Technology computers-hardware

What Do I Need to Build My Own Computer?

    The Motherboard

    • Virtually every other part on a computer connects to the motherboard. It is a flat, usually square or rectangular board that can come in a variety of sizes, but generally is about the size of a standard dinner plate. There are a number of things to consider when selecting a motherboard, such as type of processor, type and amount of desired RAM, desired graphics power, etc. These issues will be covered in the explanations of individual parts.

    Processor or CPU

    • At somewhere around 2 to 3 inches square depending on the type, a processor is a small but important piece of computer hardware.

      Not all processors work with all motherboards. A processor (also known as a CPU) is like the brain of your computer, and if the brain can't communicate with the body, nothing useful is likely to happen. Ask an associate at the computer hardware store or a tech-savvy friend which types of processors go with which motherboards. There are so many kinds of processors and the technology progresses so quickly that it would not be feasible to go over them in detail here.

      Also, before purchasing a processor, consider what your main purpose will be in using the computer. If it will be used primarily for gaming, the new computer should probably have a powerful processor. If word processors and basic internet surfing are more your forte, a lower processor speed will generally work well. Again, consult a professional on which speed is best for your purpose since processors change and improve on a very regular basis.


    • RAM is long and thin, resembling a short ruler. For this reason, a unit of RAM is sometimes referred to as a "stick."

      Random Access Memory (RAM) is like the short-term memory of a computer. While a hard drive saves files for long-term storage, the RAM is where a computer temporarily puts the information it needs to accomplish whatever task it's currently working on. The more RAM a computer has, the quicker and more smoothly it can complete tasks.

      RAM choice is also dependent upon the computer's intended purpose. If more complex programs will be used, or many programs will be open at once, more RAM is best. If more simple computing is taking place, a little less would probably work fine. Also, there are a number of different varieties of RAM available, so make sure you purchase RAM that will work with your motherboard.

    The Rest

    • Graphics cards are also known as video cards and can boost the look of a computer's programs, especially games.

      Most of the rest of the items needed to construct a computer will usually work with just about any motherboard, with some exceptions. As with the other parts, make sure each of the following parts will work with the selected motherboard.

      Power Source---This essential part converts all electricity that enters the computer through the power cord into a form of energy that the computer's parts can use. One large wire from the power source plugs into the motherboard, and other smaller wires plug into other items like the hard drive or disk drive. Make sure the power source you choose provides enough power to run all parts that will be placed in the computer.

      Hard Drive---As mentioned, this is where files are stored for the long-term. A larger one will allow you to store more files as well as larger files.

      CD/DVD Drive---While not absolutely necessary for a computer to function, a CD, DVD, or disc-writer drive can be useful for installing programs or writing files to disk.

      Tower/Case---The tower or case is used to house the power supply, hard drive and disk drive as well as provide a protective shell for all parts inside the computer. The power button is also usually located on the tower.

      Graphics, Sound and Other Cards---Graphics or sound "cards" are pieces of hardware that control how programs, devices and features are run on a computer. Many motherboards come with built-in graphics cards and audio cards, but they can be disabled if you desire a better quality graphics or sound experience. Other cards include Firewire cards and TV tuner cards. A monitor generally plugs in to the computer through a graphics card.

      Monitor---Without a monitor, it would be impossible to use a computer. Just about any monitor will work with any computer, but be sure your graphics card has the right hook-up if using a flat screen monitor. (Many HD monitors use an HDMI cable, and HDMI hook-ups are not standard on all graphics cards.)

      For more information on many of these parts, take a look at the "References" and "Resources" sections below.

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