It can be argued that America’s pastime is baseball, but some in the San Francisco Bay Area may have a valid argument for believing it to be technology. AMD visited AT&T Park, the Home of the San Francisco Giants to combine baseball and technology at the first ever “AMD Fast Pitch PC Zone”.
The AMD Fast Pitch PC Zone showed fans how to build their own PC using AMD’s latest technology. Those who attended received a free AMD Accelerated Processing Unit (APU) to kick off a PC building project of their own.
Building your own PC can sound like a daunting task; but with a little help from your friends here at AMD, it’s no sweat! Whether you’re a novice, a tinkerer or a family looking to learn and bond over a new project, building your own PC can be a rewarding and cost-effective project for everyone.
In this article, we will guide you through building your own PC in 4 easy steps for as little as $400, or as we like to call it, the “4-4-4 PC.”
Step 1: Usage Model & Budget
The first step in building your own PC is to determine what you will use it for and how much money you want to spend. Do you want to play the latest high-end 3D games or simply check email and surf the Internet? Do you want to use it as a media hub in your home entertainment center or just write term papers on it? Maybe a little bit of everything?
For this article, we’re going to focus on two common scenarios, a general purpose PC and a home theater PC, also known as a “HTPC.” Establishing a budget up front will help guide your component selection. To keep things simple and affordable, we recommend a hardware budget around $400 before sales taxes. This should give you plenty of performance power and capabilities, especially when using an AMD APU that combines a processor and graphics unit on a single chip — more on that later.
Step 2: Hardware Selection
Now that we’ve decided on a general purpose PC or a HTPC and a budget of $400 we can begin to choose our hardware. Online retailers like Newegg are a great option to get everything you need in one place and at a very affordable price. They often run deals and have free shipping for many of the components you will need. In fact, through September 15, Newegg is running an AMD Fast Pitch promotion with discounts on hardware. Go to www.newegg.com/AMDFastPitch to check out the offer. For this article, we’re going to use Newegg to do our shopping.
Tower Case (general purpose PC):
Choose this case if you’re building a general purpose PC. The Thermaltake V3 Mid Tower case is a good solid case with plenty of expandability and a great price at $44.99. It’s spacious, easy to work on and gets plenty of airflow to keep the internal components cool and running smoothly. If your computing needs change in the future, the Thermaltake tower makes it easy to access the hardware for upgrades and repairs.
- ATX Mid Tower
- 2x front USB 2.0
- Front audio panel
- 4 External 5.25″ Drive Bays
- 4 Internal 3.5″ Drive Bays
Power Supply (general purpose PC):
The Antec BP550 will give you 550 Watts of power which should be plenty given the components we’ve chosen here for our PC. The best features of this power supply are its low noise cooling fan, which is important, and its 80 PLUS energy efficiency certification, which paired with your AMD APU, may help you sleep better at night knowing your PC is energy efficient.
Micro Tower (HTPC):
Choose this case if you’re building a home theater PC (HTCP). The key to a home theater PC is functionality and footprint, but also how it will look when sitting next to your television. The Apex DM-387 has a sleek look and provides a small footprint giving it the versatility needed for a home theater PC. It can be positioned upright, as shown in the picture, or flat if it’s going into your entertainment center. Just be sure to give it plenty of ventilation to allow it to breath. An added benefit of the Apex DM-387 is that the power supply is included with the case, so no need to purchase one separately as with the Thermaltake Mid Tower case.
For those who have been building PCs since the early days, GIGABYTE is a very familiar and reputable name. They build quality components and in the case of this particular motherboard, they are priced very reasonably. This board is based on the AMD A55 chipset and includes integrated HD audio, gigabit Ethernet and video outputs to bring that AMD APU to life! It’s everything you need in a very compact package that can even fit into smaller Micro ATX cases like the one suggested for the HTPC.
For those not familiar with the AMD A55 chipset, it supports the latest generation of AMD A-series APUs with integrated DirectX® 11 capable graphics. It also has a PCI Express slot allowing you to boost 3D performance by adding a discrete graphics card. Discrete is a fancy term for an add-on card that is not integrated into the motherboard.
Those who purchased a ticket to attend the AMD Fast Pitch PC Zone at AT&T Park can subtract this cost from their budget because they were given a processor at the event. Those who didn’t attend should consider the AMD A8-3870K APU. The A8 gives you an excellent price while also giving you all the performance needed to power your home PC.
The A8 is a quad-core processor that runs at 3.0GHz and includes an AMD Radeon™ HD 6550D GPU delivering great 3D graphics performance. We recommend the “Black Edition” because it’s unlocked and can be easily overclocked.* The kit comes with a CPU fan as well, so you won’t need to buy one separately and for $109.99 you’re getting great performance at an affordable price.
The best way to complement your AMD A8 APU and A55 chipset is with this 8GB AMD Performance Edition memory package. The Performance Edition memory is optimized for AMD platforms and paired with your AMD A55, the installation should be seamless. AMD’s memory has an aggressive cooling solution with its aluminum heat shield combining performance and reliability. Average users and performance users alike will zip along just fine with AMD’s Performance Edition memory.
Hard Disk Drive:
For our PC, we’ve chosen the 1.5TB Seagate Barracuda 7200RPM ST31500341AS with 32MB of cache. It’s fast and for the price, it’s a steal! Remember the Thermaltake case we recommended can fit four of these puppies in there, so if want to spend the extra cash, consider adding a second hard drive for added storage and performance. If you decide to add more than two, you will probably want to invest in additional fans for the case to keep things cool. Keep in mind that all of these additions will drive up the price of your PC.
DVD Burner (general purpose PC): Optional
A DVD burner is nice to have so you can play DVDs, install the occasional piece of software and burn files to DVD disk for storage. This Sony drive gets the job done and is a good option for either the general purpose PC or the HTPC. At $17.99…why not? Note that to play DVD movies and burn files you will need additional software that will cost extra. Roxio and Cyberlink make good software for this, but you should also be able to find cheaper or free alternatives on the web. Just do a search for DVD player software or DVD burner software.
Blu-ray Drive (HTPC): Optional
- ASUS Black 12X BD-ROM 16X DVD-ROM 48X CD-ROM SATA Internal Blu-ray Drive Model BC-12B1ST/BLK/B/AS – OEM
- Price $46.99
A Blu-ray drive is a great choice for a HTPC or if you just want to spice up your general purpose PC with Blu-ray playback capabilities. The great thing is you can also play standard DVDs and burn to DVD as well with this drive. Today, with online streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, people rely less on physical DVDs, making this an optional component, but for a full HTPC experience, you might want to consider adding one. As with the DVD burner above, you will need additional software to play or burn DVDs that will cost extra. See the DVD Burner section for suggestions.
Remote Control (HTPC):
A home theater PC wouldn’t be a HTPC without the convenience of a remote. In fact, connect a keyboard and a mouse and you might as well call it a desktop PC. GMYLE and its infrared receiver will keep you on the couch surfing through your media up to 30 feet away. The remote gives users all the features needed for a HTPC including MCE keys and the ability to put you HTPC into sleep mode and wake it up too.
Step 3: Building the PC
Preparing the case
The first thing that needs to be done before anything, is preparing the case. When you take it out of the box, you should find a packet of screws in different sizes and shapes. Keep them close and don’t lose them, otherwise you will delay your project. Lay the case flat on a surface where you can work over it comfortably.
If you chose to build a general purpose PC, you will first need to install the power supply into the Thermaltake case. If you chose to build a HTPC, your power supply will come pre-installed in your Apex case and you can skip this step. Use the screws included with your case to mount the power supply to the bottom portion of the Thermaltake case where there is a large opening in the back. This typically requires four screws.
Installing the motherboard
Now you’re ready to start installing your hardware, beginning with the motherboard. The packet of screws that came with the case should include several unique looking screws known as “standoff” screws. They have a male side and female side and are usually made out of brass (pictured below). The standoffs must first be screwed into the case, aligned with the holes on the motherboard, then the motherboard will sit on top of them and regular screws are used to mount the motherboard onto the standoffs. This will elevate the motherboard so that it’s not directly touching the case, which can cause the motherboard to short circuit. Be extra sure you do not mount the motherboard directly into the case. Use the standoff screws!
Installing the processor and memory
Once the motherboard is mounted, it’s time to install the processor. Open the latch on the processor socket (pictured below) to allow the processor to be seated. Once seated, lock the latch back into place, securing the processor. Next the CPU fan should be attached on top of the processor to keep it nice and cool. The fan is mounted via the blue plastic pieces that surround the processor socket (pictured below). Connect the fan’s power connector and your set.
Now you are ready to install the memory onto the motherboard. Find the long memory slots on the motherboard near the processor as shown in the picture below. Install the memory by simply pulling open the two tabs on the slots, then seating each memory stick into the slot. They can only go in one way due to the notch/cutout on the memory stick. As you seat the memory into the slot, it should lock into place with the two tabs on both sides of the memory slot, securing the memory onto the motherboard.
Once the processor with fan and memory have been installed onto the motherboard, connect the two power cables from the power supply to their respective sockets on the motherboard as shown in the picture below. They have a unique shape, so you will be able to easily identify them from the rest of the cables coming from the power supply.
Installing the hard drive and DVD burner/Blu-ray player
Next up are the drives. We’ll start with the optical drive. The 5.25” optical drive (DVD burner or Blu-ray) should fit into the 5.25” drive bay on the front of the Thermaltake or Apex case. You may need to remove one of the 5.25” filler panels from the front of the case to allow you to slide in the optical drive. Slide into the 5.25” bay, line up the screw holes with holes on the drive bay, and just tighten. The hard drive should be connected into the lower 3.5” drive bay in a similar fashion. Use the screws provided with your case for both of these drives.
Each drive will require a power connection from the power supply and a SATA connection from the drive to the motherboard SATA connectors. The motherboard should have come with two SATA cables for this.
Step 4: Software
The operating system manages all of the hardware that we previously discussed and without an OS it would be difficult to use your freshly built PC. Windows 7 Home Premium gives users all the tools they need in an intuitive package. Home Premium comes with Windows Media Center which allows users to view and record live television using an optional TV tuner card, as well as play their own music and videos in an organized easy-to-use interface.
If you don’t have the budget to purchase a copy of Windows, Ubuntu is a good Linux-based operating system alternative to Windows and it won’t add any cost to the budget of your home PC. While you won’t have some of the features that you’re used to with Windows, Ubuntu gives users a simple native interface with thousands of apps. Ubuntu is also compatible with a wide range of devices and is compatible with Windows too. You’ll still be able to open, edit and share Microsoft documents while using an Ubuntu powered PC.
Media Center Software: (HTPC)
XBMC is a free open source media center interface that is compatible with several operating systems and hardware. It will allow you to play videos, music and podcasts as well as other digital media from local storage and the internet. One popular feature of XBMC is how customizable it is; giving users the ability to create skins and customize the look of their media player.
Installing the software
Once you have decided on your operating system, it’s time to install it. Connect your PC to a monitor, keyboard and mouse. Power up your PC and put the operating system install disk into the optical drive. On this first boot, you won’t get very far. You will likely get a message about there not being an operating system. Simply reboot and the PC should now detect the operating system install disk in the drive. Follow the prompts and run through the installation process. Once complete, eject the operating system installation disk from the drive and reboot. Most, if not all, of the drivers should automatically be detected and installed by the operating system. It’s a good idea to run system software updates as soon as possible to ensure you have the latest drivers for your PC.
And there you have it. If you’ve completed the four steps above correctly, you should have a fully functional general purpose PC or home theater PC that’s ready to serve you for a good long time.
* AMD’s product warranty does not cover damages caused by overclocking, even where overclocking is enabled via AMD software.
Phil Hughes is a Senior PR Manager at AMD. His postings are his own opinions and may not represent AMD’s positions, strategies or opinions. Links to third party sites, and references to third party trademarks, are provided for convenience and illustrative purposes only. Unless explicitly stated, AMD is not responsible for the contents of such links, and no third party endorsement of AMD or any of its products is implied.