Building a computer is something most people can do at home. While it does require patience and an attention to detail, you don't need an advanced knowledge of electronics. In fact, most of the pieces simply snap together and are designed in a way that makes it almost impossible to put a component in the wrong place. Assembling the hardware should take about an hour. Installing the software may take three or four hours, but most of that time is spent watching progress bars on the screen. The most important part is knowing which components you need and making sure you have everything before you start putting your computer together.
Choosing Your Components
The key component to any computer is the motherboard. Your choice in motherboard determines what processor and memory you get, as well as what case will house it. If your motherboard doesn't have onboard sound, video or network connectivity -- either Wi-Fi or Ethernet -- you'll need to buy these separately. Even if you plan to use Wi-Fi, consider getting an Ethernet card anyway, just to ensure you can always get Internet access to download updates and drivers. You'll also need a hard drive to store your files, an optical drive to load your drivers and an operating system, like Windows or Linux. Finally, a keyboard, mouse and monitor should make your list complete.
Completing Your Shopping List
Before ordering a case, make sure it comes with a power supply, a power cord and at least one fan. If it doesn't, you'll need to order these separately. Unless you're ordering a kit, you may also need to purchase a heat sink or fan for the processor. Hard drives and optical drives connect to the motherboard with cables, so make sure you have these, too. Make sure you have a Phillips screwdriver and a pair of needle-nose pliers. You'll need these to install the power supply and the clips that hold your motherboard and drive bays. Everything else simply clips into place, so you don't need any specialized tools to assemble a computer.
Assembling the Hardware
Select a clean, dry work area to assemble your computer. Static electricity can damage circuits, so always touch a grounded metal object before touching components, or invest in an antistatic wristband. After reading the manufacturer's instructions, assemble the case, power supply and fans. Insert the motherboard into the case, then install the hard drive and optical drive into their bays. Connect the processor into the motherboard, then connect the processor's heat sink or fan on top of the processor. Connect any cards you purchased for video, sound or networking and then insert the memory modules into their seats on the motherboard. Refer to the manual for the correct placement of the cards. There are clips that hold the memory in place which should audibly click when you press the modules in. Close the case and connect the keyboard, mouse and monitor and connect the power cords.
Installing the Software
Once the parts are assembled, insert the disc or USB flash drive containing your operating system into the computer. Turn on the monitor and then the computer. Watch the screen closely to see if you have to press a key to boot from the disc drive or USB drive. In most cases the computer will automatically check available drives for the operating system boot disc. It's normal for the computer to beep once or twice, indicating that the computer's BIOS is operating properly. Follow any onscreen instructions to format the hard drive and install the operating system. Once this is finished, insert the discs that came with your hardware components to load their drivers. When this is done, you can install any other software you purchased.
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