I have a general interest in computing which began with my Amiga 500+ several years ago.  I helped (hindered?) a technician to build my first pc in 1992 and have upgraded most of the components a few times since then.  I have literally just built a completely new home system from the ground up.  Based around a Pentium 4 2.4Mhz (533Mhz FSB) CPU, Gigabyte SINXP1394 motherboard with 5.1 surround sound, 512Mb PC2700 DDR RAM and a Gainward GeForce4 Ti4800 128Mb Golden Sample graphics card.  Running WinXP Home and housed inside a superb looking Skyhawk aluminium case complete with clear side panel, multiple blue LED cooling fans and luminous round drive cables (see pic below).  I am really pleased with it as it is more than up to the task it was built for - running Unreal 2 like a dream and looking fantastic whilst doing it - superb.

I like having the control of selecting & fitting each individual component that goes into my machine and would never buy a ready built system.  If you are someone who wants to order a ready made system with a full warranty from a major vendor that just needs plugging in then you'll find little to interest you here.  However, if you are fed up with salesman bullshit, substandard unspecified components and poor/expensive after sales service, you want to upgrade or you want to learn more about what's inside that big box on the desk then read on....

What I will attempt to do here is detail the various components and point you in the right direction to find out more.  Use the PC Links page to evaluate the various products and decide which ones suit your requirements.  I must stress that I am far from being an expert so I can't provide a definitive step by step method to building a pc but I can give you the benefit of my experience.  The various computer magazines regularly run 'how to....' tutorials and I have certainly found them extremely useful in the past.


10 stages to building your pc

  1. Decide what you want to use it for
  2. Set your budget
  3. Research the components
  4. Buy your chosen components
  5. Buy an Operating System
  6. Assemble the components
  7. Format the hard drive
  8. Install the operating system
  9. Configure the hardware
  10. Congratulate yourself
bluechain.gif Top
Decide what you want to use it for Some hardware components are essential but others are optional.  Having a good idea what you will be using your pc for will guide you as to what bits you need.  If you are going to mostly use it as a word processor and cruise the internet at weekends you won't need a blisteringly fast processor (CPU) or top of the range graphics & sound cards.  If you are like me however and you like playing FPS games (First Person Shooters) then high spec examples of all three should be top of your list.       
bluechain.gif Top
Set your budget How much money can you afford to spend?  Although you need some flexibility, set a sensible upper limit to your spending and try to stick to it.  Take it from me it is very easy to blow great wads of cash buying a mega system piecemeal.  Attractive high street package deals with software bundles and persuasive sales staff can mean you come away from the shop with every conceivable extra along with a 2nd kitchen sink.  Do you need all that stuff?  Probably not but you've just bought it anyway.  You won't always save money by buying individual components but at least your money will be spent on the things you REALLY want.
bluechain.gif Top
Research the components


What's the rush?  Take as long as you need to research everything.  You will be much more informed as to what is on the market and you will get more bang for your buck as prices are always falling.  More than in any other industry, computer components are revised and up rated at a frightening pace.  This has 2 main effects:- 1. Top of the range items can be old news in under a month and their prices tumble sharply as they are superseded.  2. Often new models are based on revised architectures which means incompatibility issues arise with other older components. e.g. DDR RAM won't fit in a SDRAM motherboard.  Pentium 4 based systems require a more powerful PSU (power supply) than previous versions.
bluechain.gif Top
Buy the components


Once you've decided want you want, where do you buy it?  Buying from the high street means you are dealing face to face and you can carry it away immediately.  However prices are generally higher and the range of products limited.  Almost without exception I order everything online or mail-order as it's cheaper and the wealth of online suppliers offer much greater choice.  Regardless of where you get your kit buy everything on credit card as you will be insured against faulty goods, non delivery, companies going bust and other nonsense. 
bluechain.gif Top
Buy an Operating System You're not exactly spoilt for choice.  Basically it's whatever version of Microsoft Windows is current.  If you're feeling really adventurous you can try LINUX.  This is where you really notice the unpleasant difference to your wallet between buying piecemeal and getting a ready made system because buying Windows separately is quite expensive.  Upgrading over an older version is cheaper but can cause problems.  I highly recommend a clean full install on a completely empty, newly formatted hard drive - you'll be glad you did.  
bluechain.gif Top
Assemble the components


This is where you go to the computer magazines and hit the step by step guides but I can offer some general advice:-

You'll need these

  • Crosshead / flathead screwdriver
  • Plastic tweezers or similar
  • Good lighting
  • Component manuals
  • Coffee
  • Patience
  • A friend with a phone who knows more than you

Do's & Don'ts

  • Ground yourself - static electricity kills pc components.  You don't need an anti-static wrist strap, just plug the case into the wall socket but don't switch the socket on.  Touch the metal of the case regularly to discharge your static buildup.
  • Handle RAM & cards (motherboard, graphics, sound etc.) by the plastic edges.  Don't touch the connection pins or any of the electronics.  Same with the underside of hard drives.
  • Touching delicate electronics with anything metal generally kills them dead.  Avoid using metal screwdrivers on anything except the various securing screws.  Use something plastic if anything needs poking, pushing, levering or grabbing.
  • The CPU will only fit into it's slot one way.  The pin layout determines this.
  • Cards and RAM also only fit into their respective slots one way.  They may be stiff to insert so apply firm even pressure but don't force them and DON'T BANG THEM IN.
  • Read the manuals (especially important for the motherboard).  You really need to know what goes where and what BIOS / CMOS / jumper settings you need.  Don't just guess - it could all well end in very expensive tears.
  • Decide on your various drive's Master / Slave settings.  Your primary boot hard drive needs to be on IDE 1.  Use tweezers to set any appropriate jumpers before installing the drives in their bays - it's much easier than doing it afterwards.
  • Don't spill your coffee over anything!
  • Have your friend on standby.

  1. Remove all the case's card slot blanking plates.
  2. If your case does not already contain one, fit the PSU (power supply).
  3. Fit the drives into their bays.  Once the motherboard is in you may not have proper access to them plus you risk damaging it.
  4. Fit the motherboard.  If your case has a slide out rack you can fit the motherboard, RAM and cards without the main case getting in the way.
  5. Fit the CPU, heat sink and fan to the motherboard.  Use thermal sealant between CPU & heat sink if possible to help heat dispersion.
  6. Fit the RAM.
  7. Fit the cards.  If you've got plenty of slots space the cards out to increase air flow between them.  Be sure to fit your AGP graphics card in the AGP slot and not a PCI slot.  Secure the cards with their screw fittings.
  8. Slide the motherboard rack in, if appropriate, and fit all the case front panel leads and any extra items (LEDs, internal speaker, case cooling fans etc.) to the motherboard headers.
  9. Connect all drive data cables & ribbons.  Double check they are connected correctly.
  10. Connect components to the approriate PSU leads. 
  11. Check everything is in and securely seated.
  12. Don't bother connecting any peripherals yet (printer, scanner, external modem etc.) 
  13. Leave the case cover and spare card slot blanking plates off until all internal hardware is working OK.
  14. Switch it on.  Cross your fingers and hopefully BIOS & CMOS will recognise your drives.
bluechain.gif Top
Format the hard drive

Please bear in mind that I am using Win 98SE and WIN XP Home as my references - Other versions of Windows and LINUX especially may well require a different approach.

During the BIOS/CMOS bootup go into Setup and select your CD as the boot drive.  Your operating system CD should contain all the files you need and hopefully you can just let it get on with it.  If not then you'll need a system boot floppy which means access to a working pc to create one. If you are replacing your old pc do this before you get rid of it!  The process of creating the system disc should copy the files you need but ensure you have these on it:-

  • Autoexec.bat
  • Config.sys
  • Fdisk.exe
  • Himem.sys
  • Io.sys
  • Mscdex.exe
  • A generic CD driver
  1. Boot from the Windows CD or system floppy disc.
  2. Run Fdisk.exe.  This partitions your new hard drive and prepares it for formatting.
  3. Run  This prepares the hard drive to accept the operating system and all other software.
bluechain.gif Top
Install the operating system If it isn't already in, load the Windows CD and let it do it's thing.  Go make another cup of coffee.  Have a cigarette.  Walk the dog.
bluechain.gif Top
Configure the hardware

Once you have a working operating system you can set up all your hardware devices.  Windows will try to detect and set them up for you automatically but it doesn't always manage it.  Follow the process through and have the various driver discs to hand.  I break it up into 3 logical stages to avoid getting in a muddle:-

  1. Configure all internal devices first - Graphics card, Sound card etc.  Shut down and switch off.
  2. Connect any peripheral devices - Printer, Scanner etc.  Switch on again, repeat process as above.
  3. Load and configure any additional software for each device.
  4. Replace any spare card slot blanking plates.  Fit the case cover.
bluechain.gif Top
Congratulate yourself Congratulations you've just built your very own pc from scratch.  Crack open a beer, sit back, relax and admire your handiwork.
bluechain.gif Top


Planet Angus home page

Top|Site Map