Building a computer from scratch

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  • What would anyone who plans on working with networks and hardware be without the ability to understand components and building their own computers?  At one time this was a fairly rare skill, but has become more standard for everyday folks to do.  Still, this skill is something that we should have as it helps us understand the equipment that we use.  This is an older piece, but it goes into detail of how I would go about building a PC within a certain price range for a potential customer.

This computer build will be more on the high end because I tend to use computers for a little of everything instead of just focusing on one thing.  If I were to present this to an employer who wanted a high end PC it would be near exact to this unless they demanded specific things. With high end though comes a higher costs which is a factor because I feel if you don’t have a limit you may spend more then you really need to.  Unless you are rich this is always a factor to keep in mind.  With a limit and wanting a high end computer I may have to cut corners or go with cheaper products in certain areas so it really becomes a balancing act on what to choose, and what you already have.  I will be going with Windows XP as my main OS for this system as I feel I won’t have to worry about any incompatibility issues and I’m used to working with it and can say it is really good.

I never really have a main purpose for a system as I tend to use them for everything, whether it is gaming, internet, work, music, video, editing pictures/audio/video.  Needless to say I usually give them quite a bit of a workout.  I do think this time I want to add a nicer sound card instead of an onboard because of better sound quality if the budget allows it.  I will probably stick with one graphics card and not go SLI right now (but keep this is an optional upgrade later on) This will cause me some headaches trying to choose good hardware with a budget however I am confident in doing so.  I am just one of those people that tend to sit there and say, “well I may want to do this later on so I should make sure this part is good and that part”  It’s all about having options and making it good to run for a few years.

I figure I will set a budget at about $3000 for this computer.  This makes it difficult in having the ultimate PC but it is very doable.  Why do I set a limit?  Well, because if you don’t then you may just spend more money then you really need to like I stated above.  Also, unless you’re rich you are always going to have a budget on what you can purchase so it is a good idea to have this practice now.  Granted I don’t always stick to the budget but those are in extreme headache cases.  I have learned though that I can easily build a great PC for a lot less money then companies try to pawn off on you. (And we know they aren’t always using the high prices parts and brands)

Here is a listing of the hardware and such that I will be purchasing for this system.  I found all products at and since they are quick and reputable, I would stick them to make these purchases.  I will include the price of each and the total (there are no taxes for me).  Since I will be getting them all at the same place, I will just add them all together in a cart and get the complete shipping cost for all products together.

-Motherboard – MSI P6N SLI Platinum:                           $139.99

-CPU – Intel Core 2 Duo E6850:                                        $289.99

-Case – Thermaltake Armor Series VA8003BWS:            $164.99

-PSU – Thermaltake Toughpower W0128RU:                   $149.99

-Ram – CORSAIR XMS2 DOMINATOR 2GB x 2:          $308.00

-HDD – Western Digital Raptor WD1500ADFD:              $184.99

-Video Card – BFG Tech GeForce 8800GTS:                    $425.99

-Sound Card – Sound Blaster X-Fi Platinum Fatal1ty:       $174.99

-Optical Drive – Pioneer DVR-112D DVD +/- R/RW:         $29.99

-Floppy Drive – NEC Black 1.44MB 3.5″ FD1231H-302:      $6.99

-Monitor -   SAMSUNG 206BW Black WS 20”:                $269.99

-Mouse – Razer Copperhead Tempest Blue:                          $55.99

-Keyboard – Logitech G15 Gaming Keyboard:                      $68.99

-WiFi card – LINKSYS WMP54GS IEEE 802.11b/g PCI:    $59.99

-OS – Microsoft Windows XP PRO with SP2:                    $286.99

Total of $2617.86

UPS 3 Day Shipping: $57.43

The MSI P6N SLI Platinum Motherboard:

This motherboard is feature filled and has good specs such as the following:

-An LGA 775 Socket

-Support for Quad Core, Core 2 Extreme, Core 2 Duo.

-FSB speeds of 1333/1066MHz

-Hyper-threading support (which is not needed in my case)

-The North Bridge has an Nvidia nFORCE 650i SLI chip

-The South Bridge has an Nvidia nFORCE 430i chip

-4 Ram 240 pin slots. Support for Dual channel and up to 8GB running DDR2 800.

-Two PCI express X16 slots for SLI technology and one PCI express x1 slot.

-3 normal PCI slots

-2 PATA connections and 4 SATA connections

-Onboard audio using Realtek ALC888 HD with 8 channels (this won’t be used) No onboard video thank god.

-Onboard LAN chip using REALTEK with speeds of 10/100/1000 Mbps.

-The normal 2 PS/2, 1 LPT ports and 4 USB 2.0 ports

-This is an ATX form factor Motherboard with a 24 pin ATX connector.

I chose this motherboard as I knew I wanted to go with an Intel processor and this supports quite a few of them.  I also used an MSI motherboard in my last desktop and it worked great so I wanted to stick with what worked for me.  Reviews were good for this motherboard and it has the speed, it may be a bit lacking in the over clocking but that shouldn’t be needed (always a yin and yang to everything) The FSB is fast and will match the speeds of the processor I was looking at.  The onboard audio won’t be used this time but they seem to come with about every motherboard and no onboard video is great because I never use them.  Including support for floppy, PATA and SATA connections is a plus for me as I plan to use them all.  It gives me great ability to upgrade the RAM also through out its use because of the 8GB that it supports (More Ram always good)   I also needed something that supports SLI because I would like to go in that direction at some point and don’t want to have much headaches in doing so and this supports it with 2 X16 slots.  Overall with having the onboard LAN and the normal USB connections and options in case of future upgrading, I made the right choice.

The next choice was to find the right CPU for me to use on this in which case I chose the Intel Core 2 duo E6850:

A picture was hard to find on this but it said it was it.  This CPU has the following features:

-An LGA 775 Socket to fit in my motherboard

-It is a Dual core processor that runs at 3.0GHz

-The FSB runs at 1333 MHz and matches up with the motherboard.

-2 Cache levels: L1 is 32KB + 32KB and L2 is 4M shared.

-65nm tech which is great!

-64-bit support

-Virtualization technology support.

-MMX, SSE, SSE2, SSE3 and EM64T Multimedia instructions

I chose this CPU for a few different reasons.  After trying out core 2 duo in my laptop I really enjoy the way it works.  I wanted to stick with this trend and the quad cores seem relatively new and expensive yet.  I figure I would save some money going this route.  The reviews mentioned how this CPU Is blazing fast right out of the box (thankfully it includes the heatsink and fan) I always like to hear blazing fast!  The FSB runs at 1333 MHZ which works perfect for my motherboard and no bottlenecks should occur.  Having 2 cache levels is good enough for me and they are sufficient enough.  It runs rather fast for a core at 3.0 GHz which is the area I was looking for.  I wanted to stick with Intel as they have mostly been my own personal choice when it comes to processors. (I just never got into the AMD scene) Never had any problems with Intel and this seemed like the perfect match!  It’s fast, it’s got great reviews, and it’s not overly expensive and works just fine in my motherboard.  This computer is going to be smoking! (Hopefully not literally)

The next step I took was to look for a proper case before getting into much else. This step can really happen anywhere really but I figured I knew I wanted a big case with lots of room and air flow and some style.  I went with the Thermaltake Armor Series VA8003BWS:

This case has the following features:

-ATX/BTX Full Tower

-Side Panel Window

-Micro ATX, ATX, Extend ATX, BTX compatibility

-10 external 5.25” drive bays

-2 external 3.5” drive bays

-6 internal 3.5” drive bays

-7 expansion slots

-Front USB, Audio, and Firewire ports

-2 90mm fans, 2 120mm fans, and 1 250mm side panel fan.

This case kind of stood out to me.  I saw some awesome looking cases with killer designs but they were really pricey.  This had a cheap yet good design factor going for it.  I like to have different type of cases instead of the normal looking things.  I like the side panel with the 250mm fan on it which will easily help keep the system cooled down.  Considering it comes with another four fans is always a plus (2 of which have blue LEDS)  This case is big, which I wanted because I like to have lots of room inside to work with and for future upgrades not to mention more room for airflow.  All the drive bays in the front are a bit overkill but it isn’t too bad.  With adding two optical drives (1 for now) and a floppy drive and having to use the sound card external unit connected to the front bay, it all works out and will look nice.  The blue LEDS are attracting to me (what can I say, I like colors) It has been said that it has a very nice air flow and will keep everything cooled down.  Having 6 internal 3.5” bays is nice for adding lots of hard drives!  The front USB and Firewire ports are always a nice extra option to have just for the fun of it.  All in all, I think this will work just fine.

Next up I needed a power supply as the case does not include one.  After looking around I figured a PSU running between 600-700 watts would work for this setup.  I found one from the same company that made the case.  This is the Thermaltake Toughpower W012RU:

This PSU has the following specs


-650W maximum power

-1 14cm fan

-Active PFC

-20+4 pin Main Connector

-1 12V 4+4 Connector

-6 Sata plugs

-1 floppy plug

-7 peripheral connectors

-2 6pin PCI-E connectors

-Support for SLI

-Up to 85% Efficiency

-Mean Time Before Failures – 120,000 hours

-Dual Core CPU ready

I was happy they offered some good PSU choices.  I always liked to match the PSU with the case brand if possible. This has a maximum of 650 watts and should be fine with this computer build and should do just as well with some future upgrades too.  It has a lot of connectors on it so it will cover what I’m looking to do such as molex, SATA, and PCI express.  The MTBF is good enough for me and the SLI support is just peachy for a future option.  The main connector and 12V will work in the motherboard so we should all be set with this PSU.

So now it was time to find some RAM to put in this bad boy.  The Corsair XMS2 DOMINATOR 2GB (2x1GB) 240-pin DDR2 SDRAM 800 (PC2 6400) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory:

-240 Pin DDR2 SDRAM

-Speed is DDR2 800 (PC2 6400)

-CAS latency is 4

-Capacity 2GB (2 X 1)

-Timing 4-4-4-12


-Dual path Heat Xchange, EPP, and SLI certified

-Dual Channel

I am sticking with Corsair ram because they are highly rated and plus I used them before in my desktop and now in my laptop.  I never ran into any problems with them and they performed well.  With these though, I want to pick up 4 sticks so we’ll have a total of 4GB.  They are 240pin which will fit the motherboard and rated at DDR2 800 which matches the motherboards speed.  They are dual channel and also SLI certified which would furthermore cause us no problem with adding SLI later.  There are of course more expensive models with better over clocking and lower latency but all in all I think these will perform quite well for our system in the price range. Now it was onto the HDD.

The Western Digital Raptor WD1500ADFD:

This HDD has the following specs:

-3.5” Form factor

-Serial ATA150 Connection

-A capacity of 150GB

-10,000 RPM

-16MB Cache

-Average seek time of 4.6ms and an average write time of 5.2ms with a 2.99ms average -latency

-1.2 Million hours MTBF


-1.5Gb/s data transfer rate

I decided to stick with Western Digital like I usually do and went with the Raptor.  I have a Raptor in my other desktop (much small in capacity) and it performed amazingly well!  From experience I chose to get another Raptor with more capacity.  Never ran into any serious problems with Western Digital and feel comfortable going with them again.  This is of course an SATA drive and I would be using that as my motherboard supports it.  I like the fact that it gives you the option to use a molex or SATA power connection.  This drive will be my main OS drive which will run the OS, programs, and games. The 150GB capacity is good enough for that usage for me. Eventually I would like to add on a secondary hard drive for backup uses and such as that is kind of my signature.  I like the cache size on this drive and the fact that it is 10,000 RPM is a lot faster then the average 7200 RPM drives out there.  All in all this is a great pick and from experience, it will perform well.

Next up was the Video card and I wanted to stay with Nvidia. My choice came down to the BFG Tech GeForce 8800GTS:

It contains the following:

-Nvidia Chipset

-PCI express x16 interface

-Geforce 8800 GTS GPU

-Core clock speed of 580MHz

-640MB onboard GDD3 memory

-Memory clock at 1700MHz

-320-bit memory interface

-Support for DirectX 10 and OpenGL 2.0

-2 DVI ports, HDTV/SVIDEO TV out

-SLI support

-Max Resolution of 2650×1600

Does this thing just not look like a beast?  It screams power!  I just love the look of this card!  I knew I wanted to go with Nvidia again and having heard that BFG makes good products I wanted to give them a try.  This card supports SLI which is a big part of choosing it so later on it would be able to go SLI!  It uses the x16 PCI express slot so it will fit just fine.  The 8800 GPU is great and with support for DirectX 10 I would like to think that I am set for the future.  The 640MB onboard GDD3 is quite a lot and I don’t think there will be any problems with this for a long time.  Having DVI ports (which seem to be the new age VGA ports) and options for HDTV and Svideo TV outputs really adds to this card.  With an onboard fan and heatsink to keep it cooled, it should be plenty good.   I am very happy with this card, it is a bit pricey but all the good graphics cards are.  Should be no problem handling games including Crysis.

It was time to find a sound card for this system and I wanted to get more extreme then just using the onboard so I went with the Sound Blaster X-Fi Platinum Fatal1ty

Champion Series:

-X-FI audio Chip

-7.1 Channels

-192 KHz sample rate

-24 bit digital audio

-Line In

-Line out = Front, Rear, Center, Subwoofer, Rear Center

-SPDIF In = Optical and Coaxial

-SPDIF out = Optical and Coaxial

-Mic In


-Headphone Jack


-PCI interface

-External Box adapter and Remote Control

-Gaming Mode

-EAX Advanced HD

-X-Fi Crystalizer

This sound card seems to have everything!  The features sound great and all the ports make me happy.  I love the fact that it has an external box that can sit in the front drive bay which has tons of jacks and ports with easier access then having to get behind the computer all the time.  It is a PCI card so it will be fine in my motherboard.  The remote control is a neat add on for it, I would probably end up using it!  7.1 Channels is great although I don’t have a 7.1 surround sound system, it still is a nice option for the future.  It seems to have very clear sound output and reading up on the X-FI Crystalizer makes it sound amazing.  Seeing as I listen to music and mp3’s so much, that would be a great feature to have.  It can also turn stereo music and movies into surround sound which I would love to try out.  I am excited about this sound card!

Next up was to find a good reader/burner for all uses. I went with the Pioneer 112D DVD+/-R:


-2MB Cache



-Maximum write speeds:  +/- DVDR 18X, DVD+RW 8X, DVD-RW 6X, DVD+/- DL —10X, CD-R 40x, CD-RW 32X.

-Maximum Read Speeds: DVDROM 16x, CDROM 40X

-5” form factor

-Black Panel

-Loading tray mechanism

-Quiet Drive Technology

I have used Pioneer burners for the past 5 years I believe and they had worked rather well for me.  Usually rated well and performance is good.  I stuck with the formula and went with the 112D.  I was thinking of getting a blu-ray burner but they are pretty expensive right now.  This drive has nearly everything, reading and writing nearly all the kind of optical discs available.  I burn CD’s, I burn DVD’s, I burn Dual layers so it works out for me.  The read and write speeds are normal and are good enough for me.  Ratings were good on this and it uses the older E-IDE/ATAPI interface which is fine for me as my mother can handle that and I kind of like to split the optical and hard drives apart a bit.  The quiet drive technology is a nice feature although I think the cache may be a bit small but with burn proof technology these days, it doesn’t really matter.  Overall, secondary optical drive can be added at some point but this will work fine and is not expensive.

Next up I decided to go old school and add a floppy drive.  The NEC Black 1.44MB 3.5″FD1231H-302 is the model I chose for this.  What can I really say about this? It’s a floppy drive!!  I chose this just because I always like to have a floppy drive installed just in case.  I guess I still haven’t completely moved on from them yet.  It’s a cheap option to have installed so why not?  It is black with a 3.5” form factor.  What is more to say about a floppy drive?

Now it was time to search for a monitor.  It had to be LCD and widescreen is a plus now, I found the SAMSUNG 206BW Black WS 20”:

-20” Widescreen

-Maximum and Recommended Resolution 1680×1050

-Viewing angle: 160°(H) / 160°(V)

-Pixel Pitch: .258mm

-16.7 Million Display colors

-300 cd/m2 brightness

-Contrast Ratio 800:1 (Dynamic of 3000:1)

-2ms Response time

-WSXGA+ Display Type

-D-sub and DVI-D connections

-Dimensions 18.7”x15.6”x8.6”

I went with Samsung because they are a pretty popular name and I feel confident with them in the monitor department.  I have a 40” LCD HDTV from them and its amazing which made me feel more confident in choosing this.  Good reviews, great specs, and very good pricing.  Having widescreen is becoming a must and a standard and with a 20 inch screen, this will be perfect.  The response rate is only 2ms which is very good and I bet ghosting will be no issue with this.  The contrast ratio is not bad and should provide enough for great colors.  Two connection options are good to have and should work just fine.  I’m real happy that I found this monitor with its sleek black design as it should provide a beautiful display for this computer.

Now it was time to search for a mouse and I ended up finding the Razer Copperhead:

-Wired USB mouse

-Laser tracking

-7 Buttons / 1 wheel

-Blue light display

-2000 maximum DPI

-1000Hz ultrapolling with 1ms response time

-32KB onboard memory

I got one of these with my laptop only in green color.  I love the feel and response of it which is why I wanted to get one for this.  I went with the tempest blue color to match the desktop a bit more.  I don’t mind wired USB because then I don’t have to worry about changing batteries all the time.  Laser tracking is always great and I wouldn’t want to go back to the older kind.  The maximum dpi is very good and causes the mouse sensitivity to be spot on.  I like the onboard memory and the fact that you can upgrade the firmware on this is just neat.   The buttons can be programmed to what you want and the fact that is has buttons on it are nice options. It is a very nice mouse which is great for gaming and fine for normal use.

Now for the keyboard, a Logitech G15 Gaming Keyboard:

-USB keyboard

-Standard design style

-Detachable palm rest

-104 normal keys

-34 Function keys

-Gamepanel LCD

-Illuminated characters

-18 Programmable G Keys

This keyboard looks awesome!  Coming from Logitech I would suspect a good product as I have used them for quite awhile now in the mouse and keyboard department. This keyboard has an interesting twist with an LCD game panel display built into it!  That is such a cool idea as it displays information about the game on the fly.  The keys are can be illuminated so you can see them when it is dark, nice!  Having a detachable palm rest is common and once again nice.  This keyboard will rock the gaming and everyday needs.

So the next item was to make sure I had something to connect to a Wireless router as this is common now.  So I went with the LINKSYS WMP54GS:


-Date rates up to 54Mbps

-64bit and 128bit WEP and WPA Security

-32bit PCI interface

-2.4GHz Frequency Band

-Speedbooster technology

I already had used one of these to go along with my Linksys wireless router.  It worked great for me and I never had any problem with it.  Speedbooster technology is nice to have and I could tell the boost in performance and overall signal quality.  The PCI interface would be fine in the motherboard and it should be no problem setting it up.  I like having the WIFI and LAN available on the PC and I just love using WIFI now.  It is so convenient.  Now it is time to check out the OS.

Microsoft Windows XP Professional:

Windows XP is the most used OS out there currently and has been around since 2001.  It comes in many different flavors like full or upgrade, home or professional, 32bit and 64bit and even a media center edition!  It’s a combination of the strengths and power from Windows 2000 and the features from Windows 98 and ME.  With a very sleek design, ease of use, and compatibility, it is a great OS.

I chose this Windows XP Professional Full because it isn’t lacking anything like the home versions.  Also for this being a “fresh” computer, it was important to get the full/clean install instead of the upgrade which would have been pointless.  Always must make sure what you are purchasing!  I have used Windows XP Pro for a few years now on a daily basis and really it is a good OS.  I stuck with it because Vista is simply just not at the point of being trustworthy and it is incompatible with many things yet.  I feel Windows XP is very stable and all of the components for this new PC are compatible with it.  The only problem I see is that we aren’t able to take advantage of DirectX 10 as that can only be used in Vista.  XP can use up to Direct X 9.c I believe, which is still fine and with our graphics card we will be rocking.  I have no doubt at some point we will be switching to Vista, in fact I’m sure it will be a must at some point.  When that time comes we will be ready with DirectX 10, but for now we are absolutely fine with Windows XP and DirectX 9.  Other then that, this comes with Service Pack 2 already including and recent updates (Depending on when the disc was produced)  and our system easily meeting the system requirements, it will be fine.

I haven’t usually strayed away from Windows which is what made me choose to stay with this trend.  I know how to use Windows, I am comfortable using windows.  When it comes to applications and games, there is a good chance it will use windows.  XP has been out long enough to be updated and stabilized as Service Pack 2 shows us.  What I mean by that is that you won’t run into many incompatibility issues and the system won’t be crashing every 30 minutes.  It has a feature called system restore which I like because it’s always good to have some sort of backup and this allows you to go back to a certain date before your computer went psycho and that is always a good thing.  Another thing I like is the support for the NTFS file system.  I like NTFS and will use it at all times possible due to its support for large files and general efficiency.  I also like XP for its design and ease of use to navigate around the system itself. Vista may look prettier but not by much, XP is still solid.  From playing games to burning CD’s, from viewing pictures to surfing the net, from playing video to making a play list of mp3’s, you can do it all on here.

-MSI P6N SLI Platinum Motherboard:                                     $144.99

-Intel Core 2 Duo E6850 3GHz CPU:                                        $279.99

-Thermaltake Armor Series VA8003BWS Case:                      $169.99

-Thermaltake Tough Power W0128RU 650Watt PSU:             $149.99

-Corsair XMS2 Dominator 2GB RAM(x2):                              $308.00

-Western Digital Raptor WD1500ADFD 150GB HDD:           $179.99

-BFG Tech Geforce 8800GTS 640MB Video Card:                 $425.99

-Creative Sound Blaster X-FI Platinum Fatal1ty Champion:    $179.99

-Pioneer DVR-112D DVD+/-R Optical Drive:                           $29.99

-NEC Black 1.44MB Internal Floppy Drive:                                $6.99

-Samsung 206BW 20” Widescreen LCD Monitor:                   $269.99

-Razer Copperhead Tempest Blue Mouse:                                  $55.99

-Logitech G15 Gaming Keyboard:                                               $68.99

-Linksys WMP54GS IEEE 802.11b/g Wireless G Adapter:        $59.99

-Microsoft Windows XP PRO SP2:                                            $286.99

Total of: $2617.86

UPS 3 Day shipping combined: $57.43

Grand Total: $2675.29

Project Summary:

I enjoyed this project and I had fun with it.  I have built a few computers for myself and other people but it has been 3 years since the last one I built.  What I enjoyed doing was going through and really taking a look at all the new technology out there right now compared to my last build.  It gave me a good idea on what kind of things I will be adding to my new build far in advance before actually doing it.  The people that I have built computers for had never complained about the builds.  Usually I will ask them beforehand what they want to use it for and how much are they willing to spend, and then I would spend some time researching to find best prices and best products.

This project in it self wasn’t completely tailored to an employer or specific person besides me.  My idea behind this is what would I want if I was going to put together a higher end machine and what would I expect from a high end machine on a budget?  If I was presenting this to an employer this is what I would recommend.  I did not include a printer with this build as to save some money.  I myself don’t usually use printers at all anymore and I haven’t had my own for years until about two or three weeks ago when I decided to buy a scanner for the fun of it and it happens to be that printer/scanner combos are quite popular and available everywhere!  I consider scanners, USB drives, webcams, SD cards etc. extra items.  Stuff you buy for your computer after you actually get your computer.  I figured if someone wanted those then they would simply go out and buy them as they usually aren’t too difficult to choose from.  I think this project is a cool final and it helped refresh things that we learned from the course.  If I didn’t know any of this stuff beforehand, I would have been lost doing it without this course.  It taught a lot of fundamentals and such and definitely gets you ready to do so.  This project shows if you learned anything because you can’t do this without either knowing it or reading all of that.  I learned new stuff myself and it actually helped me look out for more details on things.  This project itself has got me really wanting to build a computer right now!  In fact this build is quite nice and I can bet the real thing will be similar to this.

I didn’t spend the complete budget and still have money left which is a great feeling!  It means I was expecting to pay a lot more and ended up building a beast with less.  Obviously there are much better components out there at higher prices but I am very satisfied.  So my own extra money I saved could go for stuff like an extra HDD or an extra optical, maybe a USB stick or that second graphics card to complete the SLI right now.  It is all about options!

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