This depends on your situation; if your computer is more than four years old, chances are that most of the parts will be too old, slow or incompatible for your new machine. On the other hand, if you are upgrading from a fairly new machine, you may be able to use many of the parts. All of this assumes the old computer will no longer be used. If you, or someone else, is going to continue using your old computer, it’s probably best just to leave it intact.One important point – if you are selling your old computer it’s a good idea to erase the hard drive before giving it to its new owner. Special precautions must be taken to ensure that you are not giving away your sensitive or personal information. Don’t forget that a simple ‘delete’ command does not actually erase the data on your hard drive. The original data will still be present and can later be recovered by someone else using special programs and/or equipment. To avoid this, programs are available that will effectively ‘shred’ your data, making it unrecoverable. Driver floppies or CD’s that come with some hard drives may also have programs to do this, that write 0s or 1s (either way, “blankness”) to the whole drive. Lower-tech approaches include drilling a few holes in the drive or taking a blowtorch to it. Obviously, either prevents it from being used again (Be planet friendly and try to avoid this).Since monitor technology moves quite slowly, you can probably keep your current monitor and use it on the new computer if it’s of sufficient size and clarity for your work. The same can go for keyboards, as well as mice, printers, scanners, and possibly speaker sets. On the inside, you may be able to take out the floppy drive, CD-ROM drive, and possibly the sound card and hard drive (depending on how good they are, of course). Sometimes so much is used from the old computer, that the line between an upgrade and a new computer can become blurred.Reusing a hard drive is an easy way to keep data from your old computer. With most Windows operating systems moving a boot drive from one motherboard to another will entail a series of reboots and installation of new drivers. In the case of newer Windows systems, like 2000 and XP, an entire ‘refresh install’ may be necessary to allow Windows to install a new Hardware Abstraction Layer. Back up your data before trying this.Finding Parts
Once you have decided what you’re going to use your computer for, and have reviewed which parts are available for reuse, you should make a list of what components you will need to buy. A few hours of research can save you years of regret, so make sure that the computer you build will do what you need it to do.
Computer terminology can be confusing, so if there are terms you don’t understand, be sure to look them up. Wikipedia is an excellent place to start if, for example, you’re not clear on the difference between, say, DDR and DDR2 memory.
There are several places to buy parts:
- Internet retailers generally offer the best price for new parts. If a part needs to be returned, you may be stuck for the shipping; check return policies before you purchase.
- Auction sites like eBay and several others offer very good prices for used parts. This is especially useful for parts which do not wear out. Returns can be problematic or impossible. Some auctions may not be legitimate. Always check the shipping cost before you bid.
- Local PC shops – Their prices are often higher, but they may make up for this by providing a lot of expertise. Get opinions from other sources, however, as they may be eager to sell you parts you don’t need.
- Big local retailers often lack technical expertise and charge higher prices, but can be useful because they usually handle returns quickly. Also good if you need something right away.
- Trade shows that occur from time to time also provide a good place to shop, as the prices are often significantly reduced, and the variety of prefabricated computers built towards specific computing needs tend to be higher.
Also, your local town dump may have a special section for computers and monitors that others have got rid of. These can be more or less brand new computers with trivial problems such as a busted power supply or faulty cables. Of course if the dump does have such a section, you should ask permission of those in charge. They’re usually glad to let you go through it, but don’t leave a mess. Taking advantage of this can yield incredible finds, with a price tag of nothing or very little.
OEM Versus Retail Parts
Many hardware manufacturers will sell the same components in both OEM and Retail versions. Retail hardware is intended to be sold to the end-user through retail channels, and will come fully packaged with manuals, accessories, software, etc. OEM stands for “original equipment manufacturer”; items labeled as such are intended to be sold in bulk for use by firms which integrate the components into their own products.
However, many online stores will offer OEM hardware at cheaper prices than the corresponding retail versions. You will usually receive such an item by itself in an anti-static bag. It may or may not come with a manual or a CD containing drivers. Warranties on OEM parts may often be shorter, and sometimes require you to obtain support through your vendor, rather than the manufacturer. OEM components are also sometimes specified differently than their retail counterparts, parts may be clocked slower, and ports or features may be missing. Some of the support may be less (as in the case of Microsoft). Again, do your research.
Important Factors When Choosing Computer Parts
Many things should be taken into account when deciding what parts to buy. Below are some things to consider.
You’ll want to make sure that all the parts you buy work together without problems. The CPU, the motherboard, and the RAM in particular must be compatible with each other. Check the motherboard manufacturer’s web site; most will list compatible RAM and processors. Often quality RAM that is not on the approved list (but is of the proper type) will work anyway, but the manufacturers list of processors should be rigidly adhered to.
Again, you’ll also want to make sure that your operating system supports the hardware you choose. Windows is supported by almost everything, though watch out for older components if you’re planning on using Vista or higher. If you have any interest in running Linux, MacOS or another operating system now or in the future, buy parts that are supported by that OS (Operating System). It is also worth checking around the Internet to make sure there is no history of your chosen components clashing (e.g. certain combinations of hardware causing instability, crashing, etc.)
Ergonomics is the science of designing things so that they work with the human body. This is obviously important when choosing peripherals such as a keyboard or mouse but should also be considered when selecting a monitor, and especially when setting up the computer for your use. If your wrist hurts or you’re getting a crick in your neck, look at the physical setup of your computer, check your chair height and posture. An ounce of prevention here can avert troublesome repetitive strain injuries. Learning to type without looking down at the keyboard is very useful for avoiding neck strain.
Modern components, notably processors, GPUs, RAM, and some elements on the motherboard, are very small and draw a lot of power. A small area doing a lot of work with a lot of power leads to high temperatures. Various factors can cause electronic parts to break down over time and all of these factors are exacerbated by heat. Very high temperatures can burn out chips almost instantly, while running hot can shorten the useful life of a part, so the cooler we can make these parts, the better.
If you are not going to overclock your system, stock air cooling, when paired with a good case with adequate fans, should be enough to keep your system cool. If you want a quiet computer then components designed for passive (fan-less) cooling can be paired with very low noise case fans (or a well-vented case). In general, high-end parts will require more attention to cooling.
To keep your system at a proper operating temperature, you can monitor vital components with software (which usually comes with your motherboard). If you are seeing high temps, make sure the interior of your case is dust free, and remember that most cooling solutions can not reduce the temperature of your computer parts below room temperature. Of course, unless you happen to have your computer outdoors in a climate such as the Sahara, room temperature will be well within the thermal limits of any component on your computer.
Which brings us to overclocking. It’s specialty cooling solutions that make overclocking possible, a processor that might run stable at a maximum of 3.3 GHz at 60C could hit speeds as high as 5 GHz with specialized cooling systems. A sensible person wanting a 20% overclock could add a special fan/heatsink to his CPU and some extra case fans. An enthusiast seeking a major overclock might go with a water-cooling solution for the CPU and GPU and sometimes other chips. The real fanatics have been known to use liquid nitrogen or total immersion in pure water or oil. You should not try any of the more extreme solutions unless you really know what you’re doing.
Today, there are a wide array of hardware components and peripherals tailored to fit every home computing need and budget. With all these options to choose from, it can be a bit overwhelming if you’ve never bought computer parts before. Shop around and remember to factor in shipping and handling, and taxes. Some places may be priced a bit higher, but offer perks such as free shipping, limited warranties, or 24-hour tech support. Many websites, such as CNET and ZDNet offer comprehensive reviews, user ratings, and links to stores, including price comparisons.
Since prices for any given part are always falling, it’s tempting to just wait until the part you want goes down in price. Unfortunately the reason prices decline is that better/faster parts are coming out all the time, so the part you want this year that costs $500 may well be $200 next year, but by that time you won’t want it any more, you’ll want the new, better part that still costs $500. At some point you’ve got to get on the bus and ride, even if the prices are still falling.
Usually the best bet is to buy just behind the bleeding edge, where, typically, you can get 90% of the performance of the top of the line part for 50% or 60% of the price. That last 10% is very expensive and if you don’t need it, you can save a lot of money with the second-tier part.
It’s a good idea to think about future upgradeability when selecting some components. While the computer that you’re building today may be fine for your current needs you may want to upgrade it later. So look for components that support the newest standards and have room for future expansion, like a motherboard that will allow you to fit more memory than you are planning to use, or a case that has room for extra hard drives. If your current machine is maxed out the only possible upgrade is often a new machine.
You may also find that by over-specifying in some areas you can save money on others, e.g. if you don’t currently need fantastic sound but you do need IEEE1394 (Firewire, iLink) then you might want to purchase a sound card anyway as some of the higher end sound cards also have a IEEE1394 port.
If money is no object, this is an easy question; just buy the most powerful components you can find. If, like most of us, there are limits to what you can/want to spend, then focus on those areas where more powerful parts will pay off for you and scrimp on others. Always look for that sweet spot on the price/performance curve where you get the most bang for your buck.
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