I have built all of my own computers since 1991. By that I mean PC type computers, most of them running some flavor of MS Windows. I do not have much experience with Apple computers, and I do not think those can be home made – you need to buy a ready-made box direct from Apple if you want one of those machines. Apple is very careful with their hardware and software as part of their drive to make sure their machines work well, and they have no desire to bother with thousands of people assembling their own Apple computers and having all kinds of troubles, and then having to support those folk along with everyone else. It is much easier to control the quality of a thing if you do it all yourself, a big reason I like making my own computers.
My first computer I built in 1991, and it cost over $1000 for all the parts and Windows 3.1 – we have all come a very long way since then. I paid a little over $600 for the parts to my current system. It would run circles, spirals and octagons around that first computer I built. I was very excited to go from 12 to 18 to 32 MEGAbytes of memory/ram in 1992 – 1993. Nowadays if you don’t have at least 2 GIGAbytes of ram you feel slow & old fashioned. Many of the programs today plus your operating system will be very slow without that much ram too.
The first computer I built used a CPU (central processing unit – the brain of your computer) made by Intel. Intel makes over 90% of all CPUs in the world. Being a MUCH smaller company, AMD (Advanced Micro Devices) makes better and faster CPUs, which are sold for less than the comparable Intel chips. To sell chips, AMD has to price it’s CPUs less than a comparable chip made by Intel, A rare time when you can generally get a better product for less money. Some people swear by Intel, others by AMD; in my 20 years of experience making computers I prefer chips made by AMD for performance and price. There are a few other even smaller companies who make CPUs, but all my experience is with AMD and Intel. It takes a lot of capital, expensive equipment and knowledge to make an electronic piece as microscopically complex as a computer's CPU that can process (these days) billions of .
My current machine uses an AMD Phenom II X4 chip. This is a 4 core processor. That means there are 4 centers on the CPU to flip numbers around instead of only one, as is the case in all CPUs that are not multi-core processors. It’s sort of like having 4 computers working together at once to do the work instead of just one.
There are 9 basic parts to any computer. They stick and clip together like technological Lincoln Logs. These are:
1) the computer case (the metal box that houses the other parts of a computer)
2) The power supply (this is an electronic box that takes the AC electricity from a plug and turns it to DC current, divides it up and steps the energy down to smaller voltages to power the hard drive, disc drives, mother board and other parts of a computer). Most of the time power supplies are sold with a computer case.
3) There is the aforementioned CPU.
4) The mother board or system board is the complex circuit board all of the other computer components plug into. You can think of it as the computer’s spine and nervous system. Mother boards are made for specific CPUs, and there are thousands of different kinds made by thousands of different companies. These boards all support different types of components, so when making your computer, first decide what kind of CPU you want to use, then find the motherboard that will make the kind of computer you want. Nearly all motherboards have RJ45 ports in them where you plug in an Ethernet cable from your cable or DSL modem to get online and many still have built-in telephone modems for dial-up connections.
5) the RAM (random access memory, the computer’s working memory that is only active when the computer is turned on). The RAM is where you computer’s programs work and unfold when your computer is active. A note about RAM; you can get many gigabytes of ram for your computer now. Unless you are running a 64 bit operating system, your computer probably has a 32 bit operating system, and these programs can only process up to 4 gigabytes of ram. Your operating system (Windows, Linux, Solaris etc.) is a program. You can install more memory, but your computer is only able to mathematically ‘see’ 4 gigabytes of it. A 64-bit system on the other hand can theoretically address up to 16 exabytes of RAM (over 16,000,000 GB of RAM). Many manufacturers impose RAM limits between 4 GB for 32-bit machines and 16 exabytes for 64-bit systems. Most 64-bit systems limit physical RAM to somewhere between 8 GB and 256 TB. Memory has gotten very inexpensive compared to what it used to cost, but you only need more than 4 GB of ram if you’re doing complex graphical work, other memory hungry applications or running a few virtual machines on your computer.
6) the hard drive (the place where the computer stores all programs and other files it needs to work). You can have more than 1 physical hard drive on your computer, and you can also partition your hard drive(s) into 2 or more virtual drives, which your operating system will treat like separate devices.
7) The video card takes information from the CPU (or motherboard) and turns it into a visual display for your monitor. Some motherboards are made with an on-board or built-in video card. You can almost always disable the on-board video card if what the motherboard has is not as capable as you want and you need to install a better video card. Video cards can also have special video processing abilities if you want to do graphical work with pictures or video.
8) The sound card processes audio information. Almost all motherboards made today have a built-in sound card, so unless you are doing special audio work you can generally rely on the mother board’s on-board sound to play or record your music and deal with other sound related information.
9) I used this number to include all the outside parts of the computer beyond the actual computer’s box including the keyboard, monitor, speakers, mouse and all the other external cards and devices you plug into the computer or that communicate in a wireless way.
When you want to build your own computer, see how much money you can spend. You can make a decent computer for $300 or $400, spend $500 to $700 for a really good system or over $800 if you want a machine that will really blast off.
You can buy a copy of Microsoft Windows Discount Mountain Software or find any number of commercial versions of Linux like from Redhat or download a free copy of Linux Mint, Ubuntu Linux or many other Linux flavors (for free). I just got a copy of Google's flavor of Linux: Chrome for my laptop and I am just exploring using it and seeing how it runs. Searching for it can be a hassle since Google calls both their browser and flavor of Linux Chrome - a bad choice on their Techie's or Marketer's part I guess, but I generally really like Google so I'll give it a pass.
You will need a monitor, keyboard and a mouse for your computer, and can get speakers and many other add-on cards and gizmos as you want to make your computer do a lot more than play solitaire, surf the web or send email.