Monday, September 01, 2008

Putting together a computer

Its easy and its fun. This is the second computer that me and my friends have put together.

This past week, one of my friends wanted a new computer. So, we started off with the idea of buying all the necessary parts and putting them together ourselves. It all materialised in just 2 days. Friday, over IM, we decided on the exact configuration of the computer and on the same evening, we placed the order for the parts. The next day morning, all parts were ready and by afternoon, we were done putting them all together into a working computer! The assembling of the computer itself, took just under an hour and a half.

Basic parts necessary for a computer:
  1. Processor - Decide on this first. Because, choice of motherboard depends on what processor you want to buy. Common choice these days is a good dual-core processor. Either Intel core 2 duo or AMD Athlon X2. If you're thinking of a higher end, then perhaps you could think of a triple or quad core(AMD Phenom X3/X4, Intel core 2 quad).
  2. Motherboard - Once the processor is decided upon, a suitable motherboard needs to be chosen. Some of the things to consider in deciding on a motherboard are: chipset, presence/absence of on-board graphics chip, number of memory DIMM slots, PCI-E slots. Most of the newer motherboards have on-board audio (HD audio too, in slightly higher end boards), ethernet (Gigabit etherner too, in slightly higher end boards). So, these are no longer needed as add-on cards anymore.
  3. Memory - Most computers nowadays need at least 1GB or of memory. Norm is 2GB. I would recommend for either 2GB or 4GB of memory. Also, since some processors have the ability to parallely access memory on 2 seperate banks, its good to go for a dual-channel memory configuration. That is, for 2GB total memory, install 2 DIMMs of 1GB each. Another thing to look out for is the memory clock - most dealers will just give you a 667MHz DIMM by default. So, specifically ask for 800MHz DIMMs. These have noticeably better performance.
  4. Graphics Card - This used to be an optional component, but with the newer operating systems placing more and more burden on the processor for graphics' needs, is becoming more and more necessary. For a casual computer user, this may be unnecessary. A motherboard with on-board graphics can take all load easily. But for even a casual gamer, at least a 256MB graphics card would be nice to have.
  5. Hard Drive - Ah, those growing gigabytes of data. And the growing capacities of today's hard drives! Available in 160GB/250GB/500GB/greater capacities and either the good 'ol IDE or the newer SATA interfaces. I would recommend to go in for a SATA interface drive and a drive that has a good amount of on-board cache memory. Seagate and Hitachi seem to be the popular players. For capacities of >160GB and upto 500GB, at least of 16MB of cache is a must. >500GB drives need more than 16MB cache. So, check for this while buying a drive.
  6. Power supply/Chassis - These remain one of the neglected components of a computer. But these are as important, if not more, as the other components above. Reason is that, without a good powersupply and chassis, you could end up damaging the motherboard/processor in running the computer. All the above components listed above, need power to run. The major power consumers in the decreasing order of magnitude are (usual numbers considered): Graphics Card, Processor, Hard Drive, Memory. Depending on a particular model, a processor can draw anywhere between 50 to 110 watts of power. Graphics card, while playing a modern game can draw upto 100-150 watts of power (again depending on the model). Hard Drives consume 20-30 watts. So, I would suggest that research be done in adding up power requirements of all components, and leave enough room for future requirements (like an additional hard drive, expansion of memory, etc) to decide on a good power supply. For a computer with a fairly powerful processor, a decent graphics card and one or 2 hard drives, an optical drive a 450 watt powersupply is a must.
    Another thing to look for in a power supply is whether it has, what is called PFC (power factor correction). Normal power supply gives out the rated wattage whether ior not ts actually required, thereby potentially generating more heat in the components. A power supply with PFC has the ability to dynamically adjust the output based on actual requirements. It may cost a few bucks more, but trust me, its worth it.
    Coming to chassis: Its essential for the chassis to be roomy, have enough ventilation ducts and have means to route all the cables in a clean manner. For newer configurations, a chassis should, at the very least, have a big 120mm exhaust fan at the rear and a big ventilator duct on the low left side, from where the graphics card can inhale fresh air. Some powersupplies come with a fan that gives out hot air, sometimes directly onto the motherboard. To shield the processor assembly from this, a conical funnel type structure that fits onto the left inner side of the chassis and cups into the processor assembly, is recommended. Optionally, a chassis can have a smaller 80mm intake fan at the front to suck in fresh air into the chassis.
    The processors usually come with their own heatsink assemblies. This does the job in 90% of the cases. But if you plan to overclock your processor, then perhaps you can think of custom heatsink assemblies or even a water cooled assembly.
That's it. Once all parts are ready at your disposal, the computer is ready to be assembled. The details of how to do the assembly itself would be a post sometime later. Here are some pictures taken while assembling the computer this past weekend.

All the parts - except chassis


The bare motherboard


Processor plugged into the socket


Processor heatsink assembly installed


Testing whether our assembly is able to boot BIOS


The graphics card - NVIDIA 8600GT


Finally, putting it all inside the chassis

2 comments:

  1. How did you get to know the wattage requirement numbers??

    ReplyDelete
  2. http://extreme.outervision.com/psucalculatorlite.jsp

    Try this...

    ReplyDelete

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