pc building parts checklist

list of pc parts needed to build a desktop pc

Computer Building Checklist

List of parts you need to build your own PC (personal computer)

davesite.com / computers / system - pc parts checklist

If you are afraid to open up your computer, go away. There is no warranty on this information, it is for your own entertainment purposes only.

This is an old version of the pc parts list.
View the newer pc parts list.

The version of the guide below is the 2001 version.
Click Here to View the UPDATED, NEW 2009 version! Thanks.

This page was outdated just moments after publication. Seek advice of your local techno-geek for the most up-to-date information.

Note: This guide was written in 2001, the last year I built my own computer from scratch. Over the past few years it has become cheaper and cheaper to build-to-order than to buy all customized parts yourself (unless you're a heavy gamer or don't need to purchase Windows). You may also wish to explore the new Apple OS X products, as OS X appears to be a lot more secure and user friendly than Windows.

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The List

  • __ ATX tower (or mid-tower) case
  • __ ATX Motherboard
  • __ CPU (with heatsink/fan)
  • __ RAM
  • __ Graphics/video card
  • __ Sound card
  • __ Hard drive(s)
  • __ Speakers
  • __ Keyboard
  • __ Mouse
  • __ Wrist rests for Keyboard/Mouse (optional)
  • __ Monitor
  • __ CD-ROM or DVD-ROM or CD-RW or CD-RW/DVD-ROM
  • __ Surge Protector
  • __ Floppy Drive (optional)
  • __ Zip Drive (optional)
  • __ Network Interface Card (optional)
  • __ Modem (optional)
  • __ FireWire/i.Link (IEEE 1394) Card (optional)
  • __ Printer (optional)
  • __ Scanner (optional)
  • __ Webcam (optional)

Description of Parts

ATX tower (or mid-tower) case - The tower is the physical casing that your entire computer (minus accessories) sits in. It holds the motherboard, disk drives, and all the other goodies. Virtually all cases come with a power supply, which has small cables that are used to supply current to all the drives, the motherboard, and any cards you place into the motherboard.

ATX Motherboard - The ATX motherboard is the most common motherboard. It is made specifically to fit into the ATX case. The motherboard holds a CPU socket/slot, sockets for RAM, IDE hard drive connectors, and many input/output features such as a parallel port and serial ports. Most motherboards now come with USB 1.1 (although not USB 2.0) on-board. Also included on the motherboard are typically three to six PCI slots for cards, and one AGP slot for a high-speed graphics card.

CPU (with heatsink/fan) - The CPU is more or less the brain of the computer's computations. It fits into the motherboard. You must get a motherboard that matches the CPU you want. For example, you can't place an AMD Althon CPU on a Pentium 4 motherboard. The heatsink and fan take the heat away from the computer, and your computer will probably fry fairly quickly without one because the CPU generates a ton of heat.

RAM - Random access memory is extremely important in running programs. Most operating systems require at least 32MB of RAM, although it's fairly safe to have a minimum of 128MB now. When RAM becomes inexpensive, it's kind of fun to max out your system. :) There are a limited number of RAM sockets on a computer--typically two to five. If you fill your sockets and still don't have the maximum, you may have to remove a smaller chip (say a 128MB DIMM) and replace it with a larger one (256MB or 512MB DIMM). Be careful! Not all motherboards take the same kind of memory, and not all can take all sizes. Visit a site like crucial.com or read your motherboard manual for the most accurate specs.

Graphics/video card - People who play games like graphics cards. If you like to play 3D games, look up the latest reviews for the best card on the market if that so suits you. Some graphics cards can take a cable input and will let you watch TV in a window on your computer. Others will let you run two monitors at once. There are lots of choices.

Sound card - Lots of ATX motherboards come with a built-in 16-bit sound card. For lots of people that isn't enough. You can now get Dolby Digital sound cards from companies like Creative Labs. They come in handy if you are an obsessive gamer. :) If you're just going to be hearing the standard instant message sound, and the "welcome to your OS" sound, a cheap 16-bit sound card should do you fine if your motherboard came without one.

Hard drive(s) - A hard drive holds all your data. Don't think less than 20GB. By the time you read this, it will probably be more reasonable to not think less than 40GB. There are 120GB IDE hard drives on the market at the time of writing. If you're not doing video editing, a 5400 RPM IDE hard drive should do you fine. If you *are* doing video editing, think 7200 RPM. An hour of digital video consumes about 12GB-13GB before its compressed, so you can see why it is important to have a large hard disk. If you *are* doing video editing, throw in a second IDE hard drive or consider switching over to SCSI. I personally think IDE does just fine, and it's inexpensive. Most people like Maxtor and Western Digital hard drives.

Speakers - Hmm. They have a stereo cable that connects to your sound cards output. They range in price from $10 to $100 or more. If you got that Dolby Digital sound card, don't be an idiot and buy a $10 pair of stereo speakers.

Keyboard - Useful if you've ever tried to run a computer with only a mouse. Some are curved in ways that are better for your hands. If that makes you happy, get one like that. If you don't need one that fancy, get a standard one like the rest of us.

Mouse - I have a $6 serial mouse that I'm happy with. You may wish to get an optical USB mouse with doesn't have a ball to get caught. But they cost more.

Wrist rests for Keyboard/Mouse (optional) - Trust me, they come in handy and pay themselves back quickly in less wrist pain.

Monitor - If you use your computer for less than an hour a day, you might be able to get away with a 14 or 15 inch monitor. You'll regret getting one that small if you suddenly start using it a lot more. I run a 17 inch Sony Trinitron CRT. I haven't gone blind. Be careful about getting really big monitors, they are heavy and won't fit on your computer desk if you have a shelf above where you will place your monitor :) Your monitor needs to do a minimum of 1024 x 768 comfortably, and have the option of going higher. I'm twice as productive in 1024 x 768 than I am in 800 x 600. 640 x 480 is impossible to work in unless you have eyesight problems. :) So think 17 inch to 21 inch.

CD-ROM or DVD-ROM or CD-RW or CD-RW/DVD-ROM - This is more or less a money issue. I have a CD-ROM and a CD-RW on my computer. a CD-ROM only reads CDs, a DVD-ROM reads CDs and DVDs, a CD-RW reads CDs, writes CD-R, and writes CD-RW. A CD-RW/DVD-ROM reads DVDs, reads CDs, writes CD-R, and writes CD-RW. If I were putting together a new computer, I'd get the CD-RW/DVD-ROM and throw in a high-speed CD-ROM. That way I could still copy CDs (for backup purposes of course) directly.

Surge Protector - Your computer will last longer. They don't do anything if lightly strikes the telephone pole outside your house, but the standard, more likely surges are usually protected. Get one with protectors for your Network Card and/or Modem connectors. People frequently burn out parts of their computer by phone surge.

Floppy Drive (optional) - You'll find yourself using a floppy drive less and less over the next few years. They are typically used only for compatibility. Most of us use CD-RW/CD-R or Zip disks to transfer files, if we can't just move it over the network. Standard 1.44MB 3.5 inch will do if you must have one.

Zip Drive (optional) - They come in very handy. The 100MB or 250MB choice is yours... lots of people only have 100MB drives so you'd have to use those disks if you're giving them a large file, but the 250MB drive reads/writes both 100MB and 250MB disks.

Network Interface Card (optional) - If you're on a network, you need one of these. A good 10/100 card is fairly cheap.

Modem (optional) - For those of us will dial-up ISPs. Think v.90 or v.92.

FireWire/i.Link (IEEE 1394) Card (optional) - FireWire is a high-speed connector common on digital video cameras and other neat devices. The card isn't very expensive, and if you're doing digital video, you'll need one. I use them at school and love them.

Printer (optional) - We are a society with a paper base. At least we're not printing on plastic.

Scanner (optional) - Handy for scanning important documents and photos. It's cheap. Get one.

Webcam (optional) - After spending so damn much on your computer, it's a neat toy to have. :)

I'm not in the mood to give you the whole run down on how to put it together. Try Build your Own - PC Mechanic - http://www.pcmech.com/build.htm

Copyright © 2001 Dave Kristula.

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