BOOT CAMP 322 (20/04/04)
BUILD YOUR OWN PC, part 2
None of the components
we are going to use in our home-build PC project are in any way special nor is
there any need to stick slavishly to the brands, model numbers and suppliers
mentioned but you may have to do a little substituting and shopping around to
achieve the best prices or to overcome temporary shortages.
All of the parts are
available from online suppliers like Aria (www.aria.co.uk), Dabs (www.dabs.com/uk), Ebuyer (www.ebuyer.co.uk) and Stak (www.stak.com), to name just a few.
Most companies charge £10 or less for delivery, usually by courier. In some
cases shipping is free when your order exceeds a certain value. By the way, all
of the prices quoted include VAT; see also Tip of the
The logical place to
begin is the heart of the PC, the central processor unit or ‘CPU’ chip. This
determines the type of motherboard we’ll be using, which in turn decides the
case, power supply and memory.
I’ve opted for the Intel
Celeron 2.6GHz (128kb, 400MHz) CPU, which uses the ‘478’-type socket (the chip
has 478 connecting pins). It has a good track record; it’s moderately fast and
perfectly capable of handling all common office and multimedia tasks, up to and
including video editing. They are in good supply and should cost you no more
than £70. Feel free to swap it for the slower (and progressively cheaper) 2.5,
2.4. 2.0 or 1.8GHz models, for less demanding tasks, but if you stray from the
Intel Celeron be aware that you will have to be careful about matching the
processor and motherboard. Incidentally, check that your chosen processor is
fitted with a cooling fan, Intel types usually are, if not you will have to buy
one, costing around £6.00 (make sure it’s the right type for your
All three of our
prototypes used the Asus P4R800-VM motherboard, which officially supports
Windows ME, 2000 and XP. It is quite modestly specified by current standards but
it does have a built-in video adaptor, 6-channel sound and a LAN socket plus six
USB 2.0 ports, all of which helps to keep things simple. This motherboard
conforms to the standard ATX layout or ‘form-factor’ and you should be able to
pick one up for between £60 and £65. There are plenty of alternatives with very
similar specifications (key features: Socket 478, on-board video, audio and LAN,
ATX form factor). Some, including the Asrock P4145GV, can be found selling for
under £40, but there is often a trade-off on low-cost Socket 478 motherboards.
In this case it is the lack of an AGP socket, which means you cannot later
upgrade to a more advanced video adaptor.
Most recent motherboards
have sockets for standard 184-pin DDR (Double Data Rate) DIMMS (Dual In-line
Memory Modules), PC2700 or PC3200 type. My
advice is to buy a
single 512Mb RAM module. At the time of writing prices were slowly creeping up
due to supply problems and the average cost had risen from £60, when the first
prototype was built a few weeks ago, to around £70.
PC cases on the other
hand are getting cheaper and you can find smart looking examples, complete with
mains power supply, for less than £20. The prototypes were housed in Casecom
8820’s, bought from Ebuyer for the princely sum of just £10.57, which is
remarkable value when you consider that power supply modules on their own can
cost upwards of £30. The choice is yours, the only points to watch out for are
that the power supply should be rated at at least 300W and it must be suitable
for an ATX form factor motherboard.
You will need a CD-ROM
drive and they sell for around £10; DVD-ROM drives are a little dearer at £17 or
so and CD-writers start at under £25 but why penny-pinch? The price of
DVD-writers has fallen dramatically and models like the Sony DWU-14A, a
multi-format combination drive (DVD +/- R, CD-R/W), is available from online
dealers for under £70.
Hard disc drives are so
cheap that you can afford to think big! A 120Gb drive will set you back a little
over £60 but if you’re only using office type applications then a 80Gb should be
more than sufficient, and a bit easier on the pocket at only £45 or so. The key
features to look out for are conformity with the EIDE/ATA standard (UDMA and
Ultra-ATA signify even faster data transfer rates) and it should have a spin
speed of 7200 rpm or faster, though nowadays you would be hard pressed to find
new drives with a lower specification. Last but not least is a floppy disc
drive. If you’ve got an old PC you could cannibalise that but it’s really not
worth the bother as new ones sell for only £6 or £7.
Next week – Build your own PC, part 3, Assembly
Motherboard layout standard, defined by Intel, covering the
size (305 x 244mm), position of sockets, expansion slots and mounting holes
Enhanced Integrated Drive Electronics/ Advanced Technology
Attachment/Ultra Direct Memory Access – technical standards governing data
transfer and power supply requirements for hard disc drives
Local area network
TIP OF THE WEEK
The prices given are only meant as a guide, since they
fluctuate, on a day to day basis in the case of some components, like memory
modules. The key to building a PC on a budget is to shop around but try to buy
as many parts from one supplier as possible, to reduce the shipping costs.
Always pay by credit card, as this will provide you with extra protection,
should a problem arise, and when your packages arrive always check the delivery
notes, to make sure the contents are correct.