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BOOT CAMP 321 (13/04/04)

BUILD YOUR OWN PC, part 1

 

Earlier this year I attempted to buy a desktop PC from one of the better-known computer manufacturers. After almost three weeks of being fobbed off with some really pathetic excuses I gave up. The machine I wanted was nothing special so having built several PCs in the past I decided it would be quicker and easier to put one together myself but knowing the economies of scale that PC manufacturer’s work with, I doubted that I would save much money.

 

After costing the project I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that I could build my PC for almost £200 less than comparable high-street prices, which more than offset the questionable benefits of the after sales support and warranties provided by some manufacturers.

 

My second surprise was that PCs are now even easier to build, compared with my last effort a couple of years ago – not that it was especially difficult then -- and I hope I can persuade some of you to have a go. It really is very easy and immensely satisfying! The only skills you’ll need are the ability to wield a screwdriver and follow some simple diagrams. It doesn’t take long either and the three prototypes built so far – two by complete novices -- each took just over an hour to assemble.

 

We’ll begin this week with an overview of what is involved. Next week the shopping list and in parts three and four, putting it all together.

 

Since we are only building the system unit you will of course require a monitor, keyboard and mouse. You will also need the installation discs for your chosen operating system -- Windows or maybe Linux -- two crosshead screwdrivers; a medium-sized one for the bigger screws, and a small one preferably with a longish shaft, for the smaller ones. It’s worth magnetising the latter, to make it easier to get screws into tight corners and retrieve the screws that you drop inside the case (and you will!). Pliers a large pair of tweezers and a desk lamp will come in handy and it helps to have some clear space on a table with good overhead lighting – just don’t try building it on the floor!

 

The specification for our home build PC is very straightforward. It has a 2.6GHz Intel Celeron processor, 512Mb of RAM, and a 80Gb hard disc drive. The only small extravagance is a multi-format DVD writer but this only adds around £50 to the overall cost, compared with an ordinary CD/DVD-ROM drive.

 

I also fitted a second 120Gb hard drive and a FireWire card – for connection to a digital camcorder – for video editing (look out for a Boot Camp on transferring home movies to DVD in a few weeks), and this added a further £70 to the project price but the final specification and any trimmings are obviously up to you. Technical Support is also your responsibility, but having built the machine you’ll be in an excellent position to diagnose and fix any hardware faults that might arise.

 

All of the components were bought online and delivered within 48 hours. At the time of writing the cost of parts for the basic package (excluding the extra hard drive and FireWire card), but including VAT and delivery comes to around £330. PC component prices can be volatile but they mostly drift downwards and I would expect this price to remain within £20 of the target for the next few weeks.

 

PCs are entirely modular in construction and our machine will comprise just seven main components. They are the case and power supply, motherboard, CPU and fan, RAM memory module, hard disc drive, DVD writer and floppy drive. In order to keep things as simple as possible I have chosen a motherboard with built-in video, audio and network adaptors. There’s nothing to stop you adding a more sophisticated graphics card, the chosen motherboard has an industry-standard AGP socket. The on-board sound system you may want to keep as it features a 5.1-channel surround sound output and a digital input, for connection to a DVD player or home cinema system. There’s also a video output on the motherboard, so you can connect the PC to a TV. The case I’ve used is a simple and stylish contemporary design with a pair of front mounted USB sockets (there are four more on the motherboard), with plenty of room inside for extra hard drives and it can accommodate up to three CD/DVD optical drives. So dig out those screwdrivers and have your credit card ready for next week’s instalment.

 

Next week – Build your own PC, part 2

 

JARGON FILTER

 

5.1 CHANNEL SURROUND

Surround sound configuration used in home cinema systems with five high quality sound channels (front and rear stereo and centre dialogue channel) plus one narrow bandwidth channel carrying low frequency (bass) effects

 

AGP

Accelerated Graphics Port – dedicated socket on a PC motherboard for high performance ‘3D’ video adaptor cards required for demanding graphics applications and the latest games

 

FIREWIRE (aka IEEE 1394 and ‘I-Link’)

High-speed serial data connection system, commonly used for connecting PCs to external storage devices and digital camcorders, for downloading video footage for editing

 

TIP OF THE WEEK

Although the case used in our home build PC looks very smart if you want something a little more distinctive then you should have a go at ‘case modding’. It’s a fast growing craze and there’s now a huge choice of specialist case designs, with side windows or made entirely of transparent plastic, and neon lights, illuminated fans and cables that would put Blackpool Illuminations to shame. But for hard-core ‘modders’ see-through sides and winking lights are just not enough and for some extreme and bizarre examples of what can be done to the humble beige box have a look at:

www.mashie.org/casemods/,

www.2cooltek.com/case001.html

NEXT

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