Also known as, how Crazy_Nate builds a computer
Often, when somebody builds a computer, the necessary steps to ensure stability are not taken. In my opinion, the easiest way -- and best time to do this, is when you first get your hardware. Here's my method of figuring everything out. I have used it over and over and it's even helped me figure out problems that have occurred after a working computer had been running for a while.
If you're in a hurry to get started...jump straight down to "Preliminary Preparations"
The internet is a wonderful place, with lots of computer oriented communities who are more than willing to give advice on the best hardware...OCC being a top option
Reviews are everywhere. Some may be a little biased, some not. I would average the opinions of several reviews before pushing the 'buy' button. If you're going to get verification from an online forum, please post:
- Your budget.
- The purpose of the computer (gaming, CAD, rendering, etc). Often, for gaming, knowing which games you want to play is very helpful...and what resolution!
- Where you are. This can help people locate stores or online venues that you can actually use.
For cases, the good ones give you better airflow, which, results in lower temperatures. A rule of thumb (pardon the expression) is that for every 10 degrees you lower the temperatures, it doubles the effective life of the component. Not sure what is used for reference, but, you get the point. Good fans and filters are an adamant computer user's best friend. I happen to like the medium speed 120mm Panaflo's as a good compromise between noise and air flow (other people have their favorites, as well). Fan controllers are sometimes necessary with fans like this.
If you must go with a cheaper case, take a look at the modding link below. A blowhole and / or intake and exhaust mods may be necessary.
Since airflow was brought up, I'll say a couple words about it. A computer case is a box with a lot of aerodynamic obstacles in it. Fans work to move cool air to components that need cooling, including the CPU, graphics card, chipset / northbridge / southbridge, harddrives, and the power supply, to name a few. Consider an analogy to a case as a pipe with a rough interior. The more stuff inside (obstacles) the greater the pressure drop along the pipe section...like having a rougher wall. Fans can provide a certain amount of volumetric flow rate (usually in CFM - cubic feet of air per minute), however, these values are usually for no pressure restrictions on the fan (which reduces the flow rates...). Simply put, some fans may not perform exactly as they're listed. Some manufacturers may list a stagnation pressure as a form of rating.
In order to alleviate some of the pressure inside a case...exhaust fans are used. I typically like to have matched in- and out- flowrates, erring on the side of higher intake (for the same reason they do it in buildings, infiltration - for computers, this means dust would sneak in through the edges on a computer case with an internal gauge pressure that is negative - essentially, lower pressure inside, than normal ambient atmospheric pressure).
A note about heat flow and other sorts of technical bits...
There are 3 types of heat transfer...conduction, convection and radiation. We won't worry about the last because of the relatively low temperatures that computers operate at. Conduction happens between two surfaces, in contact, with different temperatures. Convection happens between a fluid (in computers...air, water, or a refrigerant) and a surface with a temperature difference between the two. There are two types of convection...natural and forced (and a third, if you consider mixed convection where natural convection is not a negligible portion of the two, combined). Natural is driven by buoyant forces (hot air rises, refrigerant evaporates within a heatpipe and rises, etc) and works best in vertical orientations. Forced convection, is, well, forced. Usually by a fan, or pump. Think of any heatsink with a fan attached.
Within convection, there are some important concepts. One of which is flow regime. Laminar, transitional, or turbulent, in order of increasing Reynolds number (from no mixing, to lots of mixing). Laminar requires the least amount of pressure and is the quietest, but has lower heat transfer properties. Transitional is in between. Turbulent has larger flow requirements relative to a characteristic length or diameter. Simply put, laminar is smooth, turbulent is rough. Certain things like adding bumps, ridges or similar aerodynamic devices to roughen the surface can change the heat transfer properties - usually for the better.
Short of modeling every little component and custom designing heatsinks, fans and ducting...the best you can usually do is have high quality fans / heatsinks (think about how you choose to orient them) and cool ambient temperatures.
So, with all that said...take care of your computer and it will last a long time. Temperatures and dust are enemies thwarted by good cooling, fans, filters, and the occasional dusting (with an air can - not air from a home or shop compressor <may contain water>) or vacuuming.
- Download Memtest86 from:
- Download the latest motherboard drivers from your motherboard manufacturers website, as well as, any other additional drivers you may need. If you wish to upgrade your BIOS to a later version, download a bootable disk version (I would not recommend trying through windows).
- Download the latest graphics drivers from: or
- Burn the Memtest86 ISO.
- Put all your drivers on to a CD - or flash drive.
- Download and burn any stability testing programs or benchmarks, as well as, temperature measuring programs. My recommendations are:
- Verify that you have access to an operating system install disk. Some of the aforementioned programs are for windows...
- Verify that you have adequate space to build your computer. A desk is nice. Light is good. If you have carpet, you may have to take precautions to not discharge any static electricity. Paul has a good suggestion about static discharge here. Use caution and be patient. It will help remove any headaches.
- Find some tools. I would definitely recommend at least two sizes of Phillips head screwdrivers.
- Find a tube of TIM (thermal interface media / material)...if you are going to need it (IE. an aftermarket heatsink). I happen to like both AS5 and Ceramique (for it's nonconducting / inert properties).
- Get ready to have some fun.