My Experience: Building a Computer

As the name indicates, this is a documentation of my experience building a PC. It doesn’t actually teach you how to build a computer. It just tells you how I started my plan, chose the parts and how the final machine looks and performs.

I wanted to build a computer because I wanted to try out how to put a working piece of machinery together and also my mom’s aging Pentium 200 is as slow as a snail, even for the dainty task of web surfing. Originally I wanted to build a computer for her so she doesn’t have to read a book while waiting for web pages to load. But after a while, I changed my plan and decided to build one for myself. I just bought a computer not very long ago. It was a Compaq tower with a Celeron 2.5Ghz processor. It was a major improvement over my mother’s old comp but it isn’t quite suited for the games I wanted to play. For one thing, the Compaq had intergrated graphics, which steals system memory and gives poor performance. I can play games, but they lag every so often. But for web surfing, this machine is more than adequate, so I wanted to give this machine to my mother.

I started to plan this in April of 2004, just after I completed a work experience placement at a computer refurbish shop. I learned a lot of things about how to put hardware together during the work experience, and got lots of hands on practice too. As I have said before, originally I planned to build a computer for my mom. It would have been a cheap machine about equal to the Compaq I have. This was my original plan:

Part Description Price (in CAN $
CPU AMD Athlon XP 2400+ retail with heatsink $101
Motherboard Syntax Socket A board $9.98 (special price)
RAM 256MB PC2100 $55
Hard disk Western Digital Special Edition 160GB Got it for free*
Video Card PNY Geforce4 MX440 64 MB AGP 8x $39.97
Optical CD-RW about $30
Case + Power Generic case with at least 300W power supply about $40
Floppy Floppy drive Free**
Case Fan Any that will fit the case About $5 each
Keyboard + Mouse Doesn’t matter what brand, as long as they work. Optical mouse Hopefully $15
OS Windows XP Professional Already have it
Total Cost + 14.5% Tax $338.86

Okay, so this was my plan at the beginning of April. The prices were also from that time. This was just a rough plan as you can see. Some of the parts haven’t been decided yet. Compared to the Compaq I was using, this is a slight improvement. The Athlon can edge out the Celeron in performance. The video card is an improvement over the integrated solution, but the mx440 is still outdated. The hard disk in this computer is also better than the 80 gig in the Compaq. Since this computer will perform better than the Compaq, little old selfish me decided that I will use this computer and give the Compaq to mom. She doesn’t play any games, and the Compaq will surf the web just fine. (Note*: I bought this drive at a Boxing Day sale. It had a rebate that cut its price in half. In a stroke of luck, the rebate people mailed me two checks instead of one, so I basically got this drive for free. ** I was going to take the floppy from the old computer.)

It was April and my schoolwork was beginning to pile up. I can get through my homework but didn’t have time for much else, let alone building a computer, so the original plan was tucked away in my journal and I didn’t bother to check it for a long time. I still went to the store websites to check for prices every few days.

Finally July came and summer vacation started. I was free from school and can concentrate on my project. After careful deliberation and consulting with my father, who would finance this whole thing, I decided to make a cheap performance machine rather than just a cheap barebones machine. In the middle of July, I bought the following components:

Part Description Price (in CAN $)
CPU AMD Athlon XP 2500+ retail with heatsink $109.99
Motherboard Soltek 75FRN2-L Nforce2 Ultra Socket A $79.98
RAM 512MB Samsung DDR400 $109.98
Hard disk Western Digital Special Edition 160GB Got it for free
Video Card Mad Dog Nvidia GeforceFX 5600 128MB AGP 8x $113.99 with $40 mail-in rebate
Optical BenQ 1650S 16x DVD ROM $29.99
Case + Power Powmax 212-4HL 17 inch case with 400W power supply and side window $46
Floppy Floppy drive $11
Case Fan Coolermaster TLF-R82 Blue LED fan $6.99
Keyboard Ione Scorpius M6 USB Keyboard $9.99
Mouse Logitech Optical Mouse $9.99
OS Windows XP Professional Already have it
Total Cost + Taxes $599.13-$40 Mail in rebate= $559.13

The cost of the computer went up by a lot, but it was still inexpensive. Now I got a Athlon XP with the newer Barton core, 512 megs of memory, a Nforce 2 motherboard, which is the best chipset for the Socket A, and an up to date video card, not to mention a cool case to boot. Assembly was easy, since I already had experience with computers and the ATX form factor was easy to figure out. It took me about four hours to put the computer together, and a morning to install the operating system, which also went without a hitch. After my efforts, here’s my new system in all its glory.

My computer
My self-build computer
My computer in the dark
My computer in the dark

Doesn’t look too bad, does it? These photos were taken before the floppy drive was bought, so you can’t see it. The computer looks exactly the same now but just with a floppy on the top 3.5 inch bay. Sorry for my poor photo skills on the dark picture. The only problem I’ve had with this computer was when I installed a backup program that came with the motherboard. Apparently my video card didn’t like it and decided not to work correctly. After uninstalling the troublemaking software, the computer went back to normal.

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