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Things to keep in mind when building a custom-built computer

So, you are thinking about building your own computer. There are allot of things you have to decide on. So here are a few things to keep in mind when building your own custom-built computer.

Things to keep in mind when building a custom-built computer

Building your own system can be quite satisfying, like being able to say "I built it myself". And you can also perform any service on it, since you know where everything is located.

But if you do not plan it out, it can be a nightmare. Like having to return components that are not right. It can be a real headache if you order them online and have to ship them back.

So, let's take a look at some of the considerations you have to think about before you purchase the components for your custom-built computer.

Form vs Function

It is an age-old problem: Form vs. Function. Do you want a system that is really cool looking or takes up very little space (form)? Or maybe a system that can run graphic intense games or can hold ton of components (function)?

Over the years I have built both types of computers for my personal use. My first few were built purely for function, playing games and a ton of storage using a RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks).

They were big and not very pretty to look at, but they served the purpose. But systems like that have one big issue: cooling. Trying to keep all of the components cool was tough.

Now a few years ago I decided that I was tired of having to leave the side panel of my computer case off and have fan blowing air in to it. It just didn't look good to me or others that I might have come into my office.

I wasn't playing the games anymore and the size of hard drives had increased, so I did not need to have a RAID any more. So, I decided to start using a case that was more appealing to the eyes.

A custom-built computer based on Form

If you are thinking about building your custom-built computer based on form, then the first thing you have to decide on is the case. They come in all sorts of sizes, ranging from the ultra-small mini-ITX to an ATX bench case.

You can go with a conventional looking case or something unique, like clear Plexiglass. You can get them with a ton of LED's or just plain.
A computer case with a custom finish
You can find them in all sorts of colors or you can apply your own finish.

Custom cases: Faux Stone and Chalkboard
Custom cases: Back in Black
Custom Cases: The Antec Skeleton

Or you can go with something completely open like an Antec Skeleton.
An orginal Antec Skeleton case
It is whatever you want your custom-built computer to look like. Once you have decided on a case, the case will dictate what components you can put inside (motherboard, graphics card, power supply, etc.).

If the case you want to use can hold a micro-ATX or standard ATX motherboard, you can follow the Function factor instructions below. If the case you want to use can hold a mini-ITX or mini-ATX motherboard, finding a motherboard is the next step.

Since mini-ITX and mini-ATX cases are small, the motherboards for them will have limited options for what CPU's (Central Processing Unit) they can use. Remember that the faster the CPU runs, the more heat it will make.

And with smaller mini-ITX and mini-ATX cases, CPU cooling options may be limited to just air cooled heatsinks. It just depends on how much space inside of the case you have available.

When it comes to GPU's (Graphics Processing Unit), you may or may not have room for one. But if you are not going to be using your system for graphic intensive programs like Photoshop, you can easily use the on-board graphics built-in to the motherboard.

In some mini-ITX and mini-ATX cases, you can use a GPU if you use a riser board that comes up off of the motherboard. But keep in mind that some cases can use full-height expansion cards and some can use only half-height expansion cards, so double check the specifications for the case.

When it comes to drives, you will probably have to go with a 2.5" drive, either a (Solid State Drive (SSD)) or (Hard Disk Drive (HDD)). Of course, it all depends on what the case has been designed to hold. The same holds true for a CD / DVD / BD optical drive.

You will also need a power supply that fits the case size. Some cases come with them, so do not. And be prepared to pay a little more the smaller form factor, mini-ITX and mini-ATX, power supplies than micro-ATX or standard ATX ones.

You also need to make sure the power supply has enough of the proper connectors (ATX12V, SATA, PCIe, Molex) for all of the different components. If you are going to use a GPU, make sure you have enough PCI-e (8-pin and/or 6-pin) power connectors.

And lastly, you are going to need some memory modules. Just check the motherboard specifications to find out what type of memory and how many it can handle. You can usually just install one memory module, but I always recommend installing them in pairs (2, 4, 6, 8, etc.). You can get a better price on memory modules if you buy them in twin-packs and quad-packs.

A custom-built computer based on Function

If you are thinking about building your custom-built computer based on its Function, then the first thing you have to decided is what CPU (Central Processing Unit) are you going to use (AMD or Intel).

As strange as it may sound, the CPU will dictate everything else in your computer. For example, let's say you want to build a high-end gaming or 3d rendering machine and you want to run an Intel Xeon or Intel I9 processor.

First, you will need to find a motherboard that has all of the features, like PCI-e slots, you want and the correct socket type for the processor you have chosen to use. Always check the specifications for the motherboard to make sure that the processor you want to use is supported.

Remember, that even if a motherboard has the correct socket type, the BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) may not support the CPU you have selected. I always go to the manufacturers website and double check the supported CPU's.

Now that you have the CPU and motherboard selected, how are you going to cool the CPU? Air or liquid? Air cooled heatsinks sit on top of the CPU and can get kind of large (tall), so you will have to have a case that has enough room for it.

Same thing holds true for liquid coolers, but they utilize radiators than need to be mounted inside of the case, either on the rear or top. I preferred the top mounted liquid CPU coolers, as the radiators have far more surface area for cooling the liquid than ones that mount in the rear of the case.

And if you are thinking about over-clocking your CPU, then go with a large, top mounted liquid CPU cooler. But remember that over-clocking will in some cases void the CPU manufacturer's warranty, so be careful and keep it cool.

Next thing to think about is the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) / graphics card(s). Most high-end GPU's require more space inside of the case and if you want to use multiple GPU's then you will need a case that is large enough to hold them all.

By now you have a good idea on what size of computer case you will need. You are probably looking a mid-size or full-size tower. Keep in mind that good air flow inside the case is essential. So, having at least one fan in the front and rear of the case is recommended.

Next thing to look at is the power supply. Since you are looking at a mid to full size case, a standard ATX type power supply is what you are going to need. You just need to know how many watts all of the components you want to use will require. A 600 to 700 watt power supply should be sufficient.

You will also need to make sure the power supply has enough of the proper connectors (ATX12V, SATA, PCIe, Molex) for the motherboard and components you want to use. Keep in mind what additional power the GPU (8-pin and/or 6-pin PCI-e) might require. Each PCI-e connection for the GPU is roughly 75 watts.

And of course, you are going to need some memory modules. Just check the motherboard specifications to find out what type of memory and how many it can handle. You can usually just install one memory module, but I always recommend installing them in pairs (2, 4, 6, 8, etc.). You can get a better price on memory modules if you buy them in twin-packs and quad-packs.

As far as drives are concerned, you can usually go with either 2.5" (Solid State Drive (SSD)) or 3.5" (Hard Disk Drive (HDD)) drives. If you are building a high-end system, you will want to go with one of each (an SSD as the first (boot) drive with an HDD for storage as the second drive). A CD / DVD / BD optical drive is completely optional.

With all of that said, you should be ready to assemble your custom-built computer. And if you feel kind of overwhelmed with it all, go ahead and contact a local computer technician for assistance.

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