To figure out the exact components for
your custom PC, check out manufacturers' Web sites, and study
reviews. Hardware Web sites like Tom's
Hardware and Anandtech
are good places to find motherboard recommendations. Some of
the components listed here are optional.
case and power supply ($50 to $300): Cases are
available in many types and sizes, ranging from plain vanilla
to sexy stainless steel or colored cases. The most popular and
economical is a midsize tower case with internal space for at
least two hard drives, along with three or four externally
accessible 5.25-inch drive bays on the front for CD-RW, DVD,
and other removable-media drives. Most come with a power
supply installed, but if you plan to pack your PC with
components, consider getting a hefty power supply rated at 300
watts or more. (See the August Upgrade
Guide for details on matching a power supply to your
($15 to $75) and mouse
($10 to $75): Consider USB models for the easiest hookup
($150 and up): If your budget allows, now's a great time
to upgrade to a bigger monitor. The 17-inchers start at $150,
19-inchers at $250, and flat-panel LCDs are finally coming
down in price, starting at about $400.
($100 to $200): Buy a motherboard matched to your
processor, with room for growth if you want to upgrade to a
faster CPU later. Some motherboards have sound and network
support built in. But stay away from models with built-in
video. They're compromises, at best.
($100 to $600): A 1-GHz or faster processor can cost less
than $200, but lower-end (600- to 800-MHz) CPUs are fine if
you have a limited budget. "Boxed" retail CPUs
normally include a fan or heat sink and complete installation
instructions; a less-expensive OEM
version usually ships sans instructions or a fan. (A fan
is a necessity and costs about $25.)
($75 to $200 for 256MB): Don't even consider building a PC
with less than 256MB of RAM these days. Make sure you match
the RAM type and speed (133 MHz) to the motherboard. See
& RAM" in our accompanying story,
"Do-It-Yourself Dream Machines."
disk drive ($15 to $20)
drive(s) ($90 to $250 each): The bigger, the better is
still a good rule of thumb. Drives up to 80GB
are readily available. And the newest and fastest 7200-rpm
drives offer better performance. Consider outfitting your PC
with two drives and reserving the second one for data.
drive (optional; $150 to $250): A CD-RW drive is a
virtual necessity these days. If your budget permits, go for
the fastest write speed possible.
drive (optional; $35 to $75): A CD-ROM or DVD-ROM
drive makes copying CDs onto your CD-RW drive a breeze by
eliminating swapping discs. Or, if your budget is tight, you
can get by with just a CD-ROM drive.
drive (optional, $75 to $150): Necessary if you want
to view DVD movies on your PC monitor.
drive (optional; $50 to $500): Choices range from
250MB Zip drives to 2GB Jaz drives, as well as tape-backup
drives. Some devices require a separate SCSI add-in controller
($50 to $100.)
graphics card ($75 to $400): Plan to spend more if you
work with high-end 3D graphics or are a dedicated gamer.
Inexpensive cards are fine for more-mundane computing tasks,
and some even come with high-end options such as the ability
to run two monitors.
card ($30 to $200): Many of today's motherboards carry
built-in sound support, which is adequate for many users.
However, if you're serious about sound and want extra features
such as surround sound or a wide variety of audio connections
(such as support for digital sources), you can opt for an
add-in card. If you choose an add-in card, you'll need to
disable the motherboard's built-in sound (if any); this
usually involves working through the setup program or using a
card ($50 to $100): If you're connected to a network
or have broadband Internet access, you'll need a 10/100
($40 to $75): A necessity if you don't have broadband
system and software
(free to $220 and up): You can save more than 50 percent
by purchasing the OEM (original equipment manufacturer)
version of the Windows operating system and of major software
such as Microsoft Office. Local computer stores that
specialize in building systems and online retailers such as TC
Computers and Multiwave
can sell you OEM software, provided you purchase a piece of
hardware along with it. The only trade-off: You won't get any
free tech support on OEM products from Microsoft. If you like,
of course, you can opt for an alternative, such as Linux.
Go On to Software Needed.....