Over the years I’ve been the “tech guy” for my friends when they have tech questions and tech support issues. I just recently helped a friend build a new PC, which really isn’t that difficult. It wasn’t all roses and we ran into a few troubles along the way. By the end he was kind of comfortable putting a lot of it together himself, because of all of the troubleshooting we had to do.
Going through that process made me think of that old proverb about handing people fish vs. teaching them to be a fisherman. Hopefully this series of articles will help you help yourselves, and you will see that building your own PC really isn’t that hard.
When I started building computers in the 90’s you had to know a lot about them, or you would never get it to boot. You don’t have to be a Zen computer guru to build one now. It’s probably about as difficult and nerve-racking as it is to put together IKEA furniture. If you have never put furniture together I’m sure it would seem like a daunting task, but anyone that has done it, knows it’s not that bad. It’s just sometimes slightly annoying. Building a computer now is the same way.
In this series I’ll let you know what type of parts you need to buy, and why. I’ll try to stay away from as much tech jargon as I can and follow the KISS (keep it simple stupid) rule when possible. I also plan on making some buying tips and recommendations based on different needs. There are a lot of great resources to save money, and I’ll go over some of them as well.
A computer is just a series of parts that you can buy and easily put together. I’ll try to equate the parts you need to a person to make it easier to understand.
- Case – This is what your parts go into. If we were to look at a computer like a person, the case would be the clothing. Its shows off your style. Technically you don’t even need a case to have a working computer, just like you don’t really need clothes. If you don’t put on clothes at some point you’re going to get in a ton of trouble, and it’s the same with a PC. The case protects the rest of the parts from dust and static, and it helps keep the parts cool.
- Motherboard (sometimes also called a main board) – The motherboard is your body. You plug all the parts into your motherboard, and it controls it all. Back in the day these things were super complicated. While they are more complex today as far as capabilities go, they have been made a lot more simple to use.
- CPU (central processing unit, or just processor) – The processor does exactly what it sounds like it does. It processes a request. While the motherboard is the body, the processor is the brains of the operation.
- Power Supply – This would be your heart. If this isn’t working you are just flat-out dead. Just like you’re heart if you don’t’ take care of your power supply, it can give you a heart attack, or a stroke.
- RAM (random access memory) – RAM is your short-term memory. It doesn’t get stored for the long-term.
- HDD (hard drive) – Hard drives are your long-term memory. It’s everything you are trying to permanently store.
- Monitor (sometimes referred to as your display, or display device) – I don’t have a good person analogy for the monitor. If you are reading this, you are probably staring at one right now.
- Operating System – This isn’t hardware, but I’m mentioning it here anyway. Windows, Apple OSx, and the various types of Linux are operating systems necessary to make your computer do anything. If I used the person analogy I’d kind of equate the operating system to your race. The various operating systems might look different, but they all do the same stuff in the end.
- Video card (You will also see GPU [graphical processing unit] thrown around) – Some of you are probably really confused by me putting this as an optional item. It’s optional because most CPU’s today have a built-in GPU, and the motherboard has the connections you need to connect to your display device. If you want to do hardcore 3D gaming then you should buy a video card when building a PC. If you don’t plan on gaming then you can skip this item. Today’s CPU’s are REALLY good a processing video.
- Optical Drives – CD/DVD/Blu-ray drives are optical drives. You don’t need them (though it’s really hard to install an operating system without them) but you should have them just in case.
- Sound Card – The sound card market is almost completely dead today. All motherboards have sound cards built into them. They only reason to buy a sound card today is if audio quality was extremely important to you, like it would be for a musician or a DJ.
- Fans – Most cases you buy will already have fans in it, but you may want to buy more to keep things cooler. A cool PC is a happy pc.
- Heat Sink – When you buy a CPU it comes with a heat sink and fan to pull the heat away from the processor. If you plan on heavily overclocking your CPU (I’ll cover that topic later in the series) then you may want to buy a better heat sink.
After that I’m going to cover the parts in the order I mentioned them in, so the first part will be cases. I’m thinking about building myself a new computer right now, and the case has been the hardest thing to choose.
Before I really delve into the parts themselves, next weekend I’ll cover where to buy, and look for parts. There are many sites on the internet, as well as local resources. You never want to over pay if you can help it. At the same token you need to be able to return the parts in case of a problem.