Building a Computer

  • Floppy Drive
  • Video Card (If there is no onboard video or you are building a gaming machine)
  • Sound Card (if there is no onboard sound or you want high quality surround sound)
  • Modem (Used for a dial up internet connection if you are not going with Cable or DSL)
  • Power Strip (Highly Recommended)
  • Tools Needed

    A good basic computer tool kit would be a wise investment, but if you don't want to pay for a kit, you may already have some or all of these tools already:
    • Phillips Head Screwdriver
    • Flat Heat Screwdriver
    • Long Nose Pliers
    • Anti-Static Strap
    • Flash light

    Computer Parts Needed

    Necessary Computer Parts
    • Case
    • Power Supply
    • Motherboard
    • Processor (CPU)
    • Memory (RAM)
    • CD-Rom Drive or DVD Drive
    • Keyboard
    • Mouse
    • Speakers
    • Monitor
we will try to install windows on this computer and
it will be a low performance computer
  • Low Performance: If you're looking for a simple PC for web browsing, email checking, or video watching, a low performance machine is probably the way to go. These machines are small, don't draw a lot of power, and are usually pretty quiet, which is great (though they obviously sacrifice performance for those perks). Nettops, home theater PCs, and (on a more extreme level) home servers also fit into this category. Most custom-built low performance machines range from $200 to $400.

The Parts That Make Up a Computer (and What They Do)

Every fully functioning computer is made of the same basic components, and in this section, we'll walk through the basic hardware you'll need for your first build. We're still just talking about "things to consider" here—we'll get down to the nitty-gritty of picking out specific parts in the next lesson. Here, we just want to point out what the important components are, and which ones are the most important for certain builds.

The Processor

How to Build a Computer from Scratch, Lesson 1: Hardware Basics
How to Build a Computer from Scratch, Lesson 1: Hardware Basics
The Processor (CPU) is the "brain" of your computer, the thing that carries out the tasks you give it. Better CPUs can perform more tasks at once, and perform them faster. That said, not everyone actually takes advantage of their processor's full speed, so the high-end models are only really crucial if you're performing intensive tasks like gaming, video editing, video conversion, or compiling code. It's also one of the most expensive parts of a machine, so if you aren't performing these types of tasks, you don't necessarily need to worry about buying the latest and greatest.

The Motherboard

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The motherboard connects all the other components to one another, and is the physical base upon which you build everything else. It contains a lot of your machine's core features, like the number of USB ports, the number of expansion cards you can put in (such as video, sound, and Wi-Fi), and also determines how big your computer will be. Which motherboard you pick will depend on whether you build a low, medium, or high performance machine and how advanced of a user you are.

The Case

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The case holds all of your computer's parts together. For the most part, a case is less about features that affect how your computer runs and more about features that affect you and your home—that is, how quiet it is, how large it is, and of course, how it looks in your office. Still, it's an important consideration that is dependent on your other choices, so you might want to think about what you want in terms of a case before moving on to the shopping step.


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RAM, or Random Access Memory, is like your computer's short-term memory. It stores data your computer needs quick access to to help your programs run faster, and help you run more programs at one time. Thus, if you run a lot of programs at once, you'll want a computer with more RAM. If you use virtual machines, you'll want even more RAM, since it has to run its own programs in addition to yours.

The Graphics Card

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The Graphics card, or GPU, is a processor specifically designed to handle graphics. It's what you hook your monitor up to, and it's what draws your desktop and your windows on the screen. Some motherboards come with a GPU already integrated, which is enough to manage your desktop, but not enough for watching high definition video or playing 3D games. For those, you'll need a dedicated graphics card, since it can do the legwork needed to draw those complex images.

The Hard Drive(s)

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Your hard drives are what store all of your data, ranging from your operating system to your documents, music, and movies. If the RAM is your computer's short-term memory, your hard drive is the long-term memory. It stores the things you want to keep around for awhile. The kind of hard drive you choose will be determined mainly by how much data you need to store, but certain kinds of hard drives (like solid state drives) can also affect your computer's speed.

The Optical Drive

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An optical drive, more commonly known as a CD or DVD drive, is what you'll use to read CDs, DVDs, and even Blu-Ray discs. Not everyone needs an optical drive in his/her computer, but since you can buy one for about $20, there's little reason not to have one.

The Power Supply

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The power supply directs electricity to the other components in your machine. Generally speaking, if you have a high performance computer with a fast processor, a graphics card, and a few hard drives, you'll need a higher wattage power supply than you would if you were building a low-end PC. This is probably the last component you'll shop for, once you've nailed down your other parts and how much electricity they'll require.

Other Parts to Consider

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While these are the main parts almost every computer has, you probably have other needs. For example, if you're going to use Wi-Fi instead of wired Ethernet for accessing the internet, you'll probably need to buy a Wi-Fi card. If you take a lot of photos, it's probably worth getting an internal SD card reader for easily loading your photos onto your computer. If you have any Bluetooth peripherals, you might consider an internal Bluetooth card, and if you video chat with friends, you'll want to pick up a webcam. And, of course, if you don't already have them, you'll need a monitor, keyboard, and mouse. These are just a few of the extra things you could use, so really think about what you'll be using this computer for and what other parts you need to buy so you don't have to take an extra trip to the store (and so you can better budget your money).