Note: This is part four of a multipart series on choosing the components for and building a computer.
This week, we are continuing our series on how to build a computer with choosing the best components for your custom computer system. So far in the series, we have covered the components shown in italics below. Today, we will cover the cables and cards shown in bold.
Here are links to the first three installments of the series in case you missed them:
Tech Tip 84 - How to Build a Computer
Part 1: Choosing the Basic Computer Components
Tech Tip 85 - How to Build a Computer
Part 2: Choosing the Hard Drive, RAM & Motherboard
Tech Tip 86 - How to Build a Computer
Part 3: Choosing the CPU & Heat Sink Fan
• Power supply
• CD drives
• DVD drives
• Floppy Drive*
• Hard Drive(s)
• RAM (random access memory)
• CPU (central processing unit)
• CPU heat sink/fan
• Thermal paste
• Hard drive cable
• Floppy drive cable*
• CD/DVD drive cable
• Video card (graphics card)*
(optional if your motherboard has onboard graphics)
• Sound card* (optional if your motherboard has onboard sound)
• Monitor (display)
• Input – Keyboard/Mouse
• Operating system software
Hard Disk Drive (HDD) Cable
If you bought a new motherboard for your project, it likely came with a hard drive cable. The cables for the HDD and the compact disk (CD) or digital video disk (DVD) drive look very similar. However, the cable for the HDD has more wires in it than optical drive cables. One glance at the two and you will see the difference. If you are using SATA (serial ATA: advanced technology attachment) drives, the cable will be a little different as well. Most retail-boxed hard drives will ship with a SATA cable. If your motherboard has SATA ports, it probably came with cables you can use rather than having to purchase new ones.
When using Integrated Drive Electronics (IDE) hard drives, you can use rounded cables over the older ribbon-style cables. The rounded cables look much better, which is important in windowed cases, and helps cool by not restricting air flow as much. You can typically get both rounded and ribbon cables that will connect two drives per cable. I also want to mention that it is important to keep your hard drive on a separate IDE channel than your optical drive, and make your faster hard drive the master drive. This will help to ensure you get the fastest speed from your drives.
Floppy Drive Cable
If you choose not to use a floppy drive in your system, you obviously will not need a floppy drive cable. However, if you are using a floppy drive, you want to be sure that you use the correct cable and install it correctly. Unlike IDE drives and SATA cables, floppy disk drive (FDD) cables are not keyed. This means that you can easily install the cable incorrectly and ruin any floppy disk you try to boot from. Funny thing is that it's possible to not realize that a floppy cable is installed incorrectly, making you wonder why you are unable to read floppies created by that computer in any other computer and vise-versa. It could leave you puzzled for days!
Much like the HDD cables, floppy cables are available in both ribbon style and rounded cables. Again, the rounded cables tend to be better from a cooling standpoint as they help promote better airflow. However, both rounded and ribbon-style cables will perform the same in practical use.
CD/DVD Drive Cable
This cable is required for your system if you intend to use a CD/DVD drive on your computer. Again, you can get both rounded and ribbon-style CD/DVD drive cables. A few manufacturers also offer SATA optical drives now. The type of cable you choose will depend on the type of drives you purchase and your cable preference. Most cables will support two optical drives.
This is the component most gamers spend the most on along side their CPU. Your video, or graphics, card will have a huge effect on how well your computer performs in games. The video card is optional on some boards. However, it is only optional on motherboards that have on-board graphics.
The vast majority of high performance motherboards will not have on-board graphics and you will still on occasion come across older motherboards that may need an accelerated graphics port (AGP) card. However, if you are buying a new CPU and motherboard, you will likely be looking to buy a peripheral component interconnect (PCI) Express video card. Be sure that you buy the correct graphics card interface to match the interface on your motherboard and you will be fine.
There is a huge variance in the price of video cards on the market. For instance if you opt for a maxed out quad scalable link interface (SLI) system with dual Nvidia 7950 GX2 graphics cards, you will easily spend over $1,000.00 on video cards alone. If you go with something along the lines of an ATI X1300 Pro, you are looking at under $100.00. If you are a gamer, the video card is where you will want to spend your extra cash.
Sound cards are optional in this day when the vast majority of motherboards come with on-board sound, however, there is a lot to be said for some of the aftermarket sound cards. For example, if you want to run 5.1 or 7.1 Dolby sound, odds are you will need an aftermarket card. Hardcore gamers will likely want to look at something like the Creative X-Fi series, as the difference in sound quality with the X-Fi series is impressive. However, if you are on a budget, you can save your cash if your board has built-in sound.
Next Week on How to Build a Computer
Next week, we will wrap up the “Choosing Components” portions of our series, starting with how to select the display and finishing off the remainder of the components you need to build your system. If you missed any of the earlier installments of this series, please go to the Geeks.com website Tech Tips archive for the back issues of the Tech Tips newsletter.
See you next week as we continue learning how to build a computer!
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Reaching the end of a job interview, the Human Resources Person asked the young Programmer fresh out of MIT, "And what starting salary were you looking for?" The Programmer said, "In the neighborhood of $75,000 a year, depending on the benefit's package." The HR Person said, "Well, what would you say to a package of 5-weeks vacation, 14 paid holidays, full medical and dental, company matching retirement fund to 50% of salary, and a company car leased every 2 years - say, a red Corvette?". The Programmer sat up straight and said, "Wow!!! Are you kidding?" And the HR Person said, "Certainly, ...but you started it."