Terrified newbie prepares to build computer. Crows circle

<fingers crossed> After some soul searching I’ve decided to build my own system and use the cost savings for gas. :( I was hoping some of you more experienced hardware gurus could possibly give me a few tips on what common mistakes to avoid. I’d also appreciate it if you’d review my component selections and see if you have any misgivings with my decisions.

CASE: Thermaltake Tsunami Dream

MOBO: Jetway 939GT4-SLI
(an excellent Anandtech review here:) http://www.anandtech.com/mb/showdoc.aspx?i=2506

CPU: AMD 3500+ Venice Edition w/fan Socket 939

GRAPHICS: BFG Overclocked Geforce 7800 GT 256mb PCIe

HD: 36GB Western Digital Raptor 10,000 RPM SATA

MEMORY: 1GB Crucial 184-pin DIMM DDR PC3200

POWER: Antec Smartpower SLI 550W w/cable management

One last thing- In reference to my past experience digging around inside a computer, I’ve installed graphics cards, cd/dvd drives, sound cards, RAM and a slave hard drive. That is the limit of my experience. Motherboards, the power supply and the BIOS are unconquered territory. To be honest, the MOBO has me terrified, and adding the CPU isn’t far behind. If any of you think building a STABLE system like this is truly beyond a newbie, please warn me now. :) And again, any cautionary information about common mistakes is always welcome

Thank you!

Do not build your own computer if you haven’t done it before.

That’s not to say buy Dell.

Find a local screwdriver shop, as Dvorak likes to call them. They’re usually just hole in the wall places that have good prices and little stock. Get THEM to build it with the list of parts you order. Don’t fry your motherboard because you didn’t do it right.

Hell, you might not even fry it, just make it slightly borked. I’ve had that happen. Static damage sucks, don’t do it.

You’d definitely be better off if you had someone who had some experience with you to help out.

On the one hand, you have to start somewhere. On the other hand, I fried the first motherboard i tried installing.

My mistake was the back of the motherboard touching the case where it was mounted. Not good.

I would say, get a good book or magazine with a ‘how to build from scratch article’ and you’d be fine. It’s really not that hard.

But then I read:

If your confidence is like that, go with Backovs suggestion - the most I have saved by always building my own is about $150.
If you were thinking “hey, I can do this…” you’re probably right. But if the motherboard terrifies you, you’re not ready yet.

I think learning to build my own systems was one of the best things I’ve done; if you’ve already installed some components, it’s not that risky. While having someone around to guide you through the process the first time is great if you can swing it, I don’t think you’re doomed to having professionals install your systems for the rest of your computing career.

Before I built my first system, I just found an Internet guide that seemed pretty complete & included pictures. To be on the safe side, I’d find two, because chances are each one will leave out something. I never killed a motherboard or screwed up any component until earlier this year (somewhere around my 10th system), when I fried a USB riser card due to poor documentation on a retro machine I was building (it would be a sweet rig back in 1999).

… but that means he’s never going to build his own computer…

If you know someone that has built a PC then get them around to help you build it the first time. For the record I built my first PC when I was 14 and nothing went wrong. I have never had a single instance of static electricity damage, though that’s not to say it doesn’t happen. So, try to discharge often … don’t wear socks on carpet… common sense stuff really. As for your components… get a bigger HDD.

I used to build mine, did for years. But really - why? They charge $40 extra to put it all together and warranty their work. Why would I do it? I bleed everytime I put one of those together. Literally. Those cases are full of sharp edges. Not to mention the couple times I’ve fried something.

The only difference you should have between building your own and letting someone local do it is the $40 they charge for assembly. that’s it.

I, too, was terrified when I built my first rig from scratch. I had a printed net article how-to to guide me, alongside a religious reading of the MOBO manual, and it turned out fine. Static is a problem, I’d recommend a bracelet or something for that. Also, if your processor is from AMD and you are trying to mount the fan over it, double and triple check the fan so that it is properly aligned. Mounting the fan was by far the single hardest moment of the process, and the amount of force required could very well end up in you hurting the components if you don’t do it right. I did it wrong, at first, and was scared to death that I had somehow crushed the processor.

Other than that, as long as you follow a guide you’ll be fine. It doesn’t save a lot of money, but it’s a fun hobby project if nothing else.

The 74GB WD 10,000 RPM Raptor is not just higher capacity, but also a better performer than the 36GB version. Since you seem to be swinging for the fences, I’d consider switching it out. The 36GB is no slouch though…

Nice build out. I’m glad you linked that Jetway review, I’ll have to give them a look in the future.

I wouldn’t worry too much about the build process, just don’t rush things. Be careful of static (ie use a wrist static guard), make sure the motherboard isn’t in direct contact with the case, and all of the fans are properly seated and plugged in.

Good luck!

You are going to need more storage. Either the 74 GB Raptor or second, large hard drive for data.

I can fill a 36GB drive in twelve minutes.

Yeah, I’d go with the 74gb raptor if you absolutely must have a raptor and only a raptor. I suppose a 36gb and a bigger data drive is fine too but unless you absolutely must have the “fastest” I don’t see the point. Smarter to get a 250gb or bigger drive for the same price.

Or, just get 4 300gb drives and RAID 0+1 them.

I was also scared when I built my first PC back in '98. I’ve built every one I’ve used since then and have never fried or damaged anything despite some not so elegant handling of components a few times.

I think building a computer is easier than ever. Most new motherboards have color coded connections and plug types that make it pretty much impossible to plug the wrong component in the wrong slot.

I say try it yourself but know the location of a local PC shop in advance so you can bail on it if you get overwhelmed.

Enh. I built my own PC last year, having never done it before.

However, I had done various upgrades to my prior PC (added new hard drive, swapped out the CPU twice, added more RAM, changed GPU, added firewire card), so I felt like I’d actually more than half rebuilt it :-) Same skills…

So if you’ve done your own PC upgrades for a while now, you probably know how to ground yourself and how not to leave any loose screws sitting on the circuit board when you power up for the first time.

If not, then, yeah, don’t risk letting the magic smoke out of the chips :-)

One of the guys from work built his first system recently, and he had no problems. They’ve gotten so much easier over the years.

Stability isn’t really a huge issue, since the components generally determine that more than how they’re assembled. (As in, if an expert put that together, it would probably be as stable/unstable as you doing it, assuming the thing boots.) Heat could, in theory, be an issue but worry about that after it’s up and running.

If you’ve done the components, you’ll be fine. Putting in a power supply and motherboard is a matter of attaching screws and plugging things in (and most things only go in one place).

The most challenging thing is attaching the heatsink/fan, particularly now with the 939 boards and newer Pentiums needing a backplate. Make sure you attach the CPU and heatsink before you install the motherboard in the case.

The next most challenging thing is getting the front panel to work, so it can be turned on, lights working, etc. But I’ve never fried a motherboard even when I’ve attached those incorrectly. In fact, I’ve never fried a single component (knock on plastic), despite never worrying about static electricity or following any set plan. I’ve probably put together a hundred systems, and I’m pretty sure most of them work. Most of the time, at least.

I say go for it. I think you feel a bit more “ownership” toward your PC when you build it yourself.

Agreed. If I screw up anything its usually this. The very first time I put together a machine it would continuously reboot. Turns out that I had the Reset button wiring wrong.

For the life of me, I’ve never figured out how this hasn’t become standardized, at least for reset/on-off/hard drive light.

If you’ve done the components, you’ll be fine. Putting in a power supply and motherboard is a matter of attaching screws and plugging things in (and most things only go in one place).

The most challenging thing is attaching the heatsink/fan, particularly now with the 939 boards and newer Pentiums needing a backplate. Make sure you attach the CPU and heatsink before you install the motherboard in the case.

Perhaps I should take the middle of the road path and see if a local shop would be willing to just fit the CPU and motherboard in place, and then I can go ahead and install everything else?

I also caugt this review at Egghead, which makes me think the case I’ve chosen may be slightly difficult to navigate:

Ok, first off, I would recommend this case to anyone. This is definitely a quality case, especially for this price. All the materials used are above average and it looks amazing.

With that being said, I put three stars because of some things that should be noted that have/haven’t been mentioned yet.

-This case was very tight to work in once I started getting all of the components in. If you have a large video card (like a 7800gtx) and 2 or more hard drives you may have some space issues (especially with cabling) as the video card will go very close to the HD cage.

-The PSU issue I definitely see could be a problem. Very important to install the PSU before the mobo as there is a large retainer bar running the length of the case.

-I had major issues trying to fit my DVD drive in the top bay. I moved it to the second and it fit just fine. However, if you insist on using the top bay, you must unscrew the mounting to get the plastic shield out of the way.

-The plastic PCI holder seemed very stable to me, however, it won’t fit with a 7800gtx

-The I/O shield is fantastic – if you have a mobo that lines up in there. It’s your typical flimsy shield but somehow attached to a rigid alum or steel backing and I would have loved to keep it in, but I didn’t see a way to attach the I/O shield from my mobo to it.

These shouldn’t be a problem for an experienced builder, just be prepared to spend some time in here if you are inexperienced.

Aside from the mentioned issues, this case is top notch (especially for this price range). I loved the tool-less system for the HD and floppy bays. I wish I could have used the PCI holder, but that’s the breaks. It’s easily removable if you take out a few screws though, so I wouldn’t sweat it. Overall a fantastic case – I’d give it 5 eggs for looks and build quality, but 3 eggs for ideas that were great but not implemented well for the latest hardware.

You could do that if you’re at all concerned, but honestly it sounds a lot harder than it really is. Everything is keyed, so it’s really hard to do anything catastrophic. The CPU only fits one way, the new design of the 939 heatsinks doesn’t let you put them on backward (which was an issue on Socket A boards), and most motherboards have no jumpers or anything. All you need to to is plug everything in.

I also caugt this review at Egghead, which makes me think the case I’ve chosen may be slightly difficult to navigate:

That doesn’t sound great. Plenty of cases can be a bitch to work with. However, unless you’re a compulsive tweaker, it’s highly unlikely you’ll constantly be in your case. If you’re still concerned, the Antec Sonata cases are fairly easy to work in.

A lot have the issue with the PSU, though it’s not a bad idea to put it in first regardless. Some cases have a cage that holds the PSU that can be removed, making it a non-issue.

Attaching a PSU is literally putting in four screws. Then you plug in the CPU (keyed, only fits one way), attach the heatsink/fan (backplate, then a couple of screws, then it typically attaches in some manner), then place the board in the case. Once you get it lined up, it’s six screws. Then you plug in about four plugs from the PSU. After you puzzle out the front panel, it’s literally a matter of installing hard drives, videocards, seeing if it POSTS, then installing Windows.