If and when you are trying to build a PC from scratch, especially for the first time, there is nothing more valuable than the presence and guidance of an experienced friend or colleague who has already braved those same waters before. But not everyone has such a person in their family, circle of friends, or group of helpful coworkers.
In that case, you can turn to the Internet and be sure to find an appreciable (and appreciated) 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'll examine some of the most promising and well-regarded sites that can help you go from bare metal to boot-up.
The better sites not only 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 maximize airflow and thus cooling.
You certainly cannot go wrong by making My Super PC your first stop, because it features a 25-step guide to choosing excellent parts for your future PC. A separate page has a 53-step guide to putting all of the parts together into a complete system. But don't let the numbers of steps dissuade you from giving it a try, because every step has a detailed explanation, along with color photos. Also, some of the steps cover such topics as pricing considerations, Windows, firewalls, and broadband Internet access.
The home page of the My Super PC site begins with a table showing what components the site's author has in his current "super PC", followed by some handy tables listing his recommended options for various categories of components: case and power supply, processor and CPU cooler, motherboard, RAM, video and sound cards, hard drive, optical drives, and modem (not needed for those planning on using cable or DSL Internet service). Then he lists some of his recommended peripherals, specifically, keyboard, mouse, and monitor. This is followed by the 25 steps mentioned earlier. The "Assemble" step leads to the 53-part instructions for building the PC.
The website BuildYourOwnComputer.Net has a name/URL 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 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.
Another PC assembly tutorial can be found on the website of SysOpt, a technology product vendor. The article is entitled "How to Build Your Own PC", and is divided into two parts: the planning stage and the installation process. Unlike most of the similar tutorials, this one does a good job of encouraging the reader to think about the purpose of their planned PC, and then offers solid advice on what types, sizes, and price tags to be looking for when selecting the components. The installation steps are not as professionally photographed as in the previous tutorial, but they are more than adequate.
Guides of a Different Stripe
While the aforesaid tutorials are great place to start, don't hesitate to examine the alternatives. Some of them tend to go light on the illustrations but provide more information in the text. For example, HardwareCentral — long known as being an outstanding site for PC hardware topics — has a tutorial entitled "Build Your Own PC". This one is quite extensive, but it does lack illustrations, at least on the many pages that I visited. 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 don't hesitate to recommending the very latest cases, motherboards, and chips. His approach will 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 serviceable components. He offers a 13-part guide, with a fair number of pictures.
BIOS and Beyond
No article on PC assembly would be complete without mentioning a couple of resources that could prove priceless if you need to learn more about your PC's BIOS, 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.
One of the most common problems that 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 don't know the meaning of the code, they are of little value to you. Fortunately, 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.
Admittedly, building your own PC can seem intimidating. 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.
If you were to read through the guides mentioned above, by the time you had finished just a few of them, you would no doubt 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 — or even more tiring, trying to purchase a customized system from one of the big mail-order PC vendors, without paying extra for operating systems and applications that you don't want.
One last word of advice: After you have assembled the new system, and you turn on the power, be watching the CPU fan, as well as the graphics card fan (if applicable). If either one is not spinning, immediately power down, or you'll destroy that component. Limit fried chips to your barbeques!