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Building Your Personal Computer - Computer Building Demystified

Guide to building your personal computer.

An explanation of the hardware required to make a computer, and what each of them do, and have in common.

Episode #1-08 released on November 7, 2010

Welcome listeners to a brand new episode of Technology Questions Answered, Episode 8 and let's talk about building your personal computer.

This is your host, Steve Smith, Founder of Zed Axis Productions, and Digital Technologies Consultant. I would like to present to you the utter truth big companies do not want you to know. Its often cheaper, and its by far, easier than you believe to build your very own personal computer.

To begin, I suggest you hit pause get a piece of paper, or refer to my show notes for the list of pieces by name you will need to make your own computer. Best of all, you can bring this list to any computer store that sells pieces and ask for each one. And after I explain to you a few of the terms and how to look them up, you'll also have the ability to verify before purchase how to make sure the pieces go together.

So let's start off with that list. I will be helping you build a whole entire computer, and these are all the equipment you need.

  • Motherboard (Micro-ATX, ATX, EATX)
  • Processor (Intel or AMD)
  • RAM (Usually three types, defined by speed and customization)
  • Graphics Adapter (If not already included in the motherboard, and the more memory this card has, the bigger you can buy a screen.)
  • Powersupply (The most important piece of the computer, also powers everything in it.)
  • Computer Case (Usually seperated in defined sizes like Micro-ATX, ATX and EATX. ATX is the typical size of a computer box, and for most, provides the ability to expand to add on new hardware in your computer.)
  • Hard-Drive
  • Optical Drive (DVD or Blu-RAY)
  • Computer Monitor (Depending on your graphics adapter, you can buy some really nice large ones, however going over 22 inches may cause an inability to read the text on the screen, and LCD have fixed screen resolutions.)
  • Keyboard (Go to the store, put your hands on it and type something, only buy something your comfortable on, I'll explain later.)
  • Mouse (Try before you buy, again, like keyboards, only buy something you feel comfortable using.)

Now, to the fun part, I will explain what each piece on how they interact with each other and dispel any inaccurate myths.

So let's start with the motherboard and computer case. The size of the motherboard and computer case are based on standards set by the computer industry a long time ago. Most of you will most likely only need a Micro-ATX and most of them have on-board graphics adaptors. There are three types of motherboard and they are Micro-ATX, ATX and EATX. Like I said most of you will most likely only need a Micro-ATX, but before you dismiss the other two, how about I tell you the advantages of the other two. ATX has seven expansion slots and EATX can have up to ten expansion slots, and this means you can add multiple graphic adaptors, wireless cards, TV-tuners, gaming equipment, etc... Now, the computer case, like I said is based on the size of your motherboard. If you decide to get a computer case for your computer, I suggest an ATX sized box, unless you want an EATX motherboard. The ATX box is made to hold ATX and Micro-ATX boards, it allows for future expansion, also for good airflow, which is extremely important, and make sure you have a fan on the front of the case, one on the rear of the case just above the expansion slots, and one in the side of the box. This will prevent your computer from overheating, which accounts to many problems with motherboards. Besides the three sizes, there is also a difference between getting and Intel board, an AMD board, one with Sli, Crossfire or a conventional graphic adaptor capability. If you choose Intel, my suggestions are the i3, i5 or i7. The i5 is mid-line usage, like light gaming, word processing, multimedia, and the i7 processor is for gamers and heavy task users, or power-users. If you wish to opt for AMD, we are currently in the AM3 standard, which means you can opt for Dual-Core, Triple-Core and Quad-Core. Its the same principle as the Intel series. Most of the motherboards have a single graphics adaptor slot, so they have a conventional graphic adaptor design. Those of you who want to get multiple graphics card designs will have to deal with the ATI CrossFire and the Nvidia Sli. There are only two things I need to say about those. One, they all have to be identical graphic cards to work. And Secondly, you will only get about a 10% increase in performance, and only under heavy gaming or 3D rendering. Otherwise, you will have no other visable increase to performance. My suggestion is to spend more money on one graphics adaptor for gaming, than on multiple.

The processor is the brain in the computer. As I just explained you have several types and tiers. If you want to have a specific type of processor, like Intel, you will have to learn how to identify which board belongs to which before you buy the pieces and realize they do not match. I might to take a minute to explain that Computer Stores will have staff that can help you, ask friends, family, co-workers and other clients what they think about certain stores. In the greater Montreal Area I suggest MasterVox and Microbytes. Remember, there is a service counter, and that's where the employees who know about computers will be. Now, back to identifying which processor belongs to which board. If you want an Intel board, most Model Types with a P and if you want an AMD processor, most of the time it starts with an M. But you can go further than that. You can go to internet and type your processor choice and motherboard choice together and you will either find that they do not work together, or they do. If you want a suggestion about Motherboard, go to ASUS, Gigabyte or MSI. I have never had any problems finding any support for issues. They also have clearly marked specifications which explain which processor goes on which motherboard.

Now, let's talk RAM. This is the short term memory. Now, I will explain to you something before we begin. If your going to use Windows, 32-bit environments use less than 4 GB of RAM, 64-Bit environments can use up to 8 GB of RAM. There is no way to add more memory to Windows because this is all based in math and its not possible to assign more memory. Now, if you want speed and memory, let's talk. We have three Tiers of ram, no matter what board we have. You will find that there are several types of RAM, as well. There is what I call the Low Speed, Mid Speed and High Speed version of every type of ram. The High Speed version also, at least usually, supports overclocking. Now, remember that research your already doing for your Processor and Motherboard. Part of those specifications say what type of ram is to be used. Currently you have DDR2 and DDR3. The current models of boards should now be DDR3, but you can sometimes buy previous versions of motherboard, do your research, and you will avoid mistakes. You can also email me if your really confused, I will help as many people as I can. My suggestion for ram is Mid-speed for conventional users and High-Speed (the one with the higher clock speed in MHz, in DDR3 that's 1600mhz) for gamers.

Now, the graphics card. The holy grail of computing. Without this, forget your computer, it just won't work. We will all presume that no one is going to make a crossfire or SLI setup. The prices range from a few twenty dollar bills, to hundreds of dollars. You can buy a powerful graphics card for just under $150 if you shop around. I bought a 512-MB graphics adaptor for $129 at Microbytes. Now, if your a gamer and want to be able to play any game, I'd opted for the Gigabyte graphics card version. It costs a little more but you'll get hundreds, maybe thousands of hours of lag-free fun. If your only looking for something to go on FaceBook and doing homework. I suggest not going below 256 MB on the graphic card.

Now, the Power Supply. Let's get rid of some myths right now. Not every Power Supply is made equal. Also, its not a good idea to get the a Power Supply with High Wattage. Buy according to your usage. Most new motherboards have an electrical processing unit, or EPU, and if you buy a mid-level or high-end Power Supply they will often have EPUs, as well. This means you require less wattage for the same computer, than you needed before because not all the circuits are on, all the time, only circuits that require electricity, use electricity. This is a green idea, that's also a money saver. Also, while, we are talking power supply. You do have two types, the conventional and the modular. Conventional power supplies are bound to having all the cables, even those not used, inside your box, this can reduce airflow, and make your computer hotter. Modular power supplies have removable cable sets allowing for better airflow. Keep in mind, the more you put into the computer, the higher the wattage has to be. So read the manual online before you buy to know how much power you will need in your new power supply. If you decide you are going to be serious when building your computer, spend a little more money on the power supply, and it should never be an issue, and if you have listened to previous episodes, please use a Uninterruptible Power Supply, instead of a surge bar to protect your investment.

Let's talk hard-drives, depending on what you do, you will need a varying amount of space. You can currently buy up to 2 Terabytes, maybe even more soon. You should get at least 80 GB, but I recommend at least 320GB to 500GB depending on what you want to do. If you have a lot of movies, audio, or plan on doing any kind of editing of video, go for 1 to 2 Terabytes to have plenty of space. The scratch files are often huge. 15 minutes of audio for this podcast comes out to 200 GB of video, and I just have a topic plate, that's before compression.

As for optical drives, you will need at the very least, a DVD-Rom, but I suggest you opt for a DVD Burner, or Blu-Ray if you intend to have a lot of files to backup. A standard DVD burner is only about $40.

Now, the keyboard and mouse. You have to buy these, and I suggest you make sure you comfortable with them before you buy them. A keyboard or mouse you cannot stand may injure your wrists and forearms. Remember to take routine breaks to lower the chances of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, which is an injury to the underside of the wrists caused by badly made or chosen keyboards and mouses. You do not have to spend a lot, but I recommend you be careful in your choice, and spend a little more on these devices. Remember to keep your arms at a 90 Degree angle with typing, and read all the safety information in the box with your mouse and keyboard.

Now let's talk about the screen. If you already have a monitor, and your happy with it, we are done here. If you want to buy a new screen, I suggest no bigger than 22 inches. If your wondering why, its all about how your seated in front of your computer. Good posture is important, and your eyes should meet the top of the screen without raising your head to avoid neck injuries. If you wish to watch any digital copyrighted materials, please make sure you buy a HDCP enabled screen, and a DVI-D cable, otherwise the screen will be fuzzy. Also, for those with problems with sight, you may want a friend to install your operating system for you, and have them enable to accessibility functions of the operating system.

So now we have all the pieces, we need to install an operating system. Forget about installing the Mac OS X operating system, your required to buy Apple computers to have it. So that leaves us with two choices, Linux and Microsoft Windows. If your new to computers, I do suggest with Microsoft Windows because virtually all software sold in stores is made to work with Windows. If your feeling adventurous, you may opt to install Linux, and since its free, you'll save several hundred dollars on operating system, but keep in mind, you cannot necessarily buy software in store, however you can download most of them for free, legally, online via the software explorer in most versions of Linux. I have links to Ubuntu in a previous episode, you may want to listen to that episode, and view the show notes.

And now, as promised, I said I would make a list of suggested software to install, and this is it, and all of it free.

I may continue to add more in the show notes, so go to the show notes during the week to see if I added anything, otherwise I will mention them in the next episode.

Next week, I will be explaining how to avoid the most common injury to plague computer users, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, with tips and tricks, and hard learned lessons and experiences.

If you have any questions, comments or stories on any topic we talk about here on this podcast, or any other previous episodes, you may find all the necessary contact information or list of sources, software, hardware suggestions, and a link to our new message board on our web-site at Triple-W-dot-Z-E-D-A-X-I -S dot-NET, as well as a list of important pod casts that you should also listen to. You can also send your emails regarding our podcast at tqa@zedaxis.net.

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This has been a podcast, hosted by Steve Smith, Digital Technologies Consultant for Zed Axis Productions, Stay Safe and Online. This has been Technology Questions Answered.

This podcast has been recorded using audacity, an open-source, sound recorder and editor, head over to audacity.sourceforge.net and support Audacity by donating or buying exclusive merchandise, or head over to our web-site and view the links in the show notes of this episode.

This show was recorded: November 7th, 2010 and is now available on iTunes and our web-site at http://www.zedaxis.net/.

Host : Steve Smith | Music : Steve Smith | Editor : Steve Smith | Producer : Zed Axis Productions