Step 3: How To Build A Computer: Choosing Your Parts and Operating System

Now that we have our tools ready, and a list of things needed, it is time to make some decisions on what type of system that we want to build. This is probably the longest section, and for good reason. There is a lot to consider when buying the parts to build your new PC.

First, we are going to classify custom PC’s into 3 separate categories. This will help you know what parts to spend more money on and a general guide for the type of machine you are wanting.

Second, we will tell you the best places to buy your computer parts, and to save the most amount of money in the process.

Third, we are going to list each individual part and a basic description of what it is. We will also list options available for each part.

And last on our list we will talk about which operating system will work best for your needs.

Which Type Of Computer?

Here is a list of computer types. The budgets listed will give you a ball park idea of how much you will need to spend.

Pick the one that will best suit your needs and follow the guidelines for selecting hardware for it:

Budget PC

The budget PC is good for a person or family that needs to surf the Web, check e-mail, and do some word processing. It will handle basic games and tasks. Generally the budget PC is comprised of some of the cheapest computer parts available, and will use onboard video and/or sound via the motherboard.

General Recommendations:

Approximate Budget: $600 or less

Workstation

The workstation computer usually serves in a home office or business environment and runs software that requires more processing power and memory. Development tools for databases, Web design, photo editing, and sound engineering need the added resources to work efficiently. Setting up a comfortable and ergonomic environment is one of the most important aspects for the workstation machine, so you may want to splurge on wireless keyboards and mice. For video and sound editing applications it is usually wise to get as much RAM as you can afford, and that the motherboard will allow for.

General Recommendations:

Approximate Budget: $1200 or less

Gaming Machine

The gaming machine is used for playing the latest games that require high end video cards, the fastest processors, and large amounts of memory. The nice thing about building a gaming machine, is that you will be able to run about any software, and not have to worry about performance. Building a gaming machine with the latest hardware can be costly, but it is the price you will have to pay to be able to play the newest games on the market with the performance that you desire. A relatively new option is to buy two video cards and link them together. There are a couple of different video card manufacturers that support this capability. You also will want to get a lot of room for storage, so invest in a large hard drive.

General Recommendations:

Approximate Budget: $1500 or more

Computer Parts and Options

One of the trickiest things about buying all the parts is making sure that your memory, CPU, video card, and motherboard will all be compatible with one another. Don’t get overwhelmed with the part names and acronyms, model numbers, etc. The key is to make sure that everything fits with the motherboard. If you follow the specifications of the motherboard, you can’t go wrong.

Make a list of the parts and prices to get an idea of your system cost. Here are a few general tips to get started when selecting hardware:

  1. We recommend that you first decide on going the Intel or AMD route. AMD is generally cheaper and offers comparable or better performance in some cases, it is just a matter of preference. Buy the retail version that includes a fan.
  2. Once you have chosen to go AMD or Intel, decide on a motherboard that fits with the type of system you are buying (budget, workstation, or gaming)
  3. Select the Processor that matches your machine type (budget, workstation, or gaming) and motherboard specifications. You will need to make sure that the speed and core type of the processor you select is compatible with the motherboard.
  4. Select RAM (memory) according to the motherboard specifications and your machine type (budget, workstation, or gaming)
  5. Choose a video card that makes the most sense for your type of system. Make sure to select one that is compatible with the slots on your motherboard. If you are buying a gaming machine, consider buying two identical cards that can be linked together for performance. The motherboard will have to be able to support this feature as well.
  6. Select a hard drive based on your machine type (budget, workstation, or gaming). We recommend going with an SATA hard drive over an IDE hard drive unless you are on a tight budget. The cost difference is not that much, but an IDE drive would be fine for a budget machine.
  7. Select a DVD/CD-Rom burner combo drive that will meet the needs of your system type. IDE is the standard type for these drives and should work with about any type of motherboard you buy. Most of these drives will be a combination all in on drive that can handle both reading and writing to CDs and DVDs. The cheapest drives offer great performance and value. If you have a gaming system, or extra needs it may be a good idea to buy two drives to be able to copy or use them both at the same time. You will have to have the ability to read DVDs if you plan on installing a new version of Windows such as Vista.
  8. Select a Case and Power supply that will meet the needs of your system. If you have ordered an SATA hard drive, make sure that your power supply has SATA power connectors.
  9. Decide on a monitor that is compatible with the type of output that your video card has. You want to go with digital (DVI) monitor and video card if possible for improved image quality. We highly recommend an LCD monitor for the small footprint and price.
  10. Choose all of the rest of your peripherals and accessories, including keyboard, mouse, printer, and scanner if necessary.
  11. A network and sound card should not be necessary, as most motherboards that you can buy have these built in. If you are serious about your sound though, and want better quality with surround you might invest in a separate sound card.
  12. We recommend going with broadband (Cable or DSL) for your internet connection, which will likely need an ethernet port to connect to, which should be built into your motherboard (so you do not need to purchase additional hardware for this). If you want to go with a slower dial-up internet service you will need to buy a PCI based 56k modem however. These are very inexpensive.

Operating System Choices

It’s a fact that most of the PC’s running today are driven by one of the many flavors of Windows. The alternative to Windows is to run one of the many distributions of Linux, but if you are new to computers or to building your own machine, we recommend sticking with Windows for the large amount of software available for it, and support community.

For any of the types of systems that we have been talking about, (budget, workstation, or gaming), Windows 7 and Windows 10 are the best choices. Windows 8 is coming out shortly and we will add this once it’s out and we know more about performance.

32 bit or 64 bit?

These days it’s quite simple, 64 bit is the only way to go.  Even though there are many 32 bit applications, generally speaking they will run fine on 64 bit Windows and Linux.  With a 64 bit PC you will have more options to expand your RAM (memory) for one thing, which is one of the best reasons to build your own PC in the first place, as you can upgrade components to boost performance, no matter what you are doing on your PC, more RAM will typically be the first thing to upgrade.  Do note of course thought that there is a limit to this, on a sliding scale.  If you wanted say, 32Gb from 8Gb or 16Gb of RAM to boost performance you are probably better off upgrading another component such as your video card or moving from SATA drives to SSD to get the performance boost you’re after.  As always, it depends on your needs.  If you want to run a few Virtual Machines, 32Gb of RAM might come in handy to allocate 4-8GB for each of your virtual machines.  These days 16GB is more than enough to run Windows and Linux very nicely.

Windows 7 Home Premium

Windows 7 Home Premium is the preferred edition for home desktop and mobile PCs. It provides a breakthrough design that is an improvement over Windows Vista that brings your world into sharper focus while delivering the productivity, entertainment, and security you need from your PC at home or on the go.

Windows 7 Professional

Windows 7 Professional adds some features onto home premium including networking and better security. If you want more features but don’t need Ultimate then this is the perfect version for you.

Windows 7 Enterprise

Designed to significantly lower IT costs and risks, Windows 7 Enterprise meets the needs of large, global organizations with complex IT infrastructures.

Windows 7 Ultimate

Windows 7 Ultimate is the choice for those who want to have it all. Easily shift between the worlds of productivity and play with the most complete edition of Windows 7. Ultimate provides the power, security, and mobility features needed for work, and all the entertainment features that you want for fun.

So should I choose Windows 7, Windows 8, or jump to the latest Windows 10?

For most users, we recommend Windows 7 Home Premium. It has all the functionality and features that most home users need if you don’t have a network setup. If you are in a business environment, go with the Professional or Enterprise edition, depending on your companies needs. If you are building a budget based or cheaper PC, then Windows 7 is the way to go, and specifically home if you do not need to network it. Make sure that all hardware you buy is windows 7 compatible. If you are going the 64 bit route you need to make sure that your hardware supports this as well.

What about Windows 8?  In my not-so humble opinion – stay clear of Windows 8.  They are quite good for purely touch-based tablets etc, but to use as a PC without touch is a pain.  Go with Windows 10 which provides the option of touch-based (Modern UI) Start Menu or a Start Menu which is more like Windows 7.

How Much is My Custom PC Going to Cost?

Now that you have made a list and you can see if the entire system, including shipping costs, will meet your budget. If you come in under your budget, expand your memory or upgrade another component such as the video card to improve performance.

If you are over budget you can cut back on some of the costlier accessories, or reduce the amount of memory, or CPU speed to curb the cost. Again, the nice thing about building your own custom computer is that you can easily add components and upgrade in the future and get more for your money down the road.

Where to Buy Computer Parts and Operating System?

Ok I have my list of parts and have figured out what operating system to get…but where can I buy them?

We recommend buying your computer parts from Amazon, they provide the best options and prices.

Amazon Computer Parts and Components

Keep Boxes and Understand the Warranties and Return Policies
After you have everything ordered and receive your shipment, make sure to check and make sure that you received all of the correct parts. Often computer parts will have a warranty that doesn’t last very long, so it is important to understand this, especially on OEM parts. Keep all of the original boxes in case you need to make a return.

Whew! Did you get through all of that without falling asleep?!! The planning stage is the most time consuming part of the process, but well worth it.

Our next step in the process of building a new PC is selecting the proper workspace.

Step 4: How To Build A Computer: Preparing The Case

 

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