you can't spare the money for a Core 2, then go with Athlon X2 processors.

Athlon X2 processors still offer great performance for today's standards, and they are very cheap. For instance you can find some Athlon X2 processors, that where easily the best performing processors a year and a half ago, for only a few hundred dollars.

I would also like to point out that most AMD offerings at the same price ranges of various Core 2’s can actually beat out the Core 2’s in their price range. This is because AMD significantly slashed prices to stay competitive with the Core 2’s, and thus some of their medium end processors fall in the same price range as the Core 2’s lower end processors, and so on. Therefore, if you are not overclocking it may be better to go with an AMD offering in the same price range, as their medium end processors can beat out Intel’s low end processors.

Keep in mind though, that medium end Core 2’s can still beat out medium end Athlons, etc, also AMD doesn’t really have anything that can compete with Intel’s processors above the E6600, but you shouldn’t count AMD out as they still offer a nice bang for your buck, for those who are not overclocking. (Thanks for Hiryuu for pointing this out)


The motherboard is one thing you do not want to skimp out on. I suggest paying for a motherboard that costs around 150 dollars. The reason I say this, is because higher end motherboards usually have better stability, and more features.

Think of it this way, your computer is a Ferrari, and your motherboard is the welding that holds all the parts of your Ferrari together. If you get a low end motherboard you are essentially taping your Ferrari together, while if you get a higher end motherboard you are welding your Ferrari together. Meaning if you get a low end motherboard, after a while your computer will begin to get unstable, under perform, will crash randomly, etc. Just like if you try to tape a Ferrari together it will, perform slower since everything is lose, and your Ferrari will eventually fall part. While if you get a high end motherboard you have a much better chance of getting an overall more stable and higher performing system. Just like if you weld the parts on to your Ferrari, it will be able to go faster since everything is held nice and tightly and it won't fall apart.

If you are going with an Intel CPU, you should be looking at socket 775 motherboards. The three best performing chipsets right now are the Nvidia 650iSLI, Nvidia 680i, and the Intel P35 chipset.

If you are going AMD you want to be looking at socket AM2 motherboards, the best performing chipset for socket AM2 is the Nforce 500 series chipset.

Video card

When buying video cards I generally suggest getting a medium-high end card, which should cost around 170-250 dollars. The reason i suggest this is because medium-high end cards have the best price performance ratio. They can usually play most games on high settings, and they will perform very well for a year and half. While high end cards usually are only marginally better than medium high end cards, and cost almost double the price, meaning they have a horrible price performance ratio.

The highest performing card possible is the 8800Ultra. Though it does not have the best price performance ratio.

If you are looking for high end cards then the 8800GTX, 8800GTS, the HD 2900XT, and the X1950XT are the best high end cards.

The 8800GTX has the best performance out of all these cards.

Right now the 8800GTS 320MB has the best price performance ratio of the high end DX10 cards, while the X1950XT is the best performing DX9 card, the X1950XT also has a pretty good price performance ratio.

For medium end cards you should be looking at the 8600GT, X1950Pro, X1950GT, 7950GT 7900GS, and the 7600GT.

I believe the X1950 pro has the best performance out of all these cards, and it has a very nice price performance ratio.

The 8600GT, is the only DX10 capable card on this list, it is a fairly solid performer offering around a 20% performance increase over the 7600GT for 20% additional cost.

I believe the 7900GS has the best price performance ratio out of all these cards.

The 7600GT is fairly old, but it is the cheapest card listed, and is still a solid performer.

There are a few other medium end cards that are not listed, simply because I do not suggest them since they have bad price performance ratios.

Please note, video card cycles change every 6 months or so, these placings are likely to change as this guide ages


A common misconception most people have about RAM is that more is better. This is true but only to a point. You see, today's operating systems like Windows XP, and some versions of Vista are 32Bit, meaning they can only recognize and use up to 4GB of RAM. Even if you have 4GB of ram it will make very little difference in performance.

Therefore as I write this I heavily suggest buying 2GB of DDR2800 RAM.

2GB of DDR2 800 RAM is more than enough for today's standard's plus you can usually find 2GB of high quality DDR2800 RAM for around $100, which is very cheap considering that 2GB of DDR2 800 RAM used to cost $200 6 months ago.

There are faster RAM speeds like DDR2 1066 however not many motherboards support this speed, and I believe the impact on performance is very little, plus faster RAM speeds have worse price performance ratios.

Hard drives

Unless you are doing video editing, or audio editing you do not want to invest more then 100$ on hard drives. You can easily get a 300+GB hard drive at 7200RPM, with SATA and a large cache for around 80 dollars. If you want higher RPM's you will have to sacrifice storage space and your price performance ratio.

The three main hard drive manufacturers are Western Digital, Seagate, and Samsung. I would suggest getting a hard drive from one of these companies.

Optical Drives

You shouldn't spend more than $40 on an optical drive. When getting an optical drive be sure it can read and burn both CD's and DVD's at a speed around 48X for CD's and 16X for DVD's.

As a general rule of thumb


Lite on has poor quality optical drives, with little lifetime, or performance.

I personally suggest getting Sony-Nec, Samsung, or LG optical drives. 

The PSU 

The PSU is another thing you do not want to skimp out on, as i've mentioned multiple times a low quality PSU, even if it can provide high wattage and AMPs, can easily fry your components, under power them etc. When buying a PSU I suggest being willing to pay around $60-100+ depending on the components you are powering.

A PSU with around 600 watts of power, around 30 amps on the 12V rails, and modular/sleeved cabling would make the ideal PSU for most people.

I will post a list of quality PSU manufacturers towards the end of this section.

The case

The case is the one thing that you can get away without spending too much money on. This is because cases really don't have too much impact on performance anyways, and therefore, if you need to take money from another component in order to improve another you should always take money from your case.

That being said, I personally suggest getting a high quality case that fits your needs/ style even if it costs more money. I say this because I believe building your own computer should be a reflection of yourself or your workmanship, and the easiest way to express this reflection is through your case.

Now you should consider a few things when buying a case (in no particular order)

1. Use- Are you going to be moving your computer around to lan parties and such? If so you may want to get a smaller more mobile case, or get one that is very durable.

2. Size- How much room are you going to have to store your computer?

3. Ventilation- Be sure your case has plenty of ventilation, generally speaking you want a case with atleast three fans, a front and side intake fan, and a rear exhaust fan. Keep in mind that if you plan on overclocking the more airflow the better.

4. Noise- If you are the kind of person that hates noise you may want to look into cases with less fans, or noise dampening technology.

5. Style- If you are a teenage boy like me and love pretty colors and lights, then you may want a case with a side view window, and many led fans. Or if you are a person who likes simple things, then you may want to consider buying a simpler less extravagant case.

6 Features- Many cases have different features, for instance some cases will come with tool less designs so that you can insert your hard drives, video cards, optical drives, etc, into the case without having to use tools and such. Be sure you find a case that you believe has a useful set of features.

7. Price- Even though I do suggest splurging a little on the case, you should not be paying more than $150 on a case. For instance Zalman makes a great looking fatality case that has nice red fans, a sweet design, great features, and materials, however the case is like $350 and even though I would love to buy that case, I simply can't because it's too much, especially for a case.

8- Materials- Keep in mind the building materials. For instance some cases will be mostly plastic, these cases will be lighter, but are more prone to dings, and are more likely to break. Steel on the other hand is very solid and durable, but is also heavy, and is sharper, which presents a greater risk for cutting your hands.

That's the basics of what you need to consider when buying a case.

The OS

The OS is the computer's operating system. Some OSes include Windows XP, Windows Vista, Mac OS X, Linux, etc.

If you are building a computer you will want to go with either Windows XP home, or Windows Vista home premium.

Windows XP is a bit cheaper than Vista, plus it isn't as buggy, but it lacks DX10 support, and has more security issues.

Windows Vista has more features than XP, is a bit less vulnerable to viruses, and has support for future technologies such as DX10, however Vista is a bit more buggy, is unstable, less developed, and has compatibility issues.

Right now I suggest going with XP since it will be another couple of years before the features of Vista are vital (like DX10) and it will be a while until Microsoft gets Vista to be a fully compatible, stable, and well running OS.

Eventually everyone will be running Vista but until Microsoft works out the kinks, XP will do you just fine.

Other components

There are a few non essential components to a computer that I will explain here.

Sound cards- are dedicated to processing sound, they usually yield higher quality sound compared to onboard audio, and they take a very slight load off the CPU. Most on board sound chips are perfect for most people, so unless you have a high end 5.1 surround sound speaker system, or happen to be an Audio editor, a sound card is not essential.

Physics cards- Physics cards are a ripoff. They claim to improve performance, detail, and physic effects, however all Physics cards actually do is add a few more details to things like explosions, fires etc. Even then it has been proven that games running Physics cards greatly reduce game performance. Therefore, physics cards are actually a negative thing to have. Also physics processing will soon be taken over by graphics cards anyways, so there truly is no need to buy physics cards.

Gaming Network Cards- Most computers come with regular ethernet ports which for the most part perform perfectly for all online functions. However recently a batch of Gaming Network cards have been released which claim to reduce your ping and improve your framerates. After reading a few reviews these cards do improve ping and offer a slight increase in framerates, however these network cards come with a hefty price tag, and therefore are not recommended.

So now that you have a general idea of what you should keep in mind when buying a computer, I would like you guys to consider a few things so you get the best build possible. 

Price Efficiency

Try to figure out the price efficiency amongst the various components you are considering. For instance if you have a processor that runs at 1.8Ghz and costs only 100 dollars, while the next model up runs at 2.0Ghz and costs 140 dollars. In this case the higher model would offer roughly 11% more performance for a 28% price increase, certainly not a good price performance ratio. So even though the higher model has better performance it comes at a much greater price, and if you are a person on a tight budget or happen to want the best price efficiency, than the first model would be the better choice.

Figuring out your price efficiency like this is very useful and highly recommended.

Think Quality

Remember one of the reasons you are building a computer is to get away from the cheap parts that are used in prebuilts, so unless you are on an extremely tight budget, pay a little bit more money from some quality components.

I will post a list of quality manufacturers, at the end of this section.

Stability is vital

The most important thing first and foremost is to have a stable system. Never skimp out on things like the motherboard, or the PSU, which can cause system instabilities. I heavily suggest if possible, getting a higher end motherboard priced around 150 dollars, since motherboards at that price range usually have great stability, features, and a decent price efficiency

Trust me on this saving an extra 30 dollars by not getting a stable motherboard is not worth dealing with random restarts, low performance, random Blue Screens of Death, etc. 


The best way to figure out what components are best for you is to figure it out for yourself. Remember my guide is more of a crash course I can point you in the right direction, and give you everything you need to know for basic comprehension, but other then that you are on your own.

Look at the benchmarks

It is impossible to gauge how well components perform based solely on tech specs. Thankfully many websites offer benchmarks to give clearer detail of how various components perform in real world scenarios.

I heavily suggest when looking at benchmarks to average the scores of the various components, and then determine the price and performance differences amongst the various components. This way you can physically see why a component would be a better choice for you than others.

Here are a couple of good benchmark sites. 

KEEP IT SIMPLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

If this is your first time building a computer, try to keep it as simple as possible. This means, not trying to use multiple hard drives, RAID, multiple video cards, sound cards, and other needless add ons.

The reason is, many first time builders don't have ample experience with building a computer, and are thus more prone to mistakes, and complications. The more components, the easier it is to make a mistake, the more components the harder it is to set up and assemble your computer, the more components the greater the chance for complications.

As a first time builder you should be worried about one thing, making sure you can get your newly built computer to turn on, the easiest way to do this is to have one of each of the nine essential parts for a computer. After that you can go crazy with adding extras.

Think of it this way, if you are a first time builder and your computer won't boot (which is a very likely possibility for a first timer), it will be way harder to trouble shoot with SLI'd cards, multiple hard drives, etc.

Besides, usually having a modern computer with one of each of the nine essential components, will be more than enough to perform great. Remember it's not like you have to buy everything possible on your first initial purchase you can always upgrade to SLI, Multiple hard drives, sound cards, whatever.

So please as a first time builder try to keep it simple, it usually takes one round through of building a computer, to get a feel of how you assemble your hardware, after that you can usually figure out how to deal with using more complex setups on your own.

Almost never buy your components at a retail store

With a few exceptions; most places that carry computer hardware severally mark up their prices.

For instance one can find a horrible, old, and cheap Radeon 9200 from 5 years ago, at a place like best buy for $100. Generally speaking it is very hard to find good deals from places that carry computer components. Often times you can find far better deals online.

The only reason why you should buy computer components from Retail Stores is if you are getting small things, like a fan, or some thermal paste. In most cases, the shipping alone on online retailers will cost more then the actual item itself.

However if you insist on using a retail store, you can't go wrong with Microcenter or Fry's Electronics.

When shopping in the US, Newegg is the place to look at is easily one of the best places online to order components for your computers. Not only do they have a very broad selection of components to choose from, but they offer some very cheap prices, and some great deals.

The customer service is top notch, offering three day shipping that is usually never late, and often times early. Also newegg will take back just about anything regardless of reason, so if your components aren't working well for you, you won't have to fight with them to return your components (as long as they are in newegg's warranty time)

Finally the main reason why you should shop on newegg is because the site is very easy to browse, it offers usually useful customer reviews of various components to see what people think of the components, but most importantly it allows you to create wishlists so you can easily organize your build, and get a general idea of the cost. Plus if you make a public wishlist you can post it on this board for people to double check, and offer second opinions.

Newegg isn't always the best choice

When using newegg you can always count on some decent prices, and great customer service, however many other sites can offer slightly lower prices for components, which may be useful for people who are on a tight budget or want the best deals possible.

There are quite a few of these sites, but at the moments the only two that come to mind are:


I personally suggest using newegg to compile a list of the components you seek to buy, then you can search various other sites to compare and contrast prices.

(if anyone can offer anymore sites I would greatly appreciate it)

If you live in Canada don't worry you can still order your parts online

(Thanks to ss_samy for the links)

Keep the future in mind

Always keep in mind that new things are coming in the future, and while you can't always out run the future, sometimes it is better to wait. For instance look for major price drops in the near future. That way you can save money on whatever component you where going to go, or so you could get a stronger component for the same amount of money you where going to pay.

Also keep in mind that you should be aware of new components coming out. Remember with the introduction of new components means competition, which means cheaper prices all around, and possibly better performance.

For instance say you where getting an Nvidia graphics card, it would be wise to wait until the ATI counterpart is released, even if you aren't planning to get the ATI card, the Nvidia card will most likely drop in price. Also if the ATI card happened to have better performance then you would be able to choose a better performing card.

Finally be aware that today's high end components will most likely be about half the price a year from now, so if you are on a really tight budget, you could always wait till next year to buy lower priced components that would perform faster anyways.

Be aware, that you are going to have to buy your computer sometime, so don't try to keep waiting for new releases and price cuts, I would only suggest waiting, if you are on an extremely tight budget, or if a major release or price cut that will dramatically influence the market is near. 

5. List of trusted brands

Finally here is a list of trusted brands. Keep in mind that these are based off of personal opinion, and some manufacturers not on this list still make great products, be these are the brands that are consistently trusted.


Asus- An always trusted brand, but they seem to be having stability issues with their lower end boards, their higher end boards are top notch.

MSI- These guys seem to make a real commitment to stability, they also provide alot of extra cables and connectors with their motherboards, definitely a good value

Gigabyte- I personally don't like Gigabyte because I got a dead motherboard, however they usually have some of the best overclocking and high performance boards.

DFI- A solid brand, I haven't had a personal experience with this brand, but they are known for making high quality motherboards with many overclocking options, though they seem to cost a bit more.

Video cards


Evga- Usually have higher clocked cards for lower prices, they have a step up program which allows you to trade in your card for some credit within 6 months of your purchase in order to make an upgrade to a newer card. Evga also makes high quality cards.

XFX- Also makes very solid, high performing cards, their cards are reasonably priced, and I believe have a nice warranty.

BFG- BFG's cards are almost always overclocked right out out of the box. The only draw back is that their prices are a bit high, and also Evga and XFX usually have higher overclocks for cheaper prices.


Sapphire- Usually provides the fastest clocked, and lowest priced cards for ATI, always a good buy.

HIS Tech- HIS Tech's trademark is that they usually provide higher quality, and quieter cooling solutions on their cards, the only draw back is a higher price.

ATI- ATI also manufacturers their own cards. ATI's cards usually aren't anything special, and they usually are clocked at stock settings, and don't have the best price either, however I happen to own an ATI manufactured X1900XT and it's great.

Keep in mind many motherboard manufacturers also manufacture video cards and vice versa.



Power Supplies

PC Power and Cooling

6. Assembling your computer

Before you purchase your build, be sure you feel comfortable building one.

On this part of the guide it is simply too hard to write out what you should do, so I will post links to guides, as well as write some tips and advice.

Guides on building computers

Here's some great guides

Some videos as well:

(Thanks to ss_samy for the video links)

There are also many books at bookstores that will also show the assembly of a computer, they may be out dated, but you will still be exposed to the assembly process.

Finally many PC magazines have a build your own PC edition, try to find one of those.

Ways of gaining experience

Before trying to build your computer it will help a ton if you get some experience working with computer hardware.

The first way to get some experience is to simply open up your computer, look inside and try to identify the components. See which cables are connected to where, and simply try your best to familiarize your self with the inside of a computer.

Next if you can, try to find an old PC that can still be turned on. Now, take apart that old computer as much as possible, try to put it back together, and see if it works.

Finally if you want to build a computer, but simply don't have the funds at the moment, upgrading greatly helps with gaining experience to build a computer. 

Tips and Tricks

So now your parts arrive at the door, and your heart starts pounding with excitement. It's time to assemble your computer. Assuming you read the guides provided, here's some additional tips.

1. READ THE MOTHERBOARD MANUAL- Read the motherboard manual to identify where your case/USB connectors go. Also read the manual to be aware of anything else your motherboard has.

2. USE THE STANDOFF's. Standoffs are the small screws that screw into the case, and allow motherboard screws to be screwed into them. YOU MUST USE STANDOFF'S OTHER WISE YOUR COMPUTER WON'T BOOT. You see if you don't use standoffs your case will short out the motherboard.

3. BE SURE EVERY MOUNTING HOLE IS FILLED- Be sure that you screw in a screw for every mounting hole in your motherboard, otherwise your hardware/ motherboard may not work/install properly. Also don’t screw in your screws too tightly into the standoffs as your screw will get stuck in the standoff, which makes it almost impossible to unscrew your motherboard. ( Trust me on this I once spent 30 minutes trying to get a standoff and screw that where stuck out)

4. BE AWARE OF THE CASE JUMPERS- The case jumpers are the small cables that come with your case. They are usually titled, power, reset, HDD activity, etc. You must plug these in properly otherwise your computer won't power up since the power button is plugged into the wrong port, etc. Refer to your motherboard manual to see where you plug the case jumpers in.

5. Be SURE YOU HAVE POWER CHORDS TO BOTH THE CPU, and VIDEO CARD. Most people don't realize that your CPU also needs power independent from the motherboard's connector. The CPU connector is usually a 4 or 8 pin connector that is usually located around the CPU socket. Also if you are using a PCI-EX 16 card be sure to plug in the 6 pin connector if your card needs one.

6. BEFORE YOU START YOUR CABLE MANAGEMENT, MAKE SURE YOUR COMPUTER TURNS ON FIRST-. Cable management is essentially organizing your cables so that your computer has a nice look, and so your cables do not block airflow. Before you begin cable management though, you will want to be sure your computer turns on, since if it doesn't there's a great chance that you will have to take it apart and tinker with it.

7. GROUND YOURSELF BEFORE WORKING ON A COMPUTER. Grounding is simply touching a metal object so that you don’t give your computer an electrostatic discharge (static shock) which can seriously harm your computer. However you really don’t have to go out and buy an antistatic wristband or anything like that, as that is excessive. Heck, I’ve assembled 5 systems, 4 of them where put together on the carpet (a static prone place) and I’ve experienced no trouble with static. So please don’t get all freaked out about static ruining your computer. As long as you don’t wear socks and rub your feet on the carpet for 5 minutes before your build a computer a simple touch of metal, or washing your hands will sufficiently ground you.

8. PUT THE VIDEO CARD IN TOP PCI-E X16 SLOT. If you are using an SLI board but only have 1 video, be sure to put that video in the top PCI-E X16 slot. Do this because sometimes SLI boards will only run at X8 when both cards are in use, and if you are using the bottom slot, your board may think you are running SLI, and will only give your card a X8 bandwidth (which really isn’t that big of a performance blow) however you want the full bandwidth for your card, so just do it. Also it’s easier to run cables with the card in the top slot.

7.Configuring your computer

Assuming your computer turns on you should get a motherboard POST. POST stands for Power On Self Test, it usually is an indicator that your hardware is correctly installed, and that your motherboard is properly functioning. If you don't know what a POST is, it is usually the name of your motherboard and a little logo/ graphic, usually on the bottom of the screen there is an option to enter the BIOS (usually an F button or pressing the del key)

Upon entering the BIOS, you want to do a few things.

First off make sure your hard drives and optical drives are properly located. (To find this menu refer to your motherboard manual)

Next go to your memory setting page and be sure it is reading the correct amount of memory, as well as the correct timings/voltages. If your timings are all automatic you will most likely be alright however if you do experience system instabilities, it would be wise to manually set your timings ( you can find the timings on the memory specifications area on newegg, refer to your motherboard manual to find this menu)

Next be sure your CPU's clock speed is being read correctly. If it isn't, you may have to increase the multiplier to the highest possible number. (Refer to your motherboard manual)

Finally, be sure to disable onboard video, as well as any other options such as Cool'N Quiet, which may cause confusion when running your system. Cool'N Quiet under clocks the CPU so that it runs cooler, and so the fan isn't as loud, then when the CPU is under load it is quickly brought back up to it's maximum clock speed.

Other then that you may want to familiarize your self with the bios, but for the most part you are done with your initial configuration. Save and exit. 

Installing your OS

Assuming you have your BIOS properly configured, upon the next boot, insert your OS CD. The OS will most likely load up, and will ask you what partition you would like to install the OS on. Simply select your hard drive (which is most likely your only partition) and then follow the steps accordingly.

After your OS is fully installed, go into your BIOS and change the boot order so that your hard drive boots first and not your optical drive (refer to your manual)

Installing your drivers

After your OS is installed, insert the CD that came with your motherboard to install the drivers. This CD will usually contain the ethernet, chipset, and USB drivers, which will allow you to use USB and connect to the internet. After installing those restart.

Now go to your video card manufacturer's website, download the drivers. After that install the drivers, reboot and you should be good to go.

Run some tests

To make sure everything is functioning properly after you install your drivers, you may want to run some tests.

First off run memtest to test your memory. If you have any errors at all you may have faulty RAM, or you may want to confirm that the settings are correct. (I am not sure if this is the proper link but I think so)

Next run Orthos to stress your system for stability. Be sure to use a blend test, and run it for as long as possible, though a couple of hours should be fine. If your system crashes, you either have a wrong bios option or a faulty component

Finally run 3D Mark 06 as an initial bench test. Depending on specs your system should perform around 3,500+ and up.


Overclocking is the act of increasing a component's speed, beyond that of stock settings.

For instance when overclocking a CPU one may take a 2Ghz CPU and push it to 2.2Ghz.

There are three main things that people overclock, the CPU, the Video card, and the RAM.

(Note in this part I will not go into specifics about overclocking since I have not done so myself, nor is this a guide about overclocking. However I feel it is important for a new builder to understand the advantages of overclocking, and I believe getting a general idea of what overclocking is will increase one's understanding of the computer)

Overclocking the CPU

In order to understand CPU overclocking, you must first understand a few additional things about the CPU. The CPU finds it's effective clock speed by multiplying its' frontside bus by a multiplier.

The frontside bus is a fast communication lane between the CPU and RAM. Generally speaking the faster the frontside bus, the better, however a faster FSB has proven only a minor impact on performance. Since the FSB connects the RAM and CPU, if the speed of the frontside bus increases, both the RAM and CPU will be affected. A CPU's front side bus can usually be found on its specifications page on newegg.

Take a Core 2 Duo E4400. This Core 2 has a FSB of 800Mhz, and an effective clock speed of 2Ghz. The Core 2 Architecture quad pumps it's FSB, so in this case, 800 Mhz/ 4= 200Mhz.
However the E4400 has a X10 multiplier and thus the 200 Mhz FSB Multiplied by the X10 multiplier = 2Ghz, and that is where we get our effective clock speed.

In order to overclock one usually raises the FSB speed or multiplier (if possible) within the BIOS. Keep in mind if you are overclocking the CPU and you raise the FSB, your RAM may be affected. So if you have RAM running at 800Mhz, and you overclock the FSB by 50 Mhz, your RAM will run at 850 Mhz.

Overclocking the RAM

Just like overclocking the CPU when overclocking the RAM, one usually raises its' operating frequency within the BIOS.

For instance overclocking DDR2 800Mhz memory to 850Mhz would be an example of overclocking the RAM.

To raise the RAM's operating frequency you can raise the FSB (though this will also effect the CPU) or you can overclock the RAM separately from the CPU if your BIOS presents an option to do so.

Another example of overclocking is lowering the RAM's timings, for instance dropping 5-5-5-12 memory to 4-4-4-12 timings.

Overclocking the video card

Unlike the RAM and CPU, in order to overclock the video card, you must do so in your operating system. You can download, various tools, online from Nvidia and ATI or from other parties.

When overclocking the video card, one usually pushes the core and memory timings past stock settings.

You can also unlock disabled pixel pipelines. Though unlocking pipelines is usually dependent on the card itself.

The advantages of overclocking

Overclocking offers many advantages.

1. Increased price performance ratio. By overclocking you can increase your component's performance for no additional cost. For instance one can easily overclock a Core 2 Duo E4300 (which clocks at 1.8Ghz and costs around 120 dollars) to 3.3 ghz. Giving the E4300 the performance of such high end CPU's as the 2.93 Ghz Core 2 Extreme which costs $900

2. Better Performance. By overclocking, one gains more performance, simple as that.

3. More future proof system. By overclocking you can prolong your system's performance life time.

For instance if a program has a minimum requirement of a 3Ghz processor, but your processor only runs a 2.8Ghz, you can overclock your processor to meet or surpass that requirement.

Or if your system has low framerates when playing games, overclocking can significantly increase framerates.

The disadvantages of overclocking

1. Increased heat output, and power consumption. Overclocking causes your components to produce more heat and draw more power. Because of this your system risks a greater chance of overheating or over exerting your power supply.

2. Shortened component lifetime. Because of the increased heat output and power consumption, overclocked components usually have a shorter life time then that of non overclocked components. However most overclocked components are usually upgraded or replaced before they die. Also a component's lifetime is only significantly shortened, if a massive overclock is taken place.

3. Higher probability of instability. Since the component is being pushed past the set standards of the manufacturer it is more likely to become unstable. Instability can be prevented by slightly increasing the power to the component, however even this slight power increase can produce significantly more heat, and since more power then regular is flowing through the component, it is also more likely to die quicker.

4. Possibility of frying a component. In order to prevent instability a slight increase in power could solve this instability, however this added power can fry the component, or produce so much heat that the component melts/ catches fire.

5. Void of warranty for most components. Overclocking also voids the warranty on most components.

My opinion

I personally believe that overclocking is a very useful act that should be considered by most people. Even though there are far more disadvantages, then advantages when it comes to overclocking, most of these disadvantages can be avoided with proper cooling and power.

I do not suggest overclocking to first time builders, since as a first time builder you will have your hands full with figuring out how to get your computer to start. However if you feel that you may want to overclock in the future I heavily suggest getting a motherboard and CPU combo that is known for overclocking.

There are few things you should consider when overclocking though.

First off you want to maintain your price performance ratio, with the exception of an aftermarket heatsink, and a strong power supply, you should not purchase components "specialized" for overclocking since these components while good overclockers, may ruin your price performance ratio since they will be priced much greater.

Be sure to have sufficient cooling

Proceed with caution. When you overclock never make massive jumps in clock frequency, always go in 5 mhz steps, checking temperatures, and stability.

Finally DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH run a couple google searches about how to overclock, read a couple guides, and go on from there. Do not rely on this guide for complete instruction on how to overclock, this is the mere basics. 


Cooling is very important for a PC. Without proper cooling a PC may overheat, causing it to shutdown randomly, or extensive heat, may damage your components. Heck without proper cooling your PC may catch fire, or some components may melt. Finally without proper cooling it is practically impossible to overclock.

Air cooling

Air cooling is the simplest, cheapest, and most common form of cooling.

Air cooling consists of several intake fans blowing cool air on or towards your components, while an exhaust fan expels the hot air produced from your components.

Most cases come with a front and/or side intake fan preinstalled, as well as a rear exhaust fan, though some cases also have fans on the top and on the bottom of cases. If your case does not have these fans pre installed, don't worry, most cases have several places to mount fans.

Advantages of air cooling: Cheap, simple, effective.

Disadvantages of air cooling: Loud, not as effective as some other forms of cooling.

Water Cooling

Water cooling consists of several components: A pump, tubing, water blocks, a radiator, and a reservoir.

Water cooling works by having the pump, pump water through the tubing to the various water blocks which are attached to the various components in your system. Each water block has two holes for tubing, one for incoming cool, water, and the other for out going warm water. The out going warm water is delivered to the radiator, which cools the water. The water is then pumped to the reservoir where it is held until the pump, pumps the water through the circuit again.

The result is a far more efficient cooling solution. Water is a better heat conductor then air, plus since the radiator usually consists of one or two silent fans, water cooling is very silent.

Advantages of water cooling: Silent, efficient.

Disadvantages of water cooling: A lot more expensive then air cooling, harder to maintain, a bit more complex, if it leaks it can ruin your system.

Note: I personally don't believe water cooling is necessary, unless you happen to have a stacked setup with SLI, a Quad Core processor, etc. I definitely don't recommend it to first time builders because from what I can gather, it is a pain to assemble and maintain.

Passive Cooling

Passive Cooling consists of heatsinks. A heatsink is a device which draws out heat from a component, across a greater surface area. For instance instead of having the heat be concentrated soley on the CPU, with a heatsink the heat is dissipated across both the CPU, and the surface area of the heatsink, thus offering a lower concentration of heat.

Most heatsinks are finned squares or cubes. They are finned, so that they have a greater surface area. These fins are made out of heat conducting metals like copper, and aluminum. Most CPU's come with there own heatsink/ fan, also many motherboards have heat sinks installed at various places.

I can just about guarantee that most types of RAM, Video cards, CPU’s, and Motherboards, have several heatsinks or other methods of passive cooling.

Advantages of passive cooling: Totally silent, no moving parts, simple, effective.

Disadvantages of passive cooling: Usually need a fan to have full effectiveness, can be heavy.

Most cooling solutions are a mixture between passive, and air cooling. 

Aftermarket Heatsinks

As mentioned, the RAM, CPU, Video card, and motherboard, all come with heatsinks preinstalled, that are usually sufficient enough to cool that component. However if you are overclocking, these stock cooling solutions may not cool these components enough, and thus you may want to purchase some higher quality cooling solutions from third parties.

There are a few things you should consider when purchasing aftermarket coolers.


Do you really need an aftermarket cooler? Are your components running at decent temperatures, is your system stable? If so there’s really no need to get an aftermarket heatsink. If you are planning to overclock however, Aftermarket heatsinks help greatly, at achieving higher overclocks, and keeping temperatures down.


Most aftermarket heatsinks are massive, be sure to have adequate room within your case to house your new heatsink.


Aftermarket cooling solutions should cost no more then about $60 dollars, further more, if you are on a tight budget, then you should spend your money on better components, as opposed to aftermarket coolers.


If this is your first time dealing with an aftermarket cooling solution, you may want to seek one that has a simple installation as most aftermarket cooling solutions are larger, and are overall slightly harder to deal with, as opposed to stock cooling.


Read some reviews on review sites to gauge the effectiveness of the aftermarket cooler you are seeking. This way you can determine whether the heatsink you are planning to purchase is worth it. 

Guide by Eaglerulez. (