Building Computers

Last Updated 4 Oct 07
Copyright 2007 by Stephen Vermeulen

Building your own PC these days probably will not save you any money, but it can be an enjoyable, educational and frustrating experience that will lift you above the realm of a "mere user".  Here is some relevant information, maybe some day I will have added enough to this section that it is a complete stand-alone guide.

This Slashdot article asks if it makes more sense to build or to buy.

A number of web sites have pages on this topic. Some like Ars Technica have recommended parts lists.

Why would you want to build your own PC?

These are the reasons you might want to consider building your own PC rather than buying a pre-built one:

  • education, while you can read about this in many books or on many web sites there is no substitute for actually doing it yourself.
  • quality, since you will select the components that fit your needs, on the whole you should be able to produce a better quality PC than most you would buy prebuilt.
  • expandability, with careful selection of components the PC you build today will be upgradable in the future.  This does not just apply to CPU and Memory, but also to the ability to easily add additional cards and drives to your system.
  • cost, by building yourself you will not be able to beat an inexpensive pre-assembled unit, but you can decide on what cost/performance tradeoffs best suit your needs.  Plus you may be able to leave out some features in the initial purchase, secure in the knowledge that you can add them later
  • operating system, you get to choose the OS that is best for you, be it a Microsoft product, a free Linux solution or even something more esoteric like BeOS or AmigaOS.
  • servicability, did you ever get that sinking feeling when your machine one day did not reboot? First it was "what's wrong", then it became "how much will this cost", and finally "did I loose all my files"? Knowledge is power, and understanding how to build a PC will help ease these fears and keep you sane when the worst finally does happen.
If you are looking for some pre-assembled Linux boxes for some dedicated application some of these might fit the bill.

Building a custom rack mounted server box out of a mini-ITX motherboard and various parts.

Building an enviromentally friendly PC, discussed here on Slashdot, this also talks about what some of the special certifications (RoHS, WEEE, 80 plus) and mentions some lead-free components.


See my page on motherboards and small form factor PCs for more information.
Here is some information on configuring the ACPI settings that most motherboards have these days.

The S3 standby power mode and how to configure it.  In the Slashdot discussion of this ACPI is also mentioned. On a system that has USB devices Windows might configure itself to only enter the S1 state (instead of the S3 state) when it is told to suspend, this will result in the computer being suspended but all the fans and the drives are still spinning. This is discussed in this knowledge base article: KB841858. On some systems you might be able to add a special registry key to get suspend to use the S3 state.

More experiences with trying to get the S3 suspend (without running fans) state to work. Another article that explains a bit more about the dumppo.exe command that can be used to adjust some of the S1 versus S3 behaviour.

This article discusses some of the Win32 programming API and how it is used to schedule wakeup events (so that a sleeping computer can be ready to do something at a specific time) and how a running process can inform Windows that it needs to keep running and to defer a potential suspend event. It appears that both the S3 and S4 (sleep and hibernate) suspend states can be woken up from, and the same mechanism is used in both cases.

Mass Storage Devices

For information about various mass storage devices (hard drives, CD/DVD ROMs, burners, tape drives, RAID, and the interfaces to support them) see this page.

See my page on Computer CPUs.
Graphics Cards
Power Supplies
This site has explainations of all the commonly available types of memory. And this one has how to identify the PC133 versus PC100. The Crucial website has a memory selector that contains a lot of information about motherboards. An article on memory interleaving with SDRAM.

A guide to optimizing virtual memory (swap space) for Windows.

The Windows Memory Diagnostic program from Microsoft

In 2007 DDR3 memory started to appear, initial reports are that it is not yet worth the money.
Sound cards and Speakers

Keyboards, Mice, MP3 Players and Stuff
Video Recorders (PVRs) and Digitizers
Sub-systems to digitize audio and video are starting to become more full-featured and useful these days.
Serial Ports
Infrared Controllers

USB is a good site for USB news and product information


Operating Systems

General Articles


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