While most PC consumers choose to purchase their new machines from online dealers, electronics giants, office supply superstores, or local shops (my favorite), there are still many advantages to building a PC from scratch: You can handpick the best parts from your favorite component manufacturers; you avoid paying extra for an operating system that you might not want; you gain greater knowledge and confidence of your own system, which is invaluable for future upgrades or troubleshooting.
But when you are setting out on this adventure, especially for the first time, it is quite useful and reassuring to have the guidance of an experienced friend or colleague who has already braved these same waters before. Sadly, not everyone has such a person in their family, circle of friends, or group of helpful coworkers.
If that is the case (no pun intended), then you can always turn to the Internet and be sure to find a number of websites devoted to explaining exactly how to transform that intimidating collection of PC components into a working system. The sites make clear, step by step, how to put all of the pieces together, to the point where you are ready to install an operating system. In this article, I will examine some of the most promising and well-regarded sites that can help you go from bare metal to boot-up.
One characteristic of the better sites is that, not only do they offer photos showing each stage in building a PC, but they oftentimes will warn you of the dangers — to yourself and the components. Furthermore, they sometimes discuss your various options, such as the easiest cases to work inside of, the quieter power supplies, the most reliable motherboards, the easiest way to select the best microprocessor for the money, and what types of IDE ribbons (for non-SATA drives) maximize airflow and thus cooling.
An excellent site is My Super PC, which features a guide to choosing reliable parts for your future PC. A separate part of the site has a detailed explanation as to how to put all of the parts together into a complete system. But do not let the sizeable number of steps dissuade you from giving it a try, because every step has a full explanation, along with color photos. The site covers such topics as pricing considerations, firewalls, and broadband Internet access.
The home page begins with a table showing what components the site's author has in his current "super PC", followed by some tables listing his recommended options for all of the categories of components: case and power supply, processor and CPU cooler, motherboard, RAM, video and sound cards, hard drive, optical drives, etc. Then he lists some of his recommended peripherals, specifically, keyboard, mouse, and monitor. The "Assemble" step leads to the multi-part instructions for building the PC.
Another site, BuildYourOwnComputer.Net, has a name that says it all. The section that you would probably be most interested in is "Learn to Build a Computer". It divides the process into 10 steps, beginning with "Preparing the Case" and wrapping up with "Finishing Touches".
The site's color illustrations are terrific, and nicely labeled. Components labeled in some of the illustrations are underlined within the text itself. It would be better, however, if that approach were followed for all of the illustrations and labeled components.
Even though the aforesaid tutorials are great places to start, do not hesitate to examine any and all promising alternatives. Some of them tend to go light on the illustrations, but provide more information in the text.
For example, HardwareCentral — long known as an outstanding site for PC hardware topics — has a tutorial titled "Build Your Own PC". This one is quite extensive, but it does lack illustrations, at least on many of its pages. Nonetheless, the descriptions are thorough, and it could serve as an excellent complement to the illustrated tutorials mentioned earlier.
Jeff Greenman's "How to Build a New System Using Old Parts?" takes a different slant, in that he focuses on reusing older components, unlike all of the above tutorials, which do not hesitate to recommend the very latest (and hence more expensive) cases, motherboards, and chips.
Greenman's approach should be welcomed by those who have no interest in making their new PC look like a jukebox, and by those who want to utilize some of their existing yet still serviceable components. He offers a 13-part guide, with a fair number of pictures.
It should also be noted that there are online resources that could prove priceless if you need to learn more about your PC's BIOS (basic input/output system), or if something should go wrong with the BIOS, preventing your new system from booting.
Wim's BIOS Page has valuable information on BIOS upgrades, in addition to a Web-based BIOS identifier, which can be useful to those PC users who are having difficulty determining the manufacturer and date of their current system's BIOS.
A problem that can occur when beginners attempt to put together their own computers, is that the system does not boot up properly when first turned on, and instead the motherboard emits a series of beeps. These "beep codes" are intended to inform you of the exact nature of the first problem encountered by the BIOS.
But if you do not know the meaning of the beep code that you hear, then it is of little value to you. Webopedia has two pages that detail exactly what problems are indicated by the motherboard, one for each of the two most common types of BIOS: AMI and Phoenix.
Assembling your own PC from scratch could seem intimidating — especially the first time. But it is easier than it sounds. You will no doubt find that the guides' photos make it easier to identify the individual components, and confirm that they are going together correctly — which is even more critical, in terms of avoiding damage to valuable components.
Before starting the process, it would be best if you were to read through the guides mentioned above. By the time you had finished just a few of them, you would undoubtedly feel much more comfortable with the idea of putting your own system together, rather than trying to find a prebuilt system that meets your needs exactly.
Here is one last word of advice: After you have assembled the new system, when you turn on the power for the first time, watch the CPU fan, as well as the graphics card fan (if applicable). If either one is not spinning, immediately power down, or you will destroy that component. The only place you want to fry any chips would be the kitchen!