Building Your First Computer!

Nirvan Panjwani

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If you have ever decided that your computer is running slow or you want to run games at higher resolutions than your console can, perhaps building a computer may be the right choice for you. It can appear to be a daunting task to beginners to the hobby, so this article aims to give you help with doing so with a general overview.

The processor, or CPU, is like the brain of the computer. It does all of the main computing in the computer and allows basic processes to occur. The processor is installed into the motherboard into one of two types of sockets, used by the different manufacturers, Intel and AMD. Their processors have to be installed into motherboards specific for the CPU and the manufacturer. Intel CPUs are installed in a few steps, starting with lifting the metal arm and pulling it away from the socket, lifting the metal cover. Line up the CPU using the gold triangle on the cpu and a corresponding triangle on the socket, being careful not to bend any pins, and placing it in the socket. Lower the metal plate and the arm to hold the CPU in place. AMD processors are installed by lifting the arm in the socket, lining up the triangles on the CPU and socket, and lowering the arm.

Current-generation processors are of two different architectures: Coffee Lake from Intel and Zen from AMD. The CPU that will serve you best depends on your use. For the maximum possible gaming performance, the Intel processors called the i5-8600k and the i7-8700k are favored, costing around $200 and $300, respectively. If you are not gaming at high resolutions or at a high refresh rate, then AMD’s Ryzen processors based on the Zen architecture are very good value options, specifically the Ryzen 3 1200 for mid-range gaming and the Ryzen 5 1600/2600 for general use, all costing about $80, $160, and $200.

There are different types of motherboards as well, from different manufacturers and with different “chipsets”, which control ports and essential actions on the motherboard. Certain CPUs must be used with different motherboards and chipsets to unlock functionality such as overclocking, which can be accomplished on motherboards with chipsets Z170, Z270, Z370, B350, X370, and X470. (Z chipsets are Intel-only, while B350, X370, and X470 are AMD-only). In general, builders usually choose overclocking-capable motherboards with overclockable CPUs.

The part of your computer that actually affects gaming the most is the graphics card. Depending on what type of gaming you intend to do, your needs will be very different. For not-so-demanding games such as Overwatch and Fortnite, a $80 GT 1030 or $120 GTX 1050 will suffice. Midrange titles may require a $160 GTX 1050 ti or a $225-250 GTX 1060 3gb may be necessary, and most people will at most only need a GTX 1060 6gb at $250-300, although there are higher-end parts for extreme cases. All GT and GTX cards are made by Nvidia, and AMD is also a competitor, although their graphics cards are relatively scarce. However, some equivalent cards are an RX 550 is about equal to a GT 1030, an RX 560 to a GTX 1050, an RX 570 to a GTX 1050 ti and an RX 580 to a GTX 1060. The graphics cards slots into a PCIe slot on your motherboard.

Random Access Memory, or RAM, is where a CPU holds files until they need to be used again. The more you have, the more applications you can have open. Eight gigabytes is usually enough for most people, although if you like having lots of Chrome tabs open, you may benefit from having 16 gigabytes. All modern processors use DDR4 RAM, and it is all compatible with other DDR4 RAM. It comes in “sticks” that are installed in a slot in the motherboard. There are usually 4 slots. A single stick can have up to 16 gigabytes on it, although it is better to use two 8 gigabyte sticks for improved memory speed. System memory comes in higher and lower qualities, although the differences are minor. DDR4 RAM is rated in mhz (megahertz) and usually begins at 2133mhz and goes up to 4600mhz, although faster RAM kits get exponentially more expensive, up to $25 per gigabyte, compared to $10 per gigabyte at 2133-2666mhz.

The case is the most visible part of the computer, as it holds all your parts. Most modern cases have clear side panels that allow you to see your parts. Case choice is almost entirely subjective, although popular cases include the NZXT S340, around $60 and coming in different colors, the S340 Elite, around $90 with a full tempered glass side panel rather than an acrylic one, and the Cooler Master MasterBox Lite 5, costing around $60 as well and coming with 3 RGB LED fans and a full side and front panel.

The storage that you use in your computer does not change performance much, but there is one critical difference between the two types: Hard drives and solid state drives. Hard drives are often cheaper, usually around $50 for 1 terabyte (1000 gigabytes) and $80 for 3 terabytes (3000 gigabytes). Solid state drives are more expensive but far faster. They allow for extremely fast booting of the computer and quick texture loading in games. They can cost about $80 for 250 gigabytes for a usual 2.5 inch drive mounted around the case that requires cables to run, and about $120 for 250 gigabytes for an m.2 form factor drive that needs no cables and is faster.

Finally, the power supply is responsible for converting 120/240v power to the three major voltages and 1 minor voltage uses internally in computers, 3.3v, 5v, 12v, and -12v. It is extremely important not to cut corners on the power supply in your system. Using a cheap power supply can destroy other parts and/or potentially start a fire. Generally it is a good idea to look up a power supply you are looking at buying and look up reviews for it, although generally the brands EVGA, SeaSonic, and Corsair are usually good choices. Try and choose an efficient enough power supply, generally 80 Plus Bronze or better. The power supply has cables that need to be connected to all the parts that require power.

With all that, keep in mind that this is a very basic overview. I recommend that you look up a video build guide to get a better idea of what you need to do. You will also need to purchase a copy of Windows, which unfortunately costs $100 unless you have another source or you already have a copy. Be careful, and if you are ever unsure about anything, look it up. Good luck and happy computer building!

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Nirvan Panjwani, Contributor

Nirvan is an eight grader in Millburn Middle School and he takes French. He loves math, making movies and playing tennis. He also takes interest in electronics,...

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