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Thursday, June 01, 2006

What goes on inside your PC?

As a computer technician I am constantly being asked about computers (I'd be out of a job it I wasn't). The most popular question I get asked is, "How do I build my own computer" ? Home built computers have become very popular because of the advantages that come with putting a computer together yourself. Just like cars, we all have specific features that we want and those that we could do without. Building your own computer allows you to create a computer that is the perfect match for you, that is if you take some careful steps when planning the build.

For those of you out there who are interested in building your own computer, there are a lot of great resources on the internet to help you do this. I feel like a broken record but the best research tool out there is your friendly search engine: Google. I am big proponent of Google because of its simplicity and great results. Check this link out for a search on building your own computer and this link to Wikipedia on computers and how to build one.
NOTE: With good articles come bad ones and if you're not careful you can end up with a mediocre machine that will cost you more than a prebuilt machine from Dell.

Quiz (Don't run away, its painless)
Before you decide to build a computer, you should ask yourself several questions:

  • What are your needs?
  • How much do you want to spend?
  • How long do you want the machine to last?
  • Who will be using the computer?
  • Where will the computer be used?

These may seem like overkill but it may mean the difference between saving or wasting your valuable money and time; I hate wasting my time and money.

Two Classes of Computer Users
I firmly believe there are two types of computer users out there: Those that use the computer sporadically and those whose lives are on the computer. Despite what you might argue, you fall into one of these two categories. I am someone whose life is on the computer between school and work.

For many people a prebuilt computer is sufficient and will be cheaper than a custom built one. People who occasionally use a computer, use it to surf the internet, or use it as a word processor will be much better off buying a prebuilt computer. My personal recommendation for those people is to buy a PC from Dell. Their prices are competitive and machines durable enough to outlast how much they cost.

For the remaining people, you might benefit from building your own computer but there are some caveats. These people include those of you that play video games, require the computer for work (other than word processing), or want to use the computer as a media hub (what the heck is a media hub?). Now that you've decided to build a computer, we can get into the guts of what's in a computer.

NOTE: Beware of people who offer services to build a computer for you. While you get a customized computer, you are in a tough situation when you have a problem and don't know how to fix it. If you do use a service such as this, make sure to get a warranty or guarantee on what your buying.

The Guts of a Modern Personal Computer
Depending on your experience with computers you may or may not be familiar with some of these parts. The links I have provided should give you more information on each of these parts.

There are more components to a computer than I have covered here and I can't go in depth on everything, so if you're serious about building a computer and want to know more use your favorite search engine.

Do Your Research!
The next part in building a computer is to research parts that you want in your computer. When I write an article, like when I build a computer, I have to do research otherwise what reason do you have to believe what I'm saying? Thankfully the best source for this kind of information is the internet. Between manufacturer websites, professional magazines, and techie blogs like this one there is a plethora of information, take it slow and read, read, and read some more. When I build a computer, especially for a customer, I spend a long time balancing cost, features, and ease of use. I almost never go with the first design because I usually find great deals on great parts while I research. Here are some good resources for researching computer parts:

If you can't find what your looking for on one of these sites, go to Google and search for what your looking for. Another great place to find computer parts is directly on computer part manufacturer websites. You might wonder who popular manufacturers are and this is where you can turn to Google once again (Test this: motherboard manufacturer). Once you've got ideas on the parts you want in the computer you'll need to find out how much these parts cost.

Buy Your Parts Online
Now that you know what goes into a computer, you need to know where to find these parts. Having gone through computers faster than sneakers or clothing, I limit my shopping to three places on the internet:

While I will buy parts at a local store in an emergency, I have found that the best deals are on the internet and if you're savvy enough you can find them. A great resource for deals on computer parts etc. is TechBargains. TechBargains is a service that posts deals on tech related goodies from across the web. The key is to act fast because some items don't last for long and these websites are heavily traveled.

Its' an Iterative Process
You have to remember that building a computer is an iterative process and that your design may change based on the deals of the week. Whatever you do, don't get frustrated. If you're having trouble and need some help refer to one of the tech magazines or personal blogs like this one for help from the community. The great thing about people who build computers is that they love to brag about what they've got and you can use this information to help you build your computer. Remember that you're doing this to make a better computer and the more effort you put in the better the outcome will be.

This is just one man's opinion. Let me know what you think and what resources you use when building your computer. As always, comments/suggestions/criticism are always welcome.

Happy computer building!

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