Have you ever built a computer? As in gone out and bought the various components individually, CPU, Motherboard, hard drives, and put them together to create a single machine? Until recently, my answer to this was actually no. I’ve owned a few computers before. I’ve also upgraded individual parts, like getting a new graphics card or power supply, and fitting it into an existing system, but I’ve never bought a giant pile pieces in one big bang and built a new system. As you can probably guess, I did this recently and I’d like to share my experience.
The most difficult part of building the computer is actually choosing which components you need. I found the best way to go about this is to spend some time thinking about what you want to use the computer for.
I wanted a powerhouse that can play games, but can also do things like compile code really quickly and run simulations if I want to. I made sure I had a fancy graphics card, and I put in a lot of RAM, so that I can create a RAM Disk if I ever want to.
I’ve also been feeling extra fed up with Windows recently, and so I made the decision to go full time Linux on my personal machine. This made choosing only components that had Linux drivers an important consideration, although I found that most things will just work, even though the manufacturer doesn’t say so on the box. If you ask the Internet in the right way, somebody has tested to see if that component works right on Linux.
Once you’ve figured out what your goal is, I recommend reading the ‘best x for the money’ lists on Tom’s Hardware. They get updated regularly, and will give you a good idea of what is currently on the market.
By and large, you can consider the various components independently of each other. The big exception to this is the motherboard, since it needs to have all of the slots you need for the other cool stuff that you’ve chosen. Most of the components are fairly standard (SATA here, USB there, some fans…), but you do need to know that there are a variety of CPU socket types. When you choose a CPU, you need to check which socket type it uses, and make sure your motherboard matches.
The other thing that the motherboard will determine is how your computer is laid out. I’ve found that because of where everything is, I can’t actually get anything in or out of one of my case’s drive bays without removing my RAM. It’s a minor issue, but it is annoying.
There are more places selling computer components than you might think. Broadly, you can split them into places with a brick and mortar shopfront, and online shops. The huge benefit I found in online shops is that you can easily do a price comparison on each component you want. Also, you don’t actually need to go there to see if they have something specific, you can browse the shop side by side with your research.
Why go through all this trouble?
So by this point, where I’ve talked about choosing bits one by one, making sure they actually fit together, and ordering them from different suppliers, the question is probably why you’d bother to go through this process? It does take a dramatic amount of time. The short answer is control. If you build the computer from parts yourself, you can choose each individual bit based on what you need.
The other aspect is that it’s interesting. You can use a computer all day without really knowing what is going on inside. Researching the various components and their merits gets you a little bit closer to those pieces. For me, I found the whole learning process very interesting.
Building a computer from parts is a bit of an intimidating task if you haven’t done it before, but it’s actually fairly simple. There is a lot of good information and reviews out there on the Internet for if you get stuck. Really, it’s just a case of buying a bunch of pieces and slotting them together.