Build Your Own PC - Part 1

So you need a PC? There are two options: either buy one of the PCs offered by the likes of HP, IBM and so on, or if you have time to spare and want a PC to feature the components of your choice, build it! As always, WINDOWS MIDDLE EAST is here to help

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By  Chris Fernando Published  May 1, 2005

|~|Building-a-PC---2.jpg|~||~|Building your own PC can save you money and guarantees you get what you want. It also means you can avoid buying a vendor’s uniquely-sized PC and then running back to that specific company each time you need to upgrade or replace components. Best of all, building a system yourself is an excellent way to learn about the inner workings of PCs. If you’re interested in upgrading part of your computer, this mini-series is also for you. This issue we look at the basics: processors, cooling solutions and motherboards and how to choose the best for the PC that you want to create. Heart of your PC The processor, also called a central processing unit (or CPU) is the component that keeps your PC ticking. It is made up of the control unit and an arithmetic and logical unit (ALU). It is simply an integrated silicon chip with millions of transistors built-in. This unit does all the ‘thinking’, or data processing. The type of processor you need purely depends on your requirements and your expectations of the PC you will ultimately end up with. So, if you are building a PC for gaming purposes, choose a processor with a faster processing speed (though this doesn't always guarantee the best performance). Another question - do you need a 64-bit chip for your PC? 64-bit computing does have advantages over 32-bit computing since such systems can run the 64-bit applications of tomorrow and go beyond the current 4GB memory limit of 32-bit systems. This means that PCs providing 64-bit computing will one day be more powerful because they'll be able to carry more memory in addition to using more advanced CPUs. Also, if you plan upgrading to Windows XP 64, you’ll need a CPU that’s 64-bit ready. However home users should not worry too much about having more than 4GB of memory and advanced CPUs, unless you want to turn your PC into a data centre. As of today, 64-bit computing is much suited to server use. There are currently five different types (sockets) of desktop processors being made by Intel and AMD. These are Socket 478 and LGA775 for Intel's Pentium 4 and Celeron processors, along with Socket A, Socket 754, and Socket 939 for AMD's Athlon XP, Sempron, Athlon 64 and FX CPUs. AMD no longer uses Socket 940, which was replaced by Socket 939. These sockets are built into a motherboard. The motherboard (also called the ‘system board’ or ‘mainboard’) is the main circuit board inside your PC. The motherboard houses your PC's basic circuitry and components, and acts as its central nervous system. All the components including the processor, memory and hard disk are plugged into this board. Therefore selecting the right model is crucial. Supporter of the masses Choosing a motherboard often depends on the type of processor you opt for and the number of peripherals you want to add to your PC such as graphic cards, sound cards and so on. Also, if you plan to upgrade your PC in the future, you’ll need to choose a motherboard that provides enough room for this. There are many parts to amotherboard, the most prominent one being the processor socket. This socket is square shaped, usually off-white, with lot of small holes in it. This socket is where the processor sits. The chipset powering the motherboard also counts. The chipset is essentially the architecture of a mainboard that controls the flow of data through data channels (buses). The primary function of the motherboard chipset is to direct the data to the intended destination, in other words the correct components. A mainboard’s chipset usually consists of two large chips - Northbridge and Southbridge. However, some new board chipsets include only a Northbridge chip, such as the Nvidia nForce4. Common makers of motherboard chipsets include SIS, VIA, nVidia, ATi, and Intel. The next most prominent component is memory slots, which are usually black and run parallel to the length of the motherboard. The memory modules (DIMM or Dual Inline Memory Module) get plugged into these slots. The AGP (Advanced Graphics Port) port is usually a brown slot, into which AGP cards can be fitted. PCI (Peripherals Component Interface) slots meanwhile are the white slots below the AGP port and usually number from one to six. PCI slots are now gradually giving way to the newer and more advanced PCI Express slots. PCI Express slots come in many variations, such as x1, x8 and x16, and x1 slots are shorter than PCI slots. The ports on the top left of the board include USB, parallel, serial, PS2, Firewire, RJ45, sound, on-board video ports and/or a game port. These ports are used for peripherals such as mice, keyboards, printers, LAN cables, joysticks, speakers and monitors. The IDE ports are usually black and have pins surrounded by a small rectangular ‘wall’, and are used by hard-drives, floppy drives and optical drives. Serial ATA ports are small and faster than IDEs, and are used by hard drives and optical drives. The next part of the motherboard is the power connector. This is usually a 20-pin connector, though some newer boards feature 24-pins. This is fixed into a slot on the motherboard. There might also be a 4-pin (+12V) connector, which helps to maintain stability. Keep your cool A PC is made up of tiny components that generate heat and so needs cooling. There are many methods by which you can keep your PC cool, such as using cooling fans, heatsinks, peltiers and water-cooling. The most commonly used methods are either cooling fans or heatsinks, which are what we’ll focus on here. Cooling fans have been a part of PCs for years. With ‘turbulent air cooling’ you have a tube with a fan in the middle. The fan pulls air from one side of the tube, and blows it into the other, working like an exhaust fan. This enables efficient cooling for your PC, since the air on the exhaust side of the fan is more turbulent. The heatsink method on the other hand involves using a device that makes contact with a processor (or any another component that needs cooling) and removes heat by exchanging it with air (by providing more surface area than a flat surface). This is usually accomplished by having a group of fins built into the shape of the heatsink. The longer the fins, and the more of them there are, the higher the surface area, and therefore the better the efficiency. Most heatsinks are aluminium for cost and weight reasons. Copper heatsinks however are more efficient, but they are only occasionally used due to them being more expensive, heavier, and harder to build. It is common for a fan to be mounted onto a heatsink to increase the efficiency of heat exchange by blowing cooler air through the fins on the heatsink. Many companies that produce such fans, including Zalman and Gigabyte. WINDOWS MIDDLE EAST RECOMMENDS: PROCESSORS: AMD Sempron 3100+ Price: $136 Contact: +9714 351 7666 Reviewed: May 2005 Winner of the Windows Middle East ‘Editor’s Choice’ award Intel Pentium 4 EE 3.73GHz Price: $1,020 Contact: +9714 883 9341 Reviewed: May 2005 MOTHERBOARDS: Gigabyte GA-K8NSNXP Price: $189 Contact: +9714 355 5520 Reviewed: July 2004 Winner of the Windows Middle East ‘Editor’s Choice’ award Abit Fatal1ty AA8XE Price: $269 Contact: +886 2875 1888 Reviewed: April 2005 Winner of the Windows Middle East ‘Editor’s Choice’ award Asus P5AD2 Premium Price: $290 Contact: +9714 351 1168 Reviewed: January 2005 Winner of the Windows Middle East ‘Editor’s Choice’ award Soltek 915GPRO-FGR Price: $125 Contact: +8862 2642 9060 Reviewed: February 2005 COOLING SOLUTIONS: Gigabyte GH-PCU22-VG Price: $41 Contact: +9714 355 5520 Reviewed: June 2005 Zalman VF700-ALCU Price: $40 Contact: +9714 355 2270 Reviewed: June 2005 ||**||

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