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Cheat Sheet

Build Your Own PC Do-It-Yourself For Dummies

Whether you want to build a basic, mid-range, or high-end PC, make sure you have the necessary components and follow some general commonsense rules for easy assembly of your PC. Once you have your PC together, get to know the beep codes your computer will make and what they mean.

What You Need to Build a Basic PC

The basic, no-frills model PC will cost you the least to build. This type of computer is great for word processing, Internet e-mail, keeping track of finances, and simple applications that don’t need lots of memory or a fast computer. Here’s a list of equipment you need to build an entry level PC:

Computer Component What to Look For
Case Standard “pizza-box,” ATX minitower, or desk-top model; single fan
CPU/motherboard Intel Celeron or AMD Sempron; PCI slots
System RAM 512MB
Hard drive One EIDE drive, 120GB minimum
Optical drive 16x internal DVD drive
Video card Standard 128MB PCI/AGP adapter
Sound card PCI audio card
Monitor 17-inch LCD
Ports At least four USB 2.0 ports
Input Standard keyboard; mouse

Equipment for Building a Mid-Range PC

If you’re looking for a computer to browse the Web, e-mail, use simple desktop publishing software, or work with more advanced productivity programs (like spreadsheets and scheduling applications), then a standard model PC is for you. Here’s the equipment you'll need to build this PC:

Computer Component What to Look For
Case ATX minitower model; dual fan
CPU/motherboard Intel Core 2 Duo or AMD 64 Athlon X2; PCI and PCI-Express slots
System RAM 1GB
Hard drive One EIDE or SATA drive, 240GB minimum
Optical drive 16x internal DVD recorder
Modem 56 Kbps v.90 internal data/fax, cable/DSL modem for broadband
Video card Standard 256MB PCI-Express 3-D video adapter with NVIDIA or TI graphics chipset
Sound card PCI audio card with Surround Sound
Monitor 19-inch LCD
Ports Four USB 2.0 ports, digital media card reader, and one FireWire port
Input Standard keyboard; mouse

Making Sense of PC Beep Code Descriptions

If your computer starts beeping, don’t worry; your PC is trying to tell you something. Here’s a guide to those PC beeps and what they mean:

Number of Beeps What Your PC is Telling You
Single short beep Normal boot
Repeating short beeps Problem with power supply or motherboard
Repeating long beeps Problem with RAM modules
One long, two short beeps Problem with video card
No beep Problem with power supply, CPU installation, or PC speaker

What You Need to Build a Top-of-the-Line PC

If you want to build a first-class computer — a PC that does advanced computational work (like video editing), plays the latest computer games, and has high-quality video — then here’s the equipment you'll need to build this power user’s dream:

Computer Component What to Look For
Case Full-tower model; dual or triple fan
CPU/motherboard The fastest doggone Core 2 Extreme Edition or Athlon Phenom processor available; PCI and PCI-Express slots
System RAM 2GB to 4GB
Hard drive One SATA drive, 500GB minimum
Optical Drive 16x dual-layer Blu-ray/DVD recorder
Floppy drive One 3.5-inch, 1.44MB disk drive
Modem Cable/DSL modem for broadband
Video card PCI-Express 3-D adapter, 512MB minimum of video memory; NVIDIA or ATI graphics chipset with TV tuner
Sound card PCI audio card with Surround Sound, 3-D positional sound, hardware MP3 encoding
Monitor 21-inch widescreen LCD display
Ports Four to six USB ports, one FireWire port, digital media card reader, and one eSATA port
Input Ergonomic keyboard with extra Windows keys, trackball

Commonsense Rules for Computer Assembly

When you’re ready to put your PC together, keep these things in mind when you’re handling and connecting the computer parts to make assembly quicker, easier, and safer:

  • Give yourself plenty of elbow room and adequate lighting.

  • Ground yourself on a metal surface before handling any components.

  • Don’t start without all the parts and components. If you don’t have everything that you need to finish one whole step of the PC-building process, stopping halfway through makes it easy to miss a step or forget something.

  • Treat your components carefully. Don’t drop a part on the floor or toss it to a friend. Never bend a circuit board or an adapter card. If something doesn’t seem to fit, take out the component, check the instructions again, and try it a different way.

  • Read all documentation that comes with each device.

  • Keep the manuals for all your parts together for easy reference.

  • Save your boxes and receipts. You might find yourself stuck with a new defective item, and you’ll need the original packaging to return it.

  • Use bowls to hold small parts. Or, if you’re a true techno-nerd, get thee to a hardware store and buy one of those wall racks with all the little compartments.

  • Keep a magnetic screwdriver handy to pick up wayward screws.

  • Check all connections after you install a part.

  • Leave the computer cover off while you test your new device first. As long as you don’t touch any circuit boards inside the case, you’ll be fine.

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