The Complete Dunce's Guide to Building a Gaming PC

Eirreann

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Feb 8, 2012
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I think that all of us here can pretty much agree that Alienware is one of the greatest gaming computer companies out there. Most of us own one (or more), and some of us (like me), just dream about owning one. And indeed, Alienware computers are simply amazing in almost every aspect... except in the price. Unfortunately, Alienware’s largest fault is that its computers do not come cheap. For many people with larger incomes or no time (or both) this isn’t an issue, but for the rest of us the price tag can be a barrier. But this shouldn’t be cause for worry! It is very possible to have a simply amazing gaming PC for a much lower price, by building one. PC building is relatively easy and can be a very fun and productive process (plus, you get a badass rig that your friends will drool at....) The process of finding, buying, and assembling the many parts of a computer, however, will seem confusing to a complete newbie, so I took the liberty to write up this little how-to guide on finding, buying, and putting together all of the right parts for your gaming needs!

The very first thing that you should do is research. Research, research, research. Find out as much as you possibly can about building a computer, what parts to buy, where to buy them, etc etc etc. This essay is a good introduction, but you should use as many other sources of information as you possibly can! Here’s a good starting place in your quest to building a computer:

A computer consists primarily of ten parts: the computer case (also known as the “chassis” or “tower”), the motherboard, the processor, the RAM (Random Access Memory), the video card, the sound card (this is optional), the hard drive(s), the optical drive(s), the power supply, and the operating system. Choosing what kind of each of these to purchase completely depends on what kind of computer you want to build. Since you are probably building a computer for gaming, you will want to invest more money in the video card than anything else, closely followed by the processor, motherboard and RAM. Now allow me to explain the parts, starting with the processor.

The processor (Figure 1) is possibly the most important part of any computer. If you think of a computer as a human body, the processor would be the brain. The processor in a computer is responsible for making all of the mathematical calculations; it makes millions of lightning fast calculations a second so that your computer can run smoothly. Currently there are really only two companies that produce processors, and these are Intel and AMD. These two companies are competitors in the race to make the best processor, and because of this many people argue about which one is better. However, the differences in quality between the two companies are so minimal that it really does not matter. Shop for whichever suits your budget, and you should be set!


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Next, there is the “Random Access Memory”, (abbreviated as RAM [Figure 2]). RAM is the memory in a computer used to store running programs, and the more RAM you have, the faster your programs will run. The amount of RAM that I personally would recommended is 4 gigabytes, which is enough to run just about any program out there today; however, this will very likely change soon, as programs become more and more advanced. Fortunately, though, it is incredibly easy to add more RAM to your computer after it is built, should the need ever arise. RAM can be bought many places online or at any computer store that sells hardware. RAM comes in many types (SDRAM, DDR2 RAM, DDR3 RAM, etc.) and it completely depends on what motherboard you purchase to determine what type to buy. Today, though, most motherboards support only DDR3 RAM, as this is the fastest on the market right now. What determines the speed of RAM is the amount of MHz (Megahertz, which means “1 million cycles per second”) it is capable of processing. The more MHz, the faster the RAM. Today 1600 MHz is a happy medium between decent speed and lightning-fast, not to mention affordable, so that is what I would recommend.



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One of the most important parts of any computer is the video card (Figure 3). The video card is what allows information to be transported to your monitor. It is responsible for every visual effect that your computer can display on the monitor. If your intent is to build a computer good for gaming, then you will want to invest as much as possible into the video card. Unlike the processor, there are numerous companies that sell video cards, although the technologies of the cards themselves are developed by either Nvidia or AMD. Like Intel vs. AMD, these two companies are racing to release the best, however, just like with the processors, the two companies Nvidia and AMD differ very little in quality, so buy whatever suits your budget the best.



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However, no matter what kind of computer you want to build, the Motherboard (Figure 4) is always a very important part, if not the sole most important piece, of any computer. If we return to the concept of the computer being a human body, the motherboard would be the central nervous system. It links every part of the computer together and enables them to operate with each other. Your choice of motherboard will determine what kind of processor you will buy, how much RAM and what kind of it you can have, how good your video card can be, and how many hard drives/optical drives you can have in your system. Fortunately, motherboards are not very expensive, and a decent one can be purchased for $100 or less on many websites. There are multiple manufacturers that produce motherboards, but I would personally recommend either Asus or Gigabyte, for both produce top-quality hardware at a decent price. However, you need to be extremely careful when searching for a motherboard! You need to make sure that your motherboard will support all of your hardware. If you walk in to any store that sells computer hardware and ask for information on a sound card, they should be able to help you find exactly what you are looking for! However, no matter how good the motherboard, the processor, or even the video card is, nothing will work unless you have a power supply.



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The power supply (also known as the PSU [Figure 5]) is what gives the computer power. It adapts electricity gained from any socket and converts it into energy that the computer can use to operate with. The power supply needs to be connected to the motherboard, the video card, the hard drive(s), and the optical drive(s), as well as to any fans added to the case to cool it down. Power supplies vary by the amount of watts they can produce. Today, a 500 Watt (abbreviated as just a “W” next to the number, i.e. 500W) power supply will probably be good for most computer designs. However, if you are building a computer primarily for gaming, a stronger power supply is highly recommended. Something else to look for when purchasing a PSU is whether or not it is 80+ Bronze Certified. If it is, it means that it provides high power efficiency of at least 82% at any load between 20% and 100%, saving your money on your electrical bill, reducing heat in your computer's system and prolonging its life. In other words, it’s just a better all-around product.



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After this all you need is your optical drive(s) (Figure 6) and your hard drive(s) (Figure 7), which are both quite simple to find just about anywhere computer hardware is sold. With the hard drive it is advisable to invest in at least a Terabyte (abbreviated TB). One other thing you need to look for in hard drives is their “RPM” (Which stands for “Rotations per Minute”). This alludes to the amount of times the disc inside the hard drive spins per minute. The faster the disc spins, the faster the hard drive is able to save or receive memory. So a hard drive with a relatively high RPM is suggested. I would recommend something in the area of 7200rpm, but again go with whatever your budget can handle! As for the optical drive, just about anything will do. As long as it can read, write and execute CDs and DVDs (which most optical drives today can), you should be good to go. Additional hard drives or optical drives can be installed at any time, depending on your needs.
Next you need to choose an Operating System. The Operating System is the software that you see whenever you use your computer. There are really only three good operating systems to choose from today, and these are Windows 7, Linux, or Mac OS. You and you alone should choose which one will suit your computing needs, for all of them are good systems but in the end it depends on preference.



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Finally, we need a place to store all of these parts and a method to keep them cool (for many pieces of hardware can overheat after prolonged use). For this we need a computer case (or “Tower” [Fig. 8]). When looking for a computer case, there are only a few things that you need to keep in mind. First off, you need a case that is large enough to hold everything you want to put into it. A good starting point is a “Mid-tower” case. This size of case can hold any sized motherboard, video card, and power supply, as well as have space for up to four hard drives and two or three optical drives. Another important factor is cooling. You want your case to be able to keep all of the contents from overheating, so look for a case that has fans placed at the front, back, and/or top and bottom of the case. If you want, you can also add fans to your case whenever you want by purchasing them from any computer hardware store, attaching them to the inside of the case in front of a vent, and plugging it into the motherboard.

There are many, many places where you could purchase hardware for your computer: computer hardware stores, department stores, websites, and even sometimes yard sales. However, most agree that to get exactly what you want you should shop online. Many people rely on Amazon.com for their hardware, while many others use sites like Newegg.com or Tigerdirect.com. You can use any and all of these sources to get what you need, as long as you find what you want for a good price.

Now that you know what all of the parts are and where to get them, it is probably a good idea to get it all ordered/purchased. Make sure you have the money you need for the parts and go shopping! After you have procured everything that you need, it is time to build the computer. But before you start building, there are some precautionary measures that need attending to. First, you should try to avoid any static electricity interfering with your pieces by working on a non-carpeted floor, making sure you aren’t wearing any static-producing clothing like sweaters, and washing your hands before starting. While building, often touch a metal surface (like the inside of your computer case for example) to rid your body of static electricity. You should take the pieces you are using out of their boxes only when you are going to use them. The utmost care should be taken when removing hardware from the protective, anti-static plastic. Try your best not to touch anything but the edges of your hardware unless you can help it. You will also need a screw driver and possibly a pair of pliers to use when fitting everything into your case.

After you have everything you need and have set up your work station you can start building. You should start by removing the motherboard from its box and set it on a hard, flat surface, face up, so that all of the slots and plugs are pointing upward. Before you start plugging stuff in, read the manual that comes with the motherboard, so that you can know what plugs in where. Next, carefully remove the processor from its box.



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The processor has a flat side and a side that is covered in small pins that are about ¼mm in length. Do not touch the side with the pins. On the motherboard, locate the CPU socket; it will look something like Figure 9. Once the CPU socket has been located, find the lever that locks the socket and lift it up. Once this is done, look for the little triangle on the corner of the CPU and match it with the triangle on the corner of the CPU socket (Fig. 10). Then, with the triangle on the CPU over the triangle on the socket, carefully lower the CPU into the slot, where it should fall into place without force. Once this is done, push down the lever on the CPU socket to lock the CPU into place.



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Once the CPU is secured, you need to apply some thermal paste, which should have come with the CPU. Take the thermal paste and squeeze a small blob onto the centre of the CPU, then spread it around with your finger until a thin layer covers the entire top of the CPU. Be careful to not get any of the thermal paste onto the circuit board of the CPU (the green bit)! After you have supplied the thermal paste, take the CPU Stock cooler that also came with the CPU and read the instructions included to fix it onto the CPU. Once that is done, you are officially finished installing the CPU onto the motherboard. Next, remove the RAM from its case and stick them into the RAM slots on your motherboard (Figure 11). At this point be sure to check the motherboards manual to see if there are any special instructions on how to apply RAM, and apply them if there are any. Once you make sure that the white locks on each end of the RAM slots are closed tight on the sticks of RAM, you are finished preparing the motherboard for the case.



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Before you try to place the motherboard in the case, remove one side of the case by unscrewing that side and sliding it off, then lay the case on its side, so that you can see into the inside of the case and can access everything easily. Then, replace the case’s back panel with the one included with the motherboard by using the back of a screwdriver to knock the case’s back panel out and then pushing the new one into place with your fingers (Figure 12). Next, lift the motherboard carefully (you can use the stock cooler attached to the CPU as a hand-hold) and lower it into the case, lining the holes in the motherboard up with the screw holes in the bottom of the case. Once this is done, use the screws that came with the case to screw in the motherboard. Be careful not to screw them in to hard or you will damage the motherboard! After the motherboard is securely in the case refer to the manual that came with the case as to how to plug in the cables that lead to the USB ports, audio plugs and the power button that are on the front of the case. After this is finished, you can install the video card. Before you remove the video card from its case, remove the shield in front of the PCI Express (or PCIe) slot (Figure 13) that you intend to stick the card into. Now, remove the video card from its casing and insert it into the PCI slot; be sure to line it up with the hole in the case. Once it is firmly inserted into the PCIe slot, screw it in. The video card is now installed.



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Now that the video card is installed, you can install the optical drive(s) and hard drive(s). To install these, read the manual that came with the computer case and follow the instructions that they give. Once these are in the case, you can plug in the SATA cables. In your motherboard’s manual, it should tell you which plugs on the motherboard are the SATA plugs, locate these (Figure 14). Once these have been located take the SATA cables that came with the motherboard and make sure you have one SATA cable for each optical drive, hard drive and the video card. Plug one end of each SATA cable into the motherboard, and the other end into whatever piece of hardware it was destined for (i.e. the optical drive, the hard drive and the video card). Once this is done there is only one more thing left to do: install the power supply.



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Refer to the manual that came with your case as to how to install the power supply in your case. Once this has been done, proceed to plug the cables from the power supply into each of the following: the video card, the motherboard, the hard drive(s), the optical drive(s), and any fans that need it. After this is done replace the side of the case and secure it closed. This was the final step to putting all of the hardware together. Now you can plug your computer into the wall, flip the switch on the back of the power supply and press the power button on the front of the case!

For this next part you will need your monitor, keyboard and mouse set up. Once these are all plugged in you will see your motherboard’s “BIOS” screen, which will show information about all of your hardware. You can ignore this screen. Instead, take your Operating System (OS) of choice and insert the disc into the optical drive. The computer will read it and then Windows 7 (or whatever OS you chose) will begin its installation setup. All you have to do is follow the on-screen instructions and you will have installed your operating system, and your computer will be officially finished.

If everything went well and if there were no mistakes or problems with any of your hardware, you should now have your ideal custom-built computer. Hopefully the process of building your new computer was a productive and fulfilling experience. Now you more than likely have a top-end computer that you only had to pay a small sum for in comparison to pre-built computers on the market, and you have every right to feel proud of yourself! Give yourself a pat on the back and happy gaming!

NOTE: This was written as an instructional process essay last year, and thus was written when I wasn't quite as tech-savvy as I am now. I probably made a few errors here and there, and don't have the time at the moment to correct myself (all I had time for was to re-write the introduction and conclusion). Please correct me by commenting if you see any specific faults; it would make my life so much easier. I also would love to know how to arrange the images in a tidier way, and possibly spruce up the body text of this to make that look nicer as well, but since as usual I'm short on time (and, to be frankly honest, the know-how), I'll have to try to figure that out later. Thanks!

~Eirreann
 
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durbin209

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Feb 12, 2012
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This seems like a fun project...however im jobless so i cant buy any parts Dx
 

AeonSoul

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Feb 21, 2012
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That's a very interesting essay, tho some more specific informations wouldn't hurt, like when I ever think about assembling my own pc I always get stuck between Mobos and chipsets. Just saying :D
 
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Eirreann

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That's a very interesting essay, tho some more spefici informations wouldn't hurt, like when I every think about assembling my own pc I always get stuck between Mobos and chipsets. Just saying :D
Thanks for pointing that out! When I have a spare moment I'll elaborate in those areas! I wrote this about a year ago, back then even I didn't understand everything fully.
Anything specific about motherboards that you'd like to know?
 

AeonSoul

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Yeah mostly, how do I know if a mobo supports a specific chipset or like, what RAM frequency does it support? I'm not used to most of the tech talk mobo related.

(sorry for the typos in the prev post, is was in an hurry)
 

Eirreann

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Feb 8, 2012
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Yeah mostly, how do I know if a mobo supports a specific chipset or like, what RAM frequency does it support? I'm not used to most of the tech talk mobo related.

(sorry for the typos in the prev post, is was in an hurry)
Ah, okay. I'll jot that in when I get home.
 

Eirreann

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Feb 8, 2012
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Spring break is next week, so I plan on revising this whole thing! That will include an attempt to "cut out the bulk", simplify it, go into a bit more detail on matching the motherboard to the processor, and maybe add some "suggestion builds" so that people can have an idea of how much it would cost for a good build that suits their gaming needs!
 
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