How to Build a Personal Gaming Computer

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How to Build a Computer: Why should I build a computer?
So, you have seen the newest game and your poor Gateway 2000 is woefully out of date, and does not even have the DVD drive (not to mention the hard drive space) to install the latest and greatest. Assuming you could overcome that obstacle, your poor system does not even have the power to install the new game of the year. So what do you do? You can spend 1500 dollars on a new, off the shelf system that you have no real idea on what parts have been used, or you can go to Wal-Mart and buy their economy model which has even more dubious parts. OR you can build your own computer which will only cost a fraction of what you would pay for a pre-built system, and will not have the garbage pre-loaded on it (for the 100th time, I do not want AOL!), and you will have the exact specifications that you want or need. Besides that, it will allow you to play cool games like Fallout 3, or Farm Town on Facebook!

So, what do you want this thing to do?

Woah cowboy! Before you go out and buy every piece of computer hardware you have always wanted, you should do a little research first (yeah, boring, I know). See what kind of processors and motherboards are out there (and which will have the upgrade potential that you require). In regards to upgrade potential, this is probably one of the biggest benefits of building your own computer. You can make sure that it is big enough to be able to be upgraded for a few years so it will last that much longer! If you just want it to Build Websites, then you will obviously need less power.
Buying your supplies

Newegg is probably my favorite computer and electronics shop out there. Their prices are reasonable (though not the cheapest), but most importantly, they have outstanding customer service, and reasonable warranties (often above and beyond the manufacturer's warranty). Besides that, they have a helpful staff who is available to answer questions for you Tiger Direct is another alternative, though nowhere in league with newegg. Their prices are cheaper, but as the old saying goes, "You get what you pay for." They don't necessarily sell the highest quality parts, but if you are truly going for a budget system, they are probably a good bet. Their customer service is not nearly as good or as helpful as newegg's. Buyer beware.

(If anyone would like to add coments on online retailers they prefer, feel free!)
He's making a list, he's checking it twice...

Ok, your next step is to make a list of the individual parts you need for your new computer so you don't get everything, put it all together, and then realize that you've forgotten that critical component that will take you another two weeks to get because you forgot it. I've created a handy, dandy checklist here for some of the main components that you will need.

* A Case -You want to make sure that you have room to upgrade, and room to 'maneuver' while you are installing things. You want to make sure that there is room for air to ventilate. This will help to ensure that you don't have any overheating issues. Try to get one with a power supply that is peppy enough to power everything you put into your system. 450w or higher!
* A Motherboard and Processor -These need to work together, but they also need to be as speedy as you need them to be. A motherboard will only be able to work with certain types of processors with certain speed (make sure you know if it is Intel or Athlon). Again, purchasing these two as a package will help.
* A Heat sink - One of THE MOST important parts of your computer, though it is often skimped on. It keeps your processor cool. If your processor dies, it is pretty deadly to a system, so make sure it is going to keep your system cool. When you install it, make sure to add the 'goop' that comes with the heat sink.
* A Hard Drive - This is how much storage you have for pictures, movies, games, music, files, etc. They are cheap enough that you should buy a bigger one than you need. I would also suggest buying an external HD also, in case you have really important files that you don't want to lose in a crash.
* DVD R/RW and a CD R/RW -These are going to be used for any number of things. They will let you burn to CDs and DVDs, and use a rewritable CD/DVD if you have the appropriate hardware and media. Lightscribe technology is pretty cool, and lets you design a CD 'cover'.
* RAM - RAM works with your Processor to keep your computer running fast, the RAM helps you access programs faster (That is the simple answer). A lot of motherboards have 4 slots for RAM these days. Buy it in even amounts (either 1g sticks, 2g sticks, etc.) and make sure your OS can support the amount of RAM you have. I would suggest 4GB minimum these days.
* A V-v-v-v-video Card! - If you want to do ANY kind of gaming, this will be a key (and pricey) purchase. Most Motherboards have low end, built in video cards, so if you don't do a lot of gaming/video editing, you should be fine. Make sure about the video card, though. Several brands out there, pick one you like, maybe get one with a heat sink. Consider aiming at least one case fan at it. They get HOT! Some come with TV tuners which let you watch (and typically record) Cable or network TV if you plug it into a coaxial.
* Case fans - Inexpensive insurance. These will keep parts of your PC cool, and therefore running smoothly. They may make your computer 'louder', but at least one or two extra help.
* A "Network Interface Card" or NIC -This is how you get onto the Internet. If you have dial-up, use a modem.
* A Keyboard and Mouse - Necessary input devices. Wireless, wired, ergonomic, foldable, take your choice. A thousand options with a range of $2 to $200 (and more!)
* A Soundcard - this is another $2-$200 purchase. I like listening to music, but don't need that great of a soundcard. Better speakers are more important to me.
* An Operating System - Your choices are limited. Windows or Linux/Unix. Linux is a free OS, but there is a lot out there it is not compatible with. You can get a free Windows GUI (Graphical User Interface) to help things out, but a lot of games wont work with it.
* Drivers - This is the software (typically comes with the pieces of your computer) that tells your computer that these things exist. Plug and play has eliminated a lot of the need for this, but make sure you keep all of those coasters... I mean... CDs.
* "Extra" Peripherals - A printer, scanner, web cam, speakers, etc. All optional, but all very useful.
* Oh yeah, and a Monitor - Flat screen here, no question. CRT monitors are heavy and energy hogs.

He's got the Power
When looking for a case for your computer, there is several things that I suggest. First of all, find one that is a lot bigger than you need. Sure, that means that you will not as easily be able to transport it to all of the coolest LAN parties, but it will make sure that your components have plenty of air flow (very important) and that you can access different parts of your computer for various troubleshooting or upgrading (also very important). I would also personally suggest finding a case that already comes with a power supply (of 450w or greater). It is just one less thing you have to buy or worry about.
ULTIMATE Power, itty bitty living space (Processor, Motherboard, and Heatsink)

This is another step where I would 'double up' on purchasing parts. Find a processor that you think is fast enough (Dual and Quad core processors are 'in' these days) and then look at a package deal with that processor and a motherboard combination. NewEgg and Tiger Direct often offer packages like this. That way you will not need to worry about compatibility. When looking at motherboards, make sure what you have is going to allow for several slots for RAM (Random Access Memory) and enough 'slots' to hold all the cool stuff you wont. We'll talk about that more when we go through the actual building steps.

Putting it all together
Some of this section may be 'read the manufacturer's instructions' but frankly, I've always lived by RTFM, and it will make it a lot easier when you are tripping jumpers on your motherboard.

* Attach the power supply to the case.
This traditionally goes into the back of the case by one of the vents. If it is installed already, that is one less step.
* Install the case fan (or multiples) at appropriate vents.
* Poke out those irritating metal plates in the back where your different cards go (sound card, tv tuner, video card, etc.)
* There are little rubber/plastic tips that will be the 'base' of your motherboard. Screw those into place (per the motherboard's instructions).
* This is the scary part. Take your motherboard out of the static proof bag, set it down ON that bag, wear a static proof bracelet if you have one, and hold onto your power supply (for grounding) when you are touching this thing.
* Installing the CPU takes the longest of this whole process for me, though it has gotten easier these days. You have a square in the middle of your motherboard with a bunch of pin holes in it. Lift up the little levers (per the motherboard manual) and place the processor down on it in whichever way it fits. Read the manual here, make sure you are doing this step correctly. Put down the levers that keep it in place, and make sure it is snug. Put your 'goop' (coolant) onto the top of it, and install your heatsink/cpu fan.Typically it sits on top of your CPU and screws into the motherboard around it.
* Put your memory into the apropriate slots. There are plastic tabs on either side to keep them in place. They can only go one 'direction' because of the notch on the side.
* Now read your motherboard manual. It will tell you to adjust a number of little 'jumpers' that need to have the contacts switched from one side to another depending on your settings.
* Put your motherboard onto those stand offs which make up its base, and screw it down. YAY! The scary part is over - pretty much.
* Install your drives (CD/DVD/HD). You will need to flag one as master and the other as slave. I usually have the better of the two as master.
* Install the video card. This is a card that sticks out of the back of your computer, pick a slot, and plug it. Simple! :)
* Put everything back together, plug in the monitor, mouse, keyboard, etc. Pray to whatever higher power (or spaghetti monster) you believe in, and press the power button.
* You will need to get through the BIOS screen. You'll set the time and date if need be, and the more complex settings will be in your motherboard manual.
* Install your Operating System. With windows, just read and keep clicking next. With Linux or Unix, refer to the documentation for further details.

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