Originally published on Will’s private blog as two posts on August 10th and 11th, 2010. This tutorial focuses on a Windows build, but the process is the same for Ubuntu or any flavor of Linux. Just don’t buy Windows and use your Ubuntu CD instead of a Windows DVD at the end.
I recently ordered up some parts to build my parents a new computer. Once they came, I decided it might be fun to do a How-To on how to build a computer. This first section will introduce you to the process of selecting components for your new computer. In part 2, we’ll cover the actual assembly of the computer box.
First, what do you need to make a basic computer? Well, if we don’t talk about monitors, keyboards, mouses (mice?), and speakers, we can focus on just the main tower. Here’s the rundown:
- CPU (Processor)
- Ethernet card
- Video card
- Sound card
- DVD Drive
- Hard Drive
- Power Supply
- Operating System
Yeah, that’s quite a list. How on earth is the average person supposed to even start thinking about maybe considering the options on how to possibly selecting the proper components?!?! I give you, NewEgg. NewEgg is an online retailer of all things electronicey. They also have one of the best guided search systems of any website, making it super simple to find what you need.
Before we begin, there’s a concept that needs to be covered: OEM. OEM stands for original equipment manufacturer. Products labeled as OEM are designed for people that build computers to be sold to others. They are generally cheaper than retail components as well. There’s a catch though: they don’t come with the same stuff as the retail version. A good example of this is hard drives. A retail hard drive will come with some software and a data cable. An OEM hard drive will be just the drive. No cable, no software. You’ll see in a moment how tricky this can be.
First, let’s get acquainted with NewEgg’s website. Right in the top horizontal menu you’ll see some general categories like Computer Hardware, Networking, Home Theater, etc. We’ll be mostly dealing with the Computer Hardware section. If you mouse over that tab, you’ll get a sub list. It might be handy to do some real-world shopping to get used to this. Let’s start with the case. That’s one of the easiest things to choose. All cases get the job done, and in a lot of ways it doesn’t matter if you get the $400 ultra case or the $40 basic case. For our purposes, cheap is OK.
So, to start, we’ll mouse over the Computer Hardware tab, then click Computer Cases. On the left hand side, you’ll see the guided search. Guided search basically takes you from a general concept, like a computer case, down to a specific item. You just click what you want from the guided search and gradually narrow the field. Here, we’re after a computer case, not a case fan or accessory, so we click Computer Cases. This narrows what we’re looking at to just cases. Next, we need to choose the size of the case. ATX Mid Tower is the old standby, so let’s go with that. Once clicked, we’re already down to just a few hundred products: better, but still too general.
We can continue to eliminate cases by various criteria. Let’s start with color. Black cases are snazzy, so I’m going to select black as the color. Next, let’s decide if we want the case to come with a power supply or not. Some cases are dirt cheap with a power supply included, taking total build cost down. The problem is that power supplies are the easiest to burn out component in a computer, so we want a quality one. Let’s hit the option for cases without power supplier. Now, we don’t want to spent a ton, so let’s limit price to the $25-$50 range.
Now we can start actually finding a case from the displayed selections. How do we actually choose a case? Well, features are what we normally use to determine which product we purchase. It’s no different here. The problem is that we may not know which features we need/want. NewEgg helps with this by providing user reviews of all its products. We’ll rely on these pretty heavily to help decide which case to buy.
In the upper right hand corner of the item listing, you’ll see a “Sort by” drop down box. We could go by price, but let’s choose “Best Rating”. Bam! Highest rated products are now displayed first. I try to stay as close to 5 eggs as I can. As of this writing, the top case for us is a Cooler Master. That’s a silly name, but it has a good rating. Right below it though, there’s a Rosewill case with a bunch of fans included. It’s also $10 cheaper and has free shipping. Let’s take a peek at that one.
It’s easy to see that people like the case. It seems like it would be a good fit for us, so let’s call that our case. It even comes with the fans we have listed as necessary items. Next, we can start getting the guts that will populate our case.
The motherboard is perhaps the most critical choice in any build. Nearly all the other components will have to work with the motherboard, so this choice really dictates the other components we will buy. Let’s start by mousing over that Computer Hardware tab again… assuming you’ve noted which case you want. You did note that right? You might have already added it to your cart or maybe just bookmarked it. Anyway, Computer Hardware, then Motherboards on the menu.
OK, now the big choice. There are basically two manufacturers when it comes to processors. Why am I suddenly talking about processors? We need to choose a motherboard that will work with whatever processor we want. At this point, we just need to choose between the two big manufacturers. The possible choices are AMD and Intel. Both will get the job done. I’m an Intel guy, so I’m going to use my guided search to select Intel motherboards. Things get a little more confusing here. There are a ton of options when it comes to processors, and since we need to make sure our processor works with the motherboard, we might want to decide what type of processor we’ll get. We don’t need to find the exact processor, just the type.
This bit just takes practice. Right now, Intel has a new line of processors out called the “i” series. These are the i7, i5, and i3. They are the latest and greatest, but we’re doing a bit of a budget build. We don’t need the latest and greatest when the last generation will suit us fine. Specifically, we’ll be using the Core 2 Duo processor line. Why? That’s a bit of an explanation… which I won’t bore you with. Let’s click the option for CPU Type Core 2 Duo. Wait a sec! See how “Core 2 Duo” is listed in more than one place? That can happen sometimes. We’re going to use the option that gives us the most products, so I’m clicking the “Core 2 Quad / Core 2 Extreme / Core 2 Duo” with 38 products.
I’m after brand name motherboards. That means I’m going to be after an MSI, Gigabyte, Intel, or Asus. In this case, I’m going to slightly arbitrarily choose MSI. If you’ve got no personal preference, you can just go by best rating. When I hit MSI, I’m left with a motherboard and an open box item… so basically one board.
Now, we need to see what the board includes. Head over to the Specifications tab. We’re going to be looking for a few key things: video, audio, and network. On our parts list we have it down that we need a separate component for each of these. Well, a lot of motherboards come with at least a few of them built in. From the board specifications we can see that there’s no onboard video, there is onboard audio, and there is onboard network/LAN. Since the motherboard comes with built in audio and LAN, we don’t need those components from the parts list, so scratch those.
Now, since everything else is going to depend on the motherboard, leave that product open and start a new tab or window of your web browser. Go to NewEgg. Let’s start by getting our CPU decided. Hit Computer Hardware, CPUs/Processors. Since we’re building a desktop, choose that option. Next, we’ve already decided on an Intel Core 2 Duo, so make the selections to limit CPUs to match those criteria. There are only six options here, and since I’m a cheapskate, I’m going with the E7500 Wolfdale 2.93GHz for $125. Since this is a retail box, it’s going to come with the heatsink we have listed in our necessary items list.
Now, go back to the motherboard we selected. The next step is to select our RAM, but that’s a bit of a challenge. Go to the motherboard specifications. Check the memory section. Number of memory slots tells us that there are 4 slots, each with 240 pins. The 240 number will help us select RAM. Not all RAM has 240 pins. Next, memory standard tells us the board accepts DDR3 RAM. That’s another important clue. With that info, go to a new tab and select Memory from Computer Hardware. Next, use guided search to do desktop memory. Choose 240 pin DDR3 RAM. Now we need to decide on RAM speed. The motherboard listed memory standard as “DDR3 800/1066/1333/1600 (OC)”. This means it can handle speeds of 800, 1066, 1333, and 1600… but, the (OC) stands for overclocked, so the 1600 is on the upper limits. Let’s play it safe and choose 1333 RAM.
Next, we need to choose amount of RAM. 4GB is a minimum, and the more you can afford, the better. Just remember that our motherboard only has 4 slots, so we can only add 4 sticks of memory. For this build, 4GB should be enough, so let’s choose the 4GB (2x2GB) option. This will find pairs of 2GB sticks. They are cheaper than a single 4GB stick. Scrolling down a bit, we find a set with a $20 rebate. This also happens to be made by Corsair. Crucial and Corsair are the two best RAM resellers in my book, so that’s the one I’m going with.
Remember how the motherboard has audio and LAN, but no video? Well, we need a video card. All expansion cards use one of a few different slots. The motherboard specifications lists the expansion slots as being 1 PCI Express 2.0, 2 PCI Express, and 3 PCI. Most video cards are PCI Express 2.0, so we’ll be looking for one of those. Hit the Computer Hardware, Video Cards & Video Devices. Choose Desktop Graphics/Video Cards. And once again, we hit a junction point. There are two main kinds of video cards: ATI and nVidia. I’m an nVidia guy, so let’s go with those. Select the nVidia Chipset option. Now we can select PCI Express 2.0 interface.
Since I’m not so concerned with performance on this one, I’m sorting by price, low to high. Just because I’m being cheap, that doesn’t mean I need to choose bad components. Scrolling down a bit, there’s a cheap card with 5 eggs as a rating. This also happens to be an XFX card, which is a good brand name along with EVGA and PNY.
We’re making good progress. We’ve already got a case, motherboard, processor, RAM, and video card. Not bad. Next up, the power supply.
The power supply is the most touchy component in a computer. Bad power can fry a system, so choosing a high quality power supply is a necessity. We’ll start by getting into Power Supplies section of Computer Hardware. Next, we want just normal power supplies, not server power supplies. As for the type of supply, choose ATX. There are a couple options. Normally I’d recommend going with the one with the most products in that category, but I went with the second most populous category (ATX 12V) for some arbitrary reasons. Doing that and sorting by best rating gives us a good power supply that’s dirt cheap. There’s even a rebate.
Power supplies come with different power outputs. For a bigger computer with a fancier card, something like a 750W might be in order, but we have a small build, so we’re using a 400W supply. Knowing how big of a supply you need is a bit outside our scope.
OK folks, three components left.
Hard drives come in many shapes and sizes, but the gold standard (currently) is a SATA 7200RPM drive. No tips, this time. I’m assuming you can get that far with guided search. A hint though: we want internal hard drives. Best rating gives us a 640GB drive. That’s more than enough space for a small build.
There’s a gotcha here though. See how the title includes “Bare drive”? That’s another way of saying OEM. This drive doesn’t come with a cable. When we go to hook it up, we might be short a cable. Go back to the motherboard page. See how it has pictures? Guess what, in one of those pictures, it shows that it comes with cables. TA-DA! We have a cable for the hard drive. Never underestimate photos as a buying tool. They can be very handy.
Disc drives are becoming less common, but they are still really handy, so we’re going to include one. Today, buying a DVD drive is pretty much the standard. CD only drives are rare. We’re going into the CD/DVD Burners & Media section now. Burners aren’t much more expensive than readers, so let’s go with CD/DVD Burners. There are only a few guided search options here. The one we’re most concerned with is interface. We want SATA. A Best Rating sort gives us a few good options. Notice that the first one is OEM. No cable with that one. Since we’re already planning on using the cable that comes with the motherboard for the hard drive, let’s just buy a retail box that comes with a cable. The second drive appears to meet our specifications. It’s also sliiiiightly cheaper than the first.
Bonus points – it comes with software for actually burning CDs.
OK folks, one item left – the operating system.
There are a few options here, but the majority of users are going to want to be using Windows. Windows 7 is the newest version, so let’s go for that. This time we’re going to be using the Software, Operating Systems category. There are several flavors of Windows available. I haven’t trusted the home version since Windows 98… when there wasn’t a home version, so I’m going to use guided search to find the Professional edition. Now here’s a case where OEM vs Retail makes a BIG difference. The retail version is $250. The OEM edition is $140. What’s the difference? A few things. First, the OEM version does not include support from Microsoft. You can’t ever call them if you are having issues with Windows. How often have you called Microsoft? That’s what I thought.
Second, an OEM edition can technically only be used with one computer, meaning that if the computer we’re building right now ever goes BOOM!, you can’t install Windows on a different computer. It’s a “technical” rule, but it’s not really enforced… sssshhhhhh. We’re going with the OEM version. We’re also choosing 64bit. What’s the difference between 64bit and 32bit? Practically, 64bit lets you use more than 3GB of RAM. We’re planning on 4GB, so it’s a no brainer.
There ya go. That’s all we need. Here’s our final item list:
Final Item List
- Rosewill Challenger Computer Case – $39.99, Free Shipping
- MSI Motherboard – $79.99, Free Shipping
- Intel CPU 2.93GHz – $124.99, Free Shipping
- Corsair RAM (4GB) – $94.99, Free Shipping, $15 Rebate
- XFX Video Card – $32.99, Free Shipping
- Corsair 400W Power Supply – $49.99, $3.99 Shipping, $20 Rebate
- 640GB WD Hard Drive – $69.99, Free Shipping
- DVD Burner – $25.99, $0.99 Shipping
- Windows 7 OEM – $139.99, Free Shipping
Adding all that up, we’ve spent $663.89. There are $35 in rebates, so the final cost will be $628.89. Once that gets ordered, we need to wait for UPS to deliver everything. NewEgg is pretty fast; you’ll have the stuff in less than a week.
Why build your own computer? There are a few reasons. Every now and then you can swing it so that it costs less than a similarly equipped computer bought from Dell or HP or whoever. This is rare though. In most cases, you will spend more building your own. There is a distinct benefit to this approach though: you get a better computer. It might have the same hard drive space, same amount of RAM, etc., but the components that go into it will generally be of higher quality. Large manufacturers buy components in bulk. They are generally cheaply made. I’m just sayin’.
The other main benefit of making your own computer is that you get to have some fun! Building a computer is more fun than just buying one… at least for some of us. There’s also the whole issue of getting a clean Windows install without all that pre-installed junk Dell and the like tend to add.
So, with that covered, let’s start building this dang thing!
Hey, click for larger.
UPS will drop off your parts in a few days from order. I got three boxes, but your mileage might vary on this.
Once you get it all unboxed, you should find:
I’ve already got the case unboxed, so let’s take a look at what comes with the motherboard.
We’ve got the board, the cables, some manuals, and a back plate. I’ll explain what those are for in a bit.
Manuals are generally not necessary, since the ways components connect are rather standardized. Once you’ve done it once, you can generally figure it out a second time. Or third. The exception to this rule is the motherboard. There are connectors between the case and motherboard that aren’t always labeled clearly, so having the manual around is an absolute must. Never throw out a motherboard manual.
The last article covered the difference between OEM and retail products. Here’s my OEM hard drive.
It’s kind of sad. The cables that came with the motherboard make it happy.
Well, I can tell it’s happy.
The DVD drive is retail, so it comes with a cable, some software, and a manual.
Ditto on the retail CPU. It comes with a fan and heatsink. Under no circumstances should you have a processor without a heatsink and fan. That’s just asking for trouble.
OK, enough dancing around. Let’s get this sucker going! First, pop the sides off your case. There should be four screws in the back holding it on. Remove the screws, then pull the sides straight back. They will unlatch, then fall to the sides. You’ll probably find a baggie with some screws and whatnot in there.
Oh, hey, you know what?! I forgot something! You’ll need tools! At the minimum, you’ll need a Phillips screw driver and a pliers. A flashlight can also be pretty handy. If you happen to have a PC tools kit, just use that.
We need to start by doing a little prep on the case. We need to have a way to attach the motherboard to the case. This is obviously necessary to keep the dang thing in place. If you look closely at the case, you can see some threaded holes in the large plate attached in the left side of the case.
The little goodie baggie that came with the case has motherboard risers in it. These basically give a little gap between the motherboard and the case. They’re pretty tiny, but are usually distinctly colored, so you can find them easily.
These things just screw into the holes mentioned earlier. You’ll need a minimum of about 6, but you might was well fill as many holes as you can. Look at the holes on the motherboard to determine while case holes need the risers first, then fill in as many of the other holes as you can. Risers don’t really get in the way of anything, and this way the case will be ready to install other size boards if you do that down the line.
Now that we’ve got the risers in place, we can actually mount the board in the case. I want to point something out though. Take a look at the back of the case. See that big rectangular hole? That’s where all the motherboard ports (LAN, audio, USB, etc.) are going to go. Now remember that plate that comes with the motherboard? (Hint: I mentioned it earlier. )
Well, that’s actually going to go around the ports on the motherboard and then jam into that rectangular hole. You might expect that this would just be part of the case, but by having the plate come with the motherboard, any unique arrangement of ports can be made to fit in the rectangular hole. Not all motherboards some with the same arrangement of ports.
There are two approaches to getting this plate crammed between the motherboard and case and the motherboard screwed down. You’ll use the screws that came with the case for this.
- Cram the plate into the rectangular hold, then press the motherboard against it and screw the board down.
- Cram the plate onto the motherboard, then cram that whole thing into the rectangular hole. Screw the board down.
The best choice varies from board to board and case to case. Just try it one way and if it doesn’t work, do it the other way. Once you get the board in place and screwed down, it actually starts looking like a computer.
Next up, we can start installing parts on the motherboard. We’ll start with the RAM, since that’s really easy. First, locate the four RAM slots. It’s really hard. *snicker*
Grab the RAM stick and put it next to the first slot. When I say “first slot”, I mean closest to the back of the case. Anyway, put the stick next to the slot.
Notice how the stick has a little grove in it. Also notice that the slot had a little notch in it. See where I’m going with this? Before you do anything though, move the locks on either end of the slot out. It’s pretty straightforward. Line the stick up, and give it a firm push until the levers on either side automatically lock into place.
There I’m putting it in the second slot, but the process is the same for any of them.
There you can see the side levers in the open position and the locked position. Just pop open, line up stick, and push down until they lock. See? Reeeeaaaaalllllyyy easy. Just make sure that if you install two sticks, put them in slots next to each other. It honestly doesn’t make a ton of difference, but it makes a little difference. (For those that are interested, this involves the concept of dual channel RAM.)
Now that the RAM is installed, let’s do the processor. Move just a hair towards the back of the case and you’ll find the CPU socket.
This one is a little crazier. Before installing the processor, you need to open the socket. There’s a little lever on the side of the socket. Pull that out from the socket, then lift up. This unlocks it. Next, the metal cover just flips up. It should look kind of like this when it’s fully open.
The processor goes into the socket. It is keyed so that it can only go in one way, but double check that it’s in there right. You don’t want to try to shut the socket with the process not quite situated. You might break something. Once you’re confident it’s in there, close the metal cover, then push the lever down and relock it. Once complete, it looks like you’ve done nothing.
We still have that big fan don’t we? Well, that goes on the processor. If you look, there are four holes around the processor. There are four pegs on the big fan. Position the fan over the CPU and line up the holes. I always try to get the label on the fan so that it’s sitting “right”. As in, can be read when the case is standing up. I’m crazy, I know.
Anyway, with the fan lined up, push down on opposing pins. By that I mean, top right and lower left. Then top left and lower right. You just push down and the pins lock in. It can take a big of force, so don’t be afraid to lay into it a bit. If the motherboard bends a bit, that’s OK. If it bends a lot, stop. You’re applying too much pressure! We can’t take it! WE CAN’T TAKE IT!!!!!
Now you need to plug in the fan. There should be a power connector close to the CPU. It’s pretty hard to mess this up. The connectors are color coded and keyed to only go in one way. You can do it. I trust you. Just make sure that the wire is clear of the fan. Wire on fan is annoying at best and break-y-ing-things at worst.
The next task is to get the video card installed. The card will plug into the motherboard and stick out the back of the case a hair. See all those panels on the back of the case?
Each of those is removable to make space for an expansion card. We need to remove one. Take a peek at the motherboard. There are a few slots on it. We’re going to be using the long one with the little lever at the end. That level locks the card into the slot and also serves to tell us which one to use. Line the video card up with the slot to determine which back panel needs to be removed. Take out the screw, then pull out the panel.
Get the video card lined up with the slot. Give it a firm push into the slot until that little lever clicks.
Once that’s in place, screw it into place. Just replace the screw you took out a few seconds ago to get the back panel out.
OK, that’s the “easy” stuff. Now it gets a little more complicated. You may have noticed some cords hanging inside the case when you opened it. Well, each of those has a purpose. Some are for the USB ports on the front of the case, some are for the audio ports, and some are for the power button and lights.
These all plug into the motherboard somehow. There are groupings of tiny pins on the motherboard. Here are a chunk of them.
Now, this is where that manual comes in handy. The cords are broken into groups. One should be for USB, one for audio, and one for buttons and lights. The USB and audio ones are little black boxes. The buttons and lights are hanging cables with little ends. The manual tells you which set up pins each cord connects to. Seriously, the manual is your friend here.
The audio cord on this case had two connectors. One is labeled HD Audio and the other is AC97. Use HD Audio.
Once those cables are in their proper places, it starts looking a little messier.
Next up, drives. We’ll start with the DVD drive. Let’s just go ahead and slide it in through the front.
Uh oh. That’s not right at all. I guess we need to punch out one of those front panels to make room for the DVD drive. Well, you can normally remove the front of the case. Sometimes there are little clips to release it. This case just lets you pull it off.
Pop out one of the front panels. You can put the drive pretty much wherever you want. Once the panel is out of there, put the front section back on, then just slide the drive into place.
We need to secure that drive somehow. It’s just sitting in there right now. It used to be that you’ve have to screw four screws into the drive, going through holes in the case, to secure it. A lot of cases have gone “screwless”, where some device holds the drive in place without screws. This case uses little doohickeys that use a twist connector to lock the doohickey to the case with little pins holding the drive in place.
Now we use the cable that came with the DVD drive to connect it to the motherboard. There’s a bank of 6 ports on the motherboard. You can plug it into any of them. Again, you can only plug it in one way.
The hard drive installation is similar. Hard drives generally go toward the bottom of the case. Most cases now put the hard drives turned 90 degrees from the DVD drive. These other holders use rails that just sit on either side of the drive, then slide into the case.
One weirdness to this is that the cables end up connecting to the “back” of the drive. In other cases the cable connection on the drive is facing you when you look into the case. On this case, the cable connector is on the other side. It’s weird.
It gets the job done.
Next up, the power supply. This is where things can get real crowded in the case. This happens because there’s a lot of wires to deal with on a power supply.
Normally the power supply sits in the top of the case, but this case is a little weird and has the power supply sit at the bottom. Installing the supply is as easy as putting it in the case so that the screw holes on the back of the supply match up with the holes in the back of the case. There are 4 screw holes. You’ll want to get the supply in place and put get all the screws lightly attached. Once all the screws are started, then tighten them down.
Yes, I’m holding the case up with my foot. Sometimes you need to get inventive.
Once the power supply is installed, we can start worrying about the squid of cords.
Cord squid is not a real term.
The power supply has a few connectors on it. There’s a main power that gets plugged into the motherboard.
This thing is huge. There’s only one place to plug it in, and it can’t go in there wrong. Good luck! There’s also a smaller square shaped power plug that needs to be plugged in next to the processor. It’s a little tucked away, so you’ll need to look closely.
The power supply also has a smaller rectangular plug. This is used for high power video cards. We don’t have one of those, so we won’t be using it. The remaining connections are for multiple drives, fans, and accessories. The fans and accessories use this kind of connection.
This is called a molex connector. Drives used to be powered with these too, but in recent years a new power connector for drives has become quite popular. It’s rather different looking.
I’m not even sure if this thing has an official name. I just call it a SATA power connector. Let’s go ahead and take a few of these and plug into the hard drive and DVD drive. And guess what?! They can only be plugged in one way.
Let’s get the fans plugged in. Our fans have small cables coming to pass through connectors. These connectors are designed to let you plug a fan into the power line between the power supply and a larger device. They don’t take much power, so they can just suck some power away from other devices. In our case though, we don’t have any other devices. The fans can just plug into their own power lines. Devices, like fans, that have a pass through connect can actually be combined on the same power line. So instead of hooking each fan to its own power plug, we’re going to connect the fans together, then plug them all into one power connector.
OK, we’ve actually already got everything in there. In other words: we’re done! See, that wasn’t so bad now was it?
There really are a ton of wires in there. It’s kind of messy. I like to try to clean it up a bit by zip tying the cords together a bit. The little goodie baggie has a few zip ties. It doesn’t do a ton unless you put in some serious effort, but it helps a little. The main thing with this is to get all wires away from fans. Check the case fans, CPU fan, and if it has one, the video card fan. Wire clearance is important.
Once the wires are in place, go ahead and pop the sides of the case back into place. All said and done, you should have a nice looking computer.
Pretty snazzy, eh? You might still have a bit of a mess around your work area. A few spare parts are normal.
I recommend you collect the spare parts, software disks, and motherboard manual and store them in the motherboard box. This way you have them in case you ever need to change anything or reinstall the software. Before you throw out the other boxes, make sure you get any UPCs you’ll need for your rebates. Yeah, throwing out $35 worth of rebate UPCs wouldn’t be good!
With everything put together, you can start installing Windows. There is one small trick to this. The computer needs to have some basic software in place to run the much more powerful operating system. Getting all that basic software in place is called booting. The computer needs to know where the basic software comes from, so it tries several “boot devices” until it finds the basic software. The possible boot devices include the hard drive or a CD or DVD. (There are others, but these are the most common.)
When we install the operating system, we need to tell the computer to boot from the CD (it’s actually a DVD, but whatever). Let’s get the computer hooked up to some power, a monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Hit the power button. If everything was put together, it should start up. As soon as the screen starts doing something, we need to get the computer into setup mode. This is done by striking a key on the keyboard. Unfortunately, this isn’t standardized. It might be one of several keys. I like to smack them all, just to cover my bases.
The keys to hit are DEL, F2, and ESC. One of those three generally does it. As soon as you see the screen doing something, start hitting them all. Ideally, you should see a message along the lines of “Entering setup…”. If you don’t, check the manual to see if the motherboard uses a different key.
Once you’re in setup, you’ll get a blue screen with text. Use the arrow keys on the keyboard to move around. It can be a bit tricky to find the boot device settings, so you might want to reference that motherboard manual again. See how handy that thing is?! Normally it’s under Advanced BIOS Features, then Boot Devices. Set it so that the CD is first and the hard drive is second. Sometimes the terminology is a little cryptic and the hard drive is called ST3800AS123, or some such. As long as CD is first and crazy cryptic is second, you’re set!
Save your settings and exit setup. Check the menu at the bottom of the screen to figure out how to do this. The computer will reboot. As soon as the monitor is doing stuff, open the DVD drive and put your Windows CD in it. Close the drive and wait a bit. Setup should start automatically. If it doesn’t just reboot again. Follow the screens to get Windows installed. It’s very straightforward, and there are plenty of guides on how to do it.
After Windows is installed, put in the disk for your motherboard. Choose the option to install drivers. Once that’s done, reboot. Now put in the disk for the DVD drive and install the burning software that came with it. Once complete, reboot. Next, run Windows Update repeatedly until it says there are no more updates. You can then install your normal programs like Firefox, Microsoft Office, etc. After all your software is installed, give it another reboot, even if the software installation has had you reboot. Do Windows update repeatedly (again) until there are no updates.
That’s it! You now have a custom built computer loaded with all your software, ready to help you view as many cute pictures of kitties as you can handle! In part 3 we’ll cover what to do if your computer bursts into flames because you did it wrong.
No, no, that’s a joke. There is no part 3.