Images by John 'K'

Life as seen through my lens…

Building a PC from scratch……

I can understand why PC manufacturers charge what they do for packaged PCs….. If you’ve ever built a PC from scratch and worked to configure it into a usable system, you’ll know how painful it can be……
First there’s the hardware. If you’re building from scratch chances are you’ve sourced components from all over the place, and probably done it with the cheapest available that fit your needs. Of course, this means that the components rarely come with all the screws, cables, and connectors that you need to link everything together, so you’ll need IDE cables, floppy cables (if putting a floppy disk in), CD audio cables (if you’ve chosen a CD/DVD drive that doesn’t supply them as standard, a plentiful supply of screws (your case supplier might have given you these if you’re lucky), and most importantly a connection to the Internet from another computer (as the disks supplied with the components you have will rarely have the latest available drivers on them). So, best advice, check you have EVERYTHING you need before you start the job of piecing the thing together!
Don’t rush things – if you do you can end up missing vital connections, plugging things in the wrong place, hurting yourself (the metal insides of most computer cases are dangerous places), or damaging the stuff you’ve just purchased. USE ANTI-STATIC PRECAUTIONS – last thing you want is a static shock taking out something vital! Read all the instructions (even if you think you know it all) as chances are something on at least one of the pieces you’re trying to piece together is non-standard!
With everything pieced together, and before you put the sides on, connect a keyboard and monitor and do a basic power-up test to 1) see that the system recognises everything that you’ve just added at a basic hardware level, and 2) set the BIOS settings appropriately before you start to install an operating system. Refer to the motherboard manual for what the various settings are. You might also want to check the web for a BIOS update for the motherboard and put this on before you go much further.
Assuming you have all the hardware up and running OK, you next need to install an operating system if you want to do anything useful with this hunk of bits you’ve just put together. I won’t recommend one over another as there are many and varied reasons people choose different O/S’s, but I was installing Windows XP Professional.
So be prepared after the base install to apply service packs and other updates, and there are likely to be a number of reboots required as you go. Something I learned fairly early on when installing/building computers is as soon as you have access to the gard disk and removable media, copy all the install files and driver files and service pack update files to the hard disk, as it makes the whole install/patch/upgrade process so much quicker and easier. Remember to install using the updated drivers you downloaded from that other Internet enabled computer you have handy!
Once you have the basic O/S installed and updated, make sure that you put on antivirus, antispyware and firewall software, even if some of this comes free with the O/S. Commercially available options work way better than the free stuff supplied with the O/S. Again I won’t recommend which ones – there’s plenty of advice out there already, but I will say that a combination of Norton AntiVirus, ZoneAlarm Pro, Windows Defender, Spybot Search and Destroy, and Ad-Aware have helped keep the PCs I have at home pretty free of troublesome software. A tip though – if building this computer for another family member, lock down the settings of all such software such that they can’t turn it off when it becomes a little inconvenient!
Then there’s the set of ‘useful utilities’ that you can’t live without. Software to cope with compressed archives, software to enhance the capabilities of the basic user interface shell (Windows PowerToys for XP for example), the various "can’t live without" applications (Microsoft Office for example) that you will use on a regular basis.
With all of this done, you have the basis of a working and usable computer. There’ll still be other stuff to go on, such as printer drivers and setup, CD/DVD writer software, DVD player software, games, enhanced disk defragmentation software, and so on.
Most importantly, install some form of backup software that’ll allow you to back up a full image of what you’ve just done such that you can boot from a recovery CD and restore all of that hard work if something really gets screwed up. I use Acronis True Image for this, but there are many other options. Starting from scratch, it can take many hours to get to the state where you’re ready to create this basic recovery image, and actually maing that image can save you repeating the whole thing over again when something goes bad. Also, you can use this software to take regular backups once you start using the PC so that you’re never exposed to significant data loss in the event of some catastrophy!
If you like playing with this stuff, even with all of the work involved, building your own PC is a rewarding experience, as you end up with a PC that works how YOU want it, and not how some PC manufacturer THINKS you want it. If you’re a computer novice however, don’t go this route without really making sure you know what you’re letting yourself in for, as you’ll most likely end up with something that doesn’t work as expected, and you’ll spend so much time trying to get it working right that any potential savings will be wasted.

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