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Case and Power
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Think you can't build your own PC? You're wrong. This page has
some very generic instructions for building a system. We need to start with some computer hardware basics, what are the different parts, what they do and how
they work together. To most people what is inside that gray box is a mystery. If you are trying to learn about how computers work, on of the best ways is to build or troubleshoot your own. It can be
a very frustraiting experience, but you will be better for it in the end. There should be atleast
three links to more informaiton for each topic.
These are the absolute necessities, I will discuss expansion cards and other devices later.
You will also need a mouse, keyboard and monitor(DUH!) to test and configure your computer.
You will need a
bootable floppy to boot to before you load an OS and to format the
hard drive. For tools, you will need a towel
(a white one, I'll explain why later), a Philips Head Screw Driver(that's
the one with the cross, the flathead is the other one), a flashlight, and some band-aids(I'll explain why).
You will also need to pick out an operating system to load. If this is the first time you have ever loaded
an operating system, I suggest Windows95/98 or BeOS. If you're a little more experienced or braver try Windows NT or Linux.
You are dealing with electrical components of varying voltage, while electric shock is rare be sure that the PC is off and unplugged whenever you work on the inside. More often the problem is ESD, Electrostatic Discharge. ESD is a built-up charge in computer components and static electricty in the human body. These small shocks can cause damage to computer components. You may "ground" yourself by touching a TV set or radio before working on the parts.
The various components contain chemicals which may be poisonous. You may be exposed if the parts have been broken open, but this is rare. Also PC have small batteries that contain acids that can be dangerous. Just be sure to wash your hands after working with the parts.
While poisoning and electric shocks are rare, I can pretty much guarantee that you will cut yourself(hence the band-aids). PCs are full of sharp edges and metal objects. I cut my hands on a regular basis at work, get used to it.
Very rare, but still possible. NEVER throw water on an electrical fire, use a dry subtance like dirt or sand.
The Case and Power Supply
The case is the external frame of the PC. It has(or should have) slots and bays to hold all the needed PC devices. Slots are on the back of the case and are for cards and adapters. This is where your keyboad, mouse, printer, phone and other peripherals plug-in to recvive and send data. The bays are on the front of the case and are the places where the floppy, hard drive and CDROM would sit. There are two major types of PC cases, desktops and towers. I have found towers generally easier to work with so that is what I will focus on. When I refer to placement, I will be referring to towers(also called AT and ATX cases). This is very important because if you buy an AT case, an ATX motherboard will not fit into it!
The Power Supply
The power supply will be roughly square-shapped box in the back-upper corner of the case. It will have a fan on the external side and several wires on the inside. It should also have a three-pronged plug where your power cable would go. The power supply is usually a pre-attached part of the case, but some vendors may sell them unassembled. In this case it is fairly easy to mount the power supply.
Openning the Case
There should be four to six Phillips-head screws on the back. On some cases the top and two sides are attached and will come off together. In
other cases, only the two sides can be removed. Make sure you keep all the screws together, draw a map of the computer to mark
where various screws came from. You'll end up with lots of them, various sizes and shapes. If you loose any, you're screwed. This is
where the towel comes in handy. I recomend laying out the towel and placing the case and any parts on it. This will keep the parts
clean and you table from getting scratched. Also, the various parts show up better against a white towel and the screws will not roll away.
Also called a "system board" or "chipset," I will usually call it a "board." This is a roughly rectangular piece of greenish plastic with chips, slots,
resistors, transitors, capacitors, small switches and lots of other stuff that will probabaly puzzle you. The mother board is the home of the most
important parts of the computer. The motherboard houses the bus, the BIOS chip and CMOS power.
The motherboard is also where the CPU and ALU are mounted, where RAM is placed and all the internal devices
are connected through plugs and slots. You may also find DIP switched and Jumpers on the board.
The bus does exactly what is sounds like it might do, it drives stuff around. The bus moves information from your devices to the processor
and back again. The bus is very busy, it can only go in one direction at a time and only certain amounts of data at a time. All the devices on your
computer share the bus.
The BIOS Chip
Thankfully, motherboards have a built-in, low-level operating system called "BIOS" for Basic Input and Output System. It allows you to access devices
like your floppy drive, CDROM, processor and hard drive before you have loaded an operating system. This is where the initial configuration
of the system is located. When you boot the BIOS looks for drives and processors. It looks for devices that it can turn control over to, if it doesn't find
anything BIOS goes into action. This is a key feature as older computers had to be manually configured before they were usable. The BIOS chip
is a small, black rectangular chip on the board. It usually has "BIOS" written on it.
Boards have a small amount of DC current. This is how you are able to turn-off and unplug your computer and have it still be able to tell you the
correct time when you power it up again. It's a small "watch-sized" battery clipped into the board.
The System Board Manual
Every system board is different and should come with a manual. I can only make general descriptions here because the configuration of the system
board is often unique to the manufacturer and also to the other parts in your system. The manual usually has step-by-step instructions for configuring
the board. Follow these instructions as if they were the word of God!
Ports are what we use to connect external devices(printers, monitors, speakers, etc...) to our computer. There
are various types of ports depending on what we are connecting. Ports may be located on the system board or
on expansion cards.
Parallel Port - Printers, external drives, pc to pc data connections.
Trapezoid, 25 pins in two rows. This is the most common location for
LPT(line print terminal) connections: LPT1, LPT2 and sometimes LPT3. System boards
typically only have one, so it is useful to get an expansion card.
The male Parallel port is usually for game devices(joysticks, gamepads).
Serial Port - Palm pilots, mouse
Trapezoid, 9 pins in two rows. Some older mice are serial, they only cost a few
bucks so get a P2 mouse.
AT - Keyboard
Large, round with 5 pins in a half moon. This is for older keyboards, you may or
may not have an AT connection. Most keyboards are now PS2.
PS2 - Keyboard, mouse
Small, round with 6 pins in a half moon and one square pin.
While these look exactly the same, one is for the mouse and one is
for the keyboard. If you reverse them you will get a "Keyboard error" on
boot and/or a "No mouse detected" when the OS starts. Warning!
Plugging a mouse into a live computer can short-curcuit a motherboard.
SCSI - Scanners, printers, tape drives
VGA - Video Graphics Array - Monitor, projector, switchbox
Trapezoid, 15 pins in 3 rows.
USB - Universal Serial Bus - Everything
Also called a CPU for "Central Processing Unit," or
"mirocprocessor." While the entire system, monitor, tower, keyboard, mouse, hard drive and other items, is often
referred to as "The Computer," the Processor is the computer. This is the only part of the system that actually
"computes" anything. Hard disks, memory, modems and everything else make calls to the processor and send data to and receive data from it. The CPU
contains the "Clock" which does not keep time the way that the CMOS clock does, the CPU speed measured in Megahertz(MHz) controls the
flow of information inside the system. The CPU is often referred to as a "traffic cop." This is a good analogy. The processor also has an ALU, although in
some systems this is separate physical chip, "Arithmetic Logic Unit." The ALU does all the adding and subtracting, computation that the computer
depends on to run. The processor is often the most expensive part of the system.
The Processor is a small square chip, smooth black on one side, an array of metalic pins on the other. You should notice that one corner of this chip is cut flat. This
is a way forcing the installation. On the system board there processor seat has a similar corner cut. This prevents the placing of the chip in backwards. Place the
chip in gently and then push the small seat handle down and in to lock the processor in place. This way processors can be replaced without soldering.
If you are lucky, you may be able to buy a system board with a processor already installed. This is often a good idea since alot of work is already done for you.
If you install a chip yourself, you may have to set Dip Switches or Jumpers before it will boot properly.
Anything slower than 300MHz is obsolite.
Refer to your system board manual for specific configuration instructions. You may have to set jumpers and dip switches to match your processor type.
Some times called RAM for Random Access Memory. Here, I will simply refer to it as "memory." Memory is one of the
most important, if not the most important, part of the computer. The amount of memory you have determines how powerful your computer is. You can
have a fast processor, but if you have low memory it wont do you much good. The memory is where everthing happens when your computer is on and you are
running programs. When you turn your computer on the operating system is loaded into memory. The programs and files on your hard drive are copied
from the disk into the memory when you use them. The changes you make are made in memory and then re-written on the disk. This is why you will often lose your work
if you shut down without saving. Your work was in memory and the memory resets itself when you shut down.
Memory is measured in Megabytes or simply MB. 64 MB - 128 MB is slow(you'll barely be able to run an OS!), 256 is better. Now it is possible to get memory in terms of GIGs.
DIMM - Dual Inline Memory Module;
SIMM - Single Inline Memory Module;
Hard drives are named so because their material is metal as opposed to the soft
plastic of "floppy disks," which are no longer floppy. Also called "hard disks," this is
somewhat of a misnomer, too. I prefer the term Fixed Disk but will stick
to "hard drive" because this is what most people call it. Hard drive space is now measured
in Gigabytes, or simply "Gigs," usually abreviated as GB. The size of
hard drives is growing to meet the demand of the ever increasing size of applications.
There was a time not too long ago when 500MB was a good drive size, now most of that
space is taken up by the operating system and regular applications! As of this writing I would
recomend getting no less than an 10GB hard drive, larger if possible.
Warning! Never move the hard drive while the machine is powered on!
Look for the jumper setting on the back of the hard drive. Every hard drive is
different! Look at the chart that is usually printed on the hard drive, or refer to the manual that
came with it. Set the jumper to MASTER. Any additional drive should be set to SLAVE.
Find one of the four wire sets from the case's power supply. The white plastic end should have four round
holes. These hold correspond to the four round pins on the hard drive itself. You will notice that the white
plastic end is rounded on one side and square on the other, this keeps you from putting the power
cord in upside-down.
You'll need the IDE cable that came with the drive. It is a wide ribbon cable that has a red stripe
down one side. This red stripe marks the "one-pin." Put this red stripe closest to the power on the
drive. With the other end of the IDE cable, look for a rectangular pin socket on the motherboard
marked IDE1. Be sure not to use IDE2! One end of the IDE1 socket should have a
small number 1 above it. This is "pin-one" on the IDE1 socket, put the red stripe end of the IDE
cable in this side of the IDE1 socket.
When you boot up for the first time(don't boot up until after you have installed the floppy drive),
be sure to enter
and go into set up. If you are lucky, your BIOS will be able to automatically
identify your hard drive. If not, you will have to manually enter the hard drive specifications(often
written on the hard drive itself, so write them down on paper first!). Exit BIOS and reboot with a
bootable floppy in the foppy drive.
The reason why these drives are know as "floppy" is gone. The disks are
now hard plastic and quite durrable, but the term "hard disk" was already
being used. The proper term might be "Removable Magnetic Media." Floppy
disks are now a roughly 3 1/2 inch square. The standard used to be 5 1/4, and
there were at one time much bigger floppies. The standard size(capacity) of
floppy disks these days is 1.44 MB. So when buying a floppy drive, it will
probably say: 3.5 In. 1.44MB Floppy Disk Drive. Don't pay more than
$20 for one.
Inside of a floppy disk is a circle of magnetic tape, just like that of a
cassette or video tape. The tape has "sectors" which can be polarized with
north or south magnetic orientation for either a 1 or 0 bit. These disks
are highly volitile, passing a small magnet over them can ruin them. Leaving
them near or inside of a floppy drive can erase them. They should only be
used for temporary transport of files or emergency boot disks. NEVER use
a floppy disk for long-term storage.
Mounting the drive
Slide the floppy drive into one of the floppy bays in the case and put
a few screws into it to hold it onto the frame. There are two sockets on
the back of the floppy, one is for power(should have four tiny pins, the size
of a sewing needle) the other is for data(an array of 34 pins).
Connecting the Power
Look a the case power supply for one or two smaller cables with four (4)
wires and a white plug. Take the white plug and fit it into the four power
pins on the drive. It should only fit one way, but there are always exceptions!
Connecting the Data Cable
This is a special ribbon cable that can only be used for floppies. It is
thinner that IDE ribbon cables. It will have a red stripe down one side. The
red stripe should(but this is not always the case) go closest to the power.
There will also be a "twist" on one end of the ribbon cable. This twist should
go closest to the drive and away from the motherboard. If, when you boot,
the floppy power light stays on, you have put the cable on backwards.
BIOS should automatically see the floppy drive when you boot and give it
the drive designation of "A:\"
CDs are read with light pulses. Bits on the CD either block the light
or allow it to pass. The blocked light is a 0 bit, the light a 1 bit.
CD stands for "Compact Disk," ROM stands for "Read Only Memory." This however
is changing with the availablity of CD writers, "CD-R/W." These, however,
are not like magnetic media, they can only be written to once.
Slide the CDROM into one of the larger bays on the case. The CD "drawer"
should be on the top and the buttons on the bottom. CDROM drives
have speeds, avoid anything slower than 32x.
The CDROM should be mounted in one of the larger bays of the case. It is usually easier,
atleast the first time, to connect the power and data cables before securing the
drive with screws, but do whatever is easier for you. There should be two to three
scew holes on either side of the CDROM, line them up with the holes in your case
There will be a jumper set on the back, in a normal system the CDROM jumper
should always be set to SLAVE. A MASTER setting on a CDROM
is for special machines.
Unlike the Hard Drive or Floppy Drive, there will be three(3) connections rather
than two(2). The first two are for data and power, the third is for sound. If you don't
have a sound card or you are in hurry to get the machine built, forget about the
sound connection. You can always hook it up later. The data connection is an IDE like
a hard drive. The red stripe down the side should go into the CDROM closest to the
power connection. The power connection goes in just like the hard drive with the red cord
closest to the IDE cable.
On the board
The master hard drive, as noted above, is in IDE1. The CDROM should be in IDE2.
Installing windows from a CD when the CDROM is not yet configured
If your PC has no OS yet and will not recognize the CDROM you may use a special
boot disk to load
Windows. The boot disk should have these files(typically comes with windows):
AUTOEXEC.BAT should have these lines:
Place the boot disk in the floppy drive and the Windows CD in the CDROM drive.
Turn on or restart the PC.
should go to the boot disk and run the AUTOEXEC.
The autoexec will load MSCDEX.EXE
which should make the CD accessable. The AUTOEXEC will then run the
oemsetup.inf program on the
CDROM and pass drvcopy.inf to it
from the floppy drive. There are lots of OEMSETUP.INFs out there it helps to have the right one for your
Other PC Building Tutorials
Computer Hardware On-line Book
How To Build A Computer On-line Book
Installing Linux On-line Book
Serial Data Communications On-line Book
Ports and Protocols On-line Book
A+ Certification On-line Book
HardwareCentral: Build Your Own PC
freeyellow.com: Learn to build your own computer
Motherboards.org: How To Build a PC
pcmech.com: Build Your Own PC
PC Mechanic's: Build your own PC
Verinet.com: Build your own PC!
Where to order parts