No. of Recommendations: 7
Ok, I started writing this a couple weeks ago. This part mainly describes the main components of the PC, the things you should consider when purchasing the components, etc. The next part (a work in progress) will describe how to put everything together.

In any case, your input is welcome since this is only a draft, probably filled with errors. (I also cracked open a couple of cold ones while writing this so that probably didn't help things any...) Hope this helps some of you out there and not confuse you.


BTW, the text in italics are just tips and opinions based on my personal experiences.



I'm interested in building my own PC, where do I start?

You don't need to be a computer guru to successfully build your own computer, like most things, all it takes is a little time and patience. Before you build your own PC, you should ask yourself the typical computer pre-purchase questions:

How much do I want to spend? Who will be using it? What will be the computer's primary function? (word processing, hardcore 3D gaming, etc?)

Once you've decided how much you want to spend, you'll need to buy the components (assuming you don't have any lying around from old systems.)

Main components


Considered the heart of the computer, the CPU will most likely be either Intel or AMD. Your choice of motherboard (see next section) will be dependant on the type of CPU you decide to buy.

It is important to note that higher MHz does not necessarily indicate faster processing speed. While a comparison of MHz within the same CPU class (i.e. Intel Pentium III vs. another Intel Pentium III) will give you a good indication of the relative speed of the processor, other factors (such as type of RAM, the amount of cache, etc.) come into play when you're comparing, say, an Intel Pentium III vs. an AMD Athlon.

It's also a good idea to get a good fan with a large heat sink for your CPU. This will allow your CPU to cool properly. A common cause of "freezing" computers is poor heat dissipation.


If the CPU can be considered the heart of a system, the motherboard or main board may be considered the spinal cord. The motherboard is the large back plane which contains the computer's basic circuitry. All components of the PC will eventually connect to the motherboard in one way or another. The motherboard typically contains several slots for RAM, a slot for the CPU, the chipset, the system BIOS, various expansion slots (PCI, ISA, AGP), and various ports (PS2, serial, USB.) Typically, motherboards come in two form factors, AT and ATX.

Some major manufacturers of system motherboards include: ABIT, Asus, Tyan, Microstar, Gigabyte, and AOpen.

Some considerations you should take into account when selecting a motherboard include: stability, reliability, number of expansion slots, the type/speed/amount of RAM it can support, the type of CPU it supports, and the motherboards chipset.

Since virtually every other component will be connected to the motherboard, it is important to choose a reliable motherboard. A sub par motherboard can significantly affect the performance of even the fastest CPUs. If you're on a limited budget, the motherboard is not a component which you should sacrifice quality to save a few bucks.


It is very important to have enough RAM for your applications. Having a fast CPU without enough memory will cause a significant speed bottleneck. There are many types of RAM available so make sure your motherboard supports it.

A good place to look for RAM is

Video card

This is where you plug your monitor into and depending on the type of computer you're building, it may be the most expensive piece of your homemade PC (yes, even more expensive than the CPU or motherboard!) Typically video cards come in either AGP or PCI form factors. Because of the AGP port's speed, AGP video cards are preferred over PCI. Most modern motherboards will have an AGP slot; older boards will only have PCI and ISA slots.

A main factor in video card performance is the amount of memory that's on the card. The current median is 32 MBs. Higher resolutions, higher color amount, and higher refresh rates will require more onboard memory.

Different video cards have different features, but don't buy a video card with features you don't need. (If you're not a 3D gamer, don't spend extra money buying a card with a 3D chipset; if you don't plan on doing any video editing, don't get a card with video capture capabilities.)

Hard Drive

Hard drives generally come in either IDE (ATA) or SCSI. Unless you have a SCSI controller, you'll need to get an IDE drive. The size of the hard drive you'll need will vary according to the way you use your PC. If you download lots of multimedia files (MP3s, MPEG videos, etc.) you will definitely need a higher capacity hard drive. On the other hand, if you only use your computer for web surfing, word processing, etc. you can get a lower capacity drive.

As operating systems get more robust, you'll need extra capacity just to install your operating system. A typical Windows 98 installation is about 500 to 850 MBs so plan accordingly.

Some considerations when selecting a hard disk include: capacity, interface speed (ATA/33, ATA/66, ATA/100), internal hard disk rpm (5400, 7200, 10000), and seek time speed (usually represented in milliseconds.)

Common manufacturers of hard drives include Maxtor, IBM, Seagate, and Western Digital.

When building a system, many people overlook the benefits of having a speedy hard disk. Often, the bottleneck in an otherwise fast system is the hard disk. Personally, I prefer 7200 rpm and above HDs.


Since most software come on CDs nowadays, it's essential to get a CD ROM. There are many choices here, and almost any brand name CD ROM will work as well as others.

Common vendors include HP, Creative, Sony, Plextor, and NEC, amongst others.

Don't be fooled by outrageous claims of speed! Most CD ROMs will never read faster than 32X, on average. Claims of above 32X speed are often on the inner most tracks of the CD, read the labels on the box carefully!

Sound Card

If you want to listen to MP3s, CD Audio, or play any type of computer game, you'll need a sound card. Again, there are many choices here and prices of sound cards range from $15 to $300 depending on the type of card. Sound cards typically come in 16, 32, 64, and 128 bit; generally, the higher the bit, the better the sound quality. Like video cards, sound cards will have a variety of different features. Some will allow you to attach additional devices such as a synthesizer, home theatre system, etc.

Same caveat as with the video cards, don't pay for features you don't need. If you aren't going to watch movies with 5.1 Dolby digital sound, you don't need an expensive sound card with that feature. It also pays to do some research - i.e. the Sound Blaster Live! Value sold by many computer stores is the same basic card as the retail Sound Blaster Live! Xgamer and the Sound Blaster Live! MP3+. The difference is the Sound Blaster Live! Value does not come with Sound Blaster software (you don't need it) or drivers (you can download them from the web.)

Case and power supply

You need a case to hold together your various components. It's essential that your case can handle all you're planning on putting in, and then some. As a general rule, you should always have room for expansion (who knows when you'll get that extra hard drive?) Your case should also have adequate ventilation and a good power supply.

Newer processors tend to need more power than older ones. For example, AMD Athlon recommends that you use a 300 Watt power supply in a case with ample cooling.

Print the post  


What was Your Dumbest Investment?
Share it with us -- and learn from others' stories of flubs.
When Life Gives You Lemons
We all have had hardships and made poor decisions. The important thing is how we respond and grow. Read the story of a Fool who started from nothing, and looks to gain everything.
Community Home
Speak Your Mind, Start Your Blog, Rate Your Stocks

Community Team Fools - who are those TMF's?
Contact Us
Contact Customer Service and other Fool departments here.
Work for Fools?
Winner of the Washingtonian great places to work, and Glassdoor #1 Company to Work For 2015! Have access to all of TMF's online and email products for FREE, and be paid for your contributions to TMF! Click the link and start your Fool career.