Back in 2000 I bought a pre-built desktop computer from a shop in Portsmouth. It was nothing fancy, quite slow and cost me about £199. That was the last desktop computer I ever bought as a pre-build as I soon realised just how easy it is using seperate computer parts to build your own computer. It is easy once you know how to build a computer and for the benefit of any doubt I am talking a new Windows PC and not an Apple product such as an iMac; the information could just as easily be used though to build a new desktop computer that runs a UNIX/Linux-based system as well.

Building your new desktop computer is now relatively easy and can work out cheaper to buy the seperate components and to build your own computer than buying it off the shelf at your local mall or store. This is because the convenience of having a desktop computer pre-built can add to it's cost; and those buying pre-built PC's do not always appreciate the value of the working parts inside; being more likely to belive the advice of the PC shop staff, never take ANYTHING from a member of shop staff at face value, especially when the profit comes in the mark-ups.

A Few Words of Warning

Don't Get Killed Building a Computer

The first things we need are the words of warning and each one will be important and for a very good reason.

  • Stay Safe: Never, ever, ever build or maintain a desktop computer or make any changes to internal computer parts while it is still switched on. I accept that from time to time I will do it with certain components, but for the sake of not killing your computer (or yourself) I always recommend that you leave your desktop computer plugged in wherever possible but the power switched off at the wall and on the power supply of the computer (if fitted).

    This is more importantant when you come to actually build your new desktop - but it is so important that I mention it every time I can.
  • Check your compatibility. Whether you are building or upgrading your desktop computer; it is easy to buy incompatible computer parts. Most components that have developed over the years will have an identifier on it and I will refer to them during the text, but if you buy the wrong item then try to install it; shops often will not take unsealed computer parts back.

  • Everything fits together quite easily. If you are struggling to make that "male and female" connection, you might have the wrong computer parts or have things the wrong way round inside your desktop computer. Computers are increasingly designed to be user-friendly and ensuring the correct orientation of components is now the norm.

So, to the first bit that I enjoy......

Sourcing Your Computer Parts

Which ever supplier you use to source your desktop computer parts; the most cost-effective way of doing things is spread your buying across a small number of trusted retailers. I have not come across a single example yet of where I can buy everything for a desktop computer from a single source and get it cheapest; even after including the delivery charges; but I always build computers cheaper than I can buy off-the-shelf.

It's also worth pointing out that as we are discussing building a new Windows desktop PC, we will be using the more modern technology and I will avoid referring to computer parts such as IDE (optical and hard disk drives), AT power supplies and SD RAM among others. 

There are a few basic computer parts that a PC must have:

  • A Case - Believe it or not you could actually build a desktop computer without a case, but will need a handy DIY'er with knowledge of soldering custom buttons.
    Make Sure That: Your case is big enough for your motherboard. A shuttle or micro PC case will not fit a full-size motherboard.

  • A Motherboard and Processor - These  are the heart and lungs of your computer system. There are two primary suppliers of Processors at the moment; AMD and Intel. Each range of processors is defined by a "socket" this code will match up with motherboards that will fit them and not all socket types from each supplier will be available for all their ranges of processors.
    A Motherboard and ProcessorMake Sure That: Your processor is either "retail packed" and comes with a fan and coolant pre-applied to the base of the heat sink; or you have separately purchased a heat sink/fan for your processor.
    Also Make Sure That: Your motherboard is the same socket type as your processor.

    Motherboards and processors often come separately, they are a bit of a fiddle to put together, so if you are not confident that you won't get it wrong and cause damage, some retailers offer these computer parts pre-assembled in a similar way to whole desktop computers. This is one part of a computer that I do not always advocate you putting together yourself!

  • RAM Memory - This is the short-term memory of the machine. When you switch a computer on, it loads all the programs that it will need to load your operating system onto the RAM and will remove and replace anything that it has finished using. If you have purchased a pre-assembled motherboard and processor, RAM quite often comes with this. RAM comes in many combinations of technology and size.
    Make Sure That: It's the correct memory. Currently you will find that new desktop computers use DDR2 or DDR3 RAM.

  • Hard Drive - The main memory of any computer is the hard disk drive (HDD)
    SATA HDD's are traditional disks that are built in a sterile environment and use a needle to read and write information.

    * Solid State Drives are still relatively new and for normal day-to-day use are still relatively expensive. They have uses, such as if the computer is going to become a media centre and needs to be near silent, but are much more expensive.
  • Graphics - Being able to produce a picture for your monitor is the role of the graphics card. This computer part is largely dependent on your motherboard as there are many different combinations that will make a huge difference. Firstly, there are many motherboards that come with graphics adapters built-in, often called "on-board" - these will do a sturdy job if you are just using the computer for office style tasks or the odd hour of watching TV online; but if you want to play high-performance games on your new PC then you will usually need a separate graphics card. 

    A Fanless PCI Graphics CardIf you are looking to play the high-end PC games such as Battlefield 3 or detailed simulations like a train driving simulator then you will need a faster, more modern graphics card which could start costing into the hundred of pounds. Most high-end graphics cards now come with Crossfire (Radeon brand) or SLI (Nvidia brand) which allows you to connect 2 or more graphics cards together inside the computer case - a compatible motherboard is also required though with two or more PCI-E expansion slots.

  • Sound - A Sound CardMost motherboards now come with some standard of on-board sound. It is rare to find one that is not, but if that is your motherboard of choice then you will need a separate sound card. As computer parts go, soundcards are really cheap for the most basic, so if you are just wanting to listen to a few CD's on the computer or the Weeeeeeeeeee! of Angry Birds, then cheap is just as cheerful.

  • Power Supply - The last computer part that is essential to your basic creation. The majority of the power supplies on the market are suitable for the majority of basic computer set-ups.  For a simple Internet/office computer a 400w power supply is more than adequate.

    Make Sure That: Your new power supply is compatible with a 24 pin motherboard. A power supply advertised as "20+4" is also suitable.

Hopefully we have given you an insight as to how easy buying computer parts and preparing to build a brand new desktop computer is. Building your computer is just as easy, even to the point where you should be able to connect a monitor, keyboard and mouse; turn on the power and start installing a Microsoft Windows, Linux or (hopefully in the future - we can only please to god hope [can you see my geeky bias?]) Chromium disc (or USB Key) and install your operating system.