So after thinking it over, you finally decide it's time to upgrade your computer. It is an exciting and scary process for someone who has never done it before and wants to build their own personal computer, but it is extremely important that all the pieces to your computer are compatible. Don't worry though, it's not THAT hard once you learn a few basic things.
First things first!
The first thing you want to figure out, is what sort of motherboard you will be either buying, or you already have. The motherboard is basically the heart of your entire computer, all the other pieces plug into it. There are a few major things you'll want to check on your motherboard, here's the list:
- For newer motherboards, you obviously want to know if it's either Intel or AMD. Depending on what processor you are going to be using.
- The CPU Socket Type: this tells you what processor(s) this motherboard can support.
- The Memory Standard: Basically this lets you know what kind of memory the motherboard handles and how much of it. Also what memory speeds it supports.
- Channel Supported: Your memory(RAM) comes in different channels: regular channel, dual channel, and triple channel.
- Maximum Memory Supported: How much memory your motherboard supports.
- Expansion Slots: There are a few different types, such as PCI Express, PCI, and AGP, these are determined what type of expansion slot your motherboard handles, mostly related to video cards and sound cards.
- Storage Interface: There are a few different types, such as SATA, and IDE.
Checking the processor
So now that you've got a bit of information on your motherboard, you can figure out what processor(CPU) you can get. As long as the CPU Socket Types match, then the processor and motherboard will be compatable. Remember that you want to keep AMD processors with AMD motherboards, and the same with Intel CPUs with Intel motherboards.
Just for some extra assurance, you can also check if the processor is listed under the Supported CPU Type list on the motherboard details, both TigerDirect and Newegg have this info. It should say the brand of your processor in the list, such as AMD Phenom II / AMD Phenom II X2 / AMD Phenom II X4, etc. If this matches your processor you're good to go in that category. Next is the computer memory.
Memory is a little more complex, since memory has quite a few factors to picking the right set. First off you want to find out if your motherboard supports DDR, DDR2, or DDR3 Memory Standard. Memory Channel comes next, this needs to be the same for both the motherboard and the memory. Memory is very picky, as any little problem or mis match will make your computer not boot.
Once you've found your memory standard(DDR, DDR2, DDR3) for the motherboard, and the speeds it supports(measured in MHz, 1333MHz, 1600MHz, etc). The next thing you want to know is how much memory your motherboard supports. Usually a DDR2 motherboard holds around 16Gbs, and usually the higher end Intel DDR3 motherboards hold 24Gbs. It just means that it won't support any more memory than that even if you can fit more memory sticks. So don't waste your money on 24Gb of memory if your motherboard only supports 16Gb total.
Next is the memory channel. This is somewhat tricky to find out because DDR2 is always dual channel, and DDR3 can be either dual channel or triple channel. Basically the channel is how your memory is read and plugged into the motherboard. It must be slotted in a specific pattern to unlock the channel effect.
One quick thing to remember about the memory channel, is that a motherboard that supports dual channel, the memory sockets on the motherboard will have four separate sockets, while a triple channel will have six.
When you install the RAM, it must be placed in the correct sockets to take advantage of the dual/triple channel, as seen below:
Dual Channel: You want to pair memory in sticks of two, so either you have two sticks, or four. If you only have two you'll want to place them in the black slots. And if you have four then just fill it up.
This is not dual channel
Triple Channel: You want to pair in threes, and space them the same as dual channel, like this.
Alright, we got our processor selected that has a socket type of LGA1366, and it says it supports the Intel Core i7, which just so happens to be a socket type of LGA1366! Perfect. Our RAM is installed right, and placed in the right memory socket on the motherboard. Great.
We've gotten the tricky parts out of the way.
Now we need to figure out if that great new video card is gonna fit into your motherboard, and I can tell you this, as long as you're not using a ten year old motherboard, I'm 99% sure any video card you choose will fit your motherboard.
But, I'll still go over the different types just in case. There are two interfaces that video cards use, which is PCI Express(PCI Express 2.0 x16 is what video cards usually say) and AGP.
Here's the pin layouts on the connections:
AGP is ancient technology for the most part, you can count on your fingers how many AGP cards are still sold on Newegg.
Hard drives and storage
Okay, so we have our Memory installed, our Processor, and our awesome new Video card. Next we need check our storage devices. There are two different types:
- SATA: There are three speeds, SATA, SATA II(3.0Gb/s), SATA III(6.0Gb/s).
- IDE: Old school hard drives and some disk drives use this. (Disk drives are basically the same as a hard drive for installation, SATA or IDE interface)
You just want to make sure that your drives that use either SATA or IDE are the same. So if your motherboard supports up to 6.0Gb/s SATA, then any SATA speed up to 6.0Gb/s will work. And same with IDE, if your motherboard supports IDE then any IDE hardware will fit.
Remember SATA is backwards compatible.
Here is the cable and plug difference between an IDE and SATA connection:
Some things to know
For the power supply just make sure you have the same amount of pins that are required to plug in each component. If your motherboard takes the 24 pin power connector, make sure the power supply has it. Video cards usually take a 6-pin connector, some high end video cards require two 6-pin connectors. They will also have a recommended power supply wattage, so you'll want to make sure you get more than enough juice to power everything. A single 12V rail is better as well.
Hard drives, as well as fans, and other expansion slots need molex connectors to be powered.
And a good rule of thumb for power supplies(along with RAM) is to get a good reputable brand such as Antec or Corsair, and OCZ or G.SKILL for your RAM. You really don't want to skimp out on these components, ESPECIALLY your power supply which could potentially fry your entire computer.
When you're putting together your system, make sure you're grounded and have no static electricity before handling any of your computer hardware as it could ruin your new computer pieces.
Now go do some research, figure out what you want to upgrade to, and start putting that new PC together!