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If you’ve read this column in the past, you’ll know that I focus my efforts for lawyers who are novice computer users who want simple advice without getting too technical. Today I’m going to go the opposite route and tell you how to build your own computer. It’s not as difficult as it sounds, and by doing so, you’ll gain a better understanding of how everything works. There are a number of reasons why you should build your own PC: � It makes upgrading your machine easier. � You can customize for your specific needs. � You may save a little money (but not much) over buying a pre-assembled machine. � It’s a really cool thing to tell your clients. When building your own PC, you’ll need the following components: � Computer case: $50. � Power supply: included. � Motherboard: $67. � CPU with cooling fan: $99. � Memory: $61. � Hard drive: $124. � Floppy drive: $16. � CD-ROM drive: $35. � Cables for the above items (usually included with packaging). � Extra case fan: $10. � Video card: included. � Sound card: included. � Network card: included. � Operating system (Windows): $200. � Keyboard: $10. � Mouse: $8. � Monitor: cost varies. � Total of all parts without monitor: $680. Some of these components may come packaged together, so you may not need to purchase each item separately. In addition, if you are replacing the computer you already have, you may want to use the floppy drive, CD-ROM drive, mouse, keyboard and other cards from your old PC. For the sake of this article, however, we will assume we are starting from scratch. Generally, I don’t recommend specific brand names or software, but for those who may be trying this at home, I’ll mention the specific items I am using and their costs. I’ve found the best place to purchase these items is by searching the Internet rather than using more established vendors. Since one of our goals is cost savings, you’ll get the best prices through small, online vendors, who often have closeout specials. When building a PC, I usually look for items that are a notch below the state-of-the-art as it stands today, as you’ll get the best prices and performance that was top-of-the line six months ago. The first thing you need to purchase is the computer case, or the box that houses everything. The machine I’m building today is a relatively simple version, so the case is not all that involved. I recommend buying a case that already has a power supply built in, since it is easier that way and you’ll know they are compatible. When buying a case, look for one that is an ATX form factor with a 300-watt power supply. For our example today, I purchased a generic ATX case with 300-watt power supply for $49.99. When purchasing a case, make sure it is the ATX form factor. The next components are the motherboard and the processing unit. When building computers, I tend to go with AMD processors rather than Intel Pentium units, as they combine good value with good performance. It is important that the motherboard support the processor. You can’t have a motherboard designed for Intel and the CPU made by AMD. For our example, I’m using the Shuttle Mainboard MK35N, which is a Socket A AMD Athlon/XP/Duron motherboard, which also contains the video card, sound card and network card built in, at a cost of $66.99. This supports the Athlon XP 1700+266MHZ Socket A CPU that I purchased for $66.99. The CPU I purchased is known as an OEM model, which means it is only the chip. You could purchase a packaged AMD Athlon XP 2000+, which comes with the cooling fan, for around $99. I’m using a Thermaltake Volcano 6Cu+ cooling fan with the processor, a slightly better (but unfortunately louder) product that I purchased separately for $17.95. An additional cooling fan for the computer case is not a bad idea, at a cost of about $10. A standard CD-ROM drive costs about $35. I am using one made by ACER, although any brand will do. If you spend another $50, or even less, you can get a CD-RW drive — a CD burner. A floppy disk drive costs $16. The hard drive I’m using is a Maxtor 80GB 7200 rpm hard drive, which cost $124. You can probably get a lower price than this with another brand or a smaller drive, but I wouldn’t go below a 40-gig hard drive, and I would not get a slower drive than a 7200 rpm. For memory, I purchased Viking 256MB DDR PC2100 RAM, at a cost of $60.88. You may be able to find a better price with another manufacturer. When purchasing computer parts, search the Internet for the best prices. Some places may have one piece for a good price, while other vendors may specialize in other parts. Beware of shipping costs, however. It may be more prudent to buy your parts all at one place and suffer only one shipping charge. A simple mouse would cost around $8, and a keyboard around $10. Sometimes you can get these packaged together for around $15. If you are replacing your previous computer, you won’t need to buy a monitor, keyboard or mouse. And you could take your floppy drive and CD-ROM drive from that machine as well. Likewise, you could probably transfer your Windows license from that machine as well to the new machine, but you need to check the license carefully to see if that is allowed. One thing, however, is that if you are replacing your old machine, you may not want to use the old operating system. To purchase a new version of Windows XP, it would cost approximately $199. Another option would be to use a Linux-based operating system. Red Hat Linux goes for about $80, quite a saving over Windows, but you would also be venturing into a brave new world that you may not like. When you total up the cost of all of the parts and operating system, you don’t save much over a pre-built machine. But what you do get is the opportunity to know the inner workings of your computer. And you also have the ability to overemphasize a certain portion of your machine. For example, if graphics and sound are really important, you can purchase a high-end graphics card and high-end sound card. If storage space is essential, then a large hard drive can be substituted for the one I used here. As time goes on and hardware gets better and faster, you can easily hook up the improved units piece by piece. As far as tools go, you really don’t need all that much, although I would recommend a magnetized screwdriver, usually a Phillips head — but keep it away from the hard drive. Some computer screws are specially configured, and you can purchase a computer tool-kit, but it’s not really necessary. Now that we have all the parts and tools, it’s time to start building. I’ll go through the instructions for that in Part II of this article, to be published next week.

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