Building or Upgrading a Computer (The Detailed [H] Guide) The following are the steps you should take when deciding upon building a computer from scratch. You can also use some or all of the following when you are considering upgrading your machine. 1) Figure out your budget.
Figure out how much you are willing to spend on the project as well as what needs to be covered within the budget. Factor in the costs of all of the actual components to your computer, as well as additional costs for software (particularly the operating system), additional accessories, and shipping/taxes.
Many people have added "discounts" received from mail-in rebates into their totals. Don't. The issue with mail-in rebates (or MIRs) is that you still have to pay the full (before rebate) price up front. (Plus, there's no 100% guarantee that you'll even receive the MIR in the end.)
BE REALISTIC ABOUT YOUR BUDGET. Theoretically, you could build an entire system, complete with a monitor, keyboard/mouse, and other peripherals, for as low as $400-$500. But realistically, you would be cutting a lot of corners (with the system's overall performance, if not its longevity) in order to get it done. If you have a budget of under $1000 (to include shipping/taxes) and you wish to build an entire computer (including monitor, OS, and/or other peripherals), you may want to consider getting a prebuilt system instead, from Dell, HP, Acer/Gateway, or some other reputable vendor. 2) Figure out which components you would need for your setup.
When we're referring to components, we mean:
Power Supply (PSU)
CPU Cooler/Heatsink with Fan (HSF)
Hard Drive (HDD)
Optical (Disc) Drive (CD/DVD/HD-DVD/BR)
Video/Graphics Card (GPU)
-- Wireless (802.11b/g/n) Network
-- TV/Cable tuner
-- RAID controller
-- IDE/ATA/SATA controller
-- Floppy drive
-- Memory card reader
-- Fan controller
OPERATING SYSTEM (OS) - This is important, because most people need new license keys for their new systems. Because of its importance, you might as well consider the OS as part of the system. (Read the EULA of your operating system before you consider transferring an old license to a new machine.)
WATER COOLING - Though not mentioned much in General Hardware, water cooling setups are normally used by those who want the most efficient cooling available, for heavy overclocking (OC), very quiet or near-silent operation (compared to an air-cooled system), or for all of the above.
Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) or surge protector
-- External Drive(s)
-- USB/FireWire Hub
-- (A/V) Receiver/Amplifier
You will need to figure out which components you will need to buy and which, if any, you are transferring from another machine. You may have already purchased/received some components beforehand; include those as things you are transferring to the new system. 3) Determine what the computer is going to be used for.
It could be designed for one primary task, or it could be a "multitasking" machine capable of performing multiple/various tasks.
Networked Server (e.g., Game, Print/File, Web)
Photo/Graphics Editing (e.g. Photoshop, Maya)
Multiple OS (Windows/Linux/Mac) 4) Figure out which features you want on your computer.
The motherboard could contain many of those features that you want already, but you may have to purchase other components in order to fill in the remaining gaps.
Multiple IDE (2+) ports
Multiple SATA (4+) ports
External SATA (eSATA) ports
Multiple video card setup - SLI (NVIDIA) or CrossFire (AMD/ATI)
Ethernet/LAN - 10/100, Gigabit (10/100/1000), multiple (2+) ports, wireless (802.11b/g/n)
USB/FireWire - internal headers or external slots
Serial or Parallel ports
Number of RAM slots
Heavy Overclocking features
Large number of hard drives
The above list is only a sample of many possible features (for lack of a better term) available for your system. It's up to you to determine everything that you would want/need. 5) Determine whether or not you are planning on overclocking any of the components.
Overclocking places heavy stress onto the components, so you would need to find parts that can handle the stress or cool everything down. If you are even considering the possibility of overclocking, then purchase components that would allow you to do so safely. Even if you don't do so, some of the components designed for overclocking have the added advantage of enabling you to run your components cooler or more stable than "stock" components. 6) Determine how long you want your machine to last.
Depending on how well you take care of your machine, as well as how quickly technology changes during that time, you may or may not hit your self-imposed mark. You also need to consider how often you plan on updating key components in order to allow your machine to last longer.
There are two things to remember in regards to upgrades. The moment you buy a new motherboard, you are essentially building a new computer. And though you could possibly replace everything on your system at one time or another, consider the overall costs of doing so. If you spend more than $600 for any amount of upgrades at any one time, you may want to consider building a new system from scratch. 7) DO SOME RESEARCH.
Check out various hardware sites/forums (starting with this one), online retailers, and do a few searches (Google is your friend here). Make sure that whatever you choose has the features that you need/want and can perform the tasks that you want accomplished. Also look for and read posts, reviews, and articles about the component(s) you want, so you are aware of any problems or issues that could come up.
Many people typically build their systems around one main component; start with the motherboard. Many people build around the CPU, which then determines their motherboard selection. Keep in mind that all of your components will be connected to each other by way of the motherboard. Again, START WITH THE MOTHERBOARD -- it's essentially what the entire system is based off of. Figure out which components the motherboard would accept, find parts that will work on the motherboard, and go from there.
If you are overwhelmed by the myriad of options available, or if you're just plain lazy, check out some recent posts (from here as well as other hardware-based forums) for similar configurations (aka rigs) within your budget. You could also look at configurations higher or lower than your listed budget, so you have a better idea of what's available.
If you're confused as to whether Part X will work in your system, and you can't find the answer you're looking for in General Hardware, take a look at one of the specialized subforums available at the [H]. Or, perform a search (again, Google is your friend) for the specific item(s) you have questions about.
Due to the constantly changing nature of technology, there won't be any "best of" parts listed in this thread. However, don't embrace or dismiss components because they're "the latest and greatest" or because they're "outdated." In fact, if you're looking at a recently released item (within the past year), wait at least six months before jumping on it. For example, waiting six months could help you determine whether the new video card you're looking at would perform great (like the 8800GT) or poorly (FX5600, anyone?). And just because something has been out on the market for a few years doesn't make it outdated; many people have keep their rigs for over five years without any major changes because they built a computer for the long-term that worked for their needs. 8) Come up with a list of what you want.
By this time, you have an idea of what you want. List your entire (planned) setup, including what you already have in your possession. Perform some more research to make sure that all of the components that you chose is compatible with each other. 9) Figure out where you are going to purchase everything from.
There are many places to shop at, but make sure that you choose at least two or three locations to shop from. Some places overcharge for certain components; NewEgg, for example, have some of the highest prices (in the US) for power supplies. This is by no means a complete list of stores to buy from but it should tell you which stores people usually buy from (please note that the following links are for US-based retailers): NewEgg ZipZoomFly Mwave Mircocenter Buy.com Tiger Direct 10) BUY EVERYTHING!
Do you really need our help there?
_________ Here are few other things to keep in mind when building or upgrading your machine.
DO YOUR HOMEWORK -- RESEARCH! -- BEFORE POSTING A THREAD FOR HELP! There are hundreds of threads in General Hardware asking for help in configuring a system within a set budget. If you don't want people firing off at you a lot of messages or questions -- or telling you to do some research -- do us all a favor and do your homework beforehand. Only post if you can't find an answer to your question(s) from here, other forums, or through a Google search.
If you do post a build thread, please include:
-- What your budget is (and whether it includes taxes, shipping charges, and/or other costs)
-- Which parts you need within that budget
-- What the system is going to be used for
-- All of the components that you already have and/or are planning on reusing
-- Which components you are considering getting (list out your components with model numbers/names along with links to the stores you're getting them from)
-- The question(s) you have -- or, the reason you made the thread in the first place
-- Be as specific/detailed as possible (without writing a novel -- some of us have short attention spans here...)
If you are just upgrading, all of the steps listed above still apply. Pay special attention to the second part of step 6; if you're spending a lot of money on upgrades, or if you're replacing the motherboard (and other important components, like the CPU and RAM), then you might as well approach this as a new build.
__________ A Special Note on Power Supplies
One of the most common problems with most PC builds on the forum is the choice of power supply. When doing research on power supplies, please read these articles first: JonnyGURU's Power Supply FAQ Hardware Secrets - Why 99% of All Power Supply Reviews Are Wrong
If the second link is a bit too technical: If the power supply review does not mention the use of an Automated Test Equipment, or ATE, and a proper test methodology, then that review should not be taken into consideration. A good example of a test methodology is [H]ard|OCP's methodology