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Do-it-yourself Computing

Building your own computer can be fun. This document covers how to go about building a PC. Servers are deferred to another article (to appear)


In my Cluster Computing research group, we purchase parts and build our own computer systems. While it has been possible to build your own computer system for many years, the actual number and percentage of people who do so is relatively small. This is attributable to many reasons, most of which turn out to be perceptions but not reality. Perceived lack of warranty protection and customer support and difficulty of the task at hand are just a few of the reasons offered. Luckily, these perceptions are not reality, and it is becoming easier than ever to build your own computer system. Not only is building a system an educational experience, it gives you total control of the quality process and ensures compatibility with Windows and alternative operating systems such as Linux (which we recommend). This article aims to give you an idea of how to build your own computer system without burying you in technical jargon that would only be of interest to hard-core computer engineers and computer scientists. Toward the end of the article, we provide a number of online resources that can prove helpful in your quest to build the ultimate computer system.

Stuff You Need

  1. Case
  2. Motherboard
  3. CPU
  4. Memory
  5. Secondary Storage
  6. Removable Storage (Floppy, CD, DVD, USB Drives)
  7. Graphics


The case (system enclosure) is by far one of the most important aspects of building a computer system. The wrong case is responsible for most of the system failures that are widely reported. So when you purchase that computer system with an attractive-looking price tag, there’s a good chance that shortcuts have been taken somewhere. The irony is that good cases can be acquired in the $40-50 range, so there’s really no point in being so cheap in this category.

Let’s face it. It’s clear that a case made of metal vs. plastic is more likely to survive wear and tear in the long run. Nevertheless, solid construction, regardless of material is important. All of the cases available today offer metal construction on the inside. Unless you have a fixation on plastic, I recommend metal.
Easy on the Fingers Back
in the old days, cases were very difficult to work with. The assumption was more or less that you would never need to get into your computer to do anything with it. So why bother making it easy for you to get into your computer? Today the cases are getting much easier to work with; however, there are still some that are not so nicely made. There are cases where most of the parts that will hold the required components of your system can be removed easily. I also recommend to most first-time system builders to purchase a tower case (instead of one that sits on your desktop). Aside from Apple Computer, there are very few desktop cases that are design to take the minimum amount of space on your desktop, so you might as well plan on keeping your computer on the floor.
This is important not only when choosing your case but for the lifetime of your computer system. Ventilation is becoming more important than ever in today’s computers, especially those Gigahertz (clock speed, GHz) processors, which are known for generating a good deal of heat. When I speak of ventilation, I am referring to two general characteristics: (1) a sufficient number of vents to allow air to pass through, and (2) ball-bearing fans.
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