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Old 11-09-09, 05:26 PM   #1
Lamplight
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Building my own computer

Having owned my current computer since 2002, I've decided it's finally time to upgrade. I've been looking at new machines in stores, but I'm just not liking the things I'm seeing. It seems they all have an enormous amount of junk on them that is basically advertising for things I will never use. My mom's computer is like this and using it is a nightmare. Also, my current computer works well enough except for a few problems, so I think I would like to just give it an overhaul. That being said, I'm not terribly knowledgeable in this area, so I'm not even sure this is something I should undertake. But I installed my current graphics card, my CD burner, and a new hard drive, and they work just fine, so I think I can do it with a little help.

I use my computer mostly for browsing online, but I also like to play games occasionally. Nothing too crazy, just things like Sim City 4 and other similar things. So I don't think I'll need some super advanced graphics card, but I would like it to run the games I might play with ease. My computer in its current state can function okay with things like this, but it seems to be operating near its limit. It also has Windows 2000, which is now starting to become more and more of an issue with modern software. I've also discovered that, with my motherboard, it seems I'm limited to 2gb of RAM, and that's assuming both of the slots still work. I currently have two 256 chips, but when I boot up it just says 256mb RAM, when it should say 512, right? So I'm not sure if it's one of the chips or the motherboard itself. Regardless, even if it's working properly I haven't found any RAM larger than 1gb. Granted, I may just not be looking for the right thing, I don't know. But I want to make sure I can expand further in the future if I want to. My hard drive is less than a year old, and it's 320gb and that should be way more than I'll ever use. With Windows 2000 I can't even use half of the capacity, and I've only used 19gb worth of space! I have a CD burner that works fine, and I can reuse the case, monitor, keyboard, mouse, and speakers. Also, for whatever reason no sound works on my computer now, and I haven't yet been able to get it to work. So it seems what I mainly need/want is:

Motherboard with processor
Video card
Sound card
RAM
Windows 7/newer OS

Anything I'm not thinking of? Any suggestions on what may work well together? I've also seen some kits online that are tempting, even though I'd like to reuse my case if possible, but it's not a requirement. As you can probably tell, this doesn't need to be anything terribly fancy, just a decent improvement over my current setup without all the unnecessary crap that comes with store-bought computers. I need a simple computer that needs only to do a handful of things really well.
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Old 11-09-09, 05:33 PM   #2
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What is your budget?
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Old 11-09-09, 05:39 PM   #3
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Building a computer is pretty easy these days. You have to make sure the CPU works with the motherboard, and the RAM works with both.

Motherboard selection is important. Most will offer some basic video, six SATA slots, a sound card, and so on.

Of course, case and PSU selection is important. Newer video cards take their own power lines, so you have to make sure that both your PSU has the rails for that, as well as having a case that has the fans for proper cooling. A higher quality PSU doesn't just give you more watts. It gives you silent operation, and PSUs can make a lot of noise.

After you get the case/mobo/CPU/PSU together, the hard part is essentially over. You can toss your HDD and your other devices in and should be fine.

As an alternative to building your own desktop, check Costco or Sam's Club out if you have a membership. Sometimes you might be able to nail an extremely good deal on a HP desktop where it can be far cheaper to buy that machine, max the box's RAM, and drop in a good video card than to build your own machine. HP has the specs online for all package deals, and I highly recommend pulling them to make sure the machine can take a decent video card.
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Old 11-09-09, 05:40 PM   #4
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Sounds about right....if you've installed all the individual pieces, you should be good. Motherboard/RAM is a little trickier, but research a little and you'll be fine.

New hard drive or keeping old one?
Be careful to match your motherboard/CPU and RAM. Different motherboards take different types of RAM (and get good RAM...not some cheap crap from best buy or frye's).
Check specs on new motherboard....may need new power supply if your old one is a bit weak.
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Old 11-09-09, 05:41 PM   #5
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Oh yeah....if you aren't getting a new case, make sure the case you have will accept the motherboard form factor. Some take certain sizes only.
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Old 11-09-09, 05:50 PM   #6
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Corsair's power supplies are quite decent if you need a PSU recommendation. I picked the TX650 to have plenty of headroom for newer video cards and CPUs down the line... the "towing package," if you will. But even their 450-550W units are robust. If you want to re-use your old PSU, be certain that your PSU has all the power cables required by your new motherboard, as well as excellent 12-volt amperage ratings. Might want to refer to this: http://www.mechbgon.com/build/cables.html

If your 320GB hard drive happens to use the 40-pin Parallel ATA interface, be careful to get a motherboard that actually has a PATA interface, because they're on the way out.

If you're going with Win7 or Vista, and want to have a gaming card, have a look at video cards based on ATI's latest-generation Radeon HD5xxx-series GPU. They're DirectX 11-capable and appear to start around $145ish at the moment. You'll also get a card with DisplayPort and HDMI.

Oh, and start with the onboard audio. It might be all you really need.

Last edited by mechBgon; 11-09-09 at 05:55 PM.
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Old 11-09-09, 06:41 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TwoHeadsBrewing View Post
What is your budget?
Probably $500, but I would prefer to keep it under $400 if possible.

I'm starting to think I'd be better off getting a barebones kit. Considering half the things you guys are telling me seem like a foreign language, I'm not sure I would successfully figure out what is compatible, even more so if I were to try to reuse my case, power supply, and hard drive.
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Old 11-09-09, 06:46 PM   #8
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You might find that this guide, though slightly dated, is a useful read.

Edit: Here is the current article.

Last edited by StupidlyBrave; 11-09-09 at 07:10 PM. Reason: Duh, didn't look hard enough
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Old 11-09-09, 07:07 PM   #9
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You can save a big chunk of money if you aren't going to port over your old OS if you use something like either Ubuntu or Mint Linux. Both are an easy transition for Windows users, and I know my wife, a nontech user, is extremely happy with her Ubuntu OS I replaced her Vista with.
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Old 11-09-09, 07:18 PM   #10
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+1 for the suggestion to try Ubuntu or something of the like. Both colleges I've attended have used it on at least some of their computers, presumably to save money and not sacrifice quality.

Building a computer is really easy; everything fits together. If you have to force it, chances are, you're doing it wrong.

I've built about 10 machines now, and always get my parts from newegg.com.
They arrange everything nicely and link you to compatible parts.
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Old 11-09-09, 07:37 PM   #11
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By the way, one other potential snag is that Windows 7 comes on a DVD, not on a CD. So if you don't have a DVD drive, factor that in, and make it a Serial ATA model.

Here's a modified version of what I've got:

http://secure.newegg.com/WishList/Pu...umber=12353852

If you'd like 8GB of RAM, just get two of the memory kits. You can bump the power supply up to the TX650 for another $10 if you like. The E8400 is a good performer, but you can go down the Core 2 Duo line to save some money if you want. The DVD burner has LightScribe functionality, which I think is fun sometimes:

A LightScribe-labelled disc

Last edited by mechBgon; 11-09-09 at 07:41 PM.
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Old 11-09-09, 07:50 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by StupidlyBrave View Post
You might find that this guide, though slightly dated, is a useful read.

Edit: Here is the current article.
That actually does help quite a bit, thanks.

Quote:
Originally Posted by phantomcow2 View Post
+1 for the suggestion to try Ubuntu or something of the like. Both colleges I've attended have used it on at least some of their computers, presumably to save money and not sacrifice quality.

Building a computer is really easy; everything fits together. If you have to force it, chances are, you're doing it wrong.

I've built about 10 machines now, and always get my parts from newegg.com.
They arrange everything nicely and link you to compatible parts.
I'd heard of newegg, but I would certainly not have remembered it had you not mentioned it! Thanks!

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You can save a big chunk of money if you aren't going to port over your old OS if you use something like either Ubuntu or Mint Linux. Both are an easy transition for Windows users, and I know my wife, a nontech user, is extremely happy with her Ubuntu OS I replaced her Vista with.
I may very well give one of those a try. It couldn't hurt to try it out, right?
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Old 11-09-09, 07:54 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mechBgon View Post
By the way, one other potential snag is that Windows 7 comes on a DVD, not on a CD. So if you don't have a DVD drive, factor that in, and make it a Serial ATA model.

Here's a modified version of what I've got:

http://secure.newegg.com/WishList/Pu...umber=12353852

If you'd like 8GB of RAM, just get two of the memory kits. You can bump the power supply up to the TX650 for another $10 if you like. The E8400 is a good performer, but you can go down the Core 2 Duo line to save some money if you want. The DVD burner has LightScribe functionality, which I think is fun sometimes:

A LightScribe-labelled disc
Oh yeah, that's something I forgot about: DVD burner. And wow, they've gotten a lot cheaper since the last time I shopped around for one!
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Old 11-09-09, 07:56 PM   #14
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I may very well give one of those a try. It couldn't hurt to try it out, right?
Might not be too great for your gaming needs, but if you want to try it, go right ahead Dual-boot's another option. Oh, and if you get Win7, do make sure to get the 64-bit flavor.

Last edited by mechBgon; 11-09-09 at 08:01 PM.
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Old 11-09-09, 08:23 PM   #15
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Is it really worth it to try to build your own when you could buy this from Dell for $479?

Software & Services
Genuine Windows® 7 Home Premium, 64bit, English
Intel® Pentium® dual-core E5300 (2MB L2, 2.6GHz, 800FSB)
Microsoft® Works 9
1Yr Ltd Hardware Warranty, InHome Service after Remote Diagnosis- Important Information
McAfee SecurityCenter, 15-Months
No Monitor
4GB Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM at 800MHz- 2 DIMMs
500GB Serial ATA Hard Drive (7200RPM) w/DataBurst Cache™
16X DVD+/-RW Drive
Integrated Intel® GMA x4500 Graphics
No Speaker Option
Dell Consumer Entry USB Keyboard and Mouse
Dell 19 in 1 Media Card Reader
No Modem Option
Piano Black
My Accessories
Dell Online Backup 2GB for 1 year
Also Includes
Integrated 5.1 Channel Audio
Mouse included with Keyboard purchase
Adobe® Reader 9.0
Napster Link
Inspiron 537 Slim-Tower w/ Black Bezel
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Old 11-09-09, 08:24 PM   #16
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I know you probably don't need this info, but in case you're interested, you can usually get Win2K to see the rest of your harddrive. Part of the work depends on your motherboards BIOS, though.

You'll have to determine if your mobo can handle LBA out of the box. If not, you can go to the manufacturer's site to see if any BIOS updates address the issue. If so, then you'll have to flash the BIOS.

Then onto the OS side:

First make sure your Win2K is updated to SP2 or greater.
Then make the registry change shown here.
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Old 11-09-09, 08:29 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by deraltekluge View Post
Is it really worth it to try to build your own when you could buy this from Dell for $479?

Software & Services
Genuine Windows® 7 Home Premium, 64bit, English
Intel® Pentium® dual-core E5300 (2MB L2, 2.6GHz, 800FSB)
Microsoft® Works 9
1Yr Ltd Hardware Warranty, InHome Service after Remote Diagnosis- Important Information
McAfee SecurityCenter, 15-Months
No Monitor
4GB Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM at 800MHz- 2 DIMMs
500GB Serial ATA Hard Drive (7200RPM) w/DataBurst Cache™
16X DVD+/-RW Drive
Integrated Intel® GMA x4500 Graphics
No Speaker Option
Dell Consumer Entry USB Keyboard and Mouse
Dell 19 in 1 Media Card Reader
No Modem Option
Piano Black
My Accessories
Dell Online Backup 2GB for 1 year
Also Includes
Integrated 5.1 Channel Audio
Mouse included with Keyboard purchase
Adobe® Reader 9.0
Napster Link
Inspiron 537 Slim-Tower w/ Black Bezel
Integrated 10/100 Ethernet
A Pentium dual-core is a tepid performer compared to a Core 2 Duo or later. And you won't be stuffing a compotent mid-range gaming video card into their "Slim-Tower" case with the feeble little power supply. Even a budget gaming card can pull >120W all by itself under full 3D loads. The high-end cards are in the 200W range nowdays.

And don't even get me started on the horror of a McAfee security suite. Speaking of which... mech's security guide, including the new free+good Microsoft Security Essentials antivirus software.

Last edited by mechBgon; 11-09-09 at 08:34 PM.
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Old 11-09-09, 08:35 PM   #18
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As for the RAM, do you have matching sticks? If so, try swapping positions and try each stick individually in both slots. This should tell you which stick or which slot is broken.

If they're not a matching set and you have a good motherboard, you might be able to get them both to run by relaxing the timing a bit in the BIOS.

And on to the audio problem, do you have onboard audio currently? Have you tried uninstalling and reinstalling drivers?

I blew out the audio portion on one of my mobos recently and got a soundcard for $15. Works like a charm.
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Old 11-10-09, 02:17 AM   #19
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I have to repeat and ask WHY you want to spend all that time building a computer???
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Old 11-10-09, 05:45 AM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LesterOfPuppets View Post
As for the RAM, do you have matching sticks? If so, try swapping positions and try each stick individually in both slots. This should tell you which stick or which slot is broken.

If they're not a matching set and you have a good motherboard, you might be able to get them both to run by relaxing the timing a bit in the BIOS.
One stick is newer than the other, but I believe they're the same specs. I got the second one and it worked briefly, but after a couple of months it started showing 256mb again. I haven't tried switching them (but I will) but once I tried to boot the computer with the stick in the first slot missing, and the computer wouldn't boot.

Quote:
Originally Posted by LesterOfPuppets View Post
And on to the audio problem, do you have onboard audio currently? Have you tried uninstalling and reinstalling drivers?

I blew out the audio portion on one of my mobos recently and got a soundcard for $15. Works like a charm.
I do have integrated audio currently. I tried uninstalling the driver, but when I opened up the driver CD that came with my computer, there was no audio driver there. So I found which model my motherboard is and searched for the driver on Dell's website (and other websites) and couldn't find the appropriate one anywhere. Then I bought a cheap sound card, but the installation CD didn't work. So I returned it and haven't bothered trying again.
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I have to repeat and ask WHY you want to spend all that time building a computer???
Because all the new ones I've seen come with a lot of things I don't want. For example, my mom's computer is only a year old and the specs make mine look pretty pathetic. But right out of the box it's performance was horrible compared to mine, presumably because it has so much crap on it running simultaneously at all times. (That may not be the reason, but that's what I always thought the reason probably was) So I figured I would probably spend just as much time trying to get rid of all the things I don't want.
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Old 11-10-09, 06:37 AM   #21
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we went down this road before and having purchased a budget level PC, a custom spec'd PC and our current Mac, we were least happiest with the custom order job. It cost the most and even though we dotted every i and crossed every t we could think of we still missed things we needed to add later.

That could happen with any computer, of course, but the amount of money and thinking that went into it (and mind, this was just to figure out what we needed/wanted - we had a shop do the initial build) for our money it just wasn't worth it.

It might be fun to try this but for less headaches, I'd recommend looking at some of the better value computers out there, and streamlining whatever comes with it that you don't want to free up memory and so forth.
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Old 11-10-09, 06:39 AM   #22
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But if you DO decide to build it yourself, check Hickeydog's old posts for groovy LED cooling fans! HOT ROD MAMA!
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Old 11-10-09, 08:06 AM   #23
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Unless you want a high-end gamer or you want something extremely specific, it's much cheaper to buy a computer than build one these days:

$399 - will do all you need + more:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc...82E16883113111

$589 - will do all you need + things you didn't even know computers can do + more:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc...82E16883147066
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Old 11-10-09, 09:11 AM   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mechBgon View Post
Might not be too great for your gaming needs, but if you want to try it, go right ahead Dual-boot's another option. Oh, and if you get Win7, do make sure to get the 64-bit flavor.
Windows 7 comes with two DVDs in the package, one for 32 and one for 64 bit, at least my win7 Pro came with both.

at your price point of $500, its tough to compete with the pre-built computers. I'd suggest a core2 duo, the quad core would be of more benefit if you're doing video/image processing or gaming. For a given price point, the core2 duo will be clocked faster (which should be more noticable). 3 or 4GB of RAM is plenty, 2GB would probably work fine.
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Old 11-10-09, 12:22 PM   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lamplight View Post
Motherboard with processor
Video card
Sound card
RAM
Windows 7/newer OS
You can get a computer stripped down to just about that at the dell outlet site, fwiw. I assume other mfr's have outlet sites also.
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