Today I’m going to give you a step-by-step tutorial on how to build the system of your choice. As someone who has put together a myriad of systems for other people and myself, I’m particularly excited about this blog post. I will also teach you a few tricks on saving money while doing it!
The first thing you need to do when building ANY system is consider what it will be used for. Are you building a server? A general desktop PC that will be used for internet browsing, IM, word documents, etc? Will it be used to play MMO games? Will it be used to play the most graphically demanding games on the current and future market?
The above is incredibly important to consider, as it brings me to my next point, which is budget. This is especially important when building for another person. Always ask the minimum they’re willing to spend and the ABSOLUTE maximum. Unless you really feel the build would be vastly improved with more expensive components, try to stay as close to their minimum as possible, while still maintaining high quality of course.
Going forward with the type of system you want to build and budget in mind, the next step is research. Always do your research when doing a new build, I don’t care how experienced you are with building systems. It goes without saying that the face of computer technology changes at an incredible rate. What was a good deal last week might be an extremely mediocre deal currently. You’ll specifically want to look at performance benchmarks for individual components. The goal here is to find the best bang for your buck. Unless money is not an issue for you, this is usually the smartest way to do a build.
Consider this for a moment: Graphics card A costs 150 dollars and graphics card B costs 250 dollars. Graphics card B is around 15% faster in real-world performance benchmarks, yet it’s 100 dollars more. Four months down the road, a new series of cards come out. One of them costs 160 dollars and performs 90% faster than graphics card B in our previous scenario.
These types of situations are all too common. Although there are people that differ on this, it’s very hard to justify spending 100 dollars more for 15% increase in performance. Why? Because in four short months, that 100 dollars you used for a 15% gain could have been used for a 90% increase and it would have covered more than half of the cost. The longer you wait to upgrade, the more of a difference you will see in what you get out of your money.
Now you’ve done all the necessary research to make educated buying decisions, it’s time to learn which web sites you should use. Finding deals can save you a LOT of money on your system . If you play your cards right, you can take a 900 dollar build down to 600. In some cases, much more. I will list a few of some of my favorite web sites to use. As you come to frequent them, you start to notice patterns in the frequency in which certain components appear on sale. Certain components should be can be bought in advance if you come across a fantastic deal, others there is not much point in buying early and just letting them sit on your shelf for a few months, effectively making them outdated. ALWAYS look for free shipping on the case and power supply, as they’re the most expensive to ship in a typical PC.
As for where you can purchase parts, there are several websites. Personally, I prefer newegg, although there are many other good sites to purchase from. They generally have fantastic prices on most things (Not always, but usually). They have an unbeatable RMA policy for when something goes wrong (Build enough computers, something will ship DOA eventually, trust me on this). Their customer service is bar none the best in the online retail industry.
I’ll give a quick personal anecdote as a testament to their fantastic service. I was out of state building a PC for my brother at his house, which is where I had the parts shipped. When UPS came, everything was there except the hard drive, even though I was charged for it and it was listed in the receipt. When I got back to Knoxville, I called customer service, told them my situation, and I was taken care of. I was refunded for the entire shipping order and they sent me a brand new hard drive, even though it looked shady because I was asking them to send it to a different location in a completely different state. Essentially, I could have very well been lying and just been trying to snag a free drive off them, but they took the hit anyway because they had faith in their customer.
Websites for deals:
http://www.dealigg.com/ (As an example of just how much you can save, I recently purchased a brand new ethernet-enabled HP officejet 8000 printer including 500 pages of printer paper, for 98 cents. Yes, you read that correctly.)
Websites for research:
Websites for purchasing:
You’re now armed with the knowledge you need to begin the building process. For my example, I will choose a build I did recently. My brother decided he wanted a more sophisticated solution than NAS. He wanted to keep it under 300 dollars, low power consumption, would be using it to stream media, host daily back ups, and as a general file server that runs 24/7. I decided to go with Windows Home Server (WHS), as it’s extremely simple for most anyone to use and relatively powerful since it’s based off of Windows Server 2003.
For the actual build I did for my brother, I salvaged an old case and dvd-drive to cut costs. Also, I wanted to list the actual components I used in the build, so many of them are no longer on sale. This means I paid less for most of the components in the list, with my total system cost coming out to just under 280 dollars in the actual build . Since this is a tutorial, I’ll make the list under the assumption you do not have access to an old case or dvd-drive.
Here’s the part list for my Windows Home Server system:
Western Digital Caviar Green WD15EADS 1.5TB 32MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5″ Internal Hard Drive – OEM–
I went with the Western Digital Caviar green for a few reasons. The two largest factors were the size and low power consumption. Because this is a file server that will be running 24/7, it needed to have a large hard drive to store massive amounts of data and it needed to have low power consumption. This version of the WD Caviar Green fulfills both of these requirements, having 1.5 TB of space and a very lower power draw.
G.SKILL 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory
This set of G.skill ram has rock solid stability, is highly compatible with most motherboards that use DDR2, performs well, and it’s very cheap. As long as you meet the WHS system requirements of 512 MB of memory, RAM is not a very large factor in a WHS file system. While WHS has very low memory over-head for most of its general functions, this is still a server that will be streaming h.264 encoded media while running lots of add-ons. The safe route is just to throw 2 GB in the system, since it’s extremely cheap to do so.
PC Power & Cooling Silencer PPCS370X 370W ATX12V 80 PLUS Certified Active PFC Power Supply
PP&C arguably has the best reputation in the entire industry for reliable power supply units.. Since one of the main objectives is low power draw, a PSU with high wattage was unnecessary. I also wanted to go at least 80 PLUS certified and above for even more energy efficiency. Finally, since this is a system that is constantly running, stability was another major factor in purchasing this particular model.
What is the 80 PLUS specification?
The 80 PLUS performance specification requires multi-output power supplies in computers and servers to be 80% or greater energy efficient at 20%, 50% and 100% of rated load with a true power factor of 0.9 or greater. This makes an 80 PLUS certified power supply substantially more efficient than typical power supplies and creates a unique market differentiation opportunity for power supply and computer manufacturers.
APEX PC-389-C Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case
The case was largely unimportant to the build. This system will be sitting in a closet hooked up to a router, so the only purchasing factors in the case were price and compatibility with my chosen motherboard.
LITE-ON Black 18X DVD-ROM 48X CD-ROM IDE DVD-ROM Drive Model iHDP118-04
The optical drive is on the bottom of the priority list for this build. I only needed it once, which was just to install the WHS operating system. After the install, I just unplugged it to eliminate unnecessary power draw on the system. The deciding factors in the purchase were being able to read the DVD format and price.
GIGABYTE GA-MA74GM-S2 AM3/AM2+/AM2 AMD 740G Micro ATX AMD Motherboard
One of the deciding factors in the motherboard purchase was the AMD 740G Northbridge chip. The 740G is has fantastic power management and is extremely energy efficient. This motherboard is compatible with a wide ranger of processors, including the AM3 standard, which is what my chosen CPU uses. Since this is a file server, a powerful video card is completely unnecessary. This motherboard has on-board video, which is perfectly suited to the build. Stability, as well as price, were also large factors.
AMD Athlon II X2 240 Regor 2.8GHz 2 x 1MB L2 Cache Socket AM3 65W Dual-Core Processor
The CPU for this build did not have to be powerful at all. However, this CPU is actually quite capable of handling most intensive applications, especially the h.264 media this server will be streaming. The price point and power draw were probably the most decisive factors in choosing this particular CPU. While intel has a stranglehold on the high-end CPU market, AMD is arguably the best way to go when choosing extremely cheap low-power processors, which is exactly what a WHS file server calls for.
Microsoft Windows Home Server 32 Bit 1 Pack (Power pack 1)
Now on to the number break-down:
Total system cost: $452.93 (Remember, for the build I actually did, I paid just under $280. This is without the optical drive and case mind you, but it does highlight how imperative finding good deals is to your build.)
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